Feb 072020

Duncan Harley Reviews Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The task of re-animating dead flesh is not for the faint hearted but, at some two hundred years distance from publication of the original novel, Mary Shelley’s tale of a latter-day Prometheus continues to fascinate.

During the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley along with Lord Byron and Mary’s future husband – the poet Percy Shelley holidayed near Geneva.

Freakish weather curtailed their plans and a ghost story competition ensued. Mary famously triumphed and in 1818 – aged twenty, she published the Gothic horror novel we now know as Frankenstein.

She was later to record:

How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?”

Multiple takes on the story have emerged during the subsequent years and the nightmarish tale of science versus god has spawned a plethora of sensationally bonkers Hollywood films and theatre adaptations.

Thankfully, this new but ambitious theatrical take by Rona Munro steers clear of the bolt-necked cadaver approach. The familiar story is acted out by a cast of seven who perhaps struggle to inhabit some dozen roles.

Greg Powrie for example plays three distinct characters. But there is little apart from minor costume/accent changes to clearly differentiate the individual roles. He is not alone in this.

The central role is that of Mary Shelley herself – played by Eilidh Loan. As she pens her debut novel, she also directs the action on stage.

At first, and all power to Eilidh, this approach is intriguing and shows promise. She is after all the real monster albeit in creative guise.

These are her words and she gets to decide who lives and dies.

Thoughts are expressed, written down and the plot is duly acted out. Then more thoughts are expressed written down and duly acted out. Actors rush around delivering frantically shouted lines between her constant interjections and the stage takes on the chaotic energy of an inner-city road junction.

At first this appears fresh and promising. But as the performance progresses the approach takes on a slightly repetitive quality which eventually sours the narrative. Neither one thing nor another, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cries out for urgent reappraisal.

Michael Moreland’s portrayal of the monster is more than adequate.

Lighting, sound and set do full justice to the story. But there is perhaps a need to re-think the urgency of the plot and maybe lessen Mary Shelley’s iron grip.

This really should have been a completely decent bit of theatre. Prepare to be horrified.

Stars: 3/5

Directed by Patricia Beneckie, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plays @ HMT Aberdeen until 8 February.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

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Feb 172017

Duncan Harley reviews The Woman in Black – at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen

If you enjoy being scared of things which go thump in the night, then this play-within-a-play is a must see.

Essentially a two man show, The Woman in Black gets off to what appears to be a slow start. As an elderly Arthur Kipps hums and haws hilariously over his acting ability, the theatre audience may wonder if the bigging-up of the production as a celebration of nerve shredding horror is, perhaps, simply a publicist’s whim.

However, and with a nerve shattering bang, the tone soon changes from that of gentle hilarity to one of spine-tingling terror and, thanks to some splendid pre-recorded screams and a ton or two of dry-ice, theatre-goers are soon transported along Nine Lives Causeway to Eel Marsh House, home of the late Mrs Drablow.

The set is simple and quite bare and the tale is set “in this theatre about one hundred years ago”.

Retired solicitor Arthur Kipps has engaged The Actor in the hope of shedding the phantoms of his past. He seeks closure and is intent on presenting his disturbing story to a theatre audience in the form of what must be considered a blatant act of exorcism.

Early on David Acton, as the elderly Kipps, assures both audience and The Actor, played ably by Matthew Spencer, “Forgive me, I’m not an actor.” However this is patently not the case.

Both performers are master storytellers, and the audience quickly becomes engaged. As the tension builds, there are moments of terror interspersed with some very wry humour indeed.

For example, just as things begin to look pretty damn serious for The Actor, who by this time is playing a much younger Mr Kipps, on trots Spider the invisible dog. This is not at all as absurd as it may sound, since the audience have by this time become accustomed to suspension of disbelief: minimalist multi-purpose props have by this point become quite acceptable and they have, after all, just seen an imaginary pony.

Alongside some unmistakable shades of a much darker than normal Miss Havisham, Bram Stoker’s Dracula inspiration Sir Henry Irving gets a brief but well noted mention or three. The play is, after all a Gothic Horror feast.

This is an entertaining piece of theatre and there are many startling moments. While the play might not be for everyone, the slick timing and understated dialogue may well challenge the preconceptions of those not normally drawn to the genre.

There is of course a strange twist at the end of the tale, how could there not be after all? As to the nature of this curveball, my lips are, naturally, completely sealed.

Directed by Robin Herford and adapted from Susan Hill’s novel by Stephen Mallatratt, The Woman in Black plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday February 18th.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

Oct 312012

Another wonderful week has flown by in Aberdeen, and at this time of year, additional spookiness is in the air. By Suzanne Kelly. 

A Sweet Lily Adams cupcakes decorating session produced these holiday favourites; I hope you like.

Old Susannah also had a delicious dinner at La Stella.

Sadly I missed Wildly Unprepared’s Halloween evening at the Belmont, but I’m told it was a scream.

BrewDog launched this year’s ‘Movember’ charity event in aid of combatting men’s illnesses. Please support them if you can, just drop in to find out how. And thanks to Graeme Milne for giving us his Victoria Road ghost story as well.

In the news this week international observers denounced a recent vote as a backward step for democracy, marred by “the abuse of power and the excessive role of money”. For some reason, these observers think that abuse of power and money influenced the Ukraine’s recent vote.

Perhaps next time Aberdeen has a referendum, we should call on their services.

I am worried about  ACSEF – if they are keeping their minutes up to date (and they would of course) then they’ve not done anything since 19 June – some four and a half months. I for one am happy to keep paying tens of thousands of pounds to keep them going, meetings or no meetings. However, there is not much time left for them to get in the required two further full meetings before year end.

The elapsed time since 19 June is a lot of time for our best business brains to be thinking of new schemes. Could this coven be concocting anything even more hideous than the granite web?  Be afraid, be very afraid. Back in June, they had this to say:-

“ACSEF 5 Year Plan and Scheme of Delegation

“Rita Stephen outlined the progress being made in the development of the updated Economic Action Plan for Aberdeen City and Shire [must have been a short outline – OS]. The Plan has been given the title of “Building on Success” and not “Building on the Future” as stated in the report [An ACSEF report that is inaccurate – this is a first – OS].

“Discussions still ongoing with relevant leads as to the shaping of the actions within the Plan and also with Partners on the drafting of specific pieces of text [this sentence would be more of that ‘transparency we’ve heard so much about – OS].

“The structure of this Plan will follow the previous action plan format but will include more visuals/drawings/impressions etc [excellent – hope it’s the same team that did the granite web’s visuals – I liked the giant floating child in particular – OS]. “

Phew!  That’s a load off my mind. If they were planning to build on their future, I’d recommend they get a structural survey done first.  Besides, ‘Building on Success’ sounds much safer than building on their future, doesn’t it? I reckon they have slightly more success than they do future. Then again, if they’re going to build on their success, at least they’re planning something not as grand as the granite web, theatre and bosque.

But be warned. If they’re going to build on their success, what form might that take?  I kind of think ‘building on your common good land and seizing it by means of a private trust’ would be an apt name; perhaps I’ll suggest it.

Yes,  Halloween was Wednesday; many an oddly costumed character has been seen prowling the streets. Grotesque neeps with faces marked with pain, greed and/or anger are rife at this time of year, mostly in Marischal College or the Town House.

Did you know Marischal College has a ghost? Its corridors are said to be haunted by a wild-eyed, frightening  spirit of a woman who once briefly worked  in the building.  She is thought to still haunt the area, hoping one day to return.

A few weeks before Halloween, a very small group of people believed they saw her, this time in front of Marischal. The group was very small indeed  (I’m told it was some kind of mini protest), so there is no way to corroborate that particular sighting, which unusually happened during the day. However, there have been no further sightings of  ‘The Woman in Leggings’ since that time.

Perhaps her spirit will fade away over time, as occasionally happens in the spirit world.

Time for a seasonal look at some scary movies.

The Haunting: (director Robert Wise, starring Russ Tamblyn, Claire Bloom, Richard  Johnson and Julie Harris. 1963)

This black and white movie from the same director who gave us ‘West Side Story’ still has the power to send shivers up your spine. ‘A lame remake with Catherine Zeta Jones can’t hold a ghostly candle to this original.

In it, a team of alleged professionals set off inside a haunted gothic-style house called Marischal College. Their experiments prove costly, particularly on one member of the team who really isn’t the full shilling; she is later forced to depart.  The townspeople ‘don’t come nearer than town, no one will come any nearer than that’ afraid of the horror that lurks within. You never really see a ghost, or for that matter all the £60 million that was sunk into the old college – but the plumbing acts up for no reason mysteriously.

Frankenstein: (1931 – Boris Karloff, Colin Clive)

A mad, wealthy, unbalanced power hungry madman rules his small hamlet from his lofty castle called Triple Kirks, but still needs more power and money.  He orders his lackeys to assemble the lifeless parts which will be turned into a monster to do his bidding, which he calls ‘ACSEF’.

ACSEF starts humbly enough, doing as its master wishes, but once reaching full power, it begins to run amok, and causes devastation on the town, called ‘Aberdeen.’ While some of the assembled business and public sector parts which are welded into the monster have come from good, the brain was that of a dangerous madman, and it is the brain driving the creature to violence.

The creature does briefly call for our sympathy, it is created by all of society to some degree. However, when its path of destruction proves too much, it must be destroyed, and the townspeople rally. Killing the beast proves difficult, and it does come back in several sequel films. But it is always ultimately destroyed by the power of good.

Poltergeist: (1982, directed by Toby Hooper; written by Steven Spielberg).

A family move to a new housing development, which has been built on former greenbelt land. The real estate developer is all smiles as the family moves into its new suburban, urban sprawl neighbourhood. But things are not as they seem. The electrics don’t work too well.

Funny substances start oozing out of the walls, and the chimney catches fire. The toilets aren’t hooked up properly. In one particularly horrific scene, more than eight people are in the kitchen at one time, and the floor promptly collapses. Not for the faint-hearted, or for those who like to have parties in the kitchen.

Dead of Night: (1945, several directors; based on an HG Wells story).

An architect or perhaps home builder is trapped in a time loop for his past sins such as trying to cheat a city out of money in a land deal. He keeps reliving an evening all over again, where people tell ghastly stories for hours. It is indeed a full council meeting.

One story he is forced to endure concerns a ventriloquist and his youthful dummy. The ventriloquist pulls the strings and works the little puppet, but things slowly go mysteriously wrong. The puppet, which of course should do exactly as the ventriloquist wishes, starts to speak for itself, with  some embarrassing consequences for its master. This happens at a BBC debate about a garden.

Eventually the dummy’s antics help to undo his puppet master, who winds up a complete wreck. Was the ventriloquist actually someone with two personalities – one a generous benefactor doing charitable works, and the other a tax-shirking, land-grabbing robber baron? It is up to the viewer to decide.

The Malone Witch Project: A film in which a single-minded, arrogant woman sets out on a vanity project and winds up getting herself and her two misguided pals (played by Leonard and Tallboys) lost in a very hostile environment.

Her initial contempt for the townspeople she briefly speaks to at the beginning of the film comes back to haunt her. In their foolishness they wind up bickering about pointless things, ignoring the dangerous peril their careers and the Lib Dems are in.

In the end, the woods are desecrated; gorse is ploughed up and underneath lies pollution, rock, but no soil. In the end, the innocent are slaughtered. A harrowing  film to which Old Susannah is pleased to report there will be no sequel.

Next week:  who knows?  Happy Halloween!