Theatre reviews: The Ticket Meister | Rocky Horror Show

Played out on a remarkable neo-Glaswegian street set, The Ticket Meister is a vivid, haunting and gently revolutionary portrayal of poverty and homelessness, writes Joyce McMillan
Ticket Meister at Oran Mor PIC: Jonny ScottTicket Meister at Oran Mor PIC: Jonny Scott
Ticket Meister at Oran Mor PIC: Jonny Scott

The Ticket Meister, Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

Rocky Horror Show, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

Describing the lives of the world’s underclass of poor and homeless folk – doomed to sleep rough or in dangerous shelters in the world’s cities, and to beg or steal for a living – is one thing; depicting it in realistic documentary style is another. To view those lives through the prism of poetry, though – poetry often spoken by the street dwellers themselves – is to cut straight through the layers of conventional attitudes to poverty, and to get to the heart of the human dramas being played out on our streets; and that’s what the veteran screenwriter and playwright Peter McDougall achieves, in his new Play Pie And Pint lunchtime show, The Ticket Meister.

The central character is a middle-aged minor criminal boss, Williejohn, the “ticketmeister” who, like a latter-day Fagin, hands out “tickets” to his gang of pickpockets and beggars allowing them to work a certain spot. Played with passion by William McBain, Willliejohn has apparently suffered a traumatic childhood at the hands of an absent father and hostile mother, and is approaching some kind of late-life crisis, in which he is stalked by a smartly-dressed doppelganger, like a more affluent and successful version of himself.

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After Williejohn’s opening monologue, though, we are soon assailed by different views of his life delivered by two of his street-dwellers, the wrecked heroin addict Dan, played with flair and humour by Paul James Corrigan, and the dazzling Sadie, played by Charlene Boyd with the magnificent, nothing-to-lose bravado of a pavement siren, spouting song and poetry from her patch outside Waitrose.

Played out on a remarkable neo-Glaswegian street set by Jonny Scott – Waitrose, Aldi, a corner bar straight out of Edward Hopper – the play fairly vibrates with street life, and with the dreams and nightmares of those whose lives are often reduced to lists of statistics and crimes; and in April Chamberlain’s production, it emerges as a vivid, haunting and gently revolutionary piece of work, that moves on to McDougall’s hometown of Greenock, after its brief run at Oran Mor.

Dreams, nightmares and poetry also feature strongly, of course, in Richard O’Brien’s remarkable cult musical Rocky Horror Show, which astonishingly celebrates its 50th birthday next year, amid mounting questions about whether the age of sexual liberation it so brilliantly celebrates and embodies – with its tale of a conventional American couple kidnapped for the evening by a gang of weird and sexy aliens – is grinding to a halt, in a new age of fear and caution about sexual exploitation and abuse.

There’s no sign of any loss of cheek or chutzpah, though, in the current UK touring production that sweeps at warp speed through the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh this week, on its way to Inverness next week, and Aberdeen in April. Powered to the maximum by musical director Greg Arrowsmith’s five-piece band, and featuring two terrific central performances from a dazzlingly glamorous Stephen Webb as lead alien Frank N Furter, and a bitingly droll Philip Franks as the Narrator, the show looks fabulous on the King’s Theatre’s warm and relatively intimate stage; and it belts through its complex narrative and terrific playlist of songs with such speed, flair and wit that the audience – some dressed in best Rocky Horror costume – are left almost breathless, until they finally rise to cheer on the final chorus of Time Warp, to its glorious end.

The Ticket Meister is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 26 February, and at the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, 1-5 March. Rocky Horror Show is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until 26 February, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 28 February-5 March, and His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, 25-30 April.

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