First published in The Times, Saturday September 9 2017
What could be timelier, in this era of Brexit, mass migration and right-wing populism, than a revival of David Greig’s play about borders, identity and the perceived threat from immigrants? Europe, one of the playwright’s earliest successes, was first performed at the Traverse a quarter of a century ago, yet its portrayal of a rundown railway station in a small European town, haunted by refugees and dejected locals, might have been dreamed-up yesterday.
Peter Barnes’s anarchic satire on privilege and entitlement must have seemed incredibly close to the knuckle when it was first staged at the Nottingham Playhouse in November 1968. The play’s premiere arrived at the end of a year marked by popular uprisings against elites across the globe, from the student protests that brought France to a shuddering halt for a few days in May to the escalation of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the Prague Spring and the first rumblings of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The 1956 film High Society was one of the biggest box office hits of the year. Yet the MGM musical is considered a pale imitation of The Philadelphia Story, the play and film on which it is based. Even on its original release one reviewer called it “as dated today as the idle rich”. What one remembers of the musical is the iconic staging of some of Cole Porter’s best-loved songs: Bing Crosby serenading Grace Kelly with True Love on a yacht; Bing and Frank Sinatra teaming up for a cracking rendition of Well, Did You Evah!
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 8 2016
Someone once said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the same thing could be said of staging musical theatre. There are so many specialist talents involved, from the performers to the creative team and musicians that it is hardly surprising most companies would prefer to give shows requiring large casts and big bands a wide berth, not least in these cash-strapped times.
First published in The Times, Monday September 7 2015
The final production in this year’s summer season at the theatre in the hills is an intimate affair: a welcome revival of David Greig’s haunting 2005 play. Pyrenees is a loose sequel to Greig’s 1999 work, The Cosmonaut’s Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union, whose many strands includes the search conducted by a woman named Vivienne for her missing husband, Keith. Where the earlier play is a mosaic of connections between seemingly disparate characters across multiple locations, this follow up is notable for its quiet restraint and melancholic humour.
As a producing house in Scotland with the audacity to stage at least one musical each year, Pitlochry Festival Theatre continues to find itself in a minority of one. Having impressed audiences and awards panels alike with recent polished productions of crowd-pleasers such as My Fair Lady and White Christmas, artistic director John Durnin and his team have now set themselves the challenge of tackling something altogether more nuanced.