Reviews: Poke & Wuthering Heights, The Arches, Glasgow

THEATRE

 

Platform 18: Poke & Wuthering Heights;

seen at The Arches, Glasgow, run ended;

at Traverse, Edinburgh, May 1-3

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

The Arches is Scotland’s undisputed capital for the many and varied theatrical forms which bump and jostle under the huge umbrella that is labelled “performance art”. The venue’s annual Behaviour festival is by far the biggest performance showcase in Scotland.

At the heart of the festival is Platform 18 (formerly The Arches Award for Stage Directors). Re-titled as the 18th notional point of departure from Glasgow Central rail station (which sits directly above The Arches), past winners of this award for emerging theatre-makers include Cora Bissett (of Glasgow Girls fame), Rob Drummond (Bullet Catch) and Kieran Hurley (Beats).

If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t be rushing down to the bookies to put my hard-earned cash on writer/director Amanda Monfrooe (one of the Platform 18 winners for 2013) following in the footsteps of her illustrious predecessors. The US-born dramatist’s satirical/political two-hander, Poke, puts forward a dystopian vision of a world in which all but two women are raped and murdered in a period of male “madness”.

However, it fails in its attempts to collide violent misogyny with environmental destruction. As the two surviving women argue and go to elemental war over the future of a daughter given to them by the gods, the conflict between their vastly different visions of feminism seems like a hugely over-simplified version of an imagined debate between Angela Davis and Andrea Dworkin.

Monfrooe’s somewhat heavy-handed attempt to place this overly polemical narrative into an Attic-style myth is similarly unsuccessful. The politics of the piece are placed, catastrophically, ahead of the aesthetics; which are, in any case, like Sophocles for primary school kids. Little surprise, then, that performers Claire Willoughby and Lesley Asare flounder in a work which makes us feel much too little of the terrifying issues it is attempting to address.

There’s an altogether different, and subtler, broaching of issues of gender in Peter McMaster’s all-male contemplation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. The talented five-strong cast evoke characters from the novel, from Heathcliff and his ill-fated love Catherine, to the evocatively symbolic horses. The novel’s tracing of rites of passage draw McMaster’s performers into touching musings on stages of development, real or imagined, in their own lives.

The decision to have all five actors defiantly sporting beards of one kind or another is a smart one. The contrast, in the piece’s cross-dressing moments, between observable biological masculinity and attempts to evoke a feminine persona, is enjoyable; although it might have been more affecting had McMaster not made concessions to the conventional demand that men in frocks play it for laughs. That said, when the cast go all out for comedy, as in their daft choreography to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, they are reminiscent of DV8 Physical Theatre in their lighter moments.

At times one wishes this collection of vignettes was just a bit tighter; for instance, a scene in which the ensemble cough and splutter violently is an unnecessarily graphic, overlong depiction of the tuberculosis which features so prominently in Bronte’s novel. Nevertheless, the piece sparks with theatrical imagination in a way that suggests we may well be hearing the name of Peter McMaster again in the not-too-distant future.

 

The Behaviour festival continues at The Arches until May 11, http://www.thearches.co.uk

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 28, 2013

© Mark Brown

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