Theatre review: At Twilight | The Real Mrs Sinatra

Moments from At Twilight, a show which is fiendishly difficult to categorise. Picture: Alan Dimmick

Moments from At Twilight, a show which is fiendishly difficult to categorise. Picture: Alan Dimmick

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At Twilight | Rating: **** | Holmwood House, Glasgow

The Japanese have a name for it: higure. Dusk is the bridge between day and night, life and death, and the human and spirit worlds. On the lawn at Glasgow’s Holmwood House, the gorgeous faded “Greek” Thomson villa that is a reckless hybrid of classical, and Egyptian motifs, artist Simon Starling and Graham Eatough’s cross cultural mash up unfolded as a bright summer evening turned imperceptibly into a clear starlit night.

At Twilight: A play for two actors, three musicians, one dancer, eight masks and a donkey costume is many apparently incompatible things. Primarily a retelling of WB Yeats’s 1916 dance drama At the Hawk’s Well, a Celtic myth spun through the wringer of the austere and rule-bound Japanese Noh theatre, it is also a comic two-hander, a brief pantomime, and an avant-garde spectacle with set, masks and costumes developed by Starling and his Japanese collaborators Kumi Sakuri and Yasuo Miichi.

Stephen Clyde and Adam Clifford play the professorial Starling and the pragmatic Eatough, as well as their precursors, the ageing Irishman Yeats, and his secretary, the avant-garde poet Ezra Pound, and in the Noh scenes their ancient Celtic avatars searching for immortality. The pair debate the nature of storytelling and, in the depths of Ashdown Forest, learn to fence, with the deft Pound an iconoclastic foil for the stolid Yeats. But the theatrical business suddenly falls away to reveal the meaning of Starling’s beautiful blasted set: it is 1916, there is a war on and young men are dying terribly.

At Twilight, commissioned by Glasgow gallery The Common Guild, rejoices in the poetry of its own penumbral motif. The Hawk’s costume is “greyscale”, a monochrome reconstruction from the surviving photographs, and the Hawk’s dance, choreographed by Javier De Frutos and and performed by Thomas Edwards with less emphasis on animal mimicry than spiritual authority, is shown as a projected film. The stunning music, by Chicago’s Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society, honours the traditions of Japanese 
storytelling without losing the insouciance of free jazz. At the play’s end, as darkness has fallen, it turns out this is a story about how we might deal with loss and what we could do about cultural distance. A suggestion that to best honour all the lives the we can never live, we might reach out to them in the half light on our own historical terms.

MOIRA JEFFREY

The Real Mrs Sinatra | Rating: ****| Oran Mor, Glasgow

The audience at A Play, A Pie And A Pint loves a show about 20th century popular culture; so it’s doubtless with one eye on the box office, and another on a script full of brilliant one-liners, that the season’s new artistic directors Morag Fullarton and April Chamberlain have decided to open their autumn programme with this hilarious and occasionally thoughtful comedy by River City story editor Clive King.

The year is 1977, and the scene is an airfield in Palm Springs, California, where a private jet is waiting to take off. The passenger is Dolly Sinatra, legendary mother of Frank; and with long-suffering friend Ella, Dolly passes the time downing industrial quantities of bourbon, berating the pilot for the bad-weather delay (she is heading to Vegas, to see Frank perform at Caesar’s Palace), and tearing large strips off all the other Mrs Sinatras, Frank’s wives – except Ava Gardner, whom she liked.

The result, in Johnny Mc
Knight’s production, is essentially a monologue for an inspired Barbara Rafferty as Dolly, with musical interludes from an impressive John Kielty as Frank, and well-placed interruptions from Maureen Carr’s Ella, not quite so timid as she seems. There’s dramatic irony here; Dolly was to die that night, aged 80, when her plane crashed. Yet even those who know how the story ends will relish this vision of an imaginary Dolly living out her last evening in style; and with never a good word for all those wives who just didn’t know how to wear the name Sinatra, with the panache it obviously deserved.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

• Final performance today

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