The Freshers' Plays: Boston Marriage

Ally Lodge reviews the Freshers' Play Boston Marriage, at the Barron Theatre, St Andrews, 4 & 5 December 2011Rating: 4/5 Reviews of Boston Marriage often seem to begin with a moment of 'Stop the press – David Mamet is actually writing about women – everybody gasp in amazement'; or words to that effect. Having myself studied a number of Mamet's male-orientated plays, I am always keen to see any of his works in performance, and I went along on Monday night: (a) curious to see if a Mamet play about three women would be any good, and (b) see if these three actresses could pull off the notorious Mametspeak.Any cynicism I may have had was very quickly erased. The production, directed and produced by Harriet Harper-Jones and Tasmin Swanson, was fast, witty, and very neatly put together. With only three characters on stage (Lorenzo De Boni's fleeting presence at the beginning cannot really be included), there is no hiding place for a weak actress: but this play was supremely cast. Ali Young was appropriately bumbling and intrusive as Anna's Scottish maid Catherine; Emily Dixon was elegantly poised but sharp as a knife as Anna's lover Claire; but Edie Deffebach, as Anna, dominated the Barron, with brilliant comic timing, powerful delivery of lines, and expressions and gestures which spoke as much as Mamet's dialogue even when she was not doing the talking.The set was simple but effective, with a piano – detached from the action – at one side, played by Frazer Hadfield. The piano slotted into the production well as a piece of symbolism for Anna, but was put to practical use as the doorbell, a dropped platter, and a musical introduction to each scene (although the overlapping of piano and dialogue was somewhat messy). A plethora of peacock feathers, along with the token candles and mysterious red lighting, supplied a mockingly stereotypical setting for a pretend séance.While on occasion the dialogue was delivered too quietly, and could have been given more energy, the humour was impeccably delivered, and each actress commanded her character superbly. Hopefully we shall be seeing more of this cast and crew soon.  Ally LodgeImage – Ally Lodge  

The Freshers' Plays: Medea

Laura Francis reviews the Freshers' Play Medea, at the Barron Theatre, St Andrews, 30 November and 1 December 2011Rating: 2/5In choosing Medea for his freshers' play, I certainly can’t fault director David Swallow for lack of ambition. Notoriously wordy and thoroughly morally reprehensible, Medea tells the story of the wife of Jason (the same guy from Jason and the Argonauts), who, wild with fury at her husband’s infidelity, brutally murders his new bride in a truly horrible way, then to complete the bloodbath, her own two children she had with Jason. Yes: spoilers, spoilers, but this is tragedy – you know things aren’t going to go well.Execution – unintentional pun – of the play was patchy, the first setback being that the actress playing Medea had gone AWOL (for fairness I should point out she was ill) and so was replaced by producer Mathilde Johnsen, self-consciously holding her script. It is ironic that Johnsen was one of the strongest elements of the piece; she did incredibly well in unfortunate circumstances.The play was, however, compromised by a self-consciousness and lack of conviction in the cast. Jamie Jones as Jason tended to make lines more emotional by shouting them, so came across more as a sulky boy who had had his Wii confiscated than a man who has lost his children. Ghislaine Adair made the most of her few lines, sending the only shivers of the play up my spine as she described, in visceral detail, the princess’ skin melting off and her body burning. Although this was obviously not shown on stage (curse the student theatre budget), with Adair’s conviction you could almost see the carnage.With a little tightening up, and perhaps a rethinking of the invisible children with curiously adult voices – ‘She’s got a knife! Mother please don’t kill me!’ – Medea could have been a lot stronger. Kudos for bravery and vision though. Laura FrancisImage credit – Matt Leonard  

A Winter Evening of Discontent

Ben Cook reviews Ricky III, Venue 1, St Andrews, 6 December 2011Rating: 2/5 The wait in St. Andrews has ended. Ricky III, the high-school cheerleading adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, has premiered. Few could have missed the deluge of publicity afforded the production. Arguably, it is the most elaborate play to be put on this semester and with a large cast, choreographed scenes and a classic story of murder most foul, it has a great deal of potential. Sadly, it is let down by a shaky premise and indecisive direction.Nevertheless, it has its redeeming qualities; Maia Krall Fry as Ricky, on who the play’s success would normally rest on, does an admirable job. Being taller (not to mention female) than the traditional representation of Richard III lends her stooping and arrogant proclamations a distinctness that suitably dominates the stage. Her stage presence, though, could be the result of a script that has been considerably shortened. As Shakespeare’s second longest play it is rarely produced in its entirety, but to shorten a four hour play into an hour and a half suggests a lack of vision: the cost of which is a supporting cast that seem more like stage decoration than cogent characters in their own right. Perhaps this was director Charlotte Branfield's intention, for it is the boars who silently prowl the borders of the stage and seating arrangements that grab one’s attention. Their masks are surprisingly effective and the placards they loft against Prince Eddy (Chloe Pearce) are biting as well as humorous. Furthermore, it is the fight scene where all the actors go through a meticulously orchestrated bevy of punches, kicks, and flips that stand out above, say, the dialogue that preceded it. Venue 1, though offering a great range of lighting options and space, has poor acoustics, and many of the actors and actresses could have projected their voices farther.Ultimately a reinterpretation of a classic such as Richard III rests on the innovative changes that make it fresh and challenging. The gender reversal is an intriguing idea, but it came across as incomplete; for instance, though pronouns are changed in the revised script, (‘him’ becomes ‘her’, etc.) gender-bound titles such as 'Lord' and 'King' remain. It can be assumed that this was a conscious decision by the director, but it adds a touch of absurdity to procedures where a cheerleader is hoisted up into the air and crowned King. The setting of the play in an American High School, conveying how much squabbling and treachery takes place in cheerleading, might very well be accurate; but it would equally be valid in any other hierarchal order, and the choice of cheerleading, popularised in countless mediocre TV shows, seems uninspired as a result. Despite moments of eloquence and professionalism it would have been better if this high school drama had stayed there. Ben CookImage credit - illustration by Miranda Burnett-Stewart and poster design by Adelaide Waldrop  

