First published in The Times, Thursday August 26 2021
The bare facts of the event that inspired Hannah Lavery’s poignant and powerful play now ring horribly familiar. In May 2015 Sheku Bayoh, a young black man who had been reported to police for his erratic behaviour in a Kirkcaldy street, was confronted and forcibly restrained by a number of officers. He lost consciousness at the scene and never recovered.
The most shocking element — to some at least — is that this tragedy took place in a Scottish town and not in Missouri or Minneapolis. Characters in Lavery’s play lament that such an event could occur in a country that sees itself as inclusive. “This is Scotland,” one says. “It’s not Black Lives Matter.”
First published in The Times, Friday August 16 2019
Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of the bestselling memoir by Jackie Kay, Scotland’s makar (national poet), is full of moments that break the heart and stir joy. It was almost bound to be. The book, which weaves the author’s 20-year search for her birth family with memories of her upbringing as the mixed-race, adopted daughter of white Scottish parents, is written with an irresistible vitality and generosity of spirit. Its universality comes from its attempt to address the great mystery of what makes us who we are.
First published in The Times, Thursday May 23 2019
John Webster’s 1614 tragedy is a bold, provocative choice of play for inclusion in the Citizens Women season. The Jacobean dramatist was astonishingly ahead of his time in addressing the patriarchy’s horror of female agency. This new version by Zinnie Harris, which relocates the action to a world disturbingly close to the present, is similarly unflinching. The pared-down intensity of her update feels acutely right for our times.
First published in The Times, Thursday December 6 2018
In outline, Ella Hickson’s adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s tale of the “boy who wouldn’t grow up” doesn’t look especially radical. Wendy and Peter have their first encounter in the nursery as Peter hunts his errant shadow. Lost Boys, pirates, mermaids and vengeful crocodiles populate Neverland. The curtain comes down on the first act with the hero, apparently mortally wounded, uttering the immortal line: “to die will be an awfully big adventure.”
Taking its cue from the opening lines of Shakespeare’s comedy — “If music be the food of love, play on” — musical composition and performance are at the heart of Wils Wilson’s production of Twelfth Night for the Lyceum and Bristol Old Vic. A battered grand piano is a prominent feature of Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s country-house set and several of the performers double as musicians, including Meilyr Jones, the Welsh singer-songwriter and the composer for the show.
First published in The Times, Monday September 10 2018
The autumn theatre season has rolled around again, but for Dominic Hill and the Citizens Theatre it is far from business as usual. Cyrano de Bergerac is the company’s first production since taking up residence at nearby Tramway while its Gorbals HQ undergoes renovations. Hill’s take on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 verse drama, based on the celebrated 1992 Scots translation by Edwin Morgan, is an ambitious team effort, co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Lyceum, that will tour stages around the country.
First published in The Times, Thursday January 25 2018
The weaving of dance elements into drama has become so widespread as to be unremarkable, even if certain productions tack on passages of movement in such marginal ways that they seem almost afterthoughts. Unusually, this adaptation of Marguerite Duras’s novel, created by Fleur Darkin of Scottish Dance Theatre and Jemima Levick, the artistic director of Stellar Quines, professes a 50:50 split between the two forms. While sporadically effective, their collaboration fails to capture the visceral power of its source.
First published in The Times, Friday October 21 2017
This two-hander from James Ley, the Edinburgh-based playwright and founder of the Village Pub Theatre, is a rare treat. One could count on the fingers of one hand the number of new plays that open in Scotland in any given year whose running time is more than 50 minutes. As for drama in which LGBT characters are at the front and centre of the story, well, you wouldn’t even need to use one hand or, for that matter, any of your fingers.
First published in The Times, Friday October 13 2017
The promotional image for this revival of Bridget Boland’s Cockpit is a frenzied blue scribble in the middle of the map of Europe. The simple image encapsulates the impossible task – depicted in the play – of returning displaced peoples to their countries of origins in the aftermath of World War Two, yet it also speaks eloquently of the inadequacies of the nation state in 2017. Boland’s script feels so up-to-date that it inspires repeated glances at the programme notes to double check that it really does date back to 1948.
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.