The Seagull (Bedlam: 7 – 8 October ’15)

The cast. Photo: EUTC Facebook page.

The cast.
Photo: EUTC Facebook page.

“Enlivening”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

At a guess, the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick is not a must-go destination for students. Well, maybe directors Holly Marsden and Kathryn Salmond are the happy exception for their production of The Seagull gets as up close and personal as the centre’s webcams. And, critically, it does so unencumbered by tradition. No sentimental guano here.

Don’t get me wrong. This Seagull does the business: it’s intelligent, funny and sad – but it is also grounded and plain. Nina’s lofty ‘I am a seagull … No, that’s not it’ is lost on the wind (or cut) and her fraught state at the end of the play is all the more effective for being low-key.

Leave the real emoting to Konstantin (Douglas Clark), who does a fine, anguished job of it – just as he did as Alan Strang in Equus in March. It is not so much an uptight, stressy, performance as an upright one: earnest, principled, and lonely. Kostia stands apart as young and intense, a little weird, which goes down well with an EUTC audience. Chekhov is suitably amended. Where, back then, Kostia left university in his 3rd year ‘owing to circumstances’; now he did politics at uni. and got nowhere.

A seagull is still the emblem of the Moscow Arts Theatre and it is appealing to see how the play is up to date. There’s embattled youth with dreams and no prospects; parent(s) brittle with glee and anxiety and a professional class whose diplomas are looking tired and whose pensions are meagre. Town and country are miles apart and there is the constant engagement with what pays and what doesn’t. There’s even bingo and the fortunate winner who takes all, including the girl.

For Kostia, theatre just exists as nice vistas in abstracted space, which is a cheerless and absent place to be. It is more enlivening, by far, to stay in the company of others. There’s uncle Sorin, played with bleak glee by William Hughes; doctor Dorn, a gently sardonic Finlay McAfee; and the famous literary cad Trigorin, whom a soulful Jonathan Ip rescues from the censure that he probably deserves. However, it’s the women who really people the stage: Arkadina, Kostia’s impossible, self-absorbed mother, is strongly played by Elske Waite; Nina, lovely and brave, is a beautifully articulate Katya Morrison; and an unerring Sally Pendleton is the trapped but resolute Masha. I thought all three performers offered a junior master class in diction.

Of especial note in a solid, more than pleasing production was the spare quality of the costume and stage set. For once the doors opened and shut without shaking the ‘walls’ and a single fireplace, a table and a few chairs proved just enough.

We’re told that this is the first time that The Seagull has been put on at Bedlam. I’d be happy to see it or its relations fly back soon. Three Sisters, anyone?

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 8 October)

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‘Equus’ (Bedlam: 3 – 7 March ’15)

Douglas Clark as Alan Strang Samuel Burkett as Nugget, the God Equus Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic.

Douglas Clark as Alan Strang
Samuel Burkett as Nugget, the God Equus
Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic.

“You’re out there with the cowboys”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Outstanding

Track suits and gloves of chestnut velour, anyone? Well, maybe in 1973 when Equus first cantered and careered into stage history. Now, we’ve lost the strutted hooves and it’s black Sculpt Tight leggings and sports bras. No matter, for this is a super fit production and the horses look the part. Do not, under any circumstances, think germinal, theatrical, War Horse, for director Emily Aboud achieves blinding drama.

Literally. Alan Strang (17) took a hoof pick to four horses and put out their eyes. (It was six in the original production but play fair with Bedlam’s space). Martin Dysart is the psychiatrist who gets inside Alan’s head to see what went ‘wrong’ and – maybe – to make him ‘well’. These are troubled and relative terms, as becomes extremely clear. Dysart reports Alan’s story as Alan tells it and is assisted by the testimony of parents, girlfriend and employer, and in so doing lays bare his own obsessions and vulnerability. This is one treatment plan where the word sacrificial does not beggar belief.

The two principals are admirable. Douglas Clark as Alan is lean, hurting, and his voice breaks from soft assent to pain and furious anger with remarkable force. His few scenes with Jill (Chloe Allen), his unexpected girl, are both tender and acutely awkward. He is also, in the extraordinary last scene of Act One, and alone with Equus, in complete control of what could be disastrously affected language. Charley Cotton plays Dysart as the decent doctor who has just about given up on the prescription ‘to heal thyself’. His dreadful marriage – to a Scottish dentist! – is as neatly dissected as his vain hopes to discover real pagan Greece in his Kodachrome snaps of Mount Olympus.

Douglas Clark as Alan Strang Chloe Allan as Jill Mason Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic.

Douglas Clark as Alan Strang
Chloe Allan as Jill Mason
Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic.

Designer Emiline Beroud respects Peter Shaffer’s original setting. The cast is on stage throughout, sitting at the back or to the sides when not performing. The centre stage is railed off on two sides and provides consulting room and stable floor. The horse masks hang left and right. Bedlam cannot accommodate the back-drop of tiers of seats, as if in an old anatomy lecture theatre, so Dysart’s talk becomes more confessional than public spirited and – if anything – more characterised by what Shaffer called its ‘dry agony’.

