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.
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.
First published in The Times, Monday December 7 2015
The Witches: Three Stars
Sleeping Betty: Three Stars
A Roald Dahl adaptation at Dundee Rep has become as much a staple of the Christmas season as mince pies. This is the third year in a row that the ensemble has staged one of David Wood’s adaptations of the celebrated author’s twisted children’s tales, with a production of George’s Marvellous Medicine already slated for next year.
Like George’s potion or the formula developed by the Grand High Witch to turn children into mice, at its best Dahl’s absurdist, somewhat menacing sensibility is a recipe for dark theatrical magic. Jemima Levick’s production of The Witches certainly doesn’t lack pungent set pieces, notably the anarchic hotel dining room sequence, in which the tale’s boy-to-mouse hero (Matthew Forbes) tries to turn the tables on the dastardly coven. The show gains further levity from its use of live music, developed by Gavin Swift and performed live.