Author: Bouquets & Brickbats

Grazing by Mark Greenaway

14/05/22

The Caledonian Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh

After sampling a note-perfect tasting menu at Dean Banks’ Pompadour, we’re keen to try a similar offering from Grazing by Mark Greenaway, which is located in the same building. The Pompadour’s offer was for lunch time, while this is available in the evening, so along we dutifully trot at the appointed time to find the place busy and bustling, which – after so long in the doldrums of the lockdown – is gratifying indeed.

The staff are charming – particularly the bubbly waitress who handles our table – and we opt to try the matched wines. We’re in good spirits.

Things get off to a great start with Greenaway’s signature treacle and stout sourdough, accompanied by whipped butter. (Yes, I know it’s only bread and spread but, seriously, it’s absolutely gorgeous.) We also have the crab toast, which is served in a shell and features melt-in the-mouth crab meat with shellfish butter and almond cream. It’s light, delicious and we make very short work of it.

Up comes the first wine, a Californian chardonnay. We’re normally ABC people (Anything But Chardonnay) but, when sipped with the next course, a salt cod croquette, the astringent flavour really cuts through the intense tomato fondue and goat’s cheese that accompanies the fish. This course is faultless.

Next up there’s a wild mushroom and hazelnut ragu and this too is just fabulous. It’s topped with celeriac, which neither of us is wild about, but this version tastes terrific and a glass of Riesling-style wine proves to be the ideal match. So far, so impressive.

But the main course – slow roast chicken – proves to be a little bland. It comes with haggis crumble and roscoffe onions, the latter a little undercooked and chewy. It’s not terrible, you understand, but after such perfection, it feels like a false note. The pinot noir we drink with it helps to boost the flavours a little.

Next, there’s cranachan ice cream, which is sweetly vibrant but neither of us is mad about the little doughnut which encloses it. It’s served cold and has a chewiness about it.

We’ve added a cheese course to the basic offering and, when it arrives, it turns out to be the evening’s biggest disappointment, a postage stamp-sized affair comprising a couple of soggy crackers and some tiny nodules of cheese in a tangy source. It’s tasty enough, but is gone in a single bite like an amuse bouche – but we’re not feeling particularly amused, considering we’ve paid a £9 per person supplement. Happily, a glass of champagne arrives to lift our spirits.

Finally, there’s a second pudding, a chocolate and stout cake served with malt ice cream and honey. Again, we’re not bowled over by a ‘sweet’ that tastes predominantly of beer – and, lest we forget, Grazing is the home of what is probably our all time favourite dessert, a sticky toffee pudding soufflé, the closest thing to heaven on a plate that I’ve personally encountered. This boozy creation frankly isn’t in the same league. Our final drink of the evening is a robust port, which does at least help to disguise that slightly odd flavour.

A game of two halves then. Three absolute winners, followed by a series of steadily declining misfires. One thing is for certain: when it comes to tasting menus, consistency is key – and in the ‘Battle of the Caledonian,’ Dean Banks wins by a knockout.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Everything Everywhere All at Once

13/05/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Cinematic multiverses seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. No sooner has Dr Strange shuffled his way through one, then this arrives. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the sophomore effort from the directorial partnership known as ‘The Daniels.’ (I didn’t catch their debut, Swiss Army Man, but I know it has its followers.) EEAAO is currently receiving enthusiastic buzz and has already been garlanded with glowing reviews, but – though it undoubtedly has moments of genuine brilliance – it often feels as though the directors aren’t as in control of their concept as they ought to be.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her timid husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), run a chaotic laundromat in Simi Valley, California. Evelyn isn’t happy with her life and she’s constantly at odds with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who is gay, something that Evelyn tries to hide from her father, Gong Gong (James Wang). The family are summoned to the IRS office where they are subjected to an interrogation by ruthless tax inspector, Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Evelyn has tried to claim a karaoke machine as a legitimate business expense and Deirdre isn’t at all happy.

It’s round about this point that Waymond reveals that he’s not actually who he seems, but a Waymond from an entirely different reality. He’s come here to try to prevent Evelyn from being destroyed by an evil entity who looks very like her own daughter.

It would be pointless to try to give any more plot details because from hereon in – as the title might suggest – what ensues is a breathless free-for-all, as Evelyn stumbles helplessly in and out of her various incarnations, acquiring skills along the way. One minute she’s a skilled martial artist, the next a trained chef, then she’s an opera singer and, in what must be the film’s most bizarre sequence, a lesbian with hot-dog sausages for fingers. Along the way, there are references to other movies – 2001: A Space Odyssey, In the Mood for Love and er… Ratatouille, to name but three.

