Reviews: Matilda: The Musical, Edinburgh Playhouse; What Girls are Made Of Tramway, Glasgow; & Achilles, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Theatre

 

Matilda: The Musical

Edinburgh Playhouse

Until April 27

 

What Girls are Made Of

Tramway, Glasgow

Touring until June 8

 

Achilles

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Touring until June 8

 

By MARK BROWN

Matilda Photo-Manuel-Harlan
Matilda: The Musical. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Those who have been eagerly awaiting the Edinburgh residency of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s hit show Matilda: The Musical will not be disappointed. This staging of Roald Dahl’s story about the neglected-but-brilliant heroine Matilda Wormwood lives up to the hype entirely.

From the opening scene, in which pampered children at a birthday party sing such boastful lines as “my mummy says I’m a miracle”, it’s clear that we’re in for a treat. Tim Minchin’s lyrics are as bold and funny as Dahl’s gloriously exaggerated writing, his music as bright and memorable.

The show that follows is close to perfect in evoking the garish comedy, the pathos and the solidarity with children that make Dahl’s book such a success. Matilda, played with super-confident excellence on Monday evening by Freya Scott (one of four young actors performing the title role in Edinburgh), is beautifully balanced between pitiful emotional abuse and heroic, clever resilience.

Her appalling parents (Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastien Torkia on tremendously ghastly form) are a Technicolor nightmare. Torkia, in particular, renders dodgy, green-suited second hand car dealer Mr Wormwood with more than a touch of the obsequiousness and underlying nastiness of Eric Idle’s Monty Python creations.

Elliot Harper is even more outrageous as the fearful, fascistic headmistress (and former Olympic hammer thrower) Miss Trunchbull. Thank goodness Matilda and her sympathetic teacher Miss Honey (the superb Carly Thoms) are there to stop the dictatorial schoolmarm’s reign of terror.

It’s more than eight years since this RSC production began its life in Stratford-upon-Avon. In that time it has become a well-honed, lavishly resourced stage musical.

There has, obviously, been a great emphasis placed on achieving top notch production values and the casting of dozens of highly talented youngsters (for both this tour and the on-going production in the West End of London). Crucially, however, the show has maintained its lightness of touch, its humour and its humanity. It is, in short, family theatre at its very best.

WGaMO
Cora Bissett in What Girls Are Made Of

There’s musical theatre of a very different kind in Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of. A roaring success at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, this autobiographical play with songs has been revived for a tour that takes in, not only Scottish cities and towns, but also Northern Ireland, Brazil and the United States.

The show is performed with extraordinary charm, energy and panache by Bissett herself. There is fine, often hilarious, support from actor-musicians Simon Donaldson and Harry Ward (an excellent replacement for Grant O’Rourke, who was outstanding in the original production) and theatre musician Susan Bear.

Directed by erstwhile Traverse Theatre Company artistic director Orla O’Loughlin, Bissett tells the story of her Fife upbringing and of her more than 15 minutes of fame in the briefly successful rock band Darlingheart. With live renditions of numbers by, not only Bissett’s erstwhile group, but also its influences, such as The Pixies and PJ Harvey, this gig-cum-memoir is guaranteed a strong soundtrack. Moreover, the multi-talented and mercurial Bissett (an actor, director and writer who is now an associate director with the National Theatre of Scotland) still has what it takes as a vocalist.

We move, by way of skulduggery (on the part of Darlingheart’s devious manager Dirk Devine) and naivety (on the part of the teenage Bissett), beyond the writer-actor’s adventures in rock music into altogether more weighty, personal matters. The last half-hour of the 90-minute show turns to face terrible familial and personal tragedies.

Bissett approaches the subjects with a disarming and touching honesty and humour. As last August in Edinburgh, the piece feels almost as if it is two plays, rather than one, such is the considerable shift in tone when the story changes tack.

That said, there isn’t a moment here that doesn’t ring with heartbreaking and uplifting truth, and it’s all delivered with Bissett’s irresistible virtuosity and charisma.

