No one is quite sure who coined the phrase “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, but the enduring sentiment could just as easily be applied to the obvious incongruity of “staging” a radio play.
Watching actors poised in front of microphones, scripts in hands, while their co-stars rhubarb in the background, creating crowd noise, may not sound promising, and yet, done well, it can be surprisingly absorbing. Mull Theatre’s ingenious production of Whisky Galore, set in a BBC studio and based upon Compton Mackenzie’s radio adaptation, has been regularly revived to appreciative responses since it premiered around a quarter of a century ago.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 6 2018
Likeability is so overrated. The characters in Kander and Ebb’s Chicago are unapologetically venal, rapacious or at best pathetic. Rare moments of introspection are undercut with cruelty and irony. If the audience is in any doubt as to how little the show’s murderous leads care about obtaining our sympathy, we return for Act II to be welcomed with the line, “Hello, Suckers”.
First published in The Times, Saturday May 12 2018
Eddie and the Slumber Sisters: Three Stars
Baba Yaga: Four Stars
Catherine Wheels, the leading purveyors of children’s theatre in Scotland, are drawn to subjects other companies would flinch from tackling. Their acclaimed show, The Voice Thief, drew on horror and sci-fi tropes in its depiction of patriarchal tyranny and suppression, while HUFF, created with Shona Reppe and Andy Manley, presented the Three Little Pigs’ house as a crime scene.
August Strindberg wrote Creditors in 1888 as part of the creative torrent that also produced his most famous work, Miss Julie. Both plays exhibit the visceral dialogue and intense exploration of shifts in power within relationships for which the prolific and influential Swedish playwright is known, while also giving vent to his mordant and rather contradictory view of women. He was known to refer to Siri von Essen, the first of his three wives, as “the vampire”, though he also maintained that “the presence of women tends to elevate men”.
First published in The Times, Friday April 27 2018
Clearly, there is something in the zeitgeist. From Outnumbered to Motherland, there has been a steady trickle of television sitcoms in recent years lampooning the chaos, guilt and tedium of modern parenting. Frances Poet’s latest play occupies the same gaudy terrain of soft play centres, nurseries and adventure playgrounds. Yet, aside from one amusing sequence involving a tussle between two adults over a Kermit the Frog figurine, its mood never strays far from the dark end of the spectrum.
First published in The Times, Saturday April 21 2018
“Enough is not as good as a feast!” cries Edmund Tyrone (Lorn Macdonald), tossing back the latest in a long line of whisky shots. In an age of rapid-fire 90-minute plays with no interval, a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece at the Citizens certainly feels like a good old-fashioned theatrical banquet, albeit a well-oiled one.
First published in The Times, Wednesday April 18 2018
In 2002 the inaugural production from Streetwise Opera, which works with people affected by homelessness, was a staging of Benjamin Britten’s Canticles at Westminster Abbey in London. So it is a nice touch that this show should take its title from one of Britten’s Cabaret Songs, written in collaboration with WH Auden.