First published in The Times, Tuesday February 20 2018
While Hannah Cowley is hardly a household name today, the playwright was well known to audiences in the late 18th century, at a time when the theatre was at its peak as a popular art form. Her most successful work, The Belle’s Stratagem, which premiered in 1780, and is a response to George Farquhar’s The Beaux Stratagem, was one of the most revived comedies of the period.
While originally set in London, the action transposes neatly to Georgian Edinburgh in Tony Cownie’s sparkling adaptation, with references to the burgeoning New Town, the loyal toast to the “King over the Water” and cameos from luminaries of the period, including the fiddler, Niel Gow.
Graham Greene described his 1969 novel, Travels with My Aunt, as “the only book I have written just for the fun of it.” Indeed, there appears to be little urgent reason to revive the acclaimed theatrical adaptation, written by Giles Havergal, the former artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, other than for its sheer entertainment value. The play, first staged in 1989, and still regularly performed, can certainly draw appreciative laughter, even if it shows its age.
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.
Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a remarkable coming-of-age story told from the perspective of a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome. The stage adaptation goes one better, finding more inventive ways to immerse its audience in the heightened point of view of Christopher Boone, the 15-year-old who is great with numbers but not so accomplished with people.