Theatre: Another kiss before dying

DEATH IN VENICE/ BLOOD ON THE THISTLE CITIZENS' THEATRE GLASGOW
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The Independent Culture
IN THE Citizens' latest studio shows the Grim Reaper stalks the boards in two very different guises: compare and contrast the classic fatal attraction of Death in Venice, Thomas Mann's 1911 novella in what may be its first stage version, and Blood On The Thistle, a collection of dramatised excerpts from a casebook of Scottish murder assembled by journalist Douglas Skelton.

Beyond the basic subject matter, the productions have little in common. While both scriptwriters, one senses, stick pretty close to their original texts, Robert David MacDonald's one-man adaptation from Mann, abetted by Giles Havergal's hypnotic, gracefully measured performance, would succeed, more or less unaltered, equally well on radio.

The words themselves, and their exact, fastidious configuration create an intensely detailed portrait of Aschenbach, the celebrated elderly writer and intellectual, and his ultimate decline as he is overtaken by infatuation for a young Polish boy in a Venice which is falling victim to a cholera epidemic. The psychological and the philosophical fuse in Mann's impossibly elegant, immaculately weighted prose, which probes with surgical precision our half-recognised love-affair with destruction in art and life - the battle between our impulses to order and chaos.

The piece also highlights the shift from the essentially 19th-century certainties (which ultimately fail Mann's semi- autobiographical protagonist), to the post-modern turmoil which that failure presages. This gives rise to a faint sense of period sterility but such life-denying rigidity of conviction is hardly a thing of the past, particularly among elderly men in positions of authority.

Kenny Miller's reworking of Skelton's book displays less focus. As with many attempts to expound on true-crime stories, any loftier motives in retelling the tales of Madeleine Smith, Peter Manuel, "Bible John" and their ilk aren't sufficiently convincing to overcome the feeling that it's playing on our fascination with violent death and those who inflict it.

That's no crime in itself, if this unwholesome appetite were illuminated in some way. But, other than by implication, this is lacking from a production which begs more questions than it answers.

We are left with a series of character snapshots, enacted in first person and third-party testimony. The prevailing tone is forensic, itemising each killer's career with murder weapons and other props tagged like court exhibits, which sits somewhat puzzlingly within Miller's highly stylised set. The action is played out inside and around a large perspex box: if this is meant to represent our journey into the mind of murder, it's not an especially enlightening trip.

To 18 Dec (0141-429 0022)

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