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Showing posts from February, 2014

The Band of Holy Joy - Easy Listening?

The last time street-smart Geordie visionary Johny Brown's work appeared in Scotland was when his play, William Burroughs Caught in Possession of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, appeared at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. While a reignited formation of Brown's troupe of junk-yard baroque soothsayers, The Band of Holy Joy, who had released several records on the Rough Trade label throughout the 1980s, had just released their sublimely euphoric Love Never Fails album, Brown's epic onstage fantasia cast actor Tam Dean Burn as the eponymous author of The Naked Lunch on Coleridge's sea-faring vessel.
Also in tow were fictionalised evocations of fellow experimental novelist Kathy Acker, former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders (played by former Exploited bass player turned actor in The Acid House and Gangs of New York, Gary McCormack), and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
With such a motley crew on board, this was punk theatre personified, and continued an associatio…

Fred Frith, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow Saturday February 22 Four stars The idea of free improvised music appearing as part of a BBC SSO programme would have been unthinkable a decade ago except as a passing novelty. Such has been the landscape-changing effect of left-leaning music festivals in Scotland, from Free RadiCCAls and Le Weekend through to Instal, Kill Your Timid Notion, Dialogues, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra's GIOfest and the most recent additions of Counterflows, Sonica and Tectonics, that it would seem remiss of longer standing institutions not to embrace them.
So it was with this thrilling bill of works that attracted an audience perhaps more used to seeing and hearing such veterans of experimental music as guitarist Frith, trombonist and electronicist Lewis and saxophonist Mitchell in the low level confines of arts labs and other intimate off-radar gatherings. Yet, despite their avant-garde roots, all three men are major composers in their own right on scales great and small, and ca…

Gemma Whelan - Dark Vanilla Jungle

When Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan first performed Philip Ridley's devastating solo play, Dark Vanilla Jungle, during the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the actress and comedian was warned there would be walk-outs. Not because of the play's subject matter, which charts the car crash life of teenage Andrea, who is abandoned by her parents before being groomed by older men into a world that leads her deeper and deeper into an emotional morass she eventually kicks against with tragic consequences. Rather, such a reaction would likely as not be down to the more mundane response of audience members having to make a dash to other shows they've booked into.
Primed as she was, having one woman walk right across the stage just as she was in the emotional throes of one of the play's most harrowing scenes made things even harder for Whelan.
“That was a dreadful walkout,” she says, as she prepares to open a new tour of the Supporting Wall's production of Dark Vanilla Jun…

Garry Marshall - Happy Days - A New Musical

There's something innocent about Garry Marshall when he talks about Happy Days, the 1950s teen-based sit-com he created forty years ago this year. This is fitting somehow for a writer, director and producer who himself came of age in a post World War Two era of rock and roll and high-school hops which he mythologised on a show that became a key part of a nostalgia boom that's never really gone away.
Initially piloted as a one-off episode of Love, American Style, Happy Days ran for 255 episodes between 1974 and 1985. The show's initial focus on Ron Howard's straight-laced good guy Ritchie Cunningham was soon upstaged by Henry Winkler's leather-jacketed tough guy Arthur 'The Fonz' Fonzarelli, who stole the show enough to become a household name.
Thirty years since the show ended, Happy Days – A New Musical opened in Glasgow last night as part of its UK tour in a production written by Marshall himself alongside Bugsy Malone composer, Paul Williams. Set ar…

Blink

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars Life and death are everything for Jonah and Sophie, the shyly dysfunctional couple at the heart of Blink, Phil Porter's self-consciously kooky but quietly profound play, which was originally seen at the Traverse during the theatre's 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe season. As the pair talk to the audience, their story unfolds via series of criss-crossing monologues that lay bare an awkward, barely there affair that's more about confirming each other's right to be apart than anything that happens when they're not quite together.
Sophie has been brought up in the Isle of Man, Jonah in a religious commune. Both come into money via their dead parents, and end up living on top of each other in a London suburb. He watches her as one might view a reality TV show, while she keeps her distance, and they only meet for the first time after a near fatal accident brings them briefly into the same sphere until they go their separate ways on…

Phil Minton and Simon H Fell with Edimpro, Inspace, Edinburgh, Friday February 14th; / Malcy Duff, Dylan Nyoukis, Ali Robertson and Norman Shaw, plus Tina Krekels & Grant Smith, Rhubaba Gallery, Edinburgh, Saturday February 15th.

For some time now, the University of Edinburgh-based Dialogues initiative has hosted residencies by a stream of major international figures in experimental music. The likes of guitarist Fred Frith, saxophonist Evan Parker and sound recordist Chris Watson have all worked closely with composers and musicians from the University prior to concerts which has seen them play solo as well as with the group now styled as Edimpro. The latest of these featuring veteran improvising vocalist Phil Minton with double bassist and long-term collaborator Simon H Fell was a game of two halves. The first opened with a chirrup and a whistle, as Minton, perched on a chair with his legs dangling, launched into a tightly wrought set of shrieks, yelps, gurgles and howls that moves language beyond words to something more primal. There's a call and response of sorts with fell, who at one point uses to bows on his instrument to create a self-reflexive counterpoint that's feverishly control…

Dial M For Murder

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars The scarlet drapes that hang down centre-stage surrounded by even more vivid rouge-flamed walls hide a multitude of sins at the start of Lucy Bailey's touring revival of her 2009 production of Frederick Knott's labyrinthine 1950s pot-boiler immortalised in Alfred Hitchcock's film. Such ravishing décor might well be engulfing an opulently realised Greek tragedy if it weren't for the elegant London town-house accoutrements and a tellingly red telephone that screams emergency as it furnishes the scene of the crime. That crime isn't one of passion, but, as retired tennis star Tony Wendice plots to murder his faithless wife Sheila, who, as played by Kelly Hotten, has been conducting a long-distance amour with Philip Cairns' crime writer Max, it's one of pathologically driven, ice-cold calculation. That Tony blackmails an old school chum turned con-man to do the deed by proxy only serves to make it nastier, as…

Firebrand Theatre - Blackbird

When David Harrower's play, Blackbird, first appeared at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005 in a production by German maestro, Peter Stein, it provoked shock-waves among audiences who witnessed it. Given that Harrower's play was a blistering study of a reunion between a fifty-five year old man and a twenty-seven year old woman who had a sexual relationship fifteen years before when the woman was twelve, such a reaction was understandable.
However serious a dissection of an ambiguous liaison the play undoubtedly was, it was the production's closing scene that proved the most jaw-dropping. In contrast to the play's over-riding intimacy, Stein grafted on an unscripted five-minute finale in which the office block store-room where the action took place was transformed into an underground car park. Here, an actual car was driven onstage as the play's two protagonists wrestled to a power ballad soundtrack, so the whole thing resembled a 1980s MTV video epic.
Gi…

Private Lives

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars If love is a bourgeois concept, as was suggested in the song of the same name by Pet Shop Boys last year, there are few plays that articulate it better than Noel Coward's dissection of unhappy honeymooners which he knocked out over a long weekend in 1930. Martin Duncan's production places a noticeably younger and sexier Amanda and Elyot on the adjoining balconies of designer Francis O'Connor's art deco erection of a white and pink hotel. Here each treats their new spouses Victor and Sybil with a mix of desperation and disdain, even as they cling to such classic mismatches for comfort before unfinished business of an altogether less ordinary kind comes calling.
All this may be archly played by John Hopkins as a narcissistic Elyot and Kirsty Besterman as a restlessly coquettish Amanda, but there's a brutal ennui at play too as the pair thrive on their own indulgent self-destruction. This mainly fires into life in the second…

Requiem For Detroit? - Glasgow Film Festival

It's all too fitting that Julien Temple's 2010 documentary, 'Requiem For Detroit?', is being screened at The Arches as part of this year's Glasgow Film Festival prior to a night hosted by Pressure that features Detroit Techno legend Carl Craig. It's not just reflecting the two cities' mutual interest in club culture. Nor does the fact that the event takes place in the former derelict space beneath Central Station that became an institution in any way compare with the near apocalyptic collapse of Detroit's once thriving industrial epicentre depicted by Temple in his trademark cut n'paste fashion forged in his years filming the Sex Pistols.
Yet, as other film-makers have recognised, there are similarities. Detroit's success was built on the automobile industry, a gas-guzzling personification of what in his epic verse poet Heathcote Williams dubbed 'Autogedden', a title later appropriated by eco-primitive pop star, Julian Cope. Glasgow'…

Tonight's The Night

Edinburgh Playhouse Three stars When gravel-voiced blues singer Rod Stewart sold his soul for a life of pop excess accompanied by a roll-call of ever-blonder accessories, it's unlikely that the devil made him do it. That's exactly what happens, however, to Stuart, the geeky hero of Ben Elton's jukebox musical of Rod the Mod's hits which has been on the go for a decade now. Stuart works in a garage in Detroit, where he fawns over the equally bookish Mary. An intervention by a peroxided Satan not only gives Stuart the confidence and star quality of his name-sake, but his promiscuous proclivities as well. Taken under the wing of archetypal rock chick Baby Jane, Stuart and his new band blaze a trail to the top, but there's a little part of Stuart that's always the nice guy. If all this sounds ever so slightly ridiculous, bear in mind that Elton probably knows his Goethe and his Marlowe as well as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did when they reimagined the…

