Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Review Footprints On The Moon

Footprints On The Moon
by Maureen Hunter

Our Town

This deceptively gentle, warm hearted play has a savage undertow about small town life on the Canadian Prairies and also the treatment of women in life - and in fiction. Indeed, we would go as far as to say that Maureen Hunter shows an ear for dialogue and subtle plotting which reminds us of Tennessee Williams.

Joannie (Anne Adams) is an attractive, girlish 30 something single mom in an on-off relationship with denim clad vodka-swigging Dunc Carr (Derek Hagen) in an isolated township.

While others, including her sulky teenage daughter Carol-Ann (Sally Cheng) and ex husband Boone (Nicholas Goh) come and go, she remains a permanent fixture.  Like the landscape, she's not "going downhill, but plateaued".

While this 1988 Canadian drama is mostly eminently theatrical, there's an alluring pensive cinematic quality to the script laced with wistful humour. Designer Charlotte Henery cleverly transforms the set of the other play running this month at the Finborough into a train station and then the kitchen of Joannie's homestead.

We also get to know the layout of Rose Coulee through the dialogue  - neighbour Beryl's purple house, the Drake Hotel, the rough and tumble Plains Inn with scrawled graffiti on the wall of the men's toilet, Joannie's Dad living nearby, the store where Joannie works, Dunc and his medically ailing mother and even the long-term dent on the fender of Dunc's truck.

Director Anastasia Osei-Kuffour deftly paces the action in an intricate, slippery piece with an ebbing and flowing soundscape by Lucinda Mason Brown and delicate lighting by Peter Harrison.

Joannie slides almost imperceptibly from the reality of her life to odd time shifts, wish fulfilment and dream.This is emphasized by Joannie's rose coloured spectacles in a prizewinning essay voice over on her home town which feels like a throwback to more successful schooldays in an original dramatic structure which the audience finds itself absorbing as if by osmosis.

As the play progresses we get larger and larger glimpses of what her life may really be like, Carol-Ann's eagerness to get away to her father in Toronto, the trap for women from which Joannie's mother seems to have escaped and Dunc Carr's mother cannot - it is all filtered through othe sensibility of the characters.

With fine performances throughout, the play revolves around Adams's wounded yet feisty Joannie. The first act feels the strongest while the second struggles a little and maybe betrays that it's natural milieu is film.

Yet with its twists and turns, this is a distinctive and touching green light drama which plays on the psychology of the audience as much as revealing what lies beneath the characters and the rhythms of late twentieth century prairie life.  

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Review Annie Get Your Gun

Annie Get Your Gun
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Original Book by Dorothy Fields
As Revised by Peter Stone

Of Arms And The Gal We Sing

High time for TLT and her pistol packin' nag to mosey on down to the Union Theatre in Southwark via Ohio for 1946 musical theatre classic Annie Get Your Gun.

We say 1946 but we should be accurate with our reviewing bullet (points). The libretto was given a make over by the late Peter Stone 53 years later to readjust some attitudes towards native Americans in the show which seemed natur'l at the time but decidedly off target half a century later.

Even so, this is a cracking musical, originally conceived by Dorothy Fields as a vehicle for her great pal Ethel Merman with a splendid score by the late Irving Berlin, an eleventh hour replacement when songwriter Jerome Kern died suddenly. Oh, and did we mention that a pair of novice producers were behind the show - by the name of Rogers and Hammerstein?

By the time Berlin came on the scene Dorothy and her brother Herbert Fields had already put together the book and made suggestions for the songs, many of which the incoming songwriter took up with spectacular results - Doin' What Comes Natur'lly, The Girl That I Marry, You Can't Get A Man With A Gun, I Got The Sun In The Morning, An Old Fashioned Wedding and Anything You Can Do are all standards which come out of the show.

We may have forgotten one unforgettable song, but remind us near the end of this review ...

Director Kirk Jameson's production has a spot-on feisty but vulnerable Annie in blonde pigtailed grubby Gemma MacLean with her rifle and a brace of critters shot for the cooking pot. And the kind of competitive vocals scoring a bullseye for target shooting and showbiz.

She's matched by broad-chested Blair Robertson as Frank Butler, star of a celebrated Wild West show, disconcerted by the backwoods ragamuffin and her ragamuffinette sisters and brother (Sarah Day, Chanai Ankrah and Lawrence Guntert) before conceding her feminine sharpshooting prowess and eventually ... Hell, you don't expect us to give away the story, do ya?

While the first act is jam packed with some of the finest songs in the biz known as show, structurally it does feel a little strained which made us wonder whether the 1999 rejigs slightly unbalanced the symmetry of the piece. However it all toughens up considerably in the second act, alongside more wonderful songs.

There also seems to be a very interesting post Second World War subtext as Annie returns from a European tour where she's almost like a returning redneck GI who's been educated in the ways of literacy - and the world.

Even if there's a touch of the American equivalent of Brief Encounter when the rebellious woman seems forced to settle down with An Old Fashioned Wedding (but always with a competitive flavour in the battling lyrics).

There's plenty of strength in the supporting players - Mark Pollard is a relaxed and convincingly jovial Buffalo Bill.  Once Guntert establishes the change and doubling up from brother Little Jake to  Sitting Bull, he makes a canny and dignified native American chief.

Dafyd Lansley is the coyly determined business manager with Lala Barlow as Butler's wisecracking assistant Dolly. Georgia Conlan as Winnie her cute and sassy younger sister has an eye on Dominic Harbison's Tommy in a double act sub-plot with the infectiously jaunty question and answer song Who Do You Love, I Hope?

It's a show that gains in impetus as it rollicks along with wit and plenty of moments to touch the heart. Amy Watts's straightforward design using ladders and curtains with a stage-on-a-stage for the show-within-a-show is both efficient and evocative.

Meanwhile Alex Bellamy's musical direction and Ste Clough's choreography find their stride in the Union's brickwork space with rousing melodies and tip top dance routines.

And the songs, always those songs engendering both poignant and happy feelings because of course unforgettably There's No Business Like Show Business! Aww, you thought we'd forgotten?

We hang a green light star on the dressing room door for this crowd pleasing business merger of target practice, Wild West antics, toe tapping songs and natr'lly the highs and lows of showbiz!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Review Jam

A troubling school reunion gives reviewer Peter Barker plenty of food for thought on bread-and-butter school issues.  

by Matt Parvin

Class War

Matt Parvin’s impressive debut full length play Jam is an intense two-hander charting a sometimes funny, sometimes ugly classroom relationship which should have ended a decade before on school leaving day. 

