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.
The ability to transform everyday objects into the stuff of magical adventures is the very essence of imaginative play. An empty cardboard box becomes a pirate ship. A nailbrush zooms along the side of the bathtub, becoming a train speeding along the track. A courageous wooden spoon takes on a fire breathing washing up bottle in a battle for dominance over the kitchen table.
First published in The Times, Thursday April 27 2017
The tale of how Mary Shelley came up with the idea for Frankenstein in a waking dream while staying at Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816 is almost as familiar as the plot of the novel itself. Less well known is the author’s connection with the city of Dundee, where the 14-year-old Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) spent several months recuperating from illness in 1812.
It is no mean feat to take a play as endlessly revived and oft discussed as Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece and make audiences feel as though they are seeing it for the first time. Yet this production, directed by Joe Douglas for the Dundee Rep ensemble, offers an abundance of fresh perspectives on a text many people first encounter as high school students.
Sometimes the power of theatre to transport its audience can be instantaneous. As we make our way, still dripping from a June shower, into the auditorium of Dundee Rep, Ken Harrison’s set of rusticated gold pillars and wrought iron archways, made to gleam by Mike Robertson’s lighting, produces a palpably warming, comforting effect. People can be seen basking their faces in the glow. It’s like the start of a much-needed summer holiday.
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.