Friday, 26 May 2017

Andrew Dallmeyer - Obituary

Andrew Dallmeyer – Playwright, actor, director

Born St Boswell's, January 10 1945; died May 21, Edinburgh


Andrew Dallmeyer, who has died aged 72 following a battle with Motor Neurone Disease, was a fiercely individual artist. This was the case both as a writer of an estimated 78 plays, many of which remain unpublished, or as an actor, whose expressive facial tics and looming physicality made him a natural for the range of grotesques and downbeat absurdists he specialised in. This was mirrored in his writing, which similarly set him beyond the mainstream as a seemingly wilful and at times eccentric outsider.

This was the case whether playing the title role in the original 1980s production of Liz Lochhead's Scots version of Moliere's play, Tartuffe, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, or writing about kindred spirits including Salvador Dali in his play, Hello Dali (1982), and Thomas de Quincey in Opium Eater (1984). The latter went on to win a BAFTA Scotland for its radio version, while in 1990 a TV adaptation starred Paul Rhys as de Quincey and Peter Mullan as his cohort Willy.

“I believe that, even though I'm writing biography, it's really autobiography mostly,” Dallmeyer said of the play in an interview with the Herald in 2010, “because it's about the writer struggling to find inspiration.”

Andrew Victor Dallmeyer was born in 1945 in St Boswell's, Roxburghshire, as one of four children to Christopher James Dallmeyer, known as Jimmy, and Ursula Dallmeyer, nee Balfour. He spent much of his childhood in Aberlady, East Lothian, where he developed a passion for Hibs football club in-between watching western films and putting on ad hoc performances.

Wanting to be Albert Finney, he studied drama in London, and began acting at Bristol Old Vic and Nottingham Playhouse. By the time he was 26, Dallmeyer had become artistic director of Liverpool Playhouse, where, following a UK tour of his first play, Manson and Calley (1973) some of his earliest works were staged.

Dallmeyer married actress Vivienne Dixon in 1969, and the couple had two children. While they parted in 1993, they didn't formally divorce until a decade later.

In the late 1970s, plays such as The Show Must Go On (1978), Tart an' Trues (1979) and A Big Treatise in Store (1979) were winning plaudits and awards on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Further works were seen in Edinburgh at Theatre Workshop, the Netherbow and the Traverse, including The Boys in the Backroom (1982).

As an actor, probably Dallmeyer's most high profile role in the 1980s was as Tartuffe, Moliere's wheedling con man given fresh life by Liz Lochhead's bawdy Scots version at the Lyceum. It was a role Dallmeyer revived a year later in tandem with a stint as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Dallmeyer's play, The Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon (1986) was seen at the Lyceum around the same time. Much later, he would appear in A Madman Sings at the Moon, the theatre's then artistic director Mark Thomson's award winning play. Dallmeyer also directed an estimated fifty plays.

Current artistic director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow Andy Arnold worked extensively with Dallmeyer since they met in the 1980s at Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh, and regarded Dallmeyer as his theatrical mentor.

“He was well versed in all the rituals and protocols,” says Arnold, “but treated them with utter disdain, and rehearsing a play with him was always inventive, exploratory and more often than not chaotic and hilarious.”

Arnold's first production as artistic director of the Arches in Glasgow was Rudolf Hess – Glasgow to Glasnost (1990), a play written especially by Dallmeyer which he also acted in. This wasn't unusual. As Arnold notes wryly, “His plays very often had a part best suited for him to perform.”

Eighteen years later, Dallmeyer appeared as Jimmy Jack in Brian Friel's play, Translations, which marked Arnold's swansong at the Arches. Inbetween, in what Arnold calls Dallmeyer's “inimitable style”, he played Virgil in Inferno, Monsewer in Brendan Behan's The Hostage, Dr Harper in Arsenic and Old Lace and what Arnold describes as “an unlikely but brilliant Bottom” in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As Arnold observes, it was Dallmeyer's interpretations of absurdist and existential characters where he really stood out. This was the case in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter and The Birthday Party. He played Estragon in Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, Waiting For Godot, as well as taking on the solo tour de force of Krapp's Last Tape.

