Review – Standing Stanes

May 4, 2012 | By | Reply More

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Image by: Gary Daniell Photography. 'Standing Stanes' by Robert Ballantine presented by Siege Perilous

Publicity image for Standing Stanes by Robert Ballantine. © Gary Daniell Photography

Review by Thom Dibdin

Piling the improbable on top of the possible, Siege Perilous has created a delightfully retro eighties comedy for the inaugural play in its new home at Leith Malmaison.

Robert Ballantine’s Dundee-set Standing Stanes is the fantastical little tale of unemployed Craig Hunter who has a vision to build a new henge of standing stones at a remote beauty spot.

Pitted for and against him are the vested interests of the local community. And while his girlfriend Kim is finally persuaded of the idea – particularly when he announces that they will get married the opening ceremony on midsummer day – she is not alone in her admiration of his physique.

If this is light and frothy stuff, director Andy Corelli ensures that it is told with just the right combination of the mischievously mocking with the brow-furrowingly serious.

Matt Robertson and LaVerne Hawthorne give strong and credible performances as Craig and Kim. He ‘s just a young Eighties dad without a job, getting by on dodgy deals; she ‘s a mum with a rara skirt and rather more in the way of employment prospects. Ballantine ‘s dialogue doesn’t always chime as naturally as it might, but they don’t let it drag.

Around these two, Mark Kydd and Derek Banner conjure up a succession of side characters as Craig ‘s grand idea begins to take form and substance.

This is what you might call agit-pop

Each is more insane than the last. Kydd is a strangely arm-waving television historian, Banner, the video machine – and then a TV announcer setting the play in the time of pitched battles between hippies and police at Stonehenge.

Banner is a smarmy councillor with the weather eye for a vote-catching arrangement, Kydd a gun-totting civil servant in charge of the planning department. Both are vicious little small-town businessmen, doing their bit to help the community by sitting in pompous intolerance on the boards of local charities.

Robert Ballantine, writer of Standing Stanes, produced by Siege Perilous

Writer Robert Ballantine was in the audience to see the play he wrote in the 1980s. "It was originally a screenplay" he revealed to the Annals, saying that he had several goes at bringing it to the stage in the 1990s. The play did have a rehearsed reading - with Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson at Dundee Rep - but this was the first fully staged production. He added that he had brought his own experiences of working in the civil service and other bureaucracies to the creation of the more extravagant characters.

As the plot spins wildly, but still in control, through the levels of unlikelyhood, Banner’s mad scientist brings it right into comic-book land. He has created an anti-fertility ray, which is going to be shot straight into the Soviet Union to stop the communists breeding and thus end the Cold War. And of course, the ray is going to be sent from just next door to the site for the standing stones.

Both Kydd and Banner are great fun to watch, with Banner providing just that extra edge of madness or unnerving detail that tips his characters over from the two dimensional into something more substantial and believable.

Not that they have a monopoly on silliness. Both Matt Robertson and LaVerne Hawthorne have further characters to explore. Although Hawthorne has the best, as ultra-sexy Siren Lady Penelope.

This works, in all its flimsy construction, by virtue of Corelli ‘s direction and excellent choice of eighties pop to help it all slip by smoothly. Indeed, you might call the nifty setting of lightweight political ferment (no union-bashing Thatcherisms here) to the music of the time as pure agit-pop.

With no set to speak of – a trio of cubes, some flats and a patch of Astroturf are about the sum of it – you have to focus right in to story and performances. And if there are not enough cast to go round, then swapping wigs just adds to the general level of frivolity.

A great small-scale production which plays very well on its eighties origins both in its verbal and musical references, while providing plenty of laughs along the way.

Running time: 1 hour 15 mins
Run ends Tues 8 May 2012
Shows: daily 8pm, matinee Sat 5 May, 4pm.
Siege Perilous website: www.siegeperilous.co.uk

ENDS

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