Oor Ain Wee Show

It was the rehearsal from Hell. My burning question, ‘Are we to have our photos taken before we don our costumes?’ went without conclusive answer (everyone had an answer but none of them matched) least of all from the photographer who, for – some reason unbeknownst to me and, I suspect, him – was wandering about dressed for the Pirates of Penzance when it’s not part of the Programme. And, like everyone else, lost in learning lines.

In fairness, everyone else who was still learning lines was doing so with chairs in hand (sometimes several) which they were attempting to carry through thresholds – such as the rarely-shut door between Dressingroom A and Dressingroom B, the narrow passage past the toilets, and on and off stage. In several simultaneous directions of travel, including up and down.

My most sane moment before I finally fought my way onstage was halfway up a ladder with the Wardrobe Mistress, comparing medical symptoms of stress, looking for bunnets. Although, having a quiet word with a Pixie (in the middle of a shrieking press of bodies) while I wielded nail scissors to cut the pockets open in my jaikit, unaccountably still sewn shut, was similarly soothing. We may, admittedly, have had two completely distinct conversations but at least I had managed to find a place for my personal props.

Having been told, definitely, that I may or may not be required as the Drunk and the Respectable Gentleman both, and that I perhaps absolutely had no business with a chair, I found myself playing both and carrying one Off. Blocking changed (admittedly, I’d missed the last rehearsal) I discovered that if I entered Centre Left, rather than Up Left, purporting to be searching for a body, it made little sense as it was now right in front of me. At least that body could be seen, as distinct from the one I fell over in the pitch dark during a Quick Change, who was busy arranging chairs. He was very good about it, when I saw him in the light later, and we determined that on future exits I would hug the curtain – rather than him.

Scene over, I made my way into the auditorium and such was my state of mind that it took me halfway through a sketch where things fall apart to realise that it was intentional. I was still recovering from the stress of constantly running after articles of costume that I had momentarily laid down on a chair now being carried off through various thresholds.

Not that things were any calmer onstage. My scene producer had to step lively to avoid an incoming chaise-longue just when she thought it safe to enter, in a lovely dirndl dress. Although that may have been her Panto costume and I was confused, like everyone else. Ignoring the frequent audible stage whispers of ‘Quiet in the Wings!’ I sat through various scenes, and even laughed, then went off to wash the dishes. Cups, unlike my fellow members of the Kirkintilloch Players, tend to stay still and don’t shriek.

We finally got that photo taken and I must admit that it looks okay. And the old theatrical wisdom is that ‘If the Dress is a disaster, it’ll be alright on the night’ (technically it was a Tech but it may still count). I hope so. Just as long as no-one shouts ‘Good luck’ or quotes The Scottish Tragedy. Apparently we’re already sold out. I hope people know that chairs will be supplied!

See the website www.kirkintillochplayers.co.uk for info about the company, upcoming shows and links to other Scottish amateur theatre companies. Even when nerve-wracking and bewildering, ‘Am Dram’ is great fun, the theatre in general rejoices in equality and diversity – and allows us to ponder the unsettling fact that our social roles that we perform and value so highly may, in fact, be rather insubstantial.

vintage-drama-poster

Thanks to Dawn Hudson for releasing her image ‘Vintage Drama Poster’ into the Public Domain.

Lorca in a time of tyranny

Scowling and stamping her cane, as soon as the door was closed and we were hermetically sealed inside her house, Bernarda Alba (Charlaye Blair) dominated the stage of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical from the start. Only towards the end, with the horrific scene outside (a young woman who had murdered her baby born out of wedlock pursued by a stone-throwing mob) did we understand the tremendous social pressure she was under to keep her virgin daughters inside and inviolate until their wedding day. The heavy cross on the wall beside the huge wooden door, the smoking thurible (wielded with the rhythmic clink that marks the expert thurifer) and the imagined image of the Virgin, addressed in prayer, all set the scene for the patriarchal funeral and the funereal matriarchal atmosphere that followed.

Megan-Louise Fraser had the hard job of performing alternatively as virgin, mother and crone in the characters of the mad Maria Josepha, the matronly (and plainly bored) neighbour Prudencia and the young maid, lowest of the low in this very hierarchical household. The contrast between her youthful features and the dress and grey hair of the mother of Bernarda Alba gave us the insight that inside every grandmother there still lives a young woman.

Gemma Elmes (servant) set her face with all the strong character of the gitanas of Andalucia, yet could also be merry and her voice was a delight. Erin McCullagh (Poncia) played the part of the poor relation well and provided an occasional buffer to the tyranny of the mother of the five unfortunate girls.

