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Showing posts from May, 2013

Noises Off

Kings Theatre, Glasgow 5 stars Doors and sardines. These two elements are the essence of theatre, according to director Lloyd Dallas in Michael Frayn’s ingenious theatrical in-joke, which takes every actor’s nightmare and magnifies it to epically grotesque proportions. When the play first appeared in 1982, the sort of trouser-dropping farce Frayn so magnificently pastiched was still a bums on seats staple of the commercial touring circuit. More than three decades on, and Robin Housemonger’s play, Nothing On, may be even more anachronistic, but it remains an instantly recognisable stalwart which refuses to lay down and die. Lindsay Posner’s revival of Frayn’s play was first seen at the Old Vic, and now takes meta-ness to new heights by hitting the touring circuit the play has itself become a staple of. It begins quietly enough, as Dallas’ company of insecure drama queens and ego-maniacs go through their final rehearsals of Housemonger’s play. As inter-personal tensions bet…

John Durnin - Ten Years in Pitlochry

When Pitlochry Festival Theatre's artistic director John Durnin arrived at the Perthshire based producing house ten years ago, he had transformation on his mind. Here was a theatre, after all, which, while situated well out of the central belt, had developed a repertoire and production standards on a par with London's west end. This in itself was a major step forward from the theatre in the hills' beginnings in 1951 when John Stewart opened it in a tent. Once PFT's purpose-built premises opened for business, under Clive Perry and others it developed a reputation for producing calculatedly commercial fare personified by the work of Alan Ayckbourn.
While Durnin's tenure has not been averse to producing the odd Ayckbourn over the years, he has broadened the repertoire considerably, so it now includes more contemporary plays in the programme alongside familiar classics. Durnin has also introduced a musical play that forms a major part of PFT's in-house season, whi…

First Love

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 4 stars A man steps out from the audience and onto a stage that remains bare other than a stool that sits in the far corner while a solitary shaft of light brightens the stage's centre. As the reflective piano music that's been playing fades out, the man, dressed in buttoned-up charity shop suit and a hoodie underneath, proceeds to tell his story. Or rather, in the Cork-based Gare St Lazare Players latest rendering of Samuel Beckett's prose, one of many stories. Because there's a real sense of continuum in the company's approach that becomes increasingly clear with their every visit. Much of this down to the solo performances by Conor Lovett as directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett in a spare and austere fashion. Both suggest that what's being said is just the latest episode in a life of incident and colour. Here, Lovett takes a novella penned by Beckett in 1948 but not published until 1971 and lifts it off the page with a dry…

Far Away/Seagulls

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars There's something astonishing about this rare double bill of short plays by Caryl Churchill, if only to get some kind of insight into how this most singular of writers mind works. In Far Away, first seen in 2000, a young girl is exposed to the brutality of a war which becomes increasingly extreme. At first, Lucy Hollis' Joan appears to be an evacuee who witnesses her uncle doling out violence to a lorry-load of refugees, only to be co-opted into a conspiracy of silence by her aunt. By the end, she's in the thick of a conflict which has corrupted the planet so much that even nature and the animal kingdom are taking sides. Seagulls, which dates from 1978, is less elliptical in its observation of how raw talent can be corrupted by celebrity. Kathryn Howden's Valery is able to move objects with her mind, and, with her manager Di in tow, is about to launch a rocket for charity in front of a huge audience before being investiga…

Kora

Dundee Rep 4 stars When Tom McGrath's play first appeared in 1986, its depiction of community spirit in a run-down Dundee housing scheme was a telling insight into life on the margins in Thatcher's Britain. A quarter of a century on, and Nicholas Bone's revival of a story based on real Dundee residents reflects the current and all too necessary wave of grassroots protest that has risen up in the face of mass political ineptitude. At the heart of the play is Kora Lee, the eternally optimistic single mum to five boys, who becomes a symbol of survival even as her world is collapsing around her. When an architecture student turns up to ask Kora and her neighbours questions about their living conditions, an accidental campaign is launched to try and improve the neighbourhood. If this sounds like a sentimental polemic, think again. Far from leading the campaign, Kora's main pre-occupation is attempting to sire an even bigger brood, either with community polic…

Chrysta Bell

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh 4 stars Film-maker David Lynch may not have the same high profile he once did, but he sure recognises a muse when he sees and hears one. Cue Chrysta Bell, the Texan chanteuse with whom he wrote and produced the 2011 This Train album. Lynch isn't in attendance for Bell's debut Scottish performance in a venue which probably most closely resembles a Lynchian fantasy night-club this side of the pond, but he is on film. His typically opaque introduction refers to Bell as a song-bird, but in truth, as she and her three-piece bar-band open with the thrusting bump and grind of Real Love, she's much more than that.
Jet-black apparelled, flame-haired and impossibly cheek-boned, Ms Bell presents a magnificently studied burlesque-style persona. It's her voice that matters, though, in a set of songs full of light and shade, but which in a live context transcend any notions of mere mood music. There's a dramatic and emotive stridency behind her singin…

The Importance of Being Earnest

Perth Theatre 3 stars The circle of fancy chairs that adorn the stage beneath a displaced triangle of giant red roses that hang above them give off the air of a Victorian séance in waiting rather than a well-heeled bachelor pad. There's plenty of romantic life elsewhere, however, in London Classic Theatre's touring revival of Oscar Wilde's classic romp of reinvention and acquired identity between town and country. Here young rakes Algernon and Jack's wooing of Cecily and Gwendolen becomes more an accidental if life-changing voyage of personal self-discovery than anything. Michael Cabot's well turned out production, which stopped off for a one-night stand at Perth Festival prior to a week of Scottish dates, plays considerably with the politics of scale. Much of this is down to Paul Sandys' diminutive Jack, who here becomes more clown-like than dashing. As an orphan, his insecurity further allows Helen Keeley's taller and quasi-predatory Lady B…

Caryl Churchill - Far Away (and Seagulls)

Caryl Churchill plays don't get done often in Scotland. The last main-stage production of the seventy-four year old iconoclast of British theatre was in 2004, when the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow presented her 1982 look at women in society, Top Girls. That production starred This Life's Daniela Nardini as a hard-nosed career woman who finds herself at the dinner table with some of the most iconic women in history. Before that we'd have to go back to 1997, when Max Stafford Clark's Out of Joint company, with whom Churchill has frequently worked, premiered Blue Heart at at the Traverse as part of the theatre's Edinburgh Festival Fringe season.
It's a welcome surprise then, to find the Citz reviving two of Churchill's shorter works on the main stage in a slot last year occupied by a similarly styled double bill by Samuel Beckett. Far Away and Seagulls may not be quite as elliptical as the two Becketts, but in terms of Churchill's audacious use of form, in t…

The Bear

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 3 stars It may begin with a growl and a roar behind a frosted-glass fronted cube, but by the time writer/performer Angela Clerkin and director Lee Simpson's quasi-autobiographical study of barely-repressed anger has offloaded some eighty minutes later, something even less cuddly has emerged. If that sounds like heavy weather, don't be too alarmed, as Clerkin's co-production with Improbable Theatre and Ovalhouse is infinitely playful to the point of being overloaded, throwing everything from faux noir stylings and 1970s political cabaret to murder mystery shenanigans and even a sudden burst of Irish dancing into the mix.
Dressed in a black lounge suit, Clerkin explains how a stint as an out of work actress turned solicitor's clerk led her on an after-hours adventure in search of the bear that a man on trial for murdering his wife claims is the actual guilty party. As she navigates her way through the big city jungle of Kilburn pubs with ecce…

The Fall – Re-Mit (Cherry Red)

