Priya Basra

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 fiancĂ©e 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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

09/03/22

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

EUSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a real treat. I’m feeling a bit tired and grumpy before we set off for the theatre – a culmination of late nights and hayfever – but this sprightly production soon puts a spring in my step and, by the time I leave, I’m all smiles.

There’s something endearing about the audiences for these student productions: they’re always so vocal in their enthusiasm. It really helps to cement the whole ‘shared experience’ feeling of live performance, and debunks the idea that theatre only appeals to the middle-class and middle-aged. Their liveliness feeds the atmosphere, which is almost as charged off-stage as on. I love it.

Director Sara Cemin deftly braids the disparate strands of Shakespeare’s play. This is a vivacious, playful production, subtly updated with occasional asides (I mean, I don’t think “Fuck’s sake!” appears in the First Folio), which illuminate the jokes, sending laughter rippling through the auditorium.

The fever dream chaos is nicely realised: the four passionate youths, lost in the woods; the bumbling Mechanicals, desperately sincere in their desire to create something worthwhile; the mischievous faeries, unable to resist the impulse to play tricks. It’s a perfect storm.

The Mechanicals are the standouts. Some of this is down to Billy Bard himself, of course: there’s such a clever balance of scorn and tenderness in his rendering of them. But Cemin deserves credit for drawing this out, for resisting the urge to make them pantomime-ish figures, affording them instead the dignity of working people, striving to make something good (while still gently poking fun). Max Prentice (last seen by B&B in EUTC’s Education, Education, Education in 2018) is perfectly cast as Bottom: he’s clearly a natural comedian, and is instantly engaging. He’s definitely one to watch. But don’t underestimate those in the smaller roles either; this strand highlights the power of ensemble performance.

I do have a couple of minor gripes. First: the dry ice machine. “Fuck’s sake,” as Helena would say. It works well to set the scene when the faeries first appear, but – where cough-inducing smoke is concerned – less is more. Second (and this might just be me): the long interval. I know people need time to go to the loo and buy a drink, but anything longer than fifteen minutes disrupts the momentum, and all the tension that’s been so carefully built in the first act just starts to dissipate. Neither of these is a deal-breaker though.

I love Amelia Chinnock Schuman’s choreography, particularly in the fight scene, which is impressively visceral. The four lovers (Lucy Melrose, Archie Barrington, Isabelle Hodgson and Will Nye) approach this tussle with evident gusto, and the fear of injury seems very real (not least because of the rucked-up rug I keep thinking someone’s going to trip over. Yes, I am a laugh). The music is a satisfying addition too. It’s all original (by Joe Pratt and Mark Sandford), and I applaud the decision to have live musicians on stage. The songs are well-integrated into the production: enhancing rather than intrusive.

No review of AMND is complete without reference to Puck, and Priya Basra seems made for the role. She imbues the goblin with the necessary likability, so that we can witness his careless cruelty without abhorring him. She has eye-rolling down to a fine art.

All in all, then, this is an absolute delight. There’s only one night left. Buy a ticket – quickly!

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield