Edinburgh Festival Reviews: The Glass Menagerie etc.



The Glass Menagerie

King’s Theatre

Until August 21


Wind Resistance

Lyceum Rehearsal Studio

Until August 21




Until August 28


Reviewed by Mark Brown

cherry jones
Cherry Jones in The Glass Menagerie

This Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) staging of the renowned American Repertory Company’s production of Tennessee Williams’s great play The Glass Menagerie marks the production’s European premiere. Not only does it star acclaimed actress Cherry Jones (as the play’s matriarch, Amanda Wingfield), but it is directed by Tony Award winner John Tiffany, the man behind the National Theatre of Scotland’s (NTS) hit show Black Watch.

The playwright (aka Thomas Lanier Williams) famously uses his narrator (Tom) to describe the piece as a “dream play”. Tiffany’s production is assiduously faithful to this idea. The tone is set by Bob Crowley’s stage design, with its abstracted fire escape reaching into the sky and its panels of domesticity floating in a black sea in which the moon and stars make regular, magical appearances.

Here we are, without doubt, watching three characters (Amanda, her shy, physically disabled daughter Laura and her restless son Tom) who are haunted by the past. Indeed, the events on stage are themselves a past that is seen through the simultaneously wistful and rueful prism of Tom’s recollection.

Michael Esper (Tom), Kate O’Flynn (Laura) and Seth Numrich (the put upon “Gentleman Caller” who could never be Laura’s knight in shining armour) give fine performances, delivering the bleak humour and pathos of Williams’s play. However, the dominant presence in the drama is Amanda, whose desperate anxiety for her daughter turns her (in Tom’s memory) into an overbearing monster.

Jones gives a superb performance, offering us an Amanda with the emotional volume turned up full. Even as we are repulsed by her frantic despotism, we are also dragged into the character’s deep well of fear and pain.

If the dream-like design innovations of this production are equal to the excellent acting, the same cannot be said of the choreography by Steven Hoggett (a regular collaborator of Tiffany’s). In fairness, from Black Watch, through NTS boxing play Beautiful Burnout, Hoggett’s work has its admirers.

Here, as in the past, however, his movement seems to me to be a series of literal metaphors, heavy-handed explications of characters’ emotions that only serve to detract from the subtleties of the drama.

There are subtleties aplenty in Wind Resistance by leading Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart. A wide-ranging performance of carefully connected stories and songs, the piece appears both as the first theatre production of acclaimed playwright David Greig’s directorship of the Lyceum and a contribution to the contemporary music programme of the EIF.

This indefinite categorisation should not surprise us. The piece is part storytelling (in natural and human history, ecology, medicine, science, politics, family and, even, football) and part musical concert. To that director Wils Wilson and designers Camilla Clarke (visuals) and Jeanine Byrne (lighting) bring the sort of staging that we associate with a play.

Polwart is observably well-rehearsed, yet also engagingly conversational as she takes us from her love of Fala Moor, near her home village of Pathhead, Midlothian, to her concerns for the fragility of both the planet and the human race. The show’s title comes from its central metaphor, the flight of a skein of pink-footed geese (which the performer calls “airborne socialists”). The geese shift in formation, taking the brunt of the headwind at one moment, but soon getting their chance to shelter behind other birds.

There is, in the storytelling as much as in the lovely songs, a touching humanism, an urgent environmentalism and an impressive knowledge. Polwart’s perspective, like the show’s conception itself, is quite unique.

There is a lovely rhythm to the piece, with truly ingenious sound work by Pippa Murphy (which, among other things, merges live and recorded voice and music quite brilliantly).  One can understand readily why Greig (who is dramaturg on the show) was keen to stage the piece, even if, at an-hour-and-three-quarters, it feels in need of a little trimming.

From a production by the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company to the major Fringe offering from its near neighbour, Scotland’s new writing theatre, the Traverse. Milk by Ross Dunsmore has a remarkably similar, triangular structure to Stef Smith’s Swallow, which headlined last year’s Traverse Fringe programme.

In Dunsmore’s play, which is directed by the Traverse’s artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, we are witness to the sometimes improbably connected crises of not-quite school sweethearts Steph and Ash, new parents Nicole and Danny, and frightened, impoverished elderly couple May and Cyril. Dunsmore goes for nothing short of the complete cycle of life, from birth to death, and much of what happens in between.

At its best, namely, the story of May and Cyril, the play has an affecting, Beckettian dimension. Played beautifully by Ann Louise Ross and Tam Dean Burn, theirs is a co-dependency which cannot be broken, even by death.

However, there is an inconsistency in Dunsmore’s writing. The characterisations of the teenagers teeter on the brink of cliche early on (despite nice performances from Helen Mallon and Cristian Ortega). Meanwhile the anguish of Nicole’s inability to breastfeed her newborn tips over into histrionics (a fault that lies in the writer overstretching himself, rather than in the fine acting of Melody Grove and Ryan Fletcher).

The frustration of the piece (which is Dunsmore’s first full length play) is that it simultaneously tries to tackle too many issues, whilst never quite establishing a convincing rhythm or tone. That said, the drama has promising flashes of good writing, even if it is poorly served by Fred Meller’s unmemorable, neon-flashing set.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on August 14, 2016

© Mark Brown

Edinburgh Festival Review: Jonathan Pie: Live, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Jonathan Pie: Live

Pleasance Courtyard

Until August 28


Reviewed by Mark Brown


The warning that Jonathan Pie: Live “may contain some f***ing strong language” is accurate but inadequate. The one-man show should also carry an alert that Tom Walker, creator and performer of the parody TV news journalist, might have a bloody aneurysm in front of your very eyes.

Or, to put it another way, fans of Pie’s three-minute TV skits will be pleased to learn that he makes the step-up to a 60-minute live show with his apoplectic political rage entirely intact.Jonathan Pie

Walker is arguably the UK’s sharpest political satirist since John Oliver. His alter-ego, the left-wing reporter Jonathan Pie, combines the brilliant characterisation of Al Murray the Pub Landlord with the radical anger of Mark Thomas.

Pie made his name courtesy of the Russian state’s mischief-making global TV channel RT and, more significantly, youtube. The smart conceit of the live show is that he’s now working for the BBC, having been drafted in as a last-minute replacement for John Barrowman as the anchor of Children in Need.

Presenting Ainsley Harriott in a 12-hour Macarena in Swansea is enough to get the veins on Pie’s neck twitching. But that’s as nothing compared to his off-camera observations about Theresa May (“Margaret Thatcher’s re-animated corpse”) or new Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s £8.5 million personal fortune.

There’s a fine line in Pie’s comedy between entertainment and well-researched editorialising. Serious points are well-made about a range of subjects, from TTIP to the worrying rise of a censorial brand of easily offended political correctness.

However, just when you’re beginning to worry that the show is getting more like a Jeremy Corbyn rally than an Edinburgh Fringe comedy gig, Pie pulls it back round to a hilariously graphic assault on a Tory politician or a decidedly un-PC rant about his ex-wife.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on August 14, 2016

© Mark Brown

Edinburgh Festival Review: Norma, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Triumph for classic opera with an anti-fascist twist



Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Today and Tuesday


Review by Mark Brown

Cecilia Bartoli (Norma) and John Osborn (Pollione)

Norma, Vincenzo Bellini’s 1831 opera, is set in the midst of historical events that will be somewhat obscure to many of us. The drama reimagines the conflict between the Gauls and their Roman occupiers 50 years before the birth of Christ.

However, this is no highbrow version of the famous Asterix And Obelix cartoons. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, co-directors of this Salzburg Festival production (which premiered in the Austrian city three years ago), have relocated the piece to Second World War France, with the rebellious Gauls as members of the French Resistance and the conquering Romans as German Nazis.

The devoutly pagan Gauls’ “sacred grove” is represented by a cavernous schoolroom, which doubles as a Resistance hideout. Norma, the titular druid priestess, is transformed into a patriotic, anti-fascist leader; a secular, 20th-century Joan of Arc.

The hated Roman proconsul, Pollione (who is, secretly, Norma’s former lover and father to her children), becomes a senior Nazi officer. In Bellini’s original, Pollione has a taste for Gaulish priestesses; he dumps Norma for Adalgisa, a younger druid. Here he is a fascist Casanova, able, it seems, to bed any female Resistance fighter who should take his fancy.

This may all seem like a considerable mental leap. However, if one is prepared to suspend one’s disbelief, this re-envisioning of the opera is every bit as valid as the Royal Shakespeare Company representing Coriolanus as a Napoleonic despot or Macbeth as a modern day Balkan warlord.

Ultimately, Leiser and Caurier, who have been working together for more than 30 years, rest their relocation, quite plausibly, on the story’s themes of occupation, resistance, betrayal and, ultimately, fealty to fundamental human instincts. Sex and love, suggests Bellini (or, more accurately, Alexandre Soumet, upon whose tale the opera is based), can lead us to transgress our most deeply held beliefs and principles. That, it need hardly be said, is a universal theme.

The directors and their designers, Christian Fenouillat (sets), Christophe Forey (lights) and Agostino Cavalca (costumes), have done a masterful job of reflecting Bellini’s music in their staging. Fenouillat’s grand schoolroom, which is filled with the paraphernalia of the Resistance, is the perfect location for the splendid, swirling orchestration that accompanies the outraged demands for vengeance of the French partisans (played superbly by the Swiss Radio and Television Chorus).

By the simple device of bringing down a partition, the back of the schoolroom is transformed into Norma’s modest apartment. As Forey’s lighting throws premonitory shadows around the set, the intimacy and foreboding is the very mirror of the music, as the desperate Norma, like a latter day Medea, contemplates the unthinkable.

All of which, concept, direction, design, chorus, requires a fine orchestra (which we have here, under the baton Gianluca Capuano) and excellent soloists. John Osborn, a tenor from the United States, and Rebeca Olvera, a Mexican soprano, give soaring performances as Pollione and Adalgisa respectively.

However, for many, the primary reason for attending this production is to hear Cecilia Bartoli, the internationally acclaimed, Italian mezzo-soprano, sing the title role. Without question, her performance is worth the not inconsiderable ticket price on its own.

Her singing of Norma’s great aria Casta Diva, which was popularised in the 20th century by Maria Callas, among others, is a thing of profound beauty. As Bartoli understands, seemingly instinctively, vocal range and power (both of which she has in abundance) count for little without feeling. She sings this plea for peace and patience with a shuddering emotional depth that would pacify the rashest of warriors.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on August 7, 2016

© Mark Brown

Features: Preview of Adler & Gibb, Summerhall, plus Edinburgh Festival highlights

Truth & Lives

Acclaimed dramatist Tim Crouch opens a radically revised version of his play Adler & Gibb at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. He talked to Mark Brown about art, money and “authenticity”

Tim Crouch - lobster
Tim Crouch and members of the cast in rehearsal. Photo: Richard Davenport

Adler & Gibb, the play by English experimental theatre master Tim Crouch, is a proverbial riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The piece, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London two years ago, is ostensibly about two conceptual artists from New York City, named Janet Adler and Margaret Gibb.

The collaborative artists have numerous, well-known artworks to their names, as well as established personal histories and their own website (adlerandgibb.com). Yet they don’t exist.

What does exist, as Summerhall venue audiences will discover during the forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe, is a drama that calls into question society’s attitude to art and artists. In particular, the play challenges the obsession with “authenticity”, which hangs like an ironic cloud over works of artistic imagination.

This is not the first time that Crouch – who is equally accomplished as a theatre writer, director and performer – has alighted on the visual arts as a theme for his special brand of unconventional theatre. During the 2007 Fringe the dramatist premiered England – a remarkable work about the contemporary art market, global inequality and medical ethics – at the Fruitmarket Gallery.

The genesis of Adler & Gibb, Crouch tells me, lies in his thinking, five or six years ago, about the brief, intense love affair between the great, Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and the famous, American art collector Penny Guggenheim (which Crouch describes as “a day in bed together”). However, when he came to write on the subject, Crouch realised that he couldn’t create a character for Beckett.

Nevertheless, there was something in Guggenheim’s place in the New York visual art scene that drew him towards a different kind of play. The commercialisation and commodification, not only of the art work, but also of the artist, suggested the characters of Adler and Gibb.

Following Adler’s death in 2004, the proverbial merde hits the fan. The pair’s famously “uncompromising” work becomes impossibly compromised. The home they shared together is invaded by filmmakers who allow nothing, not even Gibb’s unexpected presence in the house, to derail their narrative of Adler’s life and work.

The motivation for this desecration is, of course, commercial gain. “A lot of money is being made from artists who wanted to disconnect from the commercial world”, says Crouch.

The filmmakers’ arrival in Adler and Gibb’s home is, he says, “a raid”. Indeed, Gibb leaves them in no doubt as to her feelings about their activities, as she cries: “Stop thief! Help! Rape! Rape!”

“There’s a pillaging of an identity”, Crouch suggests, “the pillaging of a life and the pillaging of a principle, all for the sake of making money.”

As so often with Crouch, whatever the declared subject matter, the play also makes its way around to the subject of performance itself. The destructive biopic of Adler within the drama came from thoughts he had early in the process of writing the piece.

“A story emerged about an actor pretending to be another person”, he explains. “It felt very prescient, it was around the time that Daniel Day-Lewis was winning Oscars for Lincoln.”

Crouch was, he says, responding to, “the fetishisation around authenticity and character, and the dubious political aspect of trying to own someone’s life.”

No-one who knows Crouch’s work will be surprised to learn that Adler & Gibb does not have a straightforward narrative or a conventional theatrical structure. In many ways the dramatist is the antithesis of Hollywood filmmakers, like Spielberg, who ask us to believe that they are creating “authentic” representations of reality.

Crouch, by contrast, follows what he calls his, “desire to loosen the threads around how we represent reality.” One way in which he does this is by including in the play the character of an eight-year-old girl who switches objects around.

“A gun becomes a branch of a tree.  A spade becomes a child’s windmill.  At one point, a gun and a sledgehammer are both substituted by plastic lobsters.”

If the girl in the piece plays fast-and-loose with the objects, Crouch himself has intervened just as radically in his production. The show that opens at Summerhall next week (and that will go to Los Angeles next year) is a very different beast from the one that was staged at the Royal Court in 2014.

The play has been substantially rewritten. The piece now has a different cast and a different set.

“There’s a work of art by Adler and Gibb called There Are Now Enough Objects”, Crouch comments. “I just felt that we didn’t subscribe to their philosophy two years ago.”

Edinburgh audiences will be offered a new, stripped back Adler & Gibb, a show in which Crouch and his team have, “taken a lot of stuff away so that we can add more theatre.”

Adler & Gibb is at Summerhall, August 3-27. For further information, visit: festival16.summerhall.co.uk


Mark Brown’s festival highlights


Richard III

Royal Lyceum, Aug 24-28

I had the good fortune to catch this spellbinding production, by leading German director Thomas Ostermeier, at the Shakespeare Festival in Craiova, Romania earlier this year. Imagine the angry, sarcastic comedy of the late Bill Hicks combined with the punk sensibility of Iggy Pop and you’re getting close to actor Lars Eidinger’s high-octane characterisation of Shakespeare’s famous “hunchback”. With the assistance of an illuminating microphone on the end of a bungee cord, the show focuses brilliantly on Richard’s conspiratorial relationship with the audience. Dark, brooding and comic, this piece by the Schaubuhne company of Berlin is bound to be a highlight of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.


