Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Four stars

Touring until November 23

Atlantis Banal: Beneath the Surface

Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline

Four stars

Touring until November 23

The Panopticon

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Four stars

Run ended


Anthony Besch’s remarkable rendering, for Scottish Opera, of Puccini’s famous opera Tosca was first staged in 1980. This production, under the guidance of director Jonathan Cocker, is no less than its ninth revival (the last being in 2012).

It isn’t difficult to see why Besch’s work has become such a staple of our national opera company’s repertoire. Set in Rome, the production relocates the action from the Napoleonic era to the dark days of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship.

It is a masterstroke. The story of the great diva Tosca and her lover, the persecuted republican painter Cavaradossi, fits fascist Italy like a proverbial glove.

No character attests to this fact better than the vicious and degenerate chief of police Baron Scarpia, who is played brilliantly here by English baritone Roland Wood as a cross between Iago, Darth Vader and Harvey Weinstein. Few opera villains are more despicable than Scarpia, particularly in his efforts to use the capture of Cavaradossi to force Tosca to have sex with him.

Peter Rice’s set designs – by turns, the splendid interior of the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, Scarpia’s apartments and the roof of the Castel Sant’Angelo – provide an extraordinary visual feast. The conclusion of Act 1, in which we see the combined pageantry of the Italian fascist state and the Roman Catholic Church (complete with the Pope and Il Duce himself) manages to be simultaneously striking, frightening and humorously satirical.

Act 2, in which Scarpia attempts to break Tosca’s resistance to his lascivious blackmail by way of the torture of Cavaradossi, is among the most powerful in opera. Welsh-Ukrainian soprano Natalya Romaniw plays the pious and passionate Tosca with tremendous anguish and outrage. Her singing of the great aria "I lived for art, I lived for love", in which her terrible situation leads her to doubt her faith, is memorable for both its soaring beauty and its depth of emotion.

Cavaradossi is given great, tragic voice by superb Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, not least in the despairing aria of the condemned man in Act 3. It is a performance that is entirely worthy of its ultimate, Goya-esque imagery.

This 10th production is a significant landmark for Besch’s Tosca. On this showing, it has plenty of life (and, indeed, death) in it yet.

From large-scale, operatic splendour to a somewhat smaller, but, in its own terms, equally impressive work of family theatre in Atlantis Banal: Beneath the Surface. There has always been a delightfully liberated eccentricity to the work of children’s theatremaker Shona Reppe. However, this piece, in which we are invited into the imaginative world of contemporary artist extraordinaire Atlantis Banal, is, perhaps, her most gloriously bonkers creation thus far.

The artist, who we meet in the “pop-up gallery” at the launch of her latest exhibition, entitled “Beneath the Surface”, was born in a coat hanger-shaped island somewhere between Shetland and Scandinavia. She was struck by lightning at the age of four, which might explain why she is such an, er, “unusual” person.

Reppe is ably assisted by co-performer Tamlin Wiltshire and directed by Charlot Lemoine (of French company Velo Theatre, who have co-produced the show with Reppe). Cutting between a Mondrian-attired, airline steward-style gallery guide, a pretentious art curator and the estimable Ms Banal herself, Reppe constructs an hilarious pastiche of contemporary art at its most pseudo-intellectual and achingly “relevant”.

There are shades of Monty Python and Vic Reeves in Reppe’s wonderfully surreal combination of video, music, performance and installation. Recommended for audiences aged eight and over, it is a deliciously silly, highly original work of family theatre.

Jenni Fagan’s stage adaptation (for the National Theatre of Scotland) of her own acclaimed novel The Panopticon, on the other hand, is certainly not for young children. Director Debbie Hannan’s taut, carefully-balanced production tells the story of Anais, a 15-year-old, lifelong ward of state who ends up in the titular young offenders’ institution.

The production captures well the play’s atmospheric tension between the imaginable experience of adolescents in the penal system and the more abstract, dystopian dimension in Fagan’s fiction. “The Experiment”, the all-seeing, coercive force of which Anais speaks, is implied powerfully in designer Max Johns’s visually impressive, semi-circular set (not least when Lewis de Hertog’s excellent video work is projected onto it).

Anna Russell-Martin (who, impressively, plays the physically demanding role of Anais with her arm in a cast) shines in a strong cast of nine. She performs the central character with glass-sharp intelligence, tortoiseshell hardness and profound, underlying vulnerability.

If the production has a weakness, it is that the triangular columns of Johns’s set prove a tad cumbersome when they have to be manipulated. This technical problem notwithstanding, however, this is a fine and affecting production that deserves to be revived after this too-short premiere run.

For tour dates for Tosca, visit:

For tour dates for Atlantis Banal, visit: