Theatre reviews: Rachel's Cousins | Little Light | Crazy for You
Oran Mor, Glasgow *** | North Edinburgh Arts Centre *** | Playhouse, Edinburgh ***
As the story begins, high-flying lawyer Rachel is recovering from cancer; but her genetic profile reveals some news that she has to share with her working-class cousins, Marian and Josie. When they drop by her flat, the no-nonsense cousins work out within seconds that all is not well in Rachel’s relationship with her smooth-talking boss Alex, a classic married man playing away; it takes much longer for the full depths of Josie’s despair to emerge, as she tries to salvage a dying marriage.
By the end, though – and after much stereotyped fun over Rachel’s prim middle-class ways – all three women are the best of friends; with Shonagh Prince, Julie Coombe and Isabelle Joss acting up a tragi-comic storm as Rachel and the cousins, and Richard Conlon turning in such a persuasive performance as the cheating Alex that come the curtain call, he wins the kind of cheerful boo from the audience that’s normally reserved for pantomime villains – but then, at the end of this fairy-tale, that seems fair enough.
Things are much more overtly magical in Little Light, the latest show from Vision Mechanics of Leith, co-produced with the Haya Cultural Centre of Jordan. Played out inside a beautiful Bedouin tent, this 45-minute show for young children uses puppets and shadow-play to tell the story of a lonely little lad, left alone all day with an elderly childminder while his dad goes to work, who makes friends with a stray dog; and it seeks, slightly awkwardly, to combine this simple tale with a counter-narrative about a lost star that comes to earth, and helps lead our little hero into happier times.
The storytelling is therefore a little patchy and confusing, with too many fades to black while the performers rearrange themselves and their puppets. Yet Jordanian actors Hanin Awali and Mohammed Awad present the show with real grace and charm; and the visual imagery is inventive and magical throughout, in a production by Symon Mcintyre and Kim Bergsagel that makes itself perfectly understood, even though its few words of spoken dialogue are entirely – and beautifully – in Arabic.
The Watermill Theatre, Newbury’s production of the Gershwin musical Crazy For You, by contrast, is the kind of Broadway fairytale that seems like a little too much of a very good thing. Loosely based on George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical Girl Crazy – about a rich New Yorker in love with theatre, who is sent out to Arizona to manage his family’s ranch – this 1992 compilation show shifts the action to Deadrock, Nevada, and shoehorns into the story another 15 Gershwin songs beyond the five that survive from the original show, including some so clearly urban in mood – like the late-night love-song They Can’t Take That Away From Me – that they sit very oddly in the Deadrock setting.
There’s no faulting the energy and commitment of the cast, though, as they perform instruments in hand, and belt their way through a stunning playlist of Gershwin’s greatest hits. Charlotte Wakefield is terrific as no-nonsense Deadrock heroine Polly, who sings like an angel and fights like a cowpoke. Strictly Star Tom Chambers is more dancer, singer, and physical comedy man than romantic leading actor, as our hero Bobby; and Claire Sweeney is in fine, raunchy form as his rejected wealthy fiancee Irene. It seems a shade tendentious, at the moment, to stage Gershwin’s light-hearted portrait of the English, Stiff Upper Lip, as a full-scale patriotic Union Jack number. Yet with the 15-strong supporting cast acting their socks off and dancing like a dream, the show makes its way to a rousing conclusion – no thanks, though, to its fragile plot, or to a playlist that seems more like a compilation tape, than a real musical drama.