But it’s an exasperating journey. One moment, I’m genuinely impressed by what I’m watching, the next I’m just… confused. Where are we? What’s happening?

Yeoh is splendid in what must be the most eccentric role-choice of her career, while Huy Quan (who has barely graced cinema screens for more than four decades) makes a decent fist of Waymond. It’s interesting to note that The Daniels did first consider Jackie Chan for this role (a kung-fu punch-up where Waymond uses a bumbag as a set of improvised nunchuks could have stepped right out of one of Chan’s films). There are some comedy sequences in the mix too, and the crowd at the screening I attend are laughing throughout.

But all too often if feels as though The Daniels are deliberately going for cheap shots. Another fight scene involving butt plugs and oversized dildos just feels exploitative – and do we really need to see Evelyn eating her father’s snot? Furthermore, with a running time of two hours and nineteen minutes, EEAAO definitely overstays it’s welcome.

This then, is the curate’s egg multiverse – good in parts, but occasionally indigestible.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Anything Goes

11/05/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Until tonight, I’m only aware of Anything Goes as the ‘rubbish’ musical that drama teacher Mr G bins off when he’s left in charge of the school play in Summer Heights High – in order to replace it with a highly questionable self-penned piece (Mr G is not a reliable barometer). Of course, I have gleaned a few clues from the poster (definitely nautical) and from Bonnie Langford’s billing (all-singing, all-dancing), although Simon Callow’s presence is more of a puzzle. And, sadly, Simon Callow isn’t present tonight, so I never get to solve that particular enigma. Still, his understudy, Clive Heyward, puts in an excellent turn as boozy gazillionaire Elisha Whitney, truly owning the role.

Anything Goes, it turns out, is exactly the sort of old-fashioned glitz-and-glamour musical I like the best, with lots of big, bold choreography, and a galumphing Cole Porter score. Of course, the story is nonsensical and ridiculously contrived, but it hardly matters: the plot is just a vehicle for the performances.

Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis) is a nightclub singer/evangelist, booked to entertain passengers on luxury ocean liner, the SS American. She is infatuated with Whitney’s assistant, Billy (Samuel Edwards), but he’s hopelessly in love with debutante Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden). Hope loves him too, but she’s betrothed to bumbling English toff, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by the aptly named Haydn Oakley, presumably no relation). Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Langford), won’t allow her to call off the engagement, because Evelyn is rich, and the Harcourts are on their uppers. Throw in a couple of gangsters called Moonface and Erma (Denis Lawson and Carly Mercedes Dyer), put ’em all on the ship, and let the mayhem begin…

Reno is a demanding role, but Ellis is a prime example of a ‘triple threat’ – not only imbuing the evangelist with spark and charm, but also showcasing her impressive singing voice – all while hoofing it up with the best of them in some very peppy dance routines. She’s perfectly cast. Oakley is also delightfully amiable as Evelyn, effortlessly winning our sympathy. Co-book-writer PG Wodehouse’s imprint is all over this character, and Oakley makes the most of the opportunity to Bertie Wooster his way through the tale. Mercedes Dyer is another standout, dazzling both ship’s crew and audience alike with her sassy attitude.

The set (by Derek McClane) is pretty awe-inspiring, with a joyful nautical aesthetic and a real sense of scale: the ship feels vast and imposing.

But really, this is all about the big numbers, and director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall has pulled out all the stops. The ensemble cast is huge, and there is a palpable sense of a busy ocean liner, bursting with energy. It’s an unabashed celebration of theatricality, and I am absolutely spellbound by the extended version of the title song that ends the first act: the tap dancing is sublime. The second act quickly leads to another high, the fabulous Blow, Gabriel, Blow: it’s a real spectacle.

There’s nothing deep and meaningful to ponder here – except perhaps the strange nature of what constitutes “celebrity” – but that’s really not the point. If you’re after a bit of pure distraction, with some effortlessly glorious song and dance, then Anything Goes certainly fits the bill. Don’t listen to Mr G!

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Cluedo

10/05/22

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The game of Cluedo was something I only played occasionally as a kid – and, because I had an annoying habit of disobeying the rules (why would I answer questions honestly if I might be the murderer?), I was rarely asked to play a second time, as my presence tended to plunge every game into chaos.

