Mary Woodward Review

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Review

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert

**** (4 stars)

Conductor Stuart Stratford bounced on to the stage and gave us a lengthy but fascinating answer to the question he’d been asked a few days previously – “Why do you put on all these obscure operas?” We had a quick canter through the best of this season’s programme and the goodies to look out for next season as part of the answer – as well as doing classics from the repertoire [Magic Flute, Tosca] Scottish Opera put on modern and specially commissioned works [Greek, Flight, Anthropocene, Nixon in China, Breaking the Waves, and a new tinies’ opera Fox-Tot!]  It’s good to work on finding new insights into stalwarts of the operatic canon, and exciting to work on something new whether on something newly-composed or, as with Silvano, something that’s been around for years but dropped out of sight until unearthed and found to be a brilliant piece that deserves to be heard.

On a first hearing, there was a lot to like about Silvano, especially the chorus numbers which eloquently depicted the beauty of the sea on to which the local fishermen set sail every evening, returning with the light of dawn.  The orchestral writing was good, though of the ‘let’s just double the vocal line to emphasise it’ rather than the Puccini-style ‘let’s have interesting tunes wandering through the orchestra and have some sort of a vocal line on top’.

The four soloists did a good job of selling this ‘new’ music to us. Alexey Dolgov’s tenor gleamed after an initial dampness [possibly due to a cold or some such affliction?] but at times the orchestra overwhelmed him – they usually sit in the pit: were they so excited at being on display that they were unable to rein in their enthusiasm in the ‘good bits’?  David Stout’s incisive baritone matched his aggressive, domineering character and music, though he swithered rather between noble renunciation and villainous spite.  Leah-Marian Jones didn’t have much to do as Silvano’s mother, but did it well, especially her loving response to her son’s emotional outpourings.  Emma Bell, in her Scottish Opera début, had a lot of agonising to do, and did it very well, her somewhat metallic soprano riding the orchestra with ease: but her character didn’t really convince – not her fault, with composer and librettist both giving a male view of a woman’s behaviour and motivation!

The basic plot is, as ever, a love triangle: this time set in an Italian fishing village. Silvano and Matilde were to be married, but Silvano was accused of smuggling and had to go into hiding – during which time Matilde became involved with his best friend Renzo.  Silvano suddenly appears, having been pardoned: he can’t understand why Matilde is less than overjoyed and protests that she is unworthy.  Renzo comes in, hoping for a good day’s fishing: a quarrel develops when he calls Silvano a bandit.  Peace is eventually restored between the two men, who set off together – but Renzo reappears and reminds Matilde of their liaison, saying he will not let her go.  Matilde is unwillingly forced to agree to meet him that night.

Silvano praises the calmness of the evening sea, and regrets that he is too late to join any of the fishing boats. He tells his mother of Matilde’s devotion to him while he was in hiding, and reluctantly she agrees to her son’s marriage.  He goes to join his beloved – but she appears with Renzo, warning him that Silvano will kill her if he finds them together.  Silvano returns, Renzo hides: Matilde denies that she was talking to anyone, but Renzo reappears.  Silvano kills him and flees, leaving Matilde alone.

Silvano and Renzo are very different characters – the one quiet and introspective, the other outgoing and confident – and this is reflected in their music. Rosa, Silvano’s mother, is motivated by love for her son.  Matilde, though, seems harder to understand: she spends so much of her time wailing remorsefully that it’s hard to see what either man saw in her, and she seems trapped in her remorse [like Santuzza in Mascagni’s still-current Cavalleria Rusticana, a guilt-ridden Catholic – but unlike Santuzza, given solely to weeping and wringing her hands, without the fire that makes Santuzza so much more appealing a heroine].  Her part seemed virtually one-dimensional, as she changed her mind almost constantly depending on which of the two men she was with – her liaison with Renzo seemed to be almost accidental but she was unable to resist his threats despite what she professed to be her undying love for Silvano…  The translation we were given in supertitles was mercifully free from bad jokes and punning humour, but I have no way of knowing how accurately it reflected the Italian libretto, which on a first hearing had some lovely lyrical lines when describing the scenery, but was less intelligible when it came to the Matilde’s motivation – but as I’ve said, maybe composer and librettist were less interested in that than in painting the luckless temptress in a ‘doomed love triangle’.

Whatever the motivation, Mascagni knew how to write emotive music, and as the final thrilling chords of the opera died away, the disappointingly small audience erupted in cheers, stamping and sustained applause – they obviously found the work a great hit which deserves to be seen more frequently.

Mascagni Silvano: Scottish Opera in Concert, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Run Ended

Mary Woodward Review

Lion Lion – Play, Pie & Pint Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Lion Lion – Play, Pie & Pint

**** (4 stars)

This was “Life with the Lions”, the ugly version…  Joy and George Adamson were pioneers in wild cat conservation, especially lions.  Joy is probably best-remembered for her books about the lion cub, Elsa, and Elsa’s cubs – Born Free, Living Free, and Forever Free – and the film Born Free, all of which tend to make the whole thing sound terribly romantic and alluring.  But was this the case?

Sue Glover’s play lifts the lid on life behind the picture-perfect façade, giving us a portrait of an arrogant woman more concerned for her animals than for her husband or the native servants who make her life in Kenya possible.  It’s colonialism at its worst coupled with the supreme self-confidence that knows I am right and everyone else is wrong: but without that arrogance and self-belief, would Joy have achieved what she did?  And was what she achieved worth the price paid?

It was extremely uncomfortable to be sitting so close to the action, an unwilling witness to the raging emotions unleashed before us.  Joy’s confident persona in front of the press cameras as she promoted Born Free dissolved into melodramatic hysteria as she furiously berated George for failing to deal swiftly enough with Elsa’s illness and thus prevent her death, talking of the lion in overblown terms – “we had a mystical relationship” / “she was my soul-mate”: the sort of language one might associate with the death of a partner, but not of an animal, however beloved.

Vitriol was aimed at the man of whom she had previously spoken so glowingly, the desired prey of her long-term hunt – was it the glamour of his reputation that attracted her?  Certainly the gloss wore off, she had affairs and spent much of their married life living elsewhere: but did she ever love a human being the way she loved the big cats, and especially Elsa?  For both herself and George losing Elsa seemed to be the great tragedy that ruined their relationship rather than bringing them closer together…but would Joy have tired of Elsa had she lived, just as she tired of George?  Elsa was replaced by other lion cubs, then by a young female cheetah and finally an African leopardess cub, just as George was replaced by various nameless men and the oh-so-wonderfully urbane and sophisticated publisher, ‘Billy’ Collins.

As the play progressed, however, it became clear that Elsa was indeed the Beloved, who could do no wrong, and to whom Joy talked constantly, updating her on what was going on, and confiding details of her past life that Joy had revealed to no-one else. These went some way to explaining her attitude towards everyone else – you can’t trust anyone, they will betray you and let you down, disappear and hurt you, so trust no-one and never display fear.  She was harsh and unforgiving towards anyone who didn’t act as she felt they should, [“Nobody ever thinks about me”…], careless of her husband and his feelings and oblivious to the fact that the servants who made her life and work possible were human beings to be treated with kindness and respect.

Her egocentric view of things contrasted with that of her long-suffering husband, who tried to point out to her the wisdom of realising that the two of them were at best tolerated in Kenya for the tourist income they brought to the country, and at worst hated by the local villagers whose land had been taken away to make a reserve for the lions, their traditional enemy.  Her heartless treatment of their ‘boy’ Makedde is the final straw: his daily walk with a gun between her and the danger from her latest love, the leopard Penny, his devoted service to her and George were all as nothing because of his selfishness in accidentally scalding his leg and needing treatment at the Mission “leaving me alone, like everyone else does”…

The only times Joy seemed warm and loving were when she was talking to Elsa or about her latest loves, human or animal: she completely ignored any pain George might have been feeling, both for the loss of Elsa and later when he had to shoot his beloved Boy, another lion who’d been rescued, and whose death involved both George and Makedde in an interrogation which revealed that Boy had attacked several other people before killing the servant Stanley.  Makedde helplessly watched George mourning Boy while seemingly oblivious to the death of Stanley, a twenty-eight-year-old orphan, whose body would be taken from police custody and dumped in a common grave, while Boy’s grave would be visited as regularly as Elsa’s was…

It’s a chilling portrait of inhumanity and intolerance, mercilessly observed and brilliantly acted by Selina Boyack, Keith Fleming and Nick Ikunda, whose servitude and humility enraged me and made intelligible the hatred of those Kenyans who were attacking white tourists and trying to take back land they felt was rightfully theirs.

It was not a comfortable play to watch: how true it is I don’t know: but the performances were very good and the audience greatly appreciative.

