Skip to main content

Double Shot - Newsreaders Onstage

Here is the news. Theatre-goers are in for a treat next week, when two doyens of the small screen show off some of their lesser known talents as actresses. Former newsreaders Viv Lumsden and Liz Kristiansen may have trained at drama school, but when they appear at Oran Mor next week in Chris Dolan’s new play, Double Shot, despite now being regarded as grand dames of their oeuvre, it will be the first time either of them have appeared onstage for more than 20 years. The fact too that Lumsden and Kristiansen both play the anchors of a popular radio talk show should add an extra frisson to such an auspicious and amusing occasion. Especially as the venue’s popular A Play, A Pie And A Pint series of lunchtime plays takes place in the heart of Glasgow’s west end, a stone’s throw from the BBC’s Queen Margaret Drive studios and in full view of the neighbourhood’s media elite.

If the above reads like an old school teatime news programme’s ‘And Finally’ moments, whereby normally ashen-faced talking heads let down their guards for a moment to end the programme with some light relief, think again. Because, in a maverick move typical of A Play, A Pie And A Pint producer David McLennan, Lumsden will play the iconic host of a light and fluffy middle-brow show that’s little more than aural wallpaper designed to offer the cosy equivalent of a heavily sedated cup of tea to its listeners.

Kristiansen on the other hand, plays a once powerful sidekick now relegated to the twilight zone of niche market community radio, where she insists on promoting all things highbrow and artistic. Ushered in from the cold by her old sparring partner, it looks like this might just be her last chance in the hot-seat. Given the current state of play among the chattering classes, whereby both public service and commercial broadcasters are in the firing line for dumbing down the airwaves, is Lumsden and Kristianson’s appearance in Double Shot not a case of post modernism gone mad, whereby the pair are effectively biting the hands that once fed them?

“We hope not,” says Lumsden, who disappeared from our screens five years ago to work as a freelance journalist. “We’re not actually overtly criticising the system, but are pointing out how difficult it is to live within it. We’re not saying that all broadcast employees are bad. It’s just little sideswipes that comes through my character. What’s been interesting for me is to find out whether I could rediscover the soul of an actor, which I used to think I had, but now I’m not so sure.”

“The advantage we’ve brought to this,” Kristiansen, who worked with the RSC and Manchester’s Royal Exchange before moving into teaching and broadcasting following bringing up a family, “is that, as broadcasters, it’s a world which, up to a point, we know. We’re both going back to something we got sidetracked from, but which we set off in life intending to do. So, for me, it’s great to be given the chance to try something which I’ve always wanted to do.”

Lumsden and Kristiansen are speaking, appropriately enough, sat side by side behind two shoved together desks in the draughty church hall where they’re being put through their paces by director Roxanna Silbert. As they talk through the piece, it’s noticeable that neither woman interrupts the other, instead picking up threads after enough space has been given for points to be made with a pronounced sense of clarity. Old habits of a newsreader’s discipline, it seems, die hard.

For Silbert, formerly an associate at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre and currently head of Paines Plough in London after stints at The Citizens Theatre, the experience thus far has proved “exhilarating and terrifying. I think it’s quite frightening for them, because they’ve never had to learn lines. Although they’re not actors, they’ve always performed, but have had the back-up of auto-cues, a script in front of them and someone talking into their ear. What’s been lovely is how open they’ve been to this whole new experience.”

For Dolan too, as an experienced writer of prose and plays, Double Shot has been unique.

“It sounded like a wheeze,” he says of his response when first approached. “I had this story anyway, so when David suggested I do something for them, it all slotted in together. I didn’t want to make it too kitschy, but because of who they are, to some extent you can’t avoid it. Everyone who comes along will know who Viv and Liz are, and while I’d like the play to have a longer life, if it becomes their party piece, then that’s great.”

Whatever happens next week, both Lumsden and Kristiansen are laying their reputations as serious journalists on the line in a way that hasn’t been seen since Angela Rippon flashed her legs on Morecambe and Wise’s Christmas show. In a world where even the news has become just one more branch of showbiz, however, both parties are keen to stress that they are most definitely not playing themselves.

“It’s a conflagration of everything we’ve experienced,” says Kristiansen.

“Except murder,” adds Lumsden, before moving into our very own ‘And Finally’ moment.

Ask these grand dames of the small screen which fellow thespians they might consider looking to for spiritual guidance, and you might be surprised. Kristiansen, it turns out, was at drama school with Helen Mirren, currently on a role following her umpteen award victories for her portrayal of the UK’s reigning monarch in Stephen Frears’ film, The Queen. Kristiansen still admires Mirren greatly, and you can understand why she too might now want some overdue time in the spotlight.

A less starstruck Lumsden, on the other hand, doesn’t really have any truck with such notions. While expressing serious admiration for David Hayman and Robert Carlyle, both of whom came to prominence onstage prior to finding fame in film and television, she’s far happier pointing out the star turns she believes unable to act their way out of a paper-bag.

“Sean Connery,” she says bluntly of a man considered to be both national treasure and sacred cow. “The man is rotten. He can do James Bond, but nothing else. He’s always a Scot, even when he’s a commander of a Russian submarine. Then there’s Vanessa Redgrave, who’s held up as being brilliant, but I think is awful. John Gielgud as well I think was terrible, but they all got away with murder.”

Whether Viv Lumsden, Liz Kristiansen and the characters they’re playing can do likewise, we’ll find out next week.

Double Shot, A Play, A Pie And A Pint, Oran Mor, Glasgow, February 26-March 3

The Herald, February 2nd 2007



Popular posts from this blog

The Honourable K.W. Harman: Ltd Ink Corporation

31 Bath Road, Leith Docks, March 17th-20th

In a monumental shipping container down by Leith Docks, a Sex Pistols tribute band is playing Anarchy in the U.K.. on a stage set up in the middle of the room. Either side, various constructions have been built in such a way so viewers can window shop as they promenade from one end of the room to the next, with the holy grail of a bar at either end.

Inbetween, there’s a confession booth and a mock-up of a private detective’s office with assorted documentation of real-life surveillance pinned to the walls. Two people seem to be having a conversation in public as if they're on a chat show. An assault course of smashed windows are perched on the floor like collateral damage of post-chucking out time target practice. A display of distinctively lettered signs originally created by a homeless man in search of a bed for the night are clumped together on placards that seem to be marking out territory or else finding comfort in being together. Opp…

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…


Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …