Lyceum Theatre

The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other

01/06/18

The Lyceum, Edinburgh

The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other by Peter Handke is a highly unusual production. Created and performed by a ‘Community Chorus of Edinburgh Residents,’ it features a cast of eighty-six non-professional actors and, watching it, I am filled with admiration for the way in which this complex piece has been so meticulously choreographed, the many costume changes serving to make me believe I am actually watching more than a hundred performers.

The play begins with the curtain rising to show a narrow band, wherein we become aware of feet passing restlessly to and fro – then the curtain opens upwards to show streams of people passing back and forth across a steeply raked stage, sometimes just a few at once, other times a veritable torrent of them, all racing to fulfil their imaginary deadlines. These are characters from – if you’ll forgive the pun – all walks of life. Office workers, business people, street cleaners and ramblers… waiters and prisoners, decorators and soldiers – indeed, the multiplicity of urban existence is written large and restlessly plays out as music and sound effects provide a stirring accompaniment.

Occasionally, something surreal moves across the stage – people struggle to push a gigantic stone sculpture on a wooden trolley, a mystic leads a magical floating contraption from one side to the other. There are elements of slapstick humour too: a hapless street cleaner attempts to brush a barrage of newspapers blowing in the wind; a paint-spattered decorator performs a strange wistful ballet with a ladder – and in one scene, an unmistakably Chaplinesque figure swings a familiar walking stick. There are more forbidding moments too. A highlight for me is the extended sequence, where groups of older actors shuffle inexorably into the wings – and the that ultimately waits for everyone…

There are virtually no words spoken in the entire production and much of what we’re shown here is open to personal interpretation. Why is one character trying to impersonate everyone he encounters? Is he intended to personify an actor at work? Why do characters from Greek mythology occasionally put in an appearance? I’m not really sure, but hey, I’m glad they’re there!  At the play’s conclusion, the huge cast troop out and take their much-deserved bows – and we’re allowed a glimpse of the racks and racks of costumes ranged along the back of the stage, which they have utilised to create their various personae.

I emerge from the Lyceum feeling that I have just viewed something complex , exciting and pretty unique. Directors Wils Wilson and Janice Parker deserve huge plaudits for this. It’s a truly monumental undertaking and, as I can’t help remarking afterwards, something the like of which I’ve never seen in the theatre before. Which surely must be one of the strongest reasons for seeing it.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Creditors

 

 

01/05/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Wow. I thought I knew what I was getting here. Strindberg. Bleurgh. I mean, yeah, I know he’s an important playwright, one of the fathers of naturalism, etc., etc., but I’ve always found it hard to actually enjoy his plays. Even Maxine Peake’s 2012 performance of Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange in Manchester didn’t warm me to the material, despite her masterly performance. And then there’s the misogyny – all the Women’s Inferiority to Man stuff; he’s a difficult man to like.

And yet here I am, in the Lyceum Theatre, watching Creditors and loving every minute. I’m laughing, I’m listening, I’m enthralled, engaged. Because this production – by David Greig and Stewart Laing – is a prime example of the director’s art: the realisation of a vision that illuminates and animates the playwright’s words, breathing new life into old ideas. I’m hooked.

It’s a simple story: artist Adolph (Edward Franklin) is lonely. His beloved wife, Tekla (Adura Onashile) is away on business, and he’s missing her dreadfully. His new friend, Gustav (a wonderfully oleaginous Stuart McQuarrie), is a welcome distraction, but Gustav has his own agenda, filling Adolph’s head with doubts about his wife. On her return, Tekla is dismayed to discover that Adolph no longer trusts her, that he feels emasculated by her success. When she finally encounters Gustav, his nasty plan is revealed, and they are all left reeling from the emotional fall-out.

The performances here are all strong: I’m fully invested in all three characters, and there is real emotional heft in their relationships. But it’s the design and technology that really make this production shine, from the forced perspective of the holiday chalets that dominate the stage, to the Bergman-esque black and white  film we see projected live onto a screen, allowing us voyeuristic access to what’s going on indoors. The public exposure of internal, private matters both highlights and validates the introspective nature of the material, and it’s thrilling, actually, to  peep in illicitly.

Then there’s the eerie presence of the girl guides (played by a rotating cast of Lyceum Creative Learning participants), whose robotic uniformity and practicality provides a stark counterpoint to the emotional chaos of the main characters. They’re marvellous in a way that’s hard to pin down: solid yet abstract, staunch and ethereal, all at the same time.

It’s faultless, really – all of it. I can’t recommend this highly enough. And if, like me, you think you’ve seen all you want to of August Strindberg, well, maybe it’s time to think again.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Rhinoceros

25/03/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

There are, I’m told, people who “don’t like” theatre. And, of course, those people are absolutely entitled to their opinion. But, oh, how I wish I could take them by the hand and guide them to the Royal Lyceum, where Edinburgh’s International Festival and Istanbul’s Dot Theatre have joined forces to create something I’m sure would change their minds.

I’ve read Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, but I’ve never seen it performed. And, in Turkish director Murat Daltaban’s hands, something magical happens in that leap from page to stage. This is inspirational theatre: at once lively, accessible, thought-provoking and funny. It’s clever, clever stuff – and, judging by the excited, enthusiastic buzz in the theatre bar, it’s crowd-pleasing as well.

Speaking of crowds, that’s pretty much what this play’s about; more specifically, to quote the Lyceum’s artistic director, David Grieg, it’s about “the fragility of the individual in a time of crowds.” Ionesco witnessed the rise of fascism in 1930s Romania, and this play – with bewildered everyman, Berenger (Robert Jack), at its core – highlights the unsettling horror he must have felt at watching his world change. And, of course, the timing of this production is no accident, with the rise of the ‘alt-right’ and the increasing polarisation of political debate.

As the play opens, all seems well. The sleepy French village comes to life like an animated postcard, all bright hues and exaggerated dimensions. Characters and relationships are quickly established, and there is humour and energy in the exchanges, even when they become heated. But the sight of a rhinoceros (or are there two?) rampaging through the town results in the first real tension, the first real rift.

As growing numbers of rhinoceroses appear, Berenger – a drifter with a drink problem – is horrified to learn that they are his friends and neighbours, that the townsfolk are literally turning into these braying beasts. As more and more of them join the herd, Berenger becomes ever more isolated, a predicament that is illustrated beautifully by the ingenious set, reminiscent of a Chinese puzzle box, shrinking his ‘safe place’ until it’s perilous and unworkable.

This is a truly glorious production, as witty and vivacious as it is prescient. There are some great comic turns, most notably from Myra McFadyen as Papillon and Steven McNicoll as Jean. It’s visually stunning, and the sensual, Middle Eastern-inflected music adds to the mood of transformation, with musician Oguz Kaplangi onstage throughout.

Seriously, grab a reluctant theatre-goer and head along to the Royal Lyceum tonight. You’ll be changing hearts and minds.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

The Lover

23/01/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

I was sold on this production from the moment I saw it featured Susan Vidler, whom I’ve long admired. (It’s 1997, there’s a TV movie everyone’s talking about: Macbeth on the Estate. Vidler gives the best portrayal of Lady Macbeth I’ve ever seen. There’s been a score of contenders since, but she still wears the crown.)

In The Lover, she plays a very different role. She’s The Woman, both mother and future self of The Girl (the child is mother of the woman, I suppose) and almost the sole voice of the play. To clarify, she live-narrates the story of her past, and also provides a recorded voice-over for other actors who mime flashbacks. In the flashbacks, she’s The Mother; Amy Hollinshead plays The Girl. And it’s all very clever and artful – perhaps too much so?

Still, based on Margeurite Duras’s novel set in 1920s Saigon, this co-production between the Lyceum, Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre was surely never aiming for the mainstream. It’s a complex tale of love and loss, of colonialism and privilege, of innocence and experience. If ever a tale were to lend itself to a dual-form adaptation, The Lover is surely it: its poetic language ripe for interpetation in this way.

Directed by Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick, The Lover shows how dance and theatre are complementary arts. The literal and the metaphorical are interwoven in the telling, The [poor teenage French] Girl’s love affair with The [rich Chinese twenty-seven-year-old] Man (Yosuke Kusano) a slow, sensual unravelling of accepted social norms. The gulf that develops between her and her family; the way she is subsumed by her sexuality: these are beautifully conveyed.

