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Theatre reviews

Woman in Mind

Woman in Mind

Dundee Rep

Neil Cooper

If Alan Ayckbourn had written his 1985 study of one woman's psychological unravelling today, chances are that his heroine, Susan, would be so numbed by Prozac that her descent into fantasy would have been blotted out by the end of the first act.

As it is, Marilyn Imrie's lush-looking revival for Dundee Rep's Ensemble company and Birmingham Rep reveals Ayckbourn as a far darker chronicler of the very English garden he occupies than he is often given credit for.

Opening with composer Pippa Murphy's anxious-voiced chorale, we're ushered into Susan's idyll, a world occupied by a white-suited husband, a beautiful and talented daughter and a brother who would defend her to the death. Such endlessly sun-drenched perfection is upended, alas, by the reined-in torpor of something both more mundane and a whole lot more complicated. When it becomes increasingly hard for Susan to tell which world she belongs in, she takes a mental leap too far.

Flanked by trees and with a giant cube hanging down on to the garden, Imrie's production heightens Ayckbourn's deadly exchanges to breaking point, provoking at least two gasps of recognition from the audience on Friday's opening night. At the show's centre is a vigorously no-holds-barred performance from Meg Fraser as Susan, with some strong support from an impressive cast.

In its melding of fantasy and reality, Ayckbourn's play is on a par with Dennis Potter's TV drama, The Singing Detective, which appeared in 1986, while it also pre-dates Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World Of Dissocia. In Susan, however, Ayckbourn has personified an entire generation of women, screaming inside, destined never to be heard.

Pests

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

NEIL COOPER

When a woman steps silently into the sculpted tip which two damaged sisters call home and pulls out a baby rat from the swollen tracksuited belly of one of them, it's clear just how feral the twentysomething siblings have become in Vivienne Franzmann's remarkable new play.

This is one of few silent moments in a 95-minute tug of love between Pink and Rolly that explodes with the pains of every-day survival in the messed-up bubble the women have created for themselves.

Rolly has arrived on Pink's doorstep straight out of prison. Barely literate but furiously articulate, with a street-smart patois lifted on the cheap from pop songs and trash TV, Pink and Rolly take on the world outside their door with a snarl.

Inside, they find comfort from each other, and while Rolly never sees the projected mayhem going on in Pink's head, a pair of magic red shoes might just make things better.

While there are obvious linguistic and thematic similarities between Franzmann's co-dependants and the equally high-octane teenage lovers of Enda Walsh's play, Disco Pigs, Franzmann's demotic crackles with a unique sense of fire and heartbreak

Lucy Morrison's production for Clean Break, the Royal Court and Royal Exchange, Manchester grabs Franzmann's already breathlessly brilliant script by the scruff of its neck and lets loose a pair of stunning performances from Sinead Matthews and Ellie Kendrick.

In a series of breakneck exchanges, they make it clear just how much Pink and Rollo have been swamped by the detritus of the real world and damaged by the institutions that failed them in this sad, angry and devastatingly beautiful piece of work.

Whisky Kisses

Pitlochry Festival Theatre

Neil Cooper

When American wheeler-dealer Ben Munro attempts to buy up the final dregs of the rarest whisky in the world, things don't quite go according to plan. So it goes in Euan Martin, Dave Smith and composer James Bryce's rollicking musical play, in which the Glenigma malt becomes a symbol both of the absurdities of global capitalism and of the life-force of a rural community struggling for economic survival.

Of course, John Durnin's big, showbiz-styled production is a whole lot more fun than that, but such underlying political motifs are what drives this revival of a show first seen in 2010 following its development from the Highland Quest competition to find a new Scottish musical.

With distillery heiress Mary forced to sell off the last bottle of Glenigma to the highest bidder, the auction also attracts a Japanese collector, setting up an east-west conflict that captures the attention of the Scottish Government. With an export ban imposed on proceedings, the theme-parking of the village's heritage seems to be the only way out. The metaphors aren't difficult to spot in this rousingly optimistic affair, which also features a gay love story sub-plot and a valuable lesson on the real roots of country music.

Durnin's fabulously well-drilled ensemble led by Dougal Lee as Ben and Mairi Morrison as Mary are in fine voice as the action zips between town and country on Ken Harrrison's fluid set.

With all the actors contributing to Jon Beales's big-band arrangements of Bryce's score, Morrison's Gaelic solo in particular is thrilling to hear in a gloriously idealistic toast to the power of community in an increasingly cut-throat world.

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