Daily Archives: October 10, 2015

Lot And His God

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on LOT AND HIS GOD at the Citizens’ Circle Studio, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 10.10.15.
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4 stars ****

IN A CIVILISATION that often seems to be poised on the brink of destruction, how do we think of God? Is he the old bearded man in the sky that we have all learned to reject? Or is he perhaps, a surly and capricious waiter who ignores his customers’ desperate calls for coffee, and ends up blinded and muted by his own avenging angel?

In his new play Lot And His God – first seen in 2012, and now given its Scottish premiere to launch the Citizens’ Studio season that marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary Close Theatre Club – Howard Barker, England’s mighty dramatic poet of catastrophe, naturally takes the second option, creating a tense and eloquent four-hander about sexual decadence in the shadow of cosmic destruction, set in a filthy cafe in the doomed city of Sodom.

Debbie Hannan’s production makes a brave rather than perfect stab at Barker’s 75-minute drama, which involves a tense sexual encounter between Lot’s mature but devastatingly alluring wife – brilliantly played by Pauline Knowles – and the destroying angel Drogheda, equally well captured by Daniel Cahill; for some reason, Cliff Burnett treats the central figure, Lot, like a one-note character part, a voyeuristic buffoon whose vicarious sexual twitchings rapidly become tedious.

Despite its imperfections, though, this is a memorably bold, intelligent, witty and poetic start to the Up Close season, with Knowles and Cahill whipping up a fierce sexual chemistry between them; while outside the cafe, the world starts to end, whether – and however – people choose to love one another, or not.

Citizens’ Circle Studio, last performances today; Up Close season continues until 7 November.

ENDS ENDS

The Shawshank Redemption

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 10.10.15.
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4 stars ****

BACK IN THE 1940’s, the world’s best-loved movies about one man up against the American system tended to show things coming right in the end; in the last reel, the community would give the Jimmy Stewart character his due, whether in Bedford Falls or in Washington D.C.

By the post-Watergate 1980’s, though, the narrative had changed; and it’s that change that’s captured in Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption, in the magnificent 1994 film based on it – famously starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman – and now in Dave Johns and Owen O’Neill’s stage version of the original Stephen King story, first seen on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, and now on tour in a rewritten and scaled-up Bill Kenwright production.

The story – as the films’s army of fans will know – revolves around the figure of Andy Dufresne, a successful banker wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his wife and her lover. Over 19 years in the brutal Shawshank pentientiary, he holds on to his humanity despite being raped and brutalised, makes friends with the trustee prisoner “Red” Redding – the man who can, for a fee, get prisoners anything they want – and works quietly and stubbornly to build up the prison library.

The price of this work, though, involves collusion with an increasingly serious financial fraud being worked by the prison governor, Warden Stammas, who makes use of Dufresne’s accounting skills; and when Dufresne finally recognises the full muderous corruption of the system , he realises that there will be no judicial happy ending, and that he must use his own benign form of crime and illegality to make his escape.

It’s a slightly unsatisfying story, in other words, where the bad guys are punished and the good guys escape, but the system itself remains unredeemed; and David Esbjornson’s good-looking but unshowy production has its muted moments, as Ian Kelsey’s stolid Dufresne – sometimes so quietly-spoken as to be almost inaudible – plods his way through almost two decades of confinement.

Patrick Robinson, though, turns in a genuinely powerful linchpin performance as Red, a man transformed by Dufresne’s friendship; and with formidable, powerfully-choreographed support from a ten-strong ensemble of supporting actors, including Owen O’Neill himself as Warden Stammas, the story rings out clear and true, a parable for our time that offers a happy ending, but no easy answers.

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today, and His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, next week, 12-17 October.

ENDS ENDS