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.
Sandy Grierson is fast becoming the go-to actor for offbeat dramatic roles in Scottish theatre. The titles alone of his recent work hint at his versatility. In the past two years he has played the antihero of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark: A Life in Three Acts at the Edinburgh International Festival and the iconoclast musician in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler for the National Theatre of Scotland.
First published in The Times, Tuesday April 11 2017
It is so rare to see revivals of the work of Caryl Churchill on Scottish stages that two productions in the space of a week feels like an embarrassment of riches. The prolific, versatile and endlessly experimental playwright’s two-hander Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?, which implicitly explores the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the United States through a conversation between male lovers, has recently completed a week-long run in the Circle Studio at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.
First published in The Times, Friday March 17 2017
Dominic Hill, the artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, has won acclaim and awards in recent years for productions of Crime and Punishment and Hamlet presented on near-bare stages, with only a few essential props and the cast doubling as musicians. While his production of Hay Fever is not as skeletal as his previous shows, the staging here is more restrained than the usual lavish naturalism you get in productions of Coward.
Tom Piper’s set design provides just enough detail to convey the comfortably moth-eaten atmosphere of the Bliss residence. That the wings are in sight of the audience feels wholly appropriate to a play about a family who enact the mother of all pantomimes for the benefit of their houseguests, one of whom decries their antics as “artificial to the point of lunacy”.
First published in The Times, Tuesday January 17 2017
The title is perhaps most familiar to international audiences from Peter Weir’s acclaimed 1975 film adaptation. For this stage version, Tom Wright, the playwright, has returned for inspiration to Joan Lindsay’s source novel, about a trio of Australian schoolgirls who, along with their elderly teacher, vanish without trace while on a Valentine’s Day outing in 1900. The production, from Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company, directed by Matthew Lutton, is flawed, at times overwrought, but at its best it provokes the same shiver of disquiet as Weir’s woozily frightening movie.
First published in The Times, Thursday October 6 2016
You couldn’t find a bolder statement of intent than this, the first significant production of David Greig’s tenure as artistic director of the Lyceum in Edinburgh. The co-production with the Actors Touring Company returns its audience to the dawn of drama, with a version (penned by Greig himself) of one of the oldest surviving plays, written by Aeschylus and first performed in competition as part of the Athenian Festival of Dionysus in about 470BC.
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).