But it’s not an easy watch. That voice-over – so intricately worked, so delicately spoken – has such a distancing effect that it renders all emotion mute. The very control and precision of the movement makes the sex scenes curiously staid, a notion that is heightened by the Ken and Barbie genitals suggested by flesh-coloured underwear. And perhaps I’m being a bit dense (I haven’t read the novel; this may be made clear there), but I’m not at all sure what the deal is between the girl and her big brother, Paulo (Francesco Ferrari).

There is artistry and skill a-plenty here; it’s a beautifully constructed piece. Will it be a big-hitter, a seat-filler? I’m not convinced on that score. A play to appreciate, maybe, rather than one to enjoy.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Theatre Bouquets 2017

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Once again we have been wowed by some fantastic theatre this year. Here, in order of viewing (and with the benefit of hindsight), are our favourite productions of 2017.

The Winter’s Tale – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Winter's Tale

This thrilling, modern-day version of Shakespeare’s play was dynamic and audacious – with the whole fourth act recast in Scots. We loved every minute of it, especially Maureen Beattie’s performance as Paulina.

Chess: The Musical  – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Chess

The students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland thrilled the audience with a skilful display of all things theatrical. We loved the sophisticated choreography (often incorporating the real time use of video cameras) and choral singing that sent chills down our spines.

Nell Gwyn – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Nell Gwyn\

This superb production of Jessica Swales’ Olivier Award-winning comedy was a delight in just about every respect. From the superbly realised set, through to the opulent costumes and the lively period music, this was fabulous to behold.

Death of a Salesman – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Death of a Salesman

It was the direction that made this production so good: Abigail Graham did a wonderful job of clarifying everybody’s pain. And Nicholas Woodeson was perfect for the lead role, conveying Willy’s struggle with warmth and vitality.

The Toxic Avenger – Pleasance One, Edinburgh

The Toxic Avenger

A musical in the same vein that made Little Shop of Horrors such a pleasure, The Toxic Avenger was an unqualified delight, romping happily along powered by its own exuberance and the efforts of a stellar cast, who gave this everything they had – and then some.

The Power Behind the Crone – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

The Power Behind the Crone

This was a wonderful piece of theatre, an exemplar of a Fringe show: beautifully scripted, and acted with precision and panache. Alison Skilbeck had absolute control of the material and created an impressive range of distinct, believable characters.

Seagulls – The Leith Volcano, Edinburgh

Volcano Theatre SEagulls at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This was the most ambitious, exhilarating piece of theatre we saw this year. Site-specific productions – when the site is as spectacular and relevant as this (we were in an abandoned church, which had been flooded with forty-five tons of water) – can be truly exciting, and this one had a lot to offer.

Safe Place – Rose Street Theatre, Edinburgh

Safe Place

Safe Place provided a sensitive, insightful examination of the uneasy relationship between trans-activism and feminism. It asked (and answered) many questions, all within the framework of a nuanced and intelligent play.

Angels in America: NT Live – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Angels In America

Clocking in at just under eight hours, Tony Kushner’s play offered us a “gay fantasia on national themes” – a sprawling, painful and searingly funny depiction of New York in the 1980s, fractured and ill-prepared to deal with the AIDS epidemic. A truly iconic piece of theatre.

Twelfth Night/Romeo & Juliet – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Twelfth Night

Romeo & Juliet

Merely Theatre gave us some ‘stripped-back’ Shakespeare, performing Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet in rep. The plays featured only five actors and the casting was gender-blind. It all made for an interesting dynamic and prompted us to re-examine familiar scenes.

Cockpit – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Cockpit

Cockpit was a witty, clever play, which saw the Lyceum transformed into a truly immersive space.  Director Wils Wilson served up a fascinating piece of theatre: arresting, thought-provoking, provocative and demanding – and it kept us talking for hours afterwards.

Cinderella – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Cinderella

We never thought a pantomime would feature in any ‘best of’ list of ours but, for the second year running, the King’s Theatre’s stalwarts managed to wow us. Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott knew exactly how to work their audience, and the special effects were truly spectacular.