And the visual action is extraordinarily effective. That’s a lot of rehearsal time, I reckon. Mimetic movement, snap-tight lighting (predominately blue) and an electric beat do deliver Shaffer’s choric element. When these horses move and when one is ridden you’re out there with the cowboys of Alan’s wishes. When it all goes dark, in between the strobe flashes, it’s a stampede of the mind.

Equus has an awesome reputation and that’s in the classical, God fearing sense of the word but its notoriety has probably gone and it might seize up and appear contrived. There was some first night stiffness to the supporting roles but for the most part this exacting production gives its language and ideas free rein and exciting liberty.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 3 March)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

‘Chess: The Musical’ (Pleasance Theatre: 18 – 22 November ’14)

Photo: Oliver Buchanan

Photo: Oliver Buchanan

“Without Clark’s poise on which to pivot, the story might have given up and defected to the bar.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Priests, poets and psychiatrists all agree that the border between pure genius and melancholy madness is chequered with 64 black and white squares (with a white one always on the right). Next time you encounter that tramp in Potterrow Port, the one who’s convinced he’s Marcel Duchamp, ask him whether mad people gravitate to chess, or if chess makes them so. Chances are he’ll mutter darkly about the Lasker-Reichhelm position, but he might respond that the dedicated player lives “a monk-like existence and know[s] more rejection than any artist.”

The real Duchamp, the one who’d never been seen dead with a trolley from Aldi, directed those words to American prodigy Bobby Fischer, upon whose bizarre biography, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (loosely) based a musical.

Inspired by the 1972 match between Fischer and Boris Spassky, the ABBA alumni spun a yarn interweaving two grandmasters’ competition in the arena, over a lady, and among the ideological roadblocks of Cold War politics. Truthfully, Gilbert and Sullivan Chess is not. The undeniable success of this production says more about EUSOG’s commitment to sampling work pas a la D’Oyly Carte than it does about Andersson & Ulvaeus’ capacity for profound historical commentary post-1815.

We enter to find the orchestra have escaped from their pit, and are lording it above the action. Production Manager Tom Turner has crammed more steeldeck into the set than went into South Park’s Ladder to Heaven. Visually the effect is elegant, the band’s movements in stylish harmony with Sam Burkett’s clever choreography. However x4 keys, drums, bass guitar, x3 violins, x2 cellos, flute, x2 clarinet, x3 trumpets, trombone, bassoon, oboe, french horn as well as percussion will tend to make a fair bit of noise and some dampening field needed to be generated for the sake of the singers down below.

Douglas Clark shone as Anatoly, making the script & song his own so as to cover the extensive narrative arc laid out for him. Without Clark’s poise on which to pivot, the story might have given up and defected to the bar. Tadgh Cullen (as Freddie) nailed Fischer’s astonishing angst. It was easy to see why Lydia Carrington (as Florence, the lady interest) would love him, and even easier to see why she left. I thought having Cullen sing his big number an octave higher than his vocal range was a brilliant piece of 4th wall smashing artistry, subtly underlining Freddie’s inner turmoil. My companion, smarter than your average bear, though it was a Boo-Boo. Cullen’s commitment held out. Our cheering was long, loud and genuine.

Giselle Yonace (as the tournament arbiter), Caroline Hickling (as Anatoly’s Russian wife), Peter Green (as the US manager), and Steven Segaud (as the mendacious USSR fixer) found the space to establish bold performances, spotlighting and supporting the main cast’s quirks and qualities. When Segaud tapped the vein of comic villainy in his character, I wasn’t the only one LMAO.

Ethan Baird’s direction emphasised the characters and the story they had to tell. But rather like flat pack furniture after the third house move, Chess is starting to show both its age and essential flimsiness. The producers are a bit young (and far too stylish) to embrace an ‘80s nostalgic short hand, but would one double-breasted suit have killed them? Would a visual of tactical nuclear warheads rolling through Red Square been so amiss? Several pieces were missing from this puzzling-out of a not so retro script.

If a musical about chess, written by the blokes from ABBA, set in the Evil Empire’s dreary dying days isn’t enough to float your Typhoon-Class, then here’s the only reason you’ll ever need to get out and kill, maim or mutilate whatever man or beast stands between you and the front row seats: Lydia Carrington.

She’s amazing. Her gorgeous voice battles down the band like Eva Green casually knocking down Greeks in the latest 300 movie. Carrington’s give and take with the male leads is as beguiling as Keira Knightley, as sexy as Elisha Cuthbert, and as anticipateringly exciting as when Elizabeth Warren made a cameo opposite John Goodman in Alpha House.

If you don’t see Carrington now, you’ll only have to pretend you did later. Unlike my VHS of Learn Chess with Nigel Short (ft. Carol Vorderman) this is one to watch.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 19 November)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

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