Performing Arts Highlights in 2017
by Mark Brown
January can be a little quiet in Scotland’s theatres. As the extraordinary number of pantomimes and Christmas family shows close, it often feels that the theatrical year is slow to get started.
2017 is a bit different, however. January offers real gems, with two major theatre productions by acclaimed visiting companies.
First up, as ever, is Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre. The capital city’s repertory theatre hosts Picnic At Hanging Rock (January 13-28), by Australian groups Malthouse Theatre and Black Swan Theatre Company. The play is based upon Joan Lindsay’s novel, famously popularised by Peter Weir’s 1975 film, about a group of schoolgirls who go missing during a picnic in the Australian state of Victoria in 1900.
Not to be outdone, Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre also welcomes one of the world’s great touring companies. London-based Cheek By Jowl’s production of Shakespeare’s “problem play” The Winter’s Tale, staged by acclaimed director Declan Donnellan, makes its UK premiere at the Citz (January 24-28).
The drama is, by turns, tragic and comic. It will be fascinating to see what Donnellan makes of it.
It is worth noting that, having waited some time for a production of The Winter’s Tale on the Scottish stage, two are coming along in quick succession. The Royal Lyceum will present its own take on the play next month (February 10 to March 4).
In February, the Citizens Theatre stages Cuttin’ A Rug, the second part of John Byrne’s much loved Slab Boys Trilogy. Caroline Paterson directs the classic comic play which takes us to Paisley Town Hall, circa 1957, for the annual staff dance of carpet manufacturers A. F. Stobo & Co.
Later in February, Dundee Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Joe Douglas tackles one of the most iconic plays in the American canon. Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Death Of A Salesman (February 22 to March 11), which charts the decline and demise of travelling salesman Willy Loman, is widely considered to be the single greatest drama about the hollowness of the American Dream. Douglas has assembled an interesting creative team for this production, including excellent composer Nikola Kodjabashia.
In March, Glasgow’s Tron Theatre offers an intriguing production of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s God Of Carnage (March 9-25). Reza is best known for her opinion-splitting hit play Art; an hilarious satire of abstract art and its collectors or a grating work of philistinism, according to one’s taste. Like Art, God Of Carnage, a tale of middle-class parents trying to arbitrate in a fight between their two sons (which is better known to cinemagoers as Roman Polanski’s 2011 American movie Carnage), is likely to divide audiences and critics.
I sometimes feel that I am alone in my continuing scepticism about the theatre of Noël Coward (who I can’t help but compare unfavourably with the great Oscar Wilde). It will be fascinating, therefore, to see what Scotland’s leading theatre director, the Citizens’ Dominic Hill, does with Hay Fever (Lyceum, March 10 to April 1; Citizens, April 5-22), Coward’s sideways glance at self-styled English Bohemia.
In June, the Lyceum stages Peter Handke’s avant-garde, wordless play The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other (June 1-30 June). A bold and brave piece of programming by the Lyceum’s artistic director David Greig, the piece, which will be directed by the superb Wils Wilson, is “narrated by music and animated by unspoken interaction”. Open minds and receptive senses are required.
The programmes of the Edinburgh International Festival and Festival Fringe won’t be launched until March and June, respectively. However, the second half of the year is already shaping up quite nicely.
A pair of new sibling plays from the National Theatre of Scotland look particularly interesting. Staged as part of the Traverse Theatre’s Edinburgh Fringe programme, Eve (by Cora Bissett) and Adam (by Jo Clifford and Chris Goode) are two very different dramas that explore the realities of being transsexual in the modern world. Following their Edinburgh Fringe run, both plays will transfer to the Citizens, Glasgow in August and September (dates to be confirmed).
The opera season gets off to a fascinating start, with Scottish Opera’s presentation of The Trial (Theatre Royal, Glasgow, January 24, 26 and 28; King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, February 3 and 4). Based upon Franz Kafka’s extraordinary novel about Josef K, a man caught up in a terrifying system of senseless, unaccountable bureaucracy, the opera boasts music by the great minimalist composer Philip Glass and a libretto by acclaimed playwright Christopher Hampton.
Leading contemporary dance company Scottish Dance Theatre tours a double bill of Dreamers, by Anton Lachky, and TutuMucky, a new work by Botis Seva, an emerging talent in British dance. SDT promises, “an evening of high energy, humorous, and engaging work.” The double bill opens at Dundee Rep Theatre on February 11 before going on extensive international and national tour (for details, visit: scottishdancetheatre.com).
For its part, Scottish Ballet’s 2017 programme includes an enticing Autumn season. Homage is paid to Sir Kenneth MacMillan, on the 25th anniversary of his death, with a presentation of his Le Baiser de la Fée, which is danced to music by Stravinsky. There is more of the great Russian composer in the companion piece, Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson’s choreography for The Rite of Spring. The double bill tours Scotland in October and November (for details, visit: scottishballet.co.uk).
This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 1, 2017
© Mark Brown