The Edinburgh Fringe
Fringe 2001 Reviews (9)
According to the programme, Benet Catty (director, producer and lighting designer) was well aware of the pitfalls involved in presenting the play and - wisely - decided to ignore the original production and the film, and take his direction from the novel.
At times, as in the novel, the distinction between reality and Bruce Delamitri's Oscar-winning film become very blurred. The production begins with Wayne and Scout blasting away and slaughtering their victims. Is this his way of showing us how the "Mall Murders" got their reputation? Then the action stops and rewinds. Reality or film? Either - or both.
That the savage satire comes across well is thanks in no small measure to the superb performances of Jon Drever (Wayne) and Emma Cooper (Scout) who take their white trash characters to just short of caricature. They tread a very fine line, but manage to stay on the right side.
I was less convinced by some of the other performances, although I am not sure how far this is due to the direction. Brooke Daniels (played by Hannah Pettifer), for instance, lacks the glamour one would expect of the Playboy centrefold/would-be actress. Is this an attempt to avoid the bimbo stereotype? I have the impression that Catty is playing down the "real life" characters: even without the comparison to Wayne and Scout, they are pretty mundane, even dull.
I am left with an impression of colour: bright for the killers, grey for everyone else. An intriguing production.
Wiping My Mother's Arse
Andrene, in her seventies, is confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. Larry, middle-aged and gay, is her care assistant. She has a son in his mid-forties, Derek, who never comes to see her. It becomes clear, although not to Andrene, that Larry and Derek once had an affair. Then one day Derek arrives, with his new girlfriend, Kath. The stage is set for a real farcical comedy.
But it doesn't turn out that way. It is funny - very funny - but never descends to farce. The characters are well-drawn, the dialogue positively sparkles, and, like all the best comedy, it has its dark moments. Heggie resists the temptation to subvert the darker moments with a cheap gag and so, beneath the frequent laughter, we not only reflect upon the nature of the relationships between the characters but we see them in a wider context.
What becomes very obvious is that each of them is self-centred, using the others for their own purposes, both emotional and material. The two most obviously self-absorbed, making no attempt to hide their selfishness, are the oldest, Andrene, and the youngest, Kath.
It is impossible to fault the performances. Edith Macarthur (Andrene) is one of Scotland's most experienced and accomplished actresses (she was awarded the MBE in 2000 New Year's Honours List) and Eric Barlow (Larry) is one of the Traverse and Brunton Theatre stalwarts, and the two younger performers (Neil McKinven and Jill Riddiford) already have impressive CVs.
Unsurprisingly the house was full: word had already got around. A very definite five star production.
A playwright develops over time. (S)he learns a little more of his/her craft from each play written. Plays are workshopped and a little more is learned. Watching a play through production to performance teaches even more. Gradually characterisation gets deeper, dialogue tighter and range broadens.
Unless you're Gregory Burke, that is. Then you produce a superb play on your first outing.
For this is Burke's first play, and an amazing achievement it is. All the more so because this is very definitely a political play and manages to be so without ramming ideologies down the audience's throat and getting lost in a wilderness of cardboard cut-out characters. For these characters are complex, much more complex than their surfaces would suggest. He wanted, Burke tells us, to write a play about the twentieth century, about economics - "the dominant (only?) theme in modern politics" - and "men and our infinite capacity for self-delusion".
I wanted to write something about the twentieth century and I wanted to write something about economics and I wanted to write about men and it turned into Gagarin Way. A comedy. I didn't expect it to be a comedy, but when you consider the themes which emerged while I wrote it - Marxist and Hegelian theories of history, anarchism, psychopathology, existentialism, mental illness, political terrorism, nihilism, globalisation and the crisis in masculinity - then it couldn't really be anything else.
We do laugh - the first four pages are devoted to a conversation about Satre and Genet which is hilarious - but the play as a whole is far too complex to be so easily pigeonholed. Eddie ("I've always been interested in violence... I tried the recreational violence... seen as how I'm a bit more mature, I thought I should, ken, maybe try something way a point - violence way a reason") and Gary (demoralised left-wing political activist) plan to kidnap a Japanese member of top management in a local Fife firm, but he turns out to be Frank, not even English but Scots, and Tom, a university student working as a security guard during the vacation, gets in the way.
Crisp, incisive and often wickedly funny dialogue culminates in horrifying violence, which, in spite of all the warnings we're given, still comes unexpectedly - and so pointlessly. As Eddie says to Gary, "So get it intay that fucking skull ay yours - there's nothing tay fight against."
It goes without saying that, as usual with the Traverse company, the performances were absolutely impeccable and the play received one of the first Fringe Firsts of this year. It will be transfer to the RNT for a short run in September. If you can't see it in Edinburgh but can get to the South Bank, do so.