Friday, October 28, 2016

*The following post carries a nap warning.  Two short naps to be precise, in the first half. What can I say? I'd carelessly eaten a big meal beforehand*

Dial M For Murder. 

I had low expectations. I booked it principally because I wanted to see the theatre. (What middle-class lunacy.) I thought the show might be "child" friendly.  And I thought it would be an excellent way to spend a Saturday night.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't create the holiday purely so that I could visit the theatre. Oh ho no. But if it just so happened that our half term break was located conveniently near the temptingly titled Theatre By The Lake, I did not have the strength of mind to shun it.

And it is a gorgeous little theatre. Very modern. A great size. It seats about 300 in the proscenium arch space. It also has a studio theatre. Glass fronted. Beautiful location. The proscenium arch space has great accoustics and excellent sight lines as modern theatres usually do. Needless to say, I'm trying to work out when and how I could possibly scrabble together £15,000 to do a show there.

But that's by the by. 

Dial M For Murder is an excellent play. I was expecting a chilling but laboured Agatha Christie style romp. I got a very elegantly structured, funny, tense, excellently acted, beautifully designed tale of justice avenged. A delight.

It's a daft story. Guy decides to kill his wife. (Who happens to be having an affair but marvellously, he doesn't know that. He just wants her money.) He hires someone to do it. It doesn't quite go according to plan. The hired hand ends up dead. The wife is tried and found guilty of murder. She is sentenced to prison for life. 

It would be easy - so very easy - to do this play ironically. To play it for laughs. To make it a little bit glib and throwaway and even, heaven forfend, pantomimey. But to the great credit of director Sarah Punshon, they didn't.

They did it perfectly sincerely. Acting, mannerisms, accents, delivery - all felt entirely in keeping with the customs of the time. (For all I know about the customs of the time.) The delivery was pitch perfect. So you get sucked into actually caring about this ludicrous story.  

The set was gorgeous which helped. Beautifully designed and I know I've said that already but this was the kind of set that I used to expect from Pitlochry but haven't seen so much in recent times. It was excellently put together to make the story telling as fluent as it could be. No mean feat with people sneaking around in the half light, bursting out from behind curtains and the like. It was very well thought through. The furniture was lovely. The attention to detail was marvellous. I latched onto the sewing box before the show started as an example of the loving detail. Only to discover it was integral to the plot. But still, it was beautiful. All beautiful. 

The actors were excellent. The men were great. The husband was a proper cad. The lover sweet if apparently slightly ineffectual - until the final hour. The villain was villainous. And the Police Inspector cleverly appeared ineffectual but was not.

But Sheila was the star of the show. Laura Darrall. Sweet, simpering, enfeebled by her murderous experience, majestic in the tragedy of her unjust sentence. And all delivered in this simpering voice that easily could have strayed into dislikeable hysteria but did not. By the play's close, I was genuinely glad that - but wait, I won't give the game away. 

My only criticism - and it's so nitpicky! - is poor Sheila's beautiful jade green dress in her opening scenes appears to be ripping slightly at the seams. Fair play to it. It's withstood the best part of a season. And wouldn't take patching comfortably. But maybe it was a deliberate act to indicate that they've fallen recently on harder times...

In short, I loved it. Four stars from me. And a little place in my heart now filled up with The Theatre By The Lakes. I hope to be back. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

So, yes, pretty excited about this. Fringe 2017.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Suppliant Women.

Brand new show at the start of the brand new season at the Lyceum under their brand new artistic director.

Adapted by my favourite David Grieg from the original by Aeschylus and featuring a community chorus. A big pack of young women. A smaller pack of older women. Six young-ish men, two surely professional male actors, what I'm deducing was also a professional female actor (the chorus leader) and two musicians. 

It was very ambitious. Very impressive. Fashioned to be incredibly topical. But although I fully expected to leave the theatre harrowed and wept dry, I didnae. And I'm not quite sure why.

The script was excellent. I love Mr Greig's way with words. The seething packs of men wanting to get their teeth into girlflesh was my highlight. I'm not sure how much he fussed with the words in the original to make or enhance the parallels with current displaced peoples. There were lots of Syria references. You'd have had to have lived down a hole for the past few years with no access to news to miss the analogy. 

Theatre to make a political point is (can be) my perfect sort of theatre. So why did I not like it more?

The pack of women - the Suppliants - were marvellously handled. They'd started out, according to the PR, as a pack of 50 though by showtime, seem to have whittled themselves down to approximately 30. This fact gave me some smug satisfaction. So even the Lyceum - a professional theatre - struggle to get people to act for love?! How reassuring. 

But thirty was plenty impressive enough. Having seen a tiny snippet of a rehearsal at the Lyceum Open Day last month, I can imagine they were drilled and drilled and drilled to get the chorus speaking right. And having had only one brush with 'chorus speaking' before - dear 4:48 Psychosis - I'm well aware of how difficult it is to achieve. They spoke marvellously. They moved marvellously.  Visually, the show was spectacular. Hats off to director Ramin Gray and the excellent choreographer, Sasha Milavic Davies, for pulling it off.

I'm not sure how many of the cast were professionals. Two at least.  (Three, it turns out.)  They were all excellent. And unfortunately - inevitably? - provided a harshly stark contrast to the non-professional members of the group who were just a bit - how to say? - less polished. 

The production kind of gets away with it. The lovely set up including the libation to Dionysius (delivered on the night I attended by some MSP) does a cracking job of conveying the idea of theatre as a collective endeavour, representing and exploring the issues of the day. Therefore giving it license to sandwich these varying peoples together. 

The mashing of amateur and professional was particularly interesting given the flack the RSC got earlier this year for casting amateur mechanicals and therefore depriving professionals of income.  The Lyceum seem to have avoided this altogether. Fairly so? Lyn Gardner would say so. Equity did not. Have we all been hoodwinked into accepting slave labour by David Greig's charm? Or will this herald the return of truly inclusive theatre? I think I'm with BS who argues that the show would only ever be cost-effective with a pack of non-paid people taking part. And given the busy-ness of the Lyceum bar on a Thursday night when they're showing a Greek tragedy, I'd say that this was one gamble that's paid off.

I predict a triumphant return for the show in the EIF programme next year. I hope it gets another airing. For its political agenda, for its girl power agenda and for any of the "little people" who feel that their little voice doesn't matter, this is a production bright with hope.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A lovely lovely film last night in the Spanish Film Festival. I resolve every year to attend this and refresh my frail knowledge of the language and this year, thanks to determination on the part of my erstwhile Spanish teacher, I achieved one single film.

Mr Kaplan (which appears to be the original title) is set in, I think, Uruguay. The  main man is in his senior years having fled to this land from Europe and the Nazis at a very young age. And he suddenly gets word that a one-time Nazi, arrived in South America many years before in a secret fleeing to safety boat, is running a ramshackle bar down on the beach. So he hatches a marvellous plan to kidnap the aforementioned Nazi and take him to Israel to face a trial.

Farfetched? Perhaps. But as a study of the stories we concoct to try and justify our fleeting existence on this pretty small planet, it's a gem.

Beautifully acted, beautifully directed, it's a beautifully observed insight into how we bumble along with those we've chosen or inherited to be closest to us.

I think it's on once more in the Spanish Film Festival in Edinburgh. THIS AFTERNOON! At the Filmhouse. So go. Be quick. It'll win your heart on this wet and mizzly afternoon.