Former pupil Kane McCarthy (Harry Potter's Harry Melling) unexpectedly and uninvited visits his former teacher Bella Soroush (Jasmine Hyde) in an English rural comprehensive.

He's now a bit of a drifter whose words can't be trusted. He turns up with a rucksack filled with schoolday relics, - plus a bottle of vodka and a baseball bat. All of which Bella goes through methodically, as if it's back to the rebellious student and the schoolmarm emptying his bag.

Kane admits he was a bit of a twat, aggressive and abusing Bella over her Iranian heritage. Nevertheless this seems like a diversion from the deeper reason why Bella is just not acceptable to Kane and he is marked by his schooldays. 

For the past is not another country in Parvin's play - they don't do things differently there. The present repeats the past. These two are locked, however unwillingly, in a toxic relationship.
And the cryptic title Jam? It's not clarified in the play but Parvin's past work includes an adaptation of Alice In Wonderland during his own student days may give a clue.

Lewis Carroll's  White Queen pronounces, "The rule is, jam to-morrow, jam yesterday - but never jam to-day.", later coopted by economist John Maynard Keynes and various politicians of all hues.
Melling is immensely credible as West Country misfit Kane who is just not that clever. His explosions of rage are visceral, if sometimes with a little too much volume for such a small performance space.

The presence of Hyde's Bella pays dividends later on in the play when her frailties and flaws are exposed.

Her self-control and her controlling personality are brought into context as the script and Hyde's performance reveal the rawness of her emotions and her capability for violence.

An ingenious scaffold climbing frame design from Emma Bailey splits the performing space in two cleverly suggesting a room and a playground.  Alexandra Faye Braithwaite's soundscape subtly
mingles the murmurs of an outside world with the obligatory ringing of school bells.

Playwright Parvin and director Tommo Fowler, could afforded to cut at least quarter of an hour from the running time of 95 minutes, tightening the script and ratcheting up the tension.

Even so, the writer proves adept at building and then releasing tension. Yet Jam has a conclusion that is anything but a release of suspense but a surprising and skilful collapse into exhaustion. It's a green light for a thought-provoking classroom drama.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Review Life Of Galileo

A magnificent performance at the centre of a Brechtian universe brings a German classic into focus for Francis Beckett. 

Life of Galileo 
by Bertolt Brecht

On Different Planets

The Young Vic under artistic director David Lan encourages its directors to use its space in unexpected ways.

With Galileo, director Joe Wright and designer Lizzie Clachan have filled the centre circle, where you expect to see only actors, with some of the audience, seated on cushions. No doubt this has the incidental advantage of maximising the potential box office.

Galileo, a 17th century academic and scientist, passes off the telescope as his own invention in the Venetian Republic.  Yet with the telescope he then makes a true discovery which counters popular belief and sets him up in opposition to the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

Much of the action of the play takes place on a narrow raised platform around the centre circle, and sometimes the actors thread their way through the members of the audience on the cushions.

They use this part of the audience as props, handing out pieces of paper which they retrieve a few minutes later. When an audience member sneezed, the actor speaking at the time added “Bless you.” to his lines  During the interval the 11-strong cast engage the people seated on cushions in conversation.

Some of the cast are also seated on the cushions. This is a modern dress production, so you don’t know who are audience members and who are actors until the actors stand up and speak. The entrances and exits are used for the occasional spectacular set piece.

Before the play begins, Brendan Cowell’s Galileo has to run and dance around the raised platform for quite a long time.  I am not sure it was wise of the director to make his leading actor do this: the night I saw it, Mr Cowell sounded a tiny bit breathless in his first few scenes.

Sometimes, even with the impressive planetarium-style design, projections by 59 Productions  and pulsing music by the Chemical Brothers' Tom Rowlands,  I felt the director was getting carried away by clever gimmickry, but if you can’t experiment with that great theatrical innovator Bertolt Brecht, who can you experiment with?

And it does emphasise the relevance and immediacy of this most political of plays, translated by John Willet.

For Life of Galileo isn’t about Catholicism, though the Catholic Church comes out of it pretty badly. It isn’t, as some academics have suggested, a play about Marxism. It’s exactly what Joe Wright says it is: “At the heart of the play is a questioning of authority… It’s about power. It questions the way power maintains itself through prescribing an ideology and dogmatising an ideology.”

The great strength of Joe Wright's production is that everything he does emphasises that central idea, underlining that it’s as relevant now as it was at the time of the Inquisition or when it was written in 1938 and then revised in 1947. During those years  the Nazis were in power in Germany, Stalin’s terror in full swing in the USSR and then the nuclear bomb unleashed on Hiroshima.

Brendan Cowell is a magnificent Galileo. He offers us the selfish, self-assured, almost childish impatience of genius for much of the play, but at the moment the Inquisition comes for him, all the cockiness drops away. 

He is instantly diminished. It prepares us for the moment when he confesses that they did not torture him.  They only showed him the instruments of torture. That was enough for Galileo. It would certainly be enough for me.

A fine production of one of the greatest plays of the twentieth century is certainly worth a green light.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review An Octoroon

An Octoroon
by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Down The Brer Rabbit Hole

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is a product of the US educational system - a graduate with a masters in drama from New York University, he's additionally an alumnus of a Julliard playwrights' programme. And he also happens to be black.

His 2014 play An Octoroon scoops up out of the syllabus a populist nineteenth century melodrama of almost the same name, The Octoroon. Wikipedia terms Irish dramatist Dion Boucicault's play an "anti slavery potboiler" and it scored a pre-Civil War success at the playwright's Winter Garden Theatre in New York in 1859.

Jacobs-Jenkins satiric comedy drama begins very firmly in the 21st (ok maybe 20th century) with playwright BJJ (Ken Nwosu)  - ah, yes of course Jacobs-Jenkins comes out of a university course! - in therapy for depression of the psychological rather than the economic kind

Whether the therapist is black or white, we never know but she or he suggests the playwright writes a riff on The Octoroon, a top hat and crinolines' barnstorming melodrama. The heir to a bankrupt antebellum Louisiana plantation falls for demure, but in legalistic terms racially flawed, Zoe (Iola Evans) and villainous shenanigans are afoot in the shape of a nouveau riche ex-overseer.

BJJ mounts a production but this means unexpected if not entirely unforeseeable casting difficulties. The playwright finds himself uncomfortably forced to double and triple up and don white face, even if a ressurrected Boucicault (Kevin Trainor) becoming a literal red face Native American redskin, takes it all more casually as part of the theatrical stock-in-trade. 

