Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
It's a cannily eye-catching title, and the ingredients certainly sound promising - Glasgow's award-winning Raindog company, including such Scottish luminaries as Barbara Rafferty and Brian Pettifer, joining forces with Daniel Boyle, chief scriptwriter of the BBC's Hamish Macbeth - but in the event this putatively tragi-comic guddle only goes to prove the old adage about cups and lips.
Given the basic constraints they put themselves under (commissioning Boyle to write a script based on the company's improvisations, all within the space of five weeks) the main puzzle is why they then imposed so many more, like enlisting a cast of twelve - no less - and specifying in Boyle's brief that all the action had to be contained within a single location and the course of one day. Even knowing nothing more, it hardly sounds like a promising basis for engendering any kind of viable theatrical life.
And viable is precisely what it turns out not to be, on virtually any level, as the sound of falling between stools practically becomes audible. Our unity of place consists of the Vegas bar, a neighbourhood howff on one of Glasgow's less desirable outskirts; of time, an ordinary Saturday, which all too comprehensively - and accompanied by many a painful narrative creak - turns out to be anything but ordinary. Central among the locals and regulars toing and froing (more or less without motive) throughout the day and evening are Nancy and Dan (Rafferty and Sean Scanlan), both middle-aged, both widowed a few years back, and whose newly-blossoming romance is in danger of being stymied by their fear of family and friends' disapproval.
Said family and friends furnish most of the other characters, apart from Gretta and Tony, the "psychic artistes" standing in as replacements for the Vegas's regular Saturday-night crooner, thereby providing a handy link to the spirit-world figures of Nancy and Dan's late spouses, who turn up to add their tuppence-worth to the proceedings. Needless to say, the latter are especially perturbed by the couple's new-found passion; needless to say, all is forgiven and a whole slew of happy-ever-afters (as if by magic!) is fixed up by the end.
In terms of structure and characterisation, the key problem is that all the main characters have at once too little and too much to do: too little in the way of actual stage business, the setting and timescale offering scant opportunity for any range of action, and far too much in that each has somehow to fill in all their salient (ie tragic, mostly) points of personal history in order for their present situations to achieve any kind of tension or resolution. The upshot is a worst-of-both-worlds combination of dragged-out aimlessness and implausibly telescoped exposition. Boyle's attempts to paint over the cracks - as with Hamish Macbeth in its weaker moments - result in an unhappy compromise between naturalism and whimsy, silliness and sentimentality. The intention, one infers, was to transpose to a modern stage setting the feelgood, fairy-tale ambience of an old- fashioned movie romance, but casting that kind of spell demands rather more delicate handling of story and mood than is in evidence here.
To May 23 (bookings 0141-429 0022), then at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 4-7 June (0131-228 1404).Reuse content