Such was the magic of this show that we were persuaded by the insistence of the cast to suspend our disbelief and accept that the very beautiful Abbie MacNeil (Angustias) was, in fact, the ugly sister – though the one lucky enough to receive the attentions of the never-seen male suitor. That she was not the only one receiving his attention was the constant rumour, suspicion, jealously and scandal of the other sisters: dignified but playful Magdalena (Heather Crook) and Amelia (Johanne Rishaug Hellman); besotted Martirio (Caitlin Mae); and minxy Adela (Laura Sweeney).

This challenging show was beautifully choreographed by Kally Lloyd-Jones, with the dancers moving now in unison, now in a complex swirl of stage-setting and striking poses lit by the changing hues of set and lighting designer John Holding. Stage management by Holly Adams was, as it should be for this most self-effacing theatrical role, so good it was invisible.

Having lived in Granada for years, I must confess my initial disappointment that more was not made of flamenco rhythms but on reflection the high social status of the household may well have included a disdain for the music of the pueblo and I could not fault the melancholy combination of oboe/ cor anglais, viola and cello, nor the brio of the guitar-playing by Ross Wilson. Directing the music (and playing piano) Christopher Breckenridge accompanied the cast as they moved effortlessly from intoning liturgical chant to singing the sinister ribaldry of Three Moorish Girls.

With such cast, accompaniment, setting and lighting, director Tom Cooper had all the ingredients of a great show and with percussionist Antony Irwin, and strategic slams of the cane, the door and the chairs, the dramatic effect of the action was startling. With no visual required, everyone in the audience knew what we were witnessing at the last scene and – whether we knew the story or not – everyone gasped.

A timely mediation on tyranny and the oppression of women – even (and especially) by each other. 

Bernarda Alba is performed by GAMTA.

gypsy-girl-with-mandolin-c-1870

Thanks to Dawn Hudson, who has released her photo “Gypsy Girl With Mandolin, C. 1870” (Public domain vintage painting by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, available from The National Gallery of Art) into the Public Domain

 

Dead Funny Theatre

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It wasn’t what it said on the tin. The expected evening of witty political satire of the state of Trumpton, which I took to be implied by the title, didn’t happen. However the unexpected is to be expected at Govanhill Baths, Glasgow, especially when Melanie Combe of Dead Funny Theatre is in charge. 

Except she wasn’t. Her NY comedy mentor started off this draft show & tell of his weeklong improv workshop with quite a lot about him and quite a big push of his merchandise. And the ‘tips jar’? This would have been better at the finale or the interval and someone else acting formally as front of house at the start might have avoided the mobiles ringing, pointed out loos & exits and explained the refreshments situation. (There weren’t any.)

The comedy didn’t really happen till the improv in the 2nd Act, which was amusing and often clever. During the 1st Act, I felt the Fourth Wall was a clear glass oven door through which we could see the mixture start to rise. And a rich mixture it was. I’m used to theatrical self-revelation and, while it is often self-indulgent, these four poignant offerings showed potential.

One, delivered lightly to cover up tragedy, begs to become a Death in Paradise type 1 Act; another the kind of one woman cabaret that Cat Loud does so well (catch her at the Ed. Fest.) the third left me more interested in the actor (who was very flexible and inventive) than the narrative of boyhood dreams meet reality, and it was a gift to glimpse some of the raw material of the playwright, principal & director of Dead Funny Theatre whose work is normally hilarious. Melanie is bringing out a show soon and I plan to be there, holding my sides and laughing out loud.

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Fairytaleheart

Studying playwriting and dramaturgy at Master’s level impacts on your appreciation of a play. The naïve pleasure of simply being entranced can be hard to recover, as the analytical cogs rarely stop whirring. You notice the costuming, make-up, props, stage management, lights & sound, direction, casting and the acting as separate elements of the production, as well as the publicity, front of house welcome and information – and the script.

So I was pleased to be totally enchanted, watching Govanhill Theatre Group’s Fairytaleheart, by all of these elements – apart from the latter which I only found charming. I shall return to this point. First of all the fit. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have found out that this was a site-specific devised performance, so snugly did the play fit the venue. When the teenaged characters, Kirsty and Gideon, comment on the cold, you could see their breath; and one of the very friendly and informative front of house staff told me there were so many resonances of this play, about a dilapidated and disused community centre, with the Govanhill Baths and the local community.

On this point, let me get my one criticism of the play (not of the production) out of the way. Having grown up on a social housing estate, or as we say in Scotland, a Council house scheme, with the unlovely generic designation of ‘Glasgow overspill’, I am very sensitive to caricature of working class communities. Especially by Guardian columnist lefty posterboys. So while I was charmed by the imaginative world that Gideon leads Kirsty to see in ‘starlight in streetlamps and jungles in cracks in the concrete’, rather than her own bleak vision of ‘a dump’, I am more interested in the community themselves which, in this play, rarely get a mention. Yes there’s Bingo and the loves past and present of the teens’ sole parent or guardian, but there’s no sense of the working class solidarity that I grew up with, the warm and generous hospitality, the houseproud poverty, the cheerful resilience and surrender to fate. It was only at university that I discovered a world where problems were not shared but hidden, where tea wasn’t automatically not so much offered as forced upon you as soon as you were ushered in the door, where there was an eccentric pride in accumulated dust over so many books and neglected objects on display, where simultaneous self-indulgent complaint and frenzied attempts to improve one’s lot were constant.

What Philip Ridley’s play does offer, and what director Eve Nicol brought out beautifully, is the awkward encounter of two teenagers in a space which they both have claim to yet neither of them can appropriate. I have seen Eve Nicol’s work before, both as director and playwright, and she deals with this theme of emotional marginality with an honesty that I find quite unnerving. I know these characters. My own adolescence was an alternation between them, never so extreme because I didn’t dare. Georgie Mac’s Gideon was attractive in his lithe energy and repulsive in his habits at the same time, as Catriona MacLeod’s Kirsty focused our eyes on him, with clever use of handheld torches, and the lovely glow of candles as the emotional temperature warmed up. Kirsty herself was always beautiful but, at first and often after, forbidding, the silver in her dress and sprinkled in her hair glittering and metallic.

Let me praise the play for not offering closure of the awkward gap between the teens. The last image, when all the candles and all the torches bar one have been extinguished, is a double profile where what is most apparent (because it’s what the actors and the director want us to see) is the negative space between them. It could just be a shadow but it could also be a candlestick – or even a heart.

The last performance in this run of Fairytaleheart starts at 7pm this evening, in the Steamie at Govanhill Baths, 99 Calder Street (just off Victoria Rd) G42 7RA. There may still be tickets on the door (£8/6) but you can book them at www.brownpapertickets.com and for further directions and info: www.govanhillbaths.com. Publicity image below by Sarah Gibboni.

Fairytaleheart

9½ Scenes: Fear and Loathing in Kirkintilloch

It was the same smell I remembered from 1981. Must, paint and glue, and then (oh those glory days!) then it was teen spirit. I rejoined the Kirkintilloch Players after an absence of thirty years for three reasons: to schedule more time with my mother; to learn, after some years of my ad hoc community drama group and a Master’s in Playwriting & Dramaturgy, from their theatrical practice; and nostalgia.

The word ‘post-industrial’ was no mere theoretical category in those days. The Lion Foundry was shut down and a proud tradition of craftsmanship ended. The canal, now flowing free, was choked and Lord Beecham was to blame for the removal of our railway branch line. I and my infant friends went to separate schools and even our boyhood cub and scout groups were (sometimes unofficially) affiliated to different denominations.

I didn’t appreciate then how many divides I was crossing when I joined this local amateur drama club in my early teens. Sectarianism simply wasn’t an issue and when our other teen prejudices were voiced our adult mentors were wise and prudent and affirming, in that understated Scots way, of diversity. I am a more confident and open-minded person today because of that experience. Iain, Gillian and Gus, and all the adult members of the Players we met at Panto-time who patiently taught us to apply cold cream before greasepaint, how to overcome stagefright, how to bow in chorus, thank-you for watching over us.

Monday 4th to Sat. 9th May 2015 we’re performing the rarely-produced harrowing three-hander by Frank McGuinness: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. Doors open 7pm, curtain up 7.30pm, tickets (£9, £7 concessions) sell out fast. Get yours from the Cast or from The Old Sweetie Shop on the Cowgate, Kirkintilloch High Street, G66 1HN.

Set in the 1980s, during the Beirut hostage crisis, the stage set consists of three straw bags, three stone blocks with chain attached, a crate, a broken chair, a Jerusalem Bible and an English Koran. I’m Michael the bewildered English university lecturer, my companions and antagonists are Edward the belligerent but affectionate Irishman and Adam the American, ‘beautiful to look at, kind, gentle’ and gradually going out of his mind.

In 9½ scenes (counting the cut Prologue which simply featured Adam in solitary and the ironic title of Ella Fitzgerald’s lovely song) the fear and loathing of the men for their unseen captors, their hopes, lust, disappointments and imaginations are played out in this theatrical tour de force which caused Brian Keenan, the Beirut captive to whom the play is dedicated, to write in its Introduction:

“with a pace and ferocity I had not expected, the play and its people blasted out of the shadows […] a rich linguistic fire that seared and scorched the audience with a laughter that was at times born out of pain as much as humour […] the play made me choke and cry and laugh and hold myself.”

With associations from the prisoners in Plato’s cave of shadows to the rhythmic alternations in the story of the Old Man of the Mountains and his drugged Assassins (echoed in La Vida es Sueño, Abre los Ojos, Vanilla Sky, Kiss of the Spider Woman) this play reveres the power of the imagination to keep us alive – and to delude us. Come to Kirkintilloch. Watch over us.

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me