Jacobs-Jenkins seems to share something of Boucicault's canny commercialism and eye on the main chance when he put together An Octoroon. This is not a criticism - 'twas ever so in theatre and An Octoroon's mix of middle-class academic high japes, cinematic commercialism, low comedy and genuine melodramatic potency makes the play something of a quadroon itself.

Before we mix you up with all these 'oons, we should explain, dear reader, our terminology. Originating in the time of slavery, an octoroon is of one eighth black descent. A quadroon is someone of one quarter black descent. These were legal definitions with huge ramifications, for before the abolition of slavery unless the octoroon had been proveably freed from slavery, he or she remained a slave.

We felt the biggest influence, in its melding together of race, finance and sharp ironies, irrationalities and humour, was Chinese-American David Henry Hwang's ingenious and rather more compact earlier Yellow Face.

But of course black history in the US is its own very particular often brutal, back and forth history. Directed by Ned Bennett with set by Georgia Lowe, threaded through this baggy, thought-provoking play is also a tale of black performers - minstrelsy, their representation in folk tales, abolitionist novels, cinema - finally emerging in the age of sub prime mortgages.   

Where Jacobs-Jenkins scores is the recognition that melodrama renovates the creaky house of realism. It strips it of its pretention to rationality, with lives inside and outside fiction assailed by irrational desires and dangers.

The 21st century play An Octoroon may be clunky and self-conscious, but there is also strength in its raw red marrow uncovered.

By the end of An Octoroon, the focus has shifted away from the problematic beatification of  octoroon Zoe and away from the men including the middle class playwright to the two dark skinned slave women, Minnie (Vivian Operah) and Dido (Emmanuella Cole)

Their initially peripheral situation and dependence for their existence on auctions and melodramatic paperwork devices provide a knotty resonance for more contemporary crises.

Faced with forces beyond their control, they raise An Octoroon from mere parody or a clever intellectual exercise about the black experience into a resonant piece about skin colour, women and property in modern America. In one stroke, An Octoroon becomes a much braver and original green light piece of work.   

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Review Twelfth Night [Preview]

Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare

All Aboard The Love Boat!

After Emma Rice's triumphant exotic production of  A Midsummer Night's Dream, she now tackles  Shakespeare's later comedy Twelfth Night, a tale of literal shipwreck and shipwrecked identities. In this case, plus hornpipes, kilts, arran sweaters and golf clubs.

The Shakespearean mash up of the Balkans and England in the Kingdom of Illyria is transferred, Ealing Comedy style, hook, line, sinker, cakes and ale to its very own fantasy Scottish island  1970s' mash up with disco party cruise ship and lifebelts proclaiming the SS Unity Love.

There's also a further touch of the Ealing Comedies in this production. The poshies, the Duke Orsino (Joshua Lacey)  - think Ian Botham complete with mullet hairstyle,  and the Countess Olivia (Annette McLaughlin)  who starts off in  Jackie Kennedy-style with a veiled pill box hat, speak English English.

Sebastian (John Pfumojena, full of soul) and Viola (charmingly wide-eyed boyish Anita Joy-Uwajeh)  make a fetching washed-ashore pair of neatly-turned out, easily mistaken twins in their cruise ship white uniform, with and without their gold-buttoned jackets. 

Meanwhile most of  the lower orders  - morally so in the case of Olivia's uncle kilted, knee socked golfing Sir Toby Belch (a splendid pot-bellied Tony Jayawardena) - all have a Scottish burr.  Maria (Carly Bawden) is a scheming ladette maid with lusty vocals while Fabian (Nandi Bebhe) is a well-defined factotum in Downton Abbey tails.

Feste (Le Gateau Chocolat) is a bearded drag queen master of ceremonies rather than a jester. Clad in a gold lamé Demis Roussos robe, black patent  platforms and fishnets and a vibrant shade of turquoise eye shadow on his lids, his operatic bass tones resonate out from this showboat.

Lez Brotherston's initially deceptively simple set tips, slips and slides with the tide into a three tiered set with a gangway leading down to the households under, eventually, a huge moon.

The space below alternates as a 70s' boxing ring where snack munching Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Marc Antolin) swaps Argyle sweater for silken boxer shorts and gown, the two households and  a ship's hold which becomes a prison for Malvolio (Katy Owen). 

Yep, the director Rice's trademark lighting (Malcolm Rippeth) is there and maybe sometimes this Twelfth Night seems a little too self-knowing, occasionally limiting the audience's delirium. And exactly where the on and off shore households of Orsino and Olivia begin and end, we weren't quite sure.

But really it doesn't matter. Just as red-haired Kiplingesque Malvolio slips from Scotch to another UK accent with a touch of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. But Owen's frail androgynous figure importantly does also manage to channel the comedy and the pathos.

In between, there's plenty of fine verse speaking and singing of the famous lines including music being the food of love.  And talking about music, there's original material by composer Ian Ross with additional text and lyrics by Carl Grose with more than a sprinkling of disco hits (it would be churlish to give them away!) with sweet use of blanched morse code flags.

With the descent into and ascent from misrule, there's plenty of visual and verbal humour  (a Bonnie Prince Charlie row boat and an ingenious bit of audience interaction comes to mind) to please the Globe's international audience. We saw an early preview but the show was already in pretty good nick and will doubtless sharpen up.

It's all done in a distinctly less hierarchical fashion than in many a production and nicely ties up echoes of other Shakespeare plays.

Above all, Rice lives up to her promise in the programme to let loose the farce structure of the play while keeping some of the more disturbingly cruel elements and it's a green light for a festivity lovingly crafted with flares.  

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Review Judy!

A trio of singing marvels thrills Tim Gopsill in a musical bio-play about one of the twentieth century's most enduring Hollywood icons.

by Ray Rackham 

Triple Threat 

There’s a glaring problem that plagues the producers of all shows telling the life story of a great theatrical artiste: who is up to playing the lead role? All those good enough would have to be stars themselves.

When the star is a singer with a mighty voice that stunned generations, it is even harder; but when you have found your singer, she or he has got to act the part as well; and when the star carries a perplexing reputation combining big-hearted generosity, overbearing autocracy and tragic vulnerability, it becomes harder still.

On top of all these, you want to portray the artist’s whole life, and the great Judy Garland already took to the stage as a 12 year old girl. 

At least there's a clear solution to the final problem: you use different performers to play different periods of the star’s life.

In the case of Judy!, writer/director Ray Rackham’s amazing musical bio-play that has just transferred to the Arts Theatre, this solves the other problems too.

