Dark Road (4.5*)

2013-09-26Ruth’s review:

Dark Road is an original new play, set in Edinburgh, from Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson.

The plot focuses on Isobel, Scotland’s first Chief Superintendent, as she revisits the case of a serial killer that she worked on as a young police officer 25 years earlier.

The husband and I like to watch police dramas on the TV, but it is so unusual to see a police drama on stage – so that was a nice change.  As always at the Lyceum this play was buoyed by great acting, and as always it was so well staged.  The set was magnificent and was occasionally supplemented with projections which worked really well.  The use of music was subtle but generated a lot of tension, in fact I think rarely have I been to such a tense play.  People in the audience screamed.  Which, actually, was scarier than the play itself.

I enjoyed the story a lot, there was a good deal of character development and the plot was twisty and interesting.  If anything I think the plot was overly complicated for the production, as the other elements came together to make it sufficiently exciting and captivating without the need for excessive detail.  If anything, the slightly superfluous detail led me to overthinking as I watched which detracted from the tension, but the plot could have progressed without some of it.

I’d say overall this play was brilliant and with a bit of tweaking it could be exceptional.

Ian’s 4.5* Review

I absolutely loved this.  Tense.  Exciting.  Dark.  Funny.  Captivating.  It’s wonderful to see the “police drama” genre on stage, and the plot is classic Rankin, delighting in the gruesome and twisted mind of the criminal and in blurring the lines between good and bad, right and wrong.  The staging is brilliant too, I love the concept and the execution.  It gives the piece a feel of being bigger than it actually is – somehow more cinematic.

This is very close to being a 5* review, but falls just short as it didn’t feel completely coherent.  It started off feeling quite character-centric, but that then got a little lost in the middle which was totally plot-driven with just a few moments of character focus which were slightly disconcerting.  Then the ending (surprising, dark, twisted and brilliant as it is) went back to being more character based.  I liked the twisty nature of the experience, but for me it felt slightly like a longer work that had been cut down based on “favourite scenes” rather than “coherent audience experience”.  That would be easily fixed I suspect.

A brilliant first play from Ian Rankin – get your tickets now before they sell out!


Lyceum: A Doll’s House (3.5*)

Ruth’s 3.5* review:

My review of this one is brief as I feel quite indifferent to this production.  The set was stunning, the inside of a beautiful old house with magnificent windows.  The ending was good, plenty of conflict and very intense.

Other than that I have little more to say. I quite enjoyed it but there wasn’t much of note that stood out.

Ian’s 3.5* review:

I have to agree with Ruth really. The production was slick, the performances excellent, and the the plot was nicely convoluted. Somehow I didn’t really find any of the characters sympathetic however, and so it didn’t quite pull me in or emotionally involve me.

Lyceum: Takin’ over the Asylum (4.5* / 3*)


Ian’s 4.5* Review:

I was really looking forward to seeing this play, as it sort of closes a circle for me.  A few years back I saw a young actor called David Tennant in a play at the Lyceum called Look Back in Anger.  He was utterly mesmerising, and not long after we started seeing him in some great TV pieces – the first was Cassanova.  Later, we looked for other stuff he had been in, and got a DVD of Takin’ Over the Asylum.  We loved it.  Now we get to see it in play form at the Lyceum.  A personal, and very obscure, circle.

It’s a few years since we watched the DVD, but a two-hour play is always going to be a little shallow compared with a 6 hour series, and the first half in particular felt a little quick.  Quite a few plot threads necessarily get lost.  After the first few minutes though, I was able to accept the different performances and settle into the performances.

I really, really enjoyed it.  There was laugh-out-loud comedy, heart-wrenching pathos and everything in between.  Fraser had real style, and Aileen’s subtle transformation is beautifully understated.  The script somehow manages to cover all the main themes from the TV version, and I really felt the highs and lows.

Ruth’s 3* Review:

We went to see Takin over the asylum which is a play about hospital radio set in a psychiatric hospital. Theoretically I’m well on board with the concept of using meaningful activities to improve mental health (part of my day job) and that’s all in there. But. I didn’t gel with it.

I’m not sure I can blame the play, it was nice enough and Ian enjoyed it. But having seen the original 1994 TV drama starring David Tennant this just wasn’t as good. The character exposition seemed forced and obvious which I think is natural when you squeeze six hours down into two. But for me it lost some of the compassion of the original. You should all get the DVD.

Plus, with the instant feedback of the audience, I was never quite sure whether people were laughing ‘at’ or ‘with’ the characters and the stigmatising language they used, for example “we are loonies and we are proud” being a key repeating sentiment.

Lyceum: Time and the Conways (4.5* / 5*)


Ian’s 4.5* Review:

I studied the J.B. Priestley play “An Inspector Calls” at school and it made an impression on me then, but I’ve never seen any of his work in the theatre until now.  I shall certainly be looking or for more…

The Lyceum describes the play very eloquently, so I’ll use their words here:

“If you could turn back the clock, would you do it all again?”

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Lyceum: A Taste of Honey (3.5*)


Ian’s 3.5* Review:

A Taste of Honey is a 1950’s play that must have been cutting edge for its time.  Issues of race, sexuality, gender, generation gaps and class are explored, predominantly in the confines in a single flat.  I suspect that what modern audiences see in it is very different to those that saw it first.  Then it must have been shocking, bringing almost taboo subjects to the stage.  Starting a conversation that large parts of society weren’t ready for.

It still makes for an entertaining play, and I enjoyed watching it, but I came away just slightly unsatisfied.  I can’t quite put my finger on why.  Perhaps it felt a little insubstantial – plots that were once shocking are now much less so.  Perhaps the slightly pantomime nature of some of the performances, with unnatural breaks in the fourth wall, distracted from the story. Maybe a bit of both.

Ruth’s 3.5* Review:

I enjoyed watching this, it was compelling and kept my attention, but I don’t think I really ‘got’ it.  And I really couldn’t say why.  I guess I didn’t feel any emotional connection, or really any empathy, for any of the characters.  Which is a shame because I suppose they were having a tough time of it with their 1950s problems.

Christmas at the Lyceum: Cinderella (4.5* / 4*)

Ian’s 4.5* review:

This evening we went to the Lyceum to see their Christmas show – Cinderella.

I really enjoyed myself – sharply enough observed to amuse semi-grown-ups like us but still managed to be suitable for children.  A lovely modern take on a traditional tale, written in such a way that I forgot I knew the story.

The ugly sisters were appropriately horrifying, the evil stepmother was suitably crazy, and Cindarella was effortlessly charming.  I can see why a prince would fall for her!

The set was rather spectacular – I’m not going to post spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but it felt like a big production!

This gets 4.5* from me for being fun, sharp, entertaining, funny, beautifully presented – all the good things that a Christmas show should be without the cheesy crassness of pantomime.  Brilliant.

Ruth’s 4* review:

A new take on Cinderella, set in Paris against a backdrop of succubuses (succubi?  Well either way, evil love-sucking demon ladies presented in a child-friendly way) and reality TV.

Cinderella was lovely, all pretty and pure and good.  I rooted for her and her potential romance with the very very sweet Boy.

The Wicked Stepmother was truly wicked and the ugly sisters were a weird combination of TOWIE and Weegie, which was totes scary and very funny in places.

The standout performance for me was Prince, star of his own reality TV show, who was very very cheesy and absolutely hilarious.

Overall it wasn’t the best singing I’ve ever heard but it was fine, the set was quite impressive, and the whole thing was very original.  I think the Lyceum does an intelligent take on panto which is enjoyable for kids and grown ups, and I would really recommend it.

Lyceum: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (4.5* / 4*)

Ian’s 4.5* Review:

The Lyceum always does a Shakespeare in its season, and this year it was the turn of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – which I have neither read nor seen in theatre before (I don’t quite know how I’ve managed that).

With no points of reference from other productions, I can only say I thoroughly enjoyed this, and thought it was excellent.

The cast all made compelling characters, but Bottom and Puck were truimphant portrayals.  Bottom managed to be thoroughly likeable at the same time as being both painfully self obsessed and utterly hilarious.  Puck was delighfully creepy, and her physical presence on stage was almost inhuman.  Cheeky, charming and completely off her rocker!

In the very early parts of the play, I did occasionally get slightly lost in the Shakespearian language, but I never had the slightest difficulty following the plot.

Having seen this on a preview, I’m posting this as quickly as I can so the review may serve as a recommendation to others.

Ruth’s 4* Review:

I’m no huge fan of Shakespeare but I did think if I was going to see one I might prefer a comedy. And I’ve seen this one before.

I enjoyed it.

The staging was stunning, very very aesthetically lovely with a clean and sparse set (with snow) working really well with a a beautifully costumed cast. The teeny fairies were delicate and pretty. The main characters looked a bit like they were about to enter the Crystal Maze in bright coloured outfits but it all worked very well together.

Bottom in particular was terrific, just the right combination of arrogant, ridiculous and hilarious. The fight between Lysander and Demetrius was also very funny.

I saw something of Bubble from Ab Fab in Puck, and something of Sue White from Green Wing in Titania – but maybe that says more about me than them…