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Showing posts from April, 2014

Invisible Empire

Summerhall
Three stars
An open door and an East European chorale that tugs five ways but
remains emotively harmonious is the scene-setter for the Glasgow-based
but Polish-inspired Company of Wolves ensemble's fifty minute
meditation on conformity, resistance and community. Involving music
from four countries, a frantic physicality and a fractured text drawn
from the writings of incarcerated Red Army Faction co-founder, Ulrike
Meinhof, Ewan Downie's production begins with the quintet acting in
near robotic unison before rising up one by one to rebel against, well,
anything that's going, really.

This may be just a passing phase of restless youth, however, even as
the sound of metal chairs scraped slowly across the floor becomes a
little atonal symphony. Later, the same chairs are beaten with uniform
ferocity. Only when a man possessed has his demons sucked out of him
with a prolonged kiss do things change into something both more
individual and more accepting of others.

It'…

Dear Scotland

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
Four stars
One of the most refreshing things about the second part of the National
Theatre of Scotland's compendium of mini monologues by contemporary
writers inspired by one of the SNPG's magnificently multi-faceted
archive is, as with its predecessor, co-directors Joe Douglas and
Catrin Evans' refusal to cast to type. So while Janice Galloway's take
on Muriel Spark is performed by Anneika Rose with a vivaciousness that
suggests a nation in its prime, Johnny McKnight's version of the Queen
finds Colin McCredie playing a woman hurt both by neglect and the fact
that she's been portrayed on-screen by Helen Mirren.

Linda McLean's Clementina Stirling Graham is a shrewd operator, Liz
Lochhead's Robert Burns a partisan firebrand, while Rona Munro's
tribute to Dear Scotland contributor Jackie Kay is the warmest of
homages. Rob Drummond's Three Oncologists look at some very real
matters of life and death, Nicol…

John Byrne - Uncle Varick

When John Byrne decided to do a version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, it
was a perfect match. While a century or so apart, both writers were
masters of dissecting human foibles in a way that lent a pathos to
their characters even as some of them looked increasingly ridiculous.
The result of Byrne's interest in Chekhov was Uncle Varick, which
relocates Chekhov's nineteenth century tale of love and life to the
rural heart of north-east Scotland in the thick of the 1960s which was
alleged in far off London to be swinging.

Uncle Varick was first seen a ten years ago at the Royal Lyceum Theatre
in Edinburgh in a towering production that featured Brian Cox in the
title role in an all too rare stage role on home turf. A decade on, and
the assistant director of that production, Michael Emans, is taking the
helm for a major touring revival of the play produced by his
increasingly ambitious Rapture Theatre.

“I was very pleased indeed,” Byrne says with an almost boyish glee
about the reviv…

David Haig - Pressure

If it wasn't for a plumber's son from Dalkeith, the result of the
Second World War may have turned out very differently indeed. British
air-force meteorologist Group Captain James Stagg may not be as widely
known as many war heroes, but without his advice to then supreme
commander of allied forces in Europe, General Dwight D Eisenhower, on
what date to strike, the D Day landings in Normandy could have been a
disaster.

The story of Stagg, Eisenhower and how Stagg's forecast helped carve
out history form the backbone of Pressure, a brand new play by actor
and writer David Haig, which receives its world premiere at the Royal
Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh this week before transferring to
Chichester. With Haig also taking on the lead role of Stagg, the
little-known story has clearly become a labour of love for its author
and star.

“It's a story that is very seldom told,” says Haig, “but about a
subject that everybody knows quite a lot about. James Stagg is an
un…

Dear Scotland

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
Four stars
Imagine a gallery after dark, when all the silent subjects immortalised
on canvas break free from the frame like some live art happening and
give vent to their spleen having watched the world  for centuries.
That's pretty much what the twenty writers who have penned a series of
miniature monologues inspired by a particular exhibit have done for
this first of the National Theatre of Scotland's two dramatic guided
tours through the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which give voice
to some iconic old masters and mistresses as well as some peripheral
figures usually left on the sidelines,

AL Kennedy's opening take on Robert Louis Stevenson suggests what might
be, before David Greig's The Cromartie Fool raspberries his own brand
of wisdom. Dancer/choreographer Michael Clark's own recorded voice
delivers Ali Smith's piece written from the point of view of Clark's
knee, which peers from a photograph through …

Factor 9

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking Ben Harrison's
production of Hamish MacDonald's new play to be  some dark piece of
science-fiction future-shock. The fact that this tale of how
haemophiliacs in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s were treated with
contaminated and often fatal blood products is culled from the real
life testimonies of two of its victims on our own doorstep makes it all
the more shocking.

