Reviews: Wonderland & Fisk (both touring)

THEATRE REVIEWS

 

Wonderland

Seen at Playhouse, Edinburgh

Touring until August 19

 

Fisk

Seen at MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling

Touring until February 28

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

wonderland
Kerry Ellis as Alice in the musical Wonderland

Wonderland, the major musical based upon Lewis Carroll’s much-loved tales Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass, recently had its British premiere at Edinburgh’s Playhouse theatre ahead of a lengthy UK tour. Its American creator (Frank Wildhorn) is fortunate that Carroll is no longer with us. If he was, I suspect he would sue.

In this UK adaptation of Wildhorn’s show, Alice is, not a young girl in a garden in Victorian England, but a 40-year-old woman living in a dodgy tower block in contemporary Britain. Her life collapsing around her ears, she descends into Wonderland, not via a rabbit hole, but in the hitherto broken elevator that used to serve her high-rise building.

Indeed, Alice’s journey underground is not in pursuit of her own curiosity, but that of her teenage daughter, Ellie, who has already taken the lift down with the White Rabbit. Oh, and Alice’s quest to find Ellie isn’t conducted alone, she has Jack, her besotted neighbour, in tow.

As narrative reinventions go, this is jaw-droppingly bad stuff. In 30 years of serious theatre going, I have seen some ludicrously misconceived productions (Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet set in outer space, Lorca’s The House Of Bernarda Alba relocated to the garish home of a contemporary Glaswegian gangster), but few have been quite as disastrous as this.

The basis for such mangling of Carroll’s tales is Alice’s need to discover that the estranged husband she has pining for was actually an emotionally abusive despot. This might have more credibility as a work of 21st-century feminism if the Alice we meet at the beginning wasn’t represented reductively as a woman willingly accepting her misogynistic husband’s demands that she give up teaching and writing.

If the characterisation of Alice is two-dimensional (at best), the contemporary setting has a catastrophic impact on the stage and costume designs. The delightful imagery of John Tenniel’s illustrations for the Alice books is replaced with utterly awful collisions of contemporary dress with costume elements that point towards characters (think a White Rabbit with prodigious ears, but wearing a pair of sneakers, or a Caterpillar in a shiny, green suit who looks like an over-confident nightclub owner from the 1980s).

Wonderland is a musical almost entirely without redeeming features. The songs are unmemorable, the sentiment is saccharine (even by the sugary standards of the stage musical), and the narrative and design concepts rip the magic from Carroll’s stories as thoroughly as a dog extracting the marrow from a bone.

If there is a glimmer of hope in this artistic black hole it is in the talents of certain members of the cast, not least Kayi Ushe (the Caterpillar) and Kerry Ellis (guest starring as Alice in Edinburgh, among other venues on the tour). One has to admire Ellis’s capacity to give an energetic, powerfully sung performance despite the glaring dreadfulness of the show.

Let’s hope, for the sake of Scottish audiences, that Rachael Wooding is as impressive when she takes up the role for the performances in Aberdeen and Glasgow in May and July, respectively.

From a brash, big stage flop of a musical to an intimate, emotive work of visual theatre. Fisk, created by Scottish company Tortoise In A Nutshell, in co-production with Teater Katapult of Aarhus, Denmark, is a subtle and affecting portrait of a man on the brink of committing suicide.

Devised and performed by Alex Bird and Arran Howie, the piece is built around the metaphor of a man lost at sea. The sense of disconnectedness and despair of the potential suicide is evoked beautifully by the character’s floating along in designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s ingenious and fragile paper boat.

Bird’s performance as the man is deeply touching. To his profound sense of isolation he adds physical performance that evokes his character’s extreme frustration at his inability to function in what seem like straightforward social and practical tasks.

Into this world of sometimes chaotic, sometimes tranquil loneliness comes a fish (played by Howie). A very large, very human, female fish, but a fish nonetheless.

Her enthusiastic friendship is not requested by the man. However, although her companionship is accompanied by encouragements shouted through a megaphone and a loud blast of Club Tropicana by Wham, it helps to reconnect the man, gradually, with himself as a social being.

In truth, one does wonder if the contrast between contemplation of suicide and affirmation of life could have been achieved more delicately. However, director Ross MacKay and his team (particularly movement director Darren Brownlie and dramaturg Kirstine Christensen) are to be commended on the sensitivity and thoughtfulness with which they approach such an important and difficult subject.

In the end composer Jim Harbourne’s gentle music and Simon Wilkinson’s appropriately subdued lighting design accompany a simple, quiet image of human connection. A work which could so easily have become trite or cliched concludes with a moment of realistic compassion.

For those, such as myself, who have watched a loved one suffer from the “black dog” of depression or, even, be pulled down into suicide by their emotional and psychological demons, Fisk offers some humane, measured hope. One can only imagine its impact upon those who are actually struggling with depression.

For Wonderland tour details, visit: wonderlandthemusical.com

For Fisk tour dates, visit: tortoiseinanutshell.com

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 5, 2017

© Mark Brown

Review: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Royal Concert Hall, Gasgow

MUSIC

 

MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER

ROYAL CONCERT HALL, GLASGOW

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

mary-chapin-carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter

American singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter is almost as well known for her humanitarian work and her political activism as for her music. It came as little surprise, therefore, that she took the opportunity, early in her set at Glasgow’s massive Celtic Connections music festival, to share her feelings about the first 10 days of the Trump administration.

Following early outings for Why Walk When You Can Fly? and Something Tamed, Something Wild, she explained her choice of opening numbers. “I wanted to start with two songs of hope and resilience”, she said, “to counter-balance the freak show going on back home.” A comment that elicited considerable approval from her Scottish audience.

There would be more commentary on the new President as the show progressed. Little lyrical innovations, referring to Trump’s penchant for tweeting and his well-publicised attitudes to women, found their way into established songs from the 58-year-old’s voluminous back catalogue.

If this performance is any indication, Chapin Carpenter’s anger at her new Commander-in-Chief has galvanised her, rather than put her off her stride. Supported by an excellent three-piece band , she played a set that reflected her influences, from country to rock ‘n’ roll and blues, with tremendous warmth and assuredness.

Her songs have always combined thoughtful autobiography with a broader, humanistic sensibility. Nowhere were these elements more evident than in the recently recorded Oh Rosetta, a gentle and reflective conversation with her heroine Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the great African American singer-songwriter and guitarist.

In addition to tracks from last year’s album The Things That We Are Made Of, there were warmly received renderings of old favourites such as I Feel Lucky and Shut Up and Kiss Me. The affection of the Celtic Connections crowd for Chapin Carpenter was both palpable and reciprocated.

That said, the audience had already been well warmed up by two excellent support acts from the Scottish and Irish traditional music scenes. Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis and her band performed a sparkling and charming set, before making way for justly acclaimed Irish group Altan.

Chapin Carpenter takes the name of the festival very literally, she tells us. All the better to invite her Celtic friends Fowlis and Altan back on stage for a suitably up-beat encore of her 1992 hit He Thinks He’ll Keep Her.

The Celtic Connections festival continues until February 5. For more information, visit: celticconnections.com

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on February 8, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/deelee-dube-606-jazz-club-best-jazz-2017/

© Mark Brown

 

Review: The Trial, by Scottish Opera

OPERA REVIEW

 

The Trial

Seen at Theatre Royal, Glasgow,

Run ended;

At King’s Theatre, Edinburgh,

February 3 & 4

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

scottish-opera-the-trial-2
Daniel Norman (Guard 1), Michael Druiett (the Inspector), Paul Carey Jones (Guard 2) and Nicholas Lester (Josef K). Photo: James Glossop.

When it comes to adapting prose fictions for the stage there can, surely, be few works that present more formidable challenges than Franz Kafka’s great psycho-political novel The Trial. When they transformed the book into an opera (for Music Theatre Wales in 2014), American minimalist composer Philip Glass and librettist Christopher Hampton were joining an honourable tradition that includes Steven Berkoff’s acclaimed 1970 theatre version.

It isn’t difficult to see the attraction of the novel for dramatists of various kinds. Kafka’s story of Josef K, a middle-ranking bank worker who is arrested on charges that are never disclosed remains one of the most frighteningly resonant novels in world literature.

Written during the First World War, it is a bleakly comic, almost surreal portrait of an unaccountable, inhumane, bureaucratic state. Like George Orwell’s 1984, it stands as one of the great premonitory art works of the 20th century.

This Scottish premiere (co-produced by Scottish Opera, Music Theatre Wales, The Royal Opera, London and German company Theater Magdeburg) reminds us that Glass’s piece, which the composer calls “a pocket opera”, is inherently paradoxical. In rendering The Trial as a stage drama, Glass and Hampton seek to create a performance work out of an intensely psychological novel.

All of which places a particular burden on the show’s designer Simon Banham. How to represent the impact upon the mind of Josef K of a Byzantine state and its labyrinthine legal system?

Banham opts, reasonably enough, for a minimal set (a “pocket” design, if you will). The entire story is told from within Josef’s non-descript bedsit in which items of clothing appear through gaps in the walls and police officers emerge from within a cupboard.

There is, in director Michael McCarthy’s production, an appropriate sense of early-twentieth century absurdist theatre. The cops who arrest Josef look, in their bowler hats and handlebar moustaches, as if they could have stepped out of a play by Eugene Ionesco.

Josef himself is played superbly by Australian baritone Nicholas Lester. The richness of his voice combines fascinatingly with his estimable height to expresses and embody the seeming self-worth and certainty of a middle-class functionary.

It is a perfect mask for the character’s human fragility. This is Josef as a conventionally upright, decent man who is, apparently, appalled by the moral and sexual degeneracy he discovers in the legal bureaucracy; a characterisation that is all the more effective given his abundant susceptibility to the sexual temptations his trial puts in front of him.

Lester is supported by an excellent cast, not least Emma Kerr as the dissolute washerwoman and Gwion Thomas as the debased Lawyer Huld.

Glass’s music is intriguing in its diversity. In one moment, its instantly recognisable repetitions and variations reflect the seeming pettiness of the situation; an innocent bank clerk caught up in a, surely to be quickly resolved, case of mistaken identity.

However, in the moments when the universality of Kafka’s theme becomes most apparent, and we see in the state what Hannah Arendt would later call “the banality of evil”, the score takes a radically different tone. Blasts from wind instruments burst through the harmonic interplay between keyboards and strings creating moments of discordance that speak both to Josef’s personal panic and the immense political danger his plight represents.

The production, inevitably, cannot match the psychological intensity of the novel, and one can’t help but feel that Banham’s ingenious set loses in thematic scale what it gains in claustrophobia. That said, it draws enough upon Kafka’s genius, and upon the brilliance of Glass and Hampton, to create a rewarding evening’s opera.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 29, 2017

© Mark Brown

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Sunday Herald)

THEATRE REVIEW

 

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until January 28

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

picnic-for-sh
Photo: Pia Johnson

Best known in its cinematic incarnation (Peter Weir’s famous 1975 film adaptation), Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic At Hanging Rock is a remarkable work of Australian gothic. The book tells the story of three girls and a female teacher from an exclusive boarding school who disappear mysteriously during a trip to a well known beauty spot in Victoria state.

The novel (which Lindsay suggested, somewhat dubiously, was based on real events from 1900) is a mystery wrapped within an enigma. The dubiety of the tale’s provenance is not lost on director Matthew Lutton or writer Tom Wright, creators of this exceptional stage version by the Malthouse and Black Swan State theatre companies (from Melbourne and Perth, respectively).

Performed by a cast of five young, female actors, the piece begins with all five dressed in school uniforms and narrating the tale in the third person. They speak from an empty stage, surrounded by black painted, wooden panels.

Towards the back of the stage, above the performance space, suspended horizontally, is an ominous, tightly bound bundle of logs and twigs. The music and sound (including the insect and bird noises of the Australian bush) only add to the disquieting atmosphere.

The initial, seemingly straight storytelling of the piece outstays its welcome, and deliberately so. Just as we begin to worry that the 80-minute production will be constituted of nothing more than five schoolgirls narrating excerpts from the novel, the production begins to shift its perspective.

As Lutton suddenly plunges his stage into darkness, and, equally quickly, re-illuminates it, our narrators start to assume characters and costumes. Playing out of their age range (such as the ultra-English school principal Mrs Appleyard) or opposite their sex (the intrepid, young Englishman Michael Fitzhubert), the actors’ changing roles emphasise the disturbing uncertainties embedded within the story.

The girls’ lives are hemmed in with mutually reinforcing notions of feminine deportment and bourgeois, Anglo “civilisation”. With these supposed values comes a profound, fearful hostility towards the Australian landscape and, by obnoxiously logical extension, a deep, racial terror and hatred of the Aboriginal people.

The disappearances at the rock shock society not only because of the sex, status and perceived innocence of the missing girls, but also because they reinforce Anglo Australia’s deepest fears about the land it has colonised. Rather than being brought under control, the wild terrain of Australia seems to have swallowed some of the most precious fruit of the Empire.

The precariousness of a colonial identity that was hitherto considered unshakeable is expressed brilliantly in the relations between Mrs Appleyard and Sara, an orphan girl whose attendance at the school was sponsored by patron who has since vanished. Persecuted by Appleyard, who kept Sara back from the picnic, the girl is driven to distraction by the disappearance of fellow pupil Miranda (whom she adores).

The principal’s antipathy towards Sara, who she considers immune to the school’s civilising influence, is epitomised in the horrifying moment when Appleyard calls Sara an “albino” (a racial slur implying that the distressed girl is, effectively, a white Aborigine).

Lutton’s production boasts superb performances across the piece and a number of extremely memorable images; not least in the traumatised return from the rock of Edith, a schoolgirl who split from the party that disappeared. Highly-stylised and assiduously non-naturalistic, the piece achieves a remarkable paradox, being, simultaneously, emotionally detached, yet psychologically compelling.

The director’s modernist techniques (complete with Brechtian texts flashed above the stage) create a kind of aesthetic onomatopoeia with the disquieting instability of the subject matter. It is a fascinating and expansive take on Lindsay’s novel, and a penetrating contemplation of the construction of Australia.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 22, 2017

© Mark Brown

Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)

THEATRE

 

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK

ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH

Reviewed by Mark Brown

 

picnic-1-pia-johnson
Picnic at Hanging Rock. Photo: Pia Johnson.

Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock remains one of the cornerstones of Australian literature. Popularised globally by Peter Weir’s acclaimed 1975 movie, it tells the purportedly true story of a picnic in Victoria state in 1900 in which three schoolgirls and one female teacher from the Appleyard College boarding school go missing on the spectacular, but sinister, natural attraction known as Hanging Rock.

This stage adaptation, by the Malthouse and Black Swan State theatre companies of Australia, focuses sharply on the ambiguities and uncertainties of Lindsay’s fiction. Presented on an assiduously minimalist stage, dominated by three wooden walls painted in matt black (an inversion, it seems, of a Victorian Australian schoolroom), director Matthew Lutton’s production is a work of jagged, disturbing innovation.

Played by an excellent, five-strong, young, female cast, the piece begins with the quintet dressed as schoolgirls. Static and facing the audience, they act as third person narrators of Lindsay’s story.

However, as Lutton punctuates their speech with sudden blackouts, the actors transform, gradually, from narrators into character actors. Their school uniforms are, on certain occasions, replaced by the period costumes of key characters.

Chapter titles are flashed, Brecht-style, above the stage. One, quoting Karl Marx, reads, “All that is solid melts into air”, an accurate description of the seeming certainties of the Appleyard school and of Anglo Australia.

We are, here, on very shaky ground. As the fruitless search for the missing people goes on, the terrible episode begins to dissolve the minds of head teacher Mrs Appleyard and pupil Sara (who had been kept back from the trip to Hanging Rock).

Throughout the play, the disappearances, with their dreadful, imagined horrors, take on a metaphorical symbolism. Australia, the demonic “anti-Eden” that must be “brought to heel” by the civilising influence of British values, appears to have taken a terrible revenge.

This fear of, and hostility towards, the Australian landscape is replicated in an insidious racial politics. Mrs Appleyard’s description of Sara as an “albino” is shocking in its implication that the girl (who, the head teacher says, is “beyond all saving”) is actually a white Aboriginal.

Lutton’s production boasts some powerful images and fine, premonitory music and sound. Although he sometimes over indulges in his staging techniques, the director has, nevertheless, created a memorable work of unsettling events and unsettled psychology.

Until January 28. For further information, visit: lyceum.org.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 16, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/picnic-hanging-rock-unsettles-lyceum-stage-did-film-review/

© Mark Brown

 

Preview: Manipulate festival – interview feature, plus highlights

Ahead of the pack

Scottish theatre group Company of Wolves present their show The End Of Things at this year’s Manipulate festival. Mark Brown spoke with artistic director Ewan Downie

end-of-things-2
The End of Things. Photo: Brian Hartley.

The Manipulate festival of visual theatre is currently celebrating its 10th birthday. Held annually at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, it has become an important part of the Scottish performing arts calendar.

A genuinely international event, it showcases physical theatre, and puppetry from Scotland and across the world.

