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Showing posts from 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…

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 …

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…

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 s…

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…

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 he…

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 communi…

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,…

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…

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 K…

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-remem…

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 C…

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 R…

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 re…

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 expla…

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 tim…

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…