THEATRE / A hotel from Hell: Richard Loup-Nolan on new productions in Glasgow and Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
If the Devil really was behind Sixties rock'n'roll, maybe he also helped David Kane with Dumbstruck], a black farce of fiendish complexity playing to packed Mayfest houses at Glasgow's Tron.

Dumbstruck] is set in a seedy boarding house in Glasgow; the year is 1965, the 'golden age' of Scottish Variety. Johnny Ramone (Jimmy Chisholm) dreams of singing rock'n'roll in Vegas but is tied by a rotten 10-year contract to his co-tenant and agent, Paddy Henderson (Ronnie Letham), a bigot whose only advice is, 'Sing white, act manly'.

Ramone is offered a way out of his frustration by his new tenant Herman Katz (Forbes Masson), a Scottish-German illusionist with a sideline in euthanasia. Naturally, Ramone's chosen exit is murderous rather than suicidal, and much of the ensuing mayhem stems from the Ramone / Katz axis; the rest is activated by the appearance of McGubbin (Ralph Riach), a National Assistance Inspector.

Kane tests the limits of his comic invention, helped by the exuberance of the director Michael Boyd and a flawless cast. Chisholm and Masson, two of Scotland's funniest actors, jostle for centre- stage, but it's the women who steal the show - Eileen McCallum as the pill-toting landlady, and Maureen Carr and Jenny McCrindle, a beehived singing duo, whose frenzied attempts to outwit McGubbin bring the house down.

Paul Slabolepszy's Mooi Street Moves, playing at the Glasgow Arches, is set in the less familiar territory of a Johannesburg suburb and shows, in microcosm, a nation coming to terms with its new identity. Henry (Martin Le Maitre) is a down-at-heel rural white who seeks help from his yuppie brother only to find him long gone, his flat and business usurped by his black assistant Sticks (Zane Meas). Henry is terrified, seeing only 'crooks, chancers and snakes in the grass' in this chaotic world.

All Henry wants is to work for veldt farmers. Sticks, on the other hand, rejoices in his autonomy as a market trader and laughs affectionately at Henry's anachronistic attitudes. There is no violent power struggle, just a humorous attempt to share common ground; a heartening insight into the new South Africa.

Just as integration will force South Africa to re-evaluate its past, emigration changes one's view of one's homeland, inducing what Andrei Tarkovsky described as a permanent state of nostalgia. Antoine O' Flatharta's Grace in America, at Edinburgh's Traverse, is a simple story: two young Irishmen go to America to visit Elvis Presley's grave; on their way, they drop in on an uncle and aunt, who emigrated to Buffalo in 1948. Very little happens, but the characters' disarmingly inconsequential conversations gradually build a poignant sense of how the past is distorted. Kieran Cunningham and Steven MacNicoll give extraordinarily laid-back performances, entirely in keeping with a production whose emotional impact is cloaked by its unassuming airs.

'Dumbstruck]' runs to 22 May at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow (Details: 041-552 4267); 'Grace In America' is on tour to 10 June (Details: 031-228 3223)