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Showing posts from November, 2013

Limbo

St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh Four stars When alternative cabaret came in out of the cold and went glossy a couple of decades ago, the mainstream it moved into saw audiences lap up its hybrid form. So it is with Scott Maidment's latest compendium of new circus novelty, which follows on from 2012 hit, Cantina, and which has just played a five month season on London's South Bank. Brought to Edinburgh by Underbelly Productions, and housed in a Spiegeltent as part of their Edinburgh's Christmas programme, Limbo is a sexy mix of gymnastic set-pieces performed by a nine-strong troupe, who include a live band led by New York multi-instrumentalist, Sxip Shirey.
It is a white-suited and wild-haired Shirey who acts as ringmaster of what is effectively an international supergroup, who perform on a tiny stage at the centre of the Spiegeltent. Shirey uses human beat-box magic to draw from the aisles the rubber-limbed Jonathan Nosan, a man who can lick his own boots with his leg wr…

Christopher Fairbank - A Christmas Carol

When Susan Boyle told Christopher Fairbank that he could sing, it was unexpected praise for the actor still most recognised for his role as fire-raising Scouse builder Moxey in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' builders abroad comedy drama, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. In the midst of rehearsing Scrooge for a festive production of A Christmas Carol at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fairbank had arrived early one Saturday morning to find director Andrew Panton standing outside. As a silver Mercedes pulled up beside them, who should step out of the passenger seat but Ms Boyle herself.
Fairbank followed the pair up to the rehearsal room, and offered them a cup of tea. When he took the hot beverage to them, Panton was playing the piano to accompany Boyle going through her scales. Panton, who is Boyle's musical director on her forthcoming Christmas album, sang a thank you to Fairbank, who sang back his own thanks.
“You can certainly hold a note,” joked SuBo.
“Yes,” Fairbank quippe…

Engels!: The Karl Marx Story

Discover 21, Edinburgh Three stars If the revolution starts at closing time, few took advantage of the licensing laws more than Karl Marx himself. Or at least that's how the inventor of orthodox radical thought as we know it is presented in Ben Blow's scurrilous little play, first seen on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe earlier this year. Blow's play is now one of the first shows to play in the much needed thirty-five seat Discover 21 space, situated in the equally necessary Arts Complex initiative that exists inside St Margaret's House, a 1960s office block.
Here, Marx is a randy old goat living it up in nineteenth century Manchester, with a much put-upon Engels footing the bill for all his excesses while being bullied into doing most of the graft on The Communist Manifesto. With much of the necessary first-hand knowledge of the lumpen proletariat provided by Marx's favourite prostitute, Molly, the absurd double act of Charlie (Marx) and Freddy (Engels) embark on a…

September in the Rain

Theatre Royal, Glasgow Three stars When Hull was named last week as UK City of Culture for 2017 ahead of an already flourishing Dundee, one suspects a secret weapon called John Godber may have had much to do with it. Few playwrights, after all, have celebrated the mores and aspirations of ordinary Yorkshire folk with such a populist flourish than Godber, who, as artistic director of Hull Truck Theatre, put the city it called home on the map from the 1980s onwards. It's interesting, therefore, to see Godber revisit this early work, in which he takes a gentle look at the lives and times of Jack and Liz, an elderly couple whose relationship has been mapped out by their annual off-peak holiday to Blackpool. Based on Godber's own grand-parents, the play sees the pair rewind their way back to their newly-wed days. Their world may be coloured by dodgy B & Bs, fortune tellers and funfair rides, but there's a simmering uncertainty about where they're heading. …

Citizens Theatre Spring Season 2014

When playwright and film star Sam Shepard appeared on the stage of the Citizens Theatre following the final performance of the Gorbals-based emporium's production of Shepard's 1980 play, True West, it was a fitting close to the theatre's winter season prior to the opening of its Christmas show, The Jungle Book, this weekend. Here, after all, was a latter-day Hollywood legend with counter-cultural credentials. If ever there was an artist who encapsulated the Citz's own schizophrenic history of classical glamour with an edge, Shepard was it.
“It created a real buzz,” says Citizens artistic director, Dominic Hill. “It's exactly what the Citz should be about. For us, it's about saying that, yes, we're in Glasgow, and, yes, we're in the Gorbals, but as well as being local, we've also got an international outlook , and an aspiration to continue that international outlook which the theatre's always had.”
Following a season that also saw Chris Hannan …

Stella

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars It's the men's voices you hear first in Siobhan Nicholas' new play that charts the parallel universes of eighteenth century singer turned astronomer Caroline Herschel and a twenty-first century counterpart investigating her life. They're the voices of men who've seen stars, been to the moon and lived to tell the tale. It's women like Herschel, however, who broke the glass ceiling that allowed those men to conquer worlds beyond.
The production by Brighton-based company, Take the Space, in association with Hove's The Old Market (TOM) venue and Greenwich Theatre sets its sights from the start, as Jessica and her classical musician husband Bill look to the skies for guidance. He's been offered a two year gig in Germany, and expects Jess to go with him. She has plans of her own, however, most of which involve a fascination with Herschel that sees her take up residence in the museum that was once the house her inspirat…

Norman Bowman - Henry V

To say that Norman Bowman is excited is something of an understatement. As the Arbroath born actor and musical theatre star prepares to open in Michael Grandage's new production of Shakespeare's Henry V featuring Jude Law in the title role, Bowman can barely contain himself. He may only be doubling up in the relatively small parts of soldiers on opposing sides, Nym and Williams, but, after a career playing in number one tours of Grease and West Side Story, where he played the lead roles of Danny Zucko and ex gang member Tony, doing Henry V is clearly the biggest thrill in the world.
“I love Shakespeare,” Bowman enthuses, “and with this job I've landed on my feet. It's one of the best companies, the best director and a fantastic lead actor, so it's fantastic. Actors very often do jobs out of necessity rather than desire, but this is a labour of love.”
Bowman was cast in Henry V after Grandage saw Bowman playing Ross in Kenneth Branagh's Manchester International…

Paul Haig – Kube (Rhythm of Life)

Four stars Of all the paeans to the late Lou Reed in the last couple of weeks, one of the most touching was a poem by Paul Haig (http://www.paulhaig-rhythmoflife.com/post/65335307611/words-for-lou-reed), whose old band, the Reed/Velvet Underground/Chic-inspired Josef K, have proved so influential on the likes of Franz Ferdinand and others since their brief existence in the very early 1980s. To see such a private artist acknowledge a musical debt like this was surprising too.
Like Reed, beyond some mid-80s major label hiccups, Haig has done things on his own terms. Where it would have been easy to go down the revivalist route and reform Josef K, apart from a handful of live shows a couple of years ago, Haig has kept studiously out of view, ploughing his own wilfully individualistic and largely electronic furrow.
There won't be many aware that this fourteen-track collection of skewed, beat-based electro-melodrama released, as many that preceded it, on his own tellingly named labe…

Ciphers

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars There's a greyness looming over Dawn King's new play, a co-production between Out of Joint, the Bush Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre. It's not just the clean-lined hue of of the screens that move across the stage to reveal each brief scene. Nor is it the chicly utilitarian desk and chair that double up as assorted interview rooms, hotel bedrooms and artist's studio. Rather, in King's dramatic investigation into the mysterious death of a young female Secret Service agent, it's something about the humdrum mundanity of undercover lives and the over-riding loneliness of the long-distance double agent that gives the play its inscrutable pallor.
It opens with Justine being interviewed by Sunita for a job as a spy. As she moves quickly through the ranks, Justine's blankness becomes an asset, as terrorist plots are uncovered and enemy agencies infiltrated. Only when she becomes emotionally involved, both in her work and …

Dawn King - Ciphers

Dawn King is feeling pretty jet-lagged. The writer of spy thriller, Ciphers, which tours to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre this week in a co-production between Out of Joint, the Northcott Theatre, Exeter and The Bush flew out of Portland, Oregon the afternoon before, only to find it was still lunch-time when she arrived back in London.
King was in Portland to see a new production of her début full-length play, Foxfinder, a dystopian rural parable with a Gothic bent that was a London hit in 2011 after winning the Papatango playwriting competition as well as a clutch of other accolades. She was in Sweden earlier in the year to see one there as well, and is off to Reykjavik next week to see how it works in Icelandic. There have also been productions of Foxfinder in Australia and Greece.
If such a jet-setting lifestyle sounds like something straight out of a film, it's also testament to King's expansive vision, which imbues an investigative depth into popular forms. For Ciphers…

A Dangerman

Summerhall, Edinburgh Four stars The man standing on what passes for a stage in Summerhall's tiny Red Lecture Theatre is looking each of the audience in the eye. Without ever cracking a smile, he closes his own eyes, psyching himself up in the silence, before letting rip. The Bible, Karl Marx and the thoughts of Chairman Mao are all intertwined in the man's ramblingly discursive and quietly deadpan monologue, with reality TV, the history of capitalism and a spot of art history thrown in for good measure. At one point he auctions off the script for the show, at another he gets volunteers from the audience to shift boxes around or else take off their clothes to strike some classical poses. He engages them in dialogue about that night's news, and tells them if they don't agree with what they're seeing then they can leave. Some do.
It's a risky strategy, but Galway-based actor/writer Dick Walsh takes no prisoners in his menacing hour-long monologue, first seen on …

Pere Ubu

Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh Four stars
“Anyone expecting the hits,” drawls David Thomas, de facto leader of the Cleveland, Ohio sired 'avant-garage' band for almost forty years, “come talk to me. They're in my head, but I won't answer.” A mere six months after touring their fifteenth original studio album, Lady From Shanghai, Thomas and co have ripped up the rule-book (and there is a one hundred page 'manual' to accompany the album) and opted to showcase material from two work-in-progress song cycles, Visions of the Moon and Dr Faustroll in the Big Easy. Like the man says, “If something works, why do it again?”
It's a belligerently conceptual approach, but this is how Thomas, sat in a bucket chair and fuelled by Diet Pepsi and Red Bull as he reads lyrics from a music stand, rolls. In baggy-pants and braces, Thomas looks somewhere between a porch-dwelling blues hollerer and Tennessee Williams' Big Daddy in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof. Guitarist Keith Moline, drum…

The Leg – Oozing A Crepuscular Light (Song, By Toad)

A lot can happen in twenty-three minutes. It certainly does in the new album by The Leg, mercurial junkyard auteur Dan Mutch's manic spleen-venting song-writing vehicle over four albums and the best part of a decade. With cellist Pete Harvey and drummer Alun Thomas completing The Leg's (un)holy trinity, The Leg formed out of the ashes of the trio's previous band, Desc. Harvey was there too in Mutch's first band, Khaya, who were way too out of step with the second half of the 1990s they existed through, despite the acclaim, the John Peel sessions and the wilful self-destruction.
Khaya's three albums, Desc's sole full-length effort plus assorted singles and EPs are available somewhere or other, and should be sought out post-haste. As should too The Leg's two collaborations and another one on the way with kindred spirit, fellow traveller and former Dawn of the Replicants vocalist turned absurdist story-teller, Paul Vickers. Oh, and The Leg's own '8 So…

Wilful Forgetting

Tron Theatre, Glasgow Three stars Long before anyone posted selfies on Flickr or Tumblr, or Instagram allowed just-snapped camera phone images to be customised to whatever sepia-tinted vintage look is deemed aesthetically pleasing this week, memories came in Eastmancolour and Kodachrome, and took a week to be developed. So it goes in Donna Rutherford and Martin O'Connor's lo-fi multi-media meditation on the past that shapes us, and how the narrative of memory comes with gaps. A mother (Rutherford) is at the kitchen table as the audience enter to the comforting smell of baking. Sporting a maternal pinny, she goes through the motions of baking a cake as a Country soundtrack plays. Behind her, images flash up of other mothers proudly showing off their infant children to be immortalised in their now frayed and crumpled glory. Inbetween snatches of Rutherford's own out-front monologue, voices off reveal a schism down the generations as her son comes to terms with…

Mansfield Park

King's Theatre, Three stars It's the quiet ones you have to watch, and there are few quieter than Fanny Price, the bookish daughter of a poor family who's packed off to live with her rich and largely ghastly relatives, the Bertrams, in Jane Austen's third and most contentious novel. Adapted here by Tim Luscombe for Colin Blumenau's production, revived for its current tour by the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, it becomes a trenchant if at times unremarkable statement on class, privilege and the self-determination of a young woman who refuses to fall for the dubious charms of a posh fop on the make.
Fanny is thrown into a world where courtships are built on how much someone is worth rather than love, so when the gold-digging Crawfords, Henry and Mary, come calling, all bets are off on who they'll end up with. Fanny, meanwhile, falls for Edmund, the would-be cleric with a kind heart and integrity to match her own. It is with Pete Ashmore's Edmund that Fanny o…

Hiraki Sawa – Lenticular

Dundee Contemporary Arts until January 5th 2014 Four stars There's something quietly starstruck about the subject of 'Lenticular' (2013), the newly-commissioned film-work by Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa, which forms the centrepiece of Sawa's first solo exhibition in Scotland. Robert Law is a self-taught astronomer who works at Dundee's Mills Observatory, where Sawa filmed this cosmonaut of inner space going about his business of exploring other worlds with somewhat archaic-looking machineries of joy. The result is an impressionistic six-minute portrait of one man's parallel universe that's counterpointed by a domed facsimile of the Observatory, that comes complete with meditative projections and an ambient score that suggest the ultimate chill-out room.
It's a telling insight into Sawa's playful sensibilities, in which after-dark magical-realist dream-states conjure up imaginary worlds. The word 'lenticular' describes something that is lens-…

