First published in The Times, Tuesday August 8 2017
Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man was a landmark television series of the 1970s, which explored the development of human society through our relationship to science. The accompanying book rivalled Delia Smith’s How to Cheat at Cooking for its ubiquity on the shelves of British households.
First published in The Times, Monday August 7 2017
It seems almost unfair to review a piece of theatre based on a single performance when its complexion changes fundamentally at every outing. Nassim Soulemainpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, in which a different actor is drafted in for each performance, rewards multiple viewings for the way the change in personnel affects our perception of what is happening onstage. To date, the play has been performed more than 1000 times in 15 languages.
Peter Barnes’s anarchic satire on privilege and entitlement must have seemed incredibly close to the knuckle when it was first staged at the Nottingham Playhouse in November 1968. The play’s premiere arrived at the end of a year marked by popular uprisings against elites across the globe, from the student protests that brought France to a shuddering halt for a few days in May to the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the Prague Spring and the first rumblings of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The predicament of aristocrats and establishment types who have fallen on hard times is a recurring theme in the plays of Alan Bennett. He charted the fates of the Cambridge Spies, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, in his works, An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution. Miss Shepherd, the heroine of The Lady in the Van, is a former concert pianist reduced to sleeping rough following a spell in a psychiatric institution. Continue reading
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.