Yann Davies

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

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Oliver!

 

29/11/17

Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh

Ah, Oliver! Beloved by schools and youth groups, its jaunty sing-a-long-a-songs and larger-than-life characters mean that we often forget what it’s really about, the squalor and violence of Dickens’ London romanticised beyond recognition: all cute kids and bright handkerchiefs, the focus on the (frankly dubious) rags to riches element of the tale.

EUSOG’S version, directed by Erica Belton, works hard to avoid this trap. Of course, this being a student production, there are no sweet little eight-year-old performers who might need protecting from the grim realities of Victorian poverty, and so we’re free to see the savagery of the poorhouse in an electrifying opening scene, where the desperate inmates swarm through the auditorium towards their meagre meal, a starving horde reduced to zombies, caring solely about sustenance, and fighting for their share. Little wonder that Oliver (Yann Davies) asks for more: even his tiny helping of gruel has been snatched and devoured by others; he’s starving and has nothing to lose. His recklessness makes sense in this context – he’s not new to the workhouse; he knows his request will not be welcome – but this is a moment of rebellion born of deprivation.

I don’t need to outline the story – the musical’s ubiquity means there can be no surprises with the plot – but there are new interpretations of some of the characters. Fagin, for example, is played with wit and empathy by Kathryn Salmond. She shows the softer side of the avaricious old leech, ensuring we see that he is also a victim of a cruelly unfair society.   Reviewing the Situation is an absolute triumph, revealing much about the man.

Ashleigh More’s Artful Dodger is also interesting. More is an arresting performer: cheeky and lively and engaging as can be. Dodger’s heartbreak over Nancy’s death is beautifully bleak.

Grace Dickson (Nancy) also deserves a mention. She strikes just the right balance between strength and vulnerability, making us believe in and understand her doomed relationship with the evil Bill Sykes (Saul Garrett). I’m crying when she sings As Long As He Needs Me: willing her to leave, although of course I know she won’t; wishing she lived in a world where there was somewhere else for her to go.

Not everything about this production is perfect: perhaps more could have been made of the Sowerberrys’ scene, and of the stark contrast  between Oliver’s life so far and the luxury and opulence Mr Brownlow represents. Then there’s the inherent problem of a story where the hero is the least interesting person in it, almost a cypher, on whom we can project our own emotions and through whose eyes we see events unfold; this works well in Dickens’ novel, but is less successful on the stage.

Still, none of this prevents it from being a resounding success; it’s a lively, thought-provoking interpretation, with strong performances throughout. The choreography is very good indeed, and the orchestra plays beautifully (the violins are particularly memorable). This is definitely a show worth seeing, and it’s on until Saturday, so get yourself a ticket and go along. A note of caution though: take an extra sweater. The temperature in the Pleasance is positively Dickensian.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield