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Showing posts from August, 2013

On Behalf of Nature

Royal Lyceum Theatre four stars The natural world in all its glory is celebrated in Meredith Monk's remarkable seventy-five minute dramatic meditation performed by her and her nine-strong Vocal Ensemble for Monks return to Edinburgh International Festival. With a live marimba-led score which moves from rhythmic codas to frantic little bursts of out-of-wackness, Monk and co flap around the stage in set-pieces of unadorned Zen choreography, chirruping in call and response harmony as they go.
With the performers dressed in what looks like pioneer-type outfits, at times their gambolling looks like a hoe-down in Eden. At other, more intimate moments., their propless mimesis flutters into being with a stark beauty. There are solos, duos and ensemble-based miniatures, each one an impressionistic thumbnail sketch of birds, trees, bees and other wildlife rendered in physical terms occasionally upended by outside forces.
There are clear parallels here, both thematically and stylistically, …

Hunt and Darton Cafe - Take A Bite

Popping out for a cuppa can be full of surprises during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. At least it can down at Hunt and Darton Cafe, the pop-up cafe opened for thr entire month of August by live artist double act, Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton. Last year, the St Martin's College of Art graduates ran the place on St Mary's Street dressed in pineapple decorated outfits with a sense of style and wit that made it the ultimate drop-in centre.
Inside the cafe's vintage environment, our two hostesses and occasional guest waiting staff would serve basic but carefully prepared meals, snacks and drinks with a meticulous sense of customer care. Some days would be themed, with customers being asked to serve each other, or else asked if they would care to choose a record to play on an old Dansette. Each financial transaction would be carefully marked out on the wall in chalk alongside details of the outlay for supplies. At the end of the week, the total profit would also be marked up. I…

Lorne Campbell - It's Not So Grim At Northern Stage

When Lorne Campbell was appointed artistic director of Northern Stage, Newcastle's most adventurous theatre producing house, he arrived at a tumultuous time. One of the theatre's main funders, Newcastle Council, had begun consultations to deal with a proposed 100 per cent cut in its arts budget. This came after two rounds of cuts by Arts Council England, Northern Stage's other chief funder, in the midst of swinging cuts from the UK government in an attempt to stave off the recession caused primarily by themselves in cahoots with the banks.
Several months on, and Newcastle Council has upped its contribution to Northern Stage by fifty per cent, and, if the theatre's Edinburgh programme of some eighteen shows that form the theatre's ambitious Northern Stage at St Stephens is anything to go by, as with many artists reimagining creative possibilities during lean times, the theatre is in the midst of an artistic revolution.
“There's an awful lot here that reminds me…

Jim Haynes – The Original Edinburgh Man Returns

Jim Haynes has something of a dilemma on his hands. The legendary driving force behind the early days of the Traverse theatre in the 1960s, founder of the UK's first ever paperback bookshop in Edinburgh, counter-cultural polymath and host of the hottest dinner parties in town in his Paris home is bringing two show to this year's Fringe. Haynes' return to a producer's role shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone who knows anything about the man who's probably the most well-connected man on the planet.
“Yeah, I remember introducing David Bowie to Lindsay Kemp,” Haynes casually mentioned one time after I'd told him I'd spent the night before watching Michael Clark's dance company do a routine set against a backdrop of the iconic video to Bowie's song, Heroes.
The trouble is, unlike every other eager beaver publicity person in town, Haynes doesn't want to oversell them, no matter how remarkable he might think both The Surrender and B…

The Tragedy of Coriolanus - Death Metal Shakespeare

Shakespeare and Death Metal aren't the most obvious of theatrical bed-fellows, especially when performed in Mandarin. Yet this is exactly the culture clash that ensues in Beijing People's Art Theatre's epic production of The Tragedy of Coriolanus, which opens as part of Edinburgh International Festival's drama programme next week. In a production which features some 100 bodies on a near-bare stage, veteran Chinese iconoclast Lin Zhaohua's version of Shakespeare's political tragedy makes the conflict between nations a noisy affair by having two of China's leading metal bands onstage. Miserable Faith and Suffocated are stalwarts and leading lights of a fertile Beijing metal scene, but remain little-known outside of their own country. Miserable Faith were formed in 1999, and by 2001 were regarded by many as the best nu-metal band in Beijing. Consisting of vocalist Gao Hu, guitarists Song Jie and Tian Ran, bass player Zhang Jing, harmonica player…