Three actors play the part; all can sing – and dance – and have been with the show since it opened at the London Theatre Workshop in Fulham. This was two years ago before a run at Southwark Playhouse.

It's currently at the Arts Theatre, a stone's throw from the former Talk Of The Town -  now the Hippodrome -  where Garland sang her penultimate concert

There is the cocky but tender young girl, born Frances Gumm played by Lucy Penrose, who dreams up her glorious stage name for herself; the neurotic singer - Belinda Wollaston - in her late twenties at the top of her game, launching her unsurpassed 19-week solo run at New York’s Palace Theatre.

Then middle aged Judy played by Helen Sheals, doped up with booze and pharmaceuticals, going down with the ship of her failing weekly TV talk show; always still a grand dame – “I’m a fucking legend,” she yells at CBS executive Hunt Stromberg – she's much too grand to bend to the intimate demands of the small screen.

There is a notable precedent for this way of dramatizing a stage life in Ray Cooney’s triumphant musical Elvis, which had a West End run 40 years ago before a national tour and then being revived in the 1990s. But that had rock 'n roll stars in the two senior of the three roles, Shakin’ Stevens and PJ Proby.

Elvis’s life – somewhat tame to my mind compared with Garland’s -- was told chronologically. However  Rackham’s structural trick, lifting Judy! above the level of a tribute show or run-of-the-mill jukebox musical to that of a serious play in its own right, is to blend the three different eras of life together. The narratives are introduced in reverse order but play continuously, mingling with each other. 

At times the Judys sing together – as when Wollaston's Palace Judy joins in with Penrose's youthful performer singing her first audition number, Jimmy F Hanley's Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart.

With the Arts Theatre being a relatively small house, there are no microphones; the natural singing therefore has an affecting nature rarely achieved with banks of speakers in big-theatre musicals. 

But Wollaston could probably sing unmiked in Drury Lane: she belts out Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody (music by Jean Schartz, lyrics by Sam M Lewis and Joe Young)  with some of the ferocity of Garland herself. 

All the music is acoustic. The ensemble has seven of the cast playing instruments on stage: three of them, Joe Shefer as Judy’s father Frank, Christopher Dickens as Stromberg and Tom Elliot Reade as fellow producer Roger Edens, are pianists.

Reade also plays violin. He and Chris McGuigan, playing Norman Jewison, a later triple Oscar nnominee, who survived one week as director of the Judy Garland Show, play reeds.

Don Cotter plays the legendary tycoon Louis B Mayer and the onstage drums and Carmella Brown doubles as both Judy’s devoted dresser Judith Kramer, and flautist in the band.

It may be true that the wonderful music does have the predictable downside that dialogue seems flat and dull beside it. The succession of hapless and handsome producers and directors becomes tedious, with the comings and goings charting her life at three different times, sometimes makes it hard to remember which is which.

Nevertheless,  there is the memorable clash between CBS Judy and TV executives is over her refusal to sing Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's Over the Rainbow, the song from the 1939 movie Wizard of Oz that made her a teenage star; she’s sick of it.

But the intertwined storyline and combination of singers does make for a magical finale. The show ends with Penrose, Wollaston and Sheals singing, quietly and unaccompanied, Over The Rainbow together. The audience goes crazy. 

Judy! could get a green light for that moment alone. It runs at the Arts Theatre until June 17. Beats me why not for a longer run. This is one of those musicals that could become the talk of the town and, like the performances of Judy herself, go on for ever.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Review This Is Not Culturally Significant

This Is Not Culturally Significant
Devised by Adam Scott-Rowley

Tales Of The Unexpected

Part of being a reviewer are the out-of-body experiences. Those moments when watching a show our mind hovers above, hooks into our brain and drags out like a reluctant piece of chewed chewing gum a long forgotten memory which then becomes a cornerstone cultural reference for the review.

At Adam Scott-Rowley's one-man show This Is Not Culturally Significant, TLT had one of those spiritual experiences!

Back in the day, G Wilson Knight wrote Shakespearean literary criticism, The Wheel Of Fire and The Imperial Theme which students borrowed from the college library and dutifully cited in essays. Little did we know that, one day very soon, we would be able to put a face - and other appendages - to the name.

We all filed in obediently, clutching our notebooks, for the distinguished octogenarian's guest lecture on Shakespeare, expecting the usual - and filed out shaking with laughter.

For Wilson Knight's coup de théâtre was the Timon of Athens finale to his lecture when, to illustrate his point, he stripped off completely naked and stood dramatically posed before us.

Remember please, dear reader, this was BTIMP (Before The Internet And Mobile Phones). At that time we thought Madonna was art school avant-garde.

Surely Knight, who was also a sometime actor and vice-president of the British Spiritualist Association, is the inspiration for the spiritualist lecturer in This Is Not Culturally Significant?

And probably in real life, encouraged by others in the then secure tenure of academia, he was also just a little bit bonkers.

Originally from North Wales, Scott-Rowley, has developed his gallery of grotesques since graduating from LAMDA in 2014, performing fully-clothed at the Edinburgh Festival. Now, having returned to London, he has decided to do what we shall now refer to as a "Wilson-Knight" and perform starkers. And it works.

Scott-Rowley has a supple, graceful, well-defined body with daubs of pagan white which  metamorphosizes with rhythm and dramatic musicality from character to character.

There's the American sex cam working girl, her hick father in the deep south, the Glasgow druggie baglady to, yes, the lecturer in Spirtualism who also runs a theatre company, the bereaved Pinteresque brutal husband and his brutalized wife, a mournful lesbian chanteuse, a needy lover, a club bouncer and pleading clubber, a racist Sussex upper-middle-class housewife.

There's a touch of artist Ronald Searle's types brought up to date in the 21st century with something of Kenny Everett, Little Britain  and the late Rick Mayall (though it sometimes feels quite American) but, dripfeeding the politics, out for pathos as well as laughs.    

We suspect this is a show that has growed and growed and a narrative thread gradually introduced.  The title is clever. It can encompass any range of characters in a loose lassoo and also adds a depth of meaning. 

But for us - yes it's imposing those cultural references again! - it also says something about pre-internet academic judgements when academics, the literati and, fie!, even drama critics waged wars about what was and was not culturally significant with a venom which seems almost Game Of Thrones-like in these more corporate times.

The set design is a simple black box - Scott-Rowley's body is his main prop but there's a stool and in a front corner a chain hangs down with a lamp. The expressive lighting conceived by Will Scarnell and developed by Matt Cater gives the show shape changing from character to character.

The strobe lighting and full frontal nudity won't suit everybody. However the show is enterprising, visceral and entertaining and at barely an hour doesn't outstay its welcome. With a narrative still emerging, and pretty well incomparable to anything in the current theatre scene, we award a green light.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Review Love In Idleness [Preview]

Francis Beckett takes issue with the late Terence Rattigan's examination of post Second World War society, but takes pleasure in a splendid cast.

 Love in Idleness
by Terence Rattigan
Adapted by Sir Trevor Nunn

The Times They Were (And Are) A Changin'

It’s a sign of reactionary times when we hear a lot about how the great Terence Rattigan was unjustly cast into the outer darkness by the emergence of the radical playwrights of the late 1950s – John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and the rest. As David Hare once put it, “in rightwing times, rightwing art flourishes.”

Trevor Nunn, who directs Love in Idleness, writes in the theatre programme: “Kenneth Tynan’s excitement at seeing John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in 1956 was understandable, but then his constant rejection and derision of Rattigan, in favour of ‘angry young man’ plays, was a mistake.”

David Hare nailed this rubbish as long ago as 2011, writing: “It has become a commonplace of commentary to turn him [Rattigan] into some sort of public school victim whose fall from grace can be put down to nasty goings-on initiated by yobs at the Royal Court and Stratford East in the 1950s.”

The truth is that the new playwrights spoke to the generation of the Attlee settlement. Rattigan didn’t.  That’s not to deny that Rattigan at his best was a thoroughly accomplished and, in his own way, rather radical playwright.

The play now at the Apollo Theatre, after a run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, is a composite. He wrote a play called Less Than Kind in 1944, then altered it at the behest of the famous acting duo Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt and renamed it Love in Idleness.  Years later he regretted this, and  Nunn has now reworked the two plays into one.

If Nunn is right – and I have no reason to doubt it  – to suppose that this play is at least something approaching the work Rattigan would have produced if left to himself, what it tells us is that the playwright was on the wrong side of history.
Written and produced as the Second World War ground to an end, it addresses, as every writer worth his salt was addressing at that time, the sort of post war world that was going to emerge. 

But while some writers were looking forward to a new and better world, Rattigan, on the evidence of Love in Idleness, was looking forward to business as usual; to a return to the status quo ante, when the rich knew how things should be done, and the poor knew their place. 

He thought the Beveridge Report was so much froth, and the new world that the Labour Party dreamed of creating would turn out to be, as one of his characters puts it, “the same as the old world but spring cleaned a little.”

He was wrong. Between 1945 and 1948 the Attlee government carried out the only real social revolution Britain has ever seen, and Beveridge provided their blueprint.

If Rattigan felt like sneering at it – and he did – that places him in the sad harrumphing old tradition of William Douglas-Home, who wrote a very successful and entirely vacuous play, later a film, around the same time called The Chiltern Hundreds, about a butler who stands for the Conservative Party and defeats the uppity socialist.  (Message: the working class salt of the earth know their place.)

In Love in Idleness, Sir John Fletcher, a rather conservative (with both a small and capital c), Canadian businessman, has been drafted into Winston Churchill’s war cabinet as Minister of Tank Production. 

Presumably Rattigan had in mind the Canadian newspaper proprietor Lord Beaverbrook, whom Churchill appointed as Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940. Yet this is odd because he paints Fletcher as a terribly decent chap, and Beaverbrook was a shit.  

Sir John has parted from his much younger wife, whom we are encouraged to assume is a gold-digger, and is living with the widow of a dentist, whose son is serving with the army in Canada. 

But when the son comes home, he is distressed by this arrangement – both because it makes his mother a kept woman, and because he disapproves of Fletcher’s right wing politics. 

None of the characters rang true to me. Sir John is a wise and kindly multi-millionaire; his widowed lover, Oliva Brown, a charming, rather dippy social climber; and her son Michael a selfish and self-absorbed 18-year-old who has adopted some foolish ideas about making a better world which we are encouraged to hope that he will grow out of soon.

They are played with matchless professionalism and conviction, Sir John by Anthony Head, Olivia by Eve Best and Michael by Edward Bluemel, but nothing these fine actors can do, and nothing Sir Trevor's assured direction can do, will make them anything other than unbelievable standard-bearers of a complacent and reactionary political point.

Nonetheless, it is always a pleasure to watch such very good actors at the top of their form in a well plotted play, so I’m happy to give it an amber light.

Review Richard III

Richard III
by William Shakespeare

Living The Dream

Near the end of the Arcola Theatre's Richard III we gained a glimpse of what this production could have been.

Richard (Greg Hicks) has just been visited in his sleep by those he has wronged and murdered. Suddenly the pangs of conscience cripple him. Hicks's Richard in a nuanced soliloquy envelops us with the cold sweat of the villain as both his past and future merge and he turns his frightened gaze round the audience.

It's a highlight of an otherwise mostly over-emphatic production directed by Mehmet Ergen which nevertheless has other instances of clarity and ingenuity.

Mark Jax's suddenly repentent murderer is both comic and affecting. There's a modern chime to Jim Bywater's Mayor of London, puzzled but then expediently adapting to all the twists and turns, as well as when we hear from Peter Guinness's savvy Buckingham the reaction of the London crowd and the city wives.

Annie Firbank's fine Duchess of York, Richard's mother, conveys a clear-sighted doughty aristocrat, becoming a spokeswoman for the grieving Royal widows dislodged by the son she abhors.   

However, at other times we found the inconsistency of the mash up strange and distracting.

The start of the play places us in Italian café society with Richard in black leather  - part mafiosi, part Stasi - sipping on wine and spinning a tiny top. When he stands up to the cawing of crows, we see the chain extending from flexed foot to his hands to help him walk. Bespectacled Matthew Sim as Catesby extends the sense of a Communist apparatchik or Fascist henchman carrying out Richard's instructions.     

At another time we wondered whether we were in the midst of artisans who decided a change was needed from usual mystery plays, deciding instead to put on the arch-Machiavel's story. Yet the concept seemed tried  - and then left behind.

The overpowering television-style sound effects also struck us as intrusive, sometimes unnecessarily disturbing the rhythm and tension of the play.

We've nothing against a production paced television thriller style. But we were far too aware of the sound effects rather than the sound being seamlessly part of the background. In one instance, a very loud cock crow was followed by the information that - er - a cock had crowed.

Anthony Lamble's two tier design is fine as far as the lower space goes, surrounded by the audience on three sides. However, sitting in the seats stage left, we had major sightline problems for the upper tier. The raised walkway running above our seats blocked our view of the second tier at the back of the space and the actors above mainly had their backs towards us. This felt like a thoughtless piece of staging.

