Dunsinane by the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland in association with The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.


The Godfather Two showed that sequels can better their original by walking the same path but more deftly, building on its foundations with style, wit and great, great writing.

Dunsinane, is technically a sequel but could hardly be described as usurping its predecessor (Macbeth) as David Grieg neatly finds a way of avoiding the direct comparison by writing it in something approaching the modern vernacular.

And so, Macbeth is merely a plot device to set up a thoroughly modern parable on the pursuit of power and the appetite that man (and woman because Lady Macbeth, Gruach, is the hub of all the conflict in this extraordinary play) has for eternal conflict.

“Peace is not the normal state, peace is like the days when the sea is flat calm, the prevailing condition is war.” says King Malcolm (I think, and I paraphrase) to the English commander, and star of the show, Siward played monumentally by Jonny Phillips.  And that’s what lies at the heart of this electrifying production; the fact that war is pretty much the need state of those in power, because war makes things happen. And I don’t mean war results in reshaping of civilisation, no, war turns the wheels of industry and is the dynamo for political momentum.  The second world war was what got the world’s major economies booming after all.  The Gulf War revitalised America’s sluggish economy.

Thatcher knew that when she blasted Argie to kingdom come.

Blair thought he did when he catapulted the UK into the single most futile decade of power-mongering.

However, where Thatcher sensed the mood of the nation and used the Falklands to reignite her popularity Blair just stuck his big bloody size tens in and created an absolute shambles around him.  It’s Blair’s approach that drives the narrative of this play because the Post Macbethian 12th Century Scotland is a photofit of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whilst the English may have assumed that Lady Macbeth (Gruach) left this mortal coil alongside her beloved husband, we soon find out that as the saying goes “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me.”  Oh no, Gruach is very much alive and well and, as Queen, she believes her offspring are heir to the throne and by God she’s gonna do her damnedest to give them the chance to take their rightful place – even if that means sleeping with the enemy.

And so, Gruach (a mesmerising, flame haired Siobhan Redmond) emerges as the key political figure in this drama; she calls all the shots and she delivers them in an often tense and powerful dialogue between herself and Siward.  Always on the front foot, driving the poor man crazy with both lust and frustration.

Meanwhile, the King of Scotland, Malcolm quietly (weakly?) surveys the scene with an air of weariness and a large degree of slightly camp cynicism, increasingly frustrated by Siward’s inability to strategically manage the conflict.  His performance (by Brian Ferguson) is initially hysterically funny but gradually turns colder and more focused as the drama unfolds.

Both the directing (by Roxana Silbert) and the writing by David Grieg are breathtaking.  Grieg doesn’t write a script so much as a wholesale political essay on the state of the nation that leaves you almost gasping at its vision and insight. Remember this play was written 18 months before Salmond swept to power in such a way that the state of the Union has never been more open to question in modern times.  Surely conflict is a potential outcome.

And it’s the sheer range of this play that impressed me most.  Starting out, frankly, like a Monty Python comedy (it really did stir up memories of Life of Brian) it moves gradually through a series of episodes to darker territory.  Barely a minute passed in Act One without a chuckle, and often a belly laugh.  Act Two starts as it left off, but only for moments before the real meat of the problem is tackled to almost preternatural effect.

Honestly this play reaches right inside of you.  It moves along like a runaway Express, charged as it goes by a brilliant folk rock trio that inject pace and punctuation that is echoed by a duet of Gaelic singing lassies.  And whilst the ending stutters just a little it’s a lean back moment as the curtain closes and one is transported back into the real world.

Or was what we were watching the real world?

This is Champions League stuff.

I’ve seen several immense performances on the Lyceum stage this year; Stanley Townsend, Peter Forbes and Frances Thorburn in particular, and there have been a number of incredible ensemble casts ; Age of Arousal and Earnest spring to mind.

But this has both.

