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 predicament of aristocrats and establishment types who have fallen on hard times is a recurring theme in the plays of Alan Bennett. He charted the fates of the Cambridge Spies, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, in his works, An Englishman Abroad and A Question of Attribution. Miss Shepherd, the heroine of The Lady in the Van, is a former concert pianist reduced to sleeping rough following a spell in a psychiatric institution. Continue reading
A few lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, describing a world whose seasons are in disarray, perfectly encapsulate the experience of seeing theatre in Scotland at present: “The spring, the summer, the childing autumn, angry winter change their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world, by their increase, now knows not which is which.”
Not only is Pitlochry Festival Theatre currently staging Alan Ayckbourn’s Absurd Person Singular, a play set over three consecutive Christmas Eves, the Tron’s summer show is a revival of Anthony Neilson’s The Lying Kind, whose farcical action unfolds against a backdrop of tinsel and holly wreaths.
The work of Alan Ayckbourn is almost a mainstay of the annual summer programme at Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Over the years the company has made a significant dent in the prolific dramatist’s output, producing 24 of his more than 70 full-length plays. Last year, there was a bonus for aficionados when the theatre revived his ambitious trilogy of plays, Damsels in Distress.
Absurd Person Singular, one of Ayckbourn’s earliest successes, is also something of a three-in-one theatrical bonanza. The play unfolds over successive Christmas Eves in the respective homes of three very different couples. These increasingly uncomfortable gatherings may take place over the festive season, but Ayckbourn games our expectations by setting the action “offstage” in a trio of kitchens whose décor and condition mirror their owners’ personalities and state of mind. Now and then, a door opens to offer a glimpse of fairy lights or to divulge a few bars of seasonal music or sherry-fuelled laughter. Otherwise, the atmosphere remains resolutely cheerless.
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 20 2017
JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was afflicted in later life by writer’s cramp and could only write for any length of time with his left hand. He noted that the work he produced at this point took on an eerier quality, as though his left hand was channelling darker aspects of his personality. Mary Rose, written in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with its portrayal of a young life frozen in time, is strikingly similar in theme to the Kirriemuir-born author’s most enduring and iconic work, though laced through with subtle chills.
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!