Monday, November 19, 2007

SCOTLAND ROAD REVIEW - November 19, 2007

Scotland Road continues at Langham Court theatre until December 1st. Call 384-2142 for tickets.

Apparently, this is one of two plays by American playwright Jeffrey Hatcher to be produced in Victoria this year...why the interest in his work?

Hatcher is quite a popular playwright who writes adaptations as well as original plays. His adaptation of Henry James' TURN OF THE SCREW will appear at the Belfry Theatre in January and his adaptation of the novel TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE was presented by Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre last season. So Hatcher seems to have the ability to tap into a current popular interest, or a traditional popular tale, and to turn it into a stage play. This is certainly the case with his original play SCOTLAND ROAD that premiered in 1993 in response perhaps to the renewed interest in the Titanic after the ship was found on the ocean floor in 1985. Of course, not long after Hatcher's play was written, James Cameron's blockbuster film version became the biggest movie of all time, demonstrating how much we are still fascinated with this historic disaster.

So this Langham Court production would have been a good choice performed at the same time as the Titanic exhibit at the Royal BC Museum?

That would have been a great tie-in for this production, and I can only assume that they were unable to fit it into their schedule so that it ran at the same time as the exhibit, which closed about a month ago. But, nevertheless, interest in the Titanic never seems to wane and this play definitely engages its audience with details about the ship and its fatal maiden voyage in April of 1912. We are treated to a number of historic images of the ship and people aboard it as slides projected onto the walls of the set, plus headlines from newspapers of the day and other things such as the onboard dinner menu for April 12th, the night the ship sank. These images really add an educational element to the show and successfully take us back in time.

Is the play set on the Titanic...does it attempt a staged version of James Cameron's movie?

Not at fact, the play is set in 1992. The play proposes that a silent young woman has been plucked off a North Atlantic iceberg, dressed in 1912 clothing, who appears to be a survivor of the Titanic. We see her interrogation by the great-grandson of a famous Titanic victim, John Jacob Astor, who is as obsessed by the Titanic as much as he is determined to reveal her as a fraud. But the play is full of twists and turns, as any good psychological drama should be, and not one character is really who they pretend to be. The premise works very well to draw us in and keep us guessing right up until the final moments. Is this mysterious young woman really a survivor? Has she been frozen alive in an iceberg all these decades? Is she a ghost? An angel? Or, is she a con artist seeking celebrity? And how has this descendant of Astor managed to maneuver it such that he has gained almost limitless access to her? (This problem is answered simply with the age-old “lots of money” response, which fails to convince as we move into the second act of the play.) What doctor, such as the Icelandic doctor responsible for the young woman's care, would ever agree to such an ethically questionable scenario as transporting her patient to the USA and having her subjected to a gruelling interrogation in a mysterious white-walled room? And, when we meet an authentic Titanic survivor (apparently, the 'last one') who is invited to determine whether or not the young girl's story is true, would this person not be at least 100 years old in 1992? So, the play raises some questions of veracity, but at the same time, the central conflict between Astor and Winifred (the young girl) keeps us on our toes and waiting for the truth of things to be revealed.

And what did you feel were the strengths of this production?

Veteran Langham court director Roger Carr has cast the play well with David MacPherson in the lead role as Astor and newcomer Catherine Rose as Winifred. These are two fine actors; while I am very familiar with MacPherson's work, I have never seen Rose before and she was a revelation. Her Winifred moves seamlessly from silent and terrified victim, to convincing survivor with a fascinating story to tell, to interrogator herself (late in the play) who takes on the power to reveal Astor's own secrets. Lovely work. MacPherson is fine too, although I would like to see more intensity from him than is there right now. Astor's energy drives the play forward and MacPherson is playing the role a little too laid-back at the moment, as though there is too little at stake for his character. I hope he finds this intensity over the course of the run. Supporting work is well-done by Wendy Magahay as Dr. Halbrech and Danda Humphreys as real Titanic survivor Frances Kittle (although the latter does not need the heavy stage makeup in order to effectively play her role, in my view). The set design by Bill Adams is quite wonderful, with a terrific dramatic surprise I won't reveal here, as is the sound design by Alan MacKenzie and the lighting by Karrie Wolfe.

Any elements that you felt weren't working quite as well?

My main quibble with the show is its pace. This play has most often been performed as an 80 or 90 minute one-act play (based on online reviews I read). This production comes in at 115 minutes (including an unnecessary 15 minute intermission) and could be tightened up considerably. It should clip along with much greater urgency than is currently the case, and much of this responsibility falls to MacPherson, as previously stated, but also to scene changes that take far too much time. If this cast could knock 10 minutes off the running time, they'd have a much crisper and more psychologically tense piece of theatre. Also, the play itself leaves one too many questions hanging by the end. While I generally don't mind a level of ambiguity, in this case there is a bit too much head-scratching left for the audience to cope with after curtain call. I suppose there is a certain level of open interpretation where each spectator can decide for him or herself who Winifred and Astor really are (perhaps the whole play happens in Astor's imagination?), but there is also a sense that the playwright opted out of actually bringing all the secrets within the play fully into the light. Still, it's an interesting play and a quite solid production that is well worthwhile for fans of both the Titanic story and of psychological drama.

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