Brian Ferguson

Beats

08/05/19

It’s cold and it’s raining and we’re in two minds about going out tonight. We’re booked in for an Unlimited screening of a film we know nothing about and it is really miserable out there. On the other hand, we reason, what if the film turns out to be great? We’ll be mad we missed it, won’t we? So, after some deliberation, out into the raging elements we go and boy, are we glad we do!

Beats is set in 1994. The TV screens are awash with images of Tony Blair and scenes of violent civil unrest. Johnno (Cristian Ortega) lives with his mum, Alison (Laura Fraser), and his would-be stepdad, Robert (Brian Ferguson), a straight-laced police officer. Alison and Robert dream of moving away from the depressing estate in which they live to a starter home in a nicer neighbourhood. In the meantime, schoolboy Johnno has a thankless part-time job stacking shelves at the local supermarket, and spends his downtime hanging out with his best pal, Spanner (Lorn MacDonald). This does not sit well with Alison and Robert, who openly refer to Spanner as ‘scum.’ Spanner’s older brother, Fido (Neil Leiper), is a notorious drug dealer, and seems to get a kick out of bullying his younger sibling at every opportunity.

On a local radio station, D-Man (Ross Mann) keeps trumpeting an upcoming illegal rave (details to follow) and Spanner tries to persuade his friend to go along to it with him, so they can have one last fling together before Johnno heads off to his new home in the suburbs. But nicking a stash of money from Fido to enable them to finance the trip might not be their wisest move…

Beats manages to do the impossible, making me nostalgic for a music scene I have no personal experience of. Ortega and MacDonald enact a brilliant odd-couple partnership – the former all glum-faced desperation, the latter a grinning, gurning powerhouse. (We last saw MacDonald in the terrific Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley, who also wrote this screenplay.) Brian Welsh directs with aplomb, and the stark black and white cinematography of Benjamin Kracun is an absolute joy to behold, building as it does to an extended rave sequence, where the loved-up, E-fuelled revellers dance wildly and the screen suddenly explodes into full colour. The effect is, quite simply, mesmerising.

If I have a minor niggle it’s simply that the sound levels of that pulsing, throbbing soundtrack are kept a little too polite. I keep anticipating a sudden push into full volume that never comes – but, well, I guess you can’t have everything.

Beats is a film about escape. All the characters, for their own particular reasons, are trying to outrun something that brings them down – poverty, violence, bullying, boredom… you name it. For one night, in a deserted warehouse off the M8, it can all be put aside and forgotten in a blaze of lights and music.

On our way home it’s still raining, but somehow we barely even notice it.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

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Cyrano de Bergerac

13/10/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Since its debut in 1897, Edmond Rostand’s most celebrated play has seen many reboots, reimaginings and reinterpretations – perhaps most unusually in Steve Martin’s 1980s movie, Roxanne, which pitched the American comedian as the head of a fire station, opposite cinematic newcomer Darryl Hannah – and of course, many will remember a more traditional movie version of the tale starring a never-better Gerard Depardieu.

This co-production with The National Theatre of Scotland and Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, directed by Dominic Hill, is a revival of Edwin Morgan’s 1992 translation, which envisions Rostand’s celebrated hero as a Glaswegian, complete with unflinchingly authentic dialect. Why? Well, Morgan felt the character of swashbuckling soldier-poet Cyrano was perfectly suited for such a transformation, and who am I to argue with him? Ihave to confess though, that it takes me a little while to adjust to this particular aspect. Despite living in Scotland for over two years, some of Brian Ferguson’s earlier utterances in the leading role are initially hard for me to decipher, something that isn’t helped by the huge false nose he’s obliged to wear. However, as I gradually adjust to that undiluted accent, so I begin to warm to the character and there’s no denying that Ferguson’s performance here is a veritable tour de force, as Cyrano jokes, swaggers and bellows his way through the proceedings, barely offstage for more than a few moments at a time. One can only wonder if his voice will hold up to such a battering.

Of course, the central premise of this story is one of unrequited love. Cyrano is madly in love with his cousin, Roxane (Jessica Hardwick), but she has eyes only for the handsome Christian (Scott Mackie), the new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment. She begs Cyrano to help her win the newcomer’s heart. So besotted is Cyrano that he is powerless to resist her entreaties and so pledges to do his level best to help her achieve her aims. Christian, of course, is a plain speaking sort of fellow, so Cyrano uses his poet’s intellect to open a series of heartfelt letters to Roxane, passing off his own devotion as Christian’s. The deceit works like a charm, but of course, tragedy is always waiting in the wings to throw a well-timed spanner into the works.

This rumbustious production has much to recommend it, not least the spectacular set designs of Tom Piper and Pam Hogg’s eye-catching costumes, which combine traditional elements with an irreverent dash of punk rock. There are live musicians onstage throughout the proceedings, that infamous ‘nose-insults’ routine is delivered into a microphone in standup style and there’s a beautifully executed sword fight to help to keep the action flowing.

But there’s no denying that this is a long play, a full three hours in the telling – and, with most of the most memorable scenes occurring in the first half, it feels as though a little judicious editing in the second would make this feel a wee bit more fleet-footed. See this for Ferguson’s barnstorming performance and for those audacious costume designs. And whatever you do, don’t mention the size of Cyrano’s nose. He’s touchy about that kind of thing.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney