THEATRE / Mad dogs and yuppies: Private Lives / The Father - Citizens', Glasgow

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The Independent Culture
With three shows opening this week, the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow must be one of the busiest theatrical venues in the country.

In the main space is Noel Coward's Private Lives, difficult to get right because it is so clearly a period piece. Philip Prowse employs Coward's own retrospective attitude (writing about the decadent Twenties a decade later), by placing his production in the Eighties: as the couples stare out from their honeymoon suites, the yacht they see in the harbour belongs to Robert Maxwell.

Elyot and Amanda (beautifully played by Greg Hicks and Sophie Ward) are out to succeed at any cost, while Victor and Sybil (Rupert Everett and Victoria Scarborough) are more staidly upper middle-class. Prowse moves it all along at a galloping pace, and the comedy is of a broad, knockabout kind typified by Derwent Watson's joyously upstaging drag cameo as the French maid Louise.

Avoiding the pitfalls of Coward with ease, this is a hugely enjoyable evening.

Meanwhile, in the Citizens' Circle Studio, Stewart Laing, the theatre's ex-head of design makes a very confident directorial debut with August Strindberg's The Father.

Using a fine new translation by Gregory Motton, Laing sets the play in an austerely black-carpeted room. Gerrard McArthur plays the Captain without making him the overbearing military figure so often suggested, obsessively adjusting the furniture if it is in the least degree out of its proper position.

The only flourishes are fairy lights on the walls of the theatre, and almost the only means of escaping the intense claustrophobia comes from two television monitors: one shows cartoon snowflakes, the other Bart Simpson cartoons. Dysfunctional families are alive and well and always have been.

The third production, Brothers of the Brush, is the first play by a young Irish playwright, Jimmy Murphy, produced by Wiseguise Productions, a group of Scottish actors, writers and directors here given the assistance of the Citzens'. It is set in the rat-infested basement of a Dublin tenement undergoing refurbishment, and the brothers of the ironic title are three painters employed to redecorate the block, while continuing to sign on the dole. Vying for the foreman's job on a forthcoming big contract, the three struggle with one another in ever more self-destructive ways. In 1990s Dublin, as in Britain, almost all notion of brotherhood at work has long vanished.

Murphy's keenly observed dialogue, a talented cast and Jim Twaddale's economic direction combine to make a gem of a production. And all credit to the Citizens' for helping it happen.

'Private Lives' to 22 Oct, 15-19 Nov; 'The Father' to 5 Nov; 'Brothers of the Brush' to 5 Nov. Booking: 041-429 0022

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