First published in The Times, Monday October 9 2017
One can’t help but wonder whether this abridged version of the Scottish Play is the kind of thing Shakespeare would be writing if he were embarking on his career in an era dominated by small-scale studio shows. Frances Poet and Dominic Hill’s adaptation strips the tragedy down to its essentials, creating an intense domestic two-hander that requires its actors (Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming) to divest themselves of everything but raw emotion.
First published in The Times, Tuesday September 26 2017
This is not the first time this year that a performer has taken on the role of man’s best friend on the stage at the Citizens. In May, the actor Ewan Somers gave a memorable turn as an amorous Irish wolfhound in a revival of Giles Havergal’s celebrated version of Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt.
A mere four months on and another literary adaptation is affording Somers and a dozen of his fellow actors the opportunity to play not only dogs and chickens but also guards and prisoners in a Soviet labour camp. In the opening moments of Helena Kaut-Howson’s production, based on the 1975 allegorical novel by Georgi Vladimov, the dissident writer, we watch the company being put through its paces in a military-style drill, snapping from canine to human and back again in response to barked commands.
Graham Greene described his 1969 novel, Travels with My Aunt, as “the only book I have written just for the fun of it.” Indeed, there appears to be little urgent reason to revive the acclaimed theatrical adaptation, written by Giles Havergal, the former artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, other than for its sheer entertainment value. The play, first staged in 1989, and still regularly performed, can certainly draw appreciative laughter, even if it shows its age.
First published in The Times, Friday March 17 2017
Dominic Hill, the artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, has won acclaim and awards in recent years for productions of Crime and Punishment and Hamlet presented on near-bare stages, with only a few essential props and the cast doubling as musicians. While his production of Hay Fever is not as skeletal as his previous shows, the staging here is more restrained than the usual lavish naturalism you get in productions of Coward.
Tom Piper’s set design provides just enough detail to convey the comfortably moth-eaten atmosphere of the Bliss residence. That the wings are in sight of the audience feels wholly appropriate to a play about a family who enact the mother of all pantomimes for the benefit of their houseguests, one of whom decries their antics as “artificial to the point of lunacy”.
First published in The Times, Wednesday February 15 2017
The middle instalment of a trilogy can often feel inessential: the slightly sagging bridge between a punchy opening and satisfactory denouement. This revival of the second part of John Byrne’s Slab Boys trilogy reaffirms the play as every bit as funny and poignant as episode one. If anything, Caroline Paterson’s production is a cut above the David Hayman-directed revival of The Slab Boys – staged at the same theatre a couple of years ago.
First published in The Times, Thursday September 22 2016
It is now 20 years since Danny Boyle’s film version of Trainspotting burst onto cinema screens, and it is fascinating to note the degree to which its structure and imagery have almost supplanted Irvine Welsh’s nonlinear source novel and the 1994 stage adaptation by Harry Gibson. This revival, directed by Gareth Nicholls for the Citz, owes a marked visual debt to Boyle’s movie, right down to the bold orange-and-black lettering on the promotional material.
As we approach the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, it is hard not to become overwhelmed – numbed even – by the scale of the carnage wrought on the bloodiest day in British military history. Frank McGuinness’s 1985 play stands out among dramatic depictions of the First World War for its reluctance to stick to a tried-and-tested formula. Its final sequence takes place in a trench on the morning of the first day of the battle, before a single shot has been fired.