Other roles included Hyde in Jekyll and Hyde at Dundee Rep, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Workshop and Death in Swindle and Death at Mull Theatre.

Dallmeyer was, according to Arnold, “always unpredictable, always mischievous and provocative...a truly instinctive actor who you couldn't take your eyes off. There was a quality of genius about him.”

In later years, Dallmeyer courted controversy when, a year after 9/11, he played Osama bin Laden dressed as Santa Claus in Wanted: Dead or Alive. In Playing A Blinder (2002), he imagined the real life incident of the radio football commentator who was forced to improvise during the 1940 Edinburgh derby when he was unable to see the game because of fog.

In the same year Opium Eater was revived, Dallmeyer wrote Thank God for John Muir (2010). His most recent appearance on-screen was in Gillies MacKinnon's Peter McDougall scripted remake of Whisky Galore.

Few of Dallmeyer's plays have been published, with the writer often owning the only copies. If his Leith flat were to burn down, he said to the Herald, that would be his life's work lost forever. In the same interview, Dallmeyer admitted that he couldn't type, writing freehand in his spidery scrawl. He reckoned it cost him several hundred pounds a year to get his prolific output typed up.

“Sometimes people tell me I'll be successful when I'm dead,” he said, “but I believe if you write something worthwhile it will survive. But writing is something I've always done because I have to get something out there.”


Dallmeyer is survived by a brother, James, his son Toby and daughter Amy, and two grand-children, Leo and Holly. Another brother, Gavin, and a sister, Robina, pre-deceased him.

The Herald, May 26th 2017

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David Martin - Hidden Door at Leith Theatre

When Leith Theatre opens its doors as this year's home of the Hidden Door arts festival today, festival director David Martin believes it will be twenty-five years to the day since anyone last performed here. This was only discovered by accident when sound artist Dave House was researching a new work designed to mark what he calls the venue's 'melancholy-yet-beautiful state of disrepair'. Working in situ, House will use field recordings and environmental sound in an attempt to evoke the past, present and future of the building for a piece that will run throughout Hidden Door's ten-day duration.

Some of these sounds might well emanate from what happened two days into the festival get-in, when volunteers gutting the main hall discovered what lay beyond the black drapes and what turned out to be a false black proscenium arch. Once this was ripped away, it revealed a far more ornate surround that came complete with a crest at its the centre.

This is just one of the discoveries to be found in this criminally unloved building, which was gifted to the people of Leith by the people of Edinburgh following the decision to incorporate the Burgh of Leith into Edinburgh in 1920. After opening in 1932 as Leith Town Hall, it went on to become a much needed concert hall and theatre utilised by Edinburgh International Festival among others.

With the building now under the care of Leith Theatre Trust, ambitious long-term plans are afoot to restore the venue as a permanent fixture on Leith and Edinburgh's cultural calendar. As Hidden Door's artistic director David Martin moves around the back-stage nooks and crannies about to be transformed into assorted performance spaces, cinemas and galleries, it is clear there are many more discoveries to be made within its walls.

Old dressing room doors are engraved with ornate lettering that decree the spaces the domain of 'Female Accompanists' and such-like, a strict demarcation that couldn't imagine being anything other than a permanent backstage arrangement. Whether the rooms house the likes of headline acts Anna Meredith, who plays tonight, or Kathryn Joseph, who will appear next weekend, remains to be seen. However it works out, these two Scottish Album of the Year winners are very different sort of female accompanists to those envisaged by Leith Theatre's original managers.

Also appearing on the main stage over the next week will be Idlewild, former Ladytron vocalist Marnie, Lost Map Records duo Manuela, jazz legend Soweto Kinch and many others. Elsewhere in the building, artists of all kinds will take advantage of such atmospheric surroundings.

