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Sep 16th

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at Theatre Royal, Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe
Agatha Christie’s record breaking whodunit returns to Glasgow to keep a fresh audience guessing.
The Mousetrap 60th Anniversary Tour

The Mousetrap is famously the longest running production in British Theatre history; having been performed in London’s West End continuously since its opening in 1952.  With over 25,000 performances in its London home alone, this play is clearly doing something right!  To celebrate its 60th anniversary, the play licenced 60 productions worldwide including a tour of UK regional theatres for the first time.  With phenomenal success, the tour has been extended to give an even wider audience access to this record breaking production.
Understandably, the play is in the classic mould being based in an imposing manor house in post war Britain where 8 principal characters are cut off from the outside world by a heavy snow storm.  A murder has been committed in nearby London and during the first act we come to appreciate that among the assembled characters are two more prospective victims … and the murderer.
The styling throughout will please any Agatha Christie fan.  The standing Great Hall set is suitably grand and reassuringly solid with an imposing fireplace and panelled walls.  Costumes and furniture fit the bill beautifully and even sound is very subtly amplified to maintain an intimate and authentic feel to the performance.  Direction from Ian Watt-Smith also fits the period nicely where (particularly female) actors are called upon to deliver melodrama and knuckle-in-the-mouth stifled screams – think Grace Kelly in “Dial M For Murder”.  Helen Clapp delivered this beautifully as Mollie Ralston with excellent support from this small cast including Luke Jenkins as Sgt. Trotter.
All in all, this production delivers what you might expect from a 60 year old Agatha Christie classic which has been faithfully preserved.  Unfortunately, for me, this included a rather pedestrian plot and 8 caricature personas along with a reasonably obvious conclusion.  I think that modern audiences expect more of the unexpected from their intelligent suspense dramas these days.  However, I don’t want to detract from this production too much as it clearly achieves what it set out to achieve.
Agatha Christie fans will love it.
The Mousetrap
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
15 – 20 Sep 2014
Tickets £11.90 - £34.90 (bkg fee) 
Sep 12th

Journey's End at Bolton Octagon

By Cameron Lowe
Review by Kirstie  Niland

Journey's End

Playwright R. C. Sherriff originally considered calling Journey’s End "Suspense" and Waiting" and this is exactly what it entails. The horrific reality of the First World War, where men were sent out to the trenches and waited to die.

The Octagon’s theatre-in-the-round gives heightened intimacy to this remarkable and moving performance, directed by internationally acclaimed Director David Thacker. The arena layout also lends itself perfectly to the stage set of an officers’ dugout.
Enormous attention to detail has been paid to the set, built from 50 scrap pallets, 100 recycled scaffolding boards, 21000L of top soil, 700 hessian sandbags & 200m of steel. The result is paradoxically inviting, belying the horror that lies beyond. Even with the sound effects of gunfire and bombs going off around us, it seems the officers are relatively safe in their cocoon.
So it’s understandable that Hibbert (Ciaran Kellgren) would rather let Stanhope (James Dutton) shoot him dead in the dug-out than face the torturous walk to the terror of the frontline. Even though Stanhope brands him a “little worm” you know that every one of the men there must feel the same, they just don’t say it.
Under David Thacker’s brilliant direction, asking the actors to believe it is really they themselves waiting to die, allowing them to improvise, Journey’s End comes painfully alive.
The rawness of Ciaran Kellgren’s emotion as Hibbert breaks down before Stanhope’s revolver is truly palpable; as is Stanhope’s when his school friend Raleigh (Tristan Brooke), who annoys him so much, meets his fate with the same ready acceptance that he goes to the fontline. His eager innocence, finding being chosen for the raid “frightfully exciting”, contrasts sharply with Stanhope’s shame when he censors Raleigh’s letter home, only to discover words full of praise not the disappointment he expected.
Journey's End
Every single actor gives the play depth. James Dutton is riveting as he shows the audience the stark complexity and vulnerability of Stanhope beneath the angry aloofness. And even without speaking, the local drama students guarding the dug-out throughout, playing cards and polishing their weapons, underline the agonising wait.
Based on Sherriff’s own experiences, each of the men he has written into the play has his own coping mechanism, and each of the actors manages to convey the hidden pain poignantly. 
When Stanhope mentally pushes Trotter (Richard Graham) to react, accusing him of always feeling the same, you want to shout “Stop”. Titanic star Richard Graham, for once in a role like his own real self, rather than the film and television bad guys he’s become famous for, makes you warm to his gentle, jovial nature. But you know that his retreat into conversations about food and 8ft dahlias is a safety net, not a lack of emotion.
Similarly, Osborne, the heroic tower of strength, finds his distraction in poems from Alice in Wonderland. David Birrell who plays him exudes courage and kindness, making it entirely credible that he would reassure the others and protect Raleigh to the death.
The actors in this performance successfully lay bare the concealed and raw emotions of the real men who waited for death in dugouts, where the smell of bacon mixed with the stench of rats.
Journey’s End is played out over “6 eternal days”, which as Trotter informs us, is 144 hours, or 8640 minutes. This moving performance makes you feel every second of it.
Journey’s End is at the Octagon from Thursday 4 September – Saturday 4 October 2014. Tickets are from £26.50 - £10 on 01204 520661, or at 
Sep 10th


By Cameron Lowe

by Lucy Komisar in New York 

Take a trip back to Berlin circa 1930. Inside a cabaret, red lamps light round black tables, a waiter brings wine and food for you, and scantily clad musicians play jazzy music. It’s a charming evening for a sophisticated audience – or is it?

Alan Cumming as the emcee with the Kit Kat Klub dancers, photo Joan Marcus.

Alan Cumming as the emcee with the Kit Kat Klub dancers, photo Joan Marcus.

The decadence is represented by the master of ceremonies (Alan Cumming), who is in-your-face crude, sexual, raunchy, almost elegantly so with his white face, glinty eyes and red lips, white suspenders pulled over a nude chest and twisted around his crotch, nipples colored red. He has a German accent.

Cumming is excellent and chilling in the role, which he created in 1998 and which is smartly directed by Sam Mendes. The memorable songs were written by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics). Orchestra seats set up as cabaret tables pull you into the drama. If you see one musical these days, make it this one.

Dancers sing Wilkommen (welcome). And everyone is. Into the cabaret comes Clifford Bradshaw (Bill Hecht), an American arriving in Berlin to work on a novel. At the Berlin train station, he had met Ernst Ludwig, a German who offered him to way to make some money. He just has to deliver a briefcase. Ludwig is a Nazi. He referred Bradshaw to Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house.

Michelle Williams as Sally and Alan Cumming as the emcee, photo Joan Marcus.

Michelle Williams as Sally and Alan Cumming as the emcee, photo Joan Marcus.

At the club for diversion, Bradshaw meets Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams), 19, an American singer who is not very sure of herself or her future, and is sleeping with the club owner who can help her career.
As Bradshaw appears to be bi-sexual (as was Isherwood, who wrote the stories on which this is based), he turns out to be more than a good friend to Sally when she needs a place to stay. Hecht is fine as the cool American. Williams’ voice is rich and sexy, but she is rather bland and too wholesomely blonde as Sally. She makes you wish for Liza Minnelli, who did the movie role.

Bill Hecht, as Cliff, Michelle Williams as Sally, Danny Burstein as Herr Shultz, Linda Edmond as Fraulein Schneider, photo Joan Marcus.

Bill Hecht, as Cliff, Michelle Williams as Sally, Danny Burstein as Herr Shultz, Linda Edmond as Fraulein Schneider, photo Joan Marcus.

Fräulein Schneider (a very good Linda Edmond) is keeping company with Herr Shultz (the excellent Danny Burstein), a Jewish fruit vendor. Also at her boarding house is the prostitute Fräulein Kost (Gayle Rankin), who does business with visiting sailors. When Schneider catches her at it and warns her, Kost gets revenge by telling Ludwig that Schultz is a Jew.

A Kit Kat Klub waiter starts to sing a patriotic song that turns into the unnerving Nazi theme, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”

Can Fräulein Schneider marry a Jew. Shultz tells her, “It is not always good to settle for the lowest apple on the tree, climb a little. I will catch you.” Then a brick is thrown threw his shop window. And Fräulein Schneider is singing a Nazi song.

The most stunning number shows the emcee/Cumming and an actor in a gorilla suit.

I know what you’re thinking:
You wonder why I chose her
Out of all the ladies in the world.
That’s just a first impression,
What good’s a first impression?
If you knew her like I do
It would change your point of view.

If you could see her through my eyes,
You wouldn’t wonder at all.
If you could see her through my eyes
I guarantee you would fall (like I did)
When we’re in public together
I hear society moan.
But if they could see her through my eyes
Maybe they’d leave us alone.

How can I speak of her virtues?
I don’t know where to begin
She’s clever, she’s smart, she reads music
She doesn’t smoke or drink gin (like I do)
Yet, when we’re walking together
They sneer if I’m holding her hand,
But if they could see her through my eyes
Maybe they’d all understand.

I understand your objection,
I grant you the problem’s not small.
But if you could see her through my eyes…
She wouldn’t look Jewish at all.

Alan Cumming as the emcee, photo Joan Marcus.

Alan Cumming as the emcee, photo Joan Marcus.

Earlier productions excised the word “Jewish.” (I couldn’t find a production photo for this scene; maybe it’s still too controversial.)

The collapse of the personal connections in the play trails the collapse of German society. Cliff wants Sally to come with him to the U.S. She ignores what is happening around her. She’ll hang onto the glamor of the Kit Kat Klub.

At the end — also not in earlier versions — the emcee pulls open his black leather coat to show a striped shirt of the kind worn by camp inmates with the yellow star for Jews and pink for homosexuals. The darker version belongs.

Cabaret.” Book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb. Directed by Sam Mendes. Based on the play “I Am a Camera” by John Van Druten, based on stories by Christopher Isherwood. Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, New York City. 212-719-1300. Opened April 24, 2014; closes end of March 2015. 9/8/14.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist aand theatre critic. Her web site is 

Sep 3rd


By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York 

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, photo Evgenia Eliseeva.

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, photo Evgenia Eliseeva.

Wrapped in a white gown, an iconic white gardenia in her hair, Audra McDonald channels Billie Holiday — her voice, her accent, her manner — till you believe you are sitting in the slightly tacky Philadelphia dive where Holiday sang her last songs. “What a little moonlight can do” becomes a magical mood changer. It’s helped by the dreamlike direction of Lonny Price.

One great –McDonald — sings another great, Lady Day. Her imitation is brilliant. She has mastered Holiday’s accent, a slight trill, a broad vowel. Lady Day did blues with a jazz beat, following mentors Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong.

McDonald sings Holiday’s well-known songs as if they were dramas. Her phrasing in “Strange Fruit” is a distinctive intense call of pain.

The back story of her “God Bless the Child” is a parent refusing to help a child. The projection on the wall is of Arthur Herzog Jr., who wrote the song with Holiday. Herzog’s father preferred his sister, who ended up with most of the family money, so the song-writer wrote, “God Bless the Child, who’s got his own… [money]!” Holiday’s mother also refused the generosity her needy daughter required.

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday with bass player, photo Evgenia Eliseeva.

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday with bass player, photo Evgenia Eliseeva.

As an actress, McDonald movingly interprets the story of Lady Day – arrested on a drug charge after her lover put drugs in her suitcase. As a result, she couldn’t get a cabaret card to work in New York City, which destroyed her career. The play shows her harassed by a parole officer.

The story is not only the tragic drama of one of America’s greatest artists, but a commentary about America’s repressive drug laws, which destroy people — black users jailed, white upper class Wall Street/Hollywood users given a pass — while more harmful cigarettes and alcohol remained legal because of the powerful corporations that market them.

Holiday would have had an appropriately dark musical comment about this happening in a country with a black president.

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.” Written by Lanie Robertson; directed by Lonny Price. Circle in the Square, 50th Street between Bway & 8th Avenue, New York City. 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250. Opened April 13, 2014; closes Oct 5, 2014. 8/1/14.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is "The Komisar Scoop"  (  

Sep 2nd

West End Heroes to Return to The Dominion Theatre

By Cameron Lowe
Michael Ball, Britain’s leading musical theatre star, a double Olivier Award winner, multi-platinum recording artist and a hugely popular radio and TV presenter, is announced today as the host of the 2014 West End Heroes gala concert.

West End Heroes

Following the phenomenal success of West End Heroes last year, which saw the casts of many of the biggest West End musicals unite with the finest UK military bands and musicians in a stunning performance that raised over £88,000 for the Help For Heroes charity, the newly refurbished Dominion Theatre is to once again host the event, this year on Sunday 28 September at 7.30pm Michael Ball will oversee proceeedings and also perform in The 2014 West End Heroes gala concert, which will again unite the country’s top military musicians with even more West End performers and productions in a dazzling showcase of showstopping numbers, unlikely song mash-ups and stunning choreography and precision drilling.

He said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to take part in West End Heroes and to show my respect, admiration and support for the amazing men and women who‘ve literally put their lives on the line for us all. It’ll be a joy and a challenge to host the entire evening (as well as hopefully performing a couple of songs) and I can promise it’s going to be a concert not to be missed. And, if all goes to plan there will be some wonderful surprises in store!”

Returning to form the centerpiece of the gala and under the directorship of Wing Commander Duncan Stubbs will be The Central Band of the Royal Air Force, which is widely regarded as one of the finest military bands in the UK and incorporates the celebrated RAF Squadronaires Big Band. West End Heroes will once again be generously supported by many TV and theatre stars and will feature line-ups from current and past West End Shows.

This year’s event has set a target to raise more than £100,000. General Manager of the Dominion Theatre, David Pearson, said: “It is an honour and a privilege to once again host West End Heroes and we are delighted to announce Michael Ball as our MC. He is the biggest musical theatre star in the UK and we know he will do a magnificent job as MC as well as delivering some stunning numbers himself. The Dominion is looking forward to welcoming the concert as one of the first major events following the extensive restoration and refurbishment programme, which will be completed over the summer.”
Aug 31st

Dirty Dancing at The King's Theatre Glasgow

By Cameron Lowe
Review by Chris Lowe

Dirty Dancing the classic story on stage is here for you to enjoy at the King’s Theatre Glasgow. 

Dirty Dancing

The story of Baby Houseman (Roseanna Frascona) and Johnny Castle (Gareth Bailey) and the music that accompanies their blossoming love/lust - is known across the globe. This iconic show is a welcome addition to the musical theatre line up at The Kings.
Featuring all the iconic moments from the film, Dirty Dancing does exactly what it says on the tin. It brings Johnny and Baby's unforgettable love story to life with passion and credibility to the sheer delight of everyone in the audience.
Dirty Dancing

Set at Kellerman's summer camp in the 1960s, the clean, cheesy, wholesome fun that goes on is contrasted by the hot steamy backstage drama. Where Dirty Dancing truly comes into its own is in showcasing the amazing dancing. This cast work extremely hard throughout and their incredible movement is mesmerising. 
The entire play, including its staging, oozes with cheese. Once you buy into this fact and take its approach to the film as tongue-in-cheek, the characters and their struggles (ridiculous as it may seem)  become a whole lot more enjoyable!
As the final hip-swivelling moves are made, the buzz from the audience speaks for itself. This show is an empowering, romantic tale which will stand the test of time for decades to come.
Dirty Dancing
The King's Theatre, Glasgow
Until 13 September 
Tickets £10 -  £79.90 (bkg fee) 
Aug 29th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: Party Politics

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August, the largest theater festival in the world, presents hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the third group, party politics. The parties ought to be the solution to the first two. But maybe not so much.

The plays are “The Pitiless Storm,” “Spoiling” and “Kingmaker.” The first two deal with the issue of Scottish independence from the UK which comes to a vote Sept 18th. The other, equally relevant, is about the corruption of UK Tory politics. The point made in the first two is that Scotland is progressive. Nationalist and labor members dominate the Scottish parliament. And they are almost all Scottish MPs in London. But set against the Tories, they are a minority in Westminster. So, staying in the union blocks progressive policies most Scottish voters want.

“The Pitiless Storm”

Bob Cunningham (David Hayman) is a Scottish labor leader preparing to address an audience of his comrades. He wears a gray suit and a Scottish plaid tie. A sign on the podium says “Unity (drawing of clasped hands) Strength.” But unity is sorely lacking.

He is getting an OBE – Order of the British Empire. And as he rehearses his speech, he talks to his son in the empty auditorium. In reality, this play by Chris Dolan is directed by the actor’s son, David Hayman Jr. And Hayman’s convictions are clear, illuminating his forceful performance. He is a man of the Scottish left.

Cunningham was a radical. He remembers a peace march he walked in at 20. He sings a line of a Spanish civil war song. He says, “We fought for internationalism.”

David Hayman as Bob Cunningham in

David Hayman as Bob Cunningham in “The Pitiless Storm.”

Now, the mood of the Labor Party has changed. He talks about how workers have been treated badly, thrown on the scrapheap. He lists his achievements, but acknowledges that he got workers education –but not jobs.

We see Cunningham struggling to defend his past and to come to grips with reality. He thinks of his wife. Ethel says: “Wasn’t you, Bob who destroyed more industry than Thatcher. You didn’t put a million young people on the dole. Afghanistan, Iraq, they weren’t your wars.”

He refers to the Labor Prime Minister that took the UK into the Iraq war as “Tony criminal liar fucking Blair,” responsible for “the destruction of everything we held dear.”

And on other issues. He declares that going on a peace march against a Labor government policy in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been wrong. But he mourns that Ethel, who he adored, went marching with “the ladies” – and left him.

In his memory his son reminds him of his goals: “An end to peerages, spin, cash for honours…”

His guilt overwhelms him. He thinks that he fought for miners, shipbuilders, homeless, the unemployed. And now he thinks that was just keeping alive the yoke of empire.

He thinks, “Thank you, thank you Westminster and the Great British Commonwealth…. for fucking up my life and everything I stood for and what I thought it was to be a man. An O – B – fucking E, playing the bastards at their own game.”

Now it has come to a “tacky class war against nationalism.” He says there are “plenty of dragons still to fight in the United Kingdom. But they’re up here as well as down there. Think of your Scottish ruling class. …We’ve got to stand firm on this one, friends.”

It was a passionate plea to vote yes on the Sept. 18th referendum for Scottish independence from the UK.

The Pitiless Storm.” Written by Chris Dolan; directed by David Hayman Jr.


There are piles of crumpled papers on the floor in front of a brown wood desk. Out of it pushes/rises a lady in a purple dress who is very pregnant. In “Spoiling” by John McCann, directed by Orla O’Loughlin, Fiona (the excellent Gabriel Quigley) is the Scottish foreign minister designate who is preparing to give a major speech about the newly independent Scotland and its relationship to the UK. It’s never said what ruling party she belongs to. You have to figure it’s the majority Nationalists.

The date is the future, after the September 18th vote on independence which here is established as a “Yes.”

Gabriel Quigley as Scottish foreign minister designate and Richard Clements as party worker in

Gabriel Quigley as Scottish foreign minister designate and Richard Clements as party worker in “Spoiling,” photo Jeremy Abrahams.

She has been promoted by the party, because what she said about the referendum galvanized the public.

But now the party wants to counter the vote for independence. She fears that the Scots voted for independence, but “we are indentured,” and the party leaders will finesse the vote. She doesn’t like the speech that she’s been given to present. It uses words like “integration.” .

The party is worried that she won’t stay in line, on message. They send to her office a young party hack, Mark (Richard Clements), one of those interchangeable bland-faced young men in a suit who transmits the worries of his bosses that she won’t stick to their script. They emphasize that “we can’t embarrass our guests,” the English. She is angry that the schedule has the Brits speaking first, as if they were welcoming everyone on to “their house.”

The crumpled papers out of which she rises are her speech. Mark picks up a paper and she reads it: “The people of Scotland did not fall for a project…” She talks about what the English did to the Scots. In passing, Mark asks who presented her with child. Turns out she was “screwed” by a Brit. [My word, but you get the idea.]

Smart and clever, it’s what Scottish intellectuals think of the September 18th independence vote. Stay tuned.

Spoiling.” Written by John McCann; directed by Orla O’Loughlin. At the Traverse Theatre.


A slick Tory MP, Max Newman (the superb Alan Cox), is plotting the moves that will make him a British prime minister. You get an idea of the corruption awaiting the Scots if they don’t get their own country.

The chief character in this engrossing play by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, directed by Hannah Eidinow, is a not very disguised Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London, who has greater aspirations.

The dialogue reminds one of Johnson and other politicians – especially Labor prime minister Tony Blair – who are famous for public relations manipulations. One description of their ilk in the play is of “a teddy bear crossed with a serial killer.”

Now Max is in a contest for the Tory leadership, which could move him toward his quest. He’s got some dark things in his past, affairs, he jokes “embezzlement, and I don’t go to church.” But he quips, “The public just don’t care.” That’s because he looks like the rest of them, funny flawed like the rest of them, and therefore electable.

Alan Cox as Max Newman in

Alan Cox as Max Newman in “Kingmaker,” photo Jeremy Abrahams.

Unfortunately for Max, blocking his way is Eleanor Hopkirk (the very good Joanna Bending), an ambitious Tory MP, whose brother 20 years ago was a suicide, she says, after bullying by Max at one of England’s prestigious universities. Is this blackmail?

She has brought along Dan Regan (Laurence Dobiesz), a meek young MP who will be part of the deal.

But Max, a former newspaper editor, is more agile than she is. Max the bully is not one to be finessed. With wide brush strokes, talk reminiscent of a gangster, he begins a pincer movement. He accuses her of seeking power through the young guy. He suggests allegations of her drinking and promiscuity. And suddenly there’s the great PR device, a mea culpa. “This guy is our next PM, because he knows what it is to suffer.”

Yes, such manipulators are who the Brits have gotten as the PMs in both parties. Takes you back to the first plays, about why many Scots want to get out of Westminster.

Kingmaker.” Written by Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky. Directed by Hannah Eidinow.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

- See more at:
Aug 29th

Original Strikers Visit Made In Dagenham Rehearsals

By Cameron Lowe
Original strikers visit Made in Dagenham rehearsals. 

Made in Dagenham Cast

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Rehearsals for the forthcoming West End musical Made In Dagenham are now underway, ahead of the show beginning previews on Thursday 9 October, with press night on Wednesday 5 November.  The company, led by Gemma Arterton, Adrian Der Gregorian and Isla Blair were recently visited by three of the original Ford Dagenham strikers, whose heart-warming and inspiring story provides the backdrop for the new musical, with book by Richard Bean, music by David Arnold and lyrics by Richard Thomas.

 Original strikers visit Made in Dagenham rehearsals
Photo: Manuel Harlan

Eileen Pullen, Vera Sime and Gwen Davis visited the central London rehearsal rooms to share with the cast their memories of working in the sewing rooms at the enormous factory and the momentous strike of 1968, which ultimately resulted in the passing of the Equal Pay Act. Rehearsal shots by the show’s official photographer Manuel Harlan, and featuring the cast and the Dagenham strikers, are attached.
The producers have also announced the release of 15,000 tickets priced at just £15 across all performances, including 150 for every preview of the show at London’s Adelphi Theatre.
Aug 29th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: War

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August, the largest theater festival in the world, presents hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the second group, about war. “The Bunker Trilogy” and “Private Peaceful” about World War I and “The Collector” about more organized cruelty in Abu Graib.

“The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana”

Written by Jamie Wilkes, directed and designed by Jethro Compton, this is one of three plays that look at war – World War I in this 100th anniversary — through iconic western stories. This uses the Arthurian legend, the others Agamemnon and Macbeth. It is eerily superb.

You enter into a small dark space, benches on three sides, but you can hardly see them. Then your eyes get accustomed to the dim. There are dark wood planks that hold up canvas walls, a tin roof, a dirt floor. You glimpse sandbags piled up at an opening.

