Still Game Live 2,
SECC Hydro, Glasgow,
Until February 16
Made In India,
Seen at Tron Theatre, Glasgow;
at MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, February 14,
and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, February 16-18
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Last time Still Game Live came to The Hydro, back in September 2014, the city of Glasgow had just woken to discover that, although it had voted Yes to Scottish independence, the country had voted No. This time it arrives as the newly installed President of the United States is turning the White House into a very dark farce. If they ever announce Still Game Live 3, my advice is head for the nuclear shelter!
Fair play to Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill (aka Jack and Victor), though. They have an uncanny knack for timing their live shows to coincide with historic moments when many of us are in serious need of being cheered up.
And cheered up we certainly are by a production that is bigger, bolder and even better than their 2014 hit show. A play of two very distinct halves, it sees the Craiglang posse leaving Scotland (courtesy of a bleakly hilarious act of vengeance against Tam for years of outrageous tight-fistedness) and setting off on a Mediterranean pensioners’ cruise.
The evening begins with a dubious, and very funny, safety video presented by the latest addition to the Still Game cast, Methadone Mick. Young actor Scott Reid is currently playing the lead in the tour of West End hit show The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, so his dodgy recommendations about what to do in the event of fire are a smart way to include him in the proceedings.
As with the previous Hydro show, the 2017 production thrives on its liveness. Jack and Victor’s big arrival, walking through the audience, high-fiving like Bruce Springsteen and Bernie Sanders at a Dump Trump rally, sets the tone.
They’re soon followed by Navid on a flying carpet, Isa with a pyrotechnic mop, Boabby in rock star mode and Winston flying about like a one-legged, septuagenarian Peter Pan.
The script is like a Still Game TV screenplay on steroids. The sexual comedy, often built around Isa’s innocence (and, indeed, her lack of it) is laugh-out-loud funny and goes some way further than the sitcom can venture on telly.
The Craiglang sets are, as in 2014, reassuringly familiar (if slightly difficult for the stagehands to manoeuvre at times). If the designs in part 1 are straight out of the TV show, the second half, set on the deck of the liner, looks like a Noel Coward play adapted as an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
Which is appropriate, as the expansion of the show includes a troupe of dancers, who are written neatly into the storyline (Jack and Victor are on the boat as professional dancers to entertain the widowed ladies). However, the high-kickers are also a humorous parody of the glitz and glam of Broadway.
The enlarged cast allows director Michael Hines to bring in a panoply of Scotland’s top comic and acting talent. It’s great to see the show’s favourites, Gavin Mitchell (Boabby), Jane McCarry (Isa) and the rest, joined by the likes of Bruce Morton (outstandingly funny as Malky, a gas fitter trying to pass himself off as a GP), Lorraine McIntosh (as sultry, 50-something cruise singer Yvonne) and Mark McDonnell (a delightfully inebriated and lascivious ship’s captain).
Still Game Live 2 really is a brilliant follow-up to the 2014 success. Now as then, the tremendously funny Sanjeev Kholi (Navid) ends the show in a costume so fabulous it should be in Glasgow’s People’s Palace museum alongside Billy Connolly’s Big Banana Feet.
It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast with Kiernan and Hemphill’s huge stage comedy than Made In India, Satinder Chohan’s powerful new drama for London-based touring company Tamasha and the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. Set in a surrogacy clinic in Gujarat, the play sees widowed, English PR consultant Eva arrive on the eve of a government ban on foreign women coming to India for surrogacy services.
Commercial surrogacy, in which one woman is paid to carry and deliver the child of another, remains a vexed moral issue. Add to that the dynamics of westerners using poor Indian women as surrogates, and the moral complexities become virtually impossible to negotiate.
Chohan’s brave three-hander, in which Eva seeks the services of Dr Gupta (who owns the clinic) and Aditi (a young surrogate from a Gujarati village), is wise to offer more questions than it answers. Eva’s talk of women’s freedom of choice and of the economic benefits of surrogacy to women like Aditi may be self-serving and conscience-salving, but they also contain certain undeniable truths.
Similarly, Dr Gupta, who enjoys the label of “feminist entrepreneur”, is balanced between a mercenary ruthlessness and her righteous resentment of patronising, western, neo-colonial attitudes. Only Aditi, who is also widowed, and trapped between her poverty and the opprobrium of her family, is truly innocent in a drama that puts global and national inequalities to the fore.
If that makes the play seem a little schematic, that’s because it is. From the naturalistic script to the simple set design (some movable partitions, occasional video projections and pointless neon strips), director Katie Posner’s production is short on theatrical imagination.
The subject is so emotive, however, and the performances by Ulrika Krishnamurti (Aditi), Syreeta Kumar (Dr Gupta) and Gina Isaac (Eva) so credible that one is thoroughly engaged. Indeed, towards the end, there is a heart-breaking image of the bereft Aditi that gets to the agonised heart of this most painful of subjects.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 12, 2017
© Mark Brown