Catherine Johnson - Shang-a-Lang, Mamma Mia! and fringe theatre

“What's gallus?” Catherine Johnson asks, unprompted. The writer behind ABBA-based hit musical Mamma Mia! is contemplating how one of her characters for her earlier play, Shang-A-Lang, has just been described to her by the team behind Rapture Theatre's touring revival, and isn't quite sure how it translates into her own west country patois.
When it's explained to Johnson that somebody who is gallus is someone with attitude, swagger and cheek in abundance, it seems to hit the spot.
“That's Lauren,” Johnson says of one of three middle-aged women in the play who go on a bender at a 1970s revival weekend at Butlin's holiday camp, where a Bay City Rollers tribute act are headlining. Over the course of the weekend, Lauren and her pals, Jackie and Pauline, have assorted epiphanies as they encounter a couple of equally ageing rockers.
“I'd been thinking about writing a play set in a holiday camp for some time,” Johnson explains about the roots of Shang-a-Lang, wh…

True West

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Four stars The cricket chirrups and increasingly loud coyote howls that punctuate this all too rare revival of Sam Shepard's 1980 trawl through the dark heart of America may sound real in Phillip Breen's production. In the end, however, as Max Breen's cinema-scope design makes clear, we all know it's as make-believe as a movie. The quest for authenticity is what drives Eugene O'Hare's bookish Austin, who, on the verge of a life-changing deal, has holed himself up in his mother's place, tapping out an old-time love story in suburban bliss. Austin's world is turned upside down when his deranged petty thief brother Lee turns up out of the blue from his desert hidey-hole. Where Austin peddles implausible dreams on the page, Lee's manic, booze-soaked stories of a wilder world beyond convinces Steven Elliot's hustler producer Saul to take a chance on his pop-eyed take on blockbuster sensationalism over art. As t…

Blithe Spirit

Perth Theatre Four stars When well-heeled novelist Charles and his second wife Ruth tell their whirlwind of a maid Edith to slow down at the opening of Noel Coward's psychic-based comedy, they could be having a word with Coward himself. Because, rather than the normal cut-glass gallop through the French windows which the play is driven by, Johnny McKnight's production slows things down to a stately amble that lends things a more serious intent. As Charles attempts to cop a few moves for a story by inviting local psychic Madame Arcati to conduct a séance, he gets more than he bargains for when his dead first wife Elvira appears. While only visible to him, Elvira nevertheless wreaks havoc on Charles and Ruth's seeming domestic bliss, with Charles clearly relishing two women fighting over him from beyond the grave. While relocating things from Kent to Perth doesn't add much to a play that simply can't avoid its poshness, there are nevertheless some quiet…

The Steamie

Pitlochry Festival Theatre Three stars When Tony Roper wrote his 1950s-set comedy more than a quarter of a century ago, it was his experience as an actor he brought to it rather than a rarefied literary sensibility. Yet his yarn about four women putting their dirty washing out to dry in a public steam room on Hogmanay is as plotless as Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, which was famously described as a play where 'nothing happens twice.' Like Godot, however, there is a lot more going on here, and not just via both plays' love affair with music hall.
As with Beckett's existential double act of Vladimir and Estragon, Roper's women are terminally optimistic co-dependents in search of a future. Where Beckett's universe is vague and zen-like, Roper's is rooted in a sense of fast-fading community where a sense of sisterhood is slowly trickling down the class scale. As Ken Alexander's revival makes clear, Roper's play is essentially a set of comic…

Maxine Peake, The Eccentronic Research Council and 1612 Underture

This  is the full transcript of an interview with Maxine Peake and Adrian Anthony Flanagan of ECCENTRONIC RESEARCH COUNCIL, which was conducted to coincide with the ERC performance of 1612 Underture, an analog synth/spoken word suite inspired by the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, at the National Gallery of Scotland on October 31st 2013 as part of the Halloween: By Night Event.
Neil Cooper: First of all, could you tell me how you first got involved in 1612 Underture?

Maxine Peake: It was all the fault of a well known networking site. I'd just been to see Chrome Hoof at Islington Mill in Salford and had typed a little paragraph of praise when I had a message saying if you like them you'll like my band. it was a Mr Adrian Anthony Flanagan. We had a brief conversation about our respective music tastes, and then he enquired if I would appear in his video, which involved donning a rabbit suit and charging around Kersal Moor in Salford. After four months of intensive filming in London it…