Meredith Monk - On Behalf of Nature

Meredith Monk wasn't aware of When Bjork Met Attenburgh before we spoke, but suddenly I'm giving her a link to the recent Channel Four documentary that looks at the relationship between music and the natural world through the eyes of film-maker David Attenburgh and Icelandic singer, Bjork. The fact that I'm reading it down the line during a telephone call to the pioneering seventy-year old composer, director, vocalist and choreographer's New York speaks volumes about the hi-tech global village we live in. Given that Monk's return to Edinburgh International Festival this weekend following her debut here in 2010 with the spiritually inclined Songs of Ascension is with a show called On Behalf of Nature, it's also somewhat ironic. On Behalf of Nature is a poetic meditation on the environment and how it is gradually being eroded by man's lack of concern for it. With roots in Buddhist thought and the poetry of American Beat Gary Snyder, Monk and he…

Histoire d'amour

Kings Theatre Two stars When a school-teacher spots an attractive young woman on the train, he decides there and then that he'll marry her. He gets there eventually in Chilean company Teatro Cinema's rendering of Regis Jauffret's unrelenting novel, but before that he stalks her, rapes her, beats her and violates her in every way imaginable, and that's just on the night he first sees her. Beyond this, the man becomes dangerously obsessed with the woman he learns is named Sofia, his self-loathing manifesting itself in flashes of rage in a blindly self-deluded one-sided courtship until, finally, she acquiesces. This is an ugly little piece of male fantasy wish fulfilment which, in Teatro Cinema's hands, becomes a comic book strip cartoon writ large, complete with speech bubbles, as actors Julian Marres and Bernardita Montero interact with a meticulously synchronised set of animations in director Juan Carlos Zagal's production. The story is told throu…

Breaker - Graeme Maley Brings Iceland to Scotland

In the run up to the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland, there has been much talk of Iceland as a role model to aspire to. As is usually the case, artistically and culturally, connections have been ongoing between the two countries for some time. While the recent left-field music festival, Tectonics, which presented events in both nations, is the highest profile Scots-Icelandic collaboration so far, theatre too has explored the similarities between the two cultures.

Much of this has been down to Graeme Maley, the Ayrshire-born director who has worked extensively in Iceland, and has brought a series of new translations of Icelandic plays to Scotland. The latest of these is Breaker, a new piece by Salka Gudmundsdottir, a young female Icelandic writer who looks set to make waves during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Maley's production of Breaker has already scooped the Best Theatre Award in this year's Adelaide Fringe, where it also picked up the Underbelly Edinburgh Award,…

Histoire d'amour - Teatro Cinema Return

The last time Chilean theatre director Juan Carlos Zagal's Teatro Cinema company appeared at Edinburgh International Festival in 2010, they brought with them some very dark materials indeed. That was with Sin Singre (Without Blood), adapted from a novel by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco, and an original piece, The Man Who Fed Butterflies. Now they return with the final part of their trilogy, Histoire d'amour, this time adapted from Regis Jauffret's novel about a quasi sado-masochistic relationship between an English teacher and a woman he sees on the underground.
“Histoire d'amour is a tragic story of two people searching for love who get lost in a dark labyrinthine abyss,” according to Zagal. “Their souls get lost and sink because they cannot find a way out of this encounter that condemns them. This is a story that shows the emotional instability of many of us nowadays, where the masculine side is strong, and exerts a strong influence over the femin…

The Poet Speaks - A Homage To Allen Ginsberg by Patti Smith and Philip Glass

Edinburgh Playhouse five stars Rock and roll, Beat poetry and contemporary classical music aren't exactly staples of Edinburgh International Festival's programme. The appearance of composer Philip Glass and singer, poet and shamanic force of nature Patti Smith to pay homage to counter-cultural guru Allen Ginsberg, however, is a bold and unexpected move that should point the way for EIF's future. The New York duo's opening performance of Smith's Notes To The Future before an audience of ageing hippies and young bohemians is all too appropriate in this respect. The evening is divided into four loose-knit sections. In the first, Smith reads words penned by both Ginsberg and herself, with Glass discreetly underscoring on the piano. As Glass leaves the stage, Smith is joined by guitarist Tony Shanahan, who accompanies her on emotive renderings of songs from her back pages. Glass returns to play three solo miniatures before Smith rejoins him for some final e…

