The Barron’s got a new seating rack and it’s beautiful.
We’re all back to another semester and another packed Barron season but, as in Shrek 2, ’now…it’s sexy!’.
I had very little idea what to expect from Director Hannah Ritchie’s all-female production of King Lear. It represents her first directing project in St Andrews, and features a cast of proven talent and some new faces. The play is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s finest, but it is also notoriously difficult to stage. It’s very long (uncut it can run as long as four hours), deals with incredibly complex themes, and the role of Lear itself is a challenge even to veteran Shakespearean actors, often seen as the Everest of theatre. With these factors in mind, I was curious to see how well a group of young women could pull this off.
Our Country’s Good Interview
Theresa Rebeck’s Spike Heels went up in the Barron theatre on the 17th and 18th of March without the audience it deserved. Notable for the way in which it handles the issue of sexual harassment alongside its comic underpinnings, the show was definitely a tough sell. Yet, director Addie Gray deftly navigated these issues of workplace harassment and sexual politics, even if she couldn’t avoid the show’s rather divisive ending.
Singaporean playwright Alfian Sa’at’s The Optic Trilogy presents three separate acts – ‘Transparency’, ‘Brilliance’, and ‘Iridescence’ – each involving a Man (Clement Yeung) and a Woman (Manaal Mahjoub) and set on July 25th, 2001. We see in turn: a woman hiringa male escort who expects sex and is instead used as a way for her to try and puzzle out her perception of Singapore as her home; a photographer whose blind model turns out to be the woman he had an obsessive crush on as a teenager; and a woman who proposes to her deceased fiancé’s ex-boyfriend in a complicated processing of grief. Two-hander plays are tricky beasts: there’s nowhere to hide when you only have yourself and one other castmate to drive the narrative from beginning to end. Unfortunately, Yeung and Mahjoub did not overcome this challenge.
The play centres around three women in a small Yorkshire community, all coping with scars left by the same man, the almost inhumanly vicious Royce. Dealing with themes of abuse, family, and innocence, it is mostly in monologue, with characters storytelling directly to the audience throughout almost the entire show. The script, written by Richard Cameron, is a gauntlet of intense, emotionally draining vignettes that touch on every element of abuse. This is exemplified in turn by the three characters: Ruby (Eleanor Burke) lives in the shadow of Royce’s emotionalabuse, Jodie (Annabel Steele) is haunted by the memory of his psychological torture, and Lynette (Jen Grace) attempts to cope with his threats of constant physical violence. If one thing about this play is obvious, it is that these three actors deliver tour-de-force performances.
The Real Thing is not Tom Stoppard at his finest. It meanders, it’s too long, makes its points too loudly, and to be honest by the time the last half of act two rolled around I really had no time for any of the characters. One gets the sense that we’re supposed to find these people charming, but their affluence and pretentious musings on the nature of love just came across as arrogant. But perhaps that’s the point.
There is a particular frisson to the Mermaids Christmas Ball that you either love or hate— and, generally, people belonging to the latter party are people who have cold memories of sitting in the rain at 3am. Thankfully they made the decision to move to online ticket sales which, while causing a lot of controversy, meant there weren’t students dying of hypothermia clogging up the streets in the early hours of a Scottish winter morning. In a St Andrews with events failing left, right and centre, Christmas Ball will never not sell out; something the Mermaids are right to be thrilled with, as it enables them to take shows to the Fringe every summer in the name of #art.
At its core, Lucy Prebble’s The Effect asks its audience a question – are we defined by the chemicals in our system? Directed by Louis Catliff, breaking out of his comfort zone as St Andrews Go-to-guy for 20TH Century American drama, the show alternates between the stories of Tristan (Oli Savage) and Connie (Jen Grace), who volunteers in a depression medication trial. The psychiatrist and drug company representative, Dr James (Valentine Moscovici) and Toby (Ebe Bamgboye), are overseeing the operation. In equal measures, funny and heart wrenching, Catliff’s production is certainly one of this semester’s highlights, even if it cannot fully circumvent some slight issues with the script’s ending.