Monthly Archives: July 2019

Joyce McMillan online…

All my writing on theatre and general social/political issues is available online here.

Everything on the site appears in date order, below, beginning with the most recent column or review.  Most of these pieces are commissioned by, and first appear in, The Scotsman. Ultimate ownership of copyright remains with me, and is asserted here.

If you want to search the site for something specific, type your key word(s) into the space on the right, and press return.

To come back to this main page at any time, just click on “joyce mcmillan – online” at the very top of the page. Enjoy!

joycemcmillan.com

© Joyce McMillan 2011

Advertisements

The Ugly One

_______________________________________________________

JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE UGLY ONE at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 8.7.19.
_______________________________________________________

4 stars ****

TOWARDS THE BACK of Becky Minto’s superb set for The Ugly One – a hyper-modern dream-turned-nightmare in acid pinks, greens and pale blues, against glaring white walls – a black conveyer belt rattles along, suggesting both an industrial process, and one of those game shows designed to taunt contestants with alluring parades of consumer goodies. It’s a visual image that provides a perfect context for Marius von Mayenburg’s 2007 comedy, a breathlessly fast-moving 75 minutes of post-millennial absurdism in which a man called Lette is abruptly informed, one day – by his capricious boss Scheffler – that he will not be leading the public presentation of a ground-breaking new electric plug he has invented, because he is simply too unbearably ugly.

Cue a series of ever-more-grotesque 21st century tropes and impostures, as poor Lette – brilliantly played throughout by Martin McCormack, with the same harmless face and baffled expression – mounts the conveyor belt to undergo experimental plastic surgery, and ends up with a face so handsome that he is constantly besieged by lustful admirers of both sexes, but then finds that his surgeon has decided to cash in by giving his gorgeous face to any customer who can afford it. In no time, poor Lette goes from bust to boom to bust, passing through an entertaining rock-star phase en route; while his long-suffering wife – played with equal brilliance by the inimitable Sally Reid – moves from affectionate tolerance of his hideous looks even though she cannot bear to look at him, through wild desire for the new handsome Lette, to a growing taste for adlterous liaisons with Lette lookalikes.

What emerges, in other words – from von Mayenburg’s brilliant text, as translated by the great Maja Zade, and from Debbie Hannan’s hilarious and pitch-perfect production – is a tremendous satire on the new age of the visual image we now inhabit, after humankind’s brief and productive flirtation with the written word; a world where we say that looks are only skin deep, but constantly act as if outward and inward beauty were the same thing. By the end of the drama, ever deeper questions are being asked about looks and identity, as if the borrowing of a face really does represent a complete replication of the self; and with Helen Katamba acting up a storm as both boss and surgeon, and Michael Dylan offering superbly satirical support as Lette’s scheming colleague Karlmann and others, The Ugly One races to a brilliantly ambiguous conclusion, for which the word thought-provoking is hardly strong enough.

Until 20 July

ENDS ENDS

Henry V

_______________________________________________________

JOYCE MCMILLAN on HENRY V at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 6.7.19.
_______________________________________________________

4 stars ****

AMONG MANY OTHER things, Shakespeare was the great poet of early-modern English nation-building. Through his two great cycles of 15th century history plays, he marked out the boundaries of the land, scorning the French as the eternal enemy, and cheerfully mocking the Welsh for their accents, wizards and leeks; and in Henry V – the last of the plays, written around 1599 – he writes his greatest celebration of English military success against vastly superior continental forces, and of victory won through an endearing combination of humble, down-to-earth leadership, and plucky determination on the part of a motley and not over-disciplined fighting force.

As many analysts of the Brexit phenomenon have pointed out, these ideas about England’s national identity have become part of the bloodstream of the nation over the last 400 years, reappearing time and again at moments of national crisis, not least during the Second World War, when Laurence Olivier created his famous film of Henry V. And now, here come the Bard In The Botanics team with a version not only set during the Second World War, but staged by a group of Enid Blyton-style schoolchildren, all hole-y jumpers and falling-down socks; children who will, if they are lucky, become the 70- and 80- year-old voters of today.

What’s thrilling about Jennifer Dick’s adaptation and production, though, is that it not only sets the play is this uniquely resonant context – with the kids clutching their gas-mask boxes and running for cover as the sirens wail – but also ensures that once the action starts, brilliantly steered by Lynsey-Anne Moffat’s bustling chorus, a series of profoundly serious grown-up performances emerge, not only from Adam Donaldson as Harry (clad in boy scout uniform, but a deadly warrior nonetheless) but – perhaps most significantly – from Natalie Lauren as Queen Katharine of France, no arrogant French villain (unlike her brother Louis, played with relish by Alan Mirren), but a wise princess, worthy, in the end, of the love Henry offers her, as a gesture of peace.

