Archive for August 5th, 2008

Fall – The Traverse

Fall by Zinnie Harris is the last of a trilogy of plays about war.   This one deals with the aftermath, and in particular, the question of what to do with war criminals.    Coming hard on the news of the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the subject matter could not have been more topical.

This was a very challenging and absorbing evening in the theatre.     We meet Kate, played by Geraldine Alexander giving an extraordinary performance, who tells a long involved tale about a doctor’s car running over a body at her home in the mountains.   We realise that she is telling this to a war criminal in jail, gorily realised by Cliff Burnett.      We meet the prime Minister (Darrell D’Silva), his wife (Meg Fraser) struggling to get dressed in a bathroom in what is clearly a very run-down hotel to go to a an official function, and the Prime Minister’s obsessionally dirt-averse ‘fixer’ Howard

But what to do with the war criminals?   The Prime Minister reasons that if they are condemned to death by a popular figure who is ‘one of the people’ it will be more acceptable than the government doing it.   And so the action hinges on Kate, who is forced to listen to endless evidence on tape, and who eventually does what she is told, but pays a terrible price in what can only be described as an astonishing scene which will follow you home.    

Domenic Hill directs this top cast like a man driven, and notches up the tension with Tom Piper’s dimly lit sliding panel set and a sinister soundscape.    It is a grim subject, a slightly overlong evening, and relentlessly violent, although there are some genuinely funny moments too.    But this is grown-up theatre, and so much better thought through than Pornography  also playing in rep.     It is not ‘enjoyable’ but it is a challenge to performers and audience.   A great start for Domenic Hill as he takes on the directorship of Scotland’s New Writing Theatre.

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Pornography – Traverse.

With harvest coming as it does, in August and September, it is just about impossible to get to anything in the Edinburgh Festival, or The Fringe, which is a pity.   

But it was good to catch two plays at the Traverse.

Pornography by Simon Stevens was about the London bombings on 7/7.    It was an amazing time:   the bombings came on top of the G8, Live 8, and the Olympic Announcement.   

The play featured a collection of London people and one of the bombers.   The stage direction said the play could be performed in any order.   The actors were listed alphabetically and deliberately not assigned to their characters they played, which I found especially unhelpful.   Perhaps it was supposed to be.

The set was several rostra with lots of red wiring, several flickering televisions and a string of inspection lamps hung out over the audience.    Every now and again these flickered and some green ‘computer noise’ was projected onto the back of the set.    It was all stunningly pointless.

The acting was good though, and we were told the various stories of the Londoners:   the mother who faxed secret files from her office and her toddler son;   the old woman who smelt chicken cooking on a BBQ and knocked on the door of the (stranger’s) house to ask for some;   the sister who seduced her brother into an incestuous relationship;   the university lecturer making bungling attempts to lure a former student onto bed;   a rather poisonous schoolboy and the bomber, slowly making his way to the capital.     Each story ran concurrently.

I suppose we were waiting for some or all to be victims of the bombers, but none were (although of course the bomber himself died – he just walked off set at detonation).    But all the characters were affected by it of course.

All in all, a good idea, but in practice this was a very disappointing play which could have done so much more to examine the key events of July 2007.   Stylish, yes, but a wasted opportunity.

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Pitlochry Theatre never ceases to amaze.    It is about forty miles north of Perth, yet comes up with a serious theatre season in the summer using a resident company of actors.    It has fairly high ticket prices (on top of which they charge a credit card fee – Boo!),  yet on a Friday night, it was pretty much packed out, which was good to see.    The average age of the audience is fairly elderly though, and the choice of plays in the season does tend to have this in mind.    It will be especially interesting though to see what this audience make of David Greig’s Outlying Islands which opens soon, as this is a good modern play, but does have nudity!

I digress.    Habeus Corpus was written by Alan Bennet in the 1970s about the 1960s and the ‘permissive society’.      On the face of it, this is a knockabout comedy with a disillusioned GP, a randy vicar, a young girl with false bosoms and most of the men losing their trousers at various points in the evening.     But there is a serious undercurrent to this play, with missed opportunities being paramount as inevitably death approaches us all.

Benjamin Twist’s production worked well.    He played it straight and with terrific timing from the actors on a delightful ‘end of pier’ set.      High praise for Carol Anne Crawford standing in at very short notice for an indisposed Karen Davies.    It was very enjoyable, and the laughs certainly outweighed any serious message.

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Harvest Preparation

The crops in the fields are ripening, despite the rather mixed weather.    The countryside is slowly turning golden.       The colours in August can be stunning.

We have been busy checking out the harvesting kit to make sure it all still works.

An unfortunate hedgehog strayed into the grain drier, and as it came out the other end it broke the flight chain of the top grain conveyor near the roof of the grain store – it took two of us a whole day and hire of a special high platform to fix this.    I would love to meet the person who designed the location of the tension adjusters – hopelessly and dangerously inaccessible.

But the grain drier is ready.   Time to check out the Combine.

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