Writer’s Block

Aug 14 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩ I’ll Take This Manhattan

St Ninian’s Hall (Venue 230)
Mon 4 – Sat 16 August 2014

Riverside Drive and Old Saybrook are packed with typically over-educated and over-analytical characters in this Woody Allen double bill, staged with great comedic effect by Edinburgh Theatre Arts.

David McCallum and Stuart Mitchell. Photo: Mark Furnivall

Riverside Drive: David McCallum and Stuart Mitchell. Photo: Mark Furnivall

A man waits by a bridge to meet his mistress. A crazy homeless guy appears and accuses him of stealing his life story for a screenplay.

The secrets of two suburban couples are unwittingly unveiled by a pair of unexpected guests, whose own lives also soon unravel.

Such are the basic stories of the one-act plays that make up this Woody Allen double bill. They’re typically Allen, full of over-educated, over-analytical characters who can’t go down the shops without consulting their shrink.

While such folk tend to be unbearable in real life, Allen makes them engaging, even likeable. So what if Jim, the writer in Riverside Drive, is a feckless adulterer – he’s also very human. And while Fred the psychotic who’s stopped taken his pills is in-your-face aggressive, haven’t we all felt like the world is conspiring against us at one time or another?

As for the suburban marrieds in Old Saybrook – setting and title for the second play – they’re not bad people, just bored, weak, unseeing … and it turns out they have a great excuse for their foibles.

It can’t be easy for British actors, concentrating first on getting the accent right, to nail the very particular dialogue rhythms vital to bringing the best out of Allen’s scripts. And at times, both plays suffer a tad from dialects gone astray somewhere between Edinburgh and Lower Manhattan. But no matter that some accents are less Riverside Drive than River City, the cast never lets these comedy dramas get out from under them. The audience is engaged throughout, enjoying Allen’s trademark observations on life and love, and laughing especially hard at the satirical farce of Old Saybrook.

a ton of high-falutin’ dialogue

While everyone earns their applause, particularly eye-catching performances come from David McCallum, Mags McPherson and Stuart Mitchell.

It can get irritating seeing actors ‘doing’ their Allen in performances that don’t feature the man himself, but McCallum pulls it off superbly in Riverside Drive. The nervousness, the neurosis, the manic frustration – he manages it all. And in the second play of the night McCallum essays a very different character, golf-mad, mildly mad plastic surgeon David, with equal aplomb.

Old Saybrook also offers a gift of a part to Mags McPherson, who grabs it, polishes it and shows enviable comic timing as the sexually staid Sandy.

Perhaps the most impressive turn comes from Stuart Mitchell, who has a ton of high-falutin’ dialogue in Riverside Drive, but manages to keep things convincing and snappy.

Director Suzie Marshall marshals her nine-strong ensemble with intelligence, ensuring that both plays shine while the themes of infidelity and writer’s block are properly served. More laughs could be squeezed out of Riverside Drive, but it’s still an absorbing, amusing watch. And Old Saybrook is a hoot from start to finish.

Stockbridge is alien territory to many fringegoers – it’s even a little off-map so far as the official Guide goes – but Woody Allen’s Writer’s Block is well worth the trip. Head for Stockbridge, wind up in Manhattan – now that’s value for money.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
St Ninian’s Hall, 40 Comely Bank, Stockbridge, EH4 1AG (Venue 230)
Mon 4 – Sat 16 August 2014
Daily: 19.30 (Sat 16: also 14.30)
Full details: edfringe.com/whats-on/woody-allen-s-writer-s-block
Edinburgh Theatre Arts website: www.edinburghtheatrearts.com


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