It is Bruce Norval and Robert Mackie's stories of being used as what
one of them angrily describes at one point as 'human lab rats' that
forms the human heart of MacDonald's tale of institutional abuse,or
Dogstar Theatre Company in association with Profilteatern, Sweden and
UMEA 2014 European Capital of Culture. It is the play's barrage of
statistics that dominate, however, whether flashed up on the LED
counter at the top of Emily Reid's set, on which assorted images are
projected, or through speeche…

Stephen Jeffreys - The Libertine

Sex and drugs and rock and roll may have been a phrase introduced into
the world by the late Ian Dury in the post-punk 1970s, but such
hedonistic excesses have been around for centuries. Back in the 1600s,
for instance, Restoration poet and one of King Charles 11's court, John
Wilmot, aka the second Earl of Rochester, took full advantage of the
era's post puritan anything goes aesthetic to become the ultimate
libertine. Rochester's penchant for self-destructive behaviour, alas,
saw him dead at thirty-three of venereal disease.

All of this features in The Libertine, Stephen Jeffreys' flamboyant
drama made famous a decade ago in a film starring Johnny Depp, and
which receives its first UK production in two decades at the Citzens
Theatre in Glasgow next week. Given the Citz's own colourful history
with decadent period romps, this seems an all too fitting liaison.

“Rochester was a celebrity of the day,” says Jeffreys. “He was like a
rock star, and because London at the t…

Barry McGovern reads Samuel Beckett

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
Irish actor Barry McGovern has long proved to be the master of
interpreting the twentieth century's most iconic writer, ever since he
appeared on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1986 in I'll Go On. This
solo adaptation of Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone Dies and
The Unnameable, was revived for the Edinburgh International Festival in
2013 following a rendition of Beckett's novella, Watt, the previous
year. So to hear McGovern read a seventy-five minute selection of
Beckett's prose and poetry as the culmination of Uncensored Life, a
weekend-long celebration of publisher John Calder, who first introduced
the world to Beckett, William Burroughs and many other literary giants,
is a thrill indeed.

McGovern stands with a folder full of photocopied texts, and begins
solemnly, only for Beckett's words to open out their meditations on
mortality to reveal a master comedian at work. With work dating back to
Beckett's ear…

The Edinburgh Passion

Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh
Three stars
It's nearly thirty years since Bill Bryden cast David Hayman as a
radical Jesus processing through the streets of Glasgow for The Holy
City, his contemporary television rendering of the Passion. Something
of that play's spirit seems to have trickled down into Rob Drummond's
own up to the minute version, which sees an authoritarian regime
campaigning for a No vote in a forthcoming referendum. Having already
reduced crime figures by bringing back the death penalty, political
figurehead Herod, his spin doctor McKayfus and police chief Pilate are
gunning for charismatic community spokesman and Yes poster boy Jesus.
Only when their nemesis is set up on trumped up terrorist charges do
Herod and his cronies appear to gain the upper hand.

Opening with two uniformed policemen flanking the Ross Bandstand,
Suzanne Lofthus' open-air production for the Cutting Edge Theatre
Company in association with the Princes Street Easter Pl…

Tectonics - Seismic Shifts

As it's name suggests, the Tectonics festival that runs over a long May weekend in Glasgow taps into the seismic shifts that have occurred across the entire spectrum of experimental music over the last decade. Instigated by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's former Chief Conductor and current Principal Guest Conductor Ilan Volkov, who is currently the Chief Conductor and Musical Director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, alongside AC Projects' Alasdair Campbell, the man behind the Le Weekend and Counterflows festivals, this second edition of Tectonics pulls together some of the world's leading experimental composers alongside a younger generation of musical free-thinkers   from a world where rock, art and classical music collide.

“There are so many strands of music now, and I think it's great to have people from different backgrounds working like this,” Volkov says from Reykjavik, where the Icelandic arm of Tectonics has just opened. “We've been doing this …

Jordan Wolfson

McLellan Galleries, Glasgow until April 21st
Three stars
It's the soft-core gloss that sucks you in first in 'Raspberry Poser',
the fourteen-minute billboard-size video projection that forms the
heart of Jordan Wolfson's life and death fusion of high-end corporate
ad-land stylings and provocative animations. A CGI-generated HIV virus
bounces around the neighbourhood like an ever-pulsating nail-bomb,
multiplying in a regimented choreographic display that ricochets around
the chi-chi bathrooms and bedrooms of the privileged to a soundtrack of
Beyonce's 'Beautiful Nightmare'. As a flipside to this,  a condom full
of chocolate hearts seems to be serving up something sweeter, but
possibly more sickly.

A cartoon bad boy looking somewhere between Hanna-Barbera doing Dr
Seuss and Sergio Aragones reinventing Dennis The Menace for the
counter-cultural age asks the viewer if they think he's wealthy or gay,
then proceeds to throttle himself or else cut out his innards…

Gabriel Kuri – All Probability Resolves Into Form

The Common Guild, Glasgow until June 7th
Three stars
in case of emergency, natural disaster, nuclear fall-out or biblical
engulfment, Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri is probably a very good man to
have on your side. By stocking up on blankets, fire extinguishers,
boxes of matches, bottles of water and assorted toiletries, then
assembling them in assorted sculptural show-and-tells on
silver-blanketed pallets in the town-house corridors of The Common
Guild, Kuri takes a practical and possibly life-saving survival kit,
then reassembles it in a way that suggests it's an in-storage archive
with everything in its place and a place for everything, even as it
awaits a situation in which it can be used.

