First published in The Times, Friday February 16 2018
The comedian Mark Thomas is clearly a man who relishes a challenge. The inspiration for this show came to him while he was in the West Bank to promote Extreme Rambling, his book chronicling his experience of walking the length of the Israeli West Bank separation barrier in 2010. Could he, he wondered, set up and run a comedy club in Gaza for one night only?
While Hamas-controlled Gaza proved too much of a stretch even for Thomas, the veteran political comedian and his team eventually settled on running a series of workshops in the West Bank city of Jenin with actors from the Jenin Freedom Theatre, culminating in a comedy showcase for the students.
First published in The Times, Thursday February 15 2018
On entering the auditorium, the audience is handed a “programme” in the form of a crumpled piece of paper that’s festooned with scribbled notes and illustrations. As the house lights go down the curtain slides hurriedly back and forth across the front of the stage, offering a narrow, keyhole-view of the scene within.
Such novelties might provoke a few raised eyebrows among the uninitiated, but followers of the work of David Leddy and Fire Exit are accustomed to expecting the unexpected. This, after all, is the writer and director who conducted his audience around the bowels and backstage of the Citizens Theatre for his gothic melodrama, Sub Rosa, and invited us to don kimonos and sit within a circle of origami birds as the action unfolded on the Japan-inspired White Tea.
First published in The Times, Thursday February 8 2018
David Harrower’s play, about a young woman in a pre-industrial setting whose life and consciousness are transformed by literacy, is a true contemporary classic, renowned globally, having been staged in some 25 countries since its premiere at Edinburgh’s Traverse in 1995. Indeed, the three-hander is arguably better appreciated abroad than at home, with this revival at the newly restored Perth Theatre only the fourth Scottish production in 20 years.
First published in The Times, Monday February 5 2018
The Match Box: Four Stars
Company: Three Stars
Frank McGuinness, the Irish playwright, is as celebrated for his translations of classics, including tragedies by Sophocles and Euripides, as he is for original works such as Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. His monologue, The Match Box, first performed in 2012, has a vividly described contemporary setting but the questions it asks are as old as civilisation itself.
First published in The Times, Wednesday January 31 2018
Rona Munro’s Bold Girls, first staged in 1990, is one of those disquieting works that lures its audience in gently before gradually exposing them to the sadness and desperation at its core. The play is set in Belfast at the height of the Troubles, but in the opening ten minutes of this revival at the Citizens – as Marie (Lucianne McEvoy) entertains her best friend, Cassie (Scarlett Mack), and Cassie’s mother, Nora (Deirdre Davis), in her cramped front room – we might just as easily be in sitcom-land. The women light-heartedly discuss their planned night out, diets and Saturday evening telly. Neil Haynes’s design is so detailed that you can almost feel the warm glow from Marie’s grill pan.
First published in The Times, Thursday January 25 2018
The weaving of dance elements into drama has become so widespread as to be unremarkable, even if certain productions tack on passages of movement in such marginal ways that they seem almost afterthoughts. Unusually, this adaptation of Marguerite Duras’s novel, created by Fleur Darkin of Scottish Dance Theatre and Jemima Levick, the artistic director of Stellar Quines, professes a 50:50 split between the two forms. While sporadically effective, their collaboration fails to capture the visceral power of its source.
First published in The Times, Tuesday January 23 2017
Miss Saigon, the Vietnam-set musical based on Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, is the long-running proof that theatrical lightning can strike twice. Prior to its premiere in the West End in 1989, few expected Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil to come close to the success of Les Misérables, their previous smash. Yet, despite teething problems, including controversies surrounding the casting of Caucasian actors in Asian roles, the story of a doomed love affair between a young Vietnamese woman and an American GI has proved every bit as durable as its predecessor.