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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Curtain Up: 40 Years of Scottish Theatre exhibition preview

Published in The Scotsman


The National Library of Scotland aims to bring back memories of Scottish theatre with new exhibition - Curtain Up: 40 years of Scottish Theatre



We're standing in a storage room a few floors down in a secret corner of Edinburgh's National Library of Scotland. It's full of musty box files, metal shelving and neatly catalogued CDs. But that's not the whole story. In the middle of the low-ceilinged room, hanging from an empty shelf, there are two dresses in vibrant 1950s colours, and a regal off-white gown that could have been worn by Elizabeth I. There's even a ruff lying in a nearby plastic bag.

Just along the row, Sally Harrower, the library's manuscripts curator, is running her hand over a gold lamé kilt. "Alan Cumming," she says dreamily.

It is indeed the same gold lamé kilt sported by the Aberfeldy-born Hollywood and Broadway star when he appeared in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of The Bacchae in 2007. It was this very piece of fabric that flapped down provocatively to reveal the actor's bare buttocks as he made his entrance from above, head first, a particularly cheeky god descending from the heavens. Righting his matching gold lamé jacket, he paused, grinned to the stalls and said, "So Thebes, I'm back."

Today the outfit looks incongruous beneath the exposed pipes of the manuscript strongroom, but soon it will be united with a host of other such theatrical memorabilia from the library's archives in Curtain Up, an exhibition to celebrate 40 years of Scottish theatre. The nearby dresses are from the Traverse Theatre's 2003 revival of John Byrne's The Slab Boys, while the regal gown is the one worn by Siobhan Redmond playing Elizabeth in the National Theatre of Scotland's Mary Stuart in 2006. "Our strongrooms have never looked so glamorous," says Harrower.

They are all part of a display that will take us from the socialist rallying cry of 7:84's The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil to the world-conquering Iraq drama of Black Watch in 2006. In six "scenes" it tells a story of the plays, playwrights, actors and crew who have made Scottish theatre the formidable force it is today.

On the shelf behind Harrower is a collection of oddities: the gnarled wooden monster, half-baby, half-tree, of Vanishing Point's Little Otik; a designer's set model for Desire Under the Elms at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; a soldier's combat fatigues from Black Watch; and a wolf puppet from The Wolves in the Walls, both by the National Theatre of Scotland. Opening a folder of archive material, she discovers the perfect last-minute addition to the exhibition: a publicity photograph from a 1991 production of Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui featuring a fresh-faced David Tennant and an equally radiant Ashley Jensen mugging for the camera with their heads positioned among a sea of cauliflowers. "We could use that in scene six," says Andrew Martin, curator of modern Scottish collections and co-curator of the exhibition.

Harrower bends down and hands me a 7:84 badge from an envelope stuffed with the things. She has more than she knows what to do with. The National Library of Scotland is home to the company's official archive, which is why, as well as the publications and scripts you would expect to find in a library, Harrower is responsible for all manner of theatre ephemera. She shows me the company ledger from the 1973 tour of The Cheviot … with the names of director John McGrath and actors Bill Paterson, John Bett and Alex Norton neatly written in ink, all of them earning an egalitarian £20 a week although, because of some quirk in the tax law, the women paid a few pennies' less tax than the men.

Earlier this year she took the final delivery of material from 7:84, which called it a day after more than 30 years of left-wing flag-flying, having lost its funding from the Scottish Arts Council. "That was a really sad day for me," she says. "All these odds and ends came in, like a great bag of badges – because they were a very badgey company – and a marching banner."

An even less likely thing to find in a library's store is the original set for The Cheviot … which, unsurprisingly, does not fit on the bookshelves and causes raised eyebrows from other curators. Designed and painted by John Byrne – and kept in working order by stage manager-cum-fiddler Allan Ross – the set was made from strengthened cardboard and conceived as a giant pop-up book with new scenes emerging with each turn of the page. At 8ft x 10ft, it was the right size to squeeze onto the stages of village halls on its pioneering Highland tours. It will take pride of place in the exhibition after a spell with the library's conservation team.

