Reviews: Christmas theatre 2016, week 1 (Sunday Herald)

CHRISTMAS THEATRE REVIEWS

 

George’s Marvellous Medicine

Dundee Rep

Until December 31

 

Weans In The Wood

MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling

Until December 31

 

The Princess And The Pie

Oran Mor, Glasgow

Until December 23

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

princess-and-the-pie
Clare Waugh, George Drennan, Steven McNicoll, Frances Thorburn in The Princess and the Pie at Oran Mor. Photo: Leslie Black

A weird concoction of strange, unexpected and disparate elements that induces confusion and leaves a curious aftertaste. If that is a good description of the titular potion in Roald Dahl’s story George’s Marvellous Medicine, it is equally appropriate to Joe Douglas’s Christmas staging of the tale for Dundee Rep.

As long-suffering George mixes his pernicious syrup (a revenge against his tyrannical grandmother), one wonders if we, the audience, are breathing in hallucinogenic vapours. Much of what designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita has put on stage seems to belong to the realm of drug-induced illusion, rather than yuletide theatrical fare.

For instance, George appears to have a somewhat sinister alter-ego who is dressed in a body suit that also covers his head and face (think The Stig from Top Gear in tight-fitting turquoise). Similarly anonymous stage hands, dressed in green, hide in plain sight, helping to assemble George’s ingeniously conceived family home before our eyes and manoeuvring Grandma’s decidedly low-tech armchair.

A limited, electronic musical score (which might have sounded futuristic in 1976) repeats itself while fluorescent tubes flash with a ferocity that makes one wonder if the show should contain a warning to people with epilepsy.

All of which leaves the cast struggling to express the undoubted comedy of Dahl’s tale. Rebekah Lumsden (who alternates in the lead role with Laurie Scott throughout the run) plays George with admirable gusto. Meanwhile, Ann Louise Ross’s fabulously irascible Grandma has the kids in stitches as she, quite literally, goes through the roof.

Emily Winter and Ewan Donald put in high-energy performances as George’s warring parents, while fine actor Irene Macdougall resists the temptation to scream, “I’ve played Shakespeare, you know?”, from inside a giant chicken costume. Try as they might, however, none can displace Jabares-Pita’s designs from their distracting central place in the production.

There are few such issues with the designs for the MacRobert Arts Centre’s seasonal panto Weans In The Wood, which is penned by the venue’s longstanding Christmas writer Johnny McKnight. Designer Karen Tennent’s deep, dark wood, gingerbread house and outrageous frocks are exactly what we expect in Pantoland.

The script is another matter. McKnight (who is also author, director and lead actor of the pastiche panto at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre these days) has pulled another postmodern rabbit out of his capacious hat.

The play that director Julie Ellen has on her hands is Hansel & Gretel-meets-Harry Potter-meets-Robin Hood. To that, you can add a bit of Little Red Riding Hood and, this being McKnight, oodles of pop culture references.

The narrative may be an intentional hodge podge, but it does feel a little lacklustre at times. This is particularly true in the conflation of smartphones with magic wands, which leaves our witchy heroine, Magic Merlina, proprietress of the School for Magical Minions (played hilariously by dame Mark McDonnell), in constant search of a recharger.

None of which detracts from McDonnell’s performance. About as feminine as the late Les Dawson in drag, he renders his fellow actors, as well as the audience, helpless with laughter with an improvisational single entendre involving a bear’s nose.

Elsewhere, there are strong performances from Helen McAlpine (baddie Sheriffina Nottingham), Dawn Sievewright (the intrepid Little Red) and the MacBob’s traditional all singing, all dancing chorus of keen and talented youngsters.

Spoiler alert, as if to celebrate Scotland’s well-deserved reputation as one of the most gay friendly countries in the world, McKnight closes the show with a wedding between the excellent Robert Jack’s Hans-No-Solo and Prince Ronaldo (James Rottger). Just how Gretel (Katie Barnett) doesn’t realise that Hans (who is obsessed with Zac Efron) is gay is a mystery.

If the MacRobert’s pantomime seems a little overwrought, Morag Fullarton’s lunchtime panto at the Oran Mor is a beautifully structured hour of fun. In The Princess And The Pie, a penniless Highland Queen (George Drennan) and his blue-blooded son (Clare Waugh) come to Glasgow in search of, respectively, cash and love.