Fringe Theatre - The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning – St Thomas of Aquin's School – four stars The Secret Agent – Traverse Theatre – three stars The Islanders – Underbelly – four stars

When whistle-blowing American soldier Bradley Manning was found guilty of espionage at the end of July, the old ideals of truth, justice and the American way suddenly seemed like more of a hollow mockery than ever before. It also made The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, Tim Price's dramatic rendering of Manning's story for National Theatre Wales, look like the most pertinent play on the planet. When NTW first presented John E McGrath's production, it was in the Welsh school that Manning attended. For their Fringe run they do something similar, with the noises off and camouflage-clad figures occupying classrooms as the audience enter suggesting something a lot stronger than mere playground stuff. Once seated on four sides of the school's echoey assembly area, the audience witness Manning's course from a displaced childhood between small-town Wales and America, as a bullied gay computer geek came to develop a disrespect for authority that would even…

Fringe Theatre - An Actor's Lament – Assembly – three stars Kiss Me, Honey, Honey! – Gilded Balloon – three stars Hooked – Sweet – three stars

When two or more theatrical types get together, excessive gossiping will ensue. As alcohol and other substances flow, this will invariably descend into a laughter-punctuated bitch-fest of epic proportions. So it goes in An Actor's Lament, the latest vehicle for tireless Fringe veteran, one-time enfant terrible and theatrical icon Steven Berkoff, who has been venting his spleen onstage outwith the mainstream for almost half a century. This grotesque pastiche of theatre line might well be Berkoff's manifesto, as an actor turned playwright, a writer and an actress unleash their rhyming coupleted litanies on targets including the critics (natch), the theatrical establishment, bad directors, writers and other actors, the West End, the TV drama treadmill, and, ooh, anyone who isn't them, really. While one actor riffs on their personal pet hate, the other two drape themselves behind, miming out the largesse and excesses of what looks like one endless first night par…

Nirbhaya – Assembly – five stars

There's a moment in Nirbhaya, South African writer/director Yael Farber's theatrical study of events leading up to and following the gang rape of a young woman on a crowded bus in New Delhi in December 2012 when you realise just how powerful a work it is that you're watching. The ensemble cast have already set a ritualistic tone with a mixture of reportage and first person testimony from abused women who stopped being silent after the horrific incident. As becomes clear from one woman's story of how her husband set her on fire, then beat her so badly that it ruined the surgery that followed, these litanies of violence, abuse and rape at the hands of brothers, fathers and husbands aren't culled from journalistic interviews. These things actually happened to the women onstage, and, as they tell their stories, by turns shocking and heartbreaking, they bare their scars every day. As damning and shaming an indictment of institutionalised misogyny on a mass scale as th…

Leaving Planet Earth

EICC 4 stars Suspension of disbelief is everything in Edinburgh-based site-specific auteurs Grid Iron's science-fiction spectacular, which moves its audience between worlds in epic fashion. Old Earth is finished, and a mass migration programme to a New Earth has been initiated. Chief architect of this is Vela, who has become a figurehead for the new society.
We're told all this during a film in a blacked-out bus as we travel out to the new planet. We've already checked in to an ambient soundtrack, and, once we've crossed the threshold as the final in-comers before the ties with old earth are cut, are given a guided tour by assorted mandarins who explain how our shiny new future will pan out. Behind all this, however, things aren't quite what they seem, as some of New Earth's inhabitants nostalgically cling to totems of their past held in the Old Earth Museum, while Vela herself appears to be falling apart.
Set mainly in the stunning confines of Edinburgh In…

Leaving Planet Earth - Grid Iron's Worlds Collide

This time last week, Edinburgh-based site specific experts Grid Iron were strictly earth-bound. Rehearsals for their Edinburgh International Festival contribution, Leaving Planet Earth, were taking place in a former Morningside church which has been converted into a drama studio. As of this weekend past, however, the company have blasted off to Edinburgh International Climbing Centre in Ratho, which doubles up as New Earth in director Catrin Evans and writer Lewis Hetherington's new play.
The play casts the audience as the final new arrivals from Old Earth, which has been decreed no longer a viable place to live. With mass migration into space seemingly the only alternative, the umbilical cord to the old planet is about to be cut. In its place, the idyllic dawn of a brave new world. Or is it?
Such scenarios have long been the stuff of science-fiction literature and film, from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to hippy sci-fi films such as Silent Running. On stage, however, ou…

Metamorphosis

Kings Theatre Four stars “My tiny body carries the weight of the world,” says Gregor Samsa in Wu Hsing-kuo's free adaptation of Franz Kafka's seminal novella for Wu's Taiwan-based Contemporary Legend Theatre. Such a notion is the rub of what is clearly a very personal take on Kafka's story of a young man who wakes up one morning to find that he has been transformed into a giant bug. Utilising a fusion of ancient Peking Opera techniques and state of art projections, Wu performs solo, playing both Gregor and the sister he dotes on, while even a black-and-white clad Kafka makes an appearance, willing the empty shell Gregor has become to live. Wu's version of Gregor crawls out of a rock-like structure looking not unlike a 1970s Dr Who monster, but once he launches himself into the piece, even the bug's tendrils seem to have been choreographed to perfection. Out of this Wu lays bare Gregor's life of drudgery by way of a back story for Gregor as an …

Metamorphosis - Contemporary Legend Theatre on Kafka

As role models for budding young existentialists go, there are few more recognisable than Gregor Samsa, the down-trodden salesman who morphs into a giant bug in Franz Kafka's 1915 novella. This is something Wu Hsing-kuo, the maverick driving force behind the Taiwan-based Contemporary Legend Theatre since the company's inception in 1986, recognises in his new multi-media solo stage version which he brings to Edinburgh International Festival this month.
The production follows Mr Wu's equally singular take on Shakespeare's King Lear, which Contemporary Legend Theatre brought to Edinburgh three years ago. Then too, Mr Wu applied a sense of isolation he gained while training in Peking Opera from an early age. Similarly, as with Lear, he applies a very personal take on his portrayal of Gregor.
“I feel that my situation resembles Gregor,” says Mr Wu, “who shoulders the responsibility for his family. From the perspective of modern people, traditional Peking opera is not unlik…

Paul Rooney and Leeds United

Edinburgh College of Art August 1st-September 1st If ever there was a match made in northern English heaven, it's this one between Liverpool-born polymath Paul Rooney and arts collective Leeds United. While Rooney has plundered pop culture to create a series of fantastical parallel universes featuring the likes of open-top bus tours, 1960s counter-cultural icon Jeff Nuttall, and a sprite trapped in a 12” vinyl record called Lucy Over Lancashire, the pseudonymously inclined Leeds United appropriate other artists work for their own ends.
As Rooney returns to his alma mater mob-handed, he and Leeds United sniff each other out in a series of mutual homages, mythologies and make-believe histories that break cover with a project begun in 2011 that blurs the boundaries of who exactly did what. Such death-of-the-author tactics include a new video and text-based works, including a video that attempts to claim the Loch Ness monster for the Museum of Modern Art and a bleak little film about…

Michael Nyman: Man With a Movie Camera

Summerhall, August 2nd-31st Michael Nyman is best known for his work as a contemporary composer who has soundtracked a myriad of films, including several directed by the painterly Peter Greenaway, as well as scoring mainstream success for his work on Jane Campion's The Piano. Such visual motifs date right back to Nyman's work on early Greenaway oddities such as A Walk Through H. All this is compounded in the series of ten remakes of Ivan Vertov's pioneering 1929 film, Man With A Movie Camera, to make up the installation that forms Nyman's first ever exhibition in Scotland.
Nyman's original score for Vertov's experimental exploration of cinematic techniques by way of studies of Soviet urban life was first performed by his band in 2002, with a BFI DVD of the film also featuring Nyman's soundtrack, released shortly after. Vertov's original film will be shown alongside Nyman's remakes in such a way that will allow viewers to walk through the gallery sp…

Hamlet - The Wooster Group, Richard Burton and the Return of Electronovision

The Wooster Group have always been interested in exploring the ghost in the machine. Ever since the New York-based avant-garde pioneers came stepping out of a 1960s counter-cultural underground high on cut-ups and multi-media, they have consistently redefined what theatre can be in the post-modern age. The Wooster Group's theatre us a theatre of research, in which documentation and research are vital tools, especially if tackling a 'classic' play.
More than a quarter of a century on from their first Edinburgh International appearance, The Wooster Group are prrsenting a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet which was first done in New York in 2007. As you might expect from the company, LeCompte's take on the play is different from any reverent, heritage industry approach to the bard which UK theatre-makers might doff their caps to.
“I hadn't thought to do the play,” LeCompte says, “but Scott Shepherd, who plays Hamlet, had been doing the play as a one-man show for…