Hicks certainly has the potential to be a great crow-like Richard III but we felt he was hampered by more than his chains in an uneven production which needed more variety in its pacing. Individually there were some fine performances and good moments but overall it's an amber light.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Review Manwatching

by Anonymous

Female Intuition

At this very moment, somewhere in California 60 research scientists are working on how to read your mind. OK, to be more accurate, Facebook is working on technology to type messages direct from the brain to what they term "a conversation partner" rather than to go phishing for random thoughts.

But wouldn't it be so much easier for the companies involved if we all thought within a recognized grid? A variation of 'If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will come to the mountain'?

And, while we are open to new experiences, by the end of Manwatching, this thought, amongst others, entered our mind in our irritation with what seems like a clumsy gimmick with which we are supposed to alternatively identify or applaud as insightful. 

TLT and her like-minded automative Tonto do not suggest that the deliberate plan is to run roughshod over our own thought processes but it seems one logical conclusion to commercial pressures.

Manwatching the play, not to be confused with the 1980s' book club bestseller by Desmond Morris which we remember as a similarly rather bemusing read, is apparently by an anonymous female playwright and dwells on her sexual evolution from a kid to whereever she is now.

We're instructed not to give much away - there's a definite authoritarian streak to Anonymous which makes one wonder why she ever allowed the text to be published in the first place. Is it really all a weak satire? We can't tell, damnit, and we're meant to be critics!

It's a simple set up. A man, a printer, a script, a lighting operator (lighting designer Jamie Spirito) directed by Lucy Morrison.

Anon instructs that the text should be sight read by a man - in our case it was a personable young comedian called Liam Williams with a deceptively diffident, self-deprecating manner.

After a brief introduction, the man launches into the script which uneasily mixes the female writer's description of sexual desire with alleged experiences and fantasies.

It seems from the introduction to the play text (handed over only at the end of the evening) we're not the only ones to wonder if it's all a bluff written by a coven of men.

To be fair, the monologue does touch upon some serious issues but we found the approach conventional and lacklustre.  It's ok if you're prepared as an audience member to smile gamely and look serious when appropriate, which is also more or less what Williams also did.

We hasten to correct this - we obviously can't read his mind and he did prove to be an adept sight reader after a hesitant start. We guess also that the title Manwatching is double-edged as it's mostly about watching the comedian tackle the task and watching him react to the words he's given.

If you enjoy seeing an unprepared stand up comedian up close and personal embracing a female persona, this may be your bag. But for us, it's a red/amber light.

Review Dyl

by Mark Weinman

Troubled Waters

Dyl is a hallucinatory, kidulting comedy drama ambitious in concept, but clumsy in execution. James is a pent-up young oil rig worker in the once thriving oil-rich city of Aberdeen.

Earning good money, his life revolves around the "two weeks on, two weeks off" cycle of labouring on the rig, then returning from the sea to dry land.

This debut play of writer Mark Weinman attempts to mix different genres and marry them with modern pressures on a young man's psychic space.

So there's some odd couple humour with his Aberdonian flatshare, the physicality of his job is on display as well as the tentacles of  the literary along with pop music, television and movies invading and wrapping themselves around the mind of a twenty something.

What emerges are some perfunctory, but still effective, laughs interspersed increasingly with still moments of visual anguish which work like televison close ups before an abrupt change of tone and the final reveal.

However this all feels very stretched out over the two-act play, with the plot points very far apart and various strategies used to fill in the gaps with issues parachuted in.

Lurking behind it all, Weinman has something worthwhile to say about our boom and bust era and a generation immersed in computers and screens. 

This is reflected in the slick, click together set designed by Jemima Robinson, even if the play's jigsaw construction doesn't quite click together as fluently and feels clunky.

Director Clive Judd brings together two alumni of his enjoyable production of a 1960s' classic about pent-up young men, Scott Arthur as Welshman James in his own Never-Never Land and Laurie Jamieson as the Scottish office worker flatmate from whom he rents a room on shore.

Joyce Greenaway is James's Mum trying to build an emotional bridge for her son while Rose Wardlaw is an unexpected, wish-fufilment visitor who apparently allows the various pieces to be slotted neatly into place and gives a kind of deus-ex-machina closure.

Weinman has a clever idea that can equally be a surreal shorter play or several episodes of a sharply edited TV soap.

Nevertheless, in its present form it has a frustratingly unbalanced and laboured structure, overpowering a potentially more dramatic and poignant analysis of a generation within a shuttlecock economy.

Dyl (with apologies to a famous American children's classic) is a little play that could. At the moment though, while it shows off the ample abilities of its cast, it's an amber light.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Review Out There On The Fried Ridge Road

Tim Gopsill passes the time watching a hit-and-miss redneck comedy set in rural America.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road
by Keith Stevenson  

Welcome To The Motel West Virginia

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road - wacky name for a wacky comedy that feels like a sitcom set in rural southern America. For a British equivalent, think The Young Ones rather than The Good Life, with the same compulsive lowlife-ism.

Fortunately it is short, just over an hour and stops before the buffoonery starts to pall. If anything does, it is the relentless good humour and benevolence in the way the characters interrelate.

Writer Keith Stevenson couldn’t go wrong when he decided to assemble an oddball set of characters around big bearded, tartan-shirted country hick JD. He's rumoured to be the offspring of immaculate conception via an Italian prostitute. In reality he's actually conceived, written and played by Stevenson, a true West Virginian.

So take a quiet, liberal unemployed out-of-towner (Michael Maloney) looking for a room share. Add the over-the-top violent sexist poet (Alex Ferns), his screaming crack addict painter girlfriend (Melanie Gray), a brutal racist landlord (Michael Wade) and the big gentle benign drop-out who just happens to believe he is the Son of God.

Then plonk them in a squalid motel room on a remote and weirdly-named road which really does run straight through Stevenson's home town.

This sketchy but affable one-act hillbilly farce started off in Los Angeles where it was something of a success with the metropolitan audience spawning two sequels, eventually given the collective name of The Fried Meat Trilogy. Its broad brand of humour has now crossed the pond, first to Kennington's White Bear Theatre and now at Whitehall's Trafalgar Studios.

Director Harry Burton has everybody leaping about and thunderously slamming doors to a degree that almost appears to endanger Simon Scullion's wood panelled set on the tiny stage of the venue's smaller studio space. 

Ferns as the manic trouble-seeking gangster/poet Tommy exudes the most menace and Melanie Gray as his girlfriend Marlene gets the most laughs. She whines at Tommy’s infidelities that they are all with women called Marlene “because he’s too dumb to remember any other names”.