This stage version, based on an original screenplay by Jonathan Lynn and adapted by Sandy Rustin, is pretty chaotic too. It’s directed by Mark Bell (of The Play That Goes Wrong) and, as you might expect, leans heavily into the absurd.

All the usual suspects are in evidence: the mysterious Miss Scarlett (Michelle Collins), the accident-prone Reverend Green (Tom Babbage) and the dim-witted Colonel Mustard (Wesley Griffith). Throw in the pompous Professor Plum (Daniel Casey) the enigmatic Mrs White (Etisyai Philip) and the boozy Mrs Peacock (Judith Amsenga) and we have the full set. Of course there’s a butler, Wadsworth (Jean Luke-Worrell), who acts as our guide and explains that those colour-coded names are simply pseudonyms. The six guests have been invited here by a certain ‘Mr Boddy’, who has information about their nefarious goings-on. Each of them is issued with their own unique murder weapon (you all know what they are) and the fun dutifully ensues.

And it is fun, provided you don’t pause too long to consider the sheer improbability of it all. Without wasting any time, the story galumphs happily from one unlikely event to another. A cunningly devised set is repeatedly opened up like a puzzle box to reveal secret corridors and adjacent rooms and there’s plenty of silly, tongue-twisty wordplay – particularly from Luke-Worrell: his rapid fire replay of ‘what’s happened so far’ is the play’s best sequence and earns a round of applause all of its own. Hats off to Harry Bradley, who keeps popping up in a variety of guises only to be promptly murdered – it’s a living of a kind, I suppose. A repeated motif where a character utters another character’s name ad infinitum is also the cause of much mirth and it’s clear that tonight’s audience are having great fun with the proceedings.

And that’s pretty much what Cluedo is – fast, funny and frenetic, it does what it says on the Waddington’s box.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

06/05/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Another Marvel, another Multiverse – and am I the only one who’s growing a little weary of this device? It worked wonders in the Spider-Man franchise, but can it do the same for my other old go-to comic favourite, Doctor Strange? Well possibly, but I have to admit the main thing that draws me to this is the presence of Sam Raimi in the director’s chair.

Raimi has released some great movies over the years: The Evil Dead and its super-charged sequels, as well as A Simple Plan and Drag Me to Hell – but it’s a while since he’s had a chance to strut his cinematic stuff. While he’s always been a director who dances to his own tune, can he successfully apply those considerable talents to Marvel’s famously constricting template?

The answer is, ‘sort of.’

DSITMOM starts, appropriately enough with a dream sequence, where Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) witnesses a twisted, evil version of himself attacking a teenage girl. But is it a dream? When, shortly afterwards, Strange encounters the girl in real life, she turns out to be America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel across the multiverse with ease, though (rather conveniently) she doesn’t know how she does it. Or, for that matter, why. Nor can she explain why she’s being pursued by a giant one-eyed octopus. But hey, these things can happen, right?

Sensing that she’s in danger (no shit, Sherlock), Strange seeks help from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), only to discover that she’s not going to be any help at all. Demented by the recent death of her partner and terrified she might lose the two children she loves so much (the ones who don’t actually exist), Wanda decides to steal America’s power for her own wicked ends, an action that will cause the girl’s death. (Incidentally, for someone who’s supposed to be a genius, Strange seems to be very adept at putting his foot in things. He’s the one who messed everything up in No Way Home – and now this.)

I’m not going to relate any more of the plot because, frankly, it’s as mad as a box of frogs (I suppose the title should have warned me), but the more important question is, can this nonsense hold together as a movie, and the answer is ‘just about.’ DSITMOM is essentially a series of frantic action set-pieces, loosely strung together. Though they are occasionally eye-popping and sometimes make me feel that I’ve inadvertently dropped a tab of acid, they never really gel into a convincing story arc.

Different versions of popular Marvel characters keep popping out of the woodwork and in many cases are actually killed, but because we know they’re not the real McCoy, there’s no real sense of threat here. Cumberbatch gets to portray several different Stephens, which was probably more fun for him than it proves to be for an audience. The parts that work best for me are the Sam Raimi moments, the few scenes where he’s allowed to employ the tropes of low budget horror – and of course there’s the inevitable cameo from Bruce Campbell, which is always welcome. But too often Raimi’s singular vision is swamped in the sturm und drang of state-of-the-art special effects.

Elsewhere, actors of the the calibre of Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Patrick Stewart are called upon to utter some truly naff dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Michael Waldron.

