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.
There’s a wealth of Greek literature in Scottish theatre at present. The blood is still wet on the stage at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum (during the current run of Chris Hannan’s adaptation of Homer’s Iliad), as the curtain begins to rise on this ambitious reimagining of Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy, with a punchy, contemporary version of the text by the playwright Zinnie Harris.
August Strindberg wasn’t the first playwright to portray marriage as a fight to the death, but his vision of a man and woman locked in symbiosis has certainly echoed down the years. The influence of his 1900 play The Dance of Death can be felt in everything from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to pretty much every sitcom marriage of the Seventies and Eighties.