Monday, 30 September 2013

Dark Road

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
The projection of what looks like a space storm beamed onto a huge steel-grey drum suggests that matters of intergalactic importance are about to unfold. As it is, novelist Ian Rankin's first ever stage play, written with Royal Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson, doesn't quite scale those heights, though there are enough twists and turns in his Edinburgh-set yarn to keep audiences spellbound.

It opens with a nightmare, as top cop Isobel McArthur is awoken in her living room by ghosts from the past she can't shake off. Coming up for retirement, Isobel declares to write a book about her experiences, with one particular case from a quarter of a century ago dominating. That was when a man called Alfred Chalmers was imprisoned for the murders of four young women. Did he do it? Isobel isn't sure, and visits Alfred in search of clues. Isobel's sexually voracious teenage daughter Alexandra, meanwhile, has already begun making inquiries of her own.

The psychological cat and mouse game that follows is top notch prime time stuff in Thomson's co-production between the Royal Lyceum and Wales Millennium Centre, and Rankin fans will adore it even as they dissect every moment. There's an intelligence at play here that grasps what can be a hackneyed thriller genre and gives it a contemporary localised edge. There are shocks aplenty as the tension is racked up on Francis O'Connor's revolving set, with the scenes between Maureen Beattie's Isobel and Philip Whitchurch's Alfred electrifying at moments. If the scrip needs paring down slightly, Rankin and Thomson have nevertheless produced a gripping piece of tartan noir that thrills and entertains in equal measure.

The Herald, September 30th 2013


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Friday, 27 September 2013

Landscape II

Tramway, Glasgow
Four stars
The silence, when it comes at the end of Melanie Wilson's hauntingly 
intense multi-media monologue, speaks volumes about how much Wilson's 
unique oeuvre is about sound as much as vision. Wilson enters in 
darkness, sitting behind an antique kitchen table on which sits a 
laptop, a microphone and other electronic kit from which Wilson 
generates and performs her intricately controlled soundscape that 
accompanies her ornately chosen words. Such a set-up hints at how past 
will meet present in what follows, with Wilson's words delivered into 
the microphone with a cut-glass precision that turns her voice into 
another instrument.

Wilson's first-person narrative is told by Vivien, a photo-journalist 
trying to get her head together in the country following her 
experiences in a middle-eastern war-zone. In the solitary cottage she 
confines herself in, she finds a journal written by her great-great 
grand-mother in the summer of 1899. At the same time, Vivien becomes 
equally haunted by a woman she met in the middle-east, and who, despite 
the woman being hidden behind a burka, she became friends with until 
the woman is hunted down and rounded up just as much as the fox who 
scratches at Vivien's door, also seeking sanctuary.

This is accompanied by the sumptuous film projections of Will Duke, who 
puts Wilson up hill, down dale and besides rocks and streams as 
disembodied chorales and noises from the natural world complete the 
picture. Beguilingly told, Wilson's story is a delicately woven yarn 
that's part ghost story, part purging and part emancipation as Vivien 
rediscovers her voice through the women who went before her in this 
quietest of call to arms imaginable.

The Herald, September 27th 2013

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Thursday, 26 September 2013

MacBheatha

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
TV monitors flash up night camera images of war at the start of Ian 
MacDonald's sixty-five minute Gaelic translation of Shakespeare's 
Scottish play, directed by Liz Carruthers. It's not the only modern 
conceit for a production that puts just two people onstage as the 
murderous couple at the heart of the play. The three witches that drive 
the MacBheathas ambition are beamed in via the screens, as are the 
spectral projections of Banquo's ghost. Daibhidh Walker's brutish 
MacBheatha, meanwhile, arranges assorted murders from his newly 
acquired throne via a mobile phone.

The result of this, as Catriona Lexy Chaimbeul's initially languid but 
soon to be steely NicBheatha takes her husband's opening call from her 
bed is a kind of dance, in which the pair's sexually charged alliance 
is swept aside by a McBheatha more interested in power for himself 
alone. Chaimbeul  even sports a scarlet and black flamenco style outfit 
as MacBheatha flings NicBheatha's sleeping form from his throne to 
claim it as his own.

Carruthers' production, originally commissioned by Glasgow Life and 
co-produced by Walker, has been developed considerably since a 
thirty-minute work in progress played in the Tron Theatre's Victorian 
Bar last year with just Walker onstage. Whether it will be fleshed out 
even further remains to be seen, although, as inventive as this paring 
down remains in a production pulsed by a martial, drum-led soundtrack, 
there is probably one phone call too many.

Even so, arriving hard on the heels of Perth Theatre's macho take on 
Shakespeare's play, which visits the Tron next month, Carruthers, 
MacDonald and co have gone some considerable way to bring the Scottish 
play home even more.

The Herald, September 26th 2013

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Melanie Wilson - Landscape II

Sound is working against Melanie Wilson. On the eve of the first 
showing in Dublin of Landscape II, the wilfully singular writer and 
performer's latest solo show, which tours to Tramway in Glasgow for one 
night only next week, Wilson is wandering an echoey corridor looking 
for a place where she can be heard. Given how key sound has become to 
Wilson's work ever since she brought her first solo piece, Simple Girl, 
to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe back in 2007, such attention to detail 
is all too fitting.

Wilson, after all, operates her own soundscapes using a console 
situated on a desk in front of her as she performs her work, lending a 
mysteriously hypnotic depth to her stories. Following Simple Girl and 
2009's Iris Brunette, as well as a larger work, Autobiographer in 2012, 
Landscape II is Wilson's most ambitious work to date, and incorporates 
a panoramic film and video backdrop into her increasingly multi-media 
mix. As applied to a story of three women separated by a hundred years 
that move between Afghanistan and the Devon hills, Wilson's 
ever-expansive palette should make for a tantalising experience.

“I was interested in womens' experiences,” says Wilson, having at last 
found somewhere acoustically compatible to conversation, “and how 
things are passed down from generation to generation, not just through 
our own families, but by other women in other places. Then I started to 
think about different types of isolation and solitude, first of all 
 from walking the hills in North Devon, then about women in Afghanistan, 
and how in some ways they're cut off from each other by wearing the 
burka, and how they live in their own world. That's a very different 
experience to our, and we'll never know that sense of isolation, but I 
also wanted  to look at solitude as a good thing, and how being alone 
and separate from the world can be quite empowering.”

Given her predilection for solo work, such parallels with Wilson's own 
experience are plain to see. It's ironic, then, that her work is 
becoming increasingly collaborative. While she has been looked after by 
maverick producers Fuel for some time now, for Landscapes II, Wilson 
has been working closely with film-maker Will Duke.

“The way sound operates in my work is very location-based,” Wilson 
says, “and I've thought about using images for a while, but not just 
for the sake of it, which could ruin the purity of the sound and 
theatre. Because this piece is very location-based, it felt like a good 
place to start working with images in quite an expansive way.”

An even bigger change for Wilson over the last couple of years has been 
the development of her sound design work. While her work on 
Autobiographer won her the Best Sound Design Award in the 2012 Off West 
End Awards, Wilson has collaborated with theatre director Katie 
Mitchell on two major large-scale productions. The first saw Wilson 
work alongside fellow sound designer Gareth Fry on an adaptation of 
Austrian writer Friederike Mayrocker's novel, Night Train in Cologne, 
while the second, produced earlier this year, was a version of 
Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novella, The Yellow Wallpaper.

“These are by far the most radical things that have happened to me over 
the last couple of years,” Wilson says. “It was a huge jump up for me, 
because technically these shows are on a massive scale, and working on 
them has really helped me develop as a sound artist. The really 
admirable thing about Katie is that she's really interested in artists. 
When we met, she didn't know a thing about me, but we hit it off, and 
she's really interested in what you think about things. She gives you a 
lot of freedom and really lets you loose, but she's also really 
rigorous sand demands a lot, so it was great to flex that muscle in 
that way.

“I'm not a normal sound designer. The feelings and sensations of how 
sound can tell a story are a passion for me, so to go into those two 
shows was really terrifying for me at first, but I think I blossomed. 
It was really affirming, and gave me a lot of confidence.”

So much so, it seems, that, as well as possible future collaborations 
with Mitchell, Wilson has big plans of her own.

“My big new project for next year is an opera,” she says. “I've thought 
about it a lot, and I spoke to Katie about it, and after working with 
her I think I now have the confidence to work on that large-scale.”

Those intrigued by such a prospect perhaps shouldn't hold their breath, 
however.

“I'm so much at the beginning of it,” says Wilson. “It's the beginning 
of a very long journey.”

Landscape II, Tramway, Glasgow, September 25th.
www.tramway.org

The Herald, September 25th 2013

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Ian Rankin - Dark Road

The police tape wrapped around the billboards on Lothian Road and Grindlay Street beside Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre suggest that a serious incident in need of investigation has occurred. In fact, as the posters inside the cordoned-off billboards make clear, the incident in question has yet to happen. Dark Road, the first ever stage play by best-selling crime novelist and creator of Inspector Rebus, Ian Rankin, is still being rehearsed inside the Lyceum, where actress Maureen Beattie is squaring up to her nemesis.

Beattie plays a top Edinburgh cop who was instrumental in the conviction of an alleged serial killer twenty five years ago. Now, on the verge of retiring, she must face up to the doubts that have been lurking at the back of her mind for a quarter of a century. She must also face up to the man whose life she effectively took away.

This is typically gritty stuff from Rankin, who has co-written the play with Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson, who also directs what looks set to be a commercially savvy co-production with the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. On a rare day off in Edinburgh inbetween book-reading tours in Cape Town and France, Rankin reflects on the experience in a coffee shop where the music being played through the speakers is somewhat appropriately by The Police. The song is Walking on the Moon, which pop trivia expert Rankin picks up on immediately.

“Wasn't it originally called Walking Round the Room or something?” he ponders about a song originally written by Sting in a hotel room while drunk. Again, given that Rankin has just been marvelling at what is and isn't physically possible on stage compared to page, this observation is all too fitting.

“There are tape recordings,” Rankin says. “There are projections, there are bits where people appear in a room but are part of a dream sequence. It's quite awkward to get your head round. If I'd known how hard all that stuff was, it looks easy when you write it down. Just getting someone in and out of a room, stuff I'd never thought about. You think, okay, people are on the stage, and the next scene you need the same people, how are they supposed to change? Luckily I'm working with a director who'll tell me, no, Ian, you can't physically do that on a stage, so you need to find a way to do it.”

As a regular at Lyceum shows, Rankin came into contact with Thomson some years ago, and first talked about trying to put Inspector Rebus onstage. While the logistics of putting some thirty to forty characters that grace a Rebus novel onstage proved prohibitive, it nevertheless inspired an even more interesting idea.

“Mark said, how come you see so many cops onscreen, but we never really see contemporary police drama on the stage? You've got your classic Agatha Christies, and plays that verge towards the supernatural, like The Woman in Black, but cops? Maybe it can't be done.”

Rankin came up with some story-lines, and eventually found one that appealed to both Thomson and himself. Rankin came up with the characters and twists, story-boarded it, then handed it over to Thomson, who structured it before the pair went through it with a fine tooth-comb, being careful not to cut too many corners in terms of police procedures. Then something happened that changed everything.

“They changed the entire structure of the police in Scotland,” Rankin says of the recent amalgamation of all regional police forces into one body now known as Police Scotland. “The main character in the play was originally the first female chief constable in Scotland. That still pertains, but when they changed it so there's now only one chief constable in the whole of Scotland, that can't be her. She can't be at the very top. So now she's superintendent, but she was a chief constable. A lot of people will be going, well, they got it right, but others will wonder why we're bothering. My latest book, which comes out in November, I thought about restructuring it after the police restructuring happened on April 1st, but I made the decision to set it in March to get past all that. We could have done that with this, but Mark wanted it to be as contemporary as possible.”

The story of Dark Road itself was inspired by a real case in which a killer not only confessed to the crime under investigation, but led the investigating officer to a second body. As the officer hadn't gone back to the station and questioned the suspect, however, rules were considered to have been broken, and the officer was disciplined.

“It wasn't like he was beating up a suspect or anything,” Rankin points out, “but because he hadn't followed every letter of the law, it went against him, even though the second victim's family think he did the right thing, because it brought them some kind of closure. So there's this notion that procedure can have a big effect on something, sand that something tiny, that wasn't done properly twenty-five years ago can come back and haunt you.”

Rankin describes Dark Road as “a psycho-drama, a whodunnit with a twist, but Mark and I also want it to be a crowd-pleaser, and something that's going to get people away from their tellies. It's a steep learning curve for me, because it's a different way of telling a story. Essentially novelists are quite lazy, because they let the reader do all the work for them, but working with actors, even on the first day, they were asking questions about why their character was doing something in a way that a reader would never be able to ask.”

While Dark Road may be Rankin's first excursion into stage drama, he hasn't been shy of exploring other forms previously. An eighteenth century black comedy, The Third Gentleman, was produced on radio in 1997, while he has dabbled in song-writing and spoken-word collaborations, first with the late Jackie Leven on the Jackie Leven Said album, then with Aidan Moffat on the Ballads of the Book compilation, and latterly with Edinburgh indie band Saint Jude's Infirmary on This Will Be The Death of Us, an album that also featured a contribution by painter Jack Vettriano.

“I do all these things,” Rankin says, “and then I go, no, this seems too much like hard work. This is incredibly hard work as well. Speaking as someone who's gone to the theatre throughout his life, I'm very naïve. Seeing how everything works behind the scenes, oh, my God. It's given me a whole new respect for what actors do.”

With this in mind, will Rankin be pursuing drama further?

“We'll see,” he muses, “but I won't make it as complicated next time.”

Dark Road, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, September 25th-October 19th.


Cops on Stage

The Mousetrap – This classic Agatha Christie murder mystery remains the longest running play on the West End, having opened in 1952, and celebrated it's 250,000th performance in 2012. Now a major London tourist attraction, The Mousetrap is set in a remote manor house, where Detective Inspector Trotter, originally plated by Richard Attenburgh, arrives on skis in search of a murderer following the death of a young woman. Once he names the murderer at the end of the play, audiences are traditionally asked not to pass on the information, lest it spoil the ending fir others.

An Inspector Calls – On the face of it, J.B. Priestley's 1945 drama in which the mysterious Inspector Goole interrogates a well to do family following the suicide of a working-class young woman was a standard drawing-room pot-boiler. Look closer, however, and you'll find a class-based critique of societies mores that transcended its genre. Stephen Daldry's 1992 Royal National Theatre revival even tore apart the play's naturalistic setting in an explosive reading which leant heavily on Expressionism, film noir and horror films.

Loot- Joe Orton's vicious farce questioned the very integrity of the police force when Orton's second full-length stage play first appeared in 1965. This was done largely through the figure of Inspector Truscott, a brutal parody of the sort of detective who might grace plays by Christie and Priestley. Truscott, however, is a decidedly bad cop and representative of the seeming hypocrisy of the British state in his relentless pursuit of a couple of young bank robbers.

Filth – Irvine Welsh's 1998 novel about decadent, cocaine taking self-destructive Edinburgh cop Bruce Robertson is about to receive a new lease of life via the about to be released big-screen adaptation starring James McAvoy as Robertson. Filth was first brought to life onstage, however, in Harry Gibson's adaptation for the Citizens Theatre, in which Tam Dean Burn performed solo as Robertson.

The Herald, September 24th 2013


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Monday, 23 September 2013

Macbeth

Perth Theatre
4 stars
A clatter, a thump and a piercing drone usher in the opening battle 
scene of Rachel O'Riordan's all too manly Macbeth, which points up how 
some little boys violent ambition can damage them more than they 
already are. This is self-evident in the all-lads-together bromance 
between Keith Fleming's Macbeth and Michael Moreland's Banquo, who 
thrust, swagger and sneer, even as the three Witches promise Macbeth 
the world.