Sam Donnelly as Lancelot and Hayden Wood as Arthur.

Sam Donnelly as Lancelot and Hayden Wood as Arthur.

Inside are three British soldiers in a bunker in No Man’s Land between British and German lines. The play is about the ordinary and the horrible.

The characters from the story of King Arthur are Arthur (Hayden Wood), Lancelot (Sam Donnelly), Gwain (James Marlow) and Morgana le Fey (Bebe Sanders). They remind one that the glorification of war described in that story, and other legends, is a fraud. All the actors are fine in this ensemble performance, but I found Wood especially good

With horror outside the bunker, a bit of ordinary life goes on. The older soldiers tease the younger Gwain, who lacks experience with women. They talk about a German girl; could she have been the fat girl they saw on No Man’s Land?

It’s Christmas. Lance says, ‘When we liberate German women, it would be disappointing if they were porky.” So they are typical sexist males of the era. They do male jokes, male fantasies.

As they talk about venturing into the danger zones, Gwain argues, “This isn’t about bravery, it’s about principles.”

But he is contradicted, “We think of ourselves as knights.” Lancelot declares, “For King and country.” Killing for humanity.

Morgana provokes the youth’s memory of Cornwell. And the song sounds, “Keep the home fires burning.” All fantasies for the World War I killing fields.

The Bunker Trilogy: Morgana.” Written by Jamie Wilkes. Directed and designed by Jethro Compton.

“Private Peaceful”

Taking the British soldiers as individuals, “Private Peaceful” was adapted and directed by Simon Reade from the narrative by Michael Morpurgo, who wrote the story on which “War Horse” was based. It tells the story of Private Tommo Peaceful (vividly portrayed by Andy Daniel), a naïve First World War volunteer who grew up in rural Devon, fell in love with a young woman who married his brother, and then enlisted at 16, below the legal age. Daniel bounds across the stage to create scenes and years.

Too much of the story is about his early life, showing he’s a regular guy, but when it gets to wartime it is riveting.

There’s propaganda fed to the young corn-fed guys: “If we don’t beat them in France, the Germans will come through burning your village.”

And, “Your king needs you, your country needs you. It’s every man’s duty.” Tommo is goaded by an old lady who calls him a coward. Then we see the brutality visited on sweet innocent boys afflicted by foolish “patriotism.”

Andy Daniel as 'Private Peaceful,' photo Jonathan Keenan.

Andy Daniel as ‘Private Peaceful,’ photo Jonathan Keenan.

Tommo and his brother join and army and go to France. He is gassed, and a German lets him go. His brother is wounded, and Tommo refuses to leave him to follow an order for a suicidal attack that would doubtless kill everyone on the mission. It is 1916. He will be brought up on death-penalty charges for cowardice. Never mind the stupidity of the commanding officers.

Morpurgo’s inspiration for the play came from a visit to Ypres where he discovered how many young soldiers were court-martialed and shot for cowardice during the First World War. No problem for those giving suicidal orders. An important play on this 100th anniversary of the national conflicts that politics turns to war.

Private Peaceful.” Adapted and directed by Simon Reade from the story by Michael Morpurgo.

“The Collector”

The horrors of the First World War appear mild compared to the suffering described in “The Collector,” which occurs less than a century later. It’s inspired, of course, by the American prison at Abu Graib. But it’s not just about American brutality against Muslim prisoners. It’s about America’s flouting of its moral commitment to people who believed its stated values and risked their lives to help the American project.

The play – unnerving and memorable — is written and directed by Henry Naylor, a British TV and radio writer. The characters are three U.S. officers – a southern reservist, a female interrogator and a nasty officer, and two Iraqis, a woman and her boyfriend, a great fan of America and its culture. It’s 2003. We see only Captain Kasprowicz, the reservist (William Reay), Sergeant Foster the chief interrogator (Lesley Harcourt) and Zoya, the narrator (Ritu Arya), fiancée of an Iraqi interpreter. The play is three interwoven monologues. The actors are excellent, with Arya especially moving.

William Reay as Captain Kasprowicz, Ritu Arya as Zoya, photo Rosalind Furlong.

William Reay as Captain Kasprowicz, Ritu Arya as Zoya, photo Rosalind Furlong.

In an unsettling literary contradiction, Zoya’s opening sets the horror as poetry:

“Here is the land of magic and genies and flying carpets.
Of tyrants and despots and murderous Ba’athists.
A land of sweetmeats and Turkish delights,
Of Sinbad and Saddam and Arabian Nights.
It’s a magical nation of fable and mystery
A place with a long and ancient history
Boasting a rich and combustible soil,
Fertilized with blood and soaked in oil.
Writing began here and even drawing,
And beating with hoses and waterboarding.
Ours is the story of all mankind
Of the triumphs and failings of the human mind.
So if you’re with us, or against us, pull up your chairs
And share with us these Arabian nightmares.”

Colonel ‘Kasper’ Kasprowicz is a tough, charismatic American reservist in his mid-40s. He runs Mazrat prison, a former Saddam jail turned into an American lockup. Reay makes him realistic and sympathetic.

Young Nassir, who we never see, works in a warehouse and plays western pop music, particularly Eminem. He does gigs, he collects and sells CDs. He’s collecting American pop culture. He learns English from his hip-hop collection. From there, the ironic title. He loves America and signs on as an interpreter in the U.S. detention center.

The story tells how American brutality turns Nassir from a friend to a victim to a deadly enemy. It’s a powerful metaphor for the U.S. in Iraq. How America destroyed Iraq and its own values. It shows that man’s greatest enemy is his own brutality.

Sgt. Foster is the good cop, but she can’t compete against the loudmouth Vallay, the prototypical American abuser. He puts prisoners in a dress, asserting, “If you humiliate them they’re more ready to talk.” Harcourt is good as the kind of interrogator you wish the Americans had. We don’t see Vallay.

After an explosion, the U.S. picks up everyone in the area, 300 to 400 people, many innocents. Faisal, a leading Saddamist, escapes. Fearful, Nassir asks for protection, for asylum for him and Zoya. He doesn’t get it. He’s told “There are procedures.” He starts wearing a balaclava to hide his face.

The story is a thriller, about what happens to Nassir and how he reacts. Arya gives unsettling poetic voice to Zoya:

“… our richest crop is political crisis
And our latest harvest is that of Isis.
But they aren’t our real foe – nor Al-Qaeda, nor Saddam,
The real foe is deep in the heart of man,
For the history of Iraq shows a chilling reality
That man’s greatest enemy is our own brutality.”

The play is vivid, mesmerizing and, inevitably, chilling.

“The Collector.” Written and directed by Henry Naylor.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

- Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Aug 28th

Edinburgh Fringe Political Plays: Repression

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe in August is the largest theater festival in the world, with hundreds of plays as well as musicals, dance, comedy, cabaret and spoken word performances.

I chose political plays, and nine out of ten I saw were excellent. I divided them into three groups, repression, war and politics. Here’s the first group, about repression.

These riveting plays dealt with periods centuries apart. They are “The Players Advice to Shakespeare” set in the 1600s, and two mirror plays of the 20th century, “Animal Farm” in Stalinist Russia and “Chaplin” in McCarthyite 1950s America. In each case, the playwrights and actors bring out the psychology of repression and rebellion.

“The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare”

David Warburton is The Player in 'The Player's Advice to Shakespeare,' photo Andrew Alexander.

David Warburton is The Player in ‘The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare,’ photo Andrew Alexander.

After seeing “The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare,” I will never look at Shakespeare’s plays in the same way again. In this stunning work by Brian K. Stewart, directed by John Koensgen, The Player (a powerful David Warburton), an actor in Shakespeare’s company, challenges the morality of the playwright’s choice of subjects for his plays.

It’s 1607, the period of the enclosures of tenants’ farmlands by nobles who want the communal property for sheep pastures. Sir Richard has forced his tenants off the land they worked. Now they are “vagabonds,” not a mild determination. Vagabonds are illegals. They can be brutalized, even mutilated by agents of the law.

The actor is in his 40s with straight gray hair to neck, breeches and a doublet and shirt with billowing sleeves. He begins hearing about a rising in the Midlands. Untidy characters are talking to crowds. People are breaking the hedges planted to enclose the land. He meets a challenger. “Why aren’t you there with them?”

He wonders if he can get Will Shakespeare involved in the issue. “Think of justice, Will. Think of where we came from.”

He doesn’t, and instead takes the road north out of London. There he meets two men who’d lost everything. One had an ear and hand cut off by a judge. He says, “As an actor, I ridiculed people like you on stage.” It makes you think about Shakespeare’s characters, how he dealt with the working class. Working class figures were clowns, never heroes!

In the Midlands, the actor sees entire sections of fence collapsing. Men pull plows through the enclosed pastures. Crowds roar. Then come soldiers with pikes and swords. Lines of soldiers mass on a hill. As the protestors appear unsure what to do, the actor uses his stentorian Shakespearean voice to direct them to save themselves: “To the trees!”

The return to London is dark. He thinks back, “I had to talk to Will about this. We had worked on the plays together. Will talks about acting holding a mirror to nature, not the nature I saw. I had to tell him to write a play that speaks about something real.”

Alas, the actor declaims that though the theater is the greatest sword of justice the world has known, Will, despite his origins has cast his lot with these “bastards.”

So, here’s quite another way to look at Shakespeare. Lots of kings and queens in the Bard’s plays, but where are the worker or peasant heroes? This enthralling production makes you think about that.

The Player’s Advice to Shakespeare.” Written by by Brian K. Stewart, directed by John Koensgen. Produced by the New Theatre of Ottowa.

“Animal Farm”

A moving poetic theatrical version of George Orwell’s dystopian novel is performed by actors from Tiblisi, Georgia, the former Soviet state and the birthplace of Stalin. The language is Georgian, with supertitles, but it hardly matters, because the physical production directed by adapter-director George Masterson is so brilliant.

Workers and peasants on a farm seek to get rid of Farmer Jones, the man who oppresses them. The pig leaders say, “We are brothers; all animals are equals.” Jones should be overthrown and the fruits of the land be shared by the animals “Animalism,” says the pig leader, “is the way, comrades, to rebel against man.” They wear the same work clothes.

Some object, “Mr. Jones feeds us. If he didn’t, wouldn’t we starve?”

“Lies, comrades,” they are told.

Dogs threaten the farm animals in

Dogs threaten the farm animals in “Animal Farm.”

It is physical theater, dance theater. The characters — horse, goat, chicken, pig, cow, dog – walk and sound like animals with their grunts, snorts, screeches, scraping of hooves.

The pigs announce the enemies, “Four legs or wings, friend; two legs, enemy. No animal can wear clothes.” One pig is comrade Napoleon. Another is the Squealer.

But a few animals raise questions. A goat inquires, “What will happen to the milk?” The pigs take it. Their dominance is supported by thuggish snorting black dogs.

When Snowball proposes building a windmill that will benefit all, he is banished, though later the idea is adopted as if it came from the insiders.

When the pigs announce an increase in production quotas for the hens, which will not benefit the hens, one chicken wants to promote rebellion. She is killed.

Meetings are banned, except to sing an anthem and provide workers with assignments. “Surely we don’t want Jones back,” say the pigs. As their privileges grow, they have their “Comrade Squealer” keep watch on the others.

In a stylized dance, the animals struggle in toil, working harder than they ever did, dragging heavy bags of stones for construction.

The pigs hurl accusations. In a replay of the Stalin trials, one animal confesses he collaborated with Snowball to destroy the windmill. He is attacked and torn to pieces by the dogs. The pigs seem rather like the oppressive men with their rifles and whips they organized to oppose.

Their ideology, written on a huge canvas, changes as time passes. By the end, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

This is a mesmerizing production of great artistry.

“Animal Farm,’ adapted and directed by Guy Masterson, Theatre Tours International, (follow the link to fine analysis of the play.) Featuring the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre, Georgia.


It might seem odd to put a play about Charlie Chaplin in this group, but the seeds of repression are clear in the treatment of the film comedian whose renown could not protect him from sleazy FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his minions on the House Un-American (what a dystopian name!) Activities Committee.

A fine flashback play by Christoffer Mellgren and John Storgard, starring Christopher Page as the young Chaplin and James Bryce as the old man, takes us through the actor’s beginnings in London slums, where his mother was institutionalized – you get the feeling her mental breakdown was related to their poverty. The famous film bit with the arms of “The Kid” outstretched calls up his recurring dream, with the cry, “Mother!” (The mother is finely portrayed by Sarah McCardie.)

James Bryce as the Old Charlie and Christopher Page as Young Charlie in

James Bryce as the Old Charlie and Christopher Page as Young Charlie in “Chaplin.”

In the story directed by Sven Sid, we see his development into a world famous comic actor. He gets into acting via his brother Sidney, given an excellent turn by John Scougall, and finds great success in Hollywood. But the part that’s most interesting is when at 40 he makes “The Great Dictator,” a comedy about Hitler. He plays a barber who dresses as Hitler and gives an anti-fascist speech. I’d have liked more detail, more video, of that speech.

Chaplin speaks at a rally of the Association of Russian Friendship urging America to enter the war. He’s advised to stop such speeches, because people would say he was a communist. He argues, “You urged me to make a talking picture. Now you want me to be quiet. Hoover attacks him, with the public following as an obedient mob. The press turns against him, with right-wing Hedda Hopper (McCardie) leading the pack as she parrots FBI feeds. He is called before HUAC.

Forced out of the country, Chaplin spends the next decades in Switzerland with his wife Oona (Michelle Edwards), the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. They don’t return for a visit till 1972, when a change of political atmosphere leads the Hollywood bigwigs who had blacklisted him to welcome him back to a glitzy “we now love you” party. They even return his name to a famous sidewalk where it had been plastered over in 1958.

So the repression was short-lived. Or was it? Are you following the news? Stay tuned.

My chief criticism of “Chaplin” is the too-spare set (by Hanne Horte), just two tables and two chairs at opposite ends of the stage. It’s probably due to the limited budget of most fringe productions. But lighting or scenic projections (by Mia Erlin) could have compensated. And the Chaplin videos could have been spread through the story to show how he used real life to inspire his films, rather than have most of them shown at once.

Still, it’s an absorbing well-acted tale that needs to be told. To remind people that current U.S. thought police politics have a history.

Chaplin.” Written by Christoffer Mellgren and Johan Storgård, translated from Finnish by Julian Garner. Directed by Sven Sid.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Takes place every August.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.