First published in The Times, Friday September 10 2021
As Andrew Panton, the artistic director, reminds us in his opening address, the auditorium at Dundee Rep has been empty since March 2020. It is fitting somehow that the company’s first in-person show in 18 months should be a play set in Dundee in the midst of the pandemic that also touches upon aspects of the city’s heritage. John McCann’s script is rich in references to local landmarks such as Balgay Hill, the old music school and the McManus, which the audience laps up enthusiastically. There is even a cameo appearance from the museum’s most famous resident, the Tay Whale.
This irreverent celebration of the City of Discovery could hardly be timelier. Dundee has undergone a renaissance in recent years, the most striking symbol of which, the V&A Dundee, opened its doors in 2018. Last year, the city was included in the Wall Street Journal’s top ten global travel destinations and was described in GQ magazine as “Britain’s coolest little city”.
First published in The Times, Monday December 10 2018
The Snow Queen is no stranger to Dundee Rep. The most recent production of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, in 2012, starred the aptly named Emily Winter in the role of the icy monarch, negotiating a pine forest on stilts.
As one of the longer-serving members of the Rep ensemble, Winter also appears in this latest incarnation, though this time in the role of the Summer Princess, ruler of a balmy, fruit pastille-coloured region the heroine Gerda (Chiara Sparkes) has to pass through on her way to the frozen north.
First published in The Times, Tuesday October 23 2018
It feels misleading to refer to this new production of Gagarin Way as a “revival” — as though the director Cora Bissett and her cast had somehow breathed life back into a corpse. Gregory Burke’s black comedy, which was plucked out of the slush pile at the Traverse Theatre and went on to stun audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, has thrived on stages around the world pretty much nonstop since its premiere in 2001.
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, 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.
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.
First published in The Times, Tuesday March 8 2016
It would appear there are two possible approaches that can be taken when dramatising the crime fiction of Agatha Christie. The BBC may have made a bold attempt to inject some social context and depth of characterisation into their recent dark adaptation of And Then There Were None. Yet, the work of the Queen of Crime is still more familiar to stage and screen audiences as a kind of camp pageant, in which characters with all the complexity of Cluedo figurines gather to hear the solution to what amounts to an intricate puzzle.