First published in The Times, Thursday May 25 2017
John Knox (Jamie Sives) stands at the front of the stage, watching the audience file into the auditorium. Clad in black, with Bible in hand, he is utterly immobile save for his eyes, which roam the stalls, picking out individual audience members and holding them with an unyielding gaze.
It is a discomforting start to Linda McLean’s new play about the 16th century Scottish Reformer – who was credited with founding the Presbyterian Church – and his various exchanges with that other great icon of the period, Mary, Queen of Scots. The feeling of unease provoked by this opening gambit will be familiar to anyone who has passed under the stare of the statue of Knox that is at the entrance of the Assembly Hall on the Mound in Edinburgh – ironically now a major venue every August during the Festival Fringe.
In the context of Scottish theatre, Molière, the nom-de-plume of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, the 17th century French dramatist and actor, is pretty much synonymous with Liz Lochhead. The playwright and poet has notched up several adaptations into Scots of the comic maestro’s works, including Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope (rechristened Misery Guts) and L’Ecole des Femmes (updated as Educating Agnes).
First published in The Times, Monday September 28 2015
Liz Lochhead’s new play features more layers than a Viennese torte. The rich base is La Ronde: that once-scandalous work by the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler, famously structured as a chain of sexual encounters that eventually comes full circle. In Lochhead’s version, this “sexual daisy chain” provides the inspiration for a tangy backstage comedy in which multiple characters revolve around an impoverished two-handed production of Schnitzler. The result is frequently entertaining, even if it proves to be not quite the sum of its many parts.