THEATRE / The life of reputation: Mrs Tanqueray; To Kill a Mockingbird; Sacred Hearts

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The Independent Culture
Philip Prowse's production of The Second Mrs Tanqueray, Arthur Wing Pinero's caustic look at late Victorian social mores, continues the Glasgow Citizens' fascination with drawing-room drama. Its preoccupation with public reputation may seem timely in the light of so much recent public pratfalling, but it would be unwise to overstress the contemporary relevance of Mrs Tanqueray, firmly rooted as it is in its historical period.

Aubrey Tanqueray's second marriage to a younger woman 'with a past' was a sensational subject in 1893 - not so now. With characteristic panache, Prowse substitutes sensuality for sensation, exposing terror of carnality at the very heart of the oppressive social order that so torments Pinero's characters.

Prowse's design effortlessly expresses this moral decadence. Aubrey Tanqueray's London house is dominated by a huge monochrome portrait of the first Mrs Tanqueray. It's a bold, unmistakably erotic image (hair loose, neck bare, lilies in hand) which fundamentally questions Aubrey's perception of her as a frigid Catholic. Was her decision to opt for a 'life of the spirit' selfish and destructive of her marriage or was it an understandable avoidance of contact with Aubrey's flesh? The question nags at us as we watch Aubrey's well-intentioned incapacity to understand or satisfy his volatile second wife.

Pinero's play is something of a creaky old artefact, which starts to run out of steam in the second half but is quickly revivified by some energetic plot business. Stephen MacDonald as Aubrey holds centre-stage like a rock (or block) of perplexed English decency against whom his new wife Paula (Julie Legrand) dashes herself in waves of increasing frustration - in a performance of quixotic power.

Social oppression and injustice are also the main concerns of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum. The whiff of racial prejudice lingers like stale sweat in the late summer air of small-town Alabama in 1935.

Director Caroline Hall and designer Neil Irish set out their stall in a familiar world of stormboarded front porches and peachy lighting. A steeply raked dusty road leads off into the middle distance in the manner of an old Hollywood sound set.

In Christopher Sergal's adaptation, the story is as compelling as ever, but there is a significant change in its primary point of view. The novel and the film are both told in the first person, but the stage play is necessarily more open. We may be more removed from Scout, but we're closer to her father, and their developing relationship is no less moving for acquiring more objective weight.

The production is as good as one is likely to see from a non-American cast. Paul Birchard has done wonders as the dialect coach and Caroline Hall has drawn performances of affecting sincerity from her cast, not least from Pauline Lockhart as Scout and Brian Protheroe as Atticus.

Sue Glover's new play Sacred Hearts opened at the Dundee Rep in a touring production by the Communicado company. It's a story bursting with resonance, inspired by the 1975 occupation of Lyon cathedral by a group of prostitutes whose lives were threatened by police harassment and a serial killer.

Somehow, though, the play never achieves its promise. The story of the occupation lacks an essential narrative drive and the characterisation seems too much drawn from stock types. From a Scottish cast of impeccable pedigree, Fiona Bell's pugnacious Therese and Gerry Mulgrew's misogynistic detective stand out, but Sacred Hearts has the air more of an interesting work-in-progress than a fully realised drama.

'To Kill A Mockingbird' is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until 5 March (Box office: 031-229 9697); 'Sacred Hearts' tours Scotland until 3 April; then at London's Drill Hall from 4-23 April (info: 031-228 5465).

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