Speaking in Tongues – Sonia Boyce / Pavel Buchler / Susan Hiller

CCA, Glasgow until March 23rd. Four stars It's the sound of clock-clacking typewriter keys that strikes you first stepping into this three-way split of a show which, in different ways, reflects on the colour of memory. In the case of all three artists, who have a long history with the CCA building when it housed the Third Eye Centre, it reveals – or not - how that memory, collective or otherwise, can be moulded, shaped and customised to order, be it through preservation, wilful negation or else, in Boyce's case, via a gloriously messy reclaiming of half-hidden pop-cultural detritus.
The typing noises come from Buchler's ''I am going to use this projector', in which a cassette recorder hung on the wall plays a recording of someone typing out a transcription of the rollingly endless text that hangs next to it. Hiller too shows how free-association can be harnessed in 'Measure by Measure Section II', which preserves the ashes of paintings burnt by Hiller…

Summerhall Art Shows – Spring 2014

Loss, migration, the Holocaust and a strange form of post-apocalyptic euphoria filter in various ways through the latest sprawl of nine new exhibitions in Summerhall. The former comes into view most explicitly in 'Kindness of Strangers', the first UK show by German-American artist Stefan Roloff, whose large-scale video installation that charts the story of two refugees – a Sudanese woman and an Iranian man – in Berlin. This tented construction sits evocatively beside shadowed interviews with people describing their ideal world and an exploration of the detention of Roloff's father by the Gestapo .
The anonymity of Roloff's subjects is reflected in the black-and-white imagery of Karin Gunnarsson's 'Apparition', while the array of Beuysian detritus in Ian Hughes' remarkable 'Unearthed Tongues Set Free' mixes religious iconography with images from the Holocaust to give real life events a dignity and power, even as it reminds the viewer of their s…

Chloe Moss - This Wide Night

When Chloe Moss was commissioned by Clean Break theatre company to spend twelve weeks developing a play from working with inmates in a women's prison, she was initially daunted by the terms laid down for her by the company set up in 1979 by two female prisoners to explore the hidden stories of women prisoners through drama. By the end of the process, things had changed somewhat for the Liverpool-born writer.
The change was more than evident in the play that was born from Moss' experience with Clean Break, This Wide Night, which played at Soho Theatre in 2008 prior to a tour of prisons where some of the women Moss worked with were still housed. With a major new production directed by playwright David Greig about to open at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and featuring Jayd Johnson and Elaine C. Smith in the cast, Moss reflects on the play's origins.
“At first it seemed slightly restrictive.” Moss explains, “Clean Break do one commission a year, and you write something that'…

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all.
But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath brought …

Gilly Roche - Team Effort

The innocuous-looking black door that leads to the Southside Studios may be in Glasgow, but the oasis of creation behind it has more of the feel of an alternative arts lab in Berlin, Prague or New York. Since last summer, Southside Studios have also been the base for Team Effort, an initiative driven by producer Gilly Roche to bring together six artists from different disciplines to work collectively and organically, without any specific end in sight.
The artists involved in Team Effort include writer of hit play, Roadkill, Stef Smith, co-founder of the Fish and Game company, Eilidh MacAskill, and writer and performer Martin O'Connor. Also on board is musician, composer and former member of the group, Zoey Van Goey, Kim Moore, while from the visual art world comes painter Fergus Dunnet, and Rose Ruane, who works with sculpture, video and live performance.
With this group having worked closely over the last few months, the Team Effort event that takes place at Tramway in Glasgo…

Lucy Bailey - Dial M For Murder

It's not easy getting Lucy Bailey on the phone. For a director who is reviving her production of Frederick Knott's play, Dial M For Murder, in which a telephone call plays a crucial part in a botched domestic homicide, this may be for the best. When contact is eventually made, it transpires that actor Iain Glen has been forced to drop out of Bailey's production of Turgenev's Fortune's Fool at the Old Vic theatre in London, and the headache of recasting and redirecting that show inbetween overseeing technical rehearsals for Dial M For Murder has left her little time for talking. Only when things settle down does Bailey have a chance to take stock on a show she first directed for the Fiery Angel company at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in 2009.
“It's very exciting,” Bailey says in Colchester, where Dial M For Murder opens prior to arriving in Edinburgh next week. “Sometimes going back to something you can get a bit haunted by what you were doing before, but …

Miss Julie

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Four stars Everyone knows that it's in the kitchen where parties really start cooking up a storm. So it goes in Miss Julie, August Strindberg's revolutionary nineteenth century play about the cross-class lust between the eponymous daughter of the manor and her father's servant, John, who Julie grew up beside. Zinnie Harris' version may relocate the action to the post First World War Scottish Highlands in the midst of a strike among the village workers, but the simmering essence of Strindberg's original is retained in a brief but fiercely intense exchange in Dominic Hill's blistering production. The schism between the two worlds is delineated from the off via the stark grey interior of Neil Haynes' design that's highlighted even more by the sickly yellow lighting that contains them. This contrasts sharply with the party noises off and occasional flashing lights beyond. It is not Julie we see first, however, but the …