Funhouse/Two Way Mirror/Blithe Spirit
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Opened 20-22 September, 2000

Normally some kind of theme, however vague, can be discerned between the three shows in any given batch at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre. However, I confess that as regards the opening selection for this autumn's season, I can't see it. One could make tenuous claims that they all involve varying flavours of mental extremity and death, but on the whole it is better to consider each presentation quite independently of its fellows.

For once, the most grotesque and extreme of the trio is not in the Circle Studio, and is not directed by Jon Pope. Pope treads a measured path through Arthur Miller's Two Way Mirror pair of two-handers: in Some Kind Of Love Story, a private detective trying to free a man jailed for murder is strung along one more time by the woman he has been in thrall to for years, and who happens to suffer from multiple personality disorder; in Elegy For A Lady, a well-heeled gentleman seeks to buy what is probably a farewell present for his dying mistress. Anne Marie Timoney turns in a beautiful brace of performances as the cracked former (and possibly current) whore and the seller of high-class gifts respectively; Tristram Whymark is generally more measured as the gentleman in the latter play, tending towards over-demonstrative New York-Italian gesturing as the Irish-American detective.

The weird stuff is downstairs, in Kenny Miller's Stalls Studio production of Eric Bogosian's Funhouse. When Bogosian first began to attract attention on this side of the Atlantic, in the early 1980s, he was looked on more as a character comedian than a dramatist, and this 1983 collection of three- to five-minute monologues shows why: although many of the laughs are uncomfortable, the consistent strategy is to use humour to satirise the clutch of character types on display, from the black-rubber fetishist to the grasping televangelist via the instructor in torture techniques and a dozen or so points between. Stephen Scott begins fully encased in rubber and ends almost naked, writhing on a floor pasted all over (as are the walls and ceiling) with photocopy dollar bills. It is a bravura performance, but the material has grown dated as we have become blasé about such nutters and unsavouries.

Blithe Spirit, although by now clearly a period piece, has not grown likewise stale. Consequently, there is no need for Philip Prowse to have updated the text as he has the setting, with references to Paul Daniels, Muzak and the late Elvira having died of laughter when watching Songs Of Praise on TV. It is, though, a delicious touch to make Charles Condomine's mobile phone play the tune of Irving Berlin's "Always", the song which helped bring back the ghost of Elvira to haunt him and his second wife Ruth.

Andrea Hart's Ruth is from the first a domineering rather than a wheedling figure. Sophie Ward's Elvira is cool throughout, motivated always by malice more than playfulness; however, thanks to Prowse's design and his directorial insistence that Ward keep entering by stepping down over the couch from the upper stage level, Ward – even in bare feet – keeps making most un-ethereal clumping noises. Prowse also skimps (until the set-piece of the closing minute or two) on otherworldly special effects, but as the link to the dimension beyond the veil, Ellen Sheean's Madame Arcati is a particular delight, in her cycling helmet and chinoiserie, a pheasant feather sticking straight forward out of her hair as a kind of mediumistic dowsing rod. Her performance would be superb in any production of the play, but is not quite enough to carry this one.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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