First published in The Times, Friday September 10 2021
As Andrew Panton, the artistic director, reminds us in his opening address, the auditorium at Dundee Rep has been empty since March 2020. It is fitting somehow that the company’s first in-person show in 18 months should be a play set in Dundee in the midst of the pandemic that also touches upon aspects of the city’s heritage. John McCann’s script is rich in references to local landmarks such as Balgay Hill, the old music school and the McManus, which the audience laps up enthusiastically. There is even a cameo appearance from the museum’s most famous resident, the Tay Whale.
First published in The Times, Tuesday February 26 2019
Visions of the afterlife in drama can range from the terrifying to the strangely reassuring. Vanishing Point’s meditation on death, the torment of grief and the comforts of the supernatural imagines Hamlet’s “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” as a gothic mirror of the world above ground, in which the dead reciprocate the pain and grief of the living.
First published in The Times, Monday September 3 2018
There are moments during this production of Anne Downie’s oft-revived play about a family of Scottish travellers in the 1930s when the audience appears to be lost in a haze of nostalgia. Mentions of pearl fishing on Speyside, neep gathering in Angus and berry picking in Perthshire are met with appreciative murmurs. When the nine-strong ensemble performs Adam McNaughtan’s song, which gives the play its title, everyone sings along, word-perfect.
First published in The Times, Friday March 16 2018
It was in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre in 1999 that Steven Slater and Duncan Sheik conceived their musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play about the unheard cries of young people. Fast forward 20 years and it is poignant that this energetic new production, featuring students from the Royal Conservatoire under the direction of Andrew Panton of Dundee Rep, is opening in the same week as a walkout of students across the United States in protest at yet another high school shooting.
First published in The Times, Wednesday December 6 2017
This year’s Christmas show at Dundee Rep (the ensemble’s first under its new artistic director Andrew Panton) represents a welcome return to festive themes. The company has spent the past four Christmases mining the unseasonal tales of Roald Dahl, from The BFG to George’s Marvellous Medicine.
First published in The Times, Wednesday November 1 2017
Audiences are accustomed to seeing the auditorium of Dundee Rep transformed by ambitious design. On several occasions the seating has been ripped out, reconfigured in the round or dispensed with altogether. The ensemble performed its award-winning 2012 production of Zinnie Harris’s Further Than the Furthest Thing in and around a huge pool of water.
First published in The Times, Saturday September 2 2017
In this era of 90-minute plays, a three-and-a-half hour drama feels like a real theatrical banquet. August: Osage County, Tracy Letts’s multi award-winning play, which made its Broadway debut in 2008, features all the bristling dialogue and steady ratcheting-up of tension found in great American stage works such as Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Yet, Letts’s family saga, with its large cast of dysfunctional characters, multiple plot strands, twists and revelations, is also unapologetically entertaining, like a soap opera only speeded-up.
Was there ever a more maligned creature in folklore than the wolf? The creature’s appalling public image can be traced all the way back to Aesop, and in European fairy tales the big bad wolf is either a predatory beast, devouring grandmothers and innocent young girls without remorse, or hoist with his own petard: lured to the boiling pot by little pigs and mother goats.
First published in The Times, Tuesday March 8 2016
It would appear there are two possible approaches that can be taken when dramatising the crime fiction of Agatha Christie. The BBC may have made a bold attempt to inject some social context and depth of characterisation into their recent dark adaptation of And Then There Were None. Yet, the work of the Queen of Crime is still more familiar to stage and screen audiences as a kind of camp pageant, in which characters with all the complexity of Cluedo figurines gather to hear the solution to what amounts to an intricate puzzle.
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 16 2015
Stage and screen adaptations of Dickens have tended to emphasise the epic scale of the author’s novels. The 15-part Bleak House for BBC television is a case in point, as is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s nine-hour version of Nicholas Nickleby from 1980. But this revival of Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Great Expectations for Dundee Rep and Perth’s Horsecross Arts is one of those rare things: a literary adaptation that abridges the novel’s sprawl without losing sight of the author’s themes of class, social mobility, love and hope.