By Mark Brown


Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Four stars

Touring until November 24

Matthew Richardson’s staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s great opera Rigoletto, which he created for Scottish Opera in 2011, and which he revives now, is memorable and distinctive. A tale of skulduggery, injustice and the impunity of the “higher orders” (did someone mention The House of Saud?), the opera sings both of Verdi’s personal tragedy (the composer’s wife and young children died while he was still in his twenties) and his egalitarian antipathy towards the aristocracy.

The opera is based upon the play Le roi s'amuse by Verdi’s fellow radical liberal Victor Hugo. It tells the story of Gilda, daughter of the titular court jester Rigoletto, who has the misfortune to become the latest conquest of the dissolute Duke of Mantua.

Rigoletto (played last Sunday by Stephen Gadd, standing in splendidly for Aris Argiris) is a widower who guards the chastity of his daughter. In this, as in the justice of his cause and the severity of the vengeance he seeks, he resembles Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Richardson’s telling of this tale is a boldly modern clarion cry against lecherous misogyny. Designer Jon Morrell’s imagery (in which women and store front mannequins become almost interchangeable) is strikingly unambiguous. His stark, minimalist sets and 20th-century dress enjoy tremendously evocative light and shadow.

Tenor Adam Smith makes his Scottish Opera debut as the loathsome Duke, playing the aristocrat with the appropriately cocky swagger of a man whose life is, finally, spared, due to his good looks. He is also blessed with the wonderful aria La donna e mobile, which he sings with suitably confident excellence.

Norwegian soprano Lina Johnson, who is also making her debut with Scottish Opera, gives, if anything, an even finer performance in the role of Gilda. In both voice and gesture, the young Scandinavian offers us a powerfully moving combination of innocence, credulousness and, ultimately, pathos.

This revival, which boasts a fine chorus (representing a vile pack of male chauvinists), is as welcome as it is timely.

Tour details:

Gagarin Way

Dundee Rep

Four stars

Until November 3

Gagarin Way, Gregory Burke’s dark comedy about globalisation, which premiered at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 2001, is one of the best Scottish plays of the new millennium. Set in a storeroom in a factory in Fife, the drama finds Eddie (a self-confessed violent psychopath) and Tom (a hapless, young security guard) taking delivery of a kidnapped executive of the multinational company for which they work. The man doing the delivering is Gary (a former Communist who has turned to anarcho-syndicalist terrorism).

In the premiere production, the loquacious and erudite thug Eddie was played memorably by Michael Nardone (who is currently performing the eponymous lead in the National Theatre’s touring production of Macbeth). Here the role is taken on by the impressive Ewan Donald, who plays the part with the necessary casual menace (even if he passes too quickly over Burke’s excellent gag about Jean-Paul Sartre being comprehensively burgled by his friend Jean Genet).

Director Cora Bissett’s production (which is designed with appropriate banality by Emily James) succeeds in capturing both the political truth and the gloriously ludicrous comedy of the play. Gary (performed brilliantly by Michael Moreland, who played the role of Tom in the 2001 premiere) is the embodiment of the anger of workers who resent their bosses, but are frustrated by (in 2001 as today) the historically low level of industrial action.

Strutting about in a greatcoat (which, he supposes, makes him look like one of his Russian anarchist heroes), Moreland’s Gary is, as Burke surely intended, more like Citizen Smith with a death wish than Bakunin. Ross Baxter’s Tom is deliciously green and imprudent, while Barrie Hunter achieves a perfect balance between fear, dignity and confessional honesty as Frank, the boss who is emphatically not from Tokyo or Los Angeles.