Expect the Unexpected

Alex Mullarky reviews Cinderella, Dundee Rep, 1 December 2011Rating: 2.5/5The production opens with a little magic. A snap of the actor’s fingers and the lights go down; a spotlight settles on him. A wave of his wand, and up rises the curtain, revealing a spectacular set. This retelling of Cinderella takes place not in a fairy-tale manor house, but aboard a ship. On the bottom level, a kitchen and bedroom complete with portholes and plank flooring. Above, a sloping room with three chairs set out amongst jumbled furniture. The Floating Cassandra, named for the heroine’s deceased mother, is no ordinary boat. It’s a retirement home for elderly magicians.So far, so strange. But for a modern interpretation of a classic story this was a lot of fun. It certainly wasn’t just the children who were mesmerised by the old magicians’ tricks. Our Cinderella spends her days caring for these ageing performers under the supervision of her rather scatter-brained father, wearing wellies and overalls and dreaming of ‘just one night’ in which to feel pretty and graceful. In an attempt to overcome his loneliness Cinderella’s father invites Mrs Sheila Yarg to live with him aboard The Floating Cassandra, bringing along her two daughters: clueless Tixylix and orange-faced Monopoly. While Robert Paterson’s bumbling father figure believes Cinderella will be glad of the company, the girls are two-faced and nothing but trouble – as would be expected of two ugly stepsisters.At the same time a revolving stage allows us into the royal palace, where an insignificant-feeling queen is trying to convince her adopted son to marry and generate some good press. When he begrudgingly agrees, an X Factor-style competition ensues, which generated a lot of laughs from the audience. But when this fails, a more traditional ball takes place: the Butterfly Ball, inspired by the ‘Butterfly Republic’ where the Prince grew up. Against difficult odds and with the help of a little retired-magician fairy dust, Cinderella does go to the ball – albeit carried there by a seagull named Gavin, whose appearances are brief and largely cringe-worthy, though loved by the children in the audience.The usual trials and tribulations follow the Prince and Cinderella’s inevitable bonding, but this time it is Cinderella’s sense of duty to her father that forces her to lie about her lost shoe, claiming it doesn’t fit; and of course, it is with her father’s help in the end that she crashes the Prince’s wedding – literally crashes a boat into the ‘royal beach’ – and tells him her true feelings. Despite a lot of jokes in the script that didn’t really hit the mark, the scenes between Cinderella and the Prince were a little touching, in particular when he appeared aboard The Floating Cassandra in a scuba suit to declare his feelings for her.However, if it’s a good old-fashioned pantomime you’re hoping for, you’re likely to be disappointed. The male lead in the play was, lamentably, played by a male actor (though very well) and if there was a pantomime dame then she appeared for less than a minute on stage. There were some fun songs but the audience was never encouraged to participate – no ‘he’s behind you!’ moments and only one instance of booing and hissing. In hindsight, the play doesn’t claim to be a panto, but as a fairy tale retelling at Christmas, aimed at kids, it seemed slightly misleading. So, despite being a fun production, Cinderella felt like it had somewhat missed the mark this Christmas. Alex MullarkyImage credit - Douglas McBride, courtesy of Dundee Rep  

Ricky III: Preview

Alex Mullarky previews the upcoming production of Ricky III.Thanks to some seriously comprehensive publicity, anyone in St Andrews with access to the internet has probably heard by now of Ricky III. Soon to be hitting Venue 1, Ricky III is a brand new interpretation of Shakespeare's Richard III, in which the English monarch becomes an American cheerleader and the battlefields and castles of England are replaced by high school hallways and gymnasiums.'British television in some respects is very Americanised,' says director Charlotte Branfield. 'We have so many American shows about high school, I thought it would be funny if that was where this very British play should be set. After that the cheerleading clique seemed perfect - in Texas there actually are cases of people killing for their team or to get captaincy!'In fact, despite all the male characters becoming female and vice versa, Charlotte had to make surprisingly few changes to the original script. 'The biggest change is the length. I've shortened it from four hours to about two. This was the most challenging - what to take out, what to leave. It's all relevant to the story and the atmosphere it creates, and when the writer is Shakespeare it certainly doesn't make it any easier.''I think it's brought the play into a realistic modern setting,' says Maia Krall-Fry, who will be playing Ricky. 'The gender inversion works fantastically as all the power balances between characters shift and new struggles are presented.' She describes her character as 'an ambitious, manipulative, and hate-filled girl. Finding her inner reasoning and the drive for her action in the context of the play's setting has probably been the most challenging thing. But playing and experimenting with such a far-fetched character has been a treat.'Kyle Mest and Millicent Wilkinson are behind the costumes for this production. 'We both had different thoughts on what would work for the punks and the cheerleaders,' says Millicent. 'I have a strong love for Vivienne Westwood so the ideas for the punks needed to be more Sex Pistols and less Harajuku. Our main source for the costumes was Dundee high street and we're currently working on properly fixing them up.'Director Charlotte took on the role of set design herself. 'There is much more to think about than I first thought,' she admits. 'It was a stressful process! I wanted various levels - the stage is tiered in a way that it could, with the cast on it, be visually like a cheerleading pyramid. As it's high school there are lockers that people can walk on, and the floor is green for grass - it's kind of an inside meets out!'Venue 1 played host to a couple of productions last year,  and this year it looks set to host a handful more, including Ricky III. 'Venue 1 is brilliant,' says Charlotte. They have loads of lighting and equipment and are flexible with regards to where you perform and what your stage looks like. So where better than the Students' Association?'Ricky III will be showing from the 6th-8th December at 7pm, with a matinee performance at 2pm on Wednesday the 7th, in Venue 1. 'I want it to be a show where the audience is enveloped by this world,' says Charlotte. 'Fingers crossed!'For more information visit www.rickyiii.co.ukAlex MullarkyImage credits - illustrations by Miranda Burnett-Stewart and poster design by Adelaide Waldrop

