Friday, May 14, 2010

A Most Civil Arrangement/Jordan, theatre review

Published in The Scotsman





AFTER blasting off last week with incendiary visions of Iraq and Palestine, the Tron's new politically minded season, Mayfesto, looks closer to home. The two one-woman shows at the Changing Room consider same-sex marriage and domestic violence and, if neither quite upturns our preconceptions, both do a valuable job at giving a voice to the alienated.

The joke in Colin Hough's A Most Civil Arrangement is that the character you expect to be the most reactionary is the most liberated. Anne Lacey plays Isobel, a middle-aged mother whose daughter Kelly is about to get married. She gets a laugh when she mentions the betrothed is called Janice, but the joke is on us. For Isobel has no reservations about her daughter's choice of partner and even goes so far as to reconfigure a cake decoration so it features two brides.

Her husband is infuriated at the idea, but as the big day approaches and hen night follows pre-wedding jitters, it transpires the most prejudiced is Kelly herself. She can't cope with her mother's open-mindedness and the sight of her line-dancing in a lesbian bar. And she's the one who needs her father to give her away in the old-fashioned way.

The more eccentric the play becomes, the funnier Lacey gets, not least in the closing sight gag. It's a breezy, throwaway piece with many sharp one-liners and shows a refreshingly off-beat view of an older generation's attitudes to love and lesbians.

Director Alison Peebles takes a loose approach to the staging, giving Lacey full range of the low-budget set, even to the extent of letting her wander over to turn the house lights on and off. It adds to the relaxed charm of the play but denies the performance some precision.

Certainly, when you see the long opening sequence of Gappad Theatre Company's Jordan, in which a young woman sits stock still beneath a severe spotlight, you are made aware of a very different directorial approach. Director Robert Przekwas brings a particularly Polish austerity to this punishing true-life story of a woman brought so low as to murder her own child.

And although the company makes no attempt to change the context of the play, written by Moira Buffini and Anna Reynolds in 1992, it is impossible to see the inflected performance by Magdalena Kaleta and not think of Eastern European immigrants and the poverty so many have suffered.

For the dark, unrelenting play makes clear this mother's terrible act is a product of social circumstance, her seemingly inhumane behaviour an instinctive, even maternal, response to a damaging situation. As the happy-ever-after story of Rumpelstiltskin plays out in ironic counterpoint to her own tale of child sacrifice, Kaleta never lets up on the intensity, building to a chilling performance.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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