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.
First published in The Times, Tuesday January 31 2017
The Edinburgh-based visual theatre company Tortoise in a Nutshell is nothing if not versatile. Its award-winning 2013 fringe show, Feral, invited audiences to cram into a small venue to watch an entire town built from tiny paper models come to life before our eyes. The company’s latest work, presented in association with the Macrobert Arts Centre and Denmark’s Teater Katapult, is a different prospect entirely. All the action of this main stage production takes place on or around a solitary life-sized boat, tossed on a vast, undulating sea.
First published in The Times, Tuesday October 24 2016
This eerie slice of contemporary noir is not what we’ve come to expect from the playwright Rob Drummond. His notable earlier works include Bullet Catch, in which Drummond recreated the classic magic trick with the help of audience participants. In Fidelity, which debuted at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, explored questions of love and monogamy through a Blind Date-style game show format involving single audience members.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 1 2016
Since its inauguration a decade ago, the National Theatre of Scotland has staged work in a number of remarkable places, including pubs, a swimming pool and Edinburgh International Airport. The latest production is perhaps its most adventurous undertaking yet. Audiences are bussed from Perth Concert Hall to an ambitiously reconfigured barn in a field in nearby Pitcairngreen. This is the immersive setting for Oliver Emanuel’s haunting play about three soldiers who were shot for cowardice during the First World War.
First published in The Times, Sunday March 13 2016
Firebrand, the theatre company based in the Borders, has a knack for identifying new plays that are destined to become contemporary classics. Recent work includes revivals of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, which focused on guinea pigs in a drugs trial, and The Great Train Race, Robert Dawson Scott’s comedy about rival rail companies, both written only within the past four years.
First published in The Times, Thursday January 21 2016
Show don’t tell – that’s the standard advice given to aspiring playwrights. Yet, Conor McPherson’s masterpiece, which premiered at the Royal Court in 1997, famously never shows us the ghosts that populate his characters’ bar room yarns and confessions. This poignant, sometimes funny and sometimes melancholy play goes back to the very basics of storytelling, requiring its audience to listen hard to a series of evocative exchanges and monologues that illuminate the characters and haunt the imagination.
First published in The Times, Tuesday December 15 2015
An encounter between Mother Christmas and a talking polar bear sounds like the premise for one of Raymond Briggs’s wintry graphic novels for children. This double bill of thematically linked plays may dabble in the realms of the fantastic and metaphorical but, like The Devil Masters, last year’s seasonal show at the Traverse, the content is aimed squarely at grown-ups.