EIF – The Toad Knew – King’s Theatre

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée and Compagnie du Hanneton opened last night at the King’s Theatre Edinburgh.

I am grateful to Mark Fisher and Dorothy Max Prior whose programme notes fill in and explain so much of the experience that is The Toad Knew. They tell one, for example, of Thiérrée’s circus and theatre forebears. Charlie Chaplin, Victoria Chaplin and Eugene O’Neil for starters are bound to have produced an intellect of depth and a body capable of the strength and grace needed for circus performance.

Supported by Valérie Doucet, Samual Duterte, Maraima, Yann Nédélec and Thi Mai Nguyen onstage, together with puppeteers, and backed up by a formidable array of stage props and costumes, the production is a delightful hour and a half.

Part dream sequences, part clowning, part musical, part acrobatic, part illusion – where did all those plates come from? The ever-moving set was a constant surprise and delight.. Not only was it interesting in that it appeared to be an electrical shop full of upside down saucer-shaped fittings, but the acrobats made full use of it for up-in-the-air performance.

Run continues till Sunday 28th August, ’16. Do go: Tickets are here

EIF The Glass Menagerie Tennessee Williams

Buy your ticket for The Glass Menagerie here

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams is a modern masterpiece.

I first encountered The Glass Menagerie when I signed up to study American Literature as part of my English Literature degree at Edinburgh University. I first met director, John Tiffany when I signed up to the Traverse Women’s writing group in the nineties. There’s a sort of quiet satisfaction when areas of one’s life come together in such an unexpected, but altogether satisfactory way.

Five star reviews of this production of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, which began life on 2nd February 2013 at the Loeb Drama Center for The American Repertory Theater, abound. I don’t award stars but I don’t argue with those assessments.

Memory is a strange thing. Take six of us witnessing an event and ask us what happened a year later. The accounts will vary. We may not even be able to agree on the result! Add family relations with their perceived inequalities to the mix, and the result will be even further from exact.

Tennessee Williams also stirs physical disability, mental instability and the pernicious effect of the Great Depression into his pot. The results are reaching boiling point when the play opens and bubble up to engulf the stove by the end.

Cherry Jones reprises her role of Amanda Wingfield and what mother in the audience hasn’t felt the frustrations she’s experiencing? Amanda is a monster of motherhood, but the reasons are compelling. Tom Wingfield her much put-upon son and financial support comes in for almost all of the flak. He is not, however, his absent father. He is a young man with his hopes and ideals shackled by duty. Laura, the daughter with a mild visible disability, which gentleman-caller, Jim, had to be reminded of, and a much greater personality disorder, is the catalyst for all that ensues. Her mother does not, or will not, take on board the issues. She does delude herself though, that Jim, the much wanted gentleman-caller, will resolve all them all for the future of her vulnerable adult daughter.

The audience sighed with satisfaction as the house went dark. It’s by no means a happy ending, but the cast and the direction brought The Glass Menagerie to life with such care, all the over-heards while leaving were of an evening that could not have been better spent.

Buy your tickets here. There are another 11 performances till run ends 21st August.



Abigail’s Party

Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh has been on my want to see list for a long time. Just at this moment, I’m disappointed.

I saw Abigail’s Party years ago during an August afternoon in a Fringe venue performed by a group of non-drama students. I thought the chap cast as Tony in that production was so bad because he’d been drafted in to fill a space. Now I realise it wasn’t him – it’s the part.

Women shouting their glee over discovering they’re entertaining a professional footballer is long gone, but not completely. Maybe Leigh has a point when Beverley, the ghastly heroine, played by Hannah Waterman, gets over-excited by mono-syllabic Tony and his legs.

I had no recollection of the ending of Abigail’s Party. Certainly the A-B-C of don’t pull a rabbit out of the hat to cheat the audience is all there, but you do have to piece it together later.

