The Ice House/The Turn Of The Screw/The Relapse, or Virtue In Danger
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Opened January 7-9, 1998

Suppressed libidos aplenty feature in the year's first batch of shows at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, be they 17th-century, Victorian or lodged in present-day NW3.

No pun is intended in saying that Robert David MacDonald's production of his own play The Ice House, in the theatre's Stalls Studio, never catches light. The building of the title a pyramidal structure glimpsed from the window of the plush apartment in which the action takes place at once symbolises the froideur in the lives of unsympathetic art historian Bryan (Derwent Watson) and his wife Helier (Andrea Hart with a Dietrich accent), and stands for the strange and exotic which lies outwith their normal bounds. New secretary Rod (Henry Ian Cusick, his penetrating gaze accentuated by brazenly applied kohl) occupies a status somewhere between those of Orton's Mr Sloane and Dennis Potter's devilish Martin: he tempts, humiliates and provokes husband and wife alike, until they coldly show how well they have learned his lessons. Ideas are bandied about concerning the aesthetics of both art and life, but the piece feels more like a dramatic five-finger exercise than a play.

Upstairs, Jon Pope revisits his 1988 adaptation for the late, lamented Shadow Syndicate of Henry James's The Turn Of The Screw. The unsaid, shadowy elements of the haunting of young Miles and Flora, and of their governess's response to it, are powerfully conveyed; however, despite alternating Edward Laurie and Lorna McDevitt on stage with a young boy and girl, Pope does not convey enough of the children's innocent charm to bring out the full horrific contrast with their corrupted state. Likewise, Lisé Stevenson as the governess handles Victorian repression well, but when it boils over she resorts too often to a half-gasp, half-shriek. Nevertheless, the Syndicate's former trademarks of nagging, intimate disquiet are still present in sufficient force to make this a more than worthwhile hour and a half.

After putting Rupert Everett into a frock at Hammersmith last autumn, Philip Prowse now does the same for David Foxxe in a minor role as a bustling nurse in his production of Vanbrugh's The Relapse, or Virtue In Danger (Prowse uses the full title). A co-production with Thelma Holt, and bound after this run for a national tour, the show boasts a generous crop of prominent names; thus, Greg Hicks forsakes marital bliss with Yolanda Vazquez (who is herself wooed by Simon Dutton) for dalliance with Trevyn McDowell, whilst Benedick Bates enlists the aid of Murray Melvin to cheat Jack Klaff out of a wealthy bride.

The tone, as often with Prowse, veers from breathless magnificence to raucous panto; on the one hand, Hicks and McDowell conduct a wonderful courtship of silent glances, whilst on the other, the rural worthies about to be cozened by Bates seem like the Restoration forebears of the rednecks from the movie Deliverance, only without the banjo skills. Jack Klaff is the only actor I have ever heard able to forge a coherent delivery out of all those affectedly mutated period vowels, so that the word "Lard!" comes to seem a quite plausible expletive; McDowell peddles a marvellous line in lasciviously sarcastic delivery; and Melvin leaves no doubt as to which side his raddled old matchmaker dresses on, so to speak.

Vanbrugh clearly loses the remotest interest in even making a feeble show of resolving what is supposedly his major plot strand; however, Prowse's directorial Tiggerishness does its best to disguise the rudderlessness of the final phase, and makes the most of the outrageous possibilities afforded elsewhere in the play.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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