John Peel's Shed – Underbelly – 4 stars
Request Programme - Pleasance@Inlingual School – 4 stars
Kurt Schwitters Sound Sonata – Summerhall – 3 stars
It may be accidental, but it's somehow fitting that tracks from Belle
and Sebastian's still joyous debut album, Tigermilk, are playing in the
bar prior to John Peel's Shed, John Osborne's wonderful
autobiographical ramble through his love affair with radio. Peel, after
all, was an early champion of Stuart Murdoch's Glasgow-based
pastoralists. More pertinently, as Osborne observes, all girls love
Belle and Sebastian.
This is just one of Osborne's quietly witty observations in which he
casts himself as the classic geeky outsider who finds salvation, not
just in obscure outfits such as Atom and his Package, but through
everything from Tommy Boyd's late-night phone-in show The Human Zoo to
wilfully leftfield digital station Resonance FM.
Osborne's starting point is a box of records he won in a competition,
and which he decreed to let the world hear after securing a gig on his
local community radio station. From here, you see Osborne visibly grow
in confidence as he relates how one little epiphany after another
helped him find his voice.
Entire generations who grew up listening to Peel could probably say
something similar. Osborne, however, goes beyond what could easily be a
sentimental nostalgia trip to create something as gorgeously discursive
as his inspiration. Complete with occasional disc spinning and
accompanying facts and figures, John Peel's Shed is one of the
loveliest things you're likely to witness all year.
Radio provides salvation of sorts too in Request Programme, German
playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz's early 1970s play that focuses on one
middle-aged woman's night in alone. Arriving home from work, Miss Rasch
methodically goes through the motions of cooking herself supper and
other domestic duties before switching the radio on to hear requests
played for loves lost and found.
As Miss Rasch sews a rug, cleans her clothes and self and prepares for
bed, the comfort of strangers becomes her only lifeline to the outside
world which she appears to have cut herself off from following some
everyday tragedy or other. As occasional moments of distraction haunt
her silent reverie, whatever is on Miss Rasch attempts to retain some
kind of order to a life that appears to have been in stasis for some
time. Like John Osborne in John Peel's Shed, the leap Miss Rasch takes
changes her life, but here not necessarily for the better.
As performed by Swedish actress Cecilia Nilsson in Hedvig Claesson's up
close and personal production, Miss Rasch is clearly a woman on the
verge of a very quiet meltdown. With the audience sat inches away, the
play becomes a voyeuristic case-study of the most private form of
alienation, like Big Brother without the camera-conscious histrionics.
It's a welcome revival of a major study of alienation, even if these
days Miss Rasch could check out the BBC iPlayer and Listen Again before
going on Facebook at midnight to peek into the lives of people she used
to know. As it is, we're left with a starkly realised and intense
experience that remains a telling indictment of a lost sense of
community in a society that prefers to keep the door shut on any rude
Rude intrusions abound in Kurt Schwitters' Sound Sonata, a rare live
performance by Florian Kaplick of Dadaist poet and artist Schwitters'
Ursonate, a voice-based composition that is the sort of thing John
Osborne might well hear on Resonance FM. Following a filmed
introduction by Richard Demarco bemoaning the apparent lack of
all-year-round artistic activity in Edinburgh, Kaplick begins from the
back of the room intoning into a radio microphone before taking his
place at a music stand. Sporting flat cap and glasses, Kaplick purrs,
snarls, grunts, growls and even coos at one point in an emotive series
of rhythmic little vocal stabs as he effectively revs up what was then
the new machine age that made war so much noisier.
There's an increasingly urgent logic to the performance, as it becomes
clear how much Schwitters paved the way for the sound poetry of Ian
Hamilton Finlay, Bob Cobbing and a very current voice-based avant-garde
led by duo, Usurper, that actually does exist in Edinburgh all year
John Peel's Shed until August 28; Request Programme until August 27;
Kurt Schwitters Sound Sonata – run ended.
The Herald, August 15th 2011