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, 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, Saturday February 24 2018
According to the principle of Chekhov’s gun, if we see a firearm on stage in Act One, it must be used by the play’s end. Ira Levin’s thriller Deathtrap certainly sticks faithfully to the Russian’s view that everything we see on stage must have some relevance to the action. As the props on display include several pistols as well as daggers, swords, a mace and a crossbow, the audience spends much of the play bracing itself for the inevitable bloodbath.
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.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 7 2017
By coincidence, Dundee Rep’s community production of Brecht’s anti-fascist allegory is running at the same time as a major revival at the Donmar Warehouse. Where Brecht’s 1941 “parable play” parodied Hitler’s rise to power through the story of a small-time gangster who assumes control over the Chicago cauliflower racket in the 1930s, the London production, starring Lenny Henry, draws explicit parallels with the campaigning rhetoric and behaviour in office of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.