Scots Double Bill - Something In It For Cordelia/Ophelia

Tue 5th – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Victoria Ferguson

at 08:54 on 6th Aug 2014

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In these two short plays by Joan Ure, two of Shakespeare’s most lamentable female characters are resurrected for re-examination and given a voice beyond their tragic end. Set in a humble marquee in the Duddingston Kirk Manse Garden, the closest this show arrived to special effects was a light pre-performance shower which lifted fresh, seasonal smells from the carpet of grass. The gardens offer a peaceful refuge from the bustling city centre. A piece like this, so heavy with dialogue, would benefit from sound and lighting to create an atmosphere.

The first short play, ‘Something in it for Cordelia’ follows a conversation between Cordelia and her infirm father as they wait for a train at Waverley Station during Fringe season. It is not immediately evident whether the couple before us is intend to be the actual Cordelia and Lear or simply players, and this lack of clarity makes the story difficult to follow.

The characterisation descends into slapstick on occasion, and the emotional integrity of the play suffers as a result. Furthermore, the references to ‘King Lear’ lack subtlety, as though a schoolchild were crowbarring in context to prove that he had read it. At their worst, these are used to create humour with crude blatancy: “I was banished, Father,” says Cordelia brazenly, hand on hip.

“Oh, aye – I forgot.”

The second piece, ‘Something in it for Ophelia’ is the better of the two, but the performances from John McColl and Angela Cassidy are stronger than the script’s development. This short play is about relationships, but its outlook strikes me as needlessly sceptical. The protagonists demonstrate a failure to empathise with each other and I was disappointed to learn that the wisdom the play has to offer is that an unhappy life is worth living as long as someone else’s is bleaker.

In the face of humour that is largely at the expense of women, the female characters in these plays are bitter and unsympathetic. The men are not likeable either and so, although the acting is satisfactory, the audience struggles to connect with any of the characters.

The size of the audience suggests that this off-the-beaten-track venue is an obstacle for Theatre Alba. To tempt audiences away from the Mile in August will require something extraordinary, and an extra bus fare. Unfortunately, ‘Scots Double Bill’ does not offer enough. I left ‘Something in it for Cordelia’ and ‘Something in it for Ophelia’ thinking that these Shakespearean heroines still deserved more.

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Zack Wellin

at 11:30 on 6th Aug 2014

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Scots Double Bill comprises two loose modernisations of Shakespeare, written by Joan Ure in the 1970s. Both plays are characterised by shifting age and gender relations, and an underlying awareness of what it is to be Scottish. They are beautifully set in a garden marquee, and the natural light and space are a refreshing respite from a stream of poky Edinburgh basement theatres.

The first, Something in it for Cordelia, imagines Lear and his daughter waiting for the last train out of Edinburgh Waverley. She plans to install him in a comfortable abode in the highlands, where they will be able to quietly live out the rest of their days. Together they envision a gentle rural idyll, though Lear is pathetically unable to escape from, or reconcile with, his past. Amy Conway portrays a practical though tender Cordelia in a balanced and understated performance, while Charles Donnelly presents us with a fittingly ridiculous and unsympathetic Lear teetering on the delicate boundary between farce and pathos.

The script doesn’t hesitate to juxtapose mundane modern realities with the Shakespearean context, often to comic effect, and the plain language is often moving, such as when Lear admits that he doesn’t “know how to” give his daughter a “cuddle”. The actors cycle believably through various emotional states, and the main criticism that could be made of this play is that it occasionally rambles too much and veers into irrelevance. It may have benefited from a little pruning.

The second of the two, Something in it for Ophelia, is delightfully captivating from the off. A young woman on the train home from a performance of Hamlet is eager to engage in a conversation about it with an older man who is rather more interested in reading his book. Eventually she wins his attention, and an unexpectedly intimate conversation develops. The script fizzes with intelligence and humour, and the formality of the wording is enlarged upon by the two actors to hugely endearing and humorous effect.

Angela Cassidy, as the precocious Hannah McNair, is sharp and restrained, and John McColl is convincingly agitated as Martin Armstrong. Their relationship freely morphs and develops, and some credit must go to the director Helen Cuinn for the dynamic physical interactions that are created with the aid of just a bench. Unfortunately the actors aren’t always able to fulfill the ambitions of the script, which requires the expression of some extreme emotions within the incongruous context of a random encounter; this might be more a problem of writing rather than acting. This does little to mar a thoroughly enjoyable pseudo-philosophical investigation into themes of gender, age and death.

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