GM Fringe: Rotten Apples

Posted on July 19, 2013

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What do you call the man Sgt. Spallen has down in the cells? An ambulance.

Originally broadcast on Channel 4 in 1989, Rotten Apples has never been seen again – until now. Written by Niall Leonard (now better known as Mr. 50 Shades of Grey – his wife is E L James) and set in 1980’s Belfast it concerns a dodgy snout giving the local Special Branch the runaround. Mix in terrorists with cobalt black humour and you get one of the darkest comedies of the Fringe so far.

Det. Sgt. Spallen’s career is hanging in the balance. Obsessed with catching the local terrorist known as “The Werewolf” he makes assumption that proves to be a grave mistake when questioning Dan Maguire, a local pickpocket. Events quickly snowball and suddenly Maguire’s future threatens to become very bleak indeed – has Spallen gone too far this time?

Brian Gorman (Everyman, Blade Runner) leads as Spallen. Gorman seems unnervingly suited to this prototype Gene Hunt role. Brash, unhinged and psychotic, Spallen comes completely off the rails to hilariously scary effect. His downfall as it unfolds is captivating to watch, as is his partnership with Det. Con. McCaul (Nick Brown). Brown’s best moments come as he trips on LSD towards the end of the play causing mischief for all.

It’s easy to see why script adapter Alan Stevens is fond of this piece. It is packed with quirky characters and the timeless politics of the workplace. From the untrustworthy and slippery Det. Sgt. Gargan (Luke Helly) who’s unbearable goody two-shoes nature infuriates Spallen through to the hilariously ineffectual Ch. Supt. Blakey (Raymond Savage), this is most certainly not The Bill.

Sean Croke excels as Maguire. With a very watchable face, his terror at what will happen to him is etched into his face. A particularly harrowing scene with a bucket and a tie proves to be a terrifying highlight of a memorable performance.

There are number of cameos of calibre within Rotten Apples, Morag Peacock’s furious Bernadette clucks around the hapless Maguire whilst Phil Dennison is positively magnetic as the weary PC Perry.

The humour sometimes works – and sometimes doesn’t. It probably doesn’t help that as scripted it is a very rough kind of humour. Director Sean Mason handles the translation to stage well, emphasising the humorous moments and focusing on dramatic moments such as Maguire’s impassioned victim speech.

It’s not totally successful though, sometimes the accents slip, sometimes it’s just too black to find funny. But, there is much to like. The setting adds a note of poignancy restaging it now and the actual world and characters who inhabit it are weirdly compelling. I’ve ummed and aaahed about what rating to give to Rotten Apples – realistically it sits between a three and four, but the performances just nudge this that little bit higher.

The Fiction Stroker gives Rotten Apples four strokes out of five:

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Rotten Apples runs until July 19 at the Lass O’Gowrie.

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Posted in: Theatre