‘Enough artistry & drive to make this well worth a look’: LUDUS: PLAYFUL LOVE – Touring ★★★

In Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

Festival Theatre Studio, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson

Ludus: Playful Love, Theatre Broad’s production of two contrasting plays by early 20th-century poet and playwright Clifford Bax provides an evening that is high on period charm but never really stakes its claim to contemporary relevance.

Bax is little more than a marginal figure now (even his better-known brother, composer Arnold Bax, is almost forgotten). The two plays, while diverting enough, do not make much of a case for a revival.

Prelude and Fugue features an older woman, Rosemary, who is posing for a portrait drawn by a younger artist named Joan. It turns out the two women have something in common, and this is revealed by having the scene played twice, with the performers speaking their inner thoughts aloud second time around.

While this is an interesting enough device – and the fact that Bax used it years before Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude is all the more intriguing – it is hardly unknown for a dramatist to let us hear a character’s thoughts.

The dialogue is elegant enough, but its self-consciously poetic nature is too dated and too arch to convince. Indeed, the first run through of the scene, with its dramatic pauses, seems more telling and significant than the later version.

A bigger problem is the way that the snippets of Bach that punctuate the scene start to take it over completely as if they are a definite attempt to give a slight sketch more length and significance than it possesses.

There are some very good things about it, however. Carol Metcalf’s outwardly poised yet inwardly conflicted Rosemary highlights the character’s dilemma far better than hearing her thoughts ever could. Katy-Louise Pritchett’s Joan seems a shade too modern for her period-specific fretting about reputation to fully ring true, but she is otherwise convincing.

The set for the first half is an absolute triumph, with Metcalf’s design using a few pieces of furniture to give a sense of space and scale. This is heightened by the suggestions of Mondrian, in the way the splashes of red provided by the props and costumes set off an otherwise monochrome background.

The second half’s Square Pegs, while it echoes the first half’s concerns, is a complete contrast in tone, being a knockabout affair conducted entirely in verse. Indeed, with many of the rhymes being deliberately forced, it veers close to pantomime – something that is echoed by the anachronistic, yet not remotely modern, song-and-dance numbers and the playful audience interaction.
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This is decidedly not a bad thing, and there is considerable comic momentum to the story of two young women who meet at a magic time-travelling portal. Hilda, a 20th century female bored of stiff-upper-lip chaps, wants to find a passionate lover from the Renaissance, while Gioconda, a Cinquecento Venetian, has – guess what – a completely opposite problem.

Gioconda is played by Lara Fabiani with real presence and considerable comic skill, and the whole evening’s energy levels rise noticeably as soon as she makes her entrance. Care needs to be taken to ensure that, just because she has a repertoire of sidelong glances and tiny gestures full of comic potential, it does not mean that she should use them all of the time, as it is in danger of overpowering everything else. This, however, is a very minor criticism of what is a very good comic performance indeed.

Kerrie Leanne Sellick’s Hilda is a much more conventional jolly-hockey-sticks type, but she acquits herself well despite a somewhat wandering accent. What is noticeable is that not only is there a disparity in tone between the two halves of the production, the two plays themselves are not entirely cohesive, as if the performers in each are striving for something slightly different.

This is a common problem early in a touring production, however, and Metcalf’s direction is otherwise accomplished.

It is important – and still rare – to see such pieces that are entirely about women, but this does not necessarily make Bax’s work seem vital or modern. Indeed, neither play would pass the Bechdel test, as everyone concerned spends their time worrying about what ‘boys’ think of them.

This, added to the inescapable feeling that some of the musical elements are as much about padding out the running time as anything else, does diminish the production’s impact. However, there is enough artistry and drive here to make this well worth a look.

Running time 1 hour 25 minutes including one interval
Festival Theatre Studio,, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL
Friday 14 September 2018 at 7.30 pm
Run ended, but tour continues.

Touring:

SAT 15 Sept at 7.30pm. Macrobert arts Centre, University of Stirling. Click her for tickets.
WED 19 Sept at 7.30pm Theatre Royal, Dumfries. Click her for tickets.
FRI 21 Sept 6.30pm University of Highlands and Islands, Inverness.
SAT 22 Sept 7.30pm. The Little Theatre, Nairn.
WED 26 Sept at 7.30pm Webster Theatre, Glasgow. Click here for tickets.
FRI 28 Sept at 7.30pm Heron Theatre, Cumbria. Click here for tickets.
SAT 29 Sept at 7.30pm The Fullarton Theatre, Castle Douglas.

Theatre Broad website: http://www.theatrebroad.co.uk
Facebook: @theatrebroad.

ENDS

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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.
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Thom Dibdin on FacebookThom Dibdin on Twitter
Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. He tweets from @AllEdinTheatre and, personally, from @ThomDibdin.