Reviews: Theatre; One wedding, whose funeral?

David Benedict
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:44

Shining Souls

Old Vic, London

Having accidentally toasted Billy's prized single of Tom Jones singing "The Skye Boat Song", which Decca denied even existed, Ann is beside herself with joy when she finds another copy at Nanette's market stall. Ann is not the only one who is searching for something. Chris Hannan's action- packed Glaswegian comedy is filled to bursting with lost souls. Everywhere you look, his characters are drunk with language but thirsty for meaning. The play opens with Ann persuading her recalcitrant daughter Mandy (a marvellously sharp-edged Shirley Henderson) to read her Tarot cards. It's Ann's wedding day, after all, and she still hasn't decided which man she will marry. Will it be Billy or Billy? Meanwhile, Charlie kicks off proceedings by attempting to ease some cash out of his devoted but estranged wife, Margaret Mary. Even Nanette is having problems with Prophet John, who is happier speaking forth doom and disaster than getting on with real life.

By the time everyone pitches up at the wedding, fate has dealt them all unplayable hands. Love, hatred, envy and jealousy fill the air as Mandy vies with her wayward mother for Charlie's affections, Margaret Mary tries to persuade him to put on his old wedding suit, while Billy and Billy are murderously at each other's throats. When the minister finally arrives, he takes one look at the mayhem and rushes indoors with the threat: "There's 10 commandments: too many, right? Pick one and try and keep it till I get back." You can see his point.

Given such a rich tragi-comic banquet, the excellent cast feast upon the lines like manna from heaven. Yet, for all their energy, something goes awry. Unlike the play's Traverse premiere last year, Hannan himself has directed this new production, with decidedly mixed results. The contrasts between character and situation give rise to hugely funny scenes, but some of the comedy is lost because Hannan doesn't point it up sharply enough. More worryingly, the darker second half almost loses its way because he hasn't found a means to link up the disparate threads. A writer could argue that he is in the best position to understand all the elements of his own play, but that doesn't mean he is able to finesse those ideas dramatically. Hannan, alas, seems to lack the necessary detachment to bring it off. The result is that the initially uproarious and infectious spirit of his play becomes dissipated.

That said, there is still much to savour, notably Alison Peebles cannily capturing Ann's mix of quick-witted impatience and comic desperation as she vacillates between a bewildered present and a tragic past. Stuart McQuarrie is also excellent as Charlie, a foul-mouthed, bruised cherub. Like all the characters, his search for faith, a journey bedevilled by confusion and hope, is ultimately rewarded.

Sundays and Mondays only, to 1 Dec. Booking: 0171-928 7616

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