Review – Watching the Detective

Nov 10 2011 | By More


Stuart Bowman in Watching The Detective

Review by Thom Dibdin

A Play, a Pie and a Pint @ Traverse Theatre

They have saved the best until the very last at the Traverse’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint season of lunchtime theatre, with Paddy Cunneen’s gem of a piece: Watching the Detective, performed by Stuart Bowman.

It’s 45 minutes which pass by in an instant as Bowman’s detective entwines the audience into his ruminations over the demise of an unknown victim, on an unknown street, in an unknown town. Yet she is someone he makes feel familiar – along with the street and the town.

Bowman, who Gary Tank Commander fans will recognise as the platoon’s shouty Sergeant Thomas, is near-perfect as the detective. He has all the intense moodiness of the fictional detective, the piercing stare and the furrowed brow of self-doubt.

And when faced with the demand for an instant opinion, he can summon up a quick quote from the Greek philosopher Epictetus. Indeed, it seems that Epictetus’ stoicism is the philosophy by which he lives, this rationalist with an enquiring mind that, the realisation grows, might well be sitting on the edge of its own ontological crisis.

As theatre this is easily as clever as it pretends to be. Although, as Bowman conducts the audience round Cunneen’s labyrinthine twists, they do come with rather more signposting than they might. Which is not so much a criticism as the lunchtime time constraints force the pace – if it were a full length play you feel that there would be much more finesse.

Indeed, as just under an hour of lunchtime theatre, designed to be appreciated with a pint in hand and the promise of a pie to come, it hits the spot. It is also a play which fans of genre detective fiction (whether in book, film or TV format) should make a special effort to see.

It is sad that the A Play Pie and a Pint season has to end. Five productions just doesn’t feel enough when Oran Mor will have produced 37 new plays during this year. The product is certainly there to stage, it is just a matter of finding a way to stage it in Edinburgh as well as in Glasgow. Which is not a completely insane objective, either, given that Oran Mor runs without subsidy.

That said, this has been a season of mixed results – a real case of “horses for courses”. The opening play Dig (reviewed here) played exceptionally well to those who remember the Thatcher era of forced unemployment. Younger audiences were not as satisfied, it seems.

That was the first of three co-productions with Paines Plough, and the most successful of them. In You Cannot Go Forward From Where You Are Right Now, writer David Watson tried valiantly to create a multilayered story which clicked right into the lunchtime format. With a whole slew of characters, from a DJ to an alcoholic and his estranged student daughter, whose stories were told synchronously, it was a hugely adventurous piece which didn’t quite come off. It could have done with another rewrite and a bit more tightening up.

That was a fascinating piece to see, even if it didn’t achieve what it aimed for. Not so Leo Butler’s Juicy Fruits, about two university friends who meet in a cafe – one is returning from saving orangutans in Borneo, the other is coping with the stress of being a young mother in darkest suburbia.

The kindest thing I can find to say about it, is that it was irritating, poorly conceived, inadequately researched and ineptly scripted. Most audience members I have talked to simply found it instantly forgettable. Butler is said to be a hot young playwright on the way up. No doubt he is, but this was one to put down to experience.

Then, last week, there was Martin McCardie’s brilliant God Bless Liz Lochhead. Some reviews thought it was too much orientated towards luvviedom. And it certainly was luvvie-tastic, with Andy Gray, Juliet Cadzow and Kate Donnelly playing three actors who have come together to recreate a (fictional) legendary tour of Liz Lochhead’s Tartuffe.

Yes, it certainly did work best if you were the sort of person who went to the theatre a reasonable amount. Someone who knows a bit about the trials and tribulations of acting and the whole theatre production environment. But it wasn’t too much that way, and there must be room for plays such as this. Certainly, it would be boring if all plays were to be navel gazing in such an ostentatious manner, but this was both hugely enjoyable and it poked fun at those institutions which need it.

Incidentally, the programme included a copy of Lochhead’s poem Credo which starts out:

Tell the story
Make it make sense
Whether you’ve got a budget of three hundred grand
Or fifty pence
Just tell the story –
In the present tense.

Leo Butler would do well to find a copy of the Makar’s work and read, mark and inwardly digest it.

So it’s “bye-for-now” to A Play, A Pie and A Pint. Hopefully it will return in the Spring under the auspices of the Traverse’s new Artistic Director Orla O’Loughlin who will have her feet firmly under the table. And by that time, PPP will be celebrating its 250th production. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen Watching the Detective then do so!


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