Achilles
Ewan Downie performing Achilles. Photo: Company of Wolves

One-man show Achilles, performed for his Glasgow-based Company of Wolves by Ewan Downie, is another deserved revival. Touring Scotland, Wales and England, this latest outing for the telling, in words and movement, of the story of the titular Greek warrior at the siege of Troy, seems even sharper, more carefully honed than its impressive 2018 incarnation.

Downie’s vivid, Homeric speech and vigorously articulate movement give evocative expression to the apprehension of the Trojans and the brutal realities of battle. In the moment that Achilles hears news of the death of his precious friend Patroclus, Downie expresses the warrior’s emotional agony in a powerful, anguished, writhing movement accompanied by his poignant, plaintive singing of an Ancient Greek lament.

If there has been a more concerted attempt by a Scottish theatre company to embed the aesthetics and methods of the Polish theatre master Jerzy Grotowski in our national theatre culture, I am not aware of it. As Achilles attests, it is a laudable project.

For tour dates for What Girls are Made Of, visit: rawmaterialarts.com

For tour dates for Achilles, visit: companyofwolves.org.uk

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on April 14, 2019

© Mark Brown

 

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Review: Spring! by Scottish Ballet, Eden Court, Inverness; Wallflower, Universal Hall, Findhorn; & Glengarry Glen Ross, Opera House, Manchester (Herald on Sunday)

Dance & theatre

 

Spring!

Eden Court, Inverness

Touring until May 4

 

Wallflower

Universal Hall, Findhorn

Run ended

 

Glengarry Glen Ross

Opera House, Manchester

At Theatre Royal, Glasgow, April 8-13

 

By MARK BROWN

Scottish Ballet - Dextera Credit Andy Ross
Sophie Laplane’s Dextera. Photo: Andy Ross

Scottish Ballet, our national dance company, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Given the breadth of its programming, it is fitting that it should begin its celebrations, not with a classical ballet, but with Spring!, a double bill of defiantly unorthodox choreographies.

The evening begins with the world premiere of Dextera, an intriguing and memorable work by Scottish Ballet artist in residence Sophie Laplane. The choreographer describes the piece as a celebration of creativity, but, it seems clear, it is also commenting, upon current debates around gender inequalities and identities.

This it does with imagination, humour and some disquieting imagery. In contrast to the beauty of music by Mozart, red-gloved men manipulate puppet-like women, some of them with hooks attached to their costumes (all the better to control them).

This rigid, disconcerting gender scheme begins to crack when we see a male figure, attired in the same white dress as the women, being moved around the stage with energetic roughness. Soon, chorus scenes are offering comedic gestures of feminist defiance, leading to a final montage of personal freedom and social harmony.

The partner piece to Laplane’s choreography is a delicious revival of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s highly original work Elite Syncopations. First staged in 1974, it is a colourful, breezy and remarkably imaginative evocation of the music and dance of ragtime.

The piece is danced with fabulous energy and characterful expressiveness to resolutely happy music by Scott Joplin. Indeed, from Jamiel Laurence’s unintentionally comic Short (think Harold Lloyd trying to become king of the dancehall) to Constance Devernay’s sassy Stoptime, this staging captures fabulously the good humour, joy and exuberant sexiness of MacMillan’s classic dance work.

Wallflower - Jo Fong
Jo Fong in Wallflower. Photo: Quarantine

The opening of Scottish Ballet’s new season wasn’t the only major dance event in the Highlands in recent weeks. On March 22 the Manchester-based dance-theatre company Quarantine came to the Findhorn Foundation to perform, for the first time, the 12-hour marathon version of their acclaimed show Wallflower.

   The piece, which is usually performed in 90-minute or five-hour incarnations, is subtitled “can you remember every dance you’ve ever danced?” The show involves members of the company stepping forward and creating, in words and movement, improvised scenes based upon significant dances in their lives.

As they do so, there is always a DJ on hand, ready to draw up a suitable piece of music for the show’s dazzlingly diverse, improvised soundtrack, which includes, on this occasion, JS Bach, Al Green, Bronski Beat, Blondie and The Fall.

This marathon version of the show (which was performed from noon until midnight) was presented in Findhorn by Dance North and involved seven performers. Quarantine’s performers log carefully each individual dance; the 12-hour performance in Moray accounts for a significant block of the nearly 4,000 dances they have performed since Wallflower began in 2015.

The memories range from the comic and joyous, to the deeply personal, romantic and tragic. The locations include theatre stages and nightclubs, of course, but also people’s homes, the great outdoors, a school, a swimming pool, a ballet class and a train.

Watching the 12-hour version (which I did for around 11-hours in total), one becomes almost hypnotised. The improvisational and physical brilliance, and the charming informality, of the company combine mesmerisingly with the evocative power of memory and music.

Wallflower is a deceptively simple idea, and a brilliant one. By turns fabulously entertaining and deeply affecting, it is, quite literally, an unrepeatable piece of dance-theatre.

Glengarry
Scott Sparrow (as John Williamson) & Mark Benton (Shelly Levene) in Glengarry Glen Ross. Photo: Marc Brenner

From the freeform excellence of Quarantine to the major UK touring production of David Mamet’s famously well-made 1983 play Glengarry Glen Ross. Director Sam Yates’s production gets to the bleak heart of a drama that strips back the vicious, dog-eat-dog logic of Reaganite capitalism in the United States.

A fine cast, led superbly by Mark Benton (Shelly Levene, a once ace real estate salesman, now in decline) and Nigel Harman (hot shot salesman Ricky Roma), also give brilliant expression to Mamet’s reflections on competitive relations between men. Roma (played, famously, by Al Pacino in James Foley’s 1992 movie) struts his stuff like the alpha-male in a troupe of gorillas. One can almost taste the desperation of Benton’s Levene (Jack Lemmon’s legendary character in the film) as he tries to claw his way back into contention.

The men’s sales written on the board and bonuses or the sack are the only economic Darwinist options on offer. Such brutal dynamics push the terrified “dead beats” and “losers” among the salesmen towards foul, rather than fair, means.

As the ruthlessly best-laid plans of the company go spectacularly awry, Scott Sparrow gives a chillingly mechanical performance as cynical office manager John Williamson. Chiara Stephenson’s flawless, maximalist sets (the interior of a Chinese restaurant in Act 1, the ransacked real estate office in Act 2) are appropriately cinematic, and properly reflective of the professionalism and skill of this smooth, well-acted production.

Four tour dates for Spring! visit: scottishballet.co.uk

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on April 7, 2019

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Local Hero, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh; Nora: A Doll’s House, Tramway, Glasgow; & Gaslight, Perth Theatre (Herald on Sunday)

Theatre

 

Local Hero

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until May 4

 

Nora: A Doll’s House

Tramway, Glasgow

Until April 6

 

Gaslight

Perth Theatre

Until April 6

 

By MARK BROWN

Local Hero #2
Julian Forsyth (Ben) and Damian Humbley (Mac) in Local Hero. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

The long-awaited stage musical based upon Bill Forsyth’s much-loved screen comedy Local Hero (with music and lyrics by Mark Knopfler) has finally arrived. Sad to say, however, this staging of the story of a north-west Scottish coastal community in the grip of a promised oil boom is a moderately entertaining disappointment.

A co-production between the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh and London’s Old Vic, the show boasts a book that is credited to Forsyth and acclaimed playwright (and Lyceum artistic director ) David Greig; although, it must be said, Forsyth has distanced himself from it, claiming to have been sidelined from the creative process. That said, the narrative of director John Crowley’s production sticks fairly assiduously to the script of the movie.

Fans of the film might bemoan the absence of such characters as Oldsen (played by a young Peter Capaldi in the movie) and mermaid Marina (played by Jenny Seagrove). However, there is no question that the musical has strong leadership in the shape of Matthew Pidgeon (tremendously funny as lusty hotelier and deal broker Gordon) and Damian Humbley (suitably forlorn and romantic in the role of Texas oilman MacIntyre).

Perversely, the Achilles heel of the production turns out to be Knopfler’s score. Despite having his own memorable theme tune from the film and a Highland ceilidh to play with, he manages to create a set of overly-sentimental, underpowered and forgettable numbers.

Which is a great shame, as both Luke Hall’s impressive video projections of the night sky over Wester Ross and the no-holds-barred performances of a talented and energetic cast are worthy of the successful show this could, and should, have been.

Nora
Anna Russell-Martin, Molly Vevers and Maryam Hamidi as Nora. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

If (what I suppose we have to call) Greig and Knopfler’s musical disappoints, Nora: A Doll’s House, Stef Smith’s sweeping adaptation of Ibsen’s great play of gender and class in late 19th-century Scandinavia, is catastrophically misconceived. Set, simultaneously, in Britain in 1918, 1968 and 2018, this Citizens Theatre Company production is as clear an example as you will see of the careful structure of a classical drama collapsing under the weight of an adapter’s political intent.

The three periods of Smith’s self-described “radical new version” enable her to alight upon such issues as women’s suffrage (partly achieved in 1918), the introduction of the contraceptive pill (1961), the first achievement of abortion rights (1967) and the continued struggle against misogyny and gender inequality today. Confusingly, this requires three versions of Nora Helmer (the middle-class wife and mother who breaks out of her gilded cage) and three incarnations of her old friend Kristine Linde (Anglicised here as Christine); both are played alternately and, sometimes, simultaneously (when, excruciatingly, the trio speak all at once) by Anna Russell-Martin, Maryam Hamidi and Molly Vevers.

It also requires Tim Barrow to perform three versions of Nora’s husband Thomas (Smith’s unholy trinity based upon Ibsen’s banker patriarch Torvald Helmer). This he does, as per the script, with a one-dimensional representation of oppressive sexism, ranging from the infantilising language of the 1918 Thomas to the brutal physical assault by the current day husband.

The problem with all of this is that, politically well-intentioned and urgent though it is, it forces its point making upon Ibsen’s play with such a lack of subtlety that it destroys the near perfect calibration of the original drama. Consequently, neither director Elizabeth Freestone nor her variably accomplished cast are able to imbue Smith’s overloaded and increasingly polemical script with the power its subject matter deserves.

Gaslight
Esme Bayley (foreground) and Meg Fraser in Gaslight. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Where the Citizens’ show vulgarises a carefully constructed classic, Perth Theatre’s production of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gaslight makes an excellent evening’s theatre of what is, in truth, a pretty decent, if conventional, detective thriller. The drama is set in Victorian London in the well-to-do home of the menacing sculptor Jack Manningham (Robin Laing on impressively obnoxious form) and his oppressed, self-doubting wife Bella (a fine, sympathetic performance by Esme Bayley).

As the play unfolds, one is disturbed and intrigued (but not gripped) by Manningham’s patronising and bullying of his wife (who, he insists, is losing her mind). However, the drama moves into thriller mode with the arrival of Rough, a retired detective who has never quite been able to let go of an unsolved murder that occurred in this very house.

It is in the cross-casting of Rough, who remains male, but is played by Meg Fraser (for my money, one of the finest Scottish stage actors of the last quarter century), that the production is elevated above the ordinary. Playing the role with the natural lyricism of her native north-east of Scotland, Fraser gives the hard-bitten detective an emotional depth, wit and, often, laugh-out-loud humour that goes well beyond Hamilton’s characterisation.

Fraser mesmerises, keeping us entirely and compellingly in the moment. Which is the greatest gift an actor can give the audience, and, indeed, the director of any stage thriller.

Ruby Richardson offers a strong performance as the underhanded, flirtatious servant Nancy, while director and designer Kai Fischer carries out both roles with an equal deftness of touch.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on March 31, 2019

© Mark Brown

Review: Spring! by Scottish Ballet, Eden Court, Inverness (Daily Telegraph)

Dance review

 

Spring!

Eden Court, Inverness

 

By Mark Brown

Spring! - Dextera
Scottish Ballet perform Sophie Laplane’s Dextera. Photo: Andy Ross

Scottish Ballet began its 50th anniversary celebrations in the Highlands with Spring!, a programme of two appropriately unconventional ballets. The world premiere of Sophie Laplane’s Dextera and a welcome revival of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations (1974) underline the company’s commitment to contemporary and modern work.

Laplane’s piece seems to refer to the flexibility of human gender. Male dancers don red gloves (the first of which has fallen from the sky) which seem to rob them of volition and transform them into malevolent puppet masters, before,  in the second scene, seven men emerge wearing scarlet mitts, each of them manipulating a female dancer as if she were a mere mannequin. An eighth man arrives, roughly handling a male dancer who is wearing the same white dress as the women on stage.

It is all but impossible to escape the conclusion that the choreography is commenting on very current debates around gender inequality and identity. Crucially, however, this is no po-faced political essay. The significance of the work’s social observations is greatly enhanced by its rebellious humour and its balletic-yet-contemporary grace. Danced to gorgeously humanistic music by Mozart, it ultimately resolves itself in a beautiful movement with independent solos and duets casting off the strict regimens of the balletic chorus (and, in their ambisexuality, gender roles).

Spring! - Elite Syncopations
Bethany Kingsley-Garner in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations. Photo: Andy Ross

Laplane’s seriousness of purpose is balanced fabulously by MacMillan’s unique, evergreen and utterly delightful Elite Syncopations. An unashamedly celebratory ragtime ballet (which boasts an on-stage band), the piece is resplendent in the most gloriously garish costumes and hats (think candy shop colours and Ascot headgear).

Jamiel Laurence, as the hapless but charming Short (complete with Harold Lloyd-style glasses) exemplifies the humour of the piece. Constance Devernay, dancing the role of the supremely confident Stoptime on Friday, epitomises its sassiness.

Set in the relaxed, yet competitive, atmosphere of a wildly reimagined Twenties jazz club, it explodes with unalloyed pleasure, romance and exhibitionism. A scene in which the dancers pair off (digits on their backs) for a contest begins with a tremendously cheeky, numerical double entendre.

Although it abounds with delicious solos and duets, Elite Syncopations is, first and foremost, an ensemble work. The excellent Scottish Ballet company unleash themselves on it with gusto, delivering this much-loved piece with all of its inherent fun, energy and sexiness.

At Eden Court, Inverness, March 30, and touring until May 4: scottishballet.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 30, 2019

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/spring-scottish-ballet-review-fun-sexy-50th-anniversary-celebration/

© Mark Brown

Reviews: Interference, City Park, Glasgow & Victoria,Grand Theatre, Leeds (Herald on Sunday)

Theatre & dance

 

Interference

City Park, Glasgow

Until March 30

 

Victoria

Grand Theatre, Leeds

At Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

April 10-13

 

By MARK BROWN

Interference
Maureen Beattie in Interference. Photo: Eoin-Carey

There is something self-consciously zeitgeisty about the National Theatre of Scotland staging Interference (its trilogy of short, new plays set in a near future increasingly shaped by Artificial Intelligence) within City Park in the east end of Glasgow. A former tobacco factory which is now home to offices and call centres, the category B listed building is a symbol of both Scotland’s industrial (and morally dubious colonial) past, and of its technological future.

The opening pair of plays, Morna Pearson’s Darklands (which shares a title with The Jesus and Mary Chain’s second album, but lacks its atmosphere) and Metaverse by Hannah Khalil, seem like companion pieces. In both, an all-seeing, Orwellian entity known as The Company is running the show in a future in which humanity is already well past the tipping point of ecological catastrophe.

In Pearson’s drama, a young couple (Brie and Logan, played admirably by Shyvonne Ahmmad, on her professional stage debut, and Nicholas Ralph) are trying for a baby. This is not easy when they live and work within a facility run by The Company, in which they are largely kept apart and their primary interaction is with a disembodied AI (Maureen Beattie) which assesses and manipulates them on behalf of their employer.

Unable to conceive naturally, the couple find themselves the subject of the ultimate experiment to finally subsume humanity within computer technology.

In Khalil’s play, a scientist (the always superb Beattie) beavers away on a project which, she earnestly believes, will restore a sense of touch to the virtual communications that now dominate human interaction. Desperate for the elusive travel pass that will allow her to be with her daughter, refusing the doubtful pleasures of conversation with her humanoid robot, she discovers that The Company has a very different, decidedly malevolent purpose in mind for her path-breaking research.

Both plays have their merits (Pearson’s use of her native Doric, in a future in which AI speaks in an old BBC English accent, is an unexpected pleasure, for instance), but there is a flatness and predictability in their recourse to well-established dystopian themes.

By contrast, Vlad Butucea’s Glowstick approaches its subject with a flourish of imaginative poetics. Beattie plays (with tremendous empathy) a wheelchair-bound woman who is in terrible pain and under the care of a robot (played with delightful humour by Moyo Akande).

Contrary to the normal, miserablist assumption that AI will, finally, overtake the capacities of the human brain, Butucea’s play asserts an optimistic humanism in the great matters of life and death.

Victoria
Pippa Moore as Older Princess Beatrice and Abigail Prudames as Victoria with Northern Ballet dancers in Victoria. Photo: Emma Kauldhar

From speculations about the future to reflections on the past, as Leeds-based Northern Ballet premieres Victoria, Cathy Marston’s new choreography about the life of Queen Victoria (who was born 200 years ago this year). The ballet, which comes to Edinburgh next month, ahead of a live cinema event on June 25, considers the iconic monarch through the prism of her diaries, as read by her youngest child, Beatrice.

This literary conceit is a clever one, enabling, as it does, Marston to use Beatrice as an emotionally involved conduit between the audience and Victoria herself. It also allows the choreographer to select episodes from the queen’s life in an order that is not chronological (we begin shortly before Victoria’s death and end with her retreating into widowhood with the four-year-old Beatrice).

Ingenious though this device is, however, Northern Ballet might consider providing synopses to patrons (rather than requiring them to purchase expensive programmes in order to follow the sequence of events). In Leeds, one couldn’t help but overhear numerous interval conversations bemoaning people’s confusion as to the episodes being represented on stage.

This is a minor complaint, however, against a ballet which impresses with its wit, energy and audacity. Humorously unlikely though it is to see Victoria represented by a lithe ballerina, Abigail Prudames dances the role with tremendous grace, dexterity and emotion.

Whether (bereft of her beloved Albert) she is seeking solace in her relationship with John Brown or initially (and archly) forbidding Beatrice’s love for Prince Henry of Battenberg (known as Liko), Prudames renders the queen with great, balletic vibrancy.

The same is true of Pippa Moore, whose Beatrice guides us through the twists and turns of Marston’s story with a combination of subtlety and vitality that speaks to both a classical training and a somewhat modern sensibility in the choreography.

Indeed, there is a Matthew Bourne-ish boldness in a number of Marston’s choices. The scene in which Victoria gives birth to nine children in quick succession is a deliciously comic, yet also pointed, reflection on the queen’s role as a royal baby factory.

Most startling, however, is the erotically graphic representation of the passion between Victoria and Albert, which leads to Beatrice ripping the offending pages from her mother’s memoir.

The piece is danced, with universal excellence, on Steffen Aarfing’s surprisingly (and rewardingly) minimalist set, to Philip Feeney’s beautiful, emotionally attuned music. It is, without question, another triumph in Northern Ballet’s distinctive line of new, narrative choreographies.

These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on March 24, 2019

© Mark Brown

Review: Local Hero, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

Theatre review

 

Local Hero

Royal Lyceum

Edinburgh

 

By Mark Brown

LYCEUM - Local Hero, 2019
Matthew Pidgeon (Gordon) and Damian Humbley (Mac) in Local Hero. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

There was excited anticipation – and some controversy – ahead of this world premiere of the stage musical based on Bill Forsyth’s iconic 1983 film Local Hero, in which a Texas oilman arrives in the fictional coastal village of Ferness, in the north-west of Scotland, intent on turning it into an oil refinery. The feelgood gloss took a decided knock when Forsyth (who is credited as co-author, with David Greig, of the book for the show) announced that he would not be attending the opening night.  

The veteran filmmaker had, he said, been sidelined from the creative process and reduced to the role of a mere “editor”. We will probably never know whether his co-producers, the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh and London’s Old Vic, were guilty of gross disrespect, or Forsyth was at fault for having too thin a skin for such a collaborative process.

