Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mogwai – Atomic

Edinburgh Playhouse
Five stars

Following Playhouse dates by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros, it was only fitting that EIF's contemporary music programme completed the holy trinity of 1990s sired noise rock with two very special appearances by Mogwai to perform the soundtrack to Mark Cousins' film, Atomic. Subtitled Living in Dread and Promise, Cousins' film is an astonishing visual poem that cuts up archive footage to tell the story of nuclear weapons, from Hiroshima to Faslane, stopping off at all points inbetween.

With a six piece version of the band sat in darkness beneath a screen, things begin gently enough with a positively twinkly underscore to images of trees, flowers and other earthly delights that suggest a kind of uncorrupted global village. Within minutes, however, the appliance of science gives way to a barrage of atrocities accompanied by a relentless but still textured sturm und drang that heightens a sense of dread and foreboding with pummeling force.

Images of Aldermaston marches, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Greenham Common and all the other names that have become iconic symbols of the atomic age tell a horrific narrative of wilful and unnecessary destruction. There is a brief moment of respite as the positive aspects of medical research are shown in a necessary flipside to the obscenity of nuclear weapons in a world where billions are spent on Trident while the NHS is destroyed by stealth.

After an epilogue of statistics proclaiming the human and financial cost of nuclear arms, it ends, as it must, with a controlled explosion of noise that gives way to squalls of feedback before eventually finding peace at last.

The Herald, August 29th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 9 - Blow Off - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Blush - Underbelly, Three Stars / All the Things I Lied About - Summerhall, Four stars

In an Edinburgh Festival Fringe dominated by radical feminist riot girls, there have been few shows more explosive than Blow Off, A.J. Taudevin's fearless dramatic treatise on what drives a woman – and the fact that is a woman is key here – to blow up a very male symbol of corrupted power in city centre of sleek and gleaming towers.

In what Taudevin describes as a piece of guerrilla-gig-theatre, she is accompanied onstage by musical director Kim Moore and Susan Bear and Julie Eisenstein, aka Glasgow alt-punk duo Tuff Love for a rollercoaster glimpse from the frontline of one woman's mind in a music-punctured monologue that howls with barely suppressed rage.

In the current political climate, where responses to terrorist attacks have included policemen stripping a Muslim woman of her burkini on a French beach, Taudevin's punk rock assault on patriarchy is as incendiary as it is necessary. Taudevin's delivery in a piece co-directed by her and Graham Eatough is a piece of eloquent rage that crafts the text's internalised stream of consciousness into a piece of artful fury. Moore, Bear and Eisenstein's presence are essential to this, their music a drivingly relentless pulse to Taudevin's poetics.

In the spirit of a live fast, die young existence, Taudevin's creation played for two shows only, but can be seen at Dundee Rep on September 20 before it returns to the Traverse on October 12 and 13. This is followed by a date at the Paisley Spree on October 22. Miss this music theatre timebomb at your peril.

Run ended.

The rise of revenge porn as technology has become increasingly accessible to all has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late. In Blush, five increasingly dizzying inter-cut monologues lay bare a myriad of damaging possibilities that can result from such indulgences. Written by Charlotte Josephine and presented by Snuff Box Theatre in association with Sphinx Theatre as part of the Underbelly Untapped season of new theatre, the show's no-holds-barred approach is both exhilarating and exhausting.

As the show flits between male and female perspectives on online etiquette and how lives can be destroyed by a private moment made public, it whirls and burls its way throughout with an intensity and passion that points its finger at those who make capital out of their predatory power games even as it lays bare the emotional fall-out left behind.

Runs until August 29

Domestic abuse comes in many forms. Just ask writer/performer Katie Bonna in All The Things I Lied About, a one-woman meditation on the effects everyday dishonesty can have on our relationships, our mental health and ultimately on the world in which we kid ourselves as much as others that everything's alright.

It begins comically enough, as Bonna embarks on double bluff of a show that starts as a TED talk pastiche and ends up being an intimate insight into the sort of hand me down behavioural tics that can leave some pretty serious scars. In the wrong hands, this sort of autobiographical confessional could be a painful experience for all the wrong reasons. In Bonna's hands, however, its honesty is engaging and, as she gets the audience involved in her story, empathetic, so the seriousness of what comes late on in the show is never alienating in Joe Murphy's production. Of course, as believable as all this is, Bonna could be lying through her teeth even as she charms us into submission in a show that gets to the truth regardless.

Runs until August 28
 
 
The Herald, August 29th 2016

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Music is Audible – Especially in August

Back at the very start of this year's August Edinburgh extravaganza, the Edinburgh Tattoo featured a musical tribute to the late David Bowie at Edinburgh Castle. A few nights later, Edinburgh International Festival opened with Deep Time, a spectacular audio-visual event that beamed state of art projections onto Edinburgh Castle's walls to a thundering soundtrack of work by Glasgow-based band, Mogwai.

Both events were epic examples of the significance of pop and rock music to international culture, and EIF's contribution to this has already been highlighted on these pages.

Elsewhere, the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme featured readings from former Fall guitarist Brix Smith-Start and ex Dr Feelgood driving force, Wilko Johnson,while live music featured prominently in the festival's late-night Unbound strand. On the Fringe, live music fused with theatre in many shows.

This coming Monday, as EIF prepares for its final big bang at the Fireworks Concert, Edinburgh Licensing Board will meet at the City Chambers to discuss a proposed change to the City's legislation regarding amplified music being played or performed in venues large and small. Local law as it stands states that ‘The Board will always consider the imposition of a condition requiring amplified music from those premises to be inaudible in residential property.' This effectively means that if music can be heard beyond the four walls of a venue, those responsible are breaking the law.

Given that the David Bowie tribute and Deep Time were audible across the city, both events might be interpreted as having been in breach of a legislation which has made Edinburgh an international laughing stock. At Canadian Music Week in Toronto, music industry professionals greeted the revelation of Edinburgh's policy with laughter and derision. At Primavera Pro in Barcelona, the clause was mentioned in a panel on planning, whereupon a Spanish translator stopped translating, because it was, in their description, too stupid to be explained.

The proposed change in wording is the far more nuanced ‘Amplified music shall not be an audible nuisance in neighbouring residential premises.’ This is a subtle but significant change that acknowledges that music isn't inaudible. It is not, as some of those opposing the proposal seem to believe, a license to turn the volume up to eleven.

The Licensing Board's decision will be the culmination of a three month public consultation on the proposed change, which was drawn from a report by the UK wide music industry body, Music Venue Trust, and proposed by a body called Music is Audible. MIA is a CEC convened working party of musicians and music industry professionals working alongside councillors and CEC officials. I have sat on the MIA working group since its inception in 2014.

The proposal has the full support of the Musician's Union, the Scottish Music Industry Association, Music Venue Trust and the University of Edinburgh based Live Music Exchange, who conducted a live music census in 2015 that discovered that forty per cent of musicians who took part had their working lives negatively affected by the current legislation. One suspects that there is tacit support too from some of the city's key artistic stake-holders.

The main opposition to the proposal has come from some of the city's community councils, who, in the spirit of local democracy, are statutorily consulted by CEC. MIA approached each of Edinburgh's community councils offering presentations explaining the proposal. Several took up the offer.

Morningside Community Council wrote a very polite letter back explaining that as they had already decided to oppose the proposal, a presentation wouldn't be necessary. This is a pity, as it would have been interesting to hear representatives of an area that is hardly rock and roll central explain their position.

New Town and Broughton Community Council, however, have placed their thoughts on their website, and it makes for quite a read. As with NT&BCC's two submissions to the Licensing Forum, who are also statutory consultees, it contains little in the way of verifiable fact.

Perhaps those against the change should compare Edinburgh's current policy with other cities. In Adelaide, rules on live music provision have just been rewritten, ditching archaic bureaucratic red tape in a way that recognises the significance of a vibrant local live music scene, both to the economy and a city's artistic well-being. In London, following similar initiatives in Amsterdam, recently elected mayor Sadiq Khan is set to appoint a night czar, who will oversee the city's night-time economy in a way that protects it from encroaching gentrification.

On Monday, there is a real chance to begin the move towards an equally progressive approach to live music in Edinburgh. For the world's original festival city whose year round music scenes feed into official events, the Licensing Board must make their decision based on fact rather than some of the more fanciful objections raised. Edinburgh's music communities, who have as much ownership of local legislation as any other residents, can only hope common sense will prevail.

The Herald, August 27th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 8 - Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat - Underbelly, Four stars / Letters To Windsor House - Summerhall, Four stars / Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again - Traverse Theatre, Three stars

When Lucy McCormick opens her somewhat singular take on the life and death of Jesus in Triple Threat dancing with a purple dildo in hand alongside a pair of butch male angels (though sadly not Herald ones) in pants who look like they've stepped off the set of Eurotrash, it sets the tone for an eye-popping hour of dramatic salvation.

With McCormick casting herself in all the main parts in Ursula Martinez' Soho Theatre/Underbelly production, she brings the bible to life with all the boring bits left out. The Three Kings dance to camp disco, Judas betrays McCormick's leotard-clad messiah with considerably more than a kiss, while come ressurrection time there is a decidedly liberal interpretation of what constitutes stigmata. All opf this comes complete with power ballad karaoke in a blissfully blasphemous take on the greatest story ever told that flings wilfully ridiculous concepts of power, glory, agony and Ecstacy around with gay abandon. For a grand finale, a massed ascension to Heaven might just leave you coming out with sticky fingers in a riotously messy and genuinely subversive theatrical halleluhah.

Runs until August 29

Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole are real life flatmates in Letters To Windsor House, the duo's very personal look at the London housing crisis for their Sh!t Theatre company. When the pair start opening the pile of mail sent to previous tenants that's piled up, their obsessive researches into each of their predecessors builds up a socio-economic jigsaw of a strata of society which may never be able to afford to buy. More startlingly, they discover that the tiny flat they're sharing close to where luxury new builds are planned is actually a council flat being illegally sub-let to them.

In an hour-long DIY-style collage of songs, projections and out-front address, they by turns rip up, bulldoze and topple the idea that all-encroaching gentrification is in any way a good thing. That they do this in such an amusing and entertaining fashion makes for a politically illuminating and at times joyful experience. Because beyond Biscuit and Mothersole's deceptively serious line of enquiry, they've created a show that is also about friendship, and how living and working on top of each other can sometimes damage that friendship. In this way, it's both love letter to their living together and a damning expose of how the notion of housing for all went so very wrong.

Runs until August 28

One is reminded of a short poem by Adrian Mitchell watching Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, Alice Birch's call to arms, legs and pretty much everything else besides as it attempts to not just reclaim women's language and behaviour from the male gaze, but spark it into revolution too. In the poem, a theatre director tells his actors that in rehearsals that they are to be as free as they like, only for one actress to leave the room and never come back. In Birch's play, directed by Erica Whyman for the Royal Shakespeare Company, three women and one man argue the toss about life, love and pretty much everything else besides in a war on patriarchy where words themselves become a weapon.

Each scene reclaims language in everyday acts of defiance and revolt, with an umbilical link between each an ongoing series of references to flowers and foods – all born, significantly, from mother earth rather than anything processed.

All of this more resembles a rad-fem Dadaist cabaret than a play per se, and while it may not be nearly as badly behaved as it likes to think it is, as a provocation it makes its point in a way that never minds its language.

Runs until August 28.

The Herald, August 25th 2016

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Richard III

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars


The 1940s style microphone that hangs down from the rafters throughout German director Thomas Ostermeier's Berlin Schaubuhne production of what is arguably Shakespeare's most malevolent play is a telling nod to some of the showbiz-styled reference points that follow. The royal court bursts onstage in a riot of glitter punchlined by Thomas Witte's relentless noise rock drumming. This is an impressive curtain-raiser already before Lars Eidinger's Richard takes the microphone and centre-stage for his opening monologue that makes “Now is the winter of our discontent” sound like a stand-up live art routine.

Wearing a harness and rugby style skull-cap and contorting himself as he goes, Eidinger's Richard is by turns straight man, clown and old pro who flits between court jester and MC, but who really wants to be top of the bill. In this way he's a mash-up of Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman and wannabe comic turn Rupert Pupkin in Martin Scorsese's film, King of Comedy. He's a boundary-pushing hustler who loses his edge and ends up a bitter old ham after being crowned to a Laurie Anderson loop.

Performed in German with English surtitles – plus a few comic English asides from Eidinger – the pace gradually slows over its interval-free two hours and forty minutes to become increasingly mesmeric. Ostermeier's cast of ten are heroic throughout, but this is Eidinger's show. When he utters the words “A horse, a horse, a kingdom for my horse,” Richard's sense of clinging on to something lost beyond his own isolation is akin to Citizen Kane, and this his Rosebud moment in a piece that reinvents the play while staying radically faithful throughout.

The Herald, August 26th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 7 - The View From Castle Rock - Artspace@St Mark's, Four stars / The Hours Before We Wake - Underbelly - Three stars / The Way the City Ate the Stars - Underbelly, Three stars

Canadian writer Alice Munro is something of a heroine in literary circles. This is something that the sell-out staging of two of her short stories in The View From Castle Rock confirms, as it brings to life Munro's real life nineteenth century ancestors, the Laidlaw family, who leave the Scottish borders behind for a new life in Canada. Rather than focus on what happens when they get there, Munro's text, adapted faithfully by Linda McLean and split between five actors in Marilyn Imrie's production for the Stellar Quines company as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival, charts the voyage itself.

As the actors enter along the pews of St Marks' magnificent interior clutching copies of Munro's book, we ushered into a messy world of lives in motion, as several generations of Laidlaws attempt to make themselves heard,criss-crossing dialogue and description between them. In this way the story is given weight, depth and a poignancy elevated both by Pippa Murphy's score and sound design, which seems to echo down the centuries, and a closing coup de theatre which can't fail to tug at the heart-strings.

There's a quiet beauty at the heart of a story that becomes a piece of hand-me-down history that gets to the roots, not just of Munro's background, but to a global DNA that makes clear more than ever, just as Young Fathers did at their Edinburgh International Festival gig, that we are all migrants now.

Run ended.

There aren't enough science-fiction plays around, and late theatrical maverick, Ken Campbell, who produced a legendary twelve-hour staging of Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus with his Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool in 1977 would surely approve of The Hours Before We Wake. Produced by the young Bristol-based Tremelo Theatre, the play is a bare bones black comedy set in a world where people have the power to control their dreams and make them freely available for all to see. For one man, this mean becoming a hero and getting the girl he loves to notice him.

In a world where everyone can be a star after dark, it also makes for a flesh and blood nightmare of high voltage conspiracies and noirish plot-turns that both intrigue and entertain. While themes of technology careering out of control have been a staple of sci-fi for decades, for the generation the play's young cast belong to they are more pertinent than ever, especially in a present increasingly dominated by social media and virtual reality. There's subsequently a freshness to a show created and devised by the company under Jack Drewry's direction, both in the story and in a playing style that fizzes with wit in a wilfully lo-fi construction.

Runs until August 29

When Australian performer Wil Greenway begins his latest piece of storytelling theatre, The Way the City Ate the Stars, with a scene-setting prelude about how a Christmas kiss is usurped by Santa Claus, it ushers in an even more twinkling tale about how a wrongly sent text message changes the lives of its recipients forever. Out of this, Greenway gradually unravels a tale of criss-crossing lives linked by a woman named Margaret, who reaches out to people who need her more than she'll ever know.

Greenway is an engagingly wide-eyed presence in a beautifully understated show made even more so by having each section of the story punctuated by live songs in an initially charming yarn that gradually evolves into a matter of everyday life and death.

Runs until August 29

The Herald, August 25th 2016
 
 
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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sadie Hasler and Asfaneh Gray - Fran & Leni and Octopus

When former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine defaced the signage at the British Library's current Punk London: 1976-78 exhibition a few weeks ago while there to take part in an event with writer Jon Savage, it was a very necessary gesture. Albertine's inking in of the names of her own band as well as X Ray Spex and Siouxsie and the Banshees in an otherwise all male list was followed by the question 'What about the women?' alongside her signature

At an exhibition where visitors have even been admonished for taking photographs, it was about as punk as it gets. This was something recognised too by Faber and Faber, publishers of Albertine's memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, when they tweeted to the British Library that Albertine was 'still more punk than you.'

Writer and performer Sadie Hasler committed a slightly less public but equally significant act of rebellion the week when she laddered her tights just before she was about to leave the house. Hasler was on her way to prepare for her new play, Fran & Leni, which she is appearing in with her fellow conspirator in the Old Trunk theatre company, Sarah Mayhew, when the spirit of punk overtook her.

“I was going to change,” she says, “but then I just thought, fuck it. If I'm writing a play about punk then I'm not going to change just because someone might be offended by it. Why should I?”

Fran & Leni focuses on two women who meet in 1976 in a North London comprehensive school, and who form a punk band called The Rips. Dove-tailing between the pair's teenage years and everything that follows, the play looks at the ups and downs of a friendship which crashes and burns much as punk did, but which comes out the other side bruised but defiantly unbowed.

“I wanted to tell a story that wasn't just about punk,” says Hasler, “but about these two women, and what happens to them over the years. I always want to wrote strong female characters, and I wanted to shake off any ideas of what traditional female behaviour should be in terms of being demure. That was the case even up to the sixties, but when punk happened that all changed.”

Hasler saw some of this first hand.

“My mum was in a band with Hazel O'Connor, doing glam rock covers,” she says. “That was before she became famous, but then my mum got pregnant with me, and within a year Hazel got really big with Breaking Glass.”

In the play, Fran and Leni's differences are what makes their friendship click.

“Fran is a classically trained musician, but Leni sees the bad behaviour of punk as a vehicle to get away. It's not a history play. I wanted to look at the sort of freedoms women were allowed at that time. It's about escape.”

Fran & Leni plays back to back at Assembly with Octopus, a new play by Asfaneh Gray which sets itself in a frighteningly recognisable near future where state-defined Britishness prompts three very different women to define their own identity by forming a punk band.

“I'm a big fan of punk,” says Gray, who developed Octopus' co-production between Paper Tiger and Fine Mess Theatre at Soho Theatre and the Arcola. “It feels like a curiously British form of protest. We've never really had a revolution, but it feels like there was this moment when people thought, fuck it, and ripped everything up.

“People have this idea that punk is a white, male aggressive thing, but the play came out of a frustration about how identity is defined, and about what kind of stories we should be telling. I'm half Iranian and half Jewish, I look middle eastern and I've been to Iran, but that experience isn't a story I feel I could tell. People's backgrounds are a lot more complicated than they might first appear.”

In Octopus, Sarah, Sara and Scheherazade have very different musical tastes, but somehow manage to find a bond that unites them all. The title of Gray's satire on identity comes from a story told by one of the girls about an octopus who visits a hairdressers, only to be tugged eight different ways in terms of styling.

“It's looking at how things can be multi-faceted,” says Gray, “and it has this do it yourself spirit that's channelled throughout it.”

Fran & Leni and Octopus arrive at a time when autobiographical tomes by Albertine, Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon and ex Fall member Brix Smith have put their various female fronted punk story to the fore in a similar fashion. Recent fundraising events for She-Punks: Women in Punk, a documentary film in progress initiated by Helen Reddington and Gina Birch alongside Albertine, writer Vivien Goldman and others is reclaiming a hidden history which Reddington, as Chefs vocalist Helen McCookerybook, and Birch as bass player and vocalist with The Raincoats, were a key part of.

This was outlined in Reddington's book, The Lost Women of Rock Music, published in 2011, while the recent compilation album of lesser known female post-punk artists, Sharon Signs to Cherry Red, exposed an even greater wealth of talent which a new generation is drawing inspiration from. When The Raincoats recently played the Stewart Lee curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, Birch could be spotted quietly enjoying younger but equally punky female bands, including Shopping and Trash Kit.

“It's wonderful to read about how these women made things happen for themselves,” says Hasler. “They really had to inveigle their way into things, and they're such an inspiration.”

For Gray, "Looking at what's going on in the Labour Party since the Leave vote, people are putting bricks through windows, and it's the same sort of anger as punk. People are seeing through the bullshit, and seeing that we need to tear things down and start again. Out of all that antagonism that's a constructive thing. It's like in Octopus, the moment these three young women come together, even though they're singing different songs, they still have the space to be who they want to be, and despite all their differences they can create something beautiful.”

For Hasler and Mayhew, this sort of attitude applies to the entire aesthetic behind both Fran & Leni and Old Trunk.

“If we want to be playing these strong women who aren't reliant on men,” Hasler says, “then we have to do it ourselves.”

Fran & Leni, Assembly George Square, Aug 4-28, 3.05-4.10pm; Octopus, Assembly George Square, Aug 4-28, 1.45-2.45pm.
www.assemblyfestival.com

The Herald, August 24th 2016

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