The Red Lion @ The Brunton, Musselburgh

Image contribution:
Richard Campbell

Writer by Patrick Marber

Director by Michael Emans

The Red Lion is an examination of three generations of men devoted to their football club. Jordan’s abilities as a football player draw the eye of manager Kidd and mentor Yates. Both take an interest in the boy – one for personal gain, and the other for validation. 

Patrick Marber’s piece may have been written as a look into the crooked centre which pervades the sporting world, but it also serves as a character study of men and their relationship with the beloved game. John McArdle’s Yates and Brendan Charleston’s Kidd are men raised in a world where the football ground was the community, where boys met, played and learned (different) lessons from the Thatcher era. 

Kidd represents the ruthless, financially driven 80s archetype – he’s the product of neoliberalist marketing, perceiving freedom in the ability to make money where he can. Charleston’s performance is the most interesting of the three: he injects the sleazy money-grabber with comedic elements that paint him as a pathetic coward. By contrast, Yates is a man who wears his heart in his colours – a man of the people, loyal to the club. 

They say you should never meet your heroes; worse still is to look for a parent in one. Alongside Marber’s deconstruction of the infection at the heart of the game, director Michael Eman scrutinises father figures in football. Both Kidd and Yates provide a role for Jordan that we come to learn is absent. The resulting performances are powerful, situated around failure, betrayal and expectations. 

An integral part of the script is humour, which finds solid footing in the locker room for the most part. That humour fails, though, when used ineffectively during unsuitable moments. Scenes of violent conflict and brutality feel like pulled punches. In one pivotal scene, an eruption is met with laughter, delivered in a trembling manner which pushes us uncomfortably from drama to slapstick.

For lovers of the beautiful game, The Red Lion is an intriguing piece of theatre. Its valiant effort to unearth the corruption beneath the apparent honour of the game is commendable. It’s power falters in minor moments, but it doesn’t stop the production feeling accessible to all.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/the-red-lion-the-brunton-theatre-musselburgh

Production touring: http://www.rapturetheatre.co.uk/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&layout=user&id=58&task=user&Itemid=547

Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four @ The Brunton

Video contribution: Blackeyed Theatre

Based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Writer & Director: Nick Lane

Missing jewels, murder, romance and a chap with a wooden leg. If it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes, it would have to be something equally as impossible. Sherlock Holmes and the Sign of Four has our residents of Baker Street encounter Watson’s future wife Mary Morstan as they hunt for treasure, clues and the truth.

So recognisable, playing Sherlock Holmes is demonstrably difficult. We all know them; we all have a favourite. It’s a challenge Luke Barton certainly does not shy from. His Holmes is energetic, more so than many. He has a charm, a warmth unfamiliar with some portrayals and a command which wouldn’t be questioned by any character on stage. Overall his Holmes has elements of a classic, yet fresh-faced Holmes hungry for more. The issue though, in no fault of Barton is that this Holmes has been written quite immortal. There’s no folly, nothing which pricks a hole in his character. We don’t doubt this Holmes can solve the case. He isn’t overly curious like Vasily Livanov’s Holmes or has the detached sociopathic failings of the recent Cumberbatch.

Holmes is nothing without Dr Watson, though he would be loathed to admit it.  Here we are no different, with a tremendous amount of the production’s success owed to Joseph Derrington. He has an innate likability; we connect quicker with Watson than we do Holmes – as we should. His comedic timing as our storyteller is spot on, breaking the chunks of dense narrative to ease our minds.

So, what of the mystery itself? Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second novel focused around the Detective of Baker Street, The Sign of Four is far from straightforward. It requires a lot of exposition, time and narrative shifts but attempts to make up for this amidst an emphasis on adventure. Blackeyed Theatre succeeds in retelling a faithful version of events, still branding it with their own take. The final fifteen minutes, however, the motivation behind the crime edges on length, almost stretching into the pages of a different story entirely.

From the sharp peaks of the London steeples to the rounded carvings of Indian turrets – Victoria Spearing’s set design is enthralling. At first, it appears sharp, hollow but serving its purpose. What appears to just be backdrop though, unfolds twisting into a variety of locales. When cast in distinctive lighting, the unfriendly grey of London mellows into the richness of India. It’s a resourceful design which works not only with physical movement but with the tech of the production itself.

What first seems to be an inherent advantage for Blackeyed Theatre is the original composition by Tristian Parkes. It allows for a sense of freshness. We are treated to live performances from cast members currently not on stage. Though of course *ahem* gifted with young Sherlock’s early attempts to master his Stradivarius, his signature violin. With light notes they convey a wisp of time floating around Holmes’ deduction. To the soft strings of the continents, this all helps with world building. That said, the brass instrumentals, in particular, the trombone, hit heavily in a smaller venue, casting any other instrumentals aside.

No matter what the future may hold for us, Sherlock Holmes is likely to always sit at the heart of mystery lovers across the world. Blackeyed Theatre has prevailed in putting their stamp onto the deerstalker, with an atmospheric production with no short supply of talented individuals – even with the intricate plot points and lengthy climax.

Review originally published for Reviewshub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/sherlock-holmes-and-the-sign-of-four-brunton-theatre-musselburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/

The Tailor of Inverness @ The Brunton

Image Contribution:
Dogstar Theatre

Writer: Matthew Zajac

Director: Ben Harrison

War and all of its travesties will never be understood. From the British perspective – we were the heroes, they the villains. When presented with people quite literally in the bootstraps of the opposition many are unable to connect. The stories told by people leaving the Third Reich behind are sometimes worn proudly, as a warning. Sometimes hushed, wishing to forget, but for the case of immigrants such as Mateusz Zajac, the reinvention of his time during the war is to ensure his acceptance in Scotland as The Tailor of Inverness.

The son of the Polish tailor, Matthew Zajac has endeavoured to get to the foundations of his father Mateusz’s life during his enigmatic years. Playing both the role of he and his father, this stage adaption keeps the descriptive plot and offers poignant performances with rich accompaniment by fiddler Gavin Marwick.

As the tailor’s strings are stitched, woven into his son Matthew’s jacket it’s within these threads we find the inherent fault with an otherwise remarkable piece of theatre. For those familiar, it’s no secret that Zajac’s writing is at its pinnacle superb, at its weakest complicated. Several threads are left untightened throughout the narrative, though with reason. When all the strands are in place – Zajac pulls the hems together and what we hope for is a tight piece where all threads align. In truth, it isn’t as difficult as others claim to follow – but for the general theatre-going public, it is not straightforward.

Zajac’s ardent performance inherently helps the story. As this is his story, his father’s story, the story of his family and his cultural identity – the delivery is natural. It’s volatile in its emotion, painful to hear, but eye-opening to watch. There’s merriment, dancing and humour – his performance isn’t only compelling, but enjoyable.

Where the theatrical adaption enhances the book, is with the ability to offer visuals. We see the interviews and hear the audio tapes Matthew has made in his travels. While we often enjoy making our own images, the projections allow us to invest so much more in this family’s growth story. The impressive set design, a series of garments flattened into a screen is an inventive method to allow for projection. The ridges in the shirt cuffs, however, cause obstruction of words if you’re far to either side of the theatre.

The theme of circling is eternally present in Zajac’s text, it’s themed such as a strive to battle against ourselves, identity and this complex narrative. The story told by his father, of circling a fox in order to snare it runs parallel to other events. The first, Matthew’s closing in around his father’s footsteps before his time in Scotland. More though, on the subject of immigration, is Mateusz’s reinvention of his past.

Immigration is not just a ‘current’ issue, tragically it’s always been an issue. Even in the reparations of war, Mateusz found himself in another circle – a circle of his own creation surrounding his time in the Soviet Union, as a soldier for the German side, but also a prisoner of war. The truth spiralling in on him, The Tailor of Inverness is indeed relevant still today, just as it was 10 years ago.

Transitioning to the stage works for The Taylor of Inverness, though only so much. The original text has space in order to lay it’s groundwork more seamlessly. The passion, power and triumphant ability within Zajac’s performance is commanding. Regardless of complexity, The Tailor of Inverness is still the construction of importance, an empathetic yet defiant examination of family, reinvention, storytelling and two men’s different but extraordinary journeys.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/the-tailor-of-inverness-brunton-theatre-musselburgh/

Production touring: http://www.dogstartheatre.co.uk/