Children of Eden Review

The Christian Music and Drama Society – CMAD – stage Stephen Schwartz and John Caird’s Children of Eden on the main stage of the Byre Theatre, 19th November 2011.Rating: 4/5 Children of Eden is a musical based on the book of Genesis, with the first act telling the stories of Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, and the second act centring on the story of Noah’s Ark. The main theme of the musical appears to be the bond between parent and child; the difficulties of parenting are echoed by the many characters that appear throughout. The desire to love and protect a child is juxtaposed with letting them be free, and this works especially well when we see a character who has previously been a child – such as Eve – have to grow into a parent. God is represented as simply ‘Father’, echoing all of the familial ties in the many generations which appear in this story. The doubling of Adam and Noah, Eve and Mama Noah and of their children is particularly effective in highlighting the continuity throughout the generations. Although this staging convention is not always followed it was one of the particular strengths of this production.We open with Father (Fizz Redfern) creating the earth, and Adam (Adam Robbie) and Eve (Anna McDonald) being charged with naming all of the creatures. This leads to the first of many instances in which the entire company are on stage, yet thanks to some clever choreography by director Emma Hinds, the stage always feels alive, never crowded. From its opening song this musical was captivating. The music which echoes the passing of genes such as Eve and Cain’s ‘Spark of Creation’ worked beautifully with both solo singers in that each of them seemed to be tapping into exactly the same emotion, and this was indicative of a coherent directorial vision throughout. Robbie and McDonald set the comic tone perfectly with their shy embraces and embarrassed kisses as they begin to discover they love each other as ‘more than brother and sister’. Although the first act felt a song too long, there were some wonderful performances. Despite not having a named character until the second act, Ellie Mason was an incredibly engaging performer. Most of the cast were required to play animals at some point, and this was always done with complete dedication and some wonderful attention to detail.The second act was just as vibrant as the first, with some wonderful songs; Vicki Robertson’s ‘No Stranger to the Rain’ as Yonah the servant girl was a particular stand-out. Katy Schurr’s design aided a simple telling of the story of Noah’s Ark and allowed the stage to maintain a focus whilst still letting the chaos of all the animals meeting play out. The rousing Gospel number ‘Ain’t it Good’ had an already enthusiastic audience completely behind a wonderful show: the final performance of The Children of Eden received a standing ovation, with sporadic cheers throughout; these were fully deserved. Siobhán Cannon-BrownliePhotographer: Gillian GamblePublicity Design: Christy Mitchell

Goin' Down Slow

Ben Cook reviews Our Town, Venue 1, St Andrews, 22 NovemberRating: 3.5/5 Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town is a slow journey through a slow town. Depicting life in the fictional community of Grover’s Corners, the audience is taken under the wing of the Stage Manager (David Patterson) and shown a corner of life in New Hampshire at the dawn of the twentieth century. A man not afraid to quote statistics in order to convey the ordinariness of his town, the Stage Manager breaks the fourth wall in classic Wilder style, speeding up time as well as rewinding it, all so as to put under the microscope the precious moments we take for granted. Two families, the Webbs and the Gibbs, are the focus of his and our examination, and it is in particular the courtship of George Gibbs (Will Moore) and Emily Webb (Hana Mufti) that the joy and tragedy of life are realised.The Mermaids production, directed by Christina Richards, stays true to the original conception of the play; namely, that there is little scenery on stage and that the actors must mime their actions accordingly. This is handled well on the whole, but when more than one actor is involved the synchronisation between them jars and can be a disconcerting reminder of the limitations (some would argue the possibilities) of theatre. The acting made up for the occasional poor mime though. The cast was more than consistent and several scenes, the groom and father of the bridegroom conversation, and the ice-cream parlour scene, were hilarious and touching respectively.As a student production miracles are not expected in terms of the costume department but the puritan outfits of Mrs. Webb (Hannah Boland) and Mrs. Gibbs (Fay Morrice) stood in stark contrast with Mrs. Soames (Chantal Morris) glaringly scarlet dress that would have looked more at home in some Elizabethan drama than in New Hampshire. However, a more crucial aspect to rendering Our Town successfully is in capturing the subtly and pathos of the minor characters, such as the matriarchs Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, whose quiet desperation is at odds with their public persona, and Simon Stimson (Cameron Kirby) who drinks excessively for reasons only vaguely hinted at. Richards’ production manages to achieve this to a certain extent and the points where we as an audience are let down most likely form because the play itself only teases us with confronting questions such as the emancipation of women and social responsibility.Nevertheless the final scene is made all the more powerful for all the partial glances we get into the lives of these individuals. The slow pace of the first two acts is put into perspective when we look at it through the eyes of the dead, as Emily, now deceased, looks back into the past and wishes she had treasured her time more while she was still alive. When I left the venue, I too felt like I had missed something, some hidden depth residing at the heart of the play, but it is a compliment to Richards’ production when I say that it has made me want to go back one day and try to find it. Ben CookImage credit – Alex Howarth  