In any case, the proof of the proverbial pudding is that, had he been in attendance at last night’s opening, the filmmaker would have had entirely different reasons to express disappointment. Although director John Crowley succeeds in evoking much of the warm humour of the original film, Mark Knopfler’s songs are depressingly unmemorable.

What is strange is that the former Dire Straits frontman had two very distinct starting points for his score; namely, his much-loved theme tune for the 1983 film, and Scottish traditional music. Both feature, but neither stamps its authority on a set of songs that is characterised, both musically and lyrically, by an insipid sentimentality.

It’s a pity, as the production is blessed with some fine performances, not least from Matthew Pidgeon as hotel proprietor-cum-financial advisor Gordon. The early number in which (having just learned of the proposed oil deal) he celebrates his coming wealth is more memorable for Pidgeon’s hilariously exuberant performance than for anything happening on the musical front.

Damian Humbley, too, is nicely cast in the role of MacIntyre, the lonely Houston oil executive, which he plays with the perfect combination of go-getting arrogance, human frailty and self-effacing humour.

The book (from which Forsyth has distanced himself) winks at many of the film’s best-loved jokes, from a well-aged whisky being “old enough to be out on its own” to the unknown parentage of the village baby. The script takes some wrong turns, such as the irritatingly incongruous scene (complete with terrible song) in which the women of the village try to persuade the eccentric beach-dweller Ben to sell up and move into a retirement home.

Scott Pask’s understated set relies heavily upon Luke Halls’s impressive projections for its sense of spectacle, which it achieves most notably in the moments when it evokes the night skies over the Highlands. Ultimately, however, weighed down by Knopfler’s lacklustre score, the production seems perpetually stuck in second gear.

At Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh until April 20; transferring to the Old Vic, London, dates to be confirmed

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 24, 2019

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/local-hero-royal-lyceum-edinburgh-review-beloved-scottish-film/

© Mark Brown

 

Review: Interference, City Park, Glasgow (Daily Telegraph)

Theatre review

 

Interference

City Park, Glasgow

 

By Mark Brown

Interference #2
Maureen Beattie and Moyo Akandé in Interference. Photo: Eoin-Carey

The National Theatre of Scotland is surely one of very few drama companies (if not the only one) to have among its staff a “Digital Thinker in Residence”. It is little surprise, then, that its new trilogy of short plays (staged by director Cora Bissett under the umbrella title Interference) focuses on the future impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and other developing technologies.

In the first play, Darklands by Morna Pearson, young couple Brie (Shyvonne Ahmmad impressing on her professional stage debut) and Logan (Nicholas Ralph) are trying to have a baby. No mean feat given that they work for a sinister entity known only as The Company, which keeps them prisoner in its high-tech facility and regulates every aspect of their lives.

Living, for the most part, in separate rooms where their only communication is with a disembodied AI voice (Maureen Beattie), they are directed towards an experiment in which the distinction between human and machine will be irreversibly destroyed.

Hannah Khalil’s Metaverse could almost be a sequel to Pearson’s play. In it, a scientist (played with integrity and feeling by the ever-excellent Beattie) tries to use technology to break down the dehumanising effects of digitisation.

Preferring loneliness to interaction with her pseudo-human robot, she strives to restore a sense of touch to digital interaction in general, and her virtual communication with her daughter in particular. However, The Company (making another bleak appearance) has other, altogether darker, plans for her work.

Both plays have their virtues but fall into rather obvious, dystopian sci-fi tropes, rendering them somewhat lacklustre. However, the third drama – Glowstick, by promising young writer Vlad Butucea – is much better.

Here, we encounter River, an elderly woman (played with tremendous empathy by Beattie), who is confined to a wheelchair by an unbearably painful medical condition. Living in a drowned world (due, one assumes, to catastrophic climate change), she is in the care of a robot nurse (a fine, often comic performance by Moyo Akandé).

Butucea finds a poetic language for River’s desperate clinging to memory that is absent from the other two plays. Ultimately (and ironically), by elevating human intelligence and emotion above AI in his human character’s drive to end her own life, he creates the most hopeful moment of the entire evening.

Until March 30: nationaltheatrescotland.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on March 20, 2019

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/interference-review-city-park-glasgow-one-powerful-note-hope/

© Mark Brown