Iman Mouloudi reviews

LYT Curtain Raisers, and Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti

In this special performance, the show begins with a series of shorts by the Lyceum Youth Theatre's Curtain Raisers. It was delightful to see waving parents in the audience - even if I was unsure if I was at the wrong show. Making the most of the current zeitgeist, there were posters reading “Tories Out”, a short on selfie-taking influencers, and the cult of positivity. Very on brand.

The performance is a mixture of highs and lows. The music is great, but I couldn’t make out all the words (which is saying something amongst the rest of the silver-topped audience). Despite great acting, there is no real plot. And the moments of great comedy are followed by weird and extended period of fourth-wall-breaking. You get my drift…

Mrs Puntila, played by the wonderful Elaine C. Smith, is a non-tax-paying, land-owning one-percenter. When drunk, she gives away life-changing opportunities left, right and centre, always with a sip of somethin’ to seal the deal. When sober, she’s suspicious, violent, and grumpy, rescinding on the job opportunities offered to those who have travelled for miles to get to her estate. The ratio between her drunken and sober states is a bit skew, such that it was difficult to tell at some points which one Mrs Puntila was in. Her long-suffering chaperone Matti, played by Steven McNicoll, offers bouts of welcome comic relief and really shines.

Then it gets a bit confusing again, not because the worthiness of the topic between the lines (capitalism, fair-pay, job opportunities, the realities and suffering of the working class), but because of the delivery. It cuts between some very on-the-nose-ness (like an extended fourth-wall break discussing tales of struggle in various political resistance movements), to a bold rendition of Bella Ciao. All without really tying the plot - something to do with Mrs Puntila’s daughter getting married - into any of it. Sure, it’s adapted from Brecht’s original by Denise Mina, but for some reason the coherence of plot doesn’t quite translate.

The exquisite serenade of Loch Lomond stands out. The cast crash through an ostentatious banqueting display, leaving Mrs Puntila gazing out at her Argyll estate to remark: “tell me that it breaks your heart to look at our land, Matti”.

Matti poignantly replies, “it breaks my heart to look at your land, Mrs Puntila”.

Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti runs at the Lyceum Theatre until 21 March 2020.