The World Over: Preview

Alex Mullarky interviews the producer and director of upcoming production 'The World Over' to find out what it's all about. Going up in the Barron at the end of the semester, The World Over is already looking like one of the most original pieces of theatre St Andrews has seen so far. This will be the UK premiere of the play, which was written by Keith Bunin and premiered in New York City in 2002. Bunin says of the play:'I wrote The World Over at an especially tumultuous time in my life, when it seemed like the sky was falling in everywhere I looked. So it seemed fun to imagine myself as an imaginary hero in a fantastic landscape, with floods and blizzards and wars raging all around. And it was a way to look at the world around me with a sense of wonder and excitement and awe. It was also a way for me to get back in touch with the kinds of stories I loved the most when I was a boy.'I spoke to producer Cole Matson and director Andrew Illsley about their ambitious new project. Summarise the play in five words.Cole: Man discovers a heroic destiny.Andrew: A man’s journey to belong. Eight actors playing 34 parts; I have only one question – how?Cole: Plenty of doubling! (And tripling...quadrupling...quintupling...) Except for the actor who plays Adam, all the performers are playing multiple roles, and are almost constantly flowing on and off stage and moving between characters. We have some very brave, energetic, and dauntless actors, who are playing parts as varied as a prince, a common thief, and a monstrous gryphon - and that's just within one of the eight character tracks!Andrew: Would you believe me if I said, "With ease"...? Well, you shouldn’t. Simply put, all the actors play multiple parts. We have 8 confident actors who aren’t scared of a challenge. Oh, and probably some fast costume changes. It will be hard but worth it. Is this your first production as a team?Cole: Yes. Every other director I've pitched this show to has been scared off. Andrew was the only one fearless (or crazy) enough to tackle a show that involves multiple shipwrecks, three live births on stage, and a maiden being dangled over a pit of fire by a rope being eaten away by rats.Andrew: Cole pitched the show to me the first time we met and there was no turning back - the story is too good a tale not to be told. Why did you decide to produce The World Over?Cole: I've wanted to produce this show for almost a decade, ever since I saw the world premiere in 2002 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City, while a fresher drama student at Playwrights Horizons Theatre School. During the last scene, I started weeping, and didn't stop for half an hour. The lead actor and playwright were kind enough to let me bawl into their shirts. There's a love that speaks powerfully through this play - the love of the playwright for his characters, and the kinds of stories he pays tribute to in this play. Even more, there's a love for a dream that shines through the main character of Adam - a love which is transformed and deepened by the wisdom he learns through the journey of the play.Andrew: The first time I read the play I thought it was a wonderful story - energetic, exciting, funny, and moving - but impossible. Impossible to perform, that is - 34 parts, pits of fire, shipwrecks, a crazy number of deaths, and war, to name just a few of the difficulties. But then I thought, if I was going to the theatre, would I want to see this show? There is only one answer - yes, unreservedly yes. So, the short answer is, I decided to put it on because I would want to see it - it's brilliant. What are you most looking forward to bringing to life in this production?Cole: An unashamedly exciting heroic journey. This is a fairy tale told without irony, without apology, without winks to the audience hinting that of course you can't take fairy tales seriously. This is serious fairy tale -- a tribute to all the fairy tales, legends, and stories of Shakespearean proportions that made many of us who we are. One of the main character Adam's lines in the play is, 'We are all of us meant to be heroes.' When you see this play, I think you'll enjoy spending two hours in a world where that might be true - and then hopefully bringing something of that world back home with you.Andrew: I’m looking forward to taking the audience through all the twists and turns of Adam’s inner journey to find what really matters, to find home - and hopefully having some laughs along the way as well! (That doesn’t really answer your question, but it answers a question!) Okay, give me your best pitch: why should we come to see The World Over?Cole: Pirates, sword fights, shipwrecks, live births, hand-to-hand combat, battles with mythical creatures, mistaken identity (?), intrigue, quests, riddles, comedy, tragedy, deaths, resurrections, monsters, villains, and heroes - and did I mention a maiden being dangled over a pit of fire by a rope being eaten away by rats? All taking place within the Barron's intimate 60-seat black box! And should you be so moved, I'll even let you bawl on my shirt.Andrew: It’s fun! That’s what I keep saying to people: “You should come see it - it’s fun!” The World Over will be going up in the Barron Theatre at 7.30pm from Tuesday 13th – Thursday 15th December. Alex MullarkyImage credit – Cole Matson  

A Waste of the 27th Day of October

Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie reviews 27 at The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 27th October,  (21 October – 12 November)Rating: 2/5 Abi Morgan’s contemporary drama fictionalises the work of David Snowdon, an American Epidemiology professor exploring the effects of Alzheimer’s on a group of nuns. In a tedious opening exchange it is explained that nuns make the perfect test subjects: their lives are sheltered, well-documented and rigidly routine. The decision to allow the study to take place lies with the trainee Mother Superior, Sister Ursula,who is first presented to us after a Christ-like paddle in the local pond. Ursula is a nun for modern times: bristling with humour and humility, she embraces the need for science and religion to unify.The action spans several years; the team returning annually to record the progress- or indeed, deterioration- of the subjects. It’s an interesting concept and a neat spotlight for certain philosophical issues, yet the script completely lacks verisimilitude. Flimsy love affairs between the young assistants and eventually Ursula and Dr Garfield betray writer Morgan’s attempts to force some humanity onto the stage. The characters are simply mouthpieces for dialogue seemingly lifted straight from a scientific journal. Nicholas Le Prevost’s risible American accent could be forgiven if his crumpled Dr Garfield offered any charisma. The loss of his desire for research in the face of a corrupt industry controlled by pharmaceutical corporations would be an engaging story, if only Le Provost hadn't left any such desire in the wings at curtain up. Even characters we have a chance of caring about are made to battle against Vicky Featherstone’s cold direction; a style so focussed on functionality and the loneliness of aging, that in row G I felt utterly removed from the story. For a director who describes her source text as ‘dynamic’, I worry about Christmas parties at the Featherstone household.The plot declines like the mind of our octogenarian heroine, Sister Miriam reduced to an empty shell by the second half. Ursula also loses her faith somewhere along the way, though how this transformation occurs is easy to miss. Perhaps it is explained in one of the bizarre monologues about art, shamelessly spooned into the bland trifle of social issues that Abi Morgan peddles as drama. Some of the more heated scenes discussing how capitalism can enslave our health briefly engage, however any human effect this could potentially produce is lost due to the complete absence of characters with whom we feel any sympathy.Merle Hensel’s bleak breezeblock design certainly aids the director’s distanced approach to the dialogue. The staging is a hindrance in general: lights fade in and out apparently at random; the changing arrangement of flowers confuses rather than clarifies the narrative; the lone picture window looking out over the gardens is impressive but underused. Sadly, only Maureen Beattie’s thoughtful, pragmatic Sister Ursula brings any colour or vigour to what could and should be a deeply moving, personal story.It’s worth noting that Aging With Grace, the book that inspired 27, is subtitled ‘How we can all live longer, healthier and more vital lives.’ I would suggest avoiding dull evenings at the theatre.  Siobhán Cannon-BrownlieImage Credit - Ally Lodge