And this has three, maybe four or five stellar performances; Siobhan Redmond of course, and Jonny Phillips, but so too Tom Gill as the boy soldier, Brian Ferguson as Malcolm and Alex Mann as the hilarious Egham.

Mark my words. They will be talking about this show in hushed tones many years from now.

Marilyn at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


Fame will go by and, so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experience, but that’s not where I live.
Marilyn Monroe

I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.
Marilyn Monroe

I have feelings too. I am still human. All I want is to be loved, for myself and for my talent.
Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe. Not just a dumb blonde.

Marilyn Monroe, is perhaps the most famous woman in the world, ever!

OK,  she may have been beaten to it by Mary, the mother of Christ, just as her son pipped John Lennon to the male crown.

Fame haunted Monroe all through her life and her complex personality, as demonstrated by the quotes above, confused not just the public and her biographers, but the lady herself.  Just how dumb was she?  It was hard totell at times.  And the drugs didn’t help.

Her background as an abandoned orphan was a great driver but also a disturbing nightmare that she used rink and drugs to escape.

This lack of grounding no doubt contributed to her demons and dreadful lack of self worth.

So, put her in a hotel wing with Europe’s dazzling blonde intellectual arthouse love, Simone Signoret; the brainy blonde,  on a trip to the US in March 1960 where she was about to win best actress Oscar for her role in Room at The Top, (the successful blonde) and what could possibly happen?

That’s the premise of this very interesting triple header directed by Philip Howard as a co production with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

But Signoret wasn’t there just to pick up her Oscar.  She was accompanying her husband (the lucky blonde), Yves Montand (unseen) who was performing as male leade alongside Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love. (Not a career high, despite Cukor’s direction).

Meanwhile Monroe’s third Husband, Arthur Millar, types furiously away off stage as their marraige disintegrates (they divorced 10 months later).

Of course, Monroe gets the hots for Montand, which hardly helps matters as Signoret is deeply in love with Montand and remained married to him until her death in 1985.

Circling the cage is Monroe’s one real friend (it would seem, certainly in this context) her hairdresser and colourist Patti (played by Paulie Knowles).  She acts as a compere of sorts in a similar way that Alfieri did in Millar’s View from the Bridge earlier this season.

The show is a mix of mirth (“The Communists ; they’re the poor people aren’t they” quips Monroe) and misery as Monroe’s grip on reality gradually unravels, thanks mainly to her terrible insomnia fuelled by endless bubbly and a cocktail of prescription drugs.

It’s sad to see, but subtly realised.

And realisation is the real strength of this show which is built around a startling performance by Frances Thorburn in the title role and ably abetted by French actress Dominique Hollier.

A knowledge of the period is useful for one’s enjoyment as the McCarthy Witch Trials provide subtle, but important, background noise to the events on stage.

The wardrobe of authentic period couture that Marilyn parades through several costume changes is a particular delight too.

Four stars. Boo boo bee doo.

Another “odd” show at The Lyceum.


Sorry guys, it's not a bodice ripper.

Just as Stanley Townsend playing Eddie Carbone frequently accused Rodolpho to be “not right, just not right” in the previous Lyceum production of A View From The Bridge, so a central plank of Muriel Romanes’ joint production with The Lyceum and Stellar Quines is the notion of homosexuality that cannot be said by it’s name; here Lesbian ladies are merely “odd”.  But it amounts to the same.

In “A View” Rodolpho’s homosexuality was imagined by Eddie as a construct with which to castigate his foe; here it is a celebration of the two lead characters, Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot who despite being a generation apart in age are Victorian entrepreneurs with a taste for each other as more than just business partners.

This could have made for a truly shocking dramatic premise but it’s shrugged off as “odd”, perhaps, but really nothing to get one’s knickers in a twist about.

Although I said previously ‘Our two leads’ this is in actual fact as ensemble a show as one could imagine, they are backed by a chorus of gaggling Macbethian sisters played outstandingly by Alexandra Mathie (truly amazing) and Molly Innes as the older, hopeless spinsters and Hannah Donaldson as the “pretty” sibling with a chance.

