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Posts Tagged ‘Alistair Beaton’

It’s always good to see theatre tackling current issues, and it’s particularly good to see the Chichester theatres, home of musicals, revivals and ‘safe’ new plays, doing so; particularly as Fracking is also a local issue. On the whole, this was successful in presenting all sides of the arguments and does so entertainingly, though it comes off the fence in the end.

Deerland Energy is applying for a fracking permit, aided by a PR firm with some dubious methods. The local council appear to be about to cave in, but they haven’t accounted for the unlikely opposition of retired professor-turned-campaigner Elizabeth, who starts by outing a university professor in the pay of oil companies and continues by turning the planning chair’s sister against him by pointing out the chaos it would unleash on her quiet neighbourhood. She’s seen by the activists as a trump card and becomes so passionate she follows the path from campaigner to activist herself. Odious PR man Joe digs into his dirty tricks bag and the planning chair wavers.

It’s a satire and it’s often very funny. It’s very up-to-date, with some lines bringing the house down with their acid response to very recent events. That said, it does cover a reasonable amount of ground when it comes to scientific background and different perspectives. The environmental consequences are covered, but so are the NIMBY attitudes of the local hypocrites driving gas-guzzling cars. The endless switching from short scenes in Elizabeth’s home to the PR office and back, where most of the play takes place, became a bit irritating, but Richard Wilson’s production is otherwise well paced, and it held my attention throughout.

As always, Anne Reid is a pleasure to watch, and this is a very different role for her, one which she appears to relish. James Bolam is excellent as her put-upon husband who doesn’t share her passion and resents its intrusion into his quiet retirement. Oliver Chris is well cast as the PR man you love to hate, a real modern day baddie. Michael Simkins makes the energy company CEO sympathetic, at least initially, which helps give the play balance. They are well supported by nine other actors in multiple roles.

Following mediocre reviews, this exceeded my expectations again and, paired with Half a Sixpence, made for a great day out in Sussex!

 

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I didn’t plan on seeing two 20th century German plays on consecutive nights, but the first was booked ages ago and this is about to close, so it had to be. My view of this (much better) play may be enhanced even more by the pairing.

Brecht’s parody of the rise of Hitler was written in 1941 but not seen until 1958, after his death, which is a bit of a puzzle. 50-70 years on, the satire seems a bit heavy-handed (I would have expected reviser Alistair Beaton to have done something about that) but its ‘we let this happen, don’t let it happen again’ point still packs a punch. Set in gangster-era Chicago, Arturo Ui develops his protection racket in the vegetable trade (!), becoming more and more brutal in his relentless rise to power. Individual scenes have parallels in pre-war Germany, though those are a bit lost on a modern audience, but by the end the message isn’t lost. In the long 95 min first half, the scenes are somewhat laboured and it could do with some cuts, but the second half has much better pacing. The end is chilling and the epilogue a thought-provoking wake-up call.

The Duchess is a small theatre for a big play with a cast of 18, but it benefits from the intimacy, with a new middle aisle used for entrances and exits and characters occasionally appearing in the auditorium. Director Jonathan Church’s staging, with great use of live music, draws you in to the gangster story then sharply reminds you of its metaphor. Designer Simon Higlett effectively creates warehouses and mansions in this small space and the arrival of a car is a coup d’theatre. Though I’ve seen a couple of good actors play the title role (Anthony Sher & Griff Rhys Jones!) Henry Goodman is the best match for it. He is particularly good at conveying Ui ‘s transition as the power drug makes him more and more manic. It’s an excellent supporting cast, with fine actors like Colin Stinton, William Gaunt and Michael Feast in relatively small roles.

Another successful transfer for the indispensable Chichester Festival Theatre.

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Wednesday started with another highlight – My Romantic History at the Traverse. This play about a present relationship and the past relationships of its protagonists is told in two halves (though without the interval in the customary Edinburgh tradition) from the prospective of each protagonist respectively. The writing is outstanding with dialogue that sparkles with realism and humour and the three actors are exceptional. A hugely uplifting experience and if you live in London and don’t catch this when it transfers in October, you’re completely bonkers*****

Another World is another one of those excuses for an exhibition that adds some borrowed items to the Dean Gallery’s extensive permanent collection of surrealists to justify an entry fee for something that is in reality not particularly illuminating.  There are some good Magritte’s, a magnificent Dali and some interesting British surrealists but I left unconvinced*** The lunch and the walk back along the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s inner city country river, were both lovely though.

One of the few main festival’s new plays, Caledonia, was an enticing prospect – satirist Alistair Beaton’s take on a little known 17th century attempt at colonising part of Central America by a then independent Scotland through a trading company not unlike the England’s East India Company. The modern parallels with Scottish independence this century and the role of banks were striking. Apparently, the writer fell out with the director (playwright Anthony Neilson) and given that the production was a sort of Carry On Panto, I think I can see why. A lost opportunity, not unlike last years The Last Witch and I’m beginning to think that the festival pressure doesn’t allow new work to mature enough before its high profile exposure to the press and public**

My final exhibition was the annual open submission International Photography one at the Edinburgh Photographic Society and this year was a cracker with more portraiture and less (often Austrian and Ukrainian) 70’s-style tacky collages! The talent of these amateurs is extraordinary and makes me feel completely inadequate****

The Scat pack’s Lights! Camera! Improvise! develops their three-year-old formula into an award-winning improv. show where a film is created from audience suggestion which on the day we saw it was very funny indeed and somewhat appropriately based on the rape of Wales forests!****

The final show of the day was Teenage Riot by the young Belgian company with whom I stared last year’s festival sort of speed dating at Internal! This one took place in a large cube with most of the action of the eight teenagers inside projected live onto the outside. It had its flaws but you had to admire the ingenuity and much like the ‘speed dating’ it has more impact on your thinking after that it did at the time***.5

Our last day began with our biggest disappointment but had a perfect ending. When You Lie is a play about cosmetic surgery, comparing the excellent job it does restoring people after tragedies with it’s pandering to vanity and lifestyles. The trouble is it’s not particularly well written or directed (another writer directing – is there a pattern emerging?!) and comes over as a heavy-handed preposterous and rather distasteful cocktail**

Laura Solon is more comic story-teller than stand-up and her show was gentle charming and witty, if not exactly ground-breaking, and made a pleasantly diverting hour***

We ended at Rosslyn Chapel for a production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It was a long way out by taxi and cold in the venue, but somehow it proved to be the perfect event to end this year. With 25 performers on a tiny stage, it was a bit cramped and I could have done with less choreographed fairy business (and maybe half as many fairies!). The playing was occasionally ragged but the singing was terrific and for a University company – Cambridge’s Shadwell Opera – hugely impressive.

Well, that’s it for another year – En Route and My Romantic History the top two shows so look out for them, but Roadkill, Speechless, Beautiful Burnout, Simon Keenlyside, Latin American Vespers, Five Guys Named Moe and A Midsummer Night’s Dream all treats and Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul, Grandpa Fredo (sorry, Malcolm!), Lights! Camera! Improvise! and Teenage Riot getting special mentions for inventiveness. I’m now in the Outer Hebrides, but more of that in a few days…..

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