The current one, she yells, weighs 500 pounds and “can’t get out of the door of her trailer.” Indeed Tommy has to demolish it for the purpose; he puts the other Marlene in the back of JD’s car which he’s “borrowed” and then runs out of control down a hill and flattens someone’s gazebo. Yes it’s that kind of humour.

Maloney as Mitch is the nervy, nicely understated straight man to the caricatures around him. There is plenty of embarrassingly funny stuff which does elicit chuckles and guffaws. Nevertheless if you are easily offended at sexist and racist gags uttered by some sexist and racist characters, you might want to give this show a miss.

Out There On The Fried Edge Road does have a very good joke at the end. However, much as I laughed, my traffic light theatre rating is firmly stuck at an amber light.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Review Three Sisters

Peter Barker is swept along by an epic production charting the lives and longing of the three daughters in the Prozorov household

Three Sisters (Три сeстры)
by Anton Chekhov

We Didn't Start The Fire

There's something greater than energy alone in this Russian language production of Chekhov's 1900 classic family drama. The heartfelt outbursts, arguments and anger seem to explode in great fires in contrast to the more philosophical interludes.

For the three sisters, schoolteacher Olga (Olga Drozdova), unhappily married Masha (Alyona Babenko) and playful youngest Irina (Victoria Romanenko), the past is glamorous and meaningful. The present is mundane and even unpleasant, defined by the realities of their lives.

Director Galina Volchek teases out the psychological nuances and waves of the drama both with the performances and the staging by Slava Zaitsev and Petr Kirillov on a bare stage with only furniture to evoke the household.

However, it's the revolve which underlines the confusion and inner turmoil of the sisters when their passions rise and their fates bear down on them. In one memorable moment Irina runs to save her fiancé from his fate, charging onward but getting nowhere.

In a Russian production with English surtitles, Babenko captures Masha's complexities, along with her warmth and passion.

Romanenko’s girlish, passionate Irina makes the jump to adulthood with her raw anger at unwanted male advances and the direction of her life. Drozdova's controlled performance as Olga, the eldest and the rock for her sisters,  delicately conveys her strength without an arsenal of  emotional fireworks.

While Moscow is an historical reality, the three sisters' home in their youth, it is also a state of mind -- a brighter future, a more fulfilled life. 

Around them in the provincial garrison town are men who are all in some ways either lacking or wanting -- the sisters' brother, the weak but academic Andrei (Ilya Lykov) doting on his child married to the ghastly Natalia (Yelena Plaksina).

There is the resigned and drunken doctor Chebutykin (Anatoly Uzdensky), the aggressive young officer Soleny (Ilya Drevnov), the refined lieutenant Baron Tuzenbach (Shamil Khamatov), Masha’s inadequate husband Kulygin (Sergei Yushkevich), and the new garrison commander Vershinin (Vladislav Vetrov).

This is a thrilling production of a classic play and altogether a grand theatrical experience. Galina Volchek, also artistic director of Sovremennik for nearly half a century since it was founded during the Khrushchev thaw, deservedly took a standing ovation.  

The Sovremennik version is an absorbing and sometimes shocking three hours, demanding and getting total attention. Done with flair, pace and passion, this is an affecting and riveting production is certainly worthy of a green light. Catch it before it finishes on Saturday, May 13!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Review tick, tick ... BOOM!

tick, tick ... BOOM!
Book, Music And Lyrics by Jonathan Larson

The Next Big (Fat-Free But Tasty) Musical

What, reviewing the late Jonathan Larson's early musical when one hasn't even seen Rent, his celebrated riff on La Bohème? TLT and the engine beneath her wings feel they should come clean but, on the other hand, they come to Tick, Tick ... Boom! with a clean slate and ready to be entertained.

Tick, Tick ... Boom! appears to be an apprentice musical in more ways than one. Larson, who was also an actor, performed it as a solo rock show from 1990.  It slides, deliberately we think, from beginner's promise but structural clunkiness into something more sophisticated as the song styles and book grow in complexity.

It's highly autobiographical - the central character is a struggling aspiring songwriter called Jon who, like Larson, waits on tables while he awaits his big break. He is turning from 29 to the big 3-Oh (that's oh-oh!). His dance teacher girlfriend Susan aches to break away from tutoring weathy little 'uns for her own big break. But she also longs for the stability of marriage and suburban life.

That's not to be confused with Jon's (and Larson's) first attempt at a musical, the unfinished scifi Superbia, one song of which, Come To Your Senses, David Auburn, who revised Tick, Tick ... Boom!, incorporated into the later show.

Auburn turned Tick, Tick... Boom!, after Larson's premature death, from a solo musical monologue to a revamped chamber musical three-hander, its present form.

Jon (Chris Jenkins from The Burnt Part Boys) spends his time working in a diner, smoking joints on the rooftop of his Soho apartment in between working on his musical.

However spiritually he agonizes as his birthday approaches and his dreams of a produced musical remain unfulfilled.

He is still close to Michael (Jordan Shaw) with whom he grew up and went to summer camp. Michael though has long abandoned his own dream to become an actor to chase the mighty dollar in a Madison Avenue advertising firm, gain a coveted swish car (hey, what's wrong with that?, demands TLT's automotive sidekick indignantly!) and a luxury pad.

Director Bronagh Lagan's production takes a little while to setttle down with a few technical  hiccups - Jordan Shaw gives the most consistent performance from start to finish but all the cast come good with eventually outstanding performances from Jenkins and Saker.

The song most often picked out from this youthful work is the diner parody Sunday of Jon and Larson's real-life mentor Stevie's Sunday from Sunday In The Park With George where the order of Art (with a capital A)  becomes an order of an omelette with no yolks, "That why you're a wait-er!".

That's Stevie as in Stephen Sondheim, not Stevie as in Stevia the sugar-free substitute. A sugar-free substitute being the product at the centre of a doomed advertising industry opportunity which Michael sets up for his friend

But the song we loved was the fast-paced psychobabble of the phone call song with a Country & Western twang, Therapy, yet is there also a touch of old style classic musicals and Sesame Street?

Nik Cottall's excellent versatile set goes a long way to giving the production an atmospheric shape, changing seamlessly from apartment to rooftop to diner to office space and even workshop area.. Ben M Rogers' matches him with (pardon the pun!) spot on lighting which also clearly defines the locations of the various scenes but also adds emotional depth when needed. 

Musical director Gareth Bretherton on keyboards is seen through a gauze screen while the three other members of the band on guitar, bass and drums are up above on the balcony. At one point they also  become participants in the Madison Avenue brainstorming parliament - even those musicians perched above away with the birds! 

This is one of those fascinating evenings where non-cognoscenti like TLT and her motorised chariot (and nearing the end of this review, we still haven't seen Rent!) can appreciate some of the technical processes of a developing musical theatre writer without their eyes glazing over.

Because we also pride ourselves that in terms of musical theatre, we're the ordinary punters with unlearned opinions who nevertheless can google and gather knowledge, we know now that Jonathan Larson sadly died as a result of  undiagnosed Marfan Syndrome.

Despite a few technical glitches and Philip Michael Thomas's choreography feeling a little squeezed into the space, the whole experience, whether with or without the woeful background, was a green light from us - oh, and we look forward to catching Rent if not on the current tour then in a future incarnation!

Review No Place For A Woman

A two hander set during the last days of Nazi Germany leaves Peter Barker questioning when it is appropriate to use such events as the backdrop for drama.

No Place For A Woman
by Cordelia O'Neill

Officers, Not Gentlemen

A Second World War drama, No Place For A Woman by Cordelia O'Neill, charts the parallel lives of two women, one a German officer's wife, the other a younger concentration camp inmate snatched away for her ballet talent and forced into an unwanted relationship.
Set in Nazi occupied Poland, Annie (Ruth Gemmell) has a brute of a husband, always unseen, who would have made the cut as a character in every prisoner-of-war or concentration camp movie you've ever seen. The other younger woman, Isabella (Emma Paetz) survives because she can dance.  

The two are linked by Annie's spouse.  

The Holocaust as subject matter has not always proved problem free. The criticisms direted against movie Life Is Beautiful and the marketing of the KZ Musik project show where the fictionalization or alleged reinvention of facts have struck many, at best, as inappropriate.

No Place For A Woman falls into neither category but it does beg questions about when it is meaningful to use The Holocaust or any other tragic event as a backdrop and when it is not.  

The actors are accompanied on stage by a cellist, Elliot Rennie, behind a gauze screen. Designer Camilla Clarke has created a black rectangle of a stage where the only embellishments are tiny coat hooks.

Director Kate Budgen has her actors performing what amounts to separate monologues at the start, but the story's trajectory brings them together as they remember and recreate the past.

Both Ruth Gemmell and Emma Paetz put in good performances, the former haughty and eloquent although with deepening emotional wounds, while the latter is vulnerable yet determined to survive as the camp prisoner.

But did I learn anything new about the history of this era and was the background necessary?

Originally called Tanzen Macht Frei, I can’t say for one moment that this play did a disservice to history, or was an attempt at exploiting a horrifying event. However, I did find myself questioning the point of this play and it's an amber light for a drama strangely disconnected from its background.

Review The Ferryman

The Ferryman
by Jez Butterworth

Cooking The Family Goose

Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine), a former IRA man, has turned his sword into a plowshare and now, in 1981, is cultivating cereal crops on the family farm.
Jez Butterworth's dramatic tapestry weaves in the past - back to the prehistoric bog men whose fate disturbingly echoes more recent events through the Easter Uprising of 1916 and the men and women who disappeared during The Troubles - up to the play's present day with the hunger strikers in Long Kesh's Maze Prison 

Artfully staged and acted, the large cast of this sprawling family melodrama is skilfully deployed by director Sam Mendes over nearly three and a half hours.  

The play is structured like a movie  or a boxed set  setting up a question mark and the imminence of threat and violence in the first scene and switching to the Armagh countryside with several stories intertwined.

A distinctive literary sensibility runs through the drama - the plays of Brian Friel, Sean O'Casey and Eugene O'Neill came to mind while there's more of a whiff of James Joyce with its tales of lost loves and dashed hopes with political activity.  It's often humorous, troubling, delightful and menacing in turns.  

There's meticulous attention to detail by designer Rob Howell down to the kitchen of the Catholic farmer's family with the smell of cooking meat wafting from the substantial range. 

As the family descends for the start of the harvest, there's also something of a feel of Northern Irish harder-edged, more sweary version of  The Waltons  where we meet parents, children, elderly uncles and aunts and eventually cousins. 

But the play starts very differently in a city the very name of which is a matter of contention with a horrifying exhumation of the recent past, showing this can be no rural idyll.  

The family arrangements of Quinn, his widowed sister-in-law luminous dark haired Caitlin (Laura Donnelly), joined eventually by his fragile, exhausted fair-haired wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly) and the pall of  possible illicit relationships and abuses, past and present, also hang over the generations. 

Yet in some ways this felt like a mystery story which never quite materialized, almost as if we were being deliberately diverted (in every sense of the word), with the possible chief character of that tale, Father Horrigan (Gerard Horan) hardly appearing. 

And that's what we found mildly frustrating Stories are evoked and then curtailed - so we never quite know what happens in the end even if it does feel jam-packed. The strands of the stories come thick and fast with the hovering of stereotypes. 

Yet it enchants enough that we bob along on the sea of words and comings and goings including a remarkably docile baby and various live animals, courtesy of gentle giant Englishman Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson), with a Shakespearean sounding moniker which happens to be the name of a Home Rule politician and friend of James Joyce

Considine as Quinn makes a fine professional stage debut, a tall, slightly stooping but sturdy figure who like, Donelly's Caitlin, is caught between ancient and the modern, 

But this is very much an ensemble piece from youngest child Honor (Grace Doherty alternating with Sophia Ally) to aged wheelchair-bound Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan). Like a victim of sleeping sickness awoken by drugs, she has moments of lucidity turning her into an aged Scherherazade.   

Des McAleer as Uncle Pat straddles the century through his education in the classics, as well of his memories of a harsh but pastoral farming past. An education which smacked to us as possibly British based. Equally, Dearhbla Molloy crosses the years both visually and verbally as the staunchly republican Aunt Patricia.
The play's visceral strength lies in its archeological layers of Irish history where everything. good and bad,  feels "pickled", perpetually in readiness for Virgil's boatman of death, The Ferryman of the title. 

Amidst the lyrical flow there are also sly hints of something more - a glimpse of another son of Armagh, the Reverend Ian Paisley and also international economic reality underpinning the farm.  

Through myth, literature and filmmaking, the image of Northern Ireland and Ireland has itself been "pickled", even if the hornblowing for the harvest crosses more than one culture. 

Now on the verge of Brexit, we look back from yet another archeological layer as the borderlands enter into a new phase and it's a green light for a play which feels obliquely apt for our times.