GREYHOUNDS


Time & Again Theatre Company 

Kings Arms

Greyhounds is a big play for such a tiny theatre space. Thankfully Laura Crow has written and staged Greyhounds so effectively that for most of the performance the tiny stage is forgotten in that the writing and the performances are what command attention. Set over a month long rehearsal for an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Henry V it gives a poignant and perceptive window into the impact of WW11 on individuals in the sleepy village of Shuttlefield.

Each of the five characters are fleshed out and have an real authenticity as people in 1941 living in wartime Britain and dealing with their individual responses to war. Big sister Ruby is stoic and gungho in her determination to do her “bit” for the war effort. Armed with a sneaky gin or two she sets about staging Henry V to raise money for a Spitfire for the war effort. She is undeterred by a cast of five plus recreating a play with a cast of fifty plus. Nancy is a would-be professional actress with a husband in the Navy. Bright and bubbly, Rachel Horobin portrays her as a wartime “good” goodtime gal who rejoices in her independence . Katherine is brilliantly analytical and terrifyingly literal. The character is beautifully conceived as the young  sister who is clearly on the autistic spectrum. She is played by Laura Crow with the chilly coolness of a early Katherine Hepburn.

The men in this piece are slightly more obvious. There are two very different heroes who are both struggling with what constitutes courage and honour in wartime. In Will there is a clever, sensitive man trying to stay true to his beliefs in a war where nothing is truly black and white. Ned is perceived by all as a wounded war hero but his emotional wounds are much deeper and are unlikely to ever fully heal.

The passages from Henry V in the rehearsals are thoughtfully used to develop and highlight the individual stories of each character on stage. They also provide a light touch as we observe the range of acting skills in this bunch of mainly reluctant thespians. At times Katherine is as woefully wooden in her roles as the swords used as props.

The attention to detail in the whole play is a delight. The dialogue has a real period tone that manages to always feel fresh and naturalistic. The wartime posters, period gin bottles, bakelite phones and radios are on stage while the audience clasp beautiful programmes designed like wartime i.d. cards. Hair, make up and costumes are also lovingly considered.

The play unfolds with little gems of story. A character lives a life of duty and obligation yet dreams of the work of Frida Pablo and Diego Rivera. Another fears the end of this war and a return to a bleak domestic normality. Others look for salvation in new opportunities, the lucky ones in this war are those for whom war gives openings to natural abilities previously seen as character flaws.

 I see you stand like greyhounds in the slip, straining upon the start. This line from Henry V is apt as a title in that all five characters are straining for new freedoms and opportunities. I suspect the writing is also straining to start her next work. I for one look forward to whatever that may be.

We Are Ian

In Bed With My Brother

HOME 

Ian is real, so real it turns out he is sat in the audience tonight. For the show he remains a voice pulsating as a bare lightbulb, while he reminisces  about the Manchester rave scene of the Eighties. Three young women crowd around the bulb listening to his Mancunion words of wisdom like he is a Messiah and they are his disciples of dance. Ian says, “Its 2017, we got fuck all. Let’s have a party. Party like it’s 1989.”

The show is a blend of thumping music, smoke machines and frenzied dancing to club classics like Hallelujah – The Happy Mondays.  There is projection screen with dance instructions, lyrics and footage of political speeches and events from the last 30 years. The performers do lots of lip syncing and are incredibly facially expressive yet barely speak. The gurning and munching and spitting of so many biscuits is bizarrely completely engaging. 

This is a mainly young audience who like IBWMB were not even born when Ian was raving, getting wankered and feeling the love on brown biscuits. Quick learners they follow Ian’s journey and it’s a fun trip to take with neon instructions for Hot Potato/Cold Spaghetti. Fun til the politics kick in and images of Thatcher and May appear in black, white and grey to the sound of Dominator by Human Resource. They are interspersed with footage of the old Hulme being demolished and Anti-Austerity marches etc. This is a timely history lesson about the unifying power of music and dance and its impact on civil unrest.

Dora, Nora and Kat (IBWMB) repulse and beguile in equal measure but by the end of the show I might just be a little in love with all three, biscuits crumbs included. Their capacity to physically engage with the audience is impressive as by the end of the performance they generate a love in the space that their mate Ian would approve off. They even manage to do it without illegal brown biscuits!!
We Are Ian is a masterclass in clubbing and a political call to wake up and make change happen. The end of the performance is pure exuberance and the scenes on stage may be my best ever memory of being in a performance.

Until October 14.

BOURGEOIS & MAURICE: HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD WITHOUT REALLY TRYING


HOME
Drag aliens have descended on Theatre 2 at HOME and an audience of humansexuals are there for the anarchic Weimaresque cabaret. These drag aliens are rocking some serious sequins, latex, beehives and lashes. They are also strangely reminiscent of Ana Matronic and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters being channelled via AbFab Patsy and Julian Clary.  

