Click on the above link for the first evening of the Drama Festival, on February 14, where I review 3 plays. There were another 3 plays the next evening. The reviews follow.
Lochgilphead Drama Club started the evening with The Big Cats, by Alex Baron. Lily is an extremely determined old woman who refuses to be moved from her terraced house in Scunthorpe when the entire area is being demolished for redevelopment. While she dearly loves her husband, Joe, she obviously wears the trousers in the family. And there’s something not quite right about the situation. Joe is strangely passive, he doesn’t physically handle any of the props, and he looks significantly younger than Lily. They spend much of the time reminiscing about the past, rather than talking about everyday matters, apart from the threat of moving.
The mystery is solved when Ann, a social worker, visits Lily to try to persuade her to accept the very nice flat she’s been offered. It’s as if Joe, who is actually present in the room, doesn’t exist. He says nothing, and Ann appears not to see him. So, he’s a ghost, and that explains everything.
Problem is, with that conundrum out of the way, the dramatic tension starts to sag. There is the impending crisis of the “big cats” – caterpillar tractors or bulldozers – getting closer and closer to the house as the surrounding areas are cleared. Lily must either accept the flat or sign a paper saying she will make her own arrangements. Otherwise the the police will remove her from the house when the time comes. She refuses to do either, defying the police threat. Joe tries to persuade her, pointing out that the house is too big for them. Their son, Simon, is apparently dead. And the top floor has been sealed off to conserve heating. So a flat would be ideal for Lily. But she clings to her memories she and Joe share, refusing to leave him, a ghost, in the only haunt where he can survive.
Will she, won’t she? Of course she will – we know that. Ann makes a final appeal a day before literally the 11th hour, 11:00 the next morning, when the big cats will destroy the only remaining house in a wasteland of rubble. So Lily and Joe have a last heart to heart talk in which he begs her to accept the flat for his sake. Next morning, there she is when Ann arrives, with her suitcase and a cardboard box of belongings. But as a catalyst for her change of heart, the exchange the night before is unconvincing.
The play was most interesting when the oddities of Lily’s relationship with Joe were unexplained. That done, the climax was predictable and trite, though there were some hints that it could have been much darker. With the upper floor sealed off, and Lily talking to her dead husband as if he were alive, I was hoping for an ending something along the lines of A Rose for Emily. But my hopes were dashed when Lily said that he died in hospital after a stroke. Pity. I can just see Ann discovering her lying next to Joe’s mouldering corpse.
Peninver Players Juniors were up next, with The Wise Villagers, by Ron Nicols, the adjudicator. It’s a charming romp, with an all-ages junior cast, about young Squire Squibley’s quest for a sillier bunch of people than the idiotic family he’s marrying into. He is betrothed to Gwendoline Gumble, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and neither are her mum, dad, and grandmother. They’re all transfixed by the mallet on the shelf above their heads, having hysterics about the possibility of it falling on their heads, and completely failing to remove the danger by simply removing it from the shelf. Come to think of it, not unlike MMGW.
Hence Squire Squibley’s quest to see if there is anyone sillier than the Gumbles, in which case he will return to marry Gwendoline. Fortunately for her, he discovers the village of Gotham, where they think the moon has fallen into the pond when they see its reflection. Among many other extremely silly things.
As I said, a charming romp. But it also demonstrated something of the seriousness with which they take drama festivals in Scotland. A group of at least 6 actors were on stage. One forgot his or her lines. So they whispered briefly together, then backtracked a few lines and began again. All without panic, demonstrating a degree of trust in the audience and themselves as actors. I was impressed.
Dunaverty Players put on the final play of the festival, Background Artiste, by Stephen Smith. Alfredo Leache runs a very special kind of talent agency. It’s for “artistes” who can be guaranteed to remain firmly in the background of any production they appear in, or more likely, fail to appear in. The most reliable revenue stream for Alfredo would probably be the fee aspiring artistes pay for inclusion in his listings, while his commission for actual work would be negligible.
That said, he has some awesome artistes on the books. He spends most of the performance on the phone trying to place Dirk van Dyke in a skating role in Starlight Express, despite the fact that Dirk can’t roller skate. This is done with the help of Jessica, an assistant who finds considerable mental challenge in navigating the Yellow Pages. And it’s done in between Alfredo’s frequent journeys to the lavatory.
On the other side of the stage, there’s the client’s couch, occupied by Mary, a hopeful first-timer. While she’s waiting, her illusions are being shattered by Enid and Walter, a couple who seem to have spent a lot of time at the agency. They whinge on about the food and conditions, until poor Mary is quite disheartened. But she stays in the hope of a role once Alfredo can find time to interview her.
Then Enid goes off to get some Chinese food from the takeaway downstairs, and quite suddenly Alfredo is ready for her, having got a result with placing Dirk. Alfredo’s an honest, friendly rogue, and doesn’t hide the fact that he’s grateful her actual appearance is a lot better than the photo she’s supplied. He seems to be more of a therapist for those with acting ambitions than a bona fide theatrical agent.
This idea is reinforced when Enid and Walter reveal themselves to be Alfredo’s parents, retired actors, and part-owners of the agency. Their job is to evaluate the new applicants by discouraging them, but if they think an applicant has something and is prepared to persevere, secretly signal to Alfredo. Thus thumbs up is Enid going for a Chinese, thumbs down if Walter does.
Contrived, but the blether is entertaining and the ambience of a theatrical agency has its own appeal for someone like me. And it turns out it’s Mary’s lucky day. Based on her horrendous photo, he places her as a mutant on Star Tek: The Next Generation. Cue tractor beam, Star Trek music, and final curtain.