Artistry and Anachronisms Galore

Ally Lodge reviews 'Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off', Dundee Rep (2 November 2011)Rating: 3.5/5

Tony Cownie's production of Liz Lochhead's 1987 drama marks a two-year partnership between the Lyceum in Edinburgh and the Dundee Rep, and sees a convergence of both theatres' ensembles for a faithful rendition of the play.

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (not a children's show, or part of Horrible Histories, as the title makes it sound), is one of seemingly few plays around in Scottish theatre today which is written and performed in Scots. While it is fantastic to see the language still alive and well in theatre, it does unfortunately force some limitations upon the audience: it will probably be lost on anyone who has had no exposure at all to the Scots language. It is definitely a Scottish play.The plot line of the play can easily be guessed from the title: it follows the story of Mary Queen of Scots upon her return to Scotland until her death, and of the parallel life of Queen Elizabeth. The mix of both theatres' ensembles creates a formidable cast who pull no punches in delivering this sometimes witty, sometimes tricky play. Emily Winter (Elizabeth) and Shauna Macdonald (Mary) are the wonderful antitheses of each other, providing an assured, stark contrast of the two queens; an opposition which is highlighted further by the double-casting of each queen as the other's maidservant. Macdonald is physically striking as Mary, but while her Scots-French accent is consistent and adds authenticity, it is somewhat unpleasant on the ears and unfortunately makes her the hardest character to understand.

 The play avoids any period/historical drama categorisation through a great deal of artistic decisions in terms of set, costumes and staging. The play is deliberately anachronistic, with a set combining urban modernity with the seventeenth century in a way designed to remind the audience that perhaps not much has actually changed since the 1690s. Neil Murray's costumes – often block colours, slightly dishevelled and anachronistic too – also complement his set well. On a one-off visit to see the show, however, the thought process behind all these artistic decisions remains a bit of a mystery.The nature of the script also means that the story – particularly towards the end – becomes very fast-paced to the point where affairs are merely events: there is a distinct lack of chemistry between the characters. The play appears to be more about the themes, and the romances are only there because they historically happened: merely a catalyst to move forward more themes. It is a shame, since the actual story behind Mary, Bothwell and Lord Darnley is fascinating.In hindsight, I find myself appreciating the play a lot more, although I would still have liked it to have ended ten minutes earlier: a leap into modern Scotland, presumably as another attempt to emphasise modern parallels, is rather unnecessary. I would not jump at the chance to see it again, but a few years down the line I may give it another go to see if I can understand it more. If one likes the actual play, then this was a commendable production of it. Ally LodgeImage credits – Douglas McBride, courtesy of the Dundee Rep  

Death and the Maiden Review

Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie reviews Death and the Maiden at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews, (19 and 20 October)Rating: 3/5It was with ardent excitement that the audience of the opening night of Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden swept into the Byre Theatre; this production had been a long time coming. Vivien Bernfeld’s director’s note simply read: 'Finally.' However, for such an eagerly anticipated performance, it failed to live up to the hype.Death and the Maiden looks at Paulina, a former political prisoner, who was raped and tortured by captors whose faces she never saw. There was one man in particular – a Doctor – who played Schubert’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ whilst raping his victims, which Paulina found particularly mentally scarring. The plot sees a man who Paulina believes to be the doctor enter the home of her and her husband Gerardo, after assisting Gerardo with a flat tyre. Paulina puts Doctor Miranda on trial, yet the play never answers the question of whether he really was the rapist, or his confession was an act to save his own life. Similarly, we are unsure if Paulina kills Doctor Miranda in the play’s final scene.One of the biggest problems with the play was that Paulina’s main reason for believing Doctor Miranda to be the doctor who raped her was that she recognised his voice, thus ascribing the qualities of generality and ubiquitousness to his voice. However, Ollie Carr’s accent as Doctor Miranda was the only English accent, undermining one of the key areas for debate in the play. This was indicative of a general neglect of detail throughout; Paulina’s character talks of a rug which doesn’t exist, and neither she nor her husband are wearing wedding rings.However, despite the lack of detail in certain areas, all three performances – from Adelaide Waldrop, Will Moore and Ollie Carr – conveyed some of the key aspects of their respective characters. Waldrop’s acting felt a little under-directed, and there were certain essential vulnerable nuances missing in her performance. However, the moment when she realises who Doctor Miranda is, was a stunning dawning realisation, with just the right amount of internalisation. Moore’s accent was a little inconsistent and he seemed to lack genuine authority at essential moments, but he gave a strong performance throughout, and he particularly excelled in the scene in which he was alone with Doctor Miranda. The chemistry between the husband and wife wasn’t as strong as it could have been; nevertheless a scene which took place outside on a balcony provided an intense exploration of their marriage and was immensely watchable.I don’t agree with the opinions of the majority of the audience members I spoke to about the play in that it would have benefitted from a smaller venue; I merely think that the production just didn’t have enough tension to fill the space. I was sat on the front row, and there were still times I didn’t feel wholly included. The first act seemed to build to a certain tension right before the interval, but the pace of the second act was lacking, and some potentially explosive moments only simmered. Overall there was some solid acting, but the essential feeling of being absorbed in a thriller was missing.  Siobhán Cannon-BrownlieImage credit - Will Moore

