The history of LGBT rights in the UK goes hand in hand with Edward II’s production history. Though the title is now synonymous with queer art, Christopher Marlowe’s 1594 tragedy didn’t come out of the closet until the late 1960s, thanks to an infamous staging from Prospect Theatre Company that made explicit the homoerotic content. A small screen version of the same production (which starred Ian McKellen) included the first gay kiss to be shown on British television.
First published in The Times, Tuesday July 10 2018
At first glance, there appears to be a bulky, Oscar Wilde-shaped hole in Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s summer season programme. Lively, intelligent productions of the great aesthete’s masterpieces, from An Ideal Husband to The Importance of Being Earnest, all directed by Richard Baron, have been among the rural theatre’s more memorable outings in recent years.
First published in The Times, Wednesday July 4 2018
The accoutrements of Sunday evening TV costume drama are present and correct in Blood of the Young’s refreshed take on Jane Austen. A chandelier hangs above an upright piano. A harp waits in a corner of the stage next to a row of high-backed chairs with floral upholstery. As the house lights go down we await the rattle and chink of the Bennet family’s best china plate being wheeled into the parlour for the benefit of gentleman visitors.
“Star-cross’d lovers” is the theme of this year’s Bard in the Botanics, and in its pair of opening productions, the annual Shakespeare festival offers up the perfect complement of innocence and experience in tragic love.
Jennifer Dick’s production of Romeo and Juliet features a 13-strong cast performing against an al fresco backdrop while, at the other end of the botanical gardens, Gordon Barr stages Antony and Cleopatra beneath the glass roof of the Kibble Palace. It is an instructive pairing, reminding us of Shakespeare’s delight in recycling patterns of events in his plays. The latter couple may steal a march on the former in terms of erotic and worldly experience, yet both pairs of lovers die by their own hands, believing death infinitely preferable to life without their soul mate.
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.