There’s a goose loose aboot this hoose!

Mammy Goose Tron The­atre, Glas­gow Four stars Un­til Jan­uary 6

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Culture - By Mark Brown

Hold onto your hats! It’s Christ­mas time and, at the Tron, Dame Johnny McKnight is very em­phat­i­cally in the house. Play­ing the tit­u­lar hero­ine, who runs a café on the Mary­hill Road, McKnight (who is also the writer and di­rec­tor) spins through the au­di­to­rium like a cross be­tween a mo­tor-mouthed drag queen and a very colour­ful tor­nado.

Mammy’s cafe is un­der threat from the nar­cis­sis­tic witch Van­ity Vis­age (Lau­ren El­lis-Steele on fine, hissin­duc­ing form), who (as well as be­ing posh and English, ob­vi­ously) man­ages a prop­erty port­fo­lio. Un­less she can pay the rent ar­rears, Mammy and her two weans (Lucy Goose, who is an ac­tual goose, and Jack Goose, who isn’t) are go­ing to be thrown onto the cold streets of north Glas­gow at Christ­mas. (Awwww!)

What en­sues is comic may­hem. As ever, McKnight takes hi­lar­i­ous lib­er­ties with care­fully cho­sen male mem­bers of the au­di­ence. A se­ries of very funny, orig­i­nal songs fits per­fectly into a panto that zips along at pace, even when it stum­bles. And stum­ble, de­light­fully, it does, all the bet­ter for McKnight and his equally bril­liant part­ners in crime, Julie Wil­son Nimmo (Lucy) and Dar­ren Brown­lie (Jack), to prove their tremen­dous ca­pac­ity for ad-lib­bing.

The fab­u­lous wild card in McKnight’s nar­ra­tive is the bud­ding love af­fair be­tween Jack and Van­ity’s long-suf­fer­ing son Will (the ex­cel­lent Ryan Fer­rie). This sub­plot blos­soms into a cel­e­bra­tion of gay mar­riage (com­plete with rain­bow flag bed­spread) so de­li­ciously stri­dent that it would put DUP leader Ar­lene Foster off her Christ­mas din­ner, so it would. If the show (which boasts ap­pro­pri­ately gar­ish de­sign by Kenny Miller) has a dif­fi­culty it is that, as so of­ten with the Tron’s pas­tiche pan­tos, its up­roar­i­ous hu­mour holds more for adults than it does for chil­dren.

Mouth­piece Tra­verse The­atre, Edinburgh Two stars

Un­til De­cem­ber 22

Orla O’Lough­lin, the Tra­verse’s de­part­ing artis­tic di­rec­tor, takes her leave with this crisply di­rected pro­duc­tion of Mouth­piece, Kieran Hur­ley’s new, non-Christ­mas play. Trac­ing the un­likely friend­ship be­tween Libby (a play­wright stricken by mid-life cri­sis) and De­clan (a young, work­ing-class man from Edinburgh’s marginalised hous­ing schemes), the drama promised to ex­pose the eth­i­cal (not to men­tion the aes­thetic) prob­lems

of the con­sciously “is­sue-driven” play.

Hur­ley’s of­fer­ing is framed as a “play-within-a-play”, by virtue of the oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ance of a dra­maturge (the kind of per­son who as­sists play­wrights with the struc­ture of their plays). This artis­tic ad­vi­sor records some­what cyn­i­cal notes on how to con­struct pre­cisely the kind of drama Libby is (par­a­sit­i­cally) writ­ing about De­clan. How­ever, rather than keep­ing us at an in­cred­u­lous dis­tance from the ac­tion (as Brecht might have done), Hur­ley al­lows his cen­tral nar­ra­tive to climb out of its meta-the­atri­cal frame and play it­self out as a con­ven­tional so­cio-po­lit­i­cal and emo­tional thriller.

The char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions of Libby and De­clan re­in­force, rather than over­turn, the for­mu­laic car­i­ca­tures of British the­atri­cal re­al­ism. Nor is this al­tered by the in­ser­tion of the sort of “gamechang­ing” mo­ment of sex­ual con­tact that a dra­maturge might rec­om­mend (not least be­cause it is schemat­i­cally pre­dictable, rather than shock­ing).

De­spite Hur­ley’s un­doubted sym­pa­thy with the real life De­clans of our so­ci­ety, there is an un­com­fort­able sense that his play is, first and fore­most, an ex­pres­sion of the con­cerns of 21st-cen­tury Scot­tish drama­tists; an im­pres­sion that is strength­ened by the nu­mer­ous, cosy play­wrights’ in-jokes and by the fact that the fi­nal scene (at the premiere of Libby’s fic­ti­tious play) is set at the Tra­verse it­self.

The pro­duc­tion is de­signed with stark in­tel­li­gence by Kai Fis­cher, and given bet­ter per­for­mances than it de­serves by fine ac­tors Neve McIn­tosh and Lorn Macdonald.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, Mouth­piece looks like the out­come of an ill-ad­vised col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Irvine Welsh and Alan Ay­ck­bourn. It pur­ports to of­fer a scep­ti­cal de­con­struc­tion of the well-in­ten­tioned, but ar­tis­ti­cally un­re­ward­ing, the­atre of lib­eral con­science, and ends up be­com­ing the very thing it set out to cri­tique.

Mammy Goose, with Julie Wil­son Nimmo, Lorna McMil­lan, Johnny McKnight, Ryan Fer­rie & Dar­ren Brown­lie

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