Lion Lion – Play, Pie & Pint, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh  run ends Sat 20th April for tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/ppp-lion-lion

Mary Woodward Review

Edinburgh Science Festival: Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Review:

Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Quaker Studio, Pleasance, Edinburgh

**** 4 Stars

The last time I was in what is now ‘the Quaker Studio’ at Pleasance I saw a Fringe show about a historical lighthouse tragedy.  This, the first purpose-built Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh was built in 1791 alongside the already existing Quaker burial ground: it seemed then to be virtually untouched.  It has now had a considerable makeover – the Quakers who worshipped there in the 18th century would hardly recognise the interior now…

Today the building hosted an excellent performance by the very able and energetic Alice Mary Cooper and Ben Winger, whose Melody and Sam seemed super-charged with energy as they told us of their various efforts to appear in the BIG Book of Records.  Having failed in their attempts to create new records for holding their breath or enduring clothes pegs on their faces, their current target was to beat the current world record for the most baked beans eaten in a minute, using only a cocktail stick to spear them.  Despite months of practice they were nowhere near the record of 54 beans: Sam only managed 36 beans [and great credit to Ben for gamely snarfing a sizeable number of cold baked beans at least twice in every show as he tried to hone his technique].

With the help of a delightful pop-up book, Sam and Melody told us about Topi, the remote island on which Sam was born and went to school – but now the school is gone, washed away by the sea, which came in the middle of the night and tossed Sam about ‘like a sock in a washing machine’.  Sam was now afraid of water and determined never to go back to the island – there’s no point, everything will just be drowned again…

The post brought Sam a letter confirming his and Melody’s entry into the World Record-Breakers Programme and setting the date for the team’s trial at the bean-eating record.  He rushed off to get his costume ready, while Melody prepared a training programme for him, which is strangely devoid of beans…  Sam was taken a journey layer by layer into the sea – sorry, BEANS – in which he met a school of clothes-peg fish swinging from coat hangers in the sunlight zone; a delightful mop-head jellyfish in the twilight zone, a strangely twisting bin-liner eel in the midnight zone, and an adorable lantern fish in the abyssal zone.  Part 2 of the training regime involved Sam, with his goggles on, being sprayed with water, encouraged to plunge his head into a bucket of water and finally, when he was about to be completely drenched with the water from the bucket, the penny dropped – he realised Melody’s ulterior motive, and a fierce argument ensued.

Things got a lot worse when Melody revealed her invitation to take part in the World Adventure Programme meant that her team were going to the world’s remotest island – Topi.  Each began to prepare for their solo challenges, while at the same time hoping for some possibility of reconciliation, which never came.  The enormous Big Book of Records at the back of the stage now opened up, showing Melody about to begin her adventure on The World’s Most Beat-up Old Ship.  Sam arrived, still cross with Melody but wanting to give her their small book of inspiring record breakers: before he could disembark and attempt the bean-eating record, the ship slipped its moorings – Sam was too afraid of the water to jump ashore…

Further adventures ensued before finally Melody and Sam arrived safely on land, their friendship restored by their realisation that each depended on and needed the other.  Together they worked to restore the once-devastated island and equip it to deal with future visits from the sea, which brought them the long-desired recognition as record-breakers.  The concepts of global warming, rising sea levels and alternative technologies are slipped in and slightly break up the narrative energy: would the young audience have taken these ideas in, embedded as they are in a fast-moving and funny adventure?  Certainly there was a lot of laughter during the performance, loud applause at the end of the show, and a positive buzz of conversation as the young audience rejoined its adults and left the Quaker Studio.

Melody and Sam: Record Breakers, Quaker Studio, Pleasance, EdinburghRuns Until Saturday 12th April for tickets go to: https://www.sciencefestival.co.uk/event-details/melody-and-sam-record-breakers

 

Review by Mary Woodward.

 

Mary Woodward Review

Pepperland, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Pepperland 

*** 3 stars

Disappointingly underwhelming, given all the hype and rave reviews surrounding the only Scottish performances of the latest Mark Morris production.  Had I not just seen Scottish Ballet’s Spring! and Aljaz and Janette’s Remembering the Movies, I might have been more impressed, though I doubt it.

The concept was intriguing – a homage to and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, first seen in 2017.  A live band and singer performed Ethan Iverson’s interesting arrangements of tracks from the album interspersed with some of his original compositions for this ballet.  Clinton Curtis did a magnificent job of interpreting, not trying to recreate, the Beatles’ lyrics, while soprano sax, piano, keyboard and percussion were augmented by Rob Schwimmer on the theremin, its weirdly swooping and gliding voice adding a very 70s sound to the mix.

The costumes were brightly coloured – red, yellow, pink, purple, blue and orange trousers, shirts and jackets or waistcoats, and mini-dresses with [inauthentic] kick-pleats in contrasting colours to allow the dancers freedom of movement.  There were a lot of dark sunglasses.  The back of the stage was surrounded by a small ‘wall’ of crumpled silver stuff, which was lit with varying colours to extremely good advantage.

Would that the dancing had lived up to the music!   It began well – a tightly-knit cluster of dancers slowly unwound into a single line; various famous people from the album cover [Einstein, Marilyn, Shirley Temple] were introduced and took their places and attitudes on the album cover; and then we launched into With a Little Help From My Friends, and the dancing began.  There was a lot of springing and leaping and carrying around of dancers in a high leaping pose: but after a while I began to notice the same moves repeated again and again throughout the evening, which became rather tedious.

When I’m 64 came with an extraordinary rhythmic dissonance between dancers and band which I found extremely uncomfortable while also being impressed at the dancers’ ability to dance against the rhythm they were hearing.  There was an interesting baroque extravaganza, complete with harpsichord sound from the keyboard accompanying an interesting mix of Charleston and hip-hop.  I really appreciated Clinton Curtis’ lyrical rendition of George Harrison’s contribution to the album, Within You Without You, the dancers exploring the contrast between the inner stillness of the meditator with the frantic, frenetic movements of modern life – but then boredom set in again with yet more of the same jerking, skipping and leaping: if you’ve seen any of the publicity photos, you’ve seen much of the ballet…

I have to say my companion and I were quite glad when the performance ended with the line of dancers spiralling back into their opening cluster [and the ballet’s only an hour long].  The rest of the audience thought it was absolutely brilliant and applauded loud and long.

Mark Morris Dance Company presents “Pepperland”, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Review by Mary Woodward

Mary Woodward Review

Beauty and the Beast, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Beauty and the Beast.

**** (4 stars)

I have to confess up front that I’m addicted to the Emma Watson film: so I approached this ballet with some doubts in my mind: how could the story be told compellingly and convincingly without any words?  Well, it was, and I’d gladly see it again.

Danced to an inventive, original score by Canadian composer Glenn Buhr, this version of the story begins by showing how the Prince became a Beast.  The cruel, heartless Prince only lived for hunting: he was pursuing a vixen when a Woodsman appeared to protect her and turn her into a red-headed girl before turning the Prince into the Beast and his huntsmen into the animals he felt they were.

In the Merchant’s house, Belle’s father is facing ruin as his trading ship has not returned: the bailiffs are already in the house, removing most of its contents.   Monsieur Cochon [complete with cute pig nose] offers to bankroll him, but news appears of the ship’s safe arrival and Cochon’s money is returned to him.  As their father prepares to collect his merchandise, Belle’s two self-absorbed and selfish sisters demand extravagant presents, while Belle asks only for a rose.   The Merchant gets lost in a storm, finds a mysterious castle and shelter for the night, and as he is leaving picks a rose – the Beast appears and demands that the Merchant give him Belle in exchange for his life.  The story unfolds until Belle is allowed to go home to her father, with another rose – she must return before it withers, or the Beast will die.  Her sisters delay her leaving, and when she arrives back the Beast is on the point of death – but Belle’s revelation that she loves him saves his life: the Woodsman reappears to turn everyone, including the Vixen, back into their original form, and everyone Lives Happily Ever After.

The set designs, especially of the Beast’s castle, were superb – a towering, mysterious structure in black and gold which unfolded and then unfolded again to reveal a golden door through which the Merchant and then Belle entered, before emerging into the castle interior which again seemed to stretch for miles.  Candles lit themselves, a massive carved chair moved up behind the weary traveller – its arms even came out to enfold the sleeper.  Belle and the Beast were alone in the darkness until a crowd of courtiers, beautifully dressed in shades of cream, gold, and black formed the backdrop for a magnificent ball during which the Beast proposed but was once again refused.

This was in delightful contrast to the slightly shabby but well-lit home of the Merchant, complete with a collection of large stuffed birds of prey.  There was much humour in the antics of Belle’s sisters, Fière and Vanité [Ruth Brill and Samara Downs] and the chubby, self-important M. Cochon [James Barton].  The Merchant was expressively danced by senior ballet master Michael O’Hare, showing that there can be a long dancing life even after principal roles are given up.  Lachlan Monaghan brought great agility to the cameo role of Bailiff, and Laura Day’s brief appearance as Grandmère, complete with wildly-waving walking stick, was equally noteworthy.  Beatrice Parma made a charming vixen, and Yaoqian Shang’s Wild Girl, despite being his quarry in animal form, was the one who supported him as he began to die, and grieved deeply at his death.

The Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet did sterling work as hunters, birds of the air and of the forest, beasts at the court and guests at the wedding.  I particularly enjoyed the massed birds’ weaving their way round each other and then suddenly dancing in unison, and the many different individual characters of birds and beasts – and the fantastic costumes and the masks which must have offered their own challenge to the dancers.

Delia Matthews’ Belle was tender, loving, terrified, lonely, desolate and finally glowing with happiness when she realised the Prince with whom she was dancing was in fact her beloved Beast.  Tyrone Singleton’s power and arrogance took a long time to give way to love and humility – even at the ball he was furious rather than saddened by Belle’s refusal: but hopefully her generosity taught him the humility and reverence for life that he so conspicuously lacked before he met her.

This was an evening of enchantment, and the packed house was loud in its enthusiastic appreciation.

Birmingham Royal Ballet presents Beauty and the Beast, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh runs until  Saturday 16th March, then on UK tour for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/brb-beauty-and-the-beast

Review by Mary Woodward

 

Mary Woodward Review

Scottish Opera, Katya Kabanova, Theatre Royal Glasgow, Review:

Scottish Opera Katya Kabanova

***** 5 Stars

Katya Kabanova is a powerful study in hypocrisy, matriarchal dominance and bullying.  Based on a Russian play – The Storm by Alexander Ostrovsky – it illuminates the contrast between the old-fashioned, matriarchal society and the more forward-looking and egalitarian society which is trying to overthrow it.

Kabanicha, mother of Tikhon, foster-mother to Varvara and mother-in-law to Katya, rules her family and household with a rod of iron.  She despises Katya, losing no opportunity to belittle her, and encourages her son to be equally cruel to his wife.  Tikhon professes to love her but is unable to stand up to his mother. Katya is a young woman with a gentle affectionate nature, who is slowly withering under this treatment.  She is further tormented by her own longings, which she sees as sinful, for a young man Boris: he is equally in love with her, but from afar, not daring to speak of his love.  Varvara, however, is more than happy to creep out in the evenings to meet up with Vanya by the river.  Kabanicha herself is not immune to the blandishments of Boris’s uncle Dikoy, who exerts a similarly despotic rule over his nephew, knowing that the young man has to be subservient to him if he is ever to receive the inheritance his parents left him.

Kabanicha orders Tikhon to go away on business.  Katya pleads with her husband not to go, but he says he’s been ordered to by his mother, so must go: she asks to go with him but he refuses her.  She begs him to make her swear an oath not to speak to any strangers while he’s away – but he doesn’t.  He leaves, and the inevitable happens – Katya, knowing she shouldn’t, takes the opportunity Varvara offers her to escape from the oppressive household and meet Boris down by the river.  Tikhon returns unexpectedly, Katya, riven by guilt, confesses her infidelity and slowly starts to unravel mentally: bereft of love, bullied and humiliated at home, she is driven to suicide.  Her husband is distraught: her mother-in-law wraps her cloak of self-righteousness around her and thanks her neighbours for their help…

Designer Leslie Travers has produced a most impressive set – two metal footbridges crossing the river can be raised, lowered, and even slanted, while the space revealed beneath them is first the claustrophobic household in which Katya suffers and then, escapes through a sliding door to the sunlit, golden, reed-fringed riverbank in which the lovers find each other and in whose rain-swelled waters Katya eventually seeks respite from her tangled emotions.  The costumes spoke volumes, too – Katya in a simple white dress, which she smeared with mud after she had “fallen”: Kabanicha was tightly wrapped in a black coat when outdoors and equally constrained indoors by her tight, dark frock.  Boris, as befitted someone growing up in the ‘civilisation’ of Moscow, sported a very smooth suit and shoulder-length hair, while his uncle Dikoy’s coat was covered in medals from his past military ‘glory’.  Varvara was only too happy to strip off her ‘peasant’ dress and headscarf and put on [and remove!] much more modern skirt, top and ankle boots when she met up with Vanya.

Laura Wilde brought enormous sensitivity and a gloriously gleaming soprano to the role of Katya.  Patricia Bardon gave us a superbly bitter and repressed Kabanicha: when booed at her curtain call, smiled and mouthed “sorry!”.  Tikhon [Samuel Sakker] was a superbly spineless mummy’s boy: Boris [Ric Furman] was elegant and sang well but somehow never swept me off my feet – that was done effortlessly by Vanya’s Trystan Llŷr Griffiths whose lyrical tenor and cheerful personality was a perfect foil to the feisty Varvara of Hanna Hipp, refusing to accept the constraints and conventions of her mother’s household, and more than happy to plan to run away to Moscow with her lover.  Paul Whelan was a horribly uptight and dictatorial Dikoy, who nonetheless managed to attract Kabanicha’s attention – while profoundly disapproving of her daughter’s conduct it seems she wasn’t averse to a little extramarital canoodling herself!

The orchestra under Stuart Stratford was superb, as ever: their music revealed the turmoil of emotions under the characters’ restrained vocal lines as this thrilling opera wound its way to its desolate conclusion.  There was loud applause for cast and creatives at the final curtain.  It’s ironic, perhaps, that Janáček wrote this opera, and the other works of genius of his last year, as an expression of his own passion for a much younger, married woman – would that Katya could have had a happier fate…

Scottish Opera presents Katya Kabanova, Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Sat 16th March, The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh 21st – 23rd March for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/katyakabanova or https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/scottish-opera-katya-kabanova/theatre-royal-glasgow/

 

Mary Woodward Review

The Funeral Director Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

The Funeral Director

**** (4 stars)

Another emotionally intense offering from the Trav, this time from Papatango Theatre Company who present a new play by Iran Qureshi which examines the effects of religious and cultural values on decisions made in moments of extreme pressure.

Ayesha inherited her mother’s funeral parlour when her mum died in a car crash.  She now runs it with her husband Zeyd, the man her mum intended she should marry.  At first all seems well between Ayesha and Zeyd – they seem to have a perfect, loving relationship –  but there are problems – business is slack despite the current flu epidemic, and while he wants kids, she doesn’t, and they don’t seem to have sex very often, if at all.

The shop buzzer sounds, and Tom, a very distressed young white man, comes in, wanting to arrange a Muslim funeral for his ‘friend’.  Zeyd is compassionate, especially when it seems as though Tom’s friend’s death might have been accidental suicide but Ayesha suddenly announces that they can’t help him because they are too busy, and advises him to go to the other, non-Muslim, funeral director in town.  There’s something very wrong in the atmosphere, and Ayesha’s attempted explanations to Zeyd don’t ring true.

Ayesha goes to the local hospital to collect someone’s body for their funeral and bumps into an old school friend, Janey, whom she’s not seen for years.  Janey’s mum is in hospital following an accident in the garden – Janey left home years ago, lives in London and is now a barrister.  The conversation seems awkward – is there some sort of history there?  Janey is obviously keen to see Ayesha again, and Ayesha is curiously unwilling.  An unexpected consequence of Ayesha’s refusal to arrange Tom’s boyfriend’s funeral brings the two girls together and their past begins to be revealed…

Deeply convincing portraits from Aryana Ramkhalawon and Assad Zaman as Ayesha and Zeyd gave me insights into a culture of which I know shamingly little while also reminding me that the desire to ‘do right’ and its subsequent heartbreak is not a monopoly of western culture. Francesca Zoutewelle‘s Janey slowly revealed the broken heart underneath her reserved, slightly brittle and sort-of-smiling façade and Tom [Edward Stone], stunned and broken in grief, angrily rejected Ayesha’s attempts to make amends and only relaxed as he talked about his partner Ahad’s love for Bollywood films and his firm belief in the loving Allah who would not reject him – finally forcing Ayesha to confront the truth she’s been hiding from herself all her life.

The Funeral Director invites us to consider our attitudes towards death, funerals, relationships, religion, and the whole LGBTQI can of worms.  Why couldn’t I give it five stars? It’s a very good play, with some deeply-moving moments: but sometimes it felt that it was written to preach a message – and everything turned out so conveniently for Ayesha.  I also felt uncomfortable, that all the time I was a spectator, helplessly observing the pain and suffering of four people.  Much of what was said tonight reminded me of almost identical views I’ve heard, and had directed at me personally, from so-called christians… but for many in the audience it might have been new.  Certainly the applause was loud and long.

The Travers Theatre in a co production with English Touring Theatre presents: The Funeral Director Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – Run Ended

Review by Mary Woodward