Theatre companies Creative Electric and the Ludens Ensemble will present new works, while there will be work-in-progress presentations by site-specific specialists Grid Iron and actor Tam Dean Burn.

A screening of Fritz Lang's seminal science-fiction film Metropolis will feature a new score by Kim Moore, aka Wolf, alongside fellow electronic composers Matt Collings, Dave House and Phil McBride. There will be spoken word from regular nights Inky Fingers and Flint and Pitch, plus a special performance of Rules of the Moon, a new collaboration between poet and musician Rebecca Sharp and sound artist Philip Jeck. While Sharp is best known for her work as a playwright at the Arches in Glasgow, Jeck's previous appearances in Scotland have been at experimental music festivals Instal and Kill Your Timid Notion. All of which suggests that Hidden Door isn't quite so hidden anymore.

“There's an element of jeopardy about it,” says Martin, sitting in the balcony of the theatre's 1,000 capacity auditorium while a small army of volunteers clatter around downstairs in what resembles a mini building site. “We're upscaling things this year because we've got the space, and it's a big risk, but having somewhere like this allows us to get a lot of people in the building to see a big band in a way that we couldn't do before. It also allows people to move around the building and see all the other stuff going on.”

Hidden Door was an initiative originally begun in 2010 at the old Roxy Art House, now Assembly Roxy, as an attempt to harness some of the artistic activity that was going on in Edinburgh. With Martin taking time out to take stock of that event, Hidden Door returned in 2014, taking over the then derelict row of arches on Market Street. For the last two years, it has been located at City of Edinburgh Council's old lighting stores in King Stables Road. All three venues in different ways created a sprawling village of alternative culture which Leith Theatre looks set to stamp with its own personality.

“When we started it was a bunch of artists and musicians, and we called ourselves the Hidden Door Collective,” says Martin. “The plan after that had been to try and do things in derelict spaces, but that never worked out, and after that it was about just trying to find out where the interesting spaces were, because there's a lot more in Edinburgh than people sometimes think. When we found the arches, the Council initially weren't keen, but after we made a success of that that they came to us, and they've been really supportive ever since.”

For a city where a year-round civic will towards artistic activity hasn't always been apparent beyond its assorted festivals, this is quite a breakthrough, particularly in relation to what was going on elsewhere.

“I was looking with envy across the great divide of the M8,” says Martin. “It seemed, especially in the early 2000s, that things were happening in Glasgow in a pop-up and spontaneous kind of way that was really exciting. In Edinburgh it seemed that things were more staid and institutionalised, and there was no real way for artists to get their work out there. You could submit something to the RSA, but there was very little artist-led activity and very little collaboration. I could see how much talent there was here, and I thought there was a more dynamic way of doing things with that.

“Sometimes Edinburgh feels like it's an old lady's house, and once a year in August she'll let you have a massive party here that wrecks the house, then everyone clears off, and for the rest of the year the city tidies itself up again until there's another influx. I felt that there was enough talent here to do something the rest of the year, and there were enough interesting spaces around to use them in a different kind of way.”

Since then, Hidden Door has become part of a new wave of burgeoning if still largely unsung grassroots artistic activity across Edinburgh that shows it up as something of a Jekyll and Hyde city. The assorted festivals and national institutions that grace Scotland's capital may get all the attention, but it is off the beaten track where a new generation of artists are laying the foundations for the future.

As well as Hidden Door, the similarly expansive LeithLate festival has just announced its programme for this year, while artist-run spaces such as the Embassy and Rhubaba allow emerging talents to showcase and develop their work. The city-wide Edinburgh Annuale visual art festival does this on a larger scale. Then there is the Forest and an ever changing network of short-lived collectives and pop-ups that put on ad hoc one-off gigs in church halls and social clubs, reclaiming the original focal points for community activity as they go.

Long established organisations such as Out of the Blue and it's sister venue the Bongo Club led the way on this, mixing up art, music and club culture in a way that has fostered an attitude based on self-determination. Let us not forget either that now glossy institutions such as the Traverse Theatre and the Fruitmarket Gallery were born out of the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture.

While Martin acknowledges that there is a certain level of factionalism among Edinburgh's assorted pockets of creativity, such a welter of activity has both directly and indirectly opened up the city for Hidden Door to become a nomadic cauldron of creativity which is unlikely to sit still for long.

“What we've found is that the people of Leith are really up for stuff like this,” says Martin. “There's loads going on here at various levels in terms of small music venues and other things, but the area doesn't really have a large-scale social hub in a way that Leith Theatre will hopefully become.”

Whether Hidden Door happens in Leith Theatre again remains to be seen, although Martin expresses ambitions for it to be flexible enough to exist, not just in Edinburgh, but elsewhere as well.

“By doing Hidden Door in Leith Theatre, we want it to feel like something brand new is happening here, and hopefully the people of Leith will get behind it,” he says. It's exactly the right place to do it this year, but Hidden Door isn't just about Leith. It's for everywhere.”

Hidden Door opens today at Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, and runs until June 4.
www.hiddendoorblog.org

The Herald, May 26th 2017

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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Glory on Earth

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When an eighteen year old girl sweeps into town with the world seemingly at her feet, the only opposition she faces is from a middle-aged white man who enjoys laying down the law. Plus ca change, it seems, ever since Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to square up to John Knox over a series of meetings that took place in Edinburgh between 1561 and 1563.

Linda McLean's new play imagines these showdowns through the prism of Rona Morison's fiercely intelligent Mary, a dancing queen who isn't afraid to put her head on the block. Backing her up in David Greig's swish and suitably chic looking production are a fabulous entourage of six other Marys, who shimmy alongside the teen queen like a 1960s girl group. More than a mere chorus, they become different facets of Mary's inner self, giving her strength as she goes. By contrast, Jamie Sives' Knox is a mansplaining absolutist resembling the most rabid of internet trolls.

As McLean's dark dramatic poem unfolds over an intense set of exchanges, Mary may just want to have fun talking about boys and busting the latest moves, but as she finds her voice, it is other middle-aged white men who let her down.

In a contemporary landscape where the tragic results of such blinkered religious intolerance and abuse of male privilege are more blatantly apparent than ever, this is a story crying out to be told. In the face of latter day zealots as terrified of joy as Knox appears to be, this is a call to arms for young women everywhere, to be fearless, regret nothing and to dance for dear life itself.

The Herald, May 25th 2017

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Emma Rice - Tristan and Yseult

The last time Emma Rice spoke to the Herald was in 2015, when she was overseeing a tour of her audacious staging of Daphne du Maurier's novel, Rebecca, with the Cornwall-based Kneehigh theatre company. While she was then artistic director of Kneehigh, with whom she had begun her theatre career as an actress, her appointment as incoming director of Shakespeare's Globe had recently been announced. As successor to Dominic Dromgoole, hopes for Rice's tenure, which she took up at the beginning of 2016, were high.

Less than two years on, and with a touring revival of Rice's Kneehigh production of mediaeval romance Tristan and Yseult arriving at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow next week, Rice has already announced that she will be leaving the Globe in spring 2018. That announcement came after Rice had only been in post for a few months, and followed concerns from the theatre's board regarding some of her artistic choices. This appeared to be in relation to her introduction of artificial lighting into a venue which has traded on its 'authenticity' in terms of staging Shakespeare unadorned by such new-fangled indulgences of electricity.

Presuming that Rice was hired on the strength of her back catalogue and that the board knew what they were getting regarding Rice's irreverent and expansive reimaginings of classic works, this seemed a curious decision. In April, Rice published an impassioned public letter to her still to be decided successor. Published on the Globe website, Rice's missive was both celebratory of the work she and her artistic team made at the theatre, and critical of a board she said failed to respect that work.

“It's really tough on some levels,” Rice says of her impending departure, “and it's very sad, because I love it at the Globe, and I love my team, but everything comes to an end. It's just happened a bit earlier than I would have wanted it to have done.”

Dashing between rehearsals for Tristan and Yseult with Kneehigh and a brand new production of Twelfth Night as part of Rice's Summer of Love season at the Globe, Rice sounds anything but sad. Revisiting a show she first did fourteen years ago, one suspects, is a very personal form of taking stock.

Originally derived from twelfth century Anglo-Norman literature inspired by Celtic legend, Tristan and Yseult is a romantic tragedy which Rice and Kneehigh have transformed into a theatrical spectacle which is clearly a labour of love.

“I just sort of melt, really,” says Rice of working on the show. “It's extraordinary going back to something that I first did in 2003, and looking at it again, it somehow seems stronger and more powerful than it was then. I don't know what it is, and if I could bottle it, I would. It was the final rehearsal of it on Saturday, and I was in floods of tears. There's something about the show that does that too you. I'm besotted with it.

“I hate the idea of recycling shows, because there's a danger that what was special about it becomes diluted, but because we've done it several times now, we have a pool of actors from each production who are in this one, so there are only two people in this company who haven't done it before, and all of that reinvigorates it somehow. It doesn't happen with all shows, but it feels like this one has matured as we've matured.”

Tristan and Yseult wasn't the first choice of play for Oxford born Rice to direct for the company she had first appeared onstage with in 1994.

“I'm ashamed to say it wasn't me who thought of doing it,” she says today. “I inherited it. The artistic director of the company at the time was going to do it. I'd been acting with the company, and it was around the time I was moving into directing, and they just said, Emma, you should do it.

By her own admission, for a director who would go on to stage playful versions of classic plays, as well as film inspired works such as The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death, it wasn't the most obvious material for Rice to try and get her head round.

“I didn't understand all the mediaeval stuff,” she says. “I don't like Game of Thrones or anything like that, and I had to try and find a way into it. I remember railing one night that I didn't want to just tell the story of two attractive people getting together. I think it was around the time of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting off, and I didn't want it to be like that. Then I had this idea of telling the story through the unloved, and that gave it depth. We set it in the Club of the Unloved, which on the one hand makes it very funny, but it also gives it a certain sadness as well.”

The result is a wild and thoroughly modern theatrical tour de force which is about as far removed from TV sword and sorcery epics as one can imagine.

“There's not a dragon in it,” says Rice. “At its heart is a love triangle about a king who marries a queen, who then falls in love with a knight. It's like what might happen if Kate Middleton fell in love with Prince Harry or something like that.”

Having opened Twelfth Night at the Globe in tandem with Tristan and Yseult's current tour, Rice isn't exactly resting on her laurels. While she clearly has plans beyond next April, she remains uncharacteristically coy about committing to anything specific.

“I'm keeping quiet,” she says. “I don't really want to say just now, just in case things don't work out.”

Whatever Rice does next, one suspects it will be done with a similar sense of largesse and pop cultural savvy which has defined her work, both with Kneehigh and Shakespeare's Globe, and which is rooted in what used to be called alternative theatre. As one of the companies who took such a stream of work out of the margins and onto some of the UK's bigger stages, to some extent Kneehigh have perhaps irked the classical purists along the way. It is possibly for this reason that Kneehigh and Rice remain a perfect match.

From the outside, her revival of Tristan and Yseult following such tumultuous times at the Globe looks like the perfect vehicle for her as a means of coming home. While she is no longer artistic director of Kneehigh, neither did she ever fully leave the company.

“You can't really leave Kneehigh,” she says. “It's a very close company, and is part of my DNA. I made all the decisions about doing Tristan and Yseult again long before the drama at the Globe kicked off, so it's funny how it's worked out. Life has a brilliant way of reaping all sorts of rewards by accident.

Tristan & Yseult, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, May 30-June 3.
www.citz.co.uk

 
The Herald, May 23rd 2017

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Sunday, 21 May 2017

Music is Torture

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Poor Jake. One minute he and his band, Test Card, are the in sound of 1998, the next he's playing a shaker on a Belle and Sebastian B-side and doing a dog food commercial. For the last fifteen years he's been stuck in the Sisyphean hell of his similarly past-its-sell-by-date recording studio, working on an endlessly unfinished album by a band called Dawnings, who are stuck in a sound booth repeating themselves ad nauseum. When Jake's waster hanger-on Nick uploads a long-lost slice of brain-pummelling techno called Kill Them All, Jake looks set to make the big time for all the wrong reasons.

Louise Quinn's knowing piece of gig theatre puts a novel twist on an all too familiar rock and roll take on Faustian self-destruction. In Quinn's world, brought to claustrophobic life in Ben Harrison's increasingly fantastical production, it isn't the star chasing band who sell their souls to the devil, but the lowly sound engineer looking for a break and a new pair of trainers.

The play is inspired by the research of musicologist and human rights campaigner Dr Morag J Grant, and co-produced by Quinn's Tromolo company and the Tron. Its lurch into darker waters is brought to life by Andy Clark playing an increasingly desperate Jake and Harry Ward as a deceptively hopeless Nick. Quinn's own group, A Band Called Quinn, play the fictional Dawnings as a Greek chorus illustrating Jake's moral dilemma with live velveteen guitar pop. It's this insider's world-view of an industry where selling out is the ultimate sin that gives the play its cynical bite, even as it bleeds its players dry.

The Herald, May 21 2017

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

Steven Claydon - The Archipelago of Contented Peoples: Endurance Groups

The Common Guild, Glasgow until July 9
Three stars

All that glitters is not necessarily gold in this first solo show in Scotland by Steven Claydon, a former member of avant-electro sleaze merchants Add N to (X), and a more recent shortlistee for the 2016 Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. Here, Claydon's new (or are they?) constructions question notions of authenticity and value, be it through a shrine to dead teeth, a similarly worshipful array of multi-coloured gas canisters, or numerous subversions of ethnographic fetishism which illustrate what Claydon calls 'cultural cannibalism'.

Chain-store 'African' heads devour gold-painted packets of pills, as if sanctioned by private medicine millionaires who would hike up the prices of life saving drugs by a thousand per cent. Shredded bank notes - a much more efficient way of dealing with money to burn - are framed as a dappled decorative back-drop. Crocodiles grow out of carved canoes, saved from some biblical flood. All this and the Pink Panther captured against a rug made of bark. Much of this is discreetly highlighted by LED lights, which both make things shinier and put them even more off limits in a plastic palace where nothing is how it seems.
 
The List, May 2017
 
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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Jane Eyre

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

From the moment she comes bawling into life at the opening of director Sally Cookson's delirious staging of Charlotte Bronte's taboo-busting novel, the adventures keep on coming for its eponymous heroine. On designer Michael Vale's set of wooden platforms and catwalks, Nadia Clifford's furious Jane is shunted from pillar to post in a show as restless in its execution as Jane's own journey. Her brutalised childhood as an orphan hungry for knowledge is illustrated by a cast of nine, who morph from bullying family members to religiously oppressed pupils of the school where Jane is exposed to even more of life's cruelties.

Mirrors are held up en masse so Jane can confront herself inbetween attending to her inner voices that drive her onwards. As she grows into a still wilful young woman, her self-protective shell gives way under Rochester's mercurial influence, until at the end of act one she crumbles into a defeated heap, crazy in love but not knowing what to do with her feelings.

Bronte's constant theme of how independent women are locked up is made explicit. This is done both by the scarlet lighting that illustrates Jane's early incarceration, and in the operatic gospel sung by Melanie Marshall as Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester. This is pointed up even more by Benji Bower's live chamber jazz score and a couple of knowing contemporary pop numbers.

Originally spread out over two nights in its first outing at Bristol Old Vic in 2014, this current tour follows the show's National Theatre run by serving up a single three hour sprawl through Jane's psyche. The end result is a fearless and unmissable whirlwind of a show.

 
The Herald, May 17th 2017

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