“Overbred” by 500,000, out of a population of two million, Victorian Britain needed women to look good if they were to have any chance in a male buyers’ market and the only two women in our cast of six that would have any chance are “pretty” Monica Madden and committed Dyke, Roda Dunn.  The fact that they both fall for the same man makes for intriguing developments as the play unfolds, and surrounded by six women of exquisite talent Jamie Lee as Everard Barfoot has his work cut out to fly the flag for us blokes.  That he succeeds with panache, wit and charm is testimony to his excellent performance.

This is a play that is richly and deeply textured; interestingly realised with beautifully subtle sound, video and lighting design and costumes (designed in a third year project by Edinburgh School of Art Students) that for me were the best I’ve seen on the Lyceum stage in a long time.  Interestingly, my wife hated them.  I’m so much more in touch with my feminine side it would seem.

This is an absorbing two hours of entertainment with a feisty and often hilarious script that batters along holding you firmly in its thrall throughout.

It’s a gem.

And it’s a real thought piece too; at its centre is the debate over the role that “work” played in liberating women from the shackles of domesticity.  The arrival of the Remington typewriter to UK shores, and made centrepiece of this show, both physically and stylistically is a clear metaphor for women’s emancipation.  But is it all good?  Has it served its function.  After all, by the 1960’s the typewriter was the focus for feminist ire as it had created exactly the opposite effect that this late 19th century passport to freedom so obviously delivered.

Motherhood and child rearing is examined too, suggesting that perhaps domesticity is not so bad.  But in the play it’s wrapped up in sexuality and the power women (still) hold over hapless men who can’t see further than the end of that organ that so drives so many of us.

It’s complex indeed (just look at the number and variety of tags I’ve used in this post).  And I’m not sure you’ll get all the answers or unravel all the themes in one sitting  Certainly it’s more than worthy of second helpings.  So, go, indulge yourself and maybe you’ll be back for more.

Odd that!

A view from the Bridge. Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh


His finest hour?  In my experience, yes.

Life is about decorum, ritual, appropriate behaviour, pleasing one’s community and peers.  Not acting instinctively, ferally, as one sees it.  Because the community one lives within; the workplace, the neighbourhood, the church sets the standards and morals.  No matter how much it might be inappropriate or even wrong it’s the rule of the crowd that defines the behaviour of the one.

When Eddie Carbone decides he’s against this collective spirit; driven by jealousy, lust and rage, the rule of the crowd in Italian Brooklyn is jettisoned and Eddie Carbone becomes a lone ranger with disastrously selfish consequences.

It’s a big theme and a big play.  Probably Miller’s greatest, certainly the most thought-provoking I’ve had the privilege to experience.  And experience is the right word to describe John Dove’s “View”.

I kid you not, this was the most compelling and jaw dropping night I have spent in a theatre in my existence.  So powerful are the performances, most notably Stanley Townsend’s which held you in his thrall every moment he uttered a word, that theatre becomes a vehicle of transportation into another world.  Other stand out performances are Richard Conlon’s Marco (restrained but ultimately very scary) and the inimitable Kath Howden.  The whole is held beautifully together ( a la Greek Chorus) by Liam Brennan.

This is no ordinary play.  The subjects it brings out; jealousy, homosexuality, incest, faith, community, life long love, hope are at the very core of one’s being and it does so in a way that is hugely provocative and actually, with a performance of this standard, really quite humbling.

This is not just a five star show; it’s five star+.

The Beauty queen of Leenane at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


And so the rains came down.  In more ways than one.

Martin McDonagh’s black and brutal ‘rom-com’ opens on a rain-sodden Connemara on Ireland’s West Coast.

Another exquisitely designed Lyceum set (by designer Janet Bird) sits gloomily atop a hill in the midst of a broody squall.  We spy an elderly lady rocking back and forth in the chair that is her ‘den’, her place to scheme against the daughter that she wants to own and control till her dying day.