The usual post-credits sequence suggests that Strange will be even stranger in the next instalment, if and when it happens. The enthusiastic applause from the mainly teenage audience at the end of this screening suggests that I may well be in the minority here.

Doctor Strange (and possibly Mr Raimi) will be back. Watch this space.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Red Ellen

04/05/22

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

As a long-established advocate of socialism, I’m sometimes embarrassed to realise how little I know about the movement’s history – so Red Ellen proves to be both informative and entertaining. It’s the story of Labour politician Ellen Wilkinson, a woman who spent her life fighting for female suffrage and the rights of the working classes. As portrayed by Bettrys Jones, she’s a fierce little scrapper, a human powerhouse, who – despite her own struggles with ill health – is always ready to fight for her beliefs

Wilkinson is remembered mostly for her involvement in the infamous but ultimately doomed Jarrow Marches, but Caroline Bird’s play delves into other aspects of Wilkinson’s life: an amusing diversion when she meets up with Albert Einstein (Mercedes Assad); her experiences during the Spanish civil war, when she crosses paths with a drunken Ernest Hemingway (Jim Kitson); a look at her chaotic personal relationships with the shady Otto Gatz (Sandy Batchelor) and with married Labour politician, Herbert Morrison (Kevin Lennon). And there’s also a look at the groundbreaking work she did after the the war, when, as Minister for Education, she introduced free milk for all pupils, something that would stay in place until a certain Tory ‘milk snatcher’ finally undid all her hard work.

It’s a complex play but Wils Wilson’s propulsive direction has Ellen hurtling from one scene to the next, which keeps the pot bubbling furiously, whether she’s arguing with long suffering sister, Annie (Helen Katamba), or with her Communist comrade, Isabel (Laura Evelyn). Camilla Clarke’s expressionistic set design creates a bizarre, nightmarish backdrop to the unfolding story, where a bed can suddenly transform into a motor car, where piles of discarding clothing can lurch abruptly upwards to depict the Jarrow marchers. One of my favourite scenes in this turbulent production depicts Ellen as a fire warden during the blitz, frantically fighting a series of blazes in tiny doll’s houses. It serves as the perfect encapsulation of Ellen’s career in politics.

For a historical tale, her story is powerfully prescient. In the opening scene, she bemoans the rising tide of fascism that threatens to overtake the world – and how in-fighting in the Labour party would inevitably hand the reins of power over to the Tory party time and time again. It’s impossible not to reflect that sadly, very little has changed since those challenging times.

Red Ellen is a fascinating tale, ripped from the pages of political history. It’s not to be missed.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

A Murder is Announced

03/05/22

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

‘Cosy mystery’ is a strange genre. The body count is high but the blood loss is minimal; an alarming number of its denizens have murder in mind, but we’re not witness to any physical brutality. Death occurs courtesy of a fast-acting poison or a single, well-placed blow to the head; killers tend to be well-to-do, well-spoken, suburban types, fond of chintz and regular cups of tea – oh, and there’s usually a domestic servant or two.

If the genre has a queen, Agatha Christie wears the crown. And of her prodigious output, the Miss Marple stories are the cosiest of all. Jane Marple looks like a cliché: a nosy, soberly dressed spinster of independent means, living modestly in a sleepy village. But Miss Marple is shrewdly intelligent, and her prying has a purpose: she’s a dab hand at uncovering criminals, and the local constabulary often find her help invaluable.

A Murder is Announced is a classic Miss Marple mystery. It opens with an unlikely premise: someone posts an ad in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, announcing that there will be a murder at 6.30pm that night at Little Paddocks, home to Letitia Blacklock (Barbara Wilshere). Letitia is a kindly soul, and she’s opened Little Paddocks to a whole host of friends and relatives, so there’s a raft of potential victims – and killers. Her impoverished old school pal, Bunny (Karen Drury), has lived there for years, and – more recently – Lettie’s second cousins, Julia (Lucy Evans) and Patrick (Will Huntington), have appeared. They’ve been living abroad, but now they’re back in the UK and need somewhere to stay. In addition, Lettie has taken pity on Philippa (Emma Fernell), and invited the young widow to reside in her home too. Housekeeper Mitzi (Lydia Piechowiak) is kept very busy!

And, at 6.30pm that night, a murder does indeed occur. What’s going on? Luckily, a certain Miss Marple (Sarah Thomas) is in the vicinity, visiting her nephew, the local vicar, so Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) doesn’t have to figure it out alone…

Despite the convoluted and unlikely plot, there are no surprises here. But that’s part of the appeal, I guess: we know what we’re getting – hence the term ‘cosy.’ Middle Ground Theatre Company’s production is competently done: director Michael Lunney successfully corrals the twelve-strong cast’s tortuous backstories into a comprehensible tale, and the actors deliver solid performances.