Downstairs, alongside the two pallet-based pieces, a row of metal
compartments containing folded up and piled up blankets resembles both
a charity shop and a call centre store-room, the array of unopened
goods on the stairs themselves seem to awaiting the cleaner to arrive.
Upstair…

Brassed Off - Paul Allen and John McArdle on the Miners Strike

When Paul Allen's stage version of Brassed Off appeared in 1998, two years after Mark Herman's film about a small Yorkshire community's efforts to win a brass band competition was first released, the Miners Strike that formed the story's backdrop was still a fresh wound on Britain's landscape. Thirty years after a civil war which became a defining moment of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's calculated assault on trade unions, the play's current revival for a tour which arrives in Edinburgh next week is an all too fitting reminder of one of the late twentieth century's most inglorious eras.

The fact that Brassed Off makes its point about how an entire community can be decimated by enforced pit closures through both a romantic comedy and the unifying power of music is testament to the play's staying power. Yorkshire-born Allen, whose work in popular theatre has seen him forge close links with Alan Ayckbourn and the Scarborough-based Step…

A Midsummer Night's Dream

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
It may be a tad early in the year for Shakespeare's sunniest rom-com to come blinking into the light, but that hasn't stopped the all-male Propeller company from hitting the road with the frothiest of double bills, with Ed Hall's productions of the Dream and The Comedy of Errors playing the King's on alternate nights. Neither does it stop the array of long-john clad fairies, who drape themselves about a netting-lined stage before a stripey-tighted Robin Goodfellow, as Puck is credited here, bursts out of a box feet first as if from an upside-down toybox come to life.
As the cast of fourteen flit between the play's three worlds, what follows resembles a 1980s alternative comedy troupe doing an elaborately choreographed role-play. At first, Joseph Chance's Robin seems to call the shots, click-clacking chaos into the four young lovers all-night exploits with a wooden rattle. Soon it's Darrell Brockis' Oberon who&#…

Cars and Boys

Dundee Rep
Three stars

Life in a hospital ward can play tricks on you. Especially when you've had a stroke like ageing matriarch Catherine, the tough cookie at the heart of Stuart Paterson's new play, directed by Philip Howard in a temporary studio space that seats the audience on the theatre's main stage either side of the action. Used to calling the shots running her own haulage firm, Catherine is now in a bed-ridden haze of medicated confusion, in which a steady stream of old loves seep from her dream-state with lifelike clarity even as she can barely recall her grandson's name. Doctors and nurses treat her with a professional briskness as her husband Duncan and daughter Margaret attempt to salvage a few precious moments.
At the centre of this life in decline is a towering performance from Ann Louise Ross, who invests Catherine with a hard-headed steeliness that slips at crucial moments to reveal an emotional vulnerability, before she pulls herself together to d…

The Forbidden Experiment - Enormous Yes

In 1493, a youthful King James 1V of Scotland embarked on a curious experiment, in which he decamped two infant children to Inchkeith Island on the Firth of Forth in the care of a mute woman. The point of the exercise for the curious monarch was to determine how the children might learn language while isolated from the rest of the world, and if, in its pure state, their utterances were in fact the language of the gods.

Fast forward five hundred years or so, and a couple of artists equally as curious as King James pick up on what remains a bizarre incident. Things become even stranger when the artists look into what happened when British troops were stationed on Inchkeith during the Second World War. A Freedom of Information request lodged with the Ministry of Defence about their own interests in language deprivation casts up some apparently startling material, which the pair determine to make public.

The result of all this is The Forbidden Experiment, the latest dramatic inquiry by pe…

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's the voice of God you hear first in Vanishing Point's exquisitely realised impressionistic evocation of the life and times of the poet and song-writer whose influence on popular culture over the last half century is only now being fully recognised. It's a jolly voice compared to the deadpan melancholy of Ivor Cutler's own, but this unseen presence points up Cutler's own uneasy relationship with religious beliefs of all persuasions, even as this co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland is as much a spiritual meditation as any liturgy.
Using a framing device of an actual meeting between actor Sandy Grierson, who plays Cutler, with Cutler's partner Phyllis King below the Kentish Town flat where Cutler once lived, the first half is a celestial radio play that shows how a dreamy boy from Ibrox went from life as a pilot and a teacher to an underground cult figure and star of TV and radio. These scenes give us a glim…

Vanishing Point - The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

The squall of feedback that pierces across the auditorium of Eden Court Theatre in Inverness may only last a few seconds, but, it’s enough to cause a brief commotion among anyone in the room. The cast and band are in the thick of rehearsals for The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, Vanishing Point theatre company’s impressionistic music homage to the Glasgow-born poet, singer and stalwart of the late John Peel’s radio programme, which - quite literally - speaks volumes.Cutler was, after all, a member of the