Review – HATS Winter Show

Jan 29 2010 | By More

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The Spy Who Came Down With A Cold

Pleasance Cabaret Bar
Review by Thom Dibdin

Hot ideas and cool jazz are the main ingredients of the Winter Show mix from the Holyrood Amateur Theatre Society – but what should be a memorable evening of new work is let down by an overpowering stench of self-indulgence that is nothing to do with the theatre on display.

Toni Giugliano, Simone Thorn and Simon Eilbeck in Feet

There’s a slightly rough-hewn quality to the two plays on show, thanks to the constraints of the tiny triangle which passes for a stage in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. Even changing a basic table and chair is fraught with timing issues if you have no wings to the stage or any technical equipment.

Otherwise both Feet and The Spy Who Came Down With A Cold are mostly memorable for all the right reasons. The quality of the performances comes up to the standard of the material and the high comedy quotient is well-within what you might expect from the venue.

In Feet, the wonderfully-manic Simon Eilbeck plays a doctor faced with a world that has forgotten what its feet are for. Written and directed by Gregor Shanks, this is a comedy that toys with big ideas of self-worth but seriously enjoys playing with the possibilities of the surreal.

From the deepest recesses of his imagination the Doctor dredges up a fantasy of being in a moon of Saturn with his murderous ex-wife (Simone Thorn). Waking from his dream, he discovers that the entire world believes that their feet have appeared overnight, appendages grafted on by an alien force. Only he knows what feet are and what they are for.

an extra touch of mania

It’s a strong idea that bounces nicely into a blast at celebrity culture as publicist O’Neill (Neil Colquhoun) is the Doctor’s first patient of the day. The celebrity strand comes over as just a tad too obvious but the relationship between the Doctor’s oblivion to his own problems and the certainty with which he holds his knowledge of feet – flying against the rest of humanity – gives this more than just a Pythonesque appeal.

Clare Hall brings an extra touch of mania as the Doctor’s batty old receptionist, Agnes, but Colquhoun’s O’Neill and Tony Giugliano, as a Stranger, could afford to play-up their parts for greater comic effect.

The Spy Who Came Down With A Cold, written and directed by Rob Salvin, is rather less successful. Not just because of the various problems with the staging. Indeed, they show that the company is quite capable of continuing in the face of adversity.

As a pastiche of the Cold War spy thrillers of John Le Carre, it is simply too affectionate to the genre. It is not incisive enough to work as comedy but nor is it meaty enough to stand on its own.

The ideas are reasonable – having Neil Colquhoun’s agent-gone-to-seed meeting his contact in Hyde Park while watching the Rolling Stones is a particularly nice touch. But this needs stronger direction to make it feel anything much more than an overextended sketch.

Between the two plays, local jazz combo Bicycle Thieves add some elegantly crafted croonings, allowing the audience to repair to the bar in the opposite corner of the venue to the stage.

All great stuff, well worth celebrating – not only two world-premiers but some live music to boot. Quite why HATS thought it would be a good idea to get Mr Charles Dundas in to compere the whole event is another matter entirely.

In introducing Feet, Dundas jokes that George Shanks – who also plays in Bicycle Thieves – is so heavily involved that it has to be a vanity project. It is the closest he gets to humour in his tortuous total of 40 minutes on stage.

Dundas is certainly right that there is a vanity project going on at this show, however. Unfortunately for the ever-patient audience, he is that vanity project. Overblown, unfunny and downright inept, he seems to think that the whole evening has been organised for his own benefit.

The only people to gain from Dundas’ appearance were the cast of Feet. With such inept, tedious material before and after them, they couldn’t fail to amuse.

Run ends Saturday 30 January


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