"The Cheviot … was the major theatrical moment of my life," says Bill Paterson. "It made an impact on all our lives." For that reason, the play is the perfect place to begin the exhibition's survey of four decades of Scottish theatre, just as Gregory Burke's Black Watch is the perfect place to end it. The two plays were landmarks, not just in Scotland but around the world. Certainly, the influence of McGrath's play has been profound, both in its political content and artistic form. Described on the original posters as "a ceilidh play with scenes, songs and music of Highland history from the Clearances to the oil strike," it dramatised the history of capitalist exploitation in the Highlands, but it did so in a way that had more in common with music hall and folk traditions than with conventional theatre.

From there, Curtain Up takes us through a series of thematic stages, covering the playwrights, the major theatres, the representations of Scotland on stage, the country's international reach and the development of the National Theatre of Scotland. The library's second major theatrical archive comes from the Traverse, the Edinburgh institution that has been promoting new plays since 1963. Harrower is responsible not only for the produced scripts plus associated photographs and paraphernalia (such as the black bonnets worn by the actors in Sue Glover's 1991 international hit Bondagers and the old Traverse Theatre sign from its days in the Grassmarket), but also for the welter of unsolicited manuscripts that have come the theatre's way. In total, she has catalogued 3,000 scripts and reckons she still has as many again to work through.

One of the challenges facing Harrower and Martin has been to capture a sense of the theatre even though, as an artform, it is built to be ephemeral. The scripts, images, newspaper cuttings, ticket stubs, programmes and costumes evoke the activity of the stage, but they are merely echoes of the living and breathing actors whom, as Shakespeare said, are now "all spirits … melted into air".

The impact of the theatre is easier to capture, however. You can see it, for example, in the letters written by theatregoers to the 7:84 company after witnessing the energy, excitement and polemics of The Cheviot …. "I couldn't say a word of thanks to you yesterday, because I was afraid I should burst into tears," writes one correspondent. "I realised that feeling strongly about this situation, no matter how sincere you are, isn't enough and I wondered what kind of positive action I could take," asks another.

You can also see it in Scottish theatre's ability to reach out across the world. Theatregoers at home often have little sense of how well Scottish plays have travelled, but in the last few weeks alone, there has been a production of David Harrower's Knives in Hens in Dublin, another of his Blackbird in Pittsburgh, one of Liz Lochhead's Good Things in Texas and another of Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia in Boston (the polar bear toy from the original Edinburgh International Festival production is on show here, as well as a copy of the script in Portuguese). "I don't think people realise that David Greig and David Harrower are names that mean something in London and beyond," says Martin.

As successes go, there has been none more high-profile than Black Watch, which stormed the Edinburgh Fringe of 2006 before a tour of duty that took in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Wellington, Toronto and London. It put the National Theatre of Scotland on the map in its inaugural year and served as a vindication for all those who had campaigned for such a body since the early years of the 19th century. "We end with Black Watch as an example of a big success," says Martin. "The exhibition was a good opportunity to exploit Sally's archives. I think people will be surprised that we've got a lot of this material. It will look very eye-catching and dramatic."

Curtain Up: 40 years of Scottish theatre, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, 19 December - 3 May 2010.

© Mark Fisher 2009

Sleeping Beauty, MacRobert Arts Centre review

Published in The Guardian

Sleeping Beauty

Macrobert, Stirling
3 out of 5

Is it Stirling's central location that makes its panto such an amalgam? Or is it that writer Johnny McKnight has a magpie appetite for good ideas, whatever their provenance? Either way, Sleeping Beauty looks broadly for inspiration and, panto being the bastard artform it is, comes out looking bright and distinctive in its own right.

From the Christmas shows of Stuart Paterson, it takes a respect for narrative and an appreciation of character. From the postmodern pantos of Glasgow's Tron, it takes the idea that those characters are always likely to wander off stage and into another show in the pantosphere. From the annual spectacular at the Glasgow King's, it takes the "Hiya, pals" camaraderie developed by actor Gerard Kelly and fashions it into the short-trousered shape of Ross Allan. Throw in the Citizens Theatre glamour of designer Kenny Miller and McKnight's love of pop culture, and you have a healthy hybrid that nods to tradition without being bound by it.

The mix can be uneven. Portraying Sleeping Beauty's mother as a fame-hungry narcissist scores on laughs and topical satire, but it makes her look no better than the bad fairy, who has at least got a justifiable grievance. And by turning the good fairy into the dame, McKnight rules out the possibility of any serious moral battle.

But what it lacks in consistency, the show makes up for in raucous energy. With an unbecoming Kylie fixation – outsize hot pants and all – McKnight is a brilliantly abrasive dame, brimming with infectious good humour and off-the-cuff ribaldry, and still capable of pulling off a smoochy, half-tempo I Should Be So Lucky.

He makes it look like so much riotous nonsense, yet the final-curtain union between Charlene Boyd's Beauty and Ross Allan's Jester is truly touching, a testament to the careful plotting that has gone on behind the fun and flamboyance.

Until 31 December. Box office: 01786 466666.

© Mark Fisher 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Zorro, Visible Fictions/Traverse review

Published in The Guardian

Zorro

Traverse, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

Zorro, it often seems, is simply not there. He's just a swish of a sword and a swoop of a cape, a blur of movement perplexing his enemies and thrilling his audience. At other times, he is a cardboard cut-out, perching on a rooftop that has suddenly appeared from nowhere on Robin Peoples's pop-up book of a set (which gets its own spontaneous burst of applause). At other times still, he is no superhero at all, but plain old stable boy Don Diego de la Vega, played by Sandy Grierson with a humility that contrasts with the swagger he brings to the masked swordsman.

Zorro, in this Visible Fictions/Traverse co-production, is an enigma, an ideal, a man of perfect athleticism and flawless morals, as sexually potent as he is awesome in combat. Yet this is also a story with loud echoes of The Ugly Duckling. Playwright Davey Anderson shows us the powerless boy behind the mask, an orphan whose inner strengths go unappreciated, not least by Claire Dargo's Isabella. When she tells Zorro he is "deeply misunderstood, like me", the line resonates with irony.

In Douglas Irvine's production, Richard Conlon adds a streak of Iago-like malice as a duplicitous Captain Esteban, driving the plot forward as he threatens chastity, innocence and honour. Borrowing the style (and one of the jokes) of David Greig's 2008 musical Midsummer, this is a compelling piece of third-person storytelling in which the three actors create a vivid sense of a pre-gold rush California with the swashbuckling pace of an adventure movie.

In the best Saturday matinee tradition, it even ends with the possibility of a sequel – and this is one Zorro who deserves to fight another day.

Until Christmas Eve. Box office: 0131-228 1404.

© Mark Fisher 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cinderella, Citizens Theatre review

Published in The Guardian


Cinderella

Citizens, Glasgow

4 out of 5

Most archetypal stories keep their psychological significance buried beneath the surface. Not so this Cinderella. As playwright Alan McHugh has it, this is a tale about the need for a good mother. And to underline the point, the mother shows up from beyond the grave.

Like every Cinderella, Helen McAlpine has to cope with a domestic imbalance. Her stepmother verges on the psychotic; her stepsisters are preening narcissists; and her father is either absent or ineffectual. Nothing is as it should be, apart from Cinderella, whose turn-the-other-cheek goodness stops just short of passive-aggressive. "Why are you so nice to us?" asks one of the stepsisters, mystified.

What is different here, however, is that Angelica, the fairy godmother, is not a fairy at all. Instead, she is the fading ghost of Cinderella's own mother, unable to find peace until her daughter and husband are content. She represents not simply good fortune, but a symbol of the moral qualities absent in her daughter's life.

It means the union between Cinder-ella and her prince is less a fluke win for the servant girl than a victory for the maternal values of nurture and love. It's what makes the conclusion of Jeremy Raison's production so affecting, even as Cara Kelly's wicked stepmother gets her eyes pecked out by crows.

It sounds maudlin, but the children are too hooked on the storytelling to notice the darker strands and, although some of the comedy falls flat, it is a lively and inventive production. With a lush, romantic live score by Claire McKenzie and a gorgeous circular set of Freudian doors opening onto a dark and dangerous wood by Jason Southgate, it is as sober as it is nourishing.

© Mark Fisher 2009


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, review

Published in The Guardian


Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates

King's, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

Allan Stewart and Grant Stott in Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. Photograph: Douglas Robertson

For many years, the King's fielded an invincible panto double act in the shape of Allan Stewart, the consummate everywoman dame, and Andy Gray, a hangdog foil with a genius for working the crowd. Gray's departure a couple of years ago (this season, he's at Glasgow's Oran Mór) left Stewart carrying the show. If anything, he was too capable of this, exerting such control that he even ended up in the cave with Aladdin, which kept the laughs coming but negated the point of the boy's coming-of-age story.

Happily – and, indeed, hilariously – order has been restored in Robinson Crusoe, a thoroughly enjoyable romp that, barring an out-of-place appearance from the dog in the Churchill Insurance adverts, gets everything right.

There is no doubt Stewart is still the star. He is a man so comfortable in a woman's skin – neither camping it up nor sending it up – that it seems genuinely odd when two excited children in the audience refer to him as "him", prompting a rally of funny "him/her" ad libs from the cast. Whether he is imitating Susan Boyle, getting his mouth around a potentially filthy tongue-twister or rattling out corny puns, you are always delighted to see him on stage.

But there are two more reasons this show works so well. One is the healthy quotient of topical gags, which, in Edinburgh, means a broadside against the city's interminable tram works and wisecracks about Tiger Woods.

The other is the strength of the cast. Grant Stott is looking more comfortable than ever as Blackheart the Pirate, Jo Freer makes a feisty, fast-talking mermaid, Johnny Mac strikes a funny balance between fall guy and romantic lead, and even Charlie Cairoli's old-school clowning adds to the surreal fun.

© Mark Fisher 2009


Friday, December 04, 2009

Ya Beauty and the Beast, Tron Theatre review

Published in The Guardian


Ya Beauty and the Beast


Tron, Glasgow
3 out of 5

There was a time when you could attribute the Tron panto's usual blend of the traditional and the ironic to the postmodern sensibilities of writers Fletcher Mathers and Gordon Dougall. But today, the word "postmodern" no longer does its panto justice. It's as if it has been sucked into a black hole, thrown out the other side, and reconfigured in its own eccentric universe. Panto has eaten itself and Ya Beauty and the Beast is the result.

"If only I were a feminist instead of a panto principal girl, maybe I would be able to understand it all," deadpans the excellent Sally Reid, but she is not the only one struggling to keep up with this warped reworking of the myth. The plot involves a pansy who is losing her petals, an eager-to-please kangaroo, a circus with naff novelty acts, a girl who is turned into a dog, and a shark-driven race across the sea. The romance, such as it is, turns out to be between Andy Clark's hard-as-nails dame, Bunty Beautox (aka Ya Beauty) and George Drennan's cursed monster Barfolemew Beastie.

I'm not even sure if the internal logic holds up in any of this, but it is staged with such irrepressible good humour – terrible puns and all – that it hardly matters. In previous years, the songs have been funnier, the sets more striking and the meta-panto satire more subversive, so the final curtain decision to put the show to bed for a 100 years is sad but probably wise. All the same, I've put a date in my diary for December 2109.

© Mark Fisher 2009


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Interview: Julie Brown on Little Red Riding Hood

Published n The Scotsman

Little Red Riding Hood

THE books we read as young children live to haunt us. Even if we forget the stories, we can never quite shake off the intense feelings evoked by the pictures. That is certainly the case with Julie Brown, who, as soon as she was invited to direct Little Red Riding Hood at Glasgow's Arches Theatre, thought back to her formative Ladybird "easy reading" book and its pictures of the girl in the gingham dress and red cloak, basket over her arm, being tempted by a wolf, half-playful, half-sinister.

"I still have all my Ladybird books from when I was wee," says Brown in a rehearsal break. "My mum and dad kept them all for me. So when Little Red Riding Hood was decided upon, I looked out my old books – I'd obviously been playing libraries at some point because they had library cards in them – and, as soon as I started to leaf through the book again, it was the pictures that I remembered. I knew what was coming next. It was the colour and the atmosphere from the images that I remembered."

It was that kind of visual intensity she wanted to recreate in her adaptation of the story for the Arches Christmas show, which she is directing for the first time, having acted in the subterranean theatre's productions of The Water Babies, Hansel and Gretel and The Little Mermaid in previous years. Working with designer Hazel Blue, she is transforming the whole theatre space, almost as if it were an art installation.

"I was remembering that colourful visual element that the original Ladybird books had for me when I was a child," she says. "Hazel and I both realised we wanted to have the sense of a real fable and to envelop the studio space. I was really keen that, from the moment you enter the doorway of the studio, you've crossed into this other place. As you come in you will pass through Little Red Riding Hood's house. Visually, it was about finding something stimulating, bright and not too naturalistic to give it the sense that this is a story that we're telling."

For the text, she turned not to the Ladybird book, but to the Brothers Grimm version, although, mindful of a target audience that ranges from three and up, she has been careful not to let things get too frightening. Natalie McConnon, fresh from her acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe performance as Sandy in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, will guide the audience into the woods in the title role, as she sets out to see Mary Gapinski as the sick granny. Playing the big bad wolf, Aly Macrae will wear his grizzly mask on his head – Lion King-style – to reassure younger viewers he is only an actor, although Brown is giving him leeway to get more creepy if he senses the audience can take it.

"I felt it was important that we still had that element of fright and scare in there, not wanting to dumb down, but just being aware of who it's for," she says, adding that McRae has also written the music, which will be performed live by the actors. "Although the wolf is sinister and wicked, we're giving him more of a sense of fun and play, so that our younger audiences can still listen to what he's saying and go on the journey with him without being perturbed by how he looks and what he's about to do to granny. But, physically, we can change it so that if our audience are older and he gets the sense that we're fine, he can change his physicality so that we only see the wolf. If it's a younger audience, we can always remind them, it's OK, there's only an actor here."

For the rest of the year, Brown is one half on the team behind touring theatre company Random Accomplice – the other half being Johnny McKnight, who is playing the dame in the MacRobert's Sleeping Beauty this season – and she is known for creating raucously funny shows that refuse to take themselves too seriously. She has carried that sense of fun into the rehearsal room, although she is being careful not to forget the seriousness of Little Red Riding Hood.

"There's always a lovely vibe in rehearsals at this time of year," she says. "When we're in the rehearsal room, we're just playing with the words and enjoying the story again. I can bring the Random Accomplice element of fun into the rehearsal room, not being afraid to try things out. So there will be elements of daft humour in the show, yes, but I don't want it to be farcical or panto-like. I want to stick to the traditional fable and the telling of the story."

• Little Red Riding Hood is at the Arches, Glasgow, from tomorrow until 3 January

© Mark Fisher 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Peter Pan, Royal Lyceum theatre review

Published in The Guardian

Peter Pan

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
4 out of 5

Peter Pan is the only play where the pre-show announcement about switching off watch alarms applies as much to the characters as it does the audience. One too many ticking clocks and the time-sensitive Captain Hook will be forced to leap overboard.

Here, the message is read out very sweetly by the children of composer Philip Pinsky, just as the colourful front cloth and the Chinese dragon-style crocodile are the work of two youngsters who share a surname with designer Francis O'Connor. It's an entertaining touch and a reminder that, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the playwright's birth, JM Barrie's 1904 classic offers a vision of childhood from the perspective of the young as well as the old.

Nowhere is this tension more keenly felt than in the relationship between Peter and Wendy. In Jemima Levick's lively production, Scott Fletcher portrays the boy who wouldn't grow up with a complete absence of self-reflection. That he has no memory of the past and no interest in the future is expected. More surprising is that he shows only the scantest awareness of the present. No time for the thigh-slapping enjoyment of living in the moment: he just gets on with his adventures as if in a dream-like void.

Kim Gerard's Wendy, by contrast, is aching to make the transition from childhood to sexual maturity. She is less delighted by Peter's antics than impatient for them to come to an end. His is a world she is leaving behind – flying, pirates, mermaids and all – and what makes the final sequence so touching is the conflict between her understanding that time moves on and his innocent belief that childhood lasts for ever.

It is a good-looking production – all skewed angles, outsize furniture and a fair amount of magical flying – in which the actors deliver sections of Barrie's elaborate stage directions as well as their lines to give the show a story-telling flavour. The most striking departure from tradition is Samuel Dutton's interpretation of Tinker Bell as a wild commedia dell'arte-style sprite, complete with walking boots, tutu and flying goggles, who talks in gobbledegook, shattering every memory of Disney schmaltz. If it diminishes the force of the usually touching scene in which the audience wills the poisoned fairy back to life, it gives the production a ribald energy that does much to counter Barrie's sentimental streak.

Until 3 January. Box office: 0131-248 4848.

© Mark Fisher 2009


Zorro: interview with Douglas Irvine and Davey Anderson

Published in Scotland on Sunday

Zorro preview

WHEN artistic director Dominic Hill decided it was time Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre entered the Christmas market, he was faced with the dilemma of what kind of show to put on. His rival theatres have carved out their own niches – panto at the King's, musicals at the Playhouse, the more traditional storytelling of Peter Pan at the Lyceum – and there was no point in playing them at their own game.
He turned to Douglas Irvine, artistic director of the children's company Visible Fictions, who suggested that what they needed was the equivalent of a Saturday afternoon family film.

"I thought it would be something people might not expect you to try or that might not even be possible to put on stage," says Irvine. "We rumbled around Indiana Jones and The Great Escape and then we landed on Zorro."

The swashbuckling masked outlaw – created by Johnston McCulley in 1919 in The Curse Of Capistrano and reinvented in countless comics, films and TV shows – seemed to be just what they were looking for. So Irvine called on playwright Davey Anderson to re-imagine the adventures of Don Diego de la Vega (Zorro's real identity) for the stage – sword fights and all – in a piece of family entertainment for six-year-olds and up.

By chance, they found the Robin Hood-style escapades were a perfect match for the seasonal spirit. "Zorro is like this mysterious benefactor, which seems to tie in to Christmas time," says Irvine. "It's got all the stock elements – the romance, the adventure, the goodie, the baddie – that make it feel like a Christmas show, but it's undoubtedly a play."

Anderson, whose play Liar won the gong for best children's show in this year's Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland, realised that Zorro offered him tremendous flexibility in terms of a story. Unlike many action hero tales, there is no definitive version and not even a consistent set of characters. This freed him to come up with his own fast-moving interpretation, one that made space to explore the man behind the mask as well as the feats of derring-do.

"Zorro is one of these characters you're aware of but you don't know the details, unlike Superman or Batman," says Anderson, who in his parallel career as a musician is working on the score for the National Theatre of Scotland's forthcoming Peter Pan. "I had a huge marathon of watching all the Zorro films that were ever made and reading lots of the books. He has been constantly rewritten as time has gone on, so this gave me a chance to write a classic family adventure story without being tied to doing an adaptation. Essentially I came up with a new story, but it should feel like an old one."

The story of this Zorro, then, is of a man learning how to become a hero and facing the moral choice of whether to become a vigilante or to fight for the greater good. "Diego de la Vega, who is the daytime identity of Zorro, should be just as interesting a character as Zorro," says Anderson. "A big part of the love interest comes in the triangle between Diego, the girl that he loves, Isabella, and this masked man she is enamoured of, not realising he is the same guy."

It's this emotional story that puts the play into more complex territory than a straightforward thrills-and-spills adventure, although there will be plenty of that as well. With Sandy Grierson playing Zorro – sharing the stage with Richard Conlon as a military captain and Claire Dargo as Isabella – the production aims to match the excitement of an action movie with a fast-paced theatrical style of its own.

When composer David Trouton saw the rehearsals he described it as "a living cartoon". "You see this guy wrestling with who he is and what he's about, which goes beyond that boys' story, but there is an action feel about it," says Irvine.

Anderson was delighted by the opportunities the story opened up. "It's so unusual as a writer to be given the brief to write action sequences," he says. "It was very brave of Dougie to ask me to write something that was impossible to stage. How do you write a horse chase or how do you write a sword fight at the same time as there's something dramatic going on?

"It's about finding a visual logic that suggests some of it and gives some of the pictures, but still leaves a lot to the imagination. That's what makes it theatrical rather than a movie version. The fact that there's three storytellers brings a joy to it."

"We're trying to make it an all-round family experience," says Irvine.

"Boys and their grannies," chips in Anderson.

"Or daughters and their dads," counters Irvine.

Zorro, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Friday until 24 December

© Mark Fisher