The Witches themselves are twisted, pandrogynous figures, played by 
three of the almost all male cast, who whip off their greatcoats to 
reveal tightly bound torsos. It is the same later, when Richard Conlon 
dons a skirt as the Gentlewoman who reveals a Lady Macbeth on the verge 
of mental collapse. It's as if the female of the species in its 
entirety are blessed with mystical powers beyond man's ken.

With Lady Macduff excised completely, Leila Crerar's Lady M is the only 
actual woman onstage. Rather than play her as some black-hearted 
dominatrix, Crerar's portrayal is of a girlish, highly sexualised, 
libido-driven figure, who enters clad in bird-like white, and who seems 
to relish the plot to murder Duncan as a particularly nasty game. 
Until, that is, it goes too far.

Set against the high-walled, steel grey ramparts of Kenny Miller's set, 
for all the machismo on show, no-one is ever allowed to run riot in 
O'Riordan's production. Fleming in particular shows an eloquent degree 
of understated control, even at Macbeth's most deranged state. There is 
some degree of charisma too from Moreland and Paul Rattray as Banquo. 
Born of woman as they are, for the surviving soldiers, proving they're 
men is everything as they march towards a fragile future.

The Herald, September 23rd 2013

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Thursday, 19 September 2013

Nation//Live

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
October 5th-May 4th 2014
When a bust of the late trade union activist Jimmy Reid was removed from the Scottish National portrait gallery and taken around cross-general communities in Clydebank, where Reid co-led the famous ship-builders work-in on 1971 and 1972, it led to a voice drama being performed on the site of the former John Brown Shipyard on Mayday 2012. The performance was one of five major projects developed as part of Nation//Live, the Scottish National Portrait gallery's first major outreach project since the gallery's refurbishment.

“Some people think museums are just about dead people,” explains the SNPG's Chief Outreach Officer, Robin Baillie, "and all about kings and queens, but we wanted to have people explore their own history and make it relevant to today.”

Based around five themes that have shaped modern Scotland – Work, Union, Faith, Civil War and Roots – Nation//Live put artists into relevant communities with an exhibit taken from the SNPG collection to explore each theme. The results of the two-year project include a dance piece created on Skye in response to St Columbia’s relationship with the island, the casting of bronze medals in Fort George, and a 10” vinyl album of folk songs featuring voices from Scotland, Africa and Poland and led by Drew Wright, aka twenty-first century folklorist, Wounded Knee.

. All of this is documented in a film by Daniel Warren which will form the centrepiece of a show that aims to bring history to life while looking firmly forward.

The List, September 2013

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David Peat: An Eye on the World

Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
September 27th-October 26th
When documentary film-maker David Peat, who followed Billy Connolly's 1976 tour of Northern Ireland in Big Banana Feet, discovered he had cancer, he decided to unearth his extensive archive of still photographs taken over a forty year period while on location around the world. These included early shots taken of children on the streets of the Gorbals in 1968, a theme which he applied with warmth and compassion to his subjects wherever they happened to be.

When a selection of these images was shown at Street Level in 2012, the same year of Pear's passing, it was named in this august organ as one of the best exhibitions of the year. Now expanded to embrace the full span of Peat's canon, this retrospective at the Dovecot coincides with the launch of a book of Peat's work that reveals a fascinating social document as well as the eye of a true artist.

“It's really two exhibitions in one,” explains Peat's widow, Trish Maclaurin. “David shot the early stuff in the Gorbals for a portfolio when he was trying to get into TV. Then there's the international lot, which, when he found out he had cancer, he selected from about 10,000 negatives. David always talked of wanting to leave a legacy, because he wasn't bright at school, and had a terrible time. Working on the exhibition has been good for me and the family as well.”

While she has lived with Peat's vast collection for most of her life, if Maclaurin had to pick a favourite image, it would be “one of a couple playing chess, and in the middle is a pigeon watching them. There's so much going on there, and people can get so many different things from it.”

The List, September 2013

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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Keith Fleming - Macbeth

There's a note that Keith Fleming wrote on the top of his script for Macbeth, in which he plays the title role in a new production of Shakespeare's Scottish play which opens in Perth this week before visiting The Tron in Glasgow. 'Human nature, baby,' the note reads. 'Grab it and growl!'

This is a quote attributable to Jack Torrance, the manic anti-hero of Stephen King's horror novel, The Shining, brought to the big-screen by Stanley Kubrick in 1980 with Jack Nicholson as alcoholic writer Torrance. This says much about Fleming's approach to playing Macbeth, because, while Rachel O'Riordan's production looks set to remain faithfully concept-free to the bard's words, in terms of pinning down his character, Fleming is as steeped in pop culture as it gets. It's the wilder characters in particular he leans to, icons full of wounded machismo and a dark underbelly beneath the bluster.

“He's a bit Tony Soprano,” Fleming says of Macbeth, “a bit Malcolm Tucker, a bit Jack Torrance, a bit Walter White from Breaking Bad. He's a warrior. He's a good man, but as the play goes on there's a rage inside him. He has to adopt many different personas throughout the play. He's always been looking outwardly, but by the end of the play he has to look inside himself to see who he is. He's looked outwardly too much, and he has this realisation that once deals are done, they can't be undone, with all the stresses that brings, and what it does to your mind.

“We're focusing on the deconstruction of a macho man,” Fleming explains. “A lot of productions focus on Lady Macbeth as this evil force behind Macbeth, but we're not approaching it that way. We're also looking at the fact that at the time the play is set, people did believe in witches, and that witches could bring down a king, so that belief in the supernatural world is very prominent.

“Something that's quite often left out of Macbeth as well is the politics of the play. Duncan is often painted as this nice old man, but he controls Macbeth, and publicly snubs him by not offering him next in line, but keeping him close anyway. It's a very Good Fellas thing.”

At the time of talking, Fleming and the rest of director Rachel O'Riordan's cast have just run the second half of the play in full after doing the same with the first act the day before. This has allowed Fleming to join up Macbeth's psychological dots.

“I don't want to play it all on one note, with Macbeth as this macho guy,” Fleming affirms. “He's a guy who's done some things, and he then has to live with the consequences of that. He's been busy upsetting the universal order of things, but he didn't think of what the consequences might be, which then becomes a mental and psychological curse.”

Fleming isn't being melodramatic here. As part of his research, Fleming met with a psychiatrist, who read Shakespeare's play.

“He pointed out how much Shakespeare seemed to understand about human behaviour,” Fleming observes, “and how he recognised disorders that hadn't been defined yet, and how amazing that was. It's not just the guilt of murdering Banquo with Macbeth. It affects the brain at every level, so it's been interesting in that way, because it's something you have to immerse yourself in totally.”

This isn't anything new for Fleming. It was the same when he played the young Peer Gynt in Dominic Hill's epic Dundee Rep production of Colin Teevan's potty-mouthed contemporary take on Henrik Ibsen's rollicking saga of one man's getting of wisdom. It was the same too when Fleming took the lead in Barflies, site-specific auteurs Grid Iron's close-up compendium of some of Charles Bukowski's booze-soaked short stories. Fleming played Bukowski's alter-ego, Henry Chinaski in the production performed in Edinburgh's Barony Bar.

“I used to get loads of comic parts years ago,” Fleming says, then when I did [Ursula Rani Sarma's play, set in the aftermath of a bus crash] The Dark Things at the Traverse with Dominic, I didn't look back. People say dark parts are more fun to play, so maybe I'm just the prince of darkness, like Jack Torrance.”

Fleming grew up in Edinburgh, where he attended the Royal High School. Despite his obsessive predilection for drawing and painting pictures of animals, which he sent to assorted wildlife charities, a teacher told him he would make a good Richard 11. This and the fact that he was going out with a girl who went to stage school saw Fleming cast in a school production of The Pirates of Penzance. This would have meant he would have had to give up his job in a local restaurant, and he pulled out of the production.

Fleming went to Chelsea College of Art and Design for a year, before switching to studying drama at Guildhall. After graduating Fleming stayed in London for three years, toured a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and later to Perth, of all places. It was here he was spotted by then Dundee Rep artistic director Hamish Glen, who asked him to join the theatre's recently set-up ensemble company for six months. He stayed for seven years.

“I worked out I did over 2000 performances,” Fleming says. “There was a security there and a chance to develop and do parts I wouldn't normally be cast in. There was very much a family atmosphere. Dundee will always be a huge part of my heart, but there came the time that it was time to go.”

One of the last things Fleming did in Dundee was Peer Gynt, which scooped him and Gerry Mulgrew, who played the older Peer, the Critics award for Theatre in Scotland's Best Actor award.

“It's probably the piece of work I'm most proud of,” Fleming says. “It was a huge venture, and one of the shining lights of Dominic's genius and creativity. Barflies was another big proud moment. Again, that was quite immersive. A few weeks after doing Peer Gynt, someone said they saw me in a bar, and that they could see in my eyes that the darkness hadn't left me.”

If such lingering demons maybe accounted for being cast in shows with Theatre Jezebel like the equally drink-sodden Days of Wine and Roses, Fleming has also done tours of duty with the National Theatre of Scotland in Black Watch and Beautiful Burnout. For now, though, Fleming is immersed in becoming Macbeth, and is likely to remain so for some time.

“I think it's going to be a very true interpretation of the story, with no gimmicks,” he says. “It's quite gritty, in that it recognises you need to go low to get yourself high. It's quite rock and roll.”

Like the man said, human nature, baby. Grab it and growl.


Macbeth, Perth Theatre, September 18th-October 5th; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 8th-19th

ends

Macbeth in Scotland

There have been numerous productions of Macbeth in Scotland.

Gerard Murphy – Murphy played Macbeth twice at the Citizens Theatre. The first was noticeably opposite David Hayman, who played Lady Macbeth, while Murphy returned for a second crack at the play in the mid 1990s.

Iain Glen – Before Michael Boyd took over the RSC, he directed a young Iain Glen as Macbeth at the Tron Theatre in a production that formed part of Glasgow's Mayfest festival.

Danny Sapani – Sapani played an Idi Amin-like dictator in Max Stafford-Clark's The Last King of Scotland-inspired take on Macbeth produced by Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint company. Voodoo and tribal warfare abounded in the production, which toured to the Underbelly in Edinburgh as part of the Traverse Theatre's programme.

Liam Brennan – Brennan made for an understated and vulnerable Macbeth in an otherwise dull and lacklustre production of the play at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre.

Cezary Kosinski – Polish wunderkind Grzegorz Jarzyna brought Macbeth: 2008, his noisy contemporary dress take on Shakespeare's play, to Edinburgh International Festival, setting the action in a concrete bunker in an action-packed interpretation that resembled a big-screen blockbuster.

Alan Cumming – Cumming joined forces with the National Theatre of Scotland for an audacious solo version of the play, which found Macbeth sectioned in a psychiatric hospital, believing himself to be king.

The Herald, September 17th 2013

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Notes From the Underground

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
When post-punk fabulist Howard Devoto distilled Dostoyevsky's 
nihilistic little novella, Notes From Underground, into the three verse 
and chorus melodrama of A Song From Under The Floorboards, released as 
a single by Devoto's band, Magazine, in 1980, it was arguably the 
ultimate piece of post-modern appropriation. This hour-long devised 
dramatisation by the newly-formed and archly named Visiting Company 
attempts something similar in its treatment of the story of one man's 
self-conscious unleashing of his own despair. There are even some very 
Magazine-like moments in Andrew McGregor's contemporary score during 
the six degrees of meta-narrative contained in Debbie Hannan's 
production.

On a TV monitor set among a table packed with empty bottles, a 
middle-aged Underground Man lays bare the glorification of his own 
isolation among idiots, dove-tailing his yarn with his younger self, 
made flesh and blood here by Samuel Keefe. First using a microphone to 
address the audience, then a mobile phone and a tablet to record every 
utterance as a social media confessional in excelcis, Keefe's litany 
becomes increasingly uncompromising in his willing alienation from 
others. Bringing the story up to date in such a hi-tech rendering 
suggests Dostoyevsky's anti-hero is recording some kind of 
posterity-seeking time capsule for the world to rake over after he's 
gone.

Even his angry sexual liaison with prostitute Liza, played by an 
impassive Millie Turner, is driven by hate. As they thrash about, 
increasingly vast drenchings of ink become smeared across their clothes 
and bodies, as if the pages of the very story-book that Underground Man 
had immortalised his narrative on were melting into him. It's a 
powerful image of self-negation in Visiting Company's promisingly bold 
debut.

The Herald, September 17th 2013

ends


Friday, 13 September 2013

Fog

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
Beneath a naked bulb in a top-floor high-rise in South London, a 
reunion is taking place. Cannon has been on an extended tour of duty 
for the last ten years ever since the untimely death of his wife. His 
now teenage children Gary and Lou have been in care ever since. Like a 
prodigal returning home from war, Cannon is going to make everything 
good again.

  Except both his children have been seriously damaged, both by his 
absence and the survival-of-the-fittest brutalisation of the system 
they've been forced to survive in. While Toby Wharton's Gary likes to 
play gangsta with his braniac mate Michael,beyond some small-time 
dealing, the lack of a male influence has seen him bullied and lacking 
focus. For Anna Koval's initially absent Lou it's been even worse. Both 
are desperate for love, but all Cannon knows is the violence of the 
boxing ring and the battlefield, and any bonds the three might have 
once had are just half-remembered memories now.

Co-written by sixty-something writer Tash Fairbanks and 
twenty-something actor Wharton, Fog is a street-smart study of everyday 
dysfunction that demonstrates how children's emotional and physical 
displacement from their parents at a crucial age can leave its mark. 
This may be taken to extremes in Che Walker's raw and unsentimental 
production for AGF Productions, first seen at London's Finborough 
Theatre in 2012, but there's an honesty to it that belies some of the 
play's structural flaws that leave too many loose ends hanging. By the 
end, however, when Mark Leadbetter's Cannon is attempting to abdicate 
responsibility a second time, it looks like Gary's crash course in 
growing up might just have paid off.

The Herald, September 13th 2013

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Thursday, 12 September 2013

Robert Robson obituary

Arts Producer, Artistic Director

Born December 21st 1954 ; died September 6th 2013


Robert Robson, who has died suddenly aged 58, understood more than most the value the arts played at the heart of a community. Having started out in grassroots theatre in Glasgow, Robson may have gone on to helm major institutions, from His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen to the Lowry in Salford, but he still managed to navigate the tricky relationship of being on the national and international map whilst remaining resolutely local and accessible to all without ever patronising or falling prey to box-ticking. That he did this in increasingly perilous economic times with a calm and a wisdom that endeared him to his colleagues wherever he worked made Robson a refreshingly human face in the arts world.

Robert Robson was born in Hamilton and brought up in Motherwell. After attending Hamilton Academy, he studied English and Drama at Glasgow University, then took a post-graduate diploma in Theatre Studies in Cardiff, where he worked at the city's Sherman Theatre. On returning to Scotland, Robson became a community drama worker with Easterhouse Festival Society. At that time, Easterhouse was one of the most socially deprived areas of Glasgow, with little or no artistic provision. EFS attempted to address this, with Robson leading a community theatre group in the neighbourhood with members that included future film star Gary Lewis.

In 1979, the group took Robson's production of Freddy Anderson's play, Krassivy: The John MacLean Show, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to mark the centenary of the Socialist hero's birth. Anderson's play and Robson's production were acclaimed, and won an award. In 2005, the play was rescued from the obscurity it had fallen into and published.

In 1983, Robson took over from John Baraldi as artistic director of Cumbernauld Theatre, where he worked with writers including Tom McGrath and Archie Hinds, and applied a community and popular theatre aesthetic to what became a thriving local resource. Robson developed a reputation for producing quality community theatre, as well as presenting work for children that attracted schools from as far afield as Dalmally and Dumfries. 

Robson wrote several plays, including the Hull Truck influenced We'll Support You Evermore, about a young footballer who became the first Roman Catholic to play for Rangers and then Scotland. This attracted an audience of hardcore football supporters, who draped their scarves across the theatre's railings as if they were on the terraces. Another play penned and directed by Robson was Mugshot, a film noir spoof starring a young Blythe Duff, Iain McColl and future Mull Theatre director Alasdair McCrone.

In September 1990 Robson was appointed director of Mayfest, the trade union backed arts festival then riding high on the back of Glasgow's year as City of Culture. As well as programming international work, Robson was instrumental in co-producing works such as Michael Boyd's production of Macbeth starring Iain Glen at the Tron Theatre, and the NVA Organisation's installation, Sabotage. In 1997 Robson became Theatre Director at His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen, later taking charge of all performing arts venues in the city.

Robson took all this accrued experience with him when he was appointed Theatre Director of the Lowry in Salford in 1998. This state of art purpose built theatre and arts complex had yet to be built, but was set to become key to the regeneration of the formerly run-down area next to Manchester. The fact that it was named after the city's most famous son, painter L.S. Lowry, rooted the complex to a sense of localism, even as it housed quality commercial touring theatre. Again, Robson brought a sense of community spirit to his new role, stating in 2000 when the centre's doors opened that he wanted to "bring the world to Salford and Salford to the world". In 2003 Robson was appointed artistic director of the Lowry, with responsibility for theatre, galleries and community and education.

Surrounded by a talented team, Robson commissioned, produced and programmed packed seasons of work, opening the space out to accommodate theatre, exhibitions, comedy and music. On the community side of things, Robson led the development of The Lowry’s Centre for Advanced Training and Youth Dance England initiatives, consolidating the Lowry's role as a significant regional centre for dance.

Outside the Lowry, Robson was was the Chair of Phoenix Dance, and was on the Board of Directors of the International Society for the Performing Arts. He also worked as an independent Art Council England Assessor for ballet and contemporary dance. After six years in the role, Robson was about to step down as Chair of Phoenix after steering the company through what were at times difficult waters.

Phoenix Executive Director Lesley Jackson and Artistic Director Sharon Watson described Robson as a man of “quiet wisdom and calm authority,” who “relished all aspects of the sector he worked in and championed tirelessly for what he believed in. He was unwavering in his support for Phoenix and told you what he truly thought (even if it meant apologising later) but always saw the best and brought out the best in people. We always knew he would be difficult to replace as Chair – he will be impossible to replace as a friend.”

This is typical of the response from a sometimes volatile arts world, where Robson was unequivocally well-liked - loved, even - by friends and colleagues past and present. Julia Fawcett, CEO of the Lowry, remembers being impressed by Robson's “fierce intelligence, his passionate commitment to the arts and his independence of mind...Robert was both respected and loved by all his colleagues. To me, he was indispensable: a calming influence at times of crisis, a giver of wise counsel, a trusted friend, a ferocious defender and advocate of the arts and an unparalleled source of industry gossip! His death leaves a huge hole in the arts community, in The Lowry and in the lives of his family and all who knew him.”

Robson is survived by his wife, Annette, and his two sons, Stuart and Alan.

The Herald, September 12th 2013

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The Collection

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
When Mike Cullen's play about a debt collector's guilt-induced meltdown 
first appeared in 1995, the idea of people committing suicide because 
they were unable to pay their debts was hardly mainstream news. Fast 
forward eighteen years, and barely a week goes by without some kind of 
poverty-induced tragedy occurring.

Cullen's play, revived here by Rapture Theatre, focuses on the macho 
men in suits who  prey legally on those who fall into a spiral of debt 
as it navigates its way through the murky moral vacuum that goes with 
the job description. At the heart of this is Bob Lawson, a man once 
unwavering in his determination to collect, but who, as his boss Joe 
makes clear to rookie Billy, has been left broken after a female client 
kills herself. Now Lawson treats Elena and all his other woman 
defaulters with kid gloves lest lightning strike twice. He records his 
conversations with them as he sees the ghost of the dead woman in all 
their faces, unable to cope with what his job has done to him.

This is a tough cookie of a play penned in the spirit of of David Mamet 
by way of Macbeth. Michael Emans' production features a hangdog Jimmy 
Chisholm as Lawson, who becomes terminally emasculated, both by his 
colleagues and by Pauline Turner's increasingly desperate Elena. If the 
second act threatens to teeter out of control, it also makes clear the 
double-edged sword of the play's title, because Cullen's play isn't 
about money per se. It's actually more about power, control and the 
psycho-sexual charge behind both in a damning indictment of how 
capitalism corrupts at every level.

The Herald, September 12th 2013

ends

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Mike Cullen - The Collection

When Mike Cullen wrote his play, The Collection, he was riding high on the back of his debut work, The Cut. Where that play had looked at the aftermath of the 1984 miners strike, The Collection focused on the equally gritty if somewhat murkier world of debt collectors preying on the most vulnerable sector of society. That was in 1995, when the gap between rich and poor was widening by the day. As Rapture Theatre revive The Collection some eighteen years on for a Scottish tour, the austerity culture that has become the norm for many now make the themes of Cullen's play appear more pertinent than ever. As with The Cut, the Tranent-born former mine-worker's second play came from a very real place.

“It came from my personal experience in the 1980s when I was on the dole and in debt,” Cullen explains. “One company in particular, the tactics they used were pretty dodgy. I remember one time my young daughter getting to the phone before I could, and the guy from the company engaging her in conversation and asking her all sorts of questions.

“Since then I've done loads more research, and I know that the play is far more relevant than it was when it was first done. There are all these high interest loan companies operating legally, but on TV all you see are debt collectors represented as these cartoon characters. So although The Collection came from my personal experience, I was kind of driven, and still am, to try and make all of my plays modern classical tragedies.”

For this production of The Cut, following an earlier revival by Rapture in 2006, Cullen has revisited the play for the first time since it was first done.

“I hadn't read it for years,” he says, “and going back to it was a bit like looking at a photograph of yourself from twenty years ago. You're the same person, but so much has happened that you're completely different, so you have to think yourself back into your younger self. There were practical things that needed looking at, like how in the original the main character uses cassette tapes to record his conversations, whereas now you can just do that on your mobile phone.

“Other than that, I basically gave the play a good edit, and got rid of the crap. I just felt it was time to address it. The Collection was my first full commission by The Traverse, and after the success of The Cut, it was my difficult second album, and if it had been my first play it might have fared better critically. As it was, some people were maybe expecting something different. The kind of person I was, that whole world of commissions and deadlines was new to me, and by the time we put it on the play wasn't really finished. I hadn't had time to fully understand it, and I don't think I fully understood some of the characters either, so coming back to it after all this time, I can see it more clearly.”

Cullen first fell in love with language while at school, before becoming an electrical engineer at the Tranent pits. With no idea of what he wanted to do, Cullen quit his job, played in bands and signed on with the intention of becoming a novelist. An avid reader of horror and pulp fiction, Cullen attempted to do something similar, but found he didn't understand enough to make his own prose work.

Cullen took an access course and went to Edinburgh University to study linguistics. While there he attended writing workshops at the Traverse Theatre, then based in the Grassmarket. This led to a mentoring scheme at the Tron in Glasgow, where he came into contact with actors Kenny Glenaan, Frank Gallagher and Jim Twaddale. The trio worked on early drafts of The Cut, and, with both the Traverse and the Tron declining to produce the full play, offered to do it under their own steam. The company that became Wiseguise turned The Cut into a hit that opened doors both for them and for Cullen.