Susan Singfield & Philip Caveney

The Arabian Nights

07/12/17

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Arabian Nights is unusual: a children’s Christmas show that never mentions Christmas. Of course it doesn’t – this is a collection of mainly Middle Eastern and Indian stories – but they’re wonderfully apt for the festive season, as marvellous and magical as can be. Suhayla El-Bushra’s script is sprightly and engaging, and nicely complemented by Joe Douglas’s lively direction. This is a delightful production.

At its centre is Scheherazade  (Rehanna MacDonald), a young girl who has fallen foul of the tyrannical Sultan (Nicholas Karimi). Desperate to stay her impending execution, she regales the taciturn leader with tales she has learned from her storyteller mother (Neshla Caplan). Despite professing to hate stories, the Sultan is beguiled, demanding more and more. And, as time goes by, the two develop an unlikely friendship.

The staging is lovely: simple but evocative, brightly coloured and celebratory. And the stories are beautifully told: there’s puppetry and music, shadow-play and song. It’s zesty and energetic, the stories tumbling across the stage as quickly and impressively as the acrobats. It could be chaotic, but it’s not, even when we are faced with a sequence of four (or is it five?) tales within tales, each left open as the next begins, a masterful piece of writing if ever there was one. The actors are fantastic too: a true ensemble, most performing many roles with humour and precision.

Accessible yet profound; moving yet funny; sophisticated yet full of fart jokes: this is perfectly pitched for a family audience.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Cockpit

10/10/17

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

If you want to see the Lyceum in a completely different light, then now is the time to do so, as the whole place has been transformed for a timely production of Bridget Boland’s Cockpit, a challenging political piece set in the aftermath of World War Two.

It’s hard to make truly immersive theatre in a Victorian proscenium arch, but the design here is radical. There is raked seating on the stage, facing the auditorium, making the performance space effectively traverse. There are suitcases spilling their guts onto random seats; ladders leading up to (and down from) the boxes; the gantry is exposed. Even the trap-room is utilised. And yet, despite being rendered almost unrecognisable, the theatre building is also given a central role in this production, which is – cleverly – site-specific. For we are all (actors and audience) cast as displaced people (DPs), released from prisons and concentration camps across Germany but not yet able to celebrate our liberation. Instead we are cooped up in a provincial German theatre, which has been requisitioned by the British Army to serve as a holding pen before we are repatriated.

There’s a strong reminder here of the complexity of war: the common enemy may have been defeated but there are other grievances just as entrenched, which may never be resolved. This exploration of European history and relations seems especially prescient, as – outside the theatre – we try to navigate the choppy waters of Brexit. Divisions within our own country are deep and rancorous; our relationships with others have yet to be determined. Cockpit feels as though it could have been written last week, although in fact it was penned in 1948. These are interesting times in which to consider the notions of idealism versus pragmatism, hope versus despair.

Cockpit  is a witty, clever play. Forcing people of different nationalities and political persuasions to co-exist in a confined space allows the arguments put forward to appear spontaneous and natural, while the plot device of a suspected plague outbreak ensures we also see the characters’ common humanity, as they put aside their differences to focus on survival. The enormity of the task faced by Captain Ridley (Peter Hannah) is made very clear. A workable exit strategy seems nigh on impossible, as tensions rise between the various factions, and no one is prepared to compromise.

There is comedy here too: Dylan Read (who also plays French farmer Duval) excels as Bauer, the uptight stage manager, who prizes saving his beloved building above all else. His pomposity is funny: he fusses over petty details, takes great delight in providing props, bristles at the suggestion he might be ‘front of house.’ Through him, Boland also explores the redemptive power of theatre, a thread which culminates in an awe-inspiring performance from La Traviata by singer Sandra Kassman. Bauer might seem ridiculous, but preserving art and culture is important, we are shown.

Director Wils Wilson has served up a fascinating piece of theatre, which, if not exactly enjoyable, is nevertheless arresting and thought-provoking. It’s provocative and demanding; it’s not an easy piece to watch. But it’s certainly worth the effort, and will have you thinking long after the curtain falls.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield