First published in The Times, Monday March 11 2018
In many ways, the bingo hall is the ideal place in which to set a site-specific show. Like live theatre at its best, a night at the bingo is a collective experience that’s a little different every time, leaving its participants trembling on the edge of their seats, on the verge of elation or disappointment.
It is surprising that this new musical comedy, produced by Stellar Quines in collaboration with Grid Iron, the leading company specialising in site-specific work in Scotland, makes no attempt to fully immerse its audience within such a giddy atmosphere. We watch the action unfold against the glittery backdrop of Carys Hobbs and Becky Minto’s set at one remove, and the experience is akin to spying on a party to which we haven’t been invited.
First published in The Times, Saturday February 24 2018
According to the principle of Chekhov’s gun, if we see a firearm on stage in Act One, it must be used by the play’s end. Ira Levin’s thriller Deathtrap certainly sticks faithfully to the Russian’s view that everything we see on stage must have some relevance to the action. As the props on display include several pistols as well as daggers, swords, a mace and a crossbow, the audience spends much of the play bracing itself for the inevitable bloodbath.
First published in The Times, Tuesday February 20 2018
While Hannah Cowley is hardly a household name today, the playwright was well known to audiences in the late 18th century, at a time when the theatre was at its peak as a popular art form. Her most successful work, The Belle’s Stratagem, which premiered in 1780, and is a response to George Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem, was one of the most revived comedies of the period.
While originally set in London, the action transposes neatly to Georgian Edinburgh in Tony Cownie’s sparkling adaptation, with references to the burgeoning New Town, the loyal toast to the “King over the Water” and cameos from luminaries of the period, including the fiddler, Niel Gow.
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.