No playwright is more fiercely conscious than Shakespeare both of the glory and excitement of war – “Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!” – and of its cruel destructive horror; and this is a version of the play subtle, exuberant and thoughtful enough to make us ponder both the warlike energy this play famously celebrates, and the final quest for peace in Europe, symbolised by the marriage of Henry and Katharine, that remains a disputed part of England’s destiny, even today.

Until 13 July.

ENDS ENDS

As You Like It

_______________________________________________________

JOYCE MCMILLAN on AS YOU LIKE IT at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 1.7.19.
_______________________________________________________

4 stars ****

GENDER FLUIDITY may be a relatively new term in 21st century western culture. The thing itself, though, has always been present; and no playwright is more powerfully aware of it than Shakespeare, who worked for a theatre in which all female parts were played by young men, sometimes – so we’re told – with disturbing brilliance.

Of all Shakespeare’s great female roles, none is more dazzling than the part of Rosalind, the brave, witty and beautiful heroine of As You Like It; and this year’s Bard In The Botanics season kicks off with an outdoor production by Gordon Barr that switches the genders of minor characters with a joyful sense of freedom, but is strongly built around Stephanie McGregor’s gorgeous and complex performance as Rosalind, the daughter of the exiled duke who, with her loving cousin Celia, leaves her uncle’s corrupt court dressed as a boy, to seek her father and his followers in the greenwood.

The production’s weakest link perhaps lies in its slightly cavalier way with the play’s strong lyrical sense of the beauty of the natural world. Only one of the songs – Under The Greenwood Tree – is given anything like its full weight, and too many actors are inclined to throw away Shakespeare’s beautiful and perfectly-weighted lines.

With the wonderful Nicole Cooper playing a lady Jaques, though, some of the play’s finest poetry shines through brilliantly. And almost everyone in the cast seems to get the joke of Shakespeare’s merriest comedy with terrific clarity; offering audiences in the Botanic greenwood a gentle, funny, and celebratory evening of Shakespeare reimagined but always honoured, just as he would have liked it.

Until 13 July.

ENDS ENDS

Them!

_______________________________________________________

JOYCE MCMILLAN on THEM! at the Tramway, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 1.7.19.
_______________________________________________________

4 stars ****

WHAT DO WE do when the familiar narratives of our lives are disrupted, and thrown all over the shop? That’s the question at the centre of Pamela Carter and Stewart Laing’s remarkable show-cum-installation Them!, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland at the Tramway; and to make its point, it uses two all-too-familiar narrative structures, smashing them both across an invisible boundary, into the unknown.

The first narrative belongs to the 1954 Hollywood science-fiction B movie Them!, a classic cold-war drama about the eventual destruction of a breed of giant ants unleashed by the nuclear age; the second belongs to a modern Oprah-style chat-show based on uplifting tales of personal trauma and transformation, chaired live by the fabulous Kiruna Stamell. Her first guest is the director, Stewart Laing, who is making a film inspired by Them!, but refuses Kiruna’s hopeful questions about the mid-life crisis she thinks must have inspired the project; he leaves, to be replaced by a fictional and much more amenable version of himself, suavely played by Ross Mann.

This new director’s narrative is disrupted in turn, though, by Zachary Hing as the Prof; then by a group of five young AI robots claiming to represent the future; and finally by a figure called Toni (an impressive Rosina Bonsu) who takes over the chat-show host’s chair. All of this is accompanied by music from a terrific five-piece band led by composer-performer Carla Easton, and by film clips from both version of Them!; and it’s no surprise at all when Toni finally invites us to leave the theatre-studio, and move on into a night-club of noisy transformation, followed by an exhibition of the complex communal lives of leaf-cutter ants, and a tot of whisky.

All of which sounds crazy enough; but also brilliantly makes its point that whatever the future of humanity holds, our old ways of trying to tidy up our experience are going to be of little use to us. The “Them!” experience is delivered with astonishing flair and class throughout, with Kiruna Stamell blazing brilliantly as the chat-show host, Pamela Carter writing like an angel, and every element of the show superbly co-ordinated by Stewart Laing and his team. And if it ends with a shared moment of respect for the rich and complex collective lives of ant colonies, that makes plenty of sense, in an age when our relationship with other species must change or die; as does the suggestion that in order to get through any of it, we will need a stiff drink, and a strong measure of conviviality, discovered anew.

Until 6 July.

ENDS ENDS