“This magic, that will charm thy soul to hell”

Pippa Bregazzi reviews Doctor Faustus, Globe Theatre, London SE1 (25 September 2011)Rating: 5/5It has been suggested that he’d have gone on to be more successful than Shakespeare, had he not got himself stabbed at the age of 29 in a Deptford bar brawl (allegedly). But Marlowe’s words were merely the foundation in The Globe’s most recent revival of the Elizabethan tragedy; a combination of fantastic stage effects, a strong supporting cast, and stellar performances by the leads, Paul Hilton and Arthur Darvill, made this a truly magical production; not one to be missed.In recent years, it has become common for the character of Mephistopheles to be played by a woman – and, given the play’s central themes of temptation and giving in to our darkest desires, it is easy to see why – so I was intrigued as to how Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who) would play it. The relationship between Mephistopheles and Faustus was spot on: equal parts mentoring, twisted, and touchingly close. Darvill’s Mephistopheles was tortured; collector of souls he may be, but by no means contented with his fate. The blending of resignation and protest lent an enigmatic aspect to his role in Faustus’ sorry tale, and left the audience unsure as to his agenda.However, this production certainly could not be accused of being a two-man show. The two leads may have had the most stage-time, but the chorus was cleverly used, playing numerous roles ranging from Faustus’s bookcase and personal Latin translator, to each of the Seven Deadly Sins, to drunken villagers. They provided the comedy of ignorant peasants, and the tragedy of souls damned to hell, as well as functioning, like all Elizabethan Fools, as a commentary on the action.The Globe is a spectacular venue. Open to the heavens, as the play’s themes became darker, so too did the skies above. The atmospheric lighting – both natural and electric – and other stage effects created a spectacle. From subtle bursts of flame to a bawdy, circus-esque atmosphere, the magic of Faustus was delivered by the stagecraft. Similarly, though small, the orchestra was a constant presence, driving the mood of the scenes. On-stage lute-playing, choreography, and singing all successfully combined to keep the audience engaged and the production from becoming static, and the post-bows musical number, despite being incongruous and ridiculous to the extreme, showcased the musical talents of the cast.No production is perfect, and at times this one did drift towards campness, but on the whole it was a convincing exploration of the human condition and a spectacular production. Marlowe’s play is long and wordy, yet director Matthew Dunster and his cast managed to keep it engaging, no mean feat in an open air theatre with some of the most uncomfortable seats in London. A five star production. Pippa BregazziLondon CorrespondentImage credit – Keith Pattison, courtesy of the Globe Theatre

The National Theatre of Scotland's '27': a visual preview

'Social media call' gives the Tribe a sneak preview of the world premiere of 27, a co-production of the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh. Abi Morgan's new play has been five or six years in the making, but the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) has now got their hands on the finished product. Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the NTS, has taken the helm to direct what is seemingly a difficult play to get a grasp on; one, which according to Ms Featherstone, was 'always beyond us'; which they (the cast and team) were struggling to keep up with from the beginning. However many challenges they have faced along the way, the play is now just about ready for its debut in Edinburgh, and seems to show promise as a fascinating example of what new writing can achieve.27 draws inspiration and research from David Snowdon's Aging with Grace. To set the scene: the mother superior in waiting of a convent, Sister Ursula Mary (played by Maureen Beattie), is approached by Dr Richard Garfield (Nicholas Le Prevost) and given the opportunity to take part in a revolutionary scientific study. This study would require the nuns to donate their brains to science following their deaths, in an attempt to help the doctors unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer's and dementia. As I have not yet seen the final production, I am unable to give much more plot detail than this set-up; but take a look at the visual previews below to get a better idea of what to expect.If you're around Edinburgh between now and November 12th, then consider giving this piece of new writing a chance. Ticket details can be found on the Lyceum's website.  Below links to a short YouTube clip of a monologue by Dr Richard Garfield. You may need to turn the volume up quite high to hear properly (I do not own the best camera in the world), and please excuse the clicking of photographers in the background.27 - Dr Richard Garfield A note on social media calls: this is a relatively new initiative by the NTS, which gives attendees the opportunity to take photos and film a couple of scenes from the play in full dress (and perhaps meet some of the cast and creative team afterwards). The idea is then that the attendees upload the images and videos to their social media pages/websites. It's a very clever publicity move from the NTS; but it is also a great opportunity for drama-lovers to get a little behind the scenes of the NTS's plays. Ally LodgeAll image credits - Ally Lodge

Too Much Core and Bone for One Man to Handle?

Joanna Alpern reviews Hamlet: Cut to the Bone and Macbeth: Sliced to the Core, The Byre Theatre, St Andrews (4 and 5 October 2011)Rating: 2/5Hamlet as a play is already somewhat skewed through Hamlet’s eyes, and seeing it performed as a one-man show definitely amplified this. The other characters were often reduced merely to Gertrude’s mourning veil or Claudius’ army jacket, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern even appearing as sock puppets (very amusingly); although this did highlight Hamlet’s symbolic perceptions of them as figures of disguise, tyranny and betrayal respectively. The surreal mood music also created a dream-like atmosphere and instilled the impression that the action was in fact going on solely in Hamlet’s mind, as if the mad Danish prince himself was acting out his own thoughts before us.