To say the Folans are a dysfunctional family would be something of an understatement.  Over the next two hours we see how each is out to upstage the other in acts of outrage, cruelty, both mental and physical, and sheer bloodymindedness.  Mother Mag (played exquisitely by native Irishwoman Nora Connolly) and daughter Maureen (another wonderful Irish invader, Cara Kelly) set about each other with a passion that defies description.  Which is most evil?  Which is most desperate?  It’s hard to tell at times as the story of their undoing unravels itself; inch by feckin’ inch.

McDonagh clearly had a way to go in the swearing stakes before he brought In Bruges to the world but he got himself into the zone here in this, his first award winning play.

It crackles with intensity and passion (not all of the romantic kind) as Mag attempts to woo her way out of her mother’s clutches with the almost virginal Pato Dooley, a manual worker from the village who has had to emigrate to Ingerland to find work.  His blossoming relationship with Maureen, who is most certainly a virgin, despite her 40 years, is the centerpiece of the play and Pato wins us over with his naive charm.  His younger, home based, workshy brother Ray provides many moments of comic genius, particularly when he spars with the equally workshy matriarch Maureen.

What differentiates McDonagh from many of his peers is the naturalism of his dialogue and the pace at which it zips along.  With a cast this good there is no chance of his subtle wordplays and verbal tricks missing the mark (even if, from the middle of the circle, the volume was on the low side).

This is a wonderful performance; quietly assured, darkly humorous, affecting and ultimately very moving.  It is a must see.

Mary Rose by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company


OK, I have to start by declaring an interest here. I have recently been appointed as a Director of The Lyceum, which is a huge honour for me and something that I suspect would have found favour with the old man. With this comes the privelege of attending all of the press nights which means a couple of tickets, a glass or three of wine and the best seats in the house. Row A of the Grand Circle to be precise.

It does also, of course, run the risk of watching shows that I don’t actually enjoy.

However, that was certainly not the case tonight; or at either Macbeth or Something Wicked This way Comes, as all three have been outstanding in different ways.

Mary Rose is a ghost story, set over a twenty five year period between the wars and written by Peter Pan creator, JM Barrie. It’s rumoured to be Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite play and one can certainly see why in that it plays with suspense in much the way Hitch did. Hitch claimed that his secret was in winding an audience up through suspense for 15 minutes at a time reasoning that this was more effective than short sharp shocks and this production unquestionably achieves that. For a ghost story there are precious few shocks in it but it’s psychologically chilling (in the same way as The Others – one of my favourite ever horror movies.)

It’s very rarely performed, but did hit London in 1972 with Mia Farrow in the lead and eponymous role. Kim Gerard had the job to do tonight, heading up a very strong cast with stand out performances by Michael Mackenzie, Perri Snowdon and John Ramage.

It’s very much a period piece with the language very evocative of a bygone, highly mannered, era, but it cracks along with no shortage of humour which certainly had the audience tittering.

At its heart it’s a really spooky tale, not unlike Peter Pan in that it deals with the process of ageing in a quite unique way. (Funnily enough, so did Something Wicked…). It deals principally with loss, love and change.

The production is superbly eerie with great use of sound design, set flying and lighting and Tony Cownie’s brilliant direction succeeds in creating a mood of unearthliness. As several of the audience commented to me at the interval, the good thing about this play is that nobody knows it and you simply do not know what’s going to happen next, or how the tale will unravel, so I’ll not say too much for fear of spoiling it for you.

Overall, this is what theatre is all about; involving, engrossing, funny and, unusually, spooky. I’d strongly recommend it.

My biggest surprise of the night was Una McLean’s delightful cameo role as the Caretaker. Una won’t remember me but I worked with her at The MacRobert Centre in 1983 (or so) on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. She was great fun and one of my fondest memories of the theatre was the night we mooned each other in the wings.

Lordy, lordy. Good old Una.