The cast work hard, but I can’t help thinking it would have enjoyed a better vibe if we’d been allowed a bit more seventies music.

All of that said, the play pointed up in the late seventies how very difficult it is to imbue taste despite opportunity. When I was working in London in the seventies, the flat had a host of pictures sold by the thousand. They were moody studies of heads: children with a single tear falling down their cheek, a beautiful girl/woman with a flower in her hair – beyond sentimental. A friend took them to sell at the church where he was training to be a Curate. The lady running the church fair said, ‘Oh no! These are too good to sell. We’ll use them as raffle prizes.’ There simply is no accounting for taste.

Disappointed, Edinburgh.

The King’s has lovely new seating – I may have mentioned this before. You can dedicate a seat. £300 for one, £500 for two. Visit: www.edtheatres.com/dedications or phone 0131-662 8087

A Midsummer Night’s Dream BENJAMIN BRITTEN

Okay, so Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but if you’re around the theatre world at all, or even this blog, you’ll know everyone else has had a go. BENJAMIN BRITTEN’s opera performed by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the National Youth Choir of Scotland and Scottish Opera is another take on the world’s most versatile play.

The students of RCS and performers from Scottish Opera’s emerging artists’ scheme gave a wonderful performance, ably supported by children from the National Youth choir, directed by Andrew Nunn who is currently studying conducting at RCS. The music doesn’t have many tunes, but in a way that allows the drama and the language to shine through. The performance was conducted by Timothy Dean who was in charge of memebers of the Scottish Opera orchestra with students from RCS.

The production is a revival of Olivia Fuchs 2005 Royal Opera House one and she again directed supported by the original designer, Niki Turner.

A major highlight for me was the breath-taking circus skills exhibited by Jami Reid-Quarrell playing Puck. Strength, elegance and consumate acting characterised his offering and I hope we’ll being seeing him again.

The King’s Theatre Stalls were looking good. Do we have new seats? It was a pleasure not to sink through the cushions onto the floor beneath. Sadly, looking up is another matter. The lovely ceiling is decayed and in need of a lot of TLC.

Run ended.

Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)

A Chekov International Theatre Festival/Dmitry Krymov’s Laboratory/School of Dramatic Art Theatre Production. Part of World Shakespeare Festival 2012

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of my all time favourite plays, but having said that, I know it’s because of the sheer inventiveness it encourages. Directors, choreographers, musicians and actors have a wonderful time performing a play that’s loosely based on what the author, William Shakespeare, wrote.

At the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Dmitry Krymov’s production, missing out almost all of the Midsummer Night’s Dream script, was looser than most. As my companion pointed out the director, Dmitry Krymov, was first a set designer – and didn’t it show?

The production concentrates on the mechanicals play, Pyramus and Thisbe. It starts with the cast of mechanicals in the audience trying to bring on their set of branches. Front row seats, end of row seats can see you joining the cast without either audition or equity card. Then they get themselves onto the stage and we catch our first view of Venya the Jack Russell. Venya proved very popular with the audience and the man behind me gave his wife a running commentary of what the dog was thinking – clever that!

Next the audience within the play arrives and seats themselves around the front of the stage and in the boxes. Much slapstick humour follows as they break flimsy barriers and inadvertantly throw rubbish over each other. Their running commentary is full of humour and spot on one liners. (I wonder if the man behind me was the writer?)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream lends itself to pantomime and circus skills and the cast were great. Acrobatics abounded and the way they manoeuvred the giant puppets of Pyramus and Thisbe jaw-droppingly accurate. Traditional acting wasn’t neglected, however, and the new play had a believable inner tension. There were three lovely voices, some instrumental work and the final effect of the dance.

I didn’t expect the dance of the swans, but it was just right.

I counted around 40 performers on stage for the final bow, every one a winner. Oh, and my companion appreciated the question and answer piece in the  programme. Nothing like a bit of de-mystification to help one appreciate what’s going on.