Ana, Traverse, Edinburgh
Until Saturday, then touring until March 24
Plume, Tron, Glasgow
Until March 17
Reviews by Mark Brown
Imagine, if you will, a play which combines the ancient poetry of Sappho and the contemporary classical drama of Caryl Churchill with the time travel of Dr Who, and you might have something approximating Ana, the latest work from Scottish women’s theatre company Stellar Quines, in co-production with Imago Theatre of Québec. Inspired by the ancient Mesopotamian myth of the goddess Inanna, the play (which is co-written by Scottish dramatist Clare Duffy and her Québécois counterpart Pierre Yves Lemieux) creates a metaphysical Everywoman.
Ana divides herself again and again, and, thus, is to be found in all times and all places. At the outset of the play, this multiplicity is represented by six, scarlet-clad Anas contained within glass cabinets, from which emanate a series of Anas; mothers and infanticides, heroic virgins and symbolic whores who defy the history which defines them. We know them by other names, such as Medea, Joan of Arc and, most fascinatingly here, the indivisible, dualistic French revolutionary figure of Liberty and The Terror; Québécoise actress Magalie Lépine-Blondeau is scintillating as Delacroix’s bare-breasted Liberté, transformed into the concubine of the revolution, and, thus, the repository of the secrets of The Terror.
We are guided around this series of vignettes by an Ian Dury-style master of ceremonies, who, despite a fine performance by Alain Goulem, fails in his efforts to lend consistency to the work. If the play sometimes carries real intellectual, political and erotic weight, at other moments it is exasperatingly frivolous; for instance, a parody of hippie performance poetry from 1970 is so pointless that it cannot be salvaged, even by the excellent Selina Boyack.
Ana is a play which comes from a profound and brilliant idea, but it seems to have, not merely two, but multiple authors, none of whom could agree with director Serge Denoncourt upon a common structure or theatrical dynamic.
If Stellar Quines’ piece has Dr Who’s propensity to move through time and space, the Tron theatre’s new play, J.C. Marshall’s Plume, boasts the seventh Doctor himself, aka Sylvester McCoy. The acclaimed actor plays suicidal primary school teacher Ross Peters, who, having lost his wife to cancer many years before, then suffered the death of his son in a terrorist attack (which, in all meaningful details, resembles the Lockerbie bombing). The governmental release of the convicted bomber on compassionate grounds so outrages the bereft man that, with a pathos which defines the play, we find him standing in the open window of a Glasgow city centre Travelodge, preparing to jump to his death.
Directed by the Tron’s artistic director Andy Arnold and narrated by Alby (Finn Den Hertog), the imaginary friend of Ross’s son, William, the drama relies upon the intervention of hotel worker Maller (Gemma McElhinney), who just happens to be the bee sting-allergic former pupil of Ross, whose life he saved when she was a child.
If this coincidence seems more than a little overwrought, it is less problematic than this often poetic play’s palpable requirement that one sympathise strongly with the avuncular and decent Ross; no easy task, given that he is motivated by a desire to keep in prison a man whom many believe was too sick for jail, and many others believe to have been innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.
A slightly abridged version of these reviews appeared in the Sunday Herald on March 4, 2012.
© Mark Brown