Daily Archives: October 24, 2015

The Devil’s Larder 2015

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE DEVIL’S LARDER at Customs House,Leith, for The Scotsman 24.10.15. ________________________________________________________

3 stars ***

THRE ARE MOMENTS when it certainly looks and feels like a giant larder, the old Customs House at Leith. It’s cold, dank and northerly, with slamming doors and echoing corridors; and its large, austere spaces cast a strange pall of bleakness over this ten-years-on revival of The Devil’s Larder, based on Jim Crace’s “cumulative novel in 64 parts” about food and its meanings, and first created by Edinburgh-based site-specific company Grid Iron for the Edinburgh Fringe of 2005.

Back then, the predominant impression created by the show was of heat, including the body-heat of the tightly-packed Fringe audience; in the winding spaces of an upper floor of Debenham’s on Princes Street, it was all lust and greed and hellfire, an intense theatrical journey around the things we yearn for, but which may also kill or damn us.

Ten years on though, things are chillier, more diffuse, and much less luscious to look at, as the audience of 40 or so moves from staircase to balcony to a series of dingy, almost classroom-like spaces in which the flame of sensuality struggles to make itself felt; not until this production moves on to the three other venues on its forthcoming tour will it be clear whether that sense of coldness and loss belongs to the Customs House, or to this latest version of the show itself.

If the overall impact of the show is muted, though, there’s still a great deal for the imagination to feast on in director Ben Harrison’s latest version of Crace’s fascinating text. Over 13 scenes – with an introduction from a gleaming devil and his lady demon, glamorously played by Johnny Austin and Charlene Boyd – the audience travel from the hotel corridor where a migrant room-service maid lingers over discarded trays of food, through a 1970’s fondue party that suddenly starts to swing, to the final resonant story of a hotel fishing holiday gone wrong. David Paul Jones’s music – performed and sung live, with Mary McMaster on harp – is a haunting collage of old songs and harmonies; the four-strong acting company, which also includes Ashley Smith and Antony Strachan, conjures up dozens of characters, weird, grotesque and poignant. And even if the thrilling heat of the inferno is missing this time, this Devil’s Larder is still a place well worth a visit; for those who have never been there yet, and for those who went once before, and may now be surprised at how the place has changed.

Customs House, Leith, tonight, and on tour to Selkirk, Oban and Melvich, until 15 November.

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Tipping The Velvet At The Lyceum, And A New Age Of Co-Production

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on CO-PRODUCTION – A THEATRE SOLUTION, OR A WHOLE NEW SET OF PROBLEMS? for Scotsman Magazine 24.10.15.
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TAKE A LOOK AT THE LYCEUM THEATRE’S autumn programme for this 50th anniversary year, and you’ll see a short season book-ended by the recent smash-hit Lyceum production of Waiting For Godot, and the forthcoming Christmas show, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.

In the middle, though – and set to open next week – there’s something else entirely: the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith’s stage version of Sarah Waters’s Victorian lesbian romance Tipping The Velvet, which opened in London four weeks ago, to a delighted audience response. The show is directed by Lyndsey Turner, who has recently won international fame as the director of the controversial Barbican Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch; and its presence in the Lyceum’s in-house programme raises all sorts of questions about the new culture of co-production and partnership between theatres which funding bodies seem so eager to encourage, as an obvious way of reducing costs.

For even quick glance at the detail of how Tipping The Velvet was put together is enough to suggest that the process of co-production is far more complex than that. It’s clear that Tipping the Velvet is a Lyric Hammersmith show, conceived there, cast there, and rehearsed there. Yet the Lyceum organisation has been involved in discussions about the project from the outset. The scale of the production is dependent on resources the Lyceum has been willing to bring to it, in both cash and kind (some of the set has been built at the Lyceum’s Roseburn workshop), and the concept has partly been shaped by the idea of creating a show set in and around the world of Victorian theatre, for two exquisite Victorian auditoriums.

“It is emphatically not all about saving money,” says the Lyceum’s executive director Alex McGowan. “Tipping The Velvet is actually a more expensive show for us than, say, Faith Healer, the opening Lyceum production of this year; what the co-production does is to enable us to stage a bigger show, with a larger cast and a more complex set, than either theatre could afford on its own. If you’re doing a co-production project for the right reasons, though, then the upsides of it are huge, and not only for the audience, who get to see a wider range of work. It helps people working in theatre to expand their horizons, and to get to know – and be known by – different organisations; it’s great for career development, and for making you think in fresh ways about your own organisation.

And all of this points to what Mark Thomson, the Lyceum’s outgoing artistic director, says is the most significant thing he has learned about co-production; that the project has to be based on a genuine creative impulse, and not on some imposed structure that requires routine co-production. “That kind of structure,” he says, “leads rapidly to either to a lowest common denominator, or a kind of servitude, and neither of those is good. It’s also not good if co-production just becomes a way of reducing the total amount of work created; that reduces opportunities for actors, writers, designers, directors, and takes away the distinctiveness of each company’s work.

“On the upside, we’ve done a huge amount of successful co-production in recent years, both as the lead producing house and in projects led by others; we led on last year’s production of Pressure, which was co-produced by Chichester Festival Theatre, whereas Crime And Punishment, for example, was led by the Citizens’. But you simply can’t afford to get locked into a co-production routine that makes you into a receiving house, for part of the year, rather than a producing theatre. It has to be about fun, about the work, about the creative stimulus of working with different people in a different company with different ideas. And it can’t be about obligation; because obligation is never, ever a good basis for art.”

Tipping The Velvet at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 28 October- 14 November.

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Rebecca 2015

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on REBECCA at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 24.10.15. ________________________________________________________

4 stars ****

THERE HAVE BEEN many stage adaptations of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in the past, and there will be many to come; but I doubt whether fans of this great romantic novel will ever see a staging more wildly inventive and creative – and yet more passionately in tune with the powerful narrative backbeat of the story – than this brilliant touring version from Kneehigh Theatre of Truro.

On a stage lusciously bedecked by designer Leslie Travers with the cobwebby ruins of Manderley, the great Cornish house at the centre of the story, the drama unfolds with not the smallest pretence at naturalism, as the novel’s emotional subtext explodes across the stage in the form of a chorus that morphs effortlessly from a platoon of dancing domestic servants to a oilskin-wearing lifeboat crew, while delivering a roster of south-western songs and shanties that only a Cornish company would think of grafting onto Du Maurier’s lush high romance.

Amid all this theatrical sound and fury, though, adaptor and director Emma Rice never for a moment loses sight of the central story, with Imogen Sage turing in a gorgeous, perfectly-pitched performance as the new Mrs. De Winter, gradually evolving from frightened girl to ruthless power wife, while Emily Raymond’s excellent Mrs. Danvers finally decays into madness. And the story’s class politics – always present in Du Maurier’s novel – are here fleshed out into a witty and vivid physical element of the story; as is Maxim de Winter’s beloved hound, played by a gorgeous puppet dog that steals the audience’s heart, and all but steals the show.

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today; His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, next week, and the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 2-7 November.

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