I’m a little confused by the lowering of the curtain for an extended period at the end of each scene. The first time, I’m expecting a complex set change, but, when the curtain rises again, only minor adjustments are apparent. A plate of sandwiches has been removed; a newspaper folded. I can’t help feeling this could be achieved a little more dynamically.

In the end, there’s nothing striking here – either good or bad. A Murder is Announced just does what it says on the tin, and there’s no denying its popularity; the theatre is bustling. There are worse ways to spend an evening, but I’d love one day to see new life breathed into this old form.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Happening

03/05/22

The Cameo, Edinburgh

Happening – or L’événement – is a harrowing tale, directed by Audrey Diwan and based on author Annie Ernaux’s experience of an unwanted pregnancy. It’s 1963, and the students at Angoulême university are preparing for their exams. It’s hot and hormones are running wild, but sex is a shameful, clandestine activity, and ‘getting caught’ is every girl’s nightmare.

When Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei)’s period is late, she knows exactly what it means. She faces a stark choice: have a baby and forsake her dreams of a career in academia, or have an abortion, thus risking imprisonment or death. She’s a clever girl, destined for great things. She can’t bear to see her future curtailed; she’s not ready to be a mother. But procuring a termination proves punishingly difficult.

This is a hard film to watch. Vartolomei is compelling in the lead role, and her desperate isolation really strikes a chord. Poor Anne! No woman should have to go through such troubles alone. The ‘father,’ Maxime (Julien Frison), is useless. He’s more worried about what his friends think of Anne than he is about her plight. What does she want him to do? Nothing, she tells him. She’ll manage by herself – just as she has throughout this ordeal. Because there’s no one who can help. Not her mum (Sandrine Bonnaire); she’s so proud of her brainy daughter – how can Anne face disappointing her? Not her best friends (Luàna Bajrami and Louise Orry-Diquéro) – she can’t make them complicit because they’d face gaol time too. Not her doctor – he’s definitely not on her side. So Anne is utterly, irrevocably, unbearably alone.

She does find a way, of course. Women do. This is why banning abortion is nothing more than an act of wanton cruelty. Unwanted pregnancies don’t miraculously become wanted ones; women’s lives just get harder. Anne has to skulk in the shadows, begging for help from people she barely knows, hoping against hope they don’t betray her. And, when she does – finally – find someone who can assist her, she has to sell everything she owns to fund the procedure.

Meanwhile, Maxime’s still frolicking on the beach with his pals, his life untouched.

It makes me angry, watching this at the same time as Roe V Wade is under fire in the USA. We know what happens when women can’t access legal, safe abortions: they die. The Supreme Court is attacking women’s basic human rights, condemning thousands to suffer. How dare they?

Happening‘s release is a timely reminder of what we stand to lose. Although it’s set in the 1960s, it doesn’t have the feel of a period drama: the fashions are neutral, the obviously contemporary details restricted to the music and the law. This lends the film an immediacy: this issue isn’t just an historical one.

Laurent Tangy’s cinematography captures the oppressive summer heat, the bleached colours reminding us of time’s inexorable progress. As the weeks unfold and Anne approaches the point of no return, the impulse to look away becomes almost irresistible.

And yet we can’t. We mustn’t. Because Anne doesn’t have that luxury.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Dean Banks at the Pompadour

30/04/22

The Caledonian Hotel, Princes Street, Edinburgh

Once upon a time, we’d have saved a lunch like this for a special occasion. But, in this uncertain decade, we’ve learned not to put things off. Who knows when another lockdown might be imposed – or, indeed, what else might occur? So we’re seizing the day, and making the most of opportunities as they arise.

Today’s opportunity appears in the guise of a special offer: a nine-course lunchtime tasting menu for £55 each. We’d budgeted for more eating out than we managed on our recent holiday to Shetland (we were there pre-season, and the few restaurants that were open had very limited availability), so the timing seems fortuitous. And it’s only a five minute walk from our apartment. We’re in!

We’ve eaten in this room before, back in 2017, when the Galvin brothers ran it. It’s a lovely space: all light and air, with huge semicircular windows and pastel hues. Not much has changed since Dean Banks took it over last year: the only visible difference is the addition of a model boat and a few fishy statues, hinting at the prominence of seafood here.