4 stars
Whoa-whoa-whoa, etc! Don't ever underestimate Mark E. Smith, The Fall's founder, writer, vocalist and sole surviving member since they formed thirty-five years ago. Some may dismiss him as a past his-best drunken parody of his former glories, and while live shows can be inconsistent to the point of umbrage, the hardest working man in showbiz is an agent provocateur and master of of social engineering whose singularly eccentric shtick falls somewhere between Bernard Manning, James Brown and Polish theatre director Tadeusz Kantor, the latter of whom made onstage interventions an art-form just as Smith does.
After years of hiring and firing a multitude of members, today's Fall has reached some kind of autumnal stability of sorts, with guitarist Peter Greenway, drummer Keiron Melling and bassist David Spurr surviving in the ranks since 2006, while keyboardist and Smith spouse Elena Poulou probably deserves a medal on all counts for lasting a whole decade.
While best w…

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons - The Original Jersey Boys

When Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, it was vindication for a wide and varied career that took the New Jersey born singer from the high-pitched joie de vivre of early doo wop and rock and roll hits, to score unlikely favour with the 1970s Northern Soul scene, before singing the title track for the soundtrack of one of the most successful musical films ever made.

None of this might have happened if seven year old Francesco Stephen Castellucio had been taken by his mother to see another Frankie, with the second name of Sinatra, at the Paramount Theatre in New York. It was there and then that little Frankie recognised his destiny, and decided to pursue a singing career and become a star.

It would be another decade before Valli made his public debut, when he was asked up onstage for a guest spot by local act, The Variety Trio. The band included future Four Seasons Nick Macioci and Tommy DeVito, and once The Varie…

As It Is

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
On a bare stage seated beneath striplights, actor Damir Todorovic is wired up to a lie detector. Sitting opposite him is fellow performer Pauline Goldsmith, who wields a pen over the graph paper that charts Todorovic's responses to the questions she asks him about events preserved in a twenty-year old diary. The needles that judder into life with each response are subsequently beamed onto a large screen behind the pair, allowing the audience to scrutinise the possible fictions of their exchange. Serbian by birth, and well known to Scottish audiences from his appearances in several of Vanishing Point's large-scale works, Todorovic has already told us he was a soldier in the 1993 Balkan War, and wants to see if it's possible to live without lies.

Whether his line of inquiry succeeds or not depends on whether you believe some of the uncomfortable details which Goldsmith's interrogation throws up in what initially looks more li…

#sleeptightbobbycairns

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 3 stars What would happen if the revolution became reduced to a series of letter-writing parties that gathered the converted together under the guidance of the sort of perma-grinning cheerleader normally the preserve of high street charity muggers? Then what if it turned out that said cheer-leader had missed the point enough to be sidelined from the cause? As an audience of ten or so 'pioneers' are ushered into a meeting room with name tags and enforced jollity intact, these are exactly the sort of questions being asked in director Rob Jones and writer Michael O'Neill's all too timely look at the politics of protest for a younger generation in a post-ideological age. Our hostess is Layla, the pyjama-clad evangelist for the Need Nothing movement led by the guru-like Sam, who wants everyone to move into a global village in Peru. Layla's nemesis is Councillor Robert Cairns, her former ally and inspiration, who now wants to counterac…

Stephen Sutcliffe - Outwork

Tramway, Glasgow until June 30th 4 stars One only has to look at the names on the spines of the books projected on the two large side-screens that flank a central one in Stephen Sutcliffe's large-scale film installation to get where he's coming from. Philosopher Jacques Derrida, semiotician Roland Barthes, a book of Christopher Logue poems and even a DVD of Shelagh Delaney-scripted, Albert Finney starring 1960s Brit-curio 'Charlie Bubbles' are all in there in a mash-up of post-modern pop cultural ephemera.
Drawn from Sutcliffe's personal archive of sound, broadcast and spoken-word recordings dating back to a childhood in which he clearly didn't get out much, Outwork was inspired by sociologist Erving Goffman's book, 'Frame Analysis' and was originally produced for the Margaret Tait Award. Beginning with hummed snatches of 'The Internationale' and ending with the opening guitar riff of 'Gloria', Sutcliffe juxtaposes little documentar…

