Fever Dream: Southside
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Until May 9
The Venetian Twins
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Until May 16
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Fever Dream: Southside, the latest play by Douglas Maxwell, is a theatrical love letter to the vibrant, ethnically and socially diverse communities of Glasgow that sit south of the River Clyde. Set during a baking hot summer, the piece ushers forth a panoply of colourful characters who struggle, in their own distinct ways, to cope with both the oppressive heat and the premonitory atmosphere.
At the now waterless Govanhill Baths (saved from closure by an unforgettable community campaign) an arts event seeks to raise awareness of a young woman who’s gone missing. Like the gates of Queen’s Park, which (in Neil Warmington’s impressive set design) loom menacingly over the stage, it’s an ominous reminder of the appalling rape and murder of Moira Jones in 2008.
If the play’s various narrative strands encompass the best and the worst of the Southside, so, too, do its characters. Demi (Kirsty Stuart) is determined to do her bit for community activism, despite the demands of a sleepless baby and her hapless husband, Peter (Martin McCormick).
Landlord Raj (Dharmesh Patel), by contrast, is an over-confident, neo-Thatcherite scumbag with the dress sense of a 1980s nightclub owner. Mentally distressed, young American missionary Joe (Martin Donaghy) is pulled hither and thither by his imaginary twin (Scott Reid) and Terry, a menacing, Glaswegian pterodactyl (a brilliant puppet, created by Gavin Glover and voiced by Harry Ward).
The problem is, Maxwell throws this vivid, human carousel into an almost formless chaos. This is, no doubt, a conscious attempt to evoke the disordered charms and trepidations of the Southside, but it fails.
The weak structure does nothing for the writer’s attempts to knit together tragedy and comedy. The play lacks both the pathos of his moving Decky Does A Bronco and the consistent comedy of his hilarious A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity.
Despite the best efforts of Citz director Dominic Hill, dramaturg Frances Poet and a really excellent cast, the piece resists all attempts to lend it coherence or momentum. Sagging under the weight of its own shambolic form, Fever Dream dissipates into a frustrating redundancy.
There are no such issues of structure in The Venetian Twins, director and adaptor Tony Cownie’s new version of Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic for the Lyceum. It is difficult to imagine a better 21st-century rendering of this comedy of Italian manners in which the titular twin brothers, the dim-witted country bumpkin Zanetto and the gentrified, chivalrous Tonino, inadvertently create havoc in an unsuspecting 18th-century Verona.
The identical appearance of the twins befuddles and upsets their wives-to-be, Zanetto’s betrothed, the dippy Rosaura (Dani Heron, deliciously stupid in lurid pink), and the clever and emancipated Beatrice (the fabulously indignant Jessica Hardwick), fiancé to Tonino. As it does so, Cownie’s new text bridges the two-and-a-half centuries since the play was written with an impressively mischievous and hilariously modern rudeness.
There are superb performances all over the place. Kern Falconer is side-rippingly funny as accident prone, Irish publican Flozzie, while Steve McNicoll’s moustache-twirling, devious priest Pancrazio makes Molière’s Tartuffe look like a paragon of virtue.
However, the success of any production of this comedy rests overwhelmingly on the casting of the brothers themselves, and Cownie’s choice of the talented Grant O’Rourke is inspired. The actor nails the dual role as he races on and off Neil Murray’s wonderful, two-dimensionally panto-ish set, disappearing as one sibling, and reappearing, amusingly transformed, as the other.
In many ways, Cownie’s script does for Goldoni what Liz Lochhead has done for Molière. Little wonder, then, that his production is as funny a night out at the theatre as you are likely to have all year.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on May 3, 2015
© Mark Brown