as part of STaG: New Works at Cottiers Theatre (20th February)
The final night of STaG’s New Works festival opens with Bottom Drawer is a touchingly sad depiction of heartbreak in the 1920s. Everything acts against Katy Johnson’s earnest and bright-eyed Mary and the letter she has hidden in the bottom of her drawer is finally opened to the sad news she fears and expects in equal measure. As her shell-shocked father, David Bain’s presence and performance are equally powerful, without even a single word uttered. The lustful lush Archie is more plot device than anything else, but Raymond Wilson plays drunken and creepy very well.
Her mother, Jean, is the play’s biggest problem. Downright nasty, she is the strongest pull on the audience’s pity for Mary and yet it falls a little short. Something in Jean’s words often becomes too spiteful for even Mary to withstand and too childish to come from a mother’s lips. Although this final inference is likely Mclean’s intention, some fine-tuning to the script is required to make her less of a pantomime villain. Although Catherine Elliot’s performance was not exaggerated or hyperbolic, her character remained the weakest in the show and only with some tightening of this and a delve into a complexity that maybe this short production just didn’t have time for, could this show move from okay and well-acted into something great, something that grips an audience and pulls them completely into the world of the show.
Conversely, Anna Nodward-Siegel’s Fabulous Felix and his Dancing Dunces pulls the audience in from the second he walks out on stage with each attempt at a joke or a magic trick resulting in heckles from the crowd. If performer Cameron MacAskill seems flustered when four intimidating skinheads swagger onto the stage, the tables are quickly turned as they are trapped in a locked, sealed box with no way out save magic.
There are problematic moments in this play, which becomes increasingly repetitive as the audience are shown that, yes, these four boys are very morally skewed and, yes, they resort to violence and bigoted beliefs in almost all situations. The anti-gay propaganda is pounded into the audience for the big reveal that Jack Cameron’s Wannabe may not be so homophobic after all, that maybe this isn’t the life for him. MacAskill’s moralising magician is given is finest moment in the show when he uses his magical abilities to stop time and save Wannabe from the hands of Vicious and Violence. Played by Connor O’Donnelly, Vicious is equal parts mesmerising and menacing throughout, an entirely believable leader of a gang. The choice not to name the characters as any more than their traits by Nodward-Siegel is a strong example of how allegorical this piece is meant to be and, as with Bottom Drawer, demonstrates how with a little bit of tightening in the script, its warnings would pack a strong punch with the audience.