Hay Fever (Lyceum: 10th March -1st April ’17)

Rosemary Boyle, Susan Wooldridge, Charlie Archer. Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

“Susan Wooldridge is sensational as Judith Bliss”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

The overarching theme in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is one of contrast: theatre vs real life; keeping up appearances vs showing your true colours. And while capturing a lot of the inherent comedy in such situations, this latest production from the Lyceum Theatre Company and the Citizens Theatre, for me, goes one contrast too far in creating a production of paradox which ends up being somehow less great than the sum of its parts.

Without the traditional curtain opening at the start of the show, Tom Piper’s stark and stripped back set, which exposes a lot of the “backstage” area, is immediately visible. On first impression, it feels cheap and unfinished, leading me to worry I’ve walked into the theatre a week too soon. It does, however, create a rugged bohemian mood, which seems to make a lot more sense as the piece progresses.

When the action begins, much of it early on feels quite forced, with the first scene in particular a mass of very obvious stage directions with vases, cushions and sitting down. Thankfully, Rosemary Boyle as Sorrel allays many of my fears by capturing that much-needed sense of balance between theatricality and reality, with charming facial expressions, tone and timing all making her compelling to watch. In contrast her on-stage brother Simon (Charlie Archer) consistently leans towards being melodramatic, and it’s only in the final scene where his character starts to blend with the rest of his family that he feels like part of the same play as everyone else.

Indeed, this sense of mismatched acting styles also applies to the guests. Pauline Knowles brings a wonderful Jordan Baker coolness to Myra, with a clear journey in mood as she resists the madness around her, while Nathan Ives-Moiba (Sandy) seems quite content to bark his lines at anyone and everyone, with little subtlety or variation throughout.

Considering all of the above, perhaps what jars most about this production is how difficult it is to believe any chemistry or relationship between the family members and their guests. Susan Wooldridge, who is sensational as Judith Bliss in the second half of the piece, with commanding presence and vitality, is perhaps too old and withering to be believed as Sandy’s obsession, while Benny Baxter-Young’s frustrated and frumpy David seems the exact opposite of what Myra and Jackie would endure a trip to this house for. Individually the characters work, but together they don’t.

Hywell Simons and Katie Barnett. Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic

In saying that, there are some moments of brilliance. My personal highlights include the hilariously awkward arrival of Jackie and Richard – deftly played by Katie Barnett and Hywel Simons – which captures just how amusing British politeness can be to the outside eye, while Clara (Myra McFadyen) dazzles every time she sets foot on stage, particularly in the unexpected interlude. Even more unexpected (for everyone concerned) in this performance was the breakfast trolley’s stage direction to topple over, which though admirably covered by quick-fire improvisation, perhaps most deftly sums this production up: funny but off-balance.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 March)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

‘Dark Road’ (Lyceum: 25 Sept – 19 Oct ’13)

Robert Gwilym as Frank Bowman , Ron Donachie as Fergus McLintock and Maureen Beattie as Isobel McArthur

Image by Douglas McBride

“The production is a mixed bag in most regards.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated

Ian Rankin is no stranger to Edinburgh’s criminal underworld –fictionally, of course. Inspector Rebus, Rankin’s most famous literary creation, is known to millions as the slightly off-beat but loveable curmudgeon, for whom this city’s cobbled streets are home. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that his theatrical debut (in collaboration with the Lyceum’s own Mark Thomson) is firmly rooted in this world.

It is twenty five years since the conviction of Alfred Chalmers for the murder and mutilation of four young Edinburgh women (there are definite comparisons to be made with the BBC’s hit series The Fall). This, combined with her thirtieth anniversary of being on the force, provokes Superintendent Isobel McArthur (Maureen Beattie) to reflect on what proved a land mark case in her career; or, more specifically, on a nagging doubt she has harboured since that day. Dredging up the past, however, reveals a well of raw emotions in both her closest work colleagues and her only daughter, Alexandra.

The production is a mixed bag in most regards. On the one hand, much of the writing is disappointingly predictable – not simply in terms of the plot, but also the inclusion of well-worn topics such as sexism in the police, the role of a policeman’s ‘hunch’ in conviction, and the bureaucratic barrier of paperwork that stands between policemen and ‘real police work’; a commentary that fails to really add any new angles on these issues. On the other, some of the writing is delicious – finding its strongest moments in scenes of quippy character interaction.

Similarly, a handful of characters were intensely believable – Philip Whitchurch’s portrayal of Alfred Chalmers was magnetic, managing to baffle the audience and leave us in a confused state, somewhere between terror and sympathy. But, at the other end of the spectrum, Sara Vickers (Alexandra) was lumped with a caricature of a teenage girl, whose mood swings between being angsty and angry, and as horny as a bitch in heat, leave her little room for development.

An area of no doubt, however, was staging – which was certainly the production’s strongest suit. The three room revolve worked incredibly well, particularly with the addition of corridors which provided both a realistic edge and an extra dimension to the performance. Furthermore, the soundtrack, ranging from a lamenting violin to Psycho inspired string segments, did much to add dramatic tension in scenes and maintain atmosphere between them; combining well with projections that slowly built a visual backstory for the audience.

Dark Road has the beginnings of a good production, but there is work to be done. It would benefit from some trimming – particularly in the first half, where certain scenes and ideas dragged on too long – and a more careful concealment of the plot to avoid the predictability that currently plagues it. As it stands, Dark Road is middle of the road.

Reviewer: Madeleine Ash (Seen 28 September)

Visit Dark Road homepage here.