“The first scene of The Cut was the first dialogue I ever wrote,” Cullen remembers, “just as an experiment to see if I could do it, and that's still the first scene.”

Cullen's follow up to The Collection came in 1997, when a young Vicky Featherstone directed Anna Weiss, again for the Traverse. Despite the success of a work that pivoted around the psycho-therapist that gave the play its title, and which looked at the ambiguities of repressed or false memories, Cullen hasn't written for the stage since. For the last fifteen years or so, Cullen “got lost in TV la-la land,” penning assorted crime dramas, including McCallum, which starred John Hannah as a forensic pathologist, Robson Green vehicle Touching Evil, and The Vice, featuring Ken Stott. Cullen also wrote Donovan, which starred Tom Conti as a retired pathologist, as well as episodes of Taggart, Primeval and supernatural thriller, Afterlife.

While there is much here for Cullen to be proud of, Cullen also found himself caught up in a money-orientated treadmill, while many of his original treatments are still languishing in development hell.

“I got caught up in that whole world and TV lifestyle,” Cullen says now. “It all became about mortgages and money, and when you've spent most of the eighties skint, as I had, you can understand the appeal of all that, but in the end I became dependent on that kind of money coming in. TV's a very different world to theatre. As a writer you're brought into someone else's idea, which is fine, but it's not exactly cutting edge drama that you're doing. Look at TV now. If you're trying to make a point or write something with depth, it will be considered too risky, and no-one will touch it.”

With such observations in mind, Cullen has downsized, and is now living with his family in a cottage in the Penicuik woods. With a small-scale production of Anna Weiss preceding Rapture's take on The Collection earlier this year, Cullen sounds hungry to write for theatre again. Without seeking out any kind of commission, Cullen has already begun work on two pieces.

“I've changed my lifestyle so I don't need TV money anymore,” he says. “I want to write a black comedy about a serial killer and the people who satellite around him, and I want to write a five-act epic, a massive thing that's like King Lear, but contemporary. Mind you, I'll probably do it and no-one will want to put it on.”

The Collection, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, tonight until Saturday, then on tour.

ends


Mike Cullen – A Life in Words

Born in Tranent, Cullen left school aged sixteen with dreams of being a rock star.

After a stint as an apprentice electrician at the local mine, Cullen quit to go on the dole, where he attempted to write two novels before studying Linguistics at Edinburgh University.

Cullen's first play, The Cut, set in the aftermath of the miners strike, was produced by Wiseguise, who toured it extensively in 1993.

Cullen was commissioned by the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh to write The Collection, which appeared in 1995.

In 1997, Cullen wrote Anna Weiss for the Traverse, featuring Anne-Marie Timoney, Iona Carbarns and John Stahl. A new production, starring Catherine McCormack, Shirley Henderson and Larry Lamb, appeared on the West End in 1999. An Italian language TV film was made of the play in 2002, with Cullen providing the screenplay. A new production by Rekindle Theatre appeared in Glasgow earlier this year.

Since Anna Weiss, Cullen has written extensively for television, including episodes of Taggart and Primeval. He also created, wrote and executive produced crime drama, Donovan, in 2006.

Cullen is currently working on two stage plays.

The Herald, September 10th 2013


ends

Monday, 9 September 2013

Victoria

Dundee Rep
Four stars
If ever Scotland needed a big, intelligent state of the nation(s) play 
to sum up where we're at, it's now. David Greig's three-part 
Highland-set epic may not be it, but it comes pretty close.  First seen 
in 2000 but only now receiving its Scottish première, Greig's play 
spans sixty years and three generations of a rural community in a state 
of social flux, with those both up and downstairs trying to find 
something to believe in.

In 1936, it's the romance of revolution and the Spanish Civil War on 
one hand, and the pseudo-mystical allure of fascism on the other. By 
1974, rock stars are getting their heads together in the country, and 
by 1996 even the land has been annexed by big business. At the heart of 
all this are three vivacious and free-spirited young women called 
Victoria. With all three played by a vibrant Elspeth Brodie, each in 
different ways is looking for a brave new world, but are still drawn 
back to the big red house they pivot around even as they crave a better 
future.

Philip Howard's production, his first as co-artistic director of Dundee 
Rep, is as huge in ambition as the play. While both may be a tad 
unwieldy on Neil Warmington's all-purpose set, Victoria nevertheless 
presents a fascinating portrait of a community that takes things beyond 
the domestic to become something epochal.  As recurring little motifs 
in each act point to how the past informs what follows, and how the 
ghostly energies of that past linger, Brodie leads a heroic 
twelve-strong cast through a play that's about the risks of blind faith 
and the very human consequences of warped idealism.

The Herald, September 9th 2013

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Crime and Punishment

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
From the moment the ten-strong cast of Dominic Hill's mighty staging of 
Dostoyevsky's epic novel step onto the wide-open, bare-walled stage, 
there's a gloriously self-conscious theatricality to everything that 
follows. It's not just the way the actors mill about, putting on bits 
of costume or plucking at the array of musical instruments that line 
the back wall before coming to order with a powerful rendition of a 
Russian orthodox Psalm. It's more to do with the way Adam Best's 
bald-pated Raskolnikov addresses the audience from the off, laying bare 
his poverty-stricken intentions of murdering a  greedy pawn-broker as 
some kind of act of rebellion. When Raskolnikov declaims, the ensemble 
become witness, conscience and confessor as much as the voices of the 
very private revolution in his head.

Chris Hannan's vivid adaptation for this co-production between the 
Citizens, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and the Royal Lyceum, 
Edinburgh may put Raskolnikov's personal torment to the fore, but he 
also recognises that the story is a mainstream psychological thriller 
and detective yarn as much as an existential quest for redemption. This 
comes through George Costigan's portrayal of tenacious cop Petrovich, 
who at times resembles a Russian gentleman Columbo.

Hill's staging is magnificently fluid, aided as he is by Colin 
Richmond's design, Chris Davey's lighting, Lucien MacDougall and 
Benedicte Seierup's movement and, especially, the dissonant junkyard 
chorales of Nikola Kodjabashia's score. The depth, dimensions and light 
and shade of the stage pictures during the ensemble scenes resemble 
Orthodox religious paintings, and when Raskolnikov finally lets love in 
via Jessica Hardwick's hopelessly devoted Sonya, it's the most painful 
of enlightenments in a fearlessly rich production.

The Herald, September 9th 2013

ends


Sunday, 8 September 2013

Victoria - David Greig on the Spirit of Three Ages

When David Greig began writing Victoria in 1996, the world was a very different place to how it looks today. Yet if all goes well, Greig's epic tale of three generations of a Highland community might just have matured into something even more significant. Originally produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2000, and now receiving its Scottish premiere at Dundee Rep, Victoria takes place over three time zones, 1936, 1976 and 1996. A large ensemble of actors play some thirty-two characters, at the centre of which are three very different women, all called Victoria.

“It's very strange going back to the play after all this time,” says Greig, “but it's also very interesting. There's an extent to it being like meeting one's younger self, and on one level that writer was very gauche, and very different to the writer I am now, but it's also fascinating to see the level of ambition that writer had then. I didn't realise, but there are lines in Victoria that reappear in [Greig's recent Edinburgh Festival Fringe play] The Events, so it's interesting to see some of the themes that run through my work. So while it's not without its awkwardness, Victoria is a play I think still stands up.”

Originally conceived as a trilogy of three separate plays that even the RSC's resources couldn't cope with, the inspirations for Victoria were many.

“I was very interested in the Spanish Civil war,” Greig remembers, “and at the time the war was going on in Bosnia. In essence it was in defence of the idea of multi-culturalism and Europe living together, and it seemed all these ideas were going to the dogs. The phrase 'ethnic cleansing' came out of the war in Bosnia, which we'd never heard before, and Europe was a very fragile place.

“So I was looking around, and I thought of all these young men going out to take part in the Spanish Civil war and fight for something they believed in. It was their choice to go out there, and I suppose I asked myself why this didn't happen now. To put it crudely, why wasn't there an International Brigade going out to defend Bosnian Muslims, and what was it about the 1930s that made cause and possibility so inspiring?

“At that time in 1996 as well, it felt very much like cause and belief had gone. One of the interesting things is that the play has developed an invisible fourth act, following the three acts set in 1936, 1976 and 1996. When it was first staged, 1996 was essentially the present day. Now fifteen years or so on, we've had thirteen years of a Labour government, we've had devolution, we've had Iraq, we've had devolution and we've had the coalition. The whole world has changed so much, so now, when we see Victoria at the end of the play, we now know what's going to happen to her.”

One of the major devices in the play is having the cast play different characters in each act, with all three Victorias played by the same actress.

“Theatrically speaking, I was interested in the effect of that,” Greig says. “It's like music, in that you can play the same chord, but it will have different resonances depending on what else is around it. With the Victorias, I wanted that feeling of young female energy, and each of them kind of becomes the spirit of their age.”

At the time Victoria was commissioned, Greig was one of the rising stars of his generation, with his first full-length professional plays, Europe in 1994 and The Architect ion 1996, being produced by The Traverse Theatre. The artistic director of Scotland's new writing theatre at the time was Philip Howard, who directed both plays. With Howard having recently been appointed artistic director of Dundee Rep, his new production of Victoria not only marks his directorial debut at his new artistic home. It also reunites him with Greig for the first time since the Traverse days, when Howard also directed Greig's plays, Outlying Islands, The Speculator and Damascus.

“I've always wanted Victoria to be seen in Scotland,” says Greig, “but I wanted to hold out for a really special production, and when Philip approached me, because I've collaborated with him so often, it felt right. I think he's done a lovely job from what I've seen so far, and I think he really understands my writing. The play was pretty sprawling, and he's had to do some pretty major pruning to make it a manageable evening in Dundee. That dramaturgical sensitivity us I think one of Philip's major strengths.”

2013 has been quite a year for Greig. His stage version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has become a West End hit, while his Edinburgh Festival Fringe play, The Events, was
similarly acclaimed. Opening hot on the heels of Victoria is the National Theatre of Scotland's revival of Dunsinane, Greig's sequel of sorts to Shakespeare's Macbeth.

This summer also saw the publication of The Suspect Culture Book, an archive of Suspect Culture, the theatre company Greig formed with director Graham Eatough while they were both at Bristol University. As well as a series of essays about the company, the book also contains Greig's scripts for three of the company's most important works; Timeless, Mainstream and Lament.

While Greig remains as prolific as ever, he might just be about to disappear from public view for a while.

“I have a pile of writing to do,” he says, “so there won't be a new play by me onstage for at least another year now. With everything that's happened this year, I kind of feel there's not exactly a shortage of plays by me out there just now.”

Victoria, Dundee Rep, September 4th-21st.


David Greig – A Life in Words

David Greig was born in Edinburgh in 1969, and grew up in Nigeria.

On returning to Edinburgh in his teens, he studied English and drama at Bristol University.

In 1990 while still a student, Greig co-founded Suspect Culture with director Graham Eatough and composer Nick Powell.

Greig's first professionally staged play, Stalinland, is produced at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1992, then at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, in 1993.

Greig's first Traverse commission, Europe, appears in 1994, beginning a long association with Scotland's new writing theatre. Europe's themes of displacement and attempts by people to connect during fractured times re-occur in many of Greig's later plays.

Branching out beyond the Traverse, Greig wrote Victoria for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Cosmonaut's Last Message for Paines Plough and Caledonia Dreaming for 7:84 Scotland.

Greig's work has appeared twice at Edinburgh International Festival; in 1999 with imagined history play, The Speculator, and in 2003 with contemporary fantasia, San Diego.

More recently Greig has scored hits with lo-fi musical, Midsummer, and with pub theatre ballad, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, both of which have toured the world.

Greig's version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is currently running in the West End, his Edinburgh Festival Fringe play, The Events, is on tour and his sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth, Dunsinane, is about to tour for the second time.

In 2014, Greig will collaborate with writer director David MacLennan on The Great Don't Know Show, a major commission by the National Theatre of Scotland, which will look at the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence through a piece of popular political music hall.

The Herald, September 3rd 2013


ends

Chris Hannan - On Crime and Punishment

Chris Hannan was twenty-one when he first read Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky's bleak tale of one man's descent into murder and madness before having a spiritual reawakening. Then, Hannan was an undoubtedly serious young man lurking around the Penguin Classics section in bookshops as he devoured the entire Dostoyevsky canon alongside other Russian masters. More than three decades on, Hannan has adapted Crime and Punishment for the stage in a major new production which opens at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow next week.

“It's a strange timer when you're twenty-one,” Hannan says of his mind-set when he first read Crime and Punishment. “You've got all that paranoia. Sometimes you have this exalted view of things, and you have all this enjoyment of the seamier side of things, so that was perfect for Crime and Punishment.

“I've probably read the book about seven times since the first time I read it, and it's something I utterly love. It's hard to explain the effect it had on me that first time, but it had a very strange effect, and I suppose it made me feel at home. I thought at the time that I'd never seen anyone write about what felt like my family.”

Perhaps Hannan is identifying with Raskolnikov, the penniless St Petersburg ex student whose mental and moral anguish forms the book's heart as he attempts to justify killing an unscrupulous pawnbroker for some higher purpose as well as his own survival. If so, he may also be thinking of Marmaledov, the father of Raskolnikov's love interest, Sonya.

“He was the best drunk character I'd ever read,” Hannan says.

One of the great things about Crime and Punishment, which was originally serialised over twelve parts in monthly journal The Russian Messenger throughout 1866, is that, while it deals with big existential ideas, it is a hugely accessible piece of genre fiction.

“That's what's so fantastic about it,” says Hannan. “It's a crime thriller and a whodunnit meets Karl Marx and Jesus Christ. That's what makes it possible to adapt it. T lends itself to having a beginning, a middle and an end, and that's what makes it properly do-able.”

Even so, putting a five hundred page novel onto a stage with every nuance intact was never going to be easy.

“It feels like in the book Raskolnikov is in dialogue with both himself and the whole of society,” Hannan points out. “He's always anticipating what the response might be to what he's saying even as he's saying it. So you need to find some way of translating that to the stage. That's the difficulty, and that's the challenge of the thing, but you've already got this different context with the audience who in a way are society, so you can enter a dialogue with them.

“There's also something about the intensity of the characters that makes it possible to adapt. They're all in perpetual crisis, and what's good theatrically is that they're in crisis with who they are. They're constantly trying to make themselves up. I think as well that Dostoyevsky was a very theatrical writer. He loved theatre, and he was a big fan of Schiller, and he wrote in scenes. The only other writer I can think of who is as theatrical is Jane Austen.”

This co-production of Crime and Punishment not only pools the resources of the Citizens, Liverpool Playhouse and the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. It also reunites the creative team who worked on Hannan's last major work to be seen in Scotland, The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain. This includes director and artistic director of the Citz, Dominic Hill, as well as designer Colin Richmond.

“I think it was me who first suggested doing it to Dominic,” says Hannan, “and it's quite hard to explain why I thought it might be a good idea to do it, other than the fact that I've loved it so long.”

Clydebank-born Hannan's career as a writer began in 1982 with Screw The Bobbin, an agit-prop play for 7:84. Hannan's interest in Russian literature came through in his 1984 piece for the Traverse, Klimkov: Life of A Tsarist Agent, and in a 1987 version of Gogol's play, Gamblers. Other plays for the Traverse have included Elizabeth Gordon Quinn and Shining Souls, while Hannan's own novel, Missy, was published in 2008 inbetween penning plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company and others.

