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Showing posts from February, 2013

White Rose

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
When Peter Arnott's play about a squadron of Second World War female
fighter pilots premiered at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 1985, the
notion of powerful women, and indeed women in power, was very much part
of the agenda. More than a quarter of a century on, and the true story
of Lily Litvik, who marked her kills with white roses on her
aeroplane's tail, remains a fascinating look at a piece of hidden
history, as well as a metaphor for a gender war that continues.

It opens with Lily and her engineer friend Ina drafted in to sex up
recruitment films. It ends with Lily grounded for a final time.
Inbetween we see Lily square up to an all-male world without
compromising her faith in a greater cause. Lesley Harcourt's Lily is a
driven young woman who knows what she wants and usually gets it. When
that comes to her flight commander Alexei, the age-old ideological 
contradictions between the personal and the political come to the …

Abigail's Party

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
England may have been dreaming when Mike Leigh devised his now iconic
suburban drama in 1977, but the Thatcherite nightmare was already
looming. In this respect, this painful tale of warped aspiration set
against a living-room backdrop of garish fixtures and fittings now
looks as much like prophecy as the wall-paper appears retro-chic.

Leigh's play focuses on one night at home with Beverly and Laurence,
who are hosting an open-house to meet their new neighbours, Angela and
Tony. Also on the guest-list is middle-aged divorcee Susan, whose
teenage daughter Abigail is having a very different kind of gathering
to the ones the grown-ups are painfully stumbling through.

With such a set of perfect stereotypes, it would be easy to resort to
1970s theme bar kitsch in Lindsay Posner's production for the Theatre
Royal, Bath and the Chocolate Factory, and redirected for this tour by
Tom Attenburgh. Yet here it more resembles Who's Afrai…

White Rose - Peter Arnott's First Play Revived

When Peter Arnott's debut play, White Rose, first appeared at the Traverse Theatre in 1985, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government were two years into their second time of office, and Britain appeared to be in the midst of civil war. The miners strike was still ongoing, while outside the Royal Airforce base in Greenham Common, all-women peace camps were set up in protest of the American cruise missiles housed there. In 1982, some 30,000 women joined hands around the camp's perimeter. When Arnott read Night Witches, a book by Bruce Miles, which told the little-known story of the female pilots who flew Soviet aeroplanes during the Second World War, something caught Arnott's imagination.

“It was my first commission, and my brief was to do something big with three actors,” Arnott says on the eve of the play's first major revival in almost thirty years by the Borders-based Firebrand Theatre company. “It was forty years since the end of the Second World War, and Nig…

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
3 stars When Puck comes onstage in a woolly hat, shorts, Wellington boots and a football scarf, looking somewhere between a 1970s trainspotter and the ghost of Tom Weir, it sets the tone for the Sell A Door company's bright, youthful take on Shakespeare's most ubiquitous rom-com. When he picks up the transistor radio that sits at the front of the stage, tuning the dial to assorted weather-based bulletins, he's also tuning in on a world where the sun always shines.
With a cast of just nine doubling up parts with abandon, Bryn Holding's touring production shows off that world via a network of mobile doors that moves the action from Theseus and Hippolyta's formal courtship to the reckless romp of the young lovers once they get lost in the woods. If the gravitas isn't always present in the portrayals of the older generation's tweedy demeanour, things are far more assured once the Mechanicals stumble into view. These scenes are milke…

Siobhan Redmond - Doctor Faustus

“I'm not a good enough actress to work with scripts that aren't very good.,” Siobhan Redmond says towards the end of her interview with the Herald. “Some actors are so dazzling that they can turn them into something other, but I've never been an alchemist or a shape-shifter in that way.”
Redmond is being hard on herself here. On recent form, playing the lead role of warrior queen Gruach in Dunsinane, David Greig's audacious sequel to Macbeth, and as she prepares to play Mephistopheles in the Citizens Theatre's rewiring of Christopher Marlowe's flawed masterpiece, Doctor Faustus, it couldn't be further from the truth.
Even so, Redmond's slightly damning observation of herself speaks volumes about her onstage presence. From starting out in 1980s comic sketch show, Alfresco, and her break-out role as Don Henderson's side-kick, Lucy McGinty, in private eye drama, Bulman, Redmond has always retained her striking sense of self, even as she inhabits a ro…

Auld Reekie Rockin’ – How Edinburgh Swung

When Bob Dylan was photographed barnstorming his way along Princes Street in 1966 en route to his show at the ABC Regal cinema on Lothian Road, it perfectly encapsulated exactly how much of a hurry that particular decade was in. It also captured how much the times were a changing again. Here, after all, was the acoustic idol of the coffee bar protest scene, who was in the thick of a pivotal UK tour on which he announced his new electric direction, looking, in his wrap-around shades and pixie boots, like the coolest, most glamorous man alive.

Yet here he was, in a city with a busy network of dance-halls serving the beat boom on the one hand, but also in the thick of a folk revival which had begun a decade before. The ABC had played host to both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones two years before, but Dylan was pushing the envelope. The ABC audience may not have accused him of being Judas like they did in Manchester on the same tour, but legend has it that a portion of hard-line folkies …

From Death to Death and Other Small Tales: Masterpieces from the Scottish national Gallery of Modern Art and the D.Daskalopoulos Collection

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One) until September 
8th 2013 5 stars From the opening tease of Magritte, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed physically and mentally by this major mix and match collection of twentieth and twenty-first century work from the moment you step into the first corridor. Which, for a show that’s about the body, but which, in its epic parade through both floors of Modern One, says just as much about mind and spirit, is how it should be. The first room sets the tone by off-setting Sarah Lucas’ spindly and be-stockinged Bunny Gets Snookered #10 with Otto Dix’ more bulbous Madchen Auf Fell, and things seem to swell up into something spectacular with each wonderland entered. Cock, balls and cunt are of course in abundance, but this is no prick-tease, despite the rise and fall of Matthew Barney’s stunningly glossy five-screen Cremester Cycle of phallic fantasias (the cremester, of course, being the muscle that lifts and separates the testicle…

Massimo Bartolini – Studio Matters + 1

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh until April 14th
4 stars Like a moth to a flame, the habitual party-goer will always be drawn to Kraftwerkian big-city neon. So it goes in ‘La Strada di Sotto (The Street Below)’, the toytown style installation that maps out the whole of the Fruitmarket’s main downstairs room in Italian artist Massimo Bartlini’s first solo exhibition in Scotland. A working model culled from frameworks of lights used during Sicilian street celebrations, this complex network of criss-crossing track-lines is operated by the rise and fall of voices from the film in the adjoining room. The fact that the man onscreen is Don Valentino, the man behind Sicily’s mass illuminations, speaks volumes of the light and shade intensity of what looks like a denser, Michael Bentine’s Potty Time version of Blackpool in all its after-dark glory.Upstairs, there’s a similar sense of playfulness to the large table-top chock-full of out of context looking miniatures picked and mixed …

Time and the Conways

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh 4 stars The recent spate of main-stage co-productions may have been borne in part from economic circumstances, but they have been delivering in spades. This timely revival of J.B. Priestley's time-shifting family saga is a case in point, especially as Jemima Levick's elegant and haunting production explicitly points up how human potential can be crushed by economic decline.
The play opens to the sound of laughter in an empty room, where the Conway brood are celebrating the writerly Kay's birthday with a game of charades. With Kay's brother Robin returning from the trenches, optimism is in the air, be it from the potential romances of glamorous Hazel, the political idealism of Madge, or the sheer joie de vivre of Carol. Only withdrawn Alan appears to have portents of uncertainty. With the final act set seconds later, sandwiched between the two is a scenario set in the same room in 1937. By this time, the family is fractured, with only t…

Do You Nomi? - Klaus Nomi's Total Eclipse

When Grant Smeaton was working as a Saturday boy in Listen records in Glasgow in the early 1980s, he had access to music by artists he might not ordinarily have heard. One of these was Klaus Nomi, a shock-haired singer with a piercingly high voice, who fused post-punk performance art with operatic arias.

Thirty years on, Smeaton, in collaboration with choreographer Alan Greig, has created Do You Nomi?, a dance theatre homage to Nomi, who died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1983 aged thirty-nine. As Smeaton explains, Nomi was a fascinating character, whose own performances were hugely theatrical.
“He just seemed to be part of this very different scene. It was a very fertile time, and you could be more avant-garde and experimental, which Reaganism and Thatcherism kind of knocked out. While it went on, Klaus was a fascinating, enigmatic character who was very much part of that.”
The idea for the show came from Smeaton's creative relationship with Greig. Smeaton had been drafted in as a…

Hannah Waterman - Abigail's Party

When Hannah Waterman invited one of her friends to come and see her play Beverly, the suburban matriarch at the heart of Mike Leigh's 1977 devised play, Abigail's Party, she asked her what they thought of it. “Oh,” came the surprised response. “She's a sexy Beverly.”

“I thought she always was,” says an equally surprised Waterman in her dressing room in Cambridge on a tour of Lindsay Posner's production which arrives in Edinburgh next week. “ She's massively sexually frustrated, which is why she behaves the way she does when she gets pissed, but she's in a very lonely marriage. There's this thread of loneliness that runs throughout the play. They talk about nothing. It's all cars and sofas, but that says so much about who they are.
“I play Beverly fairly overtly sexual. She doesn't have sex with her husband. She gets drunk. She doesn't have many friends. Her husband is sniping at her all the time. She's aspirational materially in the way th…

Takin’ Over The Asylum

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars “Inspired is when you think you can do anything,” says one character in Donna Franceschild’s psychiatric ward-set play adapted from her 1994 TV drama. “Manic is when you know it.” Such a bold statement becomes a kind of manifesto for this moving, funny and heart-breakingly pertinent story about how a hospital radio station awakens its damaged residents from their TV-watching torpor. When window salesman and would-be DJ Eddie arrives at St Jude’s, his radio show is initially met with indifference by all except hyper-active Campbell. Eventually, the redemptive force of soul music gives a sense of purpose to Francine, Rosalie, Fergus and all the others who don’t quite fit in with the big bad world outside. Eddie too has his demons, as becomes painfully apparent when the station and the community that’s built around it is threatened with closure. There’s a sense of empathy as well as anger in Franceschild’s writing that’s brought to devastatin…

GIOFEST V

CCA, Glasgow
November 29th-December 1st 2012 Preamble – Beginning of A Great Adventure In 2002, veteran saxophonist Evan Parker played a gig at the old Free RadiCCAls festival in Glasgow alongside a plethora of the city's more switched-on musical explorers. During the event, Parker declared it the inaugural meeting of something called the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. In the decade since, Parker's careless talk has inspired and enabled a welter of activity based around the loose-knit institution GIO has become. Activities have included live and recorded collaborations with major figures in what might be regarded as free music's first wave during the 1960s and 1970s in Britain and beyond. GIO albums have been recorded with Parker in 2004, vocalist and co-founder of the Feminist Improvising Group, Maggie Nicols, in 2005, and composer and bassist Barry Guy in 2007. Significantly, all three were members of John Stevens' Spontaneous Music Ensemble at various p…

Go Back For Murder

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars There can't be many Agatha Christie pot-boilers that feature pre-show music by the Beatles. Yet this late period whodunnit revived here by director Joe Harmston's Official Agatha Christie Company is as groovy as when Hammer revived Dracula in swinging London. Blessed with a holy trinity of female leads, it's hard not to warm to such unabashed hokum.
First performed in 1960 but re-set here to1968, Christie's adaptation of her novel, Five Little Pigs, follows the tenacious travails of Carla Le Marchant, the twenty-something daughter of Caroline Crale. Caroline died in prison after being convicted twenty years before of the murder of her artist and serial adulterer husband, Amyas. Carla breezes from lawyer's office to drawing room and fancy restaurant looking for clues, quizzing her father's mistress, the family maid, her mother's sister and two very different brothers both in love with her mother. Once gathered in the family…

Ken Alexander - From Byre to Court

Ken Alexander is used to turning theatres on their head. When the newly appointed – and first ever – artistic director of the Royal Court theatre in Liverpool was in charge of the Byre Theatre in St Andrews, he initiated touring and outreach programmes while at the same time overseeing the in-house company’s move from its old premises to its new lottery-funded state of the art home. Once in the new building, Alexander increased production from five shows a year to eight, a remarkable feat that paid dividends in both attendance and quality. When Alexander took over Perth Theatre, where his career had begun as a trainee director under theatrical legends Joan Knight and Clive Perry, during his year-long tenure he re-established the venue as a producing house and increased audiences. Given the tragic closure of the Byre two weeks ago following the company’s insolvency several years after its Scottish Arts Council funding cut caused its production arm to be scrapped outside of …