My Eyes Went Dark

Traverse, Aug 4-28

The 107 Group present what promises to be one of the most powerful dramas of this year’s Fringe. Outstanding actors Cal MacAninch and Thusitha Jayasundera perform a two-hander about a Russian architect who is driven to an act of revenge after his loved ones are killed in a plane crash. Inspired by real events, the piece was critically acclaimed when it opened in London last autumn.



Assembly George Square, Aug 4-29

Derevo, Russian masters of elegiac physical theatre, revive their celebrated contemplation of the exhilaration, anguish and profundity of love. Like their compatriots Akhe and Song Of The Goat Theatre from Poland, Derevo have enriched the Fringe with their theatrical poetics over the years. Expect something beautiful and deeply emotionally engaging.


Under Ice

Summerhall @ the King’s Hall, Aug 8-22

Written by German author Falk Richter and staged by well-known Lithuanian companies Arturo Areimos teatras and Oskaro Korsunovo teatras, Under Ice exemplifies the internationalism of the Fringe. A “poignant and intimate insight into the maladies of corporate life”, Richter’s play is concerned with capitalism’s capacity to reduce people to mere functionaries of an economic system. Don’t bother inviting Sir Philip Green.


Leaf By Niggle

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Aug 4-28

Edinburgh-based Puppet State Theatre Company present their much-loved show based upon JRR Tolkien’s short story. It is the tale of Niggle, the distracted painter who feels compelled to keep returning to the same painting of a tree and a landscape. Performed on an opulently designed set by Richard Medrington, the play boasts a soundtrack by Karine Polwart and Michael John McCarthy. A theatrical world of imagination beckons.


These articles were originally published in the Sunday Herald on July 31, 2016

© Mark Brown

Review: Doctor Faustus, Botanic Gardens, Glasgow



Doctor Faustus

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow

Until July 30


Reviewed by Mark Brown


Adam Donaldson as Faustus and Stephanie McGregor as Mephistopheles in Bard in the Botanics production of Dr Faustus (3) credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Adam Donaldson (Faustus) and Stephanie McGregor (Mephistopheles). Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan


You have to admire Bard in the Botanics (BiB), the Glasgow summer festival that stages ambitious productions of Shakespeare plays and other Renaissance dramas with very limited resources. In addition to its larger cast shows, which play (weather permitting) outdoors in the splendid botanic gardens, the programme also offers smaller scale works in the lovely Kibble Palace glasshouse.

One of the latter is this staging of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in a radically revised adaptation by BiB associate director Jennifer Dick. As so often at this festival, one is impressed by the fearlessness with which it tackles a major classical play.

Dick has cut the cast down to three. Adam Donaldson plays the titular scholar, who sells his soul to Lucifer in exchange for 24 years of service from the Devil’s sidekick Mephistopheles. Stephanie McGregor takes on the role of Mephisto, while Ryan Ferrie plays The Good Angel (and a number of other characters besides).

The production makes the most of its female Mephisto, creating some convincing moments of sexual tension between her and Faustus. If only the rest of this staging was so successful.

The dramatic spine of Dick’s version is a tug-of-war between Mephisto and the Angel, with Faustus in the middle. At the outset, one is reminded of Tom And Jerry cartoons, in which little cats (emissaries from Heaven and Hell) appear on Tom’s shoulders trying to persuade him to take a, respectively, good and bad course of action.

Indeed, so fixed is the dramatic frame here that it resembles some sort of theatrical tennis match, with Mephisto and the Angel as the players, and Faustus as the ball. In other words, the piece moves from side-to-side, rather than progressing forward (or, more correctly, downward).

Dick does maintain Mephisto’s warnings to Faustus about the agonies of Hell, and we do see the doctor choose the power of dark magic over the salvation of religion. However, the structure of this version is simply too narrow to allow Faustus’s vanity and personal will to really drive the drama on.

There are some moments of light relief from the show’s somewhat static form. A Catholic pantomime, in which a blasphemous Faustus mocks not only the Pope but the sacrament itself, is irreverently comic.

However, elsewhere, and despite the best efforts of an accomplished cast, the production is undone. Dick indulges her apparent taste for ill-judged mime with silly hand gestures representing the use of supernatural powers by Mephisto and the Angel.

Worse still, as if she is somehow aware of her production’s sense of stasis, the director tries to liven it up with moments of irritating melodrama; whether it be shouting and over-emoting by her actors or gratuitous blasts of consciously monumental music.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on July 24, 2016

© Mark Brown

Reviews: The Lonesome West, Tron, Glasgow and GamePlan & RolePlay, Pitlochry (Sunday Herald)



The Lonesome West

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Until July 23


GamePlan & RolePlay

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Various dates until October 12 & 13 respectively


Reviewed by Mark Brown


Lonesome West
Keith Fleming and David Ganly in The Lonesome West. Photo: John Johnston


Long before Martin McDonagh wrote the screenplay for the acclaimed film In Bruges, he had made his name, on both sides of the Atlantic, with a trio of brilliant, bleak comedies set in rural County Galway, entitled The Leenane Trilogy. It is to the last of the trilogy, The Lonesome West, that Glasgow’s Tron Theatre turns for its latest production.

In the play, McDonagh, like the cosmopolitan Dubliner J M Synge before him, looks upon Ireland’s wild west as an intrigued outsider. The writer depicts warring brothers Coleman and Valene, alcoholic, young priest Father Welsh and miscreant teenager Girleen with a mixture of fascination, affection and horror which is similar to that articulated by Synge in his magnum opus Playboy Of The Western World.

McDonagh also shares Synge’s ear for the profane poetics of an often marginalised people. However, the loosening of public morals in the 90 years between the controversial premiere of Playboy (1907) and the opening of The Lonesome West (1997) allows McDonagh’s play to be the darker, more scabrous of the two. Indeed, The Lonesome West is, arguably, an even more hilarious and affecting satire than its illustrious predecessor.

There is a cartoonishness to McDonagh’s characterisations that is reminiscent of the films of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. However, there is also an underlying poignancy in the neglect and despair that seem to epitomise the village of Leenane.

It requires actors of great skill and breadth to give expression to this paradox. Director Andy Arnold (who has an excellent track record with modern Irish classics) has assembled a first class cast who nail both the larger-than-life comedy of the play and its tremendous pathos.

David Ganly (who played Father Welsh in the 1997 premiere in Ireland and elsewhere) makes for a superb Valene, the ludicrous, argumentative skinflint who inks the letter V on his statuettes of the saints, thereby denoting his ownership of them; likewise the chairs, the new stove and much else besides. Playing opposite him is fine, Scottish actor Keith Fleming, who performs the role of Coleman with a high-octane combination of combustible menace and farcical intransigence.

Ganly and Fleming are a genuinely grotesque, uproarious double act. They are complemented beautifully by the tremendously funny and emotive performances of Michael Dylan (Father Welsh) and impressive newcomer Kirsty Punton (Girleen).

All of which, like designer Michael Taylor’s appropriately hyper-realistic set, makes Arnold’s production a must-see staging of one of the finest Irish plays of recent times.

“Bleak comedy” is a term that is also, and often, applied to English playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s strangely named 2001 trilogy Damsels In Distress. I say strange because the trilogy, despite its somewhat Victorian title, is an attempt by Ayckbourn to address himself to the modern world.

Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) is presenting all three of the plays during its current summer season. Two of them, GamePlan and RolePlay played as a double-bill last weekend.

Ayckbourn wrote the trilogy with the intention that all three plays be performed by the same seven actors, under the same director, on the same set. So it was when he directed the premieres at his Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough 15 years ago, and so it is at PFT now.

Richard Baron directs the plays on an accurate set (a plush, modern flat in London’s lifeless Docklands development) by Ken Harrison. The cast for all three is comprised of the same seven actors drawn from the theatre’s 2016 ensemble.

In GamePlan, 16-year-old Sorrell (Kirsty MacKay on typically excellent form), faced with the demise of her parents’ company and their marriage, tries to save her Mum and herself from penury by taking to prostitution. In RolePlay, a young couple’s dinner party to announce their engagement to their middle-class parents is gatecrashed by a former lapdancer and her minder, both of whom are unfortunate associates of an extremely violent and unscrupulous boxing promoter.

However, anyone hoping for well-balanced, McDonagh-style dark comedies will be disappointed. Ayckbourn’s starting point for the plays is, as so often, the English drawing room comedy and, in particular, the farce.

Unlike McDonagh’s dramas, Ayckbourn’s address the social issues so lightly as to be almost facetious. In GamePlan, only a brief moment when Sorrell breaks down into tears takes us anywhere close to the emotional and psychological weight of the young woman’s decision. In RolePlay, any implicit commentary on the bigoted beliefs of Derek (the garden centre owner who is father to the would-be bride) is outweighed by Ayckbourn’s constant desire to reassure his audience with well-worn comic formulas and caricatures.

Baron’s productions are, typically of PFT, nicely-crafted and well-acted. However, the plays themselves, despite some undoubted moments of wit, lack the moral weight needed to be the dark, humanistic comedies intended by their author.

For performance dates for GamePlan and RolePlay, visit: pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on July 17, 2016

© Mark Brown

Reviews: GamePlan & RolePlay, Pitlochry (Daily Telegraph)





Review by Mark Brown


GamePlan - Kirsty Mackay and Amanda Osborne
Kirsty Mackay and Amanda Osborne in GamePlan. Photo: Douglas McBride

The late theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once accused Harold Pinter of being “frivolous, even when he is being serious”. It was a harsh judgement, and one better suited to Alan Ayckbourn’s nominally “dark” comic trilogy  Damsels in Distress (which is currently being staged at Pitlochry Festival Theatre).

As GamePlan and RolePlay (which played as a double bill on Saturday and, along with FlatSpin, make up the 2001 trilogy) attest, the dramas are more successful as modern farces than as social commentaries.

Although each play in the trilogy is distinct, they were written to be performed by the same cast, led by the same director, on the same set. These requirements are fulfilled as assiduously at Pitlochry as they were at Ayckbourn’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, where they premiered 15 years ago.

Richard Baron directs the same talented, seven-strong cast in all three plays. Ken Harrison’s stage design provides a convincingly detailed approximation of a swanky apartment in London’s soulless Docklands.

Ayckbourn has spoken of his concern to get the balance right in his play writing between “substance” and “fun”. In the cases of these dramas, there is rarely a danger that the weight of social concerns is going to overwhelm the lightness of the comedy.

In GamePlan, 16-year-old Sorrel (played brilliantly by Kirsty Mackay), faced with the collapse of both her parents’ company and their marriage, decides to try to avert financial disaster by going into prostitution. Yet, from Sorrel’s dippy friend Kelly to a Bible-quoting WPC, the play is mainly populated by two-dimensional comic caricatures.

It isn’t difficult to see why RolePlay, which is set during young couple Julie-Ann and Justin’s ill-fated dinner party, has met with particular critical acclaim. With its coming together of former lapdancer Paige Petite (Gemma McElhinney on great form) with such comic grotesques as Justin’s posh, alcoholic mother and Julie-Ann’s 19th hole bigot father, it is the more complete farce.

One of the purposes of this trilogy is to exhibit the virtuosity of an ensemble of actors. In both GamePlan and RolePlay the Pitlochry cast delivers in spades.

However, one can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Ayckbourn’s claims to serious intent. With more signposts than the M1, these plays lack the subtlety required to be truly meaningful social dramas. What they are, however, is well-crafted, 21st-century drawing room comedies.

GamePlan and RolePlay play various dates until October 12 and 13, respectively. For details, visit: pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on July 13, 2016


© Mark Brown