Daily Archives: October 17, 2015

Lord Of The Flies

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on LORD OF THE FLIES at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 17.10.15.
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3 stars ***

THREE RECENT TRIPS to the theatre in Edinburgh, three audiences packed with school students.  It’s enough to invite gloomy thoughts about the future of classics like Huxley’s Brave New World and William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies – or of bold new plays that tackle similar big questions about the future of our civilisation, like Marius von Mayenburg’s Martyr at  the Traverse – if unaccompanied adults have all but given up on them, and attendance has become entirely a matter of educational duty. 

Whatever the audience, though, there’s still no doubt about the searing impact of William Golding’s 1954 masterpiece, in which a group of British schoolboys, stranded on a Pacific island after a plane crash, rapidly become a microcosm of a civilisation reverting within weeks to a culture based on savage violence, leader-worship and superstition.

Nigel Williams’s new version for the Regent’s Park Theatre, London – now on tour across the UK and Ireland – deftly updates the text to the age of mobile phones and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.  And although there may have been times in the last 60 years when Britain seemed to be moving beyond Golding’s portrait of a civil society betrayed by a ruthless boss-class with an exaggerated sense of entitlement, his adaptation fits the mood of current British politics like a glove, as the thoughtful elected leader Ralph – a bit of an Ed Miliband lookalike – is jeered and hunted almost to death by an opposing team who believe in big weapons, imaginary enemies, and obedience to those who were born to lead. 

So under the shadow of the gradually fading Union flag on the tailplane of the wrecked aircraft, director Timothy Sheader’s cast of eleven fight, bully and plead their way through Golding’s horrifying story, often expressed here through long, dramatic fight and movement sequences which alternate sharply between natural pace and slow motion, and are sometimes as confusing as they are over-extended. 

There’s an impressive set by John Bausor, though, and some terrific, momentous sound by Nick Powell; and if Freddie Watkins’s Jack, the leader of the warrior gang, is a shade too petulant and frenetic to convince, Luke Ward-Wilkinson  and Anthony Roberts just about hold it together as Ralph and Piggy, the two boys who retain some memory of what a peaceful civil society should be, and who cling to the conch shell that symbolises that possibility of democracy and debate, until the moment when it is trampled into dust.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today. 

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To Rockvilla: National Theatre Of Scotland Moving On

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on TO ROCKVILLA: NATIONAL THEATRE OF SCOTLAND MOVING ON for the Scotsman Magazine 17.10.15.
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IN FEBRUARY next year, the National Theatre of Scotland will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its first-ever production, the amazing series of site-specific shows, staged all across Scotland from Shetland to Dumfries, that were known by the collective title Home. That project signalled the determination of the new NTS – and its then artistic director, Vicky Featherstone – to be a national theatre without walls, working from a small office in Glasgow to make theatre for, an in, every part of Scotland. And over the decade, the NTS has made an impressive effort to fulfil that remit, performing and working in hundreds of communites across the country.

Now, though, the NTS is about to start work on creating its own first permanent home, in the shape of an old cash-and-carry warehouse at Speirs Wharf in Glasgow, in the old industrial area once known as Rockvilla. Over the next year, at a cost of £6.5 million, the old warehouse floor will become the foundation for what the NTS’s artistic director, Laurie Sansom, calls a new “engine room” for Scottish theatre, a big shed-like hub full of rehearsal rooms, workshops, educational space, storage and offices, that will help bring all the NTS’s backroom activity under one roof; and it’s a move that inevitably invites questions about whether the NTS’s “without walls” model is gradually crumbling, under the pressure to become more like a conventional theatre company with its own production base.

The original idea of the NTS, after all – one generated by the Scottish theatre community itself, after years of thought and debate – was that it should be less of a theatre company, and more of an inspired, creatively-led commissioning fund and co-producer, pouring all its resources into creative collaborations with other Scottish companies; and it’s easy to see how the fact of owning and running its own production base, with lavish rehearsal space, will reduce the pressure on the NTS to get out and about, and to recycle resources into other theatres. Last week, the appeal for a final £1.9 million of Rockvilla funding was launched at a glamorous event in Glasgow, with the support of Alan Cumming, who voiced a video rejoicing that the NTS would now be able to “bring all the artists it works with under one roof” – hardly the decentralising language of a decade ago.

Around Scotland’s theatre community, though, there seems to be a fair degree of optimism that the founding vision of the NTS will survive the move to Rockvilla, and that the new base will help the company to work more effectively. The idea that the building is not a performance venue remains sacrosanct. The new sculpture just commissioned for the Rockvilla foyer will feature a glowing illuminated map of Scotland showing where the NTS is at work, as a constant reminder of the company’s nationwide mission. And the company’s executive producer, Neil Murray, says that the intention is to make the building, which will have large public areas including a cafe, into a resource for Scottish theatre-makers in general, and not just for NTS projects.

“With the sad recent loss of the Arches, for example,” he says, “it’s clear that there’s going to be a huge demand for the kind of workshop space we’ll be able to provide at Rockvilla. That’s happening already, in the very cramped space we’ve got at Civic Street; you stick your head into the tiny rehearsal room, and ask yourself, who on earth is that?

“At the moment, though, we just don’t have the space to be the creative centre we could be, and we waste a huge amount of energy hauling ourselves from one building to another. So although there are potential downsides to a move like this, I think we’re well aware of the need to guard against them; and if all goes well, the benefits of a new creative centre like this could be huge, for the whole of Scottish theatre.”

http://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/default.asp?page=s8_15

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Martyr

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on MARTYR at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 17.10.15.
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4 stars ****

THERE ARE DOZENS of huge, tense questions swirling around in the 90 minutes of Marius von Mayenburg’s 2012 play Martyr, now given its British premiere in this riveting and disturbing co-production by the Actors’ Touring Company of London, and the Unicorn Theatre for young people. Perhaps the central question, though, is whether all human belief-systems need their martyrs, their blood sacrifices, if they are to remain strong in the face of opposition.

So in the early scenes – set around an ordinary modern secondary school – it seems that the would-be “martyr” of the title is Daniel O’Keefe’s Benjamin, a 15-year-old boy who, perhaps unhinged by his own explosive sexual feelings, suddenly seizes on an extreme form of Christian fundamentalism, and starts speaking only in Biblical quotes, of the most misogynistic and homophobic kind.

The change in Benjamin apalls his biology teacher, Erica, who decides to tackle his slide into religious bigotry head-on; but soon discovers that the superficially liberal western culture around her is both heavily complicit with Benjamin’s new patriarchal attitudes, and completely unwilling to defend itself.

Mayenburg’s play sometimes weakens its argument through overstatement, in ways that Ramin Gray’s intense production cannot quite resolve; Mark Lockyer’s headmaster is a caricature of sleazy uselessness, Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s Erica is too obsessional and arrogant to be much of a spokeswoman for a culture of reason. In the end, though, there’s no doubt who is being martyred, in this terrifying play; and it’s difficult not to feel, as she finally stands alone, that a whole long human journey from darkness into enlightenment is being destroyed with her.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, final performance tonight.

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