Crime and Punishment, however, should prove epic in every way. Coming so long after the twenty-one year old Hannan first delved into Dostoyevsky's dark pages, one wonders how the mature Hannan might make the story relevant for the serious young men and women of twenty-first century Scotland and Liverpool.

“You could put various spins on the story,” Hannan suggests. “In some ways Raskolnikov is like a terrorist, in that he's taking a life for an ideological purpose, which is to see if he can do it, but I wouldn't want to push that idea to far. I think the story's real contemporary relevance us about what is the value of life. That's what it's exploring. It also explores someone who separates himself from the rest of society, and how on earth he's going to rejoin that society. So it's about our relationship with society.

It's a thrilling story, but it's an emotionally thrilling story as well. It's not an abstract novel. Dostoyevsky's been there, done that. He didn't murder someone, but he was part of a revolutionary group that plotted murder. Then he goes to Siberia for his crime, and mixes with murderers, and I think he really did pour all that into Crime and Punishment.

People imagine Dostoyevsky to be all doom and gloom, and pointless doom and gloom, with him having gone through some fairly grim experiences, but the moment of enlightenment at the end of Crime and Punishment, that's part of Dostoyevsky's journey as well, moving from darkness into light. He emerges,” Hannan pauses a moment, and then starts laughing. “I'm trying to avoid the phrase 'with a positive outlook',” he says, sounding like his twenty-one year old self isn't that far away after all.

Crime and Punishment, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 5th-28th; Liverpool Playhouse, October 1st-19th; Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October 22nd-November 9th.


Chris Hannan – A Life in Words

1984 – Klimkov: Life of A Tsarist Agent. Hannan's first full-length play for the Traverse began his interest in all things Russian

1985 – Elizabeth Gordon Quinn. Set during a rent strike in 1915 Glasgow, Hannan's eponymous heroine refused to believe she was poor.

1990 The Baby. Written for The Tron Theatre, The Baby was a revenge tragedy set in 78 BC Rome.

The Evil Do-ers premiered at The Bush, and is a comedy about a demented Glasgow family careering around the city pursued by a debt-collector and their alcoholic mother.

1996 – Shining Souls – A woman's wedding day finds her battling with the dead on the streets of Glasgow in a comedy which premiered at the Traverse.

2010 – The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain – Taking the characters made immortal by Alexandre Dumas, Hannan created a brand new yarn in a rip-roaring comedy at the Traverse.

2011 – The God of Soho – A search for the divine in Essex and a look at celebrity culture opened at Shakespeare's Globe.

The Herald, August 27th 2013


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Gerard Murphy

Born October 14th 1948 ; died August 26th 2013

When Gerard Murphy, who has died of cancer aged 64, returned to his beloved Citizens Theatre in 2012 to appear in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, no-one had any idea that it would be his final appearance at the theatre that launched his career. Now, however, Beckett's solo tale of an old man raking through his former glories contained on a series of reel to reel tapes looks like an oddly fitting epitaph.

Murphy gave a remarkable performance that was a mix of bravura and vulnerability, traits which defined his work over a near forty-year career, be it onstage at the Citz or with the Royal Shakespeare Company or in numerous television and film roles.

Gerard Murphy was born in Newry, County Down. As a shy child, he was set to be a musician, but recognised that if he went down that path, he would become even more introverted. Needing to find a voice, he approached his local theatre, thinking that acting was a 'night time job.' They employed him anyway. Murphy was equally naïve when someone suggested he attend one of the Citizens Theatre's open auditions, but again, he got the job.

Initially contracted for three months work on a production of Shakespeare's Coriolanus in 1974, Murphy's arrival at the Citz chimed with the Gorbals-based theatre's heyday as an international theatre unafraid to shock as it reinvented the classics for a sexually charged age. As a golden-haired innocent abroad, Murphy fitted in perfectly with the theatre's flamboyant aesthetic, and over the next three years appeared in plays by Brecht, Shakespeare, Wilde and de Sade. Murphy's Citz swan-song was supposed to have been in a production of Woyzeck, before a tragic accident involving a visiting company forced the theatre management to bring forward a new play, Chinchilla, by Citz director/writer Robert David MacDonald.

Murphy played the title role in MacDonald's epic study of theatrical maestro, Diaghilev, and gave a performance which impressed then Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Trevor Nunn enough for him to offer Murphy a job in Sean O'Casey' Juno and the Paycock, playing opposite Judi Dench. This began a relationship with the RSC which eventually saw Murphy appointed an associate artist with the company. This didn't stop him returning to the Citz to play Macbeth opposite David Hayman's Lady Macbeth, a role Murphy repeated in 1998, the last time he performed in the Citz for fourteen years.

In the interim, Murphy continued a career in film and television which had begun in his pre-Citz years with a couple of bit parts on TV cop show, Z-Cars. Murphy was a regular in 1979 mini-series, My Son, My Son, as well as Charters and Caldicot in 1985. Murphy appeared in 1988 Dr Who story, Silver Nemesis, and was a regular in McCallum (1995-98) and the Scarlet Pimpernel (1999). Murphy appeared in Waterworld and Batman Begins, and narrated the radio version of Lord of the Rings. His most recent onscreen appearance was in the feature film, The Comedian, released earlier this year.

Onstage, Murphy played Oedipus in The Theban Plays with the RSC, George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf/ at Bristol Old Vic, played the title role in Volpone at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and played Salieri in Amadeus at the Sheffield Crucible. Murphy toured in Christopher Luscombe's production of The History Boys and played in Sir Peter Hall's production of The Rivals.

In company, Murphy was a warm, generous and modest man with a wicked sense of fun who would rather not talk about his assorted talents, which included translations of French plays.

Murphy was nominated for the Best Actor award for Krapp's Last Tape at the 2013 Critics Awards For Theatre in Scotland. The award was won by Alan Cumming for his solo turn as Macbeth, but, with Cumming unavailable, the National Theatre of Scotland's Head of External Affairs, Roberta Doyle, picked up the award on his behalf. Doyle, who had known Murphy since his glory days at the Citz, used the occasion to pay tribute to Murphy, who was present. Few in the audience were aware of Murphy's illness, and that this may well be the final time he would be in a Scottish theatre.

It was the Citizens Murphy called home, and he spoke movingly of his prodigal's return to the Glasgow theatre in these pages during rehearsals for Krapp's Last Tape. In a theatre noted for the charisma of its leading actors, Gerard Murphy stood out as a quiet but powerful presence who epitomised the Citz's spirit in every way.

Murphy is survived by his sister Deirdre, brother Brian and numerous nieces and nephews.

The Herald, August 28th 2013

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The Rutles

Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh
four stars
The irresistible rise of tribute bands over the last few years has made the return of the best Beatles pastiche this side of Oasis inevitable. Originally sired by former Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band stalwart and some-time Monty Python collaborator Neil Innes for sketches on Eric Idle's Rutland Weekend Television show in 1975, The Rutles hit the mainstream via the wickedly observed mock documentary, All You Need is Cash, in 1978. Judging by the authenticity of what are essentially a series of three-minute mash-ups of the Lennon and McCartney songbook, most of the nation's future Brit-pop generation must have watched the film's original screening, because a Brit-pop template is what The Rutles now sound like.

With Innes, aka Nasty, and fellow original Rutle, John Halsey, aka Barry, in tow with a new line-up, Innes kicks things off by singing Happy Birthday to an audience member before launching into Hamburg era soundalike, Goose Step Mama. Innes pulls an oversize Peace medallion from his shirt and dons a pair of psychedelic shades for the trippier numbers, before rewinding back to the mop-top era captured in I Must Be in Love.

As amusing as Innes makes all this, there's something very clever going on in the arrangements of the now five-piece Rutles that goes beyond parody in the Penny Lane-alike Doubleback Alley and the I Am The Walrus-isms of Piggy in the Middle. Just to make things really meta, they play a faithful-sounding cover of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass that suggests that, in other circumstances, The Rutles really could have been bigger than you know who.

The Herald, September 2nd 2013


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