The service is formal but friendly. There’s the option to have an extra course – lobster – for an additional £35, but we decline. Nine courses should be plenty, right? We do, however, decide to go for the matched wines, because – why not? It’s £45 for five glasses, all carefully selected to complement the food.

Everything – and I mean everything – is note perfect, from the delicate saucisson sec & wild garlic tart to the intensely orangey (well, sea-buckthorny) dulse shortbread cream and everything in between. The corn and sunflower coblet might well be the nicest bread I’ve ever had, and it’s served with three butters: sesame, miso and salted. The miso is a particular hit, so much so that we’re planning on trying to make some at home. The north sea hake is ridiculously pretty, so that we almost don’t want to disturb its construction by biting into it, but then, of course, we do, and it’s delicious. There’s a Scottish-Asian theme throughout, with local produce enhanced by flavours such as gochujang and kimchi. It’s all perfectly balanced and delightful. The beef cheek is the richest dish; if it were any bigger, it’d be too much, but it’s expertly judged, and just the right amount. Pudding is spectacular: a matcha parfait with mango, yuzu and a black sesame ice cream. The latter is wonderfully weird: nowhere near sweet enough to be eaten alone, but a superb counterpoint to the fruity creaminess of the parfait.

If I have a quibble, it’s about the words ‘nine course’. And it’s not really a quibble because I don’t want anything more than I’m given, it’s just that amuse-bouches, bread and petit fours aren’t normally counted as ‘courses’, are they? I’ve had six-course menus before, and these have featured alongside. But still, what’s in a name? Our lunch smelled just as sweet.

We’re smiling as we leave, slightly squiffy on all that lovely wine. What a pleasant way to spend a Saturday!

5 stars

Susan Singfield

All My Sons

29/04/22

Teviot Underground, Edinburgh

There are good playwrights and there are great ones. Arthur Miller definitely belongs in the latter category. It’s a brave student theatre group that dares to tackle one of his works but, down in the crowded basement of the Teviot Underground, EUTC take on his 1947 play All My Sons and, with great skill and determination, make it their own.

This is the story of the Keller family and it takes place entirely in the garden of their home. It’s the night after a storm has uprooted a beloved tree, planted three years earlier in memory of the family’s youngest son, Larry, a fighter pilot who went missing in the war. Patriarch and factory owner, Joe (Ted Ackery), has survived accusations of shipping defective airplane parts to the military during the conflict and has subsequently prospered, even though his partner, Steve, still languishes in jail, found guilty of the charge.

Joe’s devoted son, Chris (Conor O’ Cuinn), is in line to take over the family business, but it’s not going to be plain sailing. He is hopelessly in love with Ann Deever (Olivia Carpenter), Larry’s former fiancée and she, in turn, has feelings for him. But Chris’s mother, Kate (Lucy Melrose), steadfastly refuses to give up hope that her lost son will one day return – and accepting this new union would, for her, be the final nail in her missing son’s coffin.

As ever with student theatre, the staging here is clearly constrained by budget, but the set designers have applied themselves to the task with great ingenuity; and using the canteen area at the back of the stage to depict the interior of the family home is a terrific idea. Interestingly, the costuming evokes the late 1960s and snatches of Bob Dylan and The Doors on the soundtrack accentuate the idea that this is a tragedy that could just as easily be applied to the Vietnam War – or any other one, come to that. The spectre of profiteering from war is, I’m afraid, universal.

But what really comes across in this production are the performances, with the four leads in particular submitting thrilling interpretations of their roles. And it doesn’t end there. The supporting roles of the family’s neighbours – who all know that Joe is guilty but have conspired to overlook the fact – are also delivered with utter conviction. There’s no weak link here – and there’s a palpable moment in the middle of the first act, when you sense these young performers coming to the realisation that they have their characters nailed and are going to make them fly.

Into this volatile atmosphere comes George (Priya Basra), Ann’s older brother, now a successful lawyer, who has previously accepted Joe’s acquittal and refused to see his own father ever since the trial – until now, that is. Now he has talked to his father and the wool has finally been pulled from his eyes. He visits the Kellers intent on seeking revenge.

The slowly rising tension builds steadily to a climax of extraordinary power. It’s a hard-hearted soul indeed who won’t be moved to tears by its shattering conclusion. EUTC have achieved something here that they can be truly proud of and, if you have the chance to catch this performance, then I’d advise you to take it.

It’s an assured interpretation of one of Arthur Miller’s greatest works.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney