Thursday, 31 July 2014

Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: Confirmed - The FULL Impact of Cuts Disabled Peopl...

Diary of a Benefit Scrounger: Confirmed - The FULL Impact of Cuts Disabled Peopl...: Since the coalition came to power, sick and disabled people have claimed we are being fundamentally harmed by the coalition welfare refor...

Sunday, 20 July 2014

'Under Milk Wood', Tron Theatre, Glasgow, 19/7/14

Cut down to little over an hour this flawed production is indicative of how important the 'Welshness' of the play is.
The director Gareth Nicholls has eschewed any attempt to recreate the Welsh accent and its rhythms which are so vital to any production of Under Milk Wood and has his cast create an almost paint-by-numbers performance. The abridgement by Lyda Radley is also slightly patchy which fails to aid the cast.
Whilst there are a small number of other accents used most of the cast speak in Scottish dialect, and not one Welsh twang is heard. This is increasingly unfortunate as Dylan Thomas himself pointed out the importance of the words to his premiere American cast in the 50s and this production seems to have missed this important fact. It is, after all, a 'play for voices': Rather the director has live music throughout which has the unfortunate effect of often drowning out the actors and whilst Michael John McCarthy's original score is nice it does intrude upon the play. In fact it's almost as if the director had little trust in Thomas' writing. Nicholls' ignoring of the rhythmic value of the Welsh accent was also detrimental to what was heard - it lost much humour and pathos in the performance although, credit to Thomas' writing, some humour was still present if it was the of the more obvious type. The Scots dialect has quite a different quality to the sing-song of Southern Welsh and this quality was sorely missing. As with the writing of Shakespeare the rhythm os the writing is important and to ignore it is to a productions cost.
Another bug-bear of mine was in the pronunciation of the Welsh words: Indeed, upon hearing 'Llareggub' pronounced 'Laregub' (emphasis on the 'e') constantly I was getting more and more irritated. There really is no excuse not to be able to pronounce these words as the famous Richard Burton recordings are readily available as a reference. Rather it spoke of a lazy attitude towards authenticity on the part of the director.
Charlotte Lane's design, which consisted of the interior of the Sailor's Arms - and nothing else, was pleasant but had the unfortunate effect of placing every event in the play within the confines of the pub. That and the fact that every character was plied with drink throughout gave a rather bad impression that this was a town full of alcoholics and given that hundreds of empty glass bottles were used as border to the set this was confirmed. The concept of setting the entire thing within the physical confines of the local was a little confusing given that most of the play happens in other locations around Llareggub.
On a more positive note there were some nice performances including those given by Grant McDonald, Matt Littleson and Jacqueline Thain and the live band were really quite good.
All in all this was rather a bit of a missed opportunity. It would also have been appreciated if the production was advertised as an abridged version but this was not so in any of the advertising.

Friday, 11 July 2014

'Private Peaceful', Glasgow Theatre Royal, 25/6/14

Another review I wrote for Backstage Pass:

At its simplest theatre is storytelling, the purpose of which is to pass on knowledge, information and to ensure that things are not forgotten. And some things should never be forgotten, some stories deserve to be retold.

Michael Morpurgo's novels have ensured that history remains alive to the younger generations and his stories have been adapted into various forms of media further ensuring their survival and assimilation into the minds of future generations.

This stage adaptation of Morpurgo's 'Private Peaceful' is the stirring tale of one young soldier of the Great War who recounts his life story shortly before facing the firing squad. As he relives the joys and sorrows of his all-too brief existence we bear witness to the magic of theatre at its best - simple, uncluttered and engaging. No flashy special effects or monumental set pieces required here, instead the power of imagination is employed along with the skills of a single actor in the role of 'Private Tommo Peaceful'. 

Director/adapter Simon Reade ensures that we see this lone soldier as a real person and not merely a symbol of the 306 soldiers executed in the First World War. His direction is clean, direct, elegant, subtle and vital and he ensures the emotionally affecting mortality of 'Private Peaceful' is laid out before us as we jump from his present to his past with time referenced throughout with each act beginning with the ticking of a watch as the final hours of his life ebb away. 

The simple set design is enhanced by simple lighting whilst minimal sound effects aid the production effectively. But the play ultimately relies on the single performer onstage and here Paul Chequer proves himself an exceptional actor able to navigate between a wide range of emotions whilst switching deftly into other characters as required, his physical prowess matching his emotional resonance easily. His is a deeply moving, funny, tragic and engaging portrayal which brings an honesty and simplicity essential to our belief in his character(s) whilst Chequer's stage presence is sincere and confident. His gifts are such that his performance, especially from when we see 'Peaceful' on the battlefield, is truly a mesmerising, arresting, chilling and emotionally rending experience.

Whilst this production seems to be aimed primarily at school children, given its performance times, it still speaks, in volumes, to all ages and is worthy of the attention of any theatre-goer. As it is this is the final week of its tour and I urge one and all to make the effort to see this wonderful, effective piece of story-telling.

Lest we forget.