What they find instead is a slippery, English confidence trickster with snobbish pretentions (Steven McNicoll) and his Glaswegian nedette niece, Sadie (Frances Thorburn), who wants to be famous for being famous. Drennan’s queen, head of the House of Tattie of Scone, may seem like a tartan-clad numpty, but she has a sure-fire plan (involving a special Scotch pie) to discover whether the niece really is the European princess her uncle claims her to be.

Meanwhile, the Prince has fallen in love with a working-class Scots-Polish lassie, Betty from Krakow (also played by Thorburn). Betty is worried, on account of the Brexit vote, about her residency status; one of many reasons why a mannequin of Boris Johnson is in the stocks stage left, his head at just the correct height to take a regular kicking (although, surely, a rubber Boris mask is in order, as the current dummy looks more like a bedraggled Norman Tebbit than the buffoonish Foreign Secretary).

Delightfully silly, with gloriously daft songs (including ‘Brush Up Your Glasgow’, a Stanley Baxteresque ditty about the Clydeside lingo), director Tony Cownie’s production is tight as a drum. The four-strong cast (who are assisted by the recorded voice of narrator Robbie Coltrane) are excellent to a cross-dressed woman and man.

The actors visibly enjoy the occasionally profane leverage that an adult panto allows.

Speaking of which, it is inevitable that Drennan gets his trumpet out; there’s no double-entendre here, the actor is also an accomplished musician.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 4, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

THEATRE

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH

Review by Mark Brown

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Photo: Drew Farrell.

It was almost inevitable that playwright Anthony Neilson would, at some point, adapt Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the stage. Not only has the Scottish dramatist displayed a penchant for Christmas theatre in the past (The Night Before Christmas, Get Santa!), but his most critically acclaimed play, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, owes a discernible debt to Carroll’s delightfully absurdist story.

The coming together of Neilson (as both adaptor and director), Carroll and the Victorian splendour of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre is a marriage made in heaven. From the moment that Alice (played with a wonderful combination of precociousness, dauntlessness and innocence by Jess Peet) arrives in Wonderland it is clear that the grand, old playhouse has a hit Christmas show on its hands.

As the White Rabbit scampers off in haste, designer Francis O’Connor offers us a world of visual delights that is inspired by Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Carroll’s tale. The carefully stripped back stage, which is framed with what looks like the topsy turvy paraphernalia of a Victorian fairground, plays host to a breathtakingly beautiful series of sets and costumes.

David Carlyle’s wonderfully witty Welsh Gryphon is resplendent in gorgeous plumage. Gabriel Quigley’s hilariously imperious Queen of Hearts captures absolutely the homicidal regent envisioned by Carroll and Tenniel.

Whilst it looks ravishing, the production is a feast for all of the senses as script, characterisation, music and design come together with the acting of a superb ensemble. There are, for instance, shades of The Beatles and Ian Dury and the Blockheads (among others) in the curiously appropriate music by composer Nick Powell.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the fantastic realisation of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The casting of the ever excellent Tam Dean Burn as an especially bonkers Hatter is close to genius. As his huge table rotates, to the March Hare’s delight, Burn sings a crazy song about the capriciousness of Time amidst a scene of glorious chaos.

Such moments are repeated throughout the show, from the spaced-out Caterpillar’s weird pronouncements from atop a huge mushroom to the soup-related outrage of the Duchess (played in fabulous pantomime dame style by Alan Francis).

Neilson’s play is sharp and funny, with a tremendous sense of the rhythm of the story. Little wonder that this outstanding production’s two hours seem to fly by.

Until December 31. lyceum.org.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 2, 2016

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/best-christmas-shows-pantos-2016-aladdin-treasure-island/

© Mark Brown

Preview features: Alice In Wonderland, Lyceum, Edinburgh & Christmas theatre and dance highlights 2016

Alice In Wonderland: “it’s like an internet session”

As he adapts Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland for Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum this Christmas, playwright Anthony Neilson finds Carroll’s stories reminiscent of surfing the internet. By Mark Brown

alice-in-wonderland-2
Photo: Drew Farrell

When David Greig, the famous playwright who is now artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, was looking for a dramatist to adapt and direct Lewis Carroll’s much loved Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, he turned to Anthony Neilson. As the author of psychologically engaging and unquestionably adult dramas such as Penetrator, The Censor and Stitching, Neilson might be considered an unlikely candidate to bring Alice to the stage.

That, however, would be to reckon without the playwright’s most successful drama, The Wonderful World Of Dissocia. The play, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2004, might be characterised as Alice In Wonderland for adults.

Dissocia is, first-and-foremost, a terrifying and hilarious fantasia. Its surreal world of bizarre characters and random events turns out to be the workings of the mind of a young woman suffering from dissociative disorder.

Few people who have seen the play would deny its similarity to the highly imaginative alternative world of Carroll’s book. When I meet Neilson at the Lyceum during rehearsals of Alice, he is only too happy to acknowledge his debt to Carroll.

He read Alice In Wonderland as a child, he remembers. “It got into my head in a pretty fundamental way.

“I don’t remember reading it over and over again. But, for some reason, I felt connected to it.”

As a writer, Neilson is, he says, more interested in the “inner space” of human psychology than in events in the world outside. That, he explains, gives him an affinity with Carroll.

Alice In Wonderland is, says the playwright, “really just the transcript of something that was made up as he went along… It was that way of telling a story where your subconscious speaks quite freely… That’s what I try to do when I’m writing plays.”

In fact, observes the writer, Carroll’s approach to storytelling is, in some ways, more of our time than his own. “Quite unusually, Alice isn’t trying to get home, she has no plan, she’s just following her curiosity.

“It’s very much like an internet session. It’s a kind of narrative surfing, in a sense.”

Carroll understood, says Neilson, that “works that endure have two or three images in them that are indelible.” In that sense, he continues, Alice In Wonderland is comparable with the films of Stanley Kubrick.

Adapting Alice, he explains, begins with images. From the White Rabbit, to the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the little doors, through which the miniaturised Alice passes, the book throws up a series of visual icons, each of which demands its place in the show.

Fabulous though Carroll’s imagery is, I wonder if Neilson finds the visual world of the book a hindrance as well as a help in the creation of a stage play. “Yeah, it’s always a pain in the ass when you’ve got a character who goes from nine inches to nine feet tall.

“You have to try to work out a way of doing it that isn’t the same as the way people have done it thousands of times before. And you want to do it without utilising technology, which, in a way, is anti-magical.”

Neilson is promising a production that relies more on the charm of the story than on theatre technology. This Alice will combine the charm of Francis O’Connor’s set and costume designs and Nick Powell’s music with Neilson’s extraordinary theatrical imagination.

As to the question of how to make the show a success for all generations, not just the children in the audience, Neilson insists it’s simpler than it seems. “The key to a good children’s show is to tap the child in an adult. I don’t think it’s about entertaining children and adults on different levels.”

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh until December 31. For further information, visit: lyceum.org.uk

_________________________________________________________________

Mark Brown’s Christmas theatre highlights

 

barriehunterbettyblumenthal
Barrie Hunter in Beauty and the Beast, Perth Concert Hall, 2015

 

Dick McWhittington

Perth Concert Hall

Dec 10-26

There are glitzy, glamorous pantomimes in Scotland’s largest cities, but only Perth’s tartanised Dick McWhittington boasts Scotland’s leading panto dame Barrie Hunter. The fine actor returns to Perth’s Christmas stage as the no doubt dubiously feminine shopkeeper Senga McScruff.

 

Hansel & Gretel

Citizens Theatre

Dec 6 to Jan 7

The Citz’s acclaimed artistic director Dominic Hill offers his own particular take on the Grimm Brothers’ great story of the siblings lost in the forest. A stylish, funny, sometimes dark family show is in prospect.

 

Black Beauty

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Dec 2-24

The Trav brings the much-loved horsey book to the stage. Aimed at children aged six and over (and their families), it is created by three of Scotland’s leading children’s theatre makers, performers Andy Manley and Andy Cannon, and designer by Shona Reppe.

 

How To Be A Christmas Tree

MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling

Nov 29 to Dec 24

An interactive show for babies and pre-school children, all about how to grow from a wee sapling into a great, big Christmas tree. Staged by Cumbernauld Theatre Company and Fish And Game theatre group, I’m sure everything will turn out pine.

 

Hansel & Gretel

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Dec 8-31

Another rendering of the Brothers Grimm tale. Scottish Ballet’s delicious version takes up Christmas residence in Edinburgh before going on tour. Christopher Hampson’s show, which premiered in 2013, strikes a fabulous balance between tradition and modernity.

Touring Jan 5 to Feb 10: scottishballet.co.uk

 

These features were originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 27, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: Billy Budd, The Lowry, Salford

OPERA REVIEW

 

Billy Budd

Seen at The Lowry, Salford;

at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh,

December 1 & 3

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

billy-budd

As Scotland’s performing arts scene prepares to adorn itself with baubles and wrap itself in tinsel, Leeds-based Opera North offer us a final chance to see some high-quality, non-Christmassy fare before the theatrical festivities take over our theatres entirely. In truth, however, this exceptional production of Benjamin Britten’s masterwork Billy Budd (which alternates in this programme with a Puccini double bill of Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica) is an early Christmas gift to opera lovers.

Based upon American writer Herman Melville’s final work, an unfinished novella, Billy Budd is a hugely accomplished, genuinely captivating work of musical drama. Boasting a libretto by the great novelist E.M. Forster and longstanding Britten collaborator Eric Crozier, it tells the story of a handsome, somewhat diffident young man who is, fatefully, forced into the service of the late 18th-century British Navy by a press-gang.

Unusually among the men, who are kept in place by a brutal regime that includes arbitrary and vicious floggings, Budd delights in his maritime adventure. As decent and kind as he is beautiful, he is universally adored, by officers and his fellow sailors alike.

Adored by all, that is, except the malevolent master-at-arms John Claggart, in whom adoration quickly turns into a demonic compulsion to destroy Budd.

The nature of Claggart’s obsession was coyly overlooked by the critics when the opera premiered in its original, four-act version in 1951 and, again, when it was restaged in this, improved, two-act incarnation in 1960. It could hardly have been otherwise. Male homosexuality remained illegal in England and Wales until 1967.

However, it is obvious to the 21st-century sensibility that Claggart’s soul is being eaten away by his repression of his own desires. Indeed, it would be naive to think that the general appreciation of Budd in this all-male society is based merely on admiration of his moral character.

Orpha Phelan’s magnificent production of the opera puts a sensitive, but very definite, emphasis on the homoerotic dimension of the piece. With the assistance of Leslie Travers’s extraordinary, deceptively versatile set (which opens out from a huge, decaying grey house), Phelan also emphasises the libretto’s great innovation on Melville’s story; namely, the unfolding of the narrative from within the guilt-stricken memory of the retired captain of the HMS Indomitable, Edward Fairfax Vere.

Vere is played with tremendous moral stature by the excellent tenor Alan Oke. His is an agonising predicament, as is he is torn, like an English Pontius Pilate, between his own sense of justice and his adherence to a rigid system of hierarchy in which Claggart’s seniority holds sway over Budd’s innocence.

Claggart, in turn, is performed with an oppressive, almost reptilian self-loathing by the superb bass Alastair Miles. Indeed, although Miles plays the role with moral complexity and emotional depth, there is enough of the pantomime villain in his performance to ensure that he was booed while taking his bows in Salford.

Budd himself is a difficult character to portray. Outstanding baritone Roderick Williams captures absolutely the man’s almost childlike humanity, but also his Christ-like qualities of goodness, beauty and, ultimately, submission to persecution.

Britten’s impressive score nods, tantalisingly, towards modernist discordance. Appropriately, it comes in waves, ranging from the lull of personal contemplation to the great crescendos of sea battle and moral conflict.

The powerful male chorus seizes its numerous opportunities for vocal grandeur, just as Travers’s designs produce great moments of visual spectacle. All-in-all, as complete and inspiring a rendering of this great opera as one could wish for.

 For details of the performances of Billy Budd and the Puccini double bill, visit: operanorth.co.uk

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 27, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: The Rivals, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

THEATRE REVIEW

The Rivals

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Until October 19

Reviewed by Mark Brown

the-rivals
Lucy Briggs-Owen (Lydia), centre, and Desmond Barrit (Sir Anthony) in The Rivals

This is a very welcome staging of The Rivals, the famous comedy of manners by the great Irish satirist Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Directed at the Citizens Theatre by Dominic Hill, it is a co-production by the Citz, Bristol Old Vic and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse.

First staged in 1775, the play nods back to the Restoration comedies of the late 17th century. It also points forward to the comic dramas of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

The piece is a reminder of the extraordinarily different theatrical histories of England and Scotland. In England, theatre was frozen out by the Puritanism of the Cromwellian interregnum for a mere 11 years (1649-1660). In Scotland, by contrast, John Knox and the Calvinist Reformation introduced such strict prohibitions on drama that the development of the art of theatre was arrested for centuries to come.

Not for Caledonia the lascivious humour of the plays permitted by the “Merry Monarch”, Charles II. Nor, indeed, the “genteel comedies” of Sheridan, which anticipate Wilde’s plays in their capacity to entertain the higher orders while, simultaneously, sending them up something rotten.

The Rivals is a tightly woven farce of aristocratic and bourgeois love rivalry in the city of Bath. The wealthy young lady Lydia Languish (who lives under the guardianship of Sheridan’s famous, linguistically confused character Mrs Malaprop) is desired by three men; the blue-blooded Captain Jack Absolute, the buffoonish country gent Bob Acres, and the hard-up Irish nobleman Sir Lucius O’Trigger.

Her heart set on a romantic love, unencumbered by the financial deal making of the upper classes, Lydia has fallen for the penniless soldier Ensign Beverley. However, Beverley is, in fact, Captain Jack, who is hiding his wealth behind a not-so-cunning disguise.

Into this already complex mix stomps Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack’s monstrously severe, yet hypocritical father, and young couple Julia Melville and Faulkland, whose love affair is constantly being undone by the latter’s preposterous suspicion and uncertainty.

The craftsmanship and humour of the play was not appreciated by the critics or the public at first. However, some decades later, the leading English critic William Hazlitt would commend its dramatic and literary qualities, proclaiming it “as good as a novel in the reading”.

Hill’s production is a thing of beauty. Cleverly and humorously metatheatrical, it is assisted wonderfully by Tom Rogers’s set designs, which involve the dramatic flying in of proscenium arches within proscenium arches, and the unfurling of a splendid, black-and-white backcloth depicting a Georgian theatre curtain.

There is a smartly comic interplay between Sheridan’s day and the most recent, pre-digital era. Opulent period costumes collide with such tangible, creative objects as a Polaroid camera and a typewriter. Disconcertingly, one realises that, such is the rate of technological change in the 21st century, one might as well long for the fopperies of the Georgian period as the palpable cultural products of the 20th century.

Hill and his universally outstanding cast seem to grasp the play’s pace and timing almost intuitively. The immense self-regard of Julie Legrand’s Mrs Malaprop is, delightfully, in inverse relation to her miniscule self-awareness. The wry observations of Henry Everett’s David (servant to Bob Acres) add a neat element of class warfare to the proceedings.

Lucy Briggs-Owen’s high-octane, self-dramatising Lydia is the perfect comic partner to the undue cockiness of Rhys Rusbatch’s Captain Jack. However, the towering performance of the evening is Desmond Barrit’s deliciously grotesque Sir Anthony.

Demanding the unquestioning obedience of his adult son in matters matrimonial, while expressing his own lecherous tastes with the alacrity of a pre-presidential Donald Trump, he is an unforgettable, hilarious colossus.

An abridged version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 13, 2016

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Jumpy, Lyceum, Edinburgh & Para Handy, Pitlochry Festival Theatre

THEATRE REVIEWS

 

Jumpy

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until November 12

 

Para Handy

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Until November 13

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

jumpy
Pauline Knowles and Molly Vevers in Jumpy. Photograph: Mihaela Bodlovic

April De Angelis’s Jumpy, the first comedy in the inaugural programme of new Lyceum director David Greig, received many plaudits when it premiered at the Royal Court in London five years ago. A play in which 50-year-old Hilary struggles to handle her wayward teenage daughter, Tilly, its initial acclaim might say more about London theatre culture than about the drama itself.

Much has been written about the character of Hilary, who protested against the nuclear weapons at Greenham Common in the eighties and wonders, ruefully, what has happened to the feminism of her youth. The problem with this focus is that it can give the impression than De Angelis is a cross between Caryl Churchill and Diane Abbott, whereas her play is reminiscent of nothing so much as the farces of Alan Ayckbourn.

Relocated, in Cora Bissett’s production, from East London to Glasgow, the piece is drearily conventional and freighted with two-dimensional characterisations. The adults exist in various, and entirely predictable, conditions of mid-life crisis, while the teenagers are walking stereotypes; at one point Tilly almost transforms into an unfunny, female version of Harry Enfield’s monstrous adolescent Kevin, screaming at Hilary, “I can’t believe you did that. You’ve ruined my life!”

If the script creaks under the weight of its own obviousness, it is done no favours by Jean Chan’s astoundingly dreadful set design. An impossibly cluttered, towering mess of furniture and domestic appliances, its symbolic work is done 30 seconds into the production. For the remainder of the show it is merely a titanic annoyance.

Which is a pity, as Bissett has assembled a fine cast, led splendidly by the excellent Pauline Knowles (Hilary) and Molly Vevers (Tilly). If only they were being given more interesting things to do.

para-handy
Harry Ward and Scott Gilmour in Para Handy. Photo: PFT

By contrast, Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s revival of John Bett’s Para Handy (based upon the famous seafaring stories by Neil Munro) is a lively and memorable stage comedy. This is ironic, as Bett’s play-with-songs might be expected to be weighed down with nostalgia, looking back, as it does, to well-loved tales that are set more than 100 years ago.

However, all such fears are allayed from the moment the crew of Para Handy’s ship, the Vital Spark, breaks into live music and song. Robert Pettigrew’s compositions are sewn deftly through a script that succeeds in creating a neat balance between comedy and pathos.

The showmanship of American seaman Hurricane Jack (Chris Forbes on delightfully narcissistic form) is a treat. Likewise the efforts of Para Handy (played with wonderful self-regard by Keith Fleming) to woo the baker’s widow Mary Crawford of Campbeltown (the upright Clare Waugh).

Indeed, Bett has the measure of this thrusting machismo, channelling it into the kind of seaside postcard double entendres any early-20th century Glaswegian would expect on a trip “doon the watter” to Millport. Needless to say that, in the play’s Carry On Up The Hebrides vein, Mary’s “buns are legendary”.

There’s some poignancy in the midst of the japery, however. As the First World War approaches, and the cast plays a humorous version of a German oompa band number, young Sunny Jim (the fine Scott Gilmour) arrives on board in his army uniform. Innocent and optimistic, but surrounded by the trepidations of his friends, he already looks like a ghost of the fallen.

Director Liz Carruthers’s production is beautifully timed, perfectly pitched and excellently cast (with Stephen Clyde, Harry Ward and Kirsty McDuff also shining). As so often at Pitlochry, the set which is dominated by designer Becky Minto’s splendid, life-size rendering of the Vital Spark, is a star of the show.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 6, 2016

© Mark Brown

 

Review: Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here, touring

DANCE

 

Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here

Seen at Tron, Glasgow;

touring until November 19

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

lady-m-company-chordelia
Photo: Susan Hay

I have long thought that the words and deeds of Lady Macbeth, rather than the witches’ prophecy, are central to the events of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play”. In their new dance-theatre piece Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here, Glasgow-based groups Company Chordelia and Solar Bear seem to share that sense of the female protagonist’s special position in the play.

Director Kally Lloyd Jones explores the character through choreographies for three male dancers. In doing so, she goes further than a theatre director might in casting a male actor as Lady M.

The three dancers are, for the most part, three-in-one (an Unholy Trinity, if you will). They do not represent an attempt by Lady M to merely transform herself into an image of unfeeling, violent machismo. Rather, their masculinity allows them to approach the moral ambiguities of her stated desire to be “unsexed” from a series of fascinating angles.

Lady M has, famously, been a mother and lost the child (“I have given suck, and know. How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”). Here, the dancers nurse little bundles that appear to be babies. Their rocking motion becomes a motif, repetitive and frenzied, akin, in the queen’s moments of greatest mental distress, to her constant cleaning of her hands.

We hear Lady M’s loaded assertion that, when he dared kill the king, Macbeth was, “so much more the man”; a powerful reminder of the role of her sexuality in inciting the regicide.

The visual aesthetic of the piece – dark, simple with the dancers emerging from three little alcoves in which they have been preparing at dressing tables – is exquisite. The music, by the likes of Ravel, Verdi and Mozart is beautifully attuned to the piece’s journey into one of Shakespeare’s most complex female characters.

For tour dates, visit: chordelia.co.uk

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 6, 2016

© Mark Brown