A Midsummer Night's Dream – Botanic Gardens
3 stars Why Do You Stand There In the Rain ?– C – 3 stars Besides The Obvious – C – 3 stars Shopping Centre – Gilded Balloon – 4 stars From the moment a gaggle of day-glo painted sprites lead the audience gathered at the Botanics Gardens North gate through all manner of exotic flora and fauna, its clear that Scottish Youth Theatre's first ever visit to Edinburgh is a punky, spunky junk-shop take on Shakespeare's evergreen rom-com, A Midsummer Night's Dream. As Peaseblossom, Cobweb and all the rest giggle, skip and frolic in the long grass en route to what they as celestial debutantes describe as a party, we duly promenade to the pool outside Inverleith House, where Fraser MacLeod's playful production begins. A stripy-blazered cyclist pulls a small, lead-adorned truck with a mini sound system inside, and the fairies dance some more. As we move around already sumptuous-looking gardens dressed up even more by designer Kenny Miller, Titania morphs into a back-combed Mary Queen of Scots, while Ross Brown's original score,sounds like the missing link between Godspell and the Wicker Man. Even with the walking required between locations, the whole thing clocks in at just over ninety minutes, and is performed with abandoned gusto by a cast of more than twenty. If there is actually too much wandering and too much of a hodge-podge in terms of sight-lines, there are some lovely touches, including a principal boy/girl as Lysander, a clever use of recorded voices played through hand-held speakers as Puck dupes all about him and a rare exuberance that more than justifies this truncated version's 'Twisted Shakespeare' strapline. Beyond the main action, it's the fairies who are rather oddly the show's force of nature. As the finale closes with a merry dance somewhere between the Dying Fly and the Timewarp, it's clear there's still plenty of life after dark at a party which, for MacLeod's young cast, has clearly only just begun. There's more singing in Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?, Peter Arnott's new play written for students at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California as part of a Scots/US exchange programme. In Cathy Thomas-Grant's production, however, the tunes have more of a polemical bent. Arnott tells the story of the Bonus Army, a hidden but crucial part of America's radical history, when thousands of poverty-stricken World War One veterans marched en masse to the White House, occupying Washington for three months. If such a story sounds familiar in today's war on terror age, in Arnott's hands, it's probably meant to. By tapping into such a rich seam of source material as well as folk songs from the era, Arnott and Thomas-Grant have created a box-car pageant that is effectively an American take on Oh What A Lovely War by way of Clifford Odets' Waiting For Lefty and The Grapes of Wrath. In making his point, Arnott even initiates some buddy-style solidarity between a young firebrand and a contemporary who's essentially had his brains blown out. Anyone who still believes that marching doesn't change anything should join up for this post-haste. Beside the Obvious is a far more intimate new play by Cameron Forbes, who brings two very different brothers together for an uneasy reunion. Eddie is a seemingly successful lawyer in the family firm, Daniel a soft-touch artist turned police photographer who escaped the nest for reasons only alluded to in a series of cryptic, quick-fire exchanges. As the sirens in Eddie's head become more pronounced, it's clear that Daniel has a heap of evidence to call Eddie. Forbes developed his script with fellow graduates of Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University's Acting for Stage and Screen Course, and produced it via the alliance of New Celt Productions and 41st 92nd Theatre Company. It's an ambitious if at times overloaded first effort, which adopts the clipped speech patterns and implied menaces of Pinter and Mamet. There are echoes too, in its depiction of families ripped asunder, of David Storey's In Celebration, albeit with an in-yer-face hangover. While both Sean Langtree as Eddie and David Edment as Daniel spar convincingly, at just over half an hour, Forbes' text needs to be fleshed out, even as some of the more contrived lines need to be excised. The play's dark intentions are all there, however, in a short, sharp shocker announcing a new voice to watch. Also a bit messed up is Jim, the camouflage trousered, track-suit topped socio-path in Shopping Centre, Matthew Osborn's blisteringly incisive dissection of the broken Britain David Cameron's Big Society became. We first encounter Jim dragging an unconscious security guard into his basement lair in the precinct he's now living in since the collapse of his marriage. Like an Essex boy Travis Bickle, Jim offloads a heap of neuroses as he prepares for war. Preferring to touch furniture to people, Jim has written to the Prime Minister a hundred times, and now dreams of the hitherto unexplored erotic possibilities of his smile. Performed by Osborn himself with scarifying intensity in Maggie Hinchley's production, Shopping Centre's tautly realised and fantastically performed script captures the troublingly recognisable downward spiral of a disenfranchised working-class male in crisis and about to explode. Reactionary, unreconstructed and sexually repressed, there are probably a million Jims out there fighting for survival. Osborn's study of this man on the street, however, is anything but ordinary.
The Herald, Aug 2, 2012 ends