Glasgow-based group Company of Wolves is typical of the festival’s internationalism. Established by Ewan Downie and his joint artistic director Anna Porubcansky in 2012, the Wolves are inspired by the “laboratory theatres” of the great Polish theatre maker Jerzy Grotowski and his successors.

Indeed, Downie was, for six years, a member of acclaimed Polish company Song of the Goat. That group is known to many Scottish theatre lovers on account of its numerous appearances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

I meet Downie at the Tramway arts venue in Glasgow to talk about his company’s latest show, The End Of Things (which goes on an extensive tour after it plays at Manipulate). The piece emerged, he tells me, from a niggling sense of something that needed to be done.

   “For me the creative process always starts with an irritant”, he explains. “It’s what [English dramatist] Howard Barker calls ‘the sand in the oyster’s gut’. It always feels like an itch.

“In this case it was to do with endings. We knew we wanted to do something about that subject, but we didn’t know what it was exactly.

“As I started to think a bit more about the piece I realised that endings, for me, are a human concept. It’s something to do with our experience of change.

“We think things end, but they only end from our perspective. There are the same number of atoms in a dead body as in a live body.

“Then we started to think about the stories that we tell each other about endings and beginnings. You remember your first date, your wedding, the birth of your child.

“You remember these important stories. The starting point of the show was that.”

This sounds like the basis for a production that is more about generating profound personal emotions than articulating a thought. Which, if you’ve ever seen a performance by Song of the Goat, you will know is no bad thing.

In the Polish theatre of the body and the voice we are often offered a deeply affecting experience in which we feel more than we understand.

For Downie, this profundity comes from the methods of theatre making pioneered by Grotowski. “When we work with a group of performers, it changes with each show”, he says.

“I often feel that, through the training, we’re putting the performers in contact with a stream of their own imaginations… Then we introduce whatever is the material of the performance… So, the results are not that predictable.”

It is essential, says Downie, that work such as his, which has its roots in the European avant-garde, has the support of a festival like Manipulate. He is full of praise for the festival’s artistic director Simon Hart and its projects manager Jen White.

” Once they see your work and are interested in it, they’re just 100 percent behind you”, he comments. Indeed, Downie was particularly impressed to discover that Manipulate is  bringing a group of high level producers from around the world to see this year’s programme.

All of which suggests that, after a decade of programming, Manipulate is having no little success in bringing international work to Scotland and Scottish work to the world.

The End of Things plays the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh as part of the Manipulate festival on January 31. It then tours until March 18. For tour details, visit: companyofwolves.org.uk

 

MANIPULATE FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

poli-degaine
Poli Degaine. Photo: Compagnie La Pendue

Poli Degaine

January 28, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

January 30, Traverse, Edinburgh

French puppet theatre masters Compagnie La Pendue offer us their distinct take on  Pulcinella (better known as Punch to you and me), the international mischief maker of puppetry who began his life in 18th-century Naples. This show has played to acclaim in more than 30 countries. Join La Pendue as they revel in a character who “laughs at everything. Even death.”

 

Fisk

January 28, Traverse, Edinburgh

February 3, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

Scottish visual theatre company Tortoise in a Nutshell’s new show explores themes of “depression, dependence and desolation” in this poetic and metaphorical piece. The story of a man in desperate straits on the ocean, and his unlikely relationship with a fish, it is a co-production with Danish new writing centre Teater Katapult.

 

Cities 

January 27, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

February 1, Traverse, Edinburgh

One actor using only a table, a camera and some objects conjures up imaginary cities in this show by Theatre De La Pire Espece from Quebec. If you saw this company’s unhinged Ubu On The Table at Summerhall during last year’s Fringe you will know what to expect from this crazy and creative form of object theatre.

 

The Manipulate festival plays at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, January 27 to February 5. Some shows tour elsewhere in Scotland. For full details of the programme, visit: manipulatefestival.org

Compiled by Mark Brown

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 15, 2017

© Mark Brown

Interview feature: Declan Donnellan on The Winter’s Tale

A Tortured Heart In Winter

Acclaimed theatre director Declan Donnellan talks to Mark Brown about his new production, The Winter’s Tale, and about his debt to Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.

A WINTER’S TALE
The company of The Winter’s Tale. Photo: Johan Persson

When I speak with Declan Donnellan, internationally acclaimed theatre director and co-founder of the famous company Cheek By Jowl, he is in Chicago. Audiences and critics in the Windy City are responding well, he tells me, to his latest production, a staging of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

In fact, the show (which is performed in English and makes its UK premiere at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre later this month) has been receiving enthusiastic plaudits throughout an international tour that has taken in venues in France, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg. When it visited Madrid, in February of last year, the Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa wrote a glowing review for the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

“It is some time since I have seen a play that has kept me almost in a trance for the nearly three hours that it lasted”, wrote the Peruvian author. Not even Cheek By Jowl’s Russian-language staging of the Bard’s play Measure For Measure, he continued, “gave me that sensation of beauty and originality, of craftsmanship and absolute perfection.”

For Scottish audiences, this comment should be a source of excitement. Donnellan’s Measure For Measure was the deserved toast of the Edinburgh International Festival’s 2016 theatre programme. If, as Vargas Llosa believes, his Winter’s Tale exceeds it, we are in for a real treat.

The Winter’s Tale is known as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”. It is so called on account of its uneasy combination of regal tragedy and pastoral comedy; the former caused by King Leontes’s false accusation of an affair between his pregnant wife, Hermione, and his blue-blooded friend, Polixenes.

How, I wonder, does Donnellan approach the problem? “It’s really a play about abandonment”, he says. “Leontes is mad, but what is the source of his madness?

“He convinces himself that Hermione is having sex with Polixenes, and takes cruel revenge, trying to kill Polixenes, having the baby, his own child, abandoned. I think the fact that he chooses abandonment is significant.

“Leontes, we can infer, suffers from a terror of abandonment so overwhelming that he cannot see it. Like the monster standing behind you, so tall that you can’t see him.”

This psychoanalytic approach is interesting. This is Leontes, not as a tragic, Ancient monarch, but as a modern man, with an unconscious, Freudian fear.

For Donnellan, the road into the mind of a man of power, such as Leontes, is through our common humanity. The King can be compared, he says, with the guy in the pub who kicks off when it’s closing time.

A barman in his younger years, Donnellan says he has observed the kind of man who, “anaesthetised” against his feelings of loneliness and abandonment, isn’t even aware of why he suddenly flies into a rage. “Instead [of articulating his feelings] he’ll pick a fight”, comments the director.

“He may turn round to the next guy and yell, ‘what are you looking at?!’ Imagine that sort of apparently random rage coming from… someone with power. Imagine it in a king.”

Vargas Llosa was impressed by the modernity of Donnellan’s production. It is, he wrote, “absolutely a reflection of our time, our conflicts, a work which denounces the absurdity and the wickedness [of]… our politicians.”

Donnellan agrees that his approach to the play, and to theatre more generally, has political implications. Which is not to say that he has ever subscribed to the polemical style of those who look at a stage and see a soapbox.

In the 1980s, he remembers, there was a lot “Political theatre” (with an emphatically capital P) going on in the UK in response to Thatcherism. “Everyone sitting in the theatre was a convert”,  he remembers. “It felt slightly creepy.”

Instead of such redundant certainties, Donnellan’s theatre has always been one of possibilities and implications, be they political, moral, psychological or erotic. It’s a style of theatre that will be familiar to theatregoers of a certain vintage who remember the golden age at the Citizens Theatre (1969-2003) under the great directorial triumvirate of Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.

Indeed, it’s a style that has, in many regards, been revived at the Citz in recent years by the Glasgow theatre’s current artistic director Dominic Hill.

It is appropriate, therefore, that Cheek By Jowl’s latest production should make its British premiere at the Gorbals playhouse. Not least because of the importance of the Citizens to both Donnellan and, joint artistic director and co-founder of Cheek By Jowl, Nick Ormerod.

“The Citizens under Giles, Philip and Robert had a great influence on Nick and I”, says Donnellan. “With its bravura, its internationalism, its sense of the epic gesture, its loathing of twee-ness,  I think the Citz was actually the most Scottish theatre.

“That was because it brought Scotland into the world and the world into Scotland. Glasgow wasn’t interested in building some kind of inward looking national identity, it was looking outwards, it wanted to be the best theatre in the world.”

If Cheek By Jowl, which was established in 1981, owes a debt to the extraordinary aesthetic innovations of the Citz in the 1970s, there’s also much to be said, Donnellan notes, for “the apparently little things.

“Giles inspired us humanly, he was always there, keeping a warm presence, in the foyer, human, approachable. He has been a great inspiration to us. ”

The Winter’s Tale is at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, January 24-28. citz.co.uk

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 8, 2017

© Mark Brown