Edinburgh Festival fringe: Glaswegian Cyrano that leads by a nose

Robert Butler
Saturday 22 August 1992 23:02

THE Scottish group Communicado dives headlong into Cyrano de Bergerac with a bravado to match its hero. A small cast and minimal set offer a musket's retort to Gerard Depardieu's lavish film. It's as if director Gerry Mulgrew has taken the prologue from Henry V as his text and told us to piece out their imperfections with our thoughts. Edwin Morgan's vigorous new translation turns Edmond Rostand into Glaswegian Scots, and this tough, immediate humour grabs us from the opening scene in the Bourgogne theatre and heightens the subsequent pathos.

As Cyrano, Tom Mannion has a nose like a pumice stone that thinks it's a marrow. His earthy verve avoids mere panache and he finds strong support in the pale thin determination of Sandy McDade as Roxane, and the frantic inarticulate good looks of Kenneth Glenaan (playing Christian at short notice, after a cast injury). As the wicked rival De Guiche, though, Robert Pickavance stoops perilously close to the stage villain. The consumer-friendly Mulgrew keeps recycling his cast: Pauline Lockhart plays an usherette, a Gascon cadet and a nun; as well as mixing periods with leather jackets, plumed feathers and talk of yuppies. The big set-pieces get stirring support from Iain Johnstone's music on little more than accordion, trumpet, trombone and drums. Except for the occasional irrelevance (the monk in dark glasses, for instance) this is a great story well told.

Someone prods a power drill into someone else's neck. Someone urinates into an almost full whisky bottle. Someone sucks a severed toe, thinking it's a sausage. This is The Life of Stuff, a new play by Simon Donald, and arguably, the stuff of life. The action takes place at a warehouse - in a party, on the roof, in the basement - in the wake of an alleged murder.

Donald's lively, violent exchanges bristle with status, power struggles and quirky jokes. This vivid contemporary atmosphere hitches a ride on a murky drugs-and-crime story that strives ludicrously far for effect. I identified with Evelyn (the excellent Shirley Henderson) whose nose was haemorrhaging from drugs. She wanted some good, big, proper chemicals. I wanted exposition and dramatic development. The director John Mitchell struggles to fuse the Gothic horror with the farce, but as the uniformly strong cast entered and exited during the 20 or so blackouts it looked suspiciously like a television play fallen into the wrong hands.

In Studs the Dublin-based company Passion Machine takes the simple story of the useless football team that gets knocked into shape and gives it an exhilaratingly original treatment. The overlapping dialogue, Irish expletives and full-throttle delivery makes for less than easy listening. There are very few quiet moments in these guys' lives.

What marks out Studs is the way writer-director Paul Mercier hits on the passions and fears of the players rather than anything literal or dull. With an awesome stamina the players sprint, swap sides, charge, form a phalanx, an express train or a saloon bar. The manager (Eamonn Hunt) lands in the middle of the game or a spotlight catches a player as he rehearses over and over again the goal he is about to score.

This highly-choreographed team brings us the training sessions, the locker room rows and the matches, without losing the key ingredient: adrenalin.

Red Shift celebrates its 10th anniversary with director Jonathan Holloway's new production, Orlando. The adapter Robin Brooks sets Virginia Woolf's fictional world against her real-life affair with Vita Sackville- West. As Orlando (Fiona McAlpine) flits winningly from Elizabethan page to Constantinople ambassador, poor Virginia (Ruth Mitchell) tries to cling on to Vita (McAlpine again) through her writing. It's quite a tangle. Remember Vita also loves Harold (Eric MacLennan). Vita also loves Violet (Bella Martin). And Harold's got some bloke. All this and there's a novel to hack through, too. No wonder there is little room for a play. Jonathan Holloway artfully arranges the benches and sheets in vignettes, and members of the cast provide musical accompaniment downstage. One longs for Cyrano to storm in and knock this modish, theme-laden stuff into the River Seine.

Gone with Noakes has the difficult task of keeping up with its pre-publicity. Comedian Ben Miller went to Majorca for a week to search out the former Blue Peter presenter. The slides he took of Noakes in retirement form the climax of this one-man show. Directed by Audrey Cook (who helped us spend An Evening with Gary Lineker), this is another tribute to a contemporary icon. For Miller's earnest librarian loves Noakes and hates Peter Purves. The slide-show talk boosts the hagiography of star biographies and the librarian's obsession reveals his own failures. Miller spins a lot of variations of this one very funny joke, but John Noakes took more risks.

'Cyrano', Traverse (031-228 1404); 'The Life of Stuff', Traverse; 'Studs', Assembly Rooms (031-226 2428); 'Orlando', Assembly Rooms; 'Gone with Noakes', Pleasance (031-556 6550).

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