David Keller as Hamlet

It did not have quite the same effect in Macbeth, perhaps because it is an arguably less internal play where the other characters are not quite so sidelined. Having said this, it was very interesting to see actor David Keller simultaneously take on the roles of both the witches and Macbeth, switching between a man’s pleading questioning, a quasi-alien drawl and a sinisterly babyish singsong. It seemed to be suggesting that Macbeth was either wholly possessed by the witches, or that they were in fact the creations of his own mind.Some interesting directorial choices were made with the set and the props as well. A coffin-sized chest was laid out in the centre of the stage for first Hamlet’s ghost to emerge from and later on for Ophelia to be buried in, giving the stage an even bleaker atmosphere and allowing the theme of death to have a constant presence. Also notable was Macbeth’s witches eerily drawing the play to a close by laying a limp puppet on a chair and presenting the audience with the new King of Scotland.The quality of the RSC actor David Keller on the other hand, was pretty poor as he rushed through his lines, evidently concentrating more on changing from character to character than acting with any feeling, alongside reciting some of the most memorable soliloquies in the English language more quietly than the two old ladies whispering together in the audience. He clearly enjoyed playing a pot-belly-scratching Polonius, a sexually perturbed Hamlet sniffing the incestuous sheets and painfully prolonging the puppets’ smooch in The Mousetrap, and a guttural, brawling porter opening an imaginary door with screeching sound effects that sent the schoolchildren in the second row into fits of giggles.There was also much amiss in the female characters. Ophelia - arguably the character closest to Hamlet in experience and affection - was passed over in ridiculously high-pitched slapstick. I could have accepted this as fitting in with the idea of the play as a presentation of Hamlet’s own point of view (which is at times highly misogynistic), if Keller had not played the witches in the exact same voice the very next day. This lack of originality was also echoed in the shared black scarf, utilised as Gertrude’s veil and Lady Macbeth’s shawl for no apparent artistic reason, by both weakly-played women.All in all, these were ambitious productions with insightful touches that ultimately lacked talent. Joanna AlpernImage credit - Jon Spira, courtesy of Simon Fielder Productions 

60 Second Interviews

60 second interviews with the presidents of the theatrical societies Charlotte BakerDescribe Mermaids in five words.Very fun theatrical sea creatures.What is Mermaids' next project?The Mermaids are doing the Freshers’ plays between 30th November and 5th December in The Barron Theatre on North Street. Five plays for £5! Come along and support St Andrews' latest talent.What has been the highlight of the Mermaids year so far?The Mermaids ‘Give-it-a-go-day’ was very successful this year; we had so many keen freshers get involved, it was wonderful to see.What’s your favourite play?King LearWho is your idol?Bridget Jones Ashton Montgomery Describe Just So in five words.Fun, enthusiastic, committed musical theatre.What is Just So’s next project?Our next project is Cabaret which will be going up on February 14th and 15th and the auditions will be in October so please come along and audition!What has been the highlight of the Just So year so far?Our proposal meeting was very well attended and we had a lot of fun at the social afterwards.What’s your favourite musical?Oooh tough one; a tie between The Last Five Years and Les Miserables.Who is your idol?Thou shalt have no false idols. Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie Image credits - Charlotte Baker and Ashton Montgomery

A Pint and a Play

Alex Mullarky writes on her experiences of the old English tradition of pub theatrePassing through the streets of Sixteenth Century London you could find yourself being swept up into a crowd heading for the local pub. Not, however, for round upon round of drinks (well, at least not solely) but for an afternoon of theatre. Packed into the coach-yard of the inn by an enthusiastic landlord, on a covered balcony if you were lucky or in amongst the rabble at ground level if you weren’t, you’d settle in for a couple of hours of entertainment courtesy of whichever acting troupe was currently passing through the area. Some time later the gates would open and the crowd would stumble out, well-fed, inebriated and with a good dose of quality independent theatre.Five hundred years later, you’d be surprised how little has changed. Sure, there are real ‘theatres’ now, since the Privy Council took it upon themselves to outlaw theatre within the city walls and dedicated thespians found themselves having to set up shop just outside. Eventually they were allowed back in, but theatres were businesses now with a bit more formality and credibility on their side. For several centuries it appeared the age of the pub theatre had well and truly come to an end; then, in 1970, pub theatre was born again. The King’s Head, Islington, boasts that it is 'the first pub theatre founded in England since the days of Shakespeare'. It wasn’t long before the idea began to catch on, and now dozens operate within London alone: The New Red Lion, The White Bear Theatre Club and The Lion & Unicorn to name but a few. 