The performers are the first to receive the HOME  T1 Commission which will result in a creative development project leading to new piece of work in Theatre 1 in Spring 2019.

Georgeouis Bourgeouis (George Herworth) is an acerbic, bitchy, narcissistic cabaret singer who is an armchair activist. Maurice Maurice (Liz Morris) is a deadpan, piano playing nihilist who aspires to become simply gas. Bougeouis & Maurice are full on throughout the performance. They never break character even when talking to their multiple other selves on screen. 

The performance is a riotous blend of wickedly funny songs and sharp observations on our current political landscape. The drag aliens have studied and googled our society and having decided that all the other political isms have failed they suggest adopting their own brand of hedonism.

Subjects such as flawed British values, Brexit, patriarchy and chemsex are covered in unforgettable songs. I drove home humming the classic “everyone’s at a chemsex party except me”- available on Spotify.

This is slick delivery underpinned by layers of carefully conceived detail and precise observations. The rousing anthem was no saccharine song of hope but was an inspired and a perfect way to close a show about saving the world. If cabaret is really the last frontier then what a way to go. 

10/11 October

PALMYRA

HOME ORBIT2017

Written and Performed by Bernard Lasca and Nasi Voutsas

Bert and Nasi performed their 2016 show Eurohouse about an hour ago so it feels like I already know these two charming pals or clowns or maybe I’m just beginning to have a sense of what they could be capable off. 

The stage is set as simply as before with two chairs set far apart. What enfolds is on a larger scale than EUROHOUSE and adds a ladder, boards on wheels and china plates, in fact boxes and boxes of broken china plates. Oh and there is a hammer too.

Hauntingly beautiful music inspires a dance where Bert and Nasi literally glide to the music. There is scuffling, destruction and bargaining. This is bigger than the hopeful formation of the European Union and its subsequent splintering as seen in EUROHOUSE. Instead  Palmyra is a painful look at the making and breaking of an ancient civilisation. The piece looks at how complicit we all are in the preservation or devastation of a community, a society or a culture. 

Bert and Nasi flit in and out of civility, acts of  intimidation and literally trying to brush the ugliness and damage out of sight. What started out in EUROHOUSE as disturbingly dark clowning is rapidly becoming more violent and unpredictable in this piece. When one of them threatens the other with a hammer it is then offered to an audience member for safe keeping. Choices become central. Who do you choose to entrust it with? I was contemplated and duly rejected. The keeper of the hammer is faced with what to do next or who to give it back to. 

These two are lovely guys or they might just be Tom & Jerry in human form. Their work together is exciting and provocative creating much needed dialogue about the world we live in.

Palmyra will never be glued back together like a broken plate, nor can those lost lives be revived. Yet we can still react and respond. We can defy expectation and we can try to be better. Perhaps there is still hope for us all if we can still hand some stranger a hammer and anticipate empathy and goodwill rather than large scale carnage.

EUROHOUSE

HOME, ORBIT2017

Created and performed by Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas

Co-produced by FellSwoop Theatre

From the moment they step on stage it is clear that Bert is a just a little bigger, more confident and sophisticated in every way  than the delightfully sweet Nasi. The audience is swiftly engaged in greeting them and each other, before we all hold hands. The govial assumption being that this will be good for all of us. Tellingly I happily hold hands with the lovely Nasi but soon my arm starts to ache held up at an unfamiliar angle. He smiles. I smile. I show no sign of discomfort. It is a lovely concept that is ultimately unsustainable. 

This is EUROHOUSE. The clowning, running and dancing together is joyous and mainly harmonious until a darker edge starts to appear. Competitive elements in our personal and national psyches start to infilitrate the piece. Run fast, yes really fast but not too fast- never go faster than me and I will reward you.

Bert happily shares his sweets with Nasi encouraging and delighting in greedy pleasure. Later almost menacing he asks where the sweets are and clearly wishes them returned. It starts to feel claustrophobic in the space as Nasi has less and less options. There remains the bare vestiges of civility while food is literally taken from his mouth and the clothes from his back. The bonhomie of this functional friendship is cracking and Nasi starts to assert his individuality.

The show had opened with Bert confiding  that he will be controlling the sound and lighting for the evening  as if to give the nice staff at HOME a break. It is now apparent that the agenda here is control not support.  

This is cleverly illustrated by the music choices played ad finitum by Bert who insists on a cloying diet of Sardou’s classic Comme d’habitude (My Way) and Kraftwerks Europe Endless. As an audience we are invited to also choose a song, as is Nasi, though neither get played by the charming Bert. When Nasi defiantly ramps up the volume on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way I want to sing along- something I never do! It is a momentary small victory but it feels so good.

The spirit of EUROHOUSE is in sharing and playing and growing just like in the playground when we start to make the friends or enemies we must share a classroom with for the rest of our education. EUROHOUSE brings together performers from France and Greece who met in Scotland. They were part of two different companies FellSwoop and ANTLER. This performance is a bittersweet warning for us all in the aftermath of Brexit. We all need support and friendship but at what cost? 

Letters To Morrissey

HOME

Letters To Morrissey is a poignant and acute observation of teenage angst and the internal world of a social misfit. Love him or loath him Morrissey has always evoked strong reactions and this 15 yr old writes letters to him in the desperate hope that his idol will guide him through an especially difficult period of his life. 

McNair does not shy away exploring and exploring the awkwardness and discomfort of a 15 yr old boy known in school as “Inky Pubes”. He is deft in his delivery of all his characters except the frustratingly elusive Tony who remains an unknown quantity. Perhaps the authenticity of McNairs’ delivery is such that it is too painful, too raw to truly bring alive this lost boy who is now forever lost.

Sitting at the Erskine Bridge looking back on his youth, a story unfolds of the hope of an always open door, “Come round anytime, you’re always welcome” to the loss of innocence and two friends either side of a door now firmly shut. The story telling is deft and warm and sweet and painful. If Billy Connolly had written and performed plays instead of stand up comedy then I think he might have aimed for something akin to this.

There is a delicious evocation of his enforced sessions with his School Counsellor who is perceptive but also shockingly indiscreet. He breaks all rules of confidentiality and overshares which creates some great bittersweet humour but also reassures an isolated boy that he is not alone in his uncertainty and distress. This creates an opportunity for McNair to open up on paper. These letters are never fandom but are expressions of confusion and fear. The desired reply never comes but the result is the same. By the process of writing answers are found and resolutions are enacted. As in therapy the process is about finding your own voice and being true to Self; having faith that sometimes doing a bad thing does not make you a bad person.

The staging is both simple and startling. The bedroom is filled with a beanbag chair, a record player, carefully tended albums and books on Oscar Wilde. The background of posters of Morrissey are dimly backlit and at other times dramatically illuminated with powerful flashing lights. This is most effective as Director Gareth Nicholls evokes Morrisseys’ Barrowland Ballroom gig in such a way that it feels like you are there standing in the moshpit with McNair and Jan the Lesbian.

This is a deserving winner of a Scotsman Fringe First award. It is an authentic insight into the teenage mind and a reminder of the fragility of the young mind in a time when mental health and arts provision funding is being decimated by our government. McNair reflects on his story by Erskine Bridge where more than 15 people commit suicide each year (£3.5 million has been spent on suicide barriers). Morrissey sang about “a light that never goes out”, perhaps as long as this play is touring that light is safe.

HOME Until September 16th

GUTTED

HOME MCR 

Performer Liz Richardson 

A co-production between The Conker Group and HOME

I first saw GUTTED in May 2016 and it was one of my favourite pieces at HOME last  year. This is a show about the impact of ulcerative colitis on a young womans life On stage is Liz with some bunches of flowers and three gleaming porcelain toilets filled with food items. I’m fairly squeamish and I don’t especially like yoghurt or ketchup or brown sauce, yet here I am back to see this show again. 

It feels impossible not to be drawn in by Liz Richardsons performance. She is understated and charming on stage, and wickedly adept at mimicry of friends, family and NHS staff. The performance is never preachy and perhaps also protects the performer by relying on much of Richardsons experience being relayed through the conversations  of others and the messages on cards from her Partner and her Mother which are read out by audience members. Its striking that the whole performance feels deeply personal yet avoids the performer ever saying “I” or “My.”

Instead the audience is fed beer and cake while Liz scoffs probiotic yoghurt and draws her digestive system on her bare tummy and shows us how an ileostomy bag functions. Throughout this frank and funny performance runs the darker thread of pain, frustration and fear. This is an illness that is ruthless and wretched yet when drug or surgical options succeed it can bring hope and be positively life changing.

This is a show that is likely to pick up terms like “brave” or “life affirming”,and it is. I suspect it is also honed from the generosity of spirit that shares experience so we can all learn and be the better for it. GUTTED packs a hefty punch in that it paints a messy picture of what can happen when our bodies fail but it also reassures. Regardless of serious illness and multiple surgeries Richardson  looks great, has a loving relationship and a child and is doing a job she clearly enjoys. 

Chatting in the bar after the performance it’s clear how important this show is in speaking for many sufferers and their families. The show has been touring  in both theatres and hospitals to patients and healthcare professionals. It opens up lively discussion about a taboo subject and I found myself remembering my glamourous Grandma who throughout the 1960s wore her lipstick and her ileostomy bag with the style and panache of someone who refused to be defined by her illness.

2nd-13th August – Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh