Tag Archives: Scott Graham

One Man Woman


The Studio, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 27th September, 2017


This production from the Wales Millennium Centre is a new translation of Manfred Karge’s 1982 piece – although it could have been written much earlier in the last century.  There are dark shades of Kafka here in the dehumanisation of man in the service of industrialisation, echoes of Brecht and especially Beckett in the execution.  I am also reminded of Berkoff’s reworking of Metamorphosis, when our protagonist literally goes up the wall…

At the root of the fractured narrative is the story of a widow who adopts her dead husband’s identity so she can take over his job as a crane driver.  This means she has to change her behaviour to fit in and become part of the blokey circle of his workmates.  Because a woman shouldn’t be doing man’s work, of course.  I’d like to think the world – especially the world of work has moved on a little since 1982.  But cross-dressing is a classic trope in drama and always has been, giving rise to all sorts of complications and talking points.  Here, it’s Nazi Germany where many had to pretend to be other than they were in order to survive. The stakes are high for our lady in trousers.

Maggie Bain is the sole performer, taking us through a blend of story, anecdote and memory, playing all the parts in a highly physicalised manner.  She is a compelling presence and is supported by some excellent tech work: projections illustrate the fantasy moments; atmospheric lighting slashes across the scene through wooden slats; distortions and echoes in the sound augment the mood; and above all, in my view, the original music by Matthew Scott adds a nursery rhyme/creepy feel to proceedings.

Directors Bruce Guthrie and Scott Graham pull out all the stops to bring life and colour to the grey, monochromatic world.  Surreal surprises abound: for example, Bain climbs into a suitcase and then comes in through the door.  Richard Kent’s sharply angled, expressionistic set complements the early 20th century vibe.  Dark circles ring Bain’s eyes, like a Buster Keaton figure or, given the expressionistic flavour, Claude Rains.

On the whole, I have to say I enjoyed the form of this piece rather than the content, due in no small part to Maggie Bain’s magnetic and skilful performance, using her voice and body to such a plastic extent, you expect the other characters to join her on stage at any given moment.  In the end, it’s a play of moments rather than moment.  It’s dark stuff: David Lynch meets Samuel Beckett.  Spellbinding rather than enlightening, it works on the imagination rather than the intellect.

man to man

Going up in the world, Maggie Bain (Photo: Polly Thomas)

The Moor the Chavvier

Frantic Assembly have revived their acclaimed production of Othello for a tour and though it lacks the charm of a show by Propeller, say, it certainly goes a long way to make Shakespeare accessible and appealing to a young, contemporary audience.

The setting is the Cyprus pub and its environs.  It’s a grubby establishment where you’re just as likely to get a kick in the teeth as a pint of beer.  The patrons sport hooded tops and tracksuits and speak with Northern accents.  It’s like a blank verse episode of Shameless.

The script has been cut to about half of its usual length, stripping the plot to a minimum and keeping the action tightly focussed.  What gets lost is the sense of Othello as a great man.  Here he is thug-in-chief, wielding a baseball bat.  He might be the hardest man in a milieu of hard men but, when all’s said and done, he’s just king of a shit heap.  He hasn’t got far to fall.

Mark Ebuwe is a solid, aggressive Othello but it’s Steven Miller’s Iago who compels, a nasty piece of work.  Miller brings out Iago’s cruelly ironic humour.  Like Cassius in another play entirely, he has a lean and hungry look.  You wouldn’t want to meet him in broad daylight never mind a dark alley.  Richard James-Neale brings a touch of light relief as the bumbling Rodrigo, while Ryan Fletcher’s Cassio gives us a striking study in drunk-acting.  Leila Crerar’s Emilia rises above the general chavviness for a climactic scene of high emotion and horrific violence – director Scott Graham doesn’t stint on the brawling and savagery.  The strangling scene is shocking but almost balletic.  Indeed, there is a lot of gracefulness in this sordid, unwholesome world.  Scenes are broken up by movement sequences in which the physicality of the actors complements the heightened language of the text.  It’s a slick but sometimes uneasy watch, tightly performed by an energetic and committed company.

This treatment ennobles the characters somewhat but what we get is not a sense of inescapable tragedy in which a great man is nobbled by a fatal flaw in his nature but instead we get social commentary: There is no escape from this nasty, dangerous existence and these people don’t even aspire to lift themselves out of the mire.  And that’s a tragedy of a different kind.

Steven Miller as Iago (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Steven Miller as Iago (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Everybody needs good neighbours


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Thursday 13th March, 2014

Bryony Lavery’s new play, created in collaboration with Frantic Assembly is the stuff of horror films.  When their house falls victim to flooding, Joff and Marianne, along with their daughter, are invited to spend the night in the home of neighbours Ollie and Maud, who also have a daughter.  The two girls play together, off-stage and unseen, while the adults get to know each other over a bottle of white rioja and Ollie’s special peanut sauce.  A comedy of manners ensues as Joff and Marianne react to their hosts’ religious convictions in a beautifully played and very funny scene around the dinner table.

The evening takes a turn for the weird long before a terrible life-changing event that stems from Ollie and Maud’s well-meaning plan to ‘cleanse’ their guests’ wayward daughter.

For the most part naturalistically performed, the piece is given a peculiar feel by its pared-down set.  Empty frames form doorways and corners, suggesting different rooms and locations.  Odd angles add an expressionistic element – the actors move the set around in a graceful, choreographed manner and it’s surprising how evocative these sparse lines are, pushing the emotions of the characters to the fore, leaving the audience to imagine things like décor, furniture and objects.

Andy Purves’s lighting design gives a Caravaggio-like appearance to some of the scenes.  With the addition of Carolyn Downing’s design for sound, the lighting gives us a few ghost-train scares.  It’s extremely effective.

Director Scott Graham keeps the action accessible and the people relatable although inhabiting a highly stylised space.  Their gravity-defying suspension on ropes changes our perspective and keeps a sense of ‘otherness’ running through the performance.  Events have thrown these lives off-kilter; the characters are adrift in familiar settings that have become unworldly to them.

Eileen Walsh (Marianne) and Christopher Colquhoun (Joff) are excellent as the ordinary couple overwhelmed by a nightmare, while Richard Mylan (Ollie) and Penny Layden (Maud) keep the weirdo neighbours credible.  Bryony Lavery’s writing is as sharp as ever – there is a kind of poetry to her naturalistic dialogue that is mirrored by the eerie beauty of the production style.

Stark, gripping, funny, inventive and scary, The Believers holds belief up to question in a way that reminded me a little of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle, and provides a thought-provoking, entertaining trip to the theatre.