So what exactly does pub theatre have going for it? Well, if you like to step through the front door and realise you’re already in the audience, order a pint and a slice of Death by Chocolate cake to munch on during the performance, settle down at a table with your friends as far back from the unnervingly-close stage as you can manage – then pub theatre’s for you. If you like prolonged eye contact with the performers, having actors down your drink and pull you on stage to help out, finding that one of the actors sitting beside you with a ukulele during the interval – then yes, pub theatre is for you. It’s intimate, in that the performance is usually taking place within about twenty feet of where you’re sitting. It’s frightening, because at any moment that spotlight could be turned on you (avoid aisle seats). And it’s an absolutely fantastic way to spend an evening.The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), as one example, is currently showing at The New Red Lion and will have you doubled over with laughter throughout. You’ll see your fellow audience members dragged onto the stage and humiliated. You’ll watch a rugby match acted out by the protagonists of Shakespeare’s histories, hear the plot of Othello rapped, and see every comedy rolled into one completely ridiculous animation. If you’re heading to London before February, make sure it’s added to your itinerary.Pub theatre is a fun, involving and innovative method of performance – it’s amazing it was extinct for four centuries. Alex MullarkyImage credit – dustpuppy

Faith in Alexi Kaye Campbell is Justified

Jocelyn Cox reviews Faith Machine by Alexi Kaye Campbell, playing at London's Royal Court and directed by Jamie LloydRating: 4/5 Alexi Kaye Campbell’s debut, The Pride, won an Olivier Award, the John Whiting Award for Best Play, and a Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright. It was a sensation at the Royal Court, and gained a successful New York transfer. His next play, Apologia was also nominated for significant awards. Consequently, there is significant pressure to maintain his own exceptional standard with his latest offering. Thankfully, he does not disappoint.The writing is gripping; it challenges the audience to consider not only organised religion, but also human relationships. The opening scene is particularly powerful and exceptionally well written. The play opens on September 11th 2001. It’s about a world struggling to remain, two ideologies fighting for triumph. But it is not about the twin towers, not about the terrorist attacks. Instead, we see two lovers failing to reconcile their views of the future, their moral judgements of actions and employments, and as they row, New York tumbles down around them. The play jumps between settings and times in the relationship of Sophie and Tom, and those who are brought in as replacements on both sides when their love falls apart. Campbell explores the intimate significance we attach to calendar dates due to past experience. It is an interesting concept, and a brave choice to involve such an historic date.Act Two opens in an ante-chamber to the reception of a civil union. A flamboyant, but not caricatured, friend of Sophie and Tom’s panics about a lost speech as Sophie and Tom meet after some years, with new partners. The writing is witty and the interactions beautifully well-drawn. Both Kyle Soller (Tom) and Hayley Atwell (Sophie) play the awkward tensions wonderfully, much to the amusement of the audience.Ian McDiarmid commanded the necessary respect as Edward, Sophie’s father, and his interaction with Atwell in a later scene showing him incontinent and confused after a series of strokes was poignant. Although the comic strains are presented, the audience is reminded that the humour of these situations comes from the tragedy, and this is in no way undermined. It is rather a truthful articulation of the human impulse to laugh at an awful situation as a defence. The inclusion of bolshy Ukrainian housekeeper Tatyana is reminiscent of a Shakespearean Fool, and works well in this production, although it is unclear how much the success of this role is due to the strong performance of Bronagh Gallagher.The production is pacey, thought-provoking and captivatingly written. More could perhaps have been made of the death in the final scene, but the play did not suffer for the scarcity of details there. It could have been interesting to have a projection of the date of each scene visible, as this information, in the script, adds to the arc of the relationship. The rebuff of an opposed bishop’s argument against homosexuality by Edward using the biblical attitude to shellfish was the only point at which the writing felt forced. As an eminent bishop, it felt like Edward could have used a less dinner-table example, and certainly a more pointed one. However, this play remains an example of a talented playwright proving that he has the talent to remain on our stages for years to come. Jo CoxImage credit – Stephen Cummiskey courtesy of Royal Court

Back in Black!

Pippa Bregazzi reviews The Woman in Black, Fortune Theatre, London WC2 (4 October 2011)Rating: 3.5/5 Robin Herford’s production of The Woman in Black has been terrifying audiences in the West End for 23 years, making it one of the longest-running plays in London. Adapted from the novel by Susan Hill, this play spins a tale steeped in the macabre, focussing on Arthur Kipps (David Acton) and his attempt to exorcise his demons by letting his story be told.It begins light-heartedly, with a young actor (played by Ben Deery) despairing over the elder Mr. Kipps’ monologue and entreating him to ‘think of the audience’. The amusement is drawn from this meta-theatrical aspect, but also from Acton’s delivery, which is spot on, equal parts timid and protesting, with moments of brilliance shining through. However, the fun doesn’t last, and the audience is not so much eased as dropped kicking and screaming into a spine-chilling tale of gothic houses, looming sea frets, and a ghostly figure steeped in tragedy.The real triumph of the production comes from the sound and lighting departments. While the acting is very good – and it is difficult to sustain convincing terror for two hours – the dialogue drags in places, particularly at the beginning, and I found myself zoning out at times. But the technical effects are put to invaluable use in a production that places such importance upon the evocative, the sensational, and the imagination. Sound clips realise the hustle and bustle of busy early 20th century London, as well as portraying different modes of transport, busy hotel dining rooms, and, most effective of all, playing out the tragedy through ghostly wails, shrieks, and howling gales whistling through the eaves, contributing a very Brontë-esque touch of the sinister.

With the dim lighting and the smoke rolling out from the bowels of the stage and filling the auditorium, coupled with the creaking and groaning of what has to be one of the ricketiest theatres in London, the audience cannot help but be on edge, and I jumped so hard I nearly fell out of the Upper Circle. It is spoiled somewhat by the five minutes of 'shushing' that follows every scream: some of the dialogue is lost, and it cannot help but be made laughable if every moment of suspense is ruined. But this is hardly the fault of the production, and the audience reaction is a huge part of the appeal, feeding into the atmosphere so that you end up expecting something to jump out of every blackout.I must confess, I don’t usually go in for horror, and I had doubts that a ghost story delivered on stage could work as well as one on screen, but I was happily contradicted. Though the dénouement is perhaps a touch predictable, and the play slow to kick off, there is a reason this play has stood the test of time. See it if you dare, but be sure to look behind you when you leave, for you never know what’ll loom at you out of the London fog... Pippa BregazziImage credit – SpirosK