There is always an element of suspense for audiences to any production of Measure for Measure – even for those who have seen Shakespeare’s most problematic play many times. How will the director and company reconcile the pessimistic depiction of corrupted power, sexuality and relationships with the play’s supposedly comedic elements, including the final flurry of marriages, two of which are meted out as punishments?
A few lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, describing a world whose seasons are in disarray, perfectly encapsulate the experience of seeing theatre in Scotland at present: “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world, by their increase, now knows not which is which.”
Not only is Pitlochry Festival Theatre currently staging Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular, a play set over three consecutive Christmas Eves, the Tron’s summer show is a revival of Anthony Neilson’s The Lying Kind, whose farcical action unfolds against a backdrop of tinsel and holly wreaths.
The work of Alan Ayckbourn is almost a mainstay of the annual summer programme at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Over the years the company has made a significant dent in the prolific dramatist’s output, producing 24 of his more than 70 full-length plays. Last year, there was a bonus for aficionados when the theatre revived his ambitious trilogy of plays, Damsels in Distress.
Absurd Person Singular, one of Ayckbourn’s earliest successes, is also something of a three-in-one theatrical bonanza. The play unfolds over successive Christmas Eves in the respective homes of three very different couples. These increasingly uncomfortable gatherings may take place over the festive season, but Ayckbourn games our expectations by setting the action “offstage” in a trio of kitchens whose décor and condition mirror their owners’ personalities and state of mind. Now and then, a door opens to offer a glimpse of fairy lights or to divulge a few bars of seasonal music or sherry-fuelled laughter. Otherwise, the atmosphere remains resolutely cheerless.
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 27 2017
Last year, Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s long-running outdoor Shakespeare festival, launched a new strand, Writing the Renaissance, showcasing the work of the bard’s lesser-known contemporaries. The inaugural production was a radical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, whittled down to a fleet 90 minutes and performed by a cast of just three actors.
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 20 2017
JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was afflicted in later life by writer’s cramp and could only write for any length of time with his left hand. He noted that the work he produced at this point took on an eerier quality, as though his left hand was channelling darker aspects of his personality. Mary Rose, written in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with its portrayal of a young life frozen in time, is strikingly similar in theme to the Kirriemuir-born author’s most enduring and iconic work, though laced through with subtle chills.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 7 2017
By coincidence, Dundee Rep’s community production of Brecht’s anti-fascist allegory is running at the same time as a major revival at the Donmar Warehouse. Where Brecht’s 1941 “parable play” parodied Hitler’s rise to power through the story of a small-time gangster who assumes control over the Chicago cauliflower racket in the 1930s, the London production, starring Lenny Henry, draws explicit parallels with the campaigning rhetoric and behaviour in office of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The 1956 film High Society was one of the biggest box office hits of the year. Yet the MGM musical is considered a pale imitation of The Philadelphia Story, the play and film on which it is based. Even on its original release one reviewer called it “as dated today as the idle rich”. What one remembers of the musical is the iconic staging of some of Cole Porter’s best-loved songs: Bing Crosby serenading Grace Kelly with True Love on a yacht; Bing and Frank Sinatra teaming up for a cracking rendition of Well, Did You Evah!