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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Blithe Spirit, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Perth Theatre
Two stars
GHOSTS, as we all know, are pallid creatures. Not so in this revival of Noël Coward's supernatural comedy. In contrast to the transparent drapes, pastel fittings and twinkling chandeliers of Kenny Miller's 1940s set, Sally Reid's deceased Elvira is a blood-red apparition whose fiery tresses and scarlet robes project the image of a woman with more pulse and passion, dead or not, than any of the delicate human beings she has returned to haunt.

At least, that's how it nearly works in Johnny McKnight's production. It would be easier to see Elvira as a life force from beyond the grave if the director hadn't relocated this most English of plays to a Perthshire village. Coward's very particular brand of humour depends on an emotional repression and, crucially, a restraint of expression that translates awkwardly from the home counties to upper-class Scotland. When subjected to the warm conversational delivery we get here, his clipped, performative language, with its heavy irony and aphoristic wit, is not as funny. Only Anne Lacey as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati consistently strikes the right note of brittle indifference. Everyone else is too human – although it's noticeable that the more intense the marital rows, the more convincing they sound.

As a result, many of the biggest laughs come from the theatrical interventions, whether that be the pratfalls of Scarlett Mack's housemaid or the flamboyant mincing of Billy Mack's Dr Breadman. They can be funny, but they're not really what the play is about.

Lurking behind the silly story of dead wives and seances is a more thoughtful study of passion, love and commitment. It's one we see too little of. Sure, we get a cheery show that jollies the audience along, but it's a ghost of what it could be.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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The New Maw Broon Monologues, theatre reivew

Published in the Scotsman
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
SINCE 1936, Maw Broon has suffered the indignity of being two dimensional. As the stock mother in a comic strip, she is a figure without depth or hinterland. In this, as poet Jackie Kay sees it, she has something in common with a generation of women whom emancipation passed by and with the nation itself, torn between couthiness and modernity, dependence and freedom.

In a show first seen in 2009, now revamped to embrace the referendum debate, Kay presents Broon as a woman bereft of an identity, struggling to escape the confines of her picture frame by means of reality TV or a crash course in sex, politics and body-image debates. Played by Terry Neason, she is all stiff limbs and jings-crivvens catchphrases, until Suzanne Bonnar shows up as her consciousness-raising doppelgänger.

It’s a promising premise and, with songs by Alan Penman and Tom Urie (the highlight being the soft jazz dreaminess of Maw Broon Looks at the Moon), it makes for popular political cabaret. In its vision of a woman waking up to her own oppression it recalls Isn’t It Wonderful To Be A Woman in The Steamie.

Throw in the national dimension and it could have been incendiary, but the show is jovial more than funny, topical more than polemical, so Liz Carruthers’s Glasgay production is a gentle diversion, not a radical call to arms.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Dragon, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Seen at Eden Court, Inverness
Four stars
THE THREE framing arches of Jamie Harrison's set have a touch of the Looney Tunes logo about them. And there's a cartoon playfulness in the way he makes two spinning wheels suggest a bicycle, a fridge door suggest a kitchen, and a table-top globe suggest a geography lesson. But behind the clever transformations lies a darker theme. Dragon, a collaboration between Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin People's Art Theatre, is no Bugs Bunny caper but a serious study of emotional inarticulacy after a traumatic loss.

The premise is a familiar one. Scott Miller's Tommy is a teenager whose mother has died. His father sinks into a depression before finding new love with the next-door neighbour, while his classmates subject him to a campaign of low-level bullying.

What elevates the play into something more than a commonplace story of adolescent alienation is its presentation. That Oliver Emanuel's script is without language is an entertaining novelty, one that reaps dividends when Tommy finally finds his voice, but the real power of the show is in the way it manifests the boy's inner turmoil.

From the moment the lamp-post outside his bedroom window reshapes itself into the head of a dragon, he finds his emotional state reflected by a series of serpentine monsters. At turns these creatures are protective, aggressive and as reassuring as one of Philip Pullman's daemons . Sometimes, they are cute and threatening at once, especially when the excellent orchestral score by Tim Phillips offers us music-box sweetness and fearful roaring at the same time.

The beguiling production, directed by Candice Edmunds together with Harrison, is not just a masterpiece of stage management, but a subtle examination of the way we can all rationalise our most primal emotions by slaying our dragons one by one.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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