Tron Theatre, Glasgow
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IF there is one important thing highlighted in Andy Arnold's new production of Shakespeare's tale of shipwreck, magic and exile, it is who the real monsters are in Prospero's self-appointed kingdom. In a production presented in association with Royal Conservatoire Scotland for the Tron's Mayfesto season that focuses on colonisation and the spoken word, Caliban's enslavement is put to the fore, however kindly her master may look on her, while Aerial is treated more like a pet.
In a punky-looking production in which both Prospero and Miranda sport elaborately bouffanted blonde barnets, Prospero is an over-protective father and slave-master, while Gonzalo is an old-school toff mourning the death of a dog-eat- dog empire which even abroad rears its predatory nature. Trinculo and Stephano are akin to a pair of Ealing Comedy spivs who would sell off London Bridge to American tourists, and are quite prepared to exploit Caliban for their own ends, even as they ply her with illicit hooch.
Set on the wooden platforms of Hazel Blue's set against a vivid blue backdrop, this is a fascinating approach, and one which Arnold's ten-strong post-graduate ensemble relish. While there may be no denying the presence of colonial concerns in the text, as with many conceptual approaches to Shakespeare, it is invariably over-ridden by the story itself Arnold's solution is to top and tail the show with the opening and closing speeches of Caribbean writer Aime Cesaire's own, politically driven version of The Tempest.
While the prologue provides a framing device which heightens the play's theatricality, Caliban's closing speech about the meaning of freedom puts Prospero's own final gestures in the shade in a vibrant and thought-provoking provocation.
Our Country's Good
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
There are few directors in Scotland who have more fun with large-scale acting ensembles than Gerry Mulgrew, whose mixing up of theatrical forms has defined his Communicado company for more than thirty yeas now.
Seeing Mulgrew apply this approach to such a multi-faceted text as Timberlake Wertenbaker's 1990 look at how transported convicts in an 18th Century Australian penal colony find emancipation through theatre is a treat, then, in the Tron's second collaboration with Royal Conservatoire Scotland for the theatre's Mayfesto season.
In a world where a hanging is the only entertainment going, liberal 2nd Lieutenant Clark convinces his superiors to allow him to produce a play with the convicts put in his care.
After facing initial resistance on all sides, Clark decides on George Farquhar's restoration comedy, The Recruiting Officer, as his directorial debut for a company of thieves, prostitutes and hangmen, all of whom eventually find a purpose through play-acting that takes them beyond their misdemeanours.
This, of course, terrifies the authorities, and only a liberal approach from on high allows it to continue. An aboriginal woman, meanwhile, watches from the sidelines as hers and her homeland's dreaming looks set to be sullied forever.
Wertenbaker's remarkable treatise on the power of art to change lives is dexterously played by RCS's post-graduate acting students on Hazel Blue's twin-platformed set. Seen in an era where the current government would rather prisoners weren't allowed books, the play becomes an even more vital text.
Beyond the words, Mulgrew provides a set of lovely theatrical flourishes, not least of which comes in a final junk-yard musical cacophony that shows the true power of unity, onstage and off.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Talking about the weather may be the great British talking point, but storm and sunshine become matters of life and death in David Haig's new Second World War set play. Based on real events leading up to the 1944 D-Day landings, the play focuses on Dalkeith-born military meteorologist James Stagg and his sleepless quest to convince General Eisenhower to postpone the assault until a favourable climate prevails.
Stagg's main obstacle to being taken seriously is his flamboyant American counterpart, Irving Krick, whose glamour-chasing allure is in stark contrast to Stagg's oddball demeanour.
Throw in the fact that Stagg's wife has just gone into labour, and the stage is set for an increasingly urgent culture clash, where victory is celebrated with doughnuts and whisky.
Set in a solitary room awash with charts, ringing telephones and a coterie of generals, Haig has constructed a grippingly pacey adventure yarn on the one hand, with Haig himself as Stagg leading a rock-solid set of performances into battle.
More importantly in John Dove's co-production between the Royal Lyceum and Chichester Festival Theatre, Haig attempts to get to the human frailty of those in the thick of it.
At the heart of this is Kay Summersby, Eisenhower's wartime lover and confidante, who keeps Stagg calm by visiting his wife in hospital, and effectively keeps the mission together.
Beautifully played by Laura Rogers, it is Kay's fate that is the most telling in a tale of men at war and their responses to the women they're closest to. While Stagg gets to be by his wife and new son's side, Kay becomes the collateral damage of a historical moment she helped shape.