From Alfred Jarry to Noel Coward, Oran Mor’s Classic Cuts season has lost none of its edge. By Mark Brown
When I meet David MacLennan – producer of the famous lunchtime theatre A Play, A Pie And A Pint – at the Oran Mor venue in the West End of Glasgow, he is in the midst of staging One Day In Spring, a startlingly raw rollercoaster through the current Arab revolutions, performed by young Egyptian actors. It speaks volumes about MacLennan and his prolificacy as a producer that – whilst his theatre is evoking the historic current events in Egypt, Syria and Bahrain – he is also on the cusp of his fifth season of abridged versions of classic plays.
Entitled Sol Summer Season Of Classic Cuts (try saying that after a few lime-infused Mexican beers), the programme kicks off on June 11 with a truncated version of George Bernard Shaw’s satirical Pygmalion. That is followed, in turn, by abridgements of Alfred Jarry’s explosively modernist Ubu Roi, Shakespeare’s rarely staged King John and Noel Coward’s comedy of manners Private Lives. It’s just about as diverse a season of four classics as one could devise.
“The programme reflects the eclecticism of what we’re doing here”, says MacLennan. “The most common thing audience members say to me when they come through the doors of Oran Mor is, ‘what’s on this week?’ We’ve responded to our audience’s openness to new theatrical experiences… I think if we just put on a season of light comedies, they would drift away. They want meat as well as sorbet.”
No-one can question the completeness of the menu in this latest Classic Cuts season. It’s a long way from the raw meat of Jarry’s surreal, almost comically genocidal monarch to the palate cleansing clipped vowels of Coward’s flouncing toffs. However, MacLennan isn’t taking credit for the apparent cleverness of the programme. The season, he insists, effectively programmed itself.
“The programme was put together entirely by the enthusiasm of people knocking at my door”, the producer explains. “I didn’t have to suggest plays to people, they came to me. For instance, [director] Liz Carruthers and [adapter] Sandy Nelson came to me saying they wanted to do George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which is a play I absolutely love. It’s so funny and insightful. It’s all about the class system and its preposterousness.”
Jarry’s Ubu Roi is a highly original, and even more savage, assault on the vices encouraged by absolute power. It is not an obvious candidate for a lunchtime production. However, confident in his audience’s open-mindedness, and impressed by the “burning enthusiasm” of Marcus Roche (who has translated and adapted the play), MacLennan had no hesitation in commissioning him.
King John, a tale of Franco-English enmity and internecine conflict within the English royal family is, surely, the most surprising play on the Classic Cuts list. “People haven’t seen King John for a good reason”, MacLennan admits of the drama, which has been adapted for Oran Mor by Philip Howard (newly appointed co-director and chief executive of Dundee Rep Theatre). “It’s not the best Shakespeare play by a very, very long way. But Philip has convinced me that a 50-minute version of it is probably one of Shakespeare’s best plays.”
The four-show season ends with an abridged version of Noel Coward’s famous comedy Private Lives, in which wealthy, honeymooning couples discover that they are staying in hotel rooms adjacent to their former spouses. Young actress and director (and regular Oran Mor collaborator) Jennifer Hainey convinced MacLennan with the promise that she could put together an excellent cast of actors who are as keen on the play as she is.
An obscene, crazy king and comically disrupted honeymoons. What more could you ask for? A pie and a pint, perhaps.
The Sol Summer Season Of Classic Cuts runs at Oran Mor, Glasgow from June 11 until July 7. For further information, visit: www.oran-mor.co.uk
This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 27, 2012
© Mark Brown