Confessions of a justified sinner at the Royal Lyceum theatre, edinburgh


A rather amusing “no animals were killed in the making of this smoke” type announcement preludes the opening of this play and then the curtain rises to reveal a dark, brooding, half-lit miasma that remains throughout.

And yes, it’s smoky.

twin-towers1

The darkness is entirely appropriate as this is a tale from the early 18th century when dark deeds were done, folk lived in smogs of half truth, rumour and mountains of religious guilt.  And we’re not even talking Catholisism here.  No, welcome to the dank, scary world of Calvinism.

YE WILL NOT HAVE FUN.  YE WILL NOT FORNICATE.  YE WILL NOT SMILE.  YE WILL NOT DAE ANYTHING THAT THE LORD WOULD FROWN UPON.

Because the Lord, back then, was all seeing, all telling, all rule making.

This was a land of ignorance and powerful religious figures.  The meenister was all.

Sound familiar?

Yep, it’s a fascinating allegory (or is it a metaphor) for our times today where religious extremism, east and west, is a licence for abhorrent and inexplicable sinning.

The early days Obama (Mc)Bin Laden of James Hogg’s novel is played at just the right side of lampoon by the truly terrifying Kern Falconer and he is the axis of evil that the play revolves around.  It’s into his house that the naive Robert Wringhim is brought, with his mother, to “enjoy” a life of strict religious instruction.  And enjoy it he does, to a point, until the Meenister sets out on a campaign to “justify” his pupil.  To make him immune to sin on earth and guarantee him a place in heaven, no matter what.  In time, the Damascan moment arrives and Wringhim is indeed (apparently) granted that place in heaven.

His ticket safely tucked away in his inside pocket the charming young Wringham is now granted the right to exact retribution on all wrongdoers that cross his path; and there are plenty of them.

The central premise of the play then unfolds around this – that if a place in the afterlife is guaranteed, rather than has to be earned, where does one draw the line?

If one can sin and not be called to task then surely sinning will follow.  And if this sinning is not actually considered a sin then the atrocities that might result are presumably acceptable.  Is this not exactly the point that appears to be brainwashed into suicide bombers the world over (because Wringham is essentially Calvinism’s suicide bomber).

Is he mad?  Is Gil-Martin his voice of conscience – or the devil?  There’s certainly a thin line between schitzophrenia and devotion in this play.

The “11th man” of this astonishing performance is the set. It rocks.  Built on a rotating platform the oblique monoliths that seemingly stretch to the sky are variously abstract tables, beds, tombstones and pulpits, but mainly they are dark foreboding skyscrapers of the future.  They are the metaphoric twin towers that I believe this play alludes to.

Ryan Fletcher is stunning.  He does not overplay his quite considerable hand.  Iain Robertson as Gil-Martin nails it.  Lewis Howden is a scream. and John Kielty plays his parts with restraint.  This is a blokes play.  Sure Rae Hendrie carries her part beautifully as the Mother but all the lines belong to the men.

Mark Thomson has to be lauded for both the writing and the direction of this very superior night of theatre.  And I’m certain he will be.

It’s brilliant.  It’s funny.  It’s electric.  It’s dark.  It is an absolute must see.

Lyceum Youth Theatre – success by Nick Drake


No, not that Nick Drake, the contemporary playwright.

lyt-success

I took Ria to see the opening night of LYT’s contribution to The National Theatre’s New Connections festival of new youth drama.  And damned fine it was too.

A cast of 19 on a tiny Trav 2 stage put on a fine performance in a space that was frankly too small given their energy.  It’s a highly choreographed show drawing on pretty much every theatrical trick in the book and it works very well.

It’s not quite an ensemble piece because three principals stand out;  Nick (the devil?) played with aplomb by Steve McMahon to the point you would happily punch his city spiv character (how appropriate in these times) hard in the face and the two romantic leads Tom (an outstanding and likeable Hector Brown) and Lucy (the lovely Kim Donohoe).

The theme is about the pursuit of money ending in tears and is a morality tale for our times with real resonance.  Money indeed cannot buy you love it seems in Drake’s eyes.  It would have been easy for the script to cross the line into cliche and clunkiness but it avoids this at all turns and the performances of the ‘chorus’ hold the show together crisply and engagingly.

It’s the first LYT show I’ve seen and just goes to show that FCT (biased as I am) do not have a monopoly on brilliant young people’s theatre in Edinburgh.  Joking aside these are very different companies and LYT’s take is very much more adult in theme and tone.

You’ll be lucky to get a ticket, but if you can.  Do.

The Mystery of Irma Vep by the Lyceum Theatre Company and Horsecross


medium_banner_irmavep

Mark Thomson, The Lyceum’s Artistic Director, often talks before his shows of the need for theatre, and The Lyceum in particular, to entertain.

Now, entertainment comes in many forms.  I’d list The Shining, Apocalypse Now and Hunger among my favourite and most entertaining movies but they are not everyone’s cup of tea; nor are they uplifting.  My wife wouldn’t have described Hunger as entertaining, that’s for sure.  So the notion of entertainment is open to considerable interpretation.

But let’s get this straight from the off; Irma Vep is PURE entertainment.

I laughed until I broke out into a sweat.

I cried and howled with laughter.

I gasped with laughter.

This show is utter class from the first, and I mean the first, moment the curtain rises and we see Andy Gray as he walks onto stage sporting a fake wooden leg and the limitations that places on straightforward movement.  John Cleese would have applauded loudly.

This sets the scene for farce of epic proportions.  Not Pythonesque though.  It’s more in the tradition of Scots Panto.  There are many nods in the direction of Russel Hunter, Walter Carr, John Grieve (is he related to the director I wonder, indeed assume) Francie and Josie and, king of them all, Stanley Baxter.  Which is to heap a great deal of praise on the heads of the quite astonishing performances (in terms of characterisation, timing, energy and wit) of Andy Gray and Steven McNicoll.

Honestly, they will have you rolling in the aisles.

As I said, Panto, and slapstick, is the predominant genre here, although the show’s story is actually a pastiche of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca with a bunch of Hammer House of Horror thrown in for good measure.

I cannot imagine what the script must have read like because it is SO Scottish, so ‘of the people’ and so personal to Gray and McNicoll that you wonder what was on the page.

Each of them plays about four parts but they interchange through very quick changes from scene to scene all night and at times it is breathless and, as a consequence, even more hilarious.

McNicoll’s Jane Twisden is possibly the dominant role (the evil maid in Rebecca) played like the tea lady in Father Ted at maximum volume throughout.  It’s so beautifully crafted and voiced that it leaves you gasping again and again.

Gray’s best moments are in his Lady Enid Hillcrest character which moulds Stanley Baxter and Mark Walliams into an unholy combination.

But seriously, there is not a single moment of weakness in any of the characters they play.

The direction by Ian Grieve is faultless and the wonderful set is a key part of the show with its myriad of doorways from where every character appearance and disappearance heralding yet another belly laugh each time they appear.  It’s ingenious.

I cannot praise this show highly enough.

OK it’s got an odd name but don’t let that put you off.  (It’s an anagram of I’m a Perv by the way!)

Go.  Go now.  No, now.  Don’t think about it.  Just go. No, do.   Do it. Do it now.   Go do it.  Go on.  Go on, go on, go on.  Now.  That’s it.  Get down there.  Now. Yes, now.  Go on now.

Something wicked this way comes by The national Theatre of Scotland and Catherine Wheels Theatre Company


I took my 14 year old daughter Ria to see this production at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh tonight and was hugely impressed.

It’s a highly complex story that lends itself more easily to celluloid than the stage but director Gill Robertson and designer Karen Tennent have done a quite remarkable job of staging the (possibly) unstageable.

The show involves incredible feats of lighting and video art (by Jonathan Charles – who I think I know as an ex FCT kid), great and atmospheric music, creepily accompanied by a pianist/accordionist – played in a most unusual manner – and Cellist (Robin Mason and David Paul Jones) and the highly unusual Aerial design as the dust witch flies across the stage .

The tale is interestingly morally and the performances are convincing across the boards; from a hard working and only eight strong cast. Although I have to say in a perfect world I’d much rather Will and Jim had actually been 14. Andrew Clark, as Mr Dark, steals the show as this typically grotesque type of role can, and often does.

Ray Bradbury’s story is quite affecting and deals with issues such as vanity, good versus evil and how we all deal with the ageing process.

The mostly young audience gasped, screamed, heckled and laughed.

Is that not what makes great theatre.

My daughter loved it. Result.

Macbeth by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company (in conjunction with Nottingham Playhouse)


If you’ve been thinking of going to see this but haven’t quite got round to it you better get your finger out because it ends on Saturday.

And extracting the digit would be a very good idea.

I approached this with no real qualifications and indeed comment on it as a Shakespearean no mark.  I have not studied even a page of Shakespeare in my life.  I don’t understand the politics (and boy there’s plenty here) the language, the context or the history.  Apart from that I am scholarly.

So Joyce Macmillan’s two star review in The Scotsman alarmed me.  What was I letting myself in for?

I’ll tell you what.  A bloody good night’s entertainment (with the emphasis on bloody).

The staging was magnificent, the lighting, sound design and music; all terrific.

The acting was top notch.  Liam Brennan as Macbeth looks like he’s put his heart, soul and every ounce of his being into this role.  He looks and sounds exhausted, but that’s because his passion for the part and command of the stage and the role are quite remarkable.  Allison McKenzie, as his complicent wife (complicent in the lust for power that is) belies the fact that she has made her name in River City – a soap that I have thankfully managed to avoid totally, and Jimmy Chisholm in a number of roles is great; particularly in the one comedy scene as the drunken Porter in which he brought the house down.

It’s an intense and very involving theatrical experience and hugely rewarding.

In recalling MacMillan’s review the thing that stood out was her dismissal of the period setting (is modern necessarily good I ask myself?) and her strong criticism of the role of the witches which she, from memory, saw as overly indulgent, overpowering and ham fisted.  Me? I thought they were an imaginative and thrilling part of the whole.

Please see it if you have the chance.

It brought back memories of my one and only Shakespearean involvement, in the chorus of Verdi’s Macbeth by Edinburgh Grand Opera in the late 80’s.  Another superb production featuring one of opera’s least talented practitioners.  Moi.  But boy did I enjoy it.

So that’s two Macbeth’s and two stonkers.  I am lucky indeed.