Review – Tightlaced Double Bill 2012

November 9, 2012 | By More

Charlie and My ’45 * *
I Promise I Shall Not Play Billiards * * *

Robert Howat as Jamie in his Charlie and My '45 from Tightlaced Theatre. Photo Gillian Morrison.

Robert Howat as Jamie in his Charlie and My ’45. Photo Gillian Morrison.

Scottish Storytelling Centre
Review by Thom Dibdin

Quietly cynical and tantalisingly brief, Tightlaced Theatre’s pair of plays at the Storytelling centre until Saturday delve into the past in two quite contrasting fashions.

Opening the evening, Robert Howat’s Charlie and My ’45 is a rather slight tale of the Jacobite uprising, following the fortunes of foot soldier Jamie, sent off to fight for Charles Stewart’s cause by his Clan Chief.

After the break, Fiona McDonald’s intriguingly titled I Promise I Shall Not Play Billiards explores the mind of Madeleine Smith, the Glaswegian socialite tried for the murder of her one-time lover Emile L’Angelier in 1857, but found “not proven”.

For the opening piece, writer Howat, playing Jamie, makes a believable-enough go of it. He takes a while to get into his stride, meandering rather than pacing through the opening scenes. If his character isn’t convinced of the cause he finds himself fighting, Howat doesn’t convince his audience either.

But what Howat does find – in both the writing and his own performance – is Jamie’s humanity. And as the play curves from the Highlands to Prestonpans, Edinburgh and on down into England, Jamie’s responses to the forces which guide him, but over which he has no control, are nicely honed.

This was Initially written as a monologue, and at times it retains that feel. Which is no bad thing in the evocative feel to Jamie’s recollection of seeing the Prince, of the Clan Chief who has stayed behind, and those who lead the band.

The addition of surrounding characters does help round it out. Adrienne Zitt is warm and sensible as Jamie’s wife, Mary, concerned for her man, and doing her best to fend off the unwanted affections of the slimy Kilbreck, a factor-kind of character who is too unwell to go to war.

A fragment of something much larger

Yet these are all very meagrely drawn, at least in the writing. Zitt shows her sensual side in her portrayal of Kate, an English prostitute who Jamie falls in with for a night. As a character, Kate serves to broaden the play’s observations of army life. Her presence also creates an interesting – but completely unexplored – tension between Jamie and Mary’s experiences.

It is intriguing to examine the effects of the Jacobite uprising on common folk, but at the moment this feels like a fragment of something much larger. If it is to draw out the full picture from what is there, director Jen McGregor needs to use a much firmer hand.

By contrast, McDonald’s dive into the mind of Madeleine Smith in I Promise I Shall Not Play Billiards feels compellingly complete.

Danielle Farrow, Debbie Cannon, Susanna Mulvihill and Kirsty Eila McIntyre in Fiona McDonald's I Promise I Shall Not Play Billiards. Photo: Gilllian Morrison

Danielle Farrow, Debbie Cannon, Susanna Mulvihill and Kirsty Eila McIntyre in Fiona McDonald’s I Promise I Shall Not Play Billiards. Photo: Gilllian Morrison

It does help – but isn’t necessary for understanding – to be in possession of the bones of Madeleine’s story. She was arrested for the murder of one Emile L’Angelier. After his death from arsenic poisoning, letters from her were found in his possession that showed they had been lovers for two years.

Although Smith was known to have bought arsenic in the time before L’Angelier’s death, the prosecution could not show that they had been together at the times when the arsenic must have been administered. A verdict of “not proven” was recorded.

McDonald has Madeleine (played by Susanna Mulvihill) surrounded by three spirited women, each representing an aspect of her character. Danielle Farrow’s Lena is the cold, calculating side, Kirsty Eila McIntyre’s Mimi is a sensual innocent, still in love, while Debbie Cannon is the uptight and calculating Miss Smith.

All four are dressed in hugely ballooning dresses which, on the otherwise empty stage, give a surprising strong feel for the era. Which is heightened by the extracts of the letters between Madeleine and Emile, which are full of the male-female power relationships of the 1850s, with Emile responding to requests to call it off, with threats to tell her father.

It is all intriguingly told, set in the court just after the verdict has been passed down but with Madeleine still unable to work out what will become of her. Here Jen McGregor’s direction feels a lot more fluid and at home with the material, as the three imaginary Madies spin around in Madeleine’s head.

It does take a while to warm up. But when Farrow, in particular, hits her stride it works itself up into a full-blooded exploration of madness, oppression and how a woman can take control of her own life when society gives her no legal means to do so.

Brief, this might be, but as Mulvihill pulls out an unexpected and strong final scene, it hits its mark spot on.

Run ends Saturday 10 November
Daily, 7.30pm (Sat: 3pm, 7.30pm).
Running time: 1 hr 50 mins.
Tightlaced website: tightlacedtheatre.com
Scottish Storytelling Centre website: www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk

ENDS

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