EUTC

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

Education, Education, Education

 

14/11/18

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

This quirky little play, originally devised by The Wardrobe Ensemble, is the perfect vehicle for the EUTC, offering a real opportunity for these talented students to show their acting chops.

It’s 1997, and it’s Tobias (Max Prentice)’s first day at Wordsworth Comprehensive, where he’ll be working as a German language assistant. But this is no normal day: Tony Blair was elected as Prime Minister last night, and there’s a strange emotion pervading the staffroom. Could it be… hope? Might the ‘education, education, education’ mantra that’s propelled Blair to the top job actually translate into something real, like new textbooks, or permanent classrooms, or reduced class sizes?

Whatever. It’s still a school day. The bell still rings; there are still lunch duties and lesson covers – and the small matter of ‘muck-up day,’ as the Year 11s seize their opportunity to cause consequence-free chaos: they’re leaving this afternoon. And, amidst all this, there’s Lauren: troubled, angry, vulnerable Lauren (Lauren Robinson), who wants to go on a history trip to York, but who’s been told her past behaviour precludes her from such treats.

This is a lively, energetic production, with all actors (except Prentice) dual-rolling as staff members and pupils. Tobias’s outsider’s eye exposes the vagaries of our education system; he’s a positive, engaging character, a Brit-o-phile, more gently observant than sharply critical. The performances are all strong, but standouts include Fergus Head as ineffective head teacher, Hugh Mills, and Lauren Robinson as the self-destructive teen mentioned above. Robinson in particular excels at portraying a heartbreaking mix of fragility and bravado, the all-too-recognisable frustration of those who have too little autonomy.

The Brit-pop music provides a dynamic aural backdrop, and the high-octane dance moves and scene transitions all help this small cast to convince us we’re in a busy, bustling school. There are some sombre moments: Tobias’s flash-forward narrative reminds us that, although Blair did indeed inject a lot of much-needed money into the system, and things did improve considerably, this too has now passed: schools are academised and closing, begging parents for provisions, dropping ‘frivolous’ subjects from their timetables.

Don’t get me started. This one’s personal for me. I was a teacher for twenty-two years; I left because of what the job became. I’ve been a foreign language teaching assistant too (in Germany), so this play really speaks to me.

But even if your own experiences are vastly different from these, this is a piece well worth seeing. What happens in education affects us all.

And this is fun. So, you know – win, win.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Tom at the Farm

07/01/18

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

File this one under ‘suffering for your art.’ We’re at Edinburgh’s Bedlam Theatre on what must be one of the coldest nights of the year and, up on stage, young actor Yann Davies, who plays the eponymous Tom in Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, is stripped down to his underwear and gamely trying to convince us that he’s in a nice warm bedroom. It’s testament to his acting skills that he pretty much succeeds, even though we’re feeling distinctly nippy in heavy coats and woolly hats.

In this tightly-scripted four-hander, advertising executive Tom drives out to a remote farm somewhere in the backwoods of Canada to visit the family of his recently dead lover, Paul. When he arrives, he’s dismayed to find that Paul’s grieving mother, Agatha (Tilly Botsford), has no knowledge of Tom – indeed, she is under the impression that Paul was dating a French girl called Natalie. Tom also discovers that Paul has a brother, the glowering and rather intimidating Francis (Peter Morrison), who quickly impresses on Tom the necessity to maintain the deception and to tell Agatha exactly what she needs to hear. Tom soon finds himself being absorbed into the day-to-day running of the farm and it begins to look as though he might never return to his old life in the city…

EUTC’s production powers assuredly along, anchored by fine performances from the cast (particularly from Davies, who manages to convey so much through his expressions and gestures). There’s a slightly unconvincing strand towards the final third, with the arrival of Sara (Kathryn Salmond, last seen rocking an inspired Fagin opposite Davies in EUSOG’s Oliver!), who has been hired by Tom to impersonate Paul’s fictional French girlfriend, Natalie. To be fair, Salmond plays it really well, but the raucous humour seems somehow out of place in what has, up to this point, been a pretty tense and straight-faced tale. However,  the story soon recovers and heads towards a convincing climax. This is a student production, but everything here is done with great assurance – the set design, the lighting and the sound are all nicely handled and Joe Christie’s direction coaxes the best out of a talented young cast.

Go and see this while you still can – but, if the cold snap continues, take my advice and make sure you wrap up warm.

4 stars

Philip Caveney