Ciara Phillips – And More

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until June 23rd 3 stars X marks the spot in Inverleith House's latest show in which a contemporary artist responds to work in the RBG's Archival holdings of botanical-based art. Arriving just in time for the sun to belatedly shine, and running alongside 'Nature Printed', featuring actual examples from the RBG collection, Canadian-born, Glasgow-based Ciara Phillips beams down a series of groovy-looking screenprints brandishing vivid colour blocks that gets back to nature in homage to publications by eighteenth century nature printer Johannes Kniphof. Amidst the abstractions, there are blurry archive images of hourglasses and lush, lime-coloured landscape splodges amidst the flora and fauna.
The show's centrepiece finds the gallery's central column of walls wallpapered with sa blanket of watery, ice-blue and white prints, on top of which is draped a banner-like large-scale print of two yellow pencils, crossed …

Kora - Tom McGrath's Classical Heroine Returns To Dundee

When a woman called Coralie turned up at Dundee Rep's box office to say that the theatre's next production was about her, the company sat up and took notice. The late Tom McGrath's play, Kora, after all, is set in a Dundee housing estate where a community fight against the local authorities attempts to decamp the residents out of their homes ids led by a powerful matriarchal figure whose home is bursting at the seams with her offspring.
Nicholas Bone, director of the Magnetic North company, who are co-producing Kora with the Rep, and actress Emily Winter, who plays the title role in a play first seen at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in 1986 before being revived a year later in Dundee, met Coralie. The result was what Bone describes as “a slightly surreal hour, spending time with this woman who Tom met almost thirty years ago, and based this whole play on. It was hearing from her what's true and what's not true in the play, but then you have to put it to one sid…

Over The Wire

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars It looks like the end of the world in Seamus Keenan's blistering new play, which Derry Playhouse brought to the Tron's Mayfesto season last week. Either that or some latter-day social experiment for reality TV or a venue for extreme sports. In fact, the barbed-wire topped cage that confines five men in what looks like a burnt-out scrap-yard is a dead-ringer for Long Kesh in 1974 after the County Down-based prison's IRA prisoners torched it during riots. The five men now appear to occupy some approximation of a Beckettian wasteland, in which they attempt to keep up a notion of army discipline, even as they survive on scraps while sleeping in the most makeshift of shelters. Three of them, Barry, Colin?? and pretty-boy Dutch are volunteers. Dee is notional leader, with Lucas his brutal number two. Beyond the macho banter and dedication to the cause, the claustrophobic living conditions create an uneasy tension that turns to suspicio…

Be Silent or Be Killed

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh 3 stars A banker from Macduff makes for an unlikely action hero, yet when Roger Hunt got caught up in a terrorist raid on his Mumbai hotel in 2008, that's exactly what he became. Not an action hero in the conventional sense, but, as he endured forty hours alone with only his thoughts and a series of text messages to keep him going, his sense of self-preservation became an inspiration. Writers Euan Martin and Dave Smith and director Ian Grieve have taken Hunt's story of human bravery and turned it into a tense hour-long thriller based on Hunt's book of the same name written with Kenny Kemp. It opens with Roger, as played by James Mackenzie, about to give a presentation on his experiences. Within seconds, however, Roger is back in his hotel room where he takes refuge, texting his wife Irene and assorted lifelines for help while he hides out. Much of the latter is done via John McGeoch's set of fast-track video images projected o…

Michael Frayn - Noises Off

Two weeks ago, playwright Michael Frayn was given a special Olivier award for a body of dramatic work which over the last forty years has quietly become an essential part of Britain's artistic fabric. This week, a touring production of his 1982 farce par excellence, Noises Off, that originated at the Old Vic, is playing in Aberdeen prior to dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Frayn himself has been on the literary festival circuit, giving readings to coincide with the publication of his most recent novel, Skios.
All of these events in different ways go some way to illustrating Frayn's relationship with public life, be it at an awards ceremony in a room full of high-class thespians, entertaining literary groupies, or, in Noises Off, lampooning the world he is both part of and outside with an astonishing theatrical skill which has made it one of the most popular plays in the world.
Noises Off is set in the the world of low-rent touring theatre in which a badly penned farce is bein…

Love Letters

Dundee Rep 3 stars In these hi-tech days of texting, sexting and social media immediacy, it's hard to credit the power of an old-fashioned hand-written love letter and the yearningly painful gaps between each exchange. This probably wasn't what American playwright AR Gurney was thinking when he penned this Pulitzer Prize nominated two-hander about two people who retain an intimacy across half a century of billets-doux, but it does explain its popularity. So, however, does the play's status as a star vehicle, as many of those who packed the theatre to see former Dempsey and Makepeace TV double act and real life husband and wife Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber in action would no doubt bear witness to. Not that there's much action, as the pair sit at separate tables to give voice to the life-long romance between the dependably dull Andrew and the more mercurially self-destructive Melissa. From the moment Andrew accepts an invitation to Melissa's secon…

Jamie Harrison - Pulling The Strings on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Jamie Harrison is in the middle of the technical rehearsal for the new show which the co-founder of Vox Motus Theatre company has the wonderful job title of Puppet and Illusion Designer. As a member of the Magic Circle, Harrison has frequently applied his skills on such Vox Motus shows as Slick and The Infamous Brothers Davenport, as well as on the National Theatre of Scotland's version of Peter Pan. While all these were ambitiously realised large-scale works, the new musical stage version of Roald Dahl's fantastical novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is something else again. Set to open in the heart of London's west end, the show is an international co-production between James Bond director Sam Mendes' Neal Street Productions, Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures and Langley Park Pictures. It stars Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner of a chocolate factory who hides five golden tickets in random bars which will change the lives of the c…

The Price of Everything

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars A pint of milk costs fifty-one pence. Body parts can be bought and sold for far greater sums. But how much would an air guitar go for on ebay? Or an imaginary friend? Think about those last two questions for a minute, and you should realise the sheer absurdity of a market-led economy in recessionary times. Writer/performer Daniel Bye has, and has woven his findings into this quietly utopian performance lecture, which he brought to the Tron's Mayfesto season for one night only on Sunday night. With just a power-point presentation, a chair and enough bottles of milk to give everyone in the audience a glass, Bye serves up and dissects the facts and figures behind our money-driven society before offering up an idealistic alternative which just might work. This comes in the form of a shaggy-dog story about finding a twenty pound note on a train, which leads to Bye and a stranger in a Garfield t-shirt founding a free milk bar which further ins…

Bandages

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars June and Jane live in a world of their own in Kirsty Housley's curious new play, directed by herself for Teg Productions and the Corn Exchange, Newbury for last week's brief Mayfesto run. According to the shock-horror headlines, outside there's a serial killer on the loose attacking young women just like them. Even a quick trip to the supermarket for a pint of milk becomes a potential murder scene. Inside, the two siblings are safe, seemingly mirror images of each other, who dress identically and role-play their mother's rape by a butcher and their own subsequent birth. When Bob comes calling with ice-cream for June, the games become a lot more dangerous and a whole lot closer to home. Set in a wooden box full of assorted sized flaps that open out onto the big bad world outside and wallpapered to clash with June and Jane's flowery frocks, Bandages takes the dark iconography of big-screen psycho-sexual schlock-fests and tu…

Jukebox

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 3 stars Nothing can unite the body politic quite like music, even as listening to it or playing it remains an intensely personal experience. Such notions are the back-bone of Ankur Productions' charming look at pan-Indian identity through the eyes, words and, above all, songs of those who left their homeland for Glasgow, and the younger generation they sired. In what is part concert, part oral history, some fourteen community performers of all ages tell their stories, both on film and in the flesh. As they relate their tales of exile and arranged marriages on the one hand, and facing the Glasgow cold at the 'Barras on the other, the result of Shabina Aslam's Mayfesto production, which sees the cast perched on a network of white-painted boxes, is a crucial mash-up of traditional Indian mores fused with a brash contemporaneity. While the older women sport saris as they talk of a time before Bollywood had been named thus, the younger ones w…