Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Yer Granny ... eating up audiences in the Lyric Theatre until 27 June

The Very Hungry Caterpillar in human form is the easiest way to describe the stockinged centenarian grandmother that Gregor Fisher plays in Yer Granny. “S’at yev goat? [What’s that you’ve got?]” is the constant refrain as she eats continuously while on stage.
  • sweets
  • meat from a pot
  • a cake
  • crisps
  • biscuits
  • chips
  • someone else’s sausage
  • potatoes
  • mayonnaise
  • and more.
It’s rare for actors to receive a hearty cheer and applause when they walk onto a theatre’s stage. Last night’s Lyric audience was full of Rab C Nesbitt and Naked Video fans, and a majority of Yer Granny’s cast were familiar to these connoisseurs of those Scottish comedy shows.
[Charlie:] “The only living thing older than Nana is a Giant Redwood.”

In the National Theatre of Scotland’s touring production, Jonathan Watson plays Cammy Russo. His Minerva chip shop’s profit margin was negatively affected by his mother’s ability to eat her way through the stock and new plans to resurrect the business are wobbling. His wife Marie (Maureen Beattie) is running out of patience with Cammy’s inability to lead the family out of poverty.

Brother Charlie (Paul Riley) is a ‘creative’ and makes up for his lack of musical talent with a finely tuned ability to avoid labour. Their Aunt Angela (Barbara Rafferty) looks after her mother 'Nana' and surprises everyone with her entrepreneurial flair when she starts to dispense “happy tablets” to high rise flat dwellers when Cammy’s naive daughter Marissa (Louise McCarthy) encounters the police on her late night “pharmaceutical” rounds.

And for good measure there’s a chip shop war with miserly Donnie (Brian Pettifer) across the road in the San Francisco Fish Bar. Donnie only enters the action after the interval and quickly drops the tone so far down it can be found lurking in the dirt under the wobbly fridge in the corner of the kitchen.

Happy-go-lucky Nana typically loiters around the kitchen, quietly consuming spuds from a pot she’s lifted off the cooker ... distracting at least half the audience from the dialogue and action on the other side of the stage. With few lines, Nana gurns and chews, and steals the show with her grotesque-yet-innocent behaviour.
[Cammy:] “Oh I’ve pictured the scene many a time. Her Royal Britannic Majesty will saunter in, quite the thing. She and I will exchange a few pleasantries … a natural chemistry between us … And after a bit of chit-chat I’ll turn it all round to business: And what may I get for you Ma’am?”

Graham McLaren’s direction is somewhat unusual, with some monologues – particularly Cammy’s imagined encounters with the Queen who is due to visit the town during her Jubilee tour of Scotland – delivered looking forward at the audience and away from the rest of the cast. Everyone is mic’ed up: necessary for some of the larger venues Yer Granny is playing in this run, but unusual for plays in the Lyric. Together with the recreated late 70s radio broadcasts that blast out and punctuate the scenes, it’s more post-watershed TV sitcom than theatre.

The two hour twenty minute, three act play takes place in an open plan kitchen/living room. The heavily patterned carpets in Colin Richmond’s beige set beautifully clash with the flowery curtains. A window on the right hand wall gives a sense of time of day, allowing warm sunlight to stream in and cast shadows across the stage.

The comic timing is really sharp and most of the audience roared with laughter at wave after wave of masturbation jokes. However when the script requires the youngest character Marissa to repeatedly bend over and suggestively wiggle her bottom, sadly you know that you’ve entered the greasy land of Benny Hill with no remote control to change channel.

La Nona was written by Argentinian playwright Roberto Cossa and first performed in 1977. In the original play, the never replete Granny represented the state, swallowing up the nation’s resources (with foreign debt interest repayments) and driving citizens into poverty. Regrettably much of that subtlety and satire is lost in Douglas Maxwell’s old-fashioned adaptation and any sense of allegory is replaced with a less than farcical sitcom set in Glasgow at the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Yer Granny runs at the Lyric Theatre until the food runs out Saturday 27 June and then transfers to Dundee Rep Theatre. Many shows are nearly sold out, though the Thursday and Saturday matinees have seats available. How Gregor Fisher will manage to eat double on those days is beyond my understanding!

Photography by Eoin Carey.

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