Daily Archives: November 2, 2015

The Box

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE BOX at Dundee Rep, for The Scotsman, 2.11.15
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2 stars **

THE STORY told by Edinburgh-based  theatre-maker Alice Mary Cooper in her brief  new solo touring show The Box is such a powerful one that everyone who cares about the story of working-class people during the First World War should hear it.  Over 55 minutes, on a stage simply furnished with a small screen and several white storage boxes, she tells the tale of a memorial box created and sealed by Dundee postal workers in 1921, to record their experience of the First World War, and their memories of fellow workers who died; a letter fixed to the box asked that it be opened on 4 August 2014, exactly 100 years after the declaration of war.

Cooper’s problem, though, is that she has fallen victim to the contemporary performance convention – sometimes useful, more often not – that suggests the best way to tell a story is for the storyteller to focus on their own experience of putting the story together; so in what is already a brief show, we simply hear far too much about Cooper’s research experience, and far too little – despite a moving finale – about the ordinary heroes who gave up so much of their time to organise and fund-raise to help colleagues in the armed forces during the war.

In  that sense, Cooper’s show is more like a swift introduction to all the rich possible themes within this story, than a show in itself; and I was left with the feeling that this subject needs a theatrical treatment far more energised and ambitious than this, and far more clearly focussed on the story itself.  

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 6 November.

ENDS ENDS           

The Choir

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE CHOIR  at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 2.11.15.
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4 stars ****

THERE’S SO MUCH music theatre around today that any experienced theatregoer soon learns the ground-rules; how good musicals use the songs to deepen character and push the story forward, while bad musicals simply graft them on to brighten up an uninspiring script.

With the possible exception of David Greig’s thoughtful 2013 play The Events, though, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of music theatre where the music so embodies the whole meaning and forward impulse of the show, as it does in Ricky Ross and Paul Higgins’s The Choir, which had its world premiere at the Citizens’  this weekend; because here, the tensions and dilemmas faced by the characters are so intense that language often fails them, and only song can break the silence.

Set in a community centre hall in Wishaw – and co-produced by the powerful UK-wide Ambassadors Theatre Group – The Choir describes the efforts of an Iraqi-born local surgeon called Khalid to start up a community choir.  His call for singers attracts a strikingly mixed bunch, from ill-matched middle-class couple Charlotte and Darren, through soon-to-be-widowed Eileen, posh Persephone, and unemployed young graduate Velia and her best friend Bethany, to romantic hero Donny – who has secrets of his own – and middle-aged Tory couple Jean and George. 

Khalid’s idea is to invite each choir member to choose a favourite song that can be worked up into a choral number; but when a row breaks out over Donny’s friend Scott and his anti-zero-hours political rap, all the faultlines within the group are cruelly exposed, from Darren and Charlotte’s failing relationship to bursts of pure class hatred, and the faultlines within Khalid himself, a man fleeing the trauma of his own past. 

Ricky Ross’s songs range from the instantly memorable to the slightly strained, as they strive to carry the weight the show places on them – although they shape up into a terrific final medley, led by Jean’s romantic Orchard Street and  Scott’s Zero Hours song. 

And athough the script and acting, too, strike an occasional bum note, particularly in an unconvincing romance between Khalid and discontented Charlotte, there are terrific leading performances from Ryan Fletcher as Donny – with  Nesha Caplan as the lovely Velia – and from a powerful  Peter Polycarpou as Khalid, the man who struggles to cope with the tensions he has exposed in a supposedly peaceful place, but who finally learns a few lessons himself, about the healing power of music to help people live with their differences, hear each other’s voices, and begin to create something new.

Until 14 November.                          

ENDS ENDS           

Thingummy Bob

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on THINGUMMY BOB at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 2.11.15
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3 stars ***

THE STORY of Lung Ha’s Theatre Company is a completely inspiring one , covering 30 years of success in creating beautiful, memorable theatre performed and co-created by adults with lerning difficulties; so it’s altogether fitting that as part of this year’s Luminate Festival of Creative Ageing, the company has turned its attention to the experience of dementia, which also sees adults excluded from society, and their humanity sometimes denied.

In Linda McLean’s Thingummy Bob – gorgeously directed by Maria Oller, with music by Philip Pinsky – the part of Bob, an ageing dementia sufferer living in a care home, is played by Lung Ha’s star John Edgar; and around him circle a fine cast of supporting actors, including Emma McCaffrey asGemma, the old friend’s daughter who is his only visitor, and a terrific Karen Sutherland as both his niece in faraway Australia, and the thinking hospital security camera that monitors his every move.  

Perhaps not surprisingly, Thingummy Bob is a show that finally struggles to find an ending.  Bob is still alive, and still experiencing vivid glimpses of his lost past, particularly when an old neighbour hands him a pile of his old 1960’s LP’s.  Yet like his mind, his story tends to run in circles; and the final attempt to give the show an upbeat karaoke conclusion – as Bob, back in the home, joins the rest of the cast in a chorus of Cliff Richard’s The Young Ones – sits uneasily on a story with such a sombre backbeat, albeit one lovingly and impressively explored by an acting company that seems to go from strength to strength.

Eden Court, Inverness, 3 November, and Platform, Glasgow, 5-6 November.

ENDS ENDS