Reviews: Endgame, Citizens, Glasgow; Cock, Tron, Glasgow; The Tailor of Inverness, Tolbooth, Stirling

THEATRE REVIEWS

 

Endgame

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Until February 20

 

Cock

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Until February 20;

then touring until February 27

 

The Tailor Of Inverness

Seen at Tolbooth, Stirling

Touring UK until March 25

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

Endgame
David Neilson as Hamm & Chris Gascoyne as Clov. Photo: Tim Morozzo

 

Endgame vies, in the minds of many theatre lovers, with Waiting For Godot for the title of Samuel Beckett’s greatest play. Apparently post-apocalyptic, it has none of the sturm und drang which we usually associate with the last days of humankind. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road it is not.

Instead it depicts Hamm (an imperious figure, despite his inability to see or stand), Clov (Hamm’s servant-cum-slave, who cannot sit) and Hamm’s parents Nagg and Nell (who live in a pair of dustbins and maintain their mutual affection, despite having lost their legs years ago in a tandem accident). The world outside their crumbling room is grey, sunless and seemingly dead.

As ever with Beckett’s writing, it would be quite wrong to characterise the play as an exercise in pessimism. Nothing that was truly misanthropic could have so much mordant humour, existential insight and empathetic humanism.

Director Dominic Hill’s production for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow and the Home arts venue in Manchester is a brilliantly weighted thing of beauty. Sensitive and intelligent, it captures perfectly the drama’s portrayal of the two enduring forces of human history (i.e. power relations and solidarity).

More than any Endgame I have seen this staging emphasises Hamm and Clov as a catastrophist take on two of theatre’s great master/slave pairings: namely, Pozzo and Lucky from Waiting For Godot and Prospero and Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. David Neilson is a superb Hamm, simultaneously domineering, stoical and endearingly witty. Chris Gascoyne is equally brilliant as an almost violently exasperated, yet compassionate Clov.

There are lovely performances, too, from Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty (as Nagg and Nell). Tom Piper’s set (which is expertly lit by Lizzie Powell) is, paradoxically, flawless in its assiduous depiction of decay.

Endgame reflects humanity in a godless universe. The great accomplishment of Hill’s production is that it expresses both the terror and the comfort in Beckett’s vision.

From the sublime we go to the ridiculous in the shape of Mike Bartlett’s 2009 sex comedy Cock. John (James Anthony Pearson), a nominally gay man is unable to decide between his long-term, unnamed partner (Johnny McKnight) and the temptations of the (also unnamed) woman (Isobel McArthur) with whom he has recently started an affair.

The ridiculousness, which is often pleasing, comes in the play’s striking improbability. John’s almost mechanical frankness about matters emotional and sexual is comically implausible; not least as it contrasts so starkly with his general absence of character. The agreement of the woman to attend a dinner party at which she and John’s lover will do battle is more ludicrous still.

Despite occasional signs that it takes itself more seriously, the play is a sitcom (and not only because Pearson looks like a young David Hyde Pierce, aka Niles from Frasier). Everything about the writing screams “screenplay”. Director Andy Arnold’s setting it on a bare stage, on which an illuminated square represents the domestic battleground, only manages to highlight the drama’s lack of theatricality.

The production is nicely acted throughout (including by Vincent Friel, who joins the party as the unnamed father of John’s lover) and very funny in moments. However, as it punctuates scene changes with often ill-advised choreography, one can’t help but feel that there is a very good reason that the play hasn’t been revived in the UK since it premiered at the Royal Court in London more than six years ago.

Despite its occasional claims to socio-political significance (such as a somewhat laboured allusion to the biological determinist theory of homosexuality), Cock seems like a half-hour, televisual light entertainment that has been over-extended to 100 minutes of theatre.

Far weightier, and far more theatrical, is The Tailor Of Inverness, writer/actor Matthew Zajac’s much loved monodrama about his Polish father, the titular tailor. Directed for Highland-based theatre company Dogstar by the excellent Ben Harrison, the piece has lost none of its power in the eight years since it was first staged.

The play tells the extraordinary story of Zajac’s father, from service in the Polish army at the outset of the Second World War, to demobbing in Glasgow and, ultimately, raising a family in Inverness. It was only after his beloved father’s death that Zajac discovered that the man had a wife and child back in Poland.

This deeply personal story, and the agonisingly conflicting emotions it must have evoked, could have given rise to a very straightforward work of theatrical storytelling. However, Zajac and Harrison have conspired to create a piece which plays movingly to the strengths of live theatre.

The production is wonderfully physical. For instance, by the deceptively modest device of hurdling over a spinning clothes rail, assisted by some projected images, the actor represents his father’s wartime train journeys across Europe.

Excellent live fiddle music and Polish song transport us over time and space. Occasionally beautifully simple theatrical imagery (such as little shirts representing two Jewish children murdered by the Nazis) is substituted for language.

As befits the profession of its subject, this is a gorgeously woven together piece of biographical theatre. Even its use of documentary audio recording and photographs (which can often be a distraction in the theatre) is careful and unerringly effective.

Brave, honest, staged and performed with equal measures of skill and commitment, the production more than justifies this marvellous revival.

For tour details for Cock see tron.co.uk

For tour details for The Tailor Of Inverness see dogstartheatre.co.uk

A slightly truncated version of these reviews was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 14, 2016

© Mark Brown

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