Reviews by Mark Brown
Cyrano de Bergerac
Until September 22;
then touring until November 10
Glasgow’s great repertory playhouse, the Citizens Theatre, is now closed for a huge, two-year, £19.4 million refurbishment and redevelopment. During this time the Citizens company will relocate to the internationally-renowned Tramway arts venue.
The Citizens’ opening gambit at its new home, a staging of the late Edwin Morgan’s celebrated Scots rendering of Edmond Rostand’s French classic Cyrano de Bergerac, is a bold and beautiful beginning to the company’s residency. Directed by the Citz’s deservedly acclaimed artistic director Dominic Hill, in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, the show meets Rostand’s flights of imaginative fancy with flamboyance, wit and verve.
When we first meet Brian Ferguson’s huge-nosed Cyrano he is a boorish-yet-witty theatregoer, driving the foppish actor Montfleury from the stage with jibes and threats of violence. It isn’t long, however, before we are converted to the ranks of the admirers of the poet-swordsman.
This Cyrano is as eloquent and humorous in his Scots tongue as he is fearless and skilful in battle. His bravado, it is clear, is but a cover for the embarrassment he feels on account of his famously prodigious proboscis.
The object of Cyrano’s undying, but undeclared, love (his beautiful cousin Roxane) is, she thinks, in love with Scott Mackie’s handsome soldier Christian. Jessica Hardwick plays the beloved woman with a glorious combination of irony and panache, and in richly enunciated Scots.
In this three hours of theatre we are transported, often by way of sumptuous and varied live music, from the playhouses and restaurants of Paris to the bloody battlefield of Arras. It is a perfectly paced tale of bravery, poetry and unrequited desire.
Tom Piper’s set is a fabulous work of abstract modernism, dominated by a metal stairway on wheels and illuminated by neon signs. Not to be outdone, Pam Hogg’s costumes are a deliciously ingenious, often outrageous collision of Scotland and France, inspired by Rostand’s 17th-century.
Played by a universally superb company (which includes such excellent actors as Keith Fleming and Gabriel Quigley), Hill’s production is a tour de force that captivates, amuses and, ultimately, breaks one’s heart.
For tour dates, visit: nationaltheatrescotland.com
The Yellow on the Broom
Until September 22;
then at MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling,
The Yellow on the Broom, Betsy Whyte’s memoir of her early life as a member of a traveller community in Scotland in the 1920s and 1930s, is an important document. Its account of the stigmatising and injustice (including police violence) faced by travellers in Perthshire and Angus is sobering (not least as much of it will be familiar to traveller and other minority communities in Scotland today).
In this revival of Anne Downie’s 1989 stage adaptation, directed for Dundee Rep by Andrew Panton, we see the traveller family unjustly expelled from a farm without pay and unfairly threatened with eviction from their flea-infested rooms in Brechin. We witness, too, the bigotry, passed down from adults to children, which manifests itself in a nasty schoolyard conspiracy against the young Bessie Townsley (as Whyte then was).
Actor Barrie Hunter is given the pleasurable task of representing the good in the scaldie (house-dwelling) community. Playing both Bessie’s enlightened and supportive Brechin headmaster and the wonderfully eccentric, comic and hospitable aristocrat Cameron (who thinks he’s a Jacobite in the time of Charles Edward Stuart), Hunter brings, by turns, a warm humanity and a delightfully energetic craziness to the production.
Indeed, the cast is generally impressive, not least recent graduate Chiara Sparkes, who plays young Bessie with real emotional depth.
For all this, one can’t help but feel there is something a tad couthie, not to say laboured, in the play’s straight delivery of Whyte’s chronicle. The presence on stage of the overseeing, older Bessie (played here by Ann Louise Ross) only serves to highlight the piece’s origins in autobiographical prose, rather than theatre.
Designer Kenneth MacLeod’s set, with its fake rocks and malfunctioning camp fire (which puffs out a gratuitous extra flame when it’s extinguished), adds little to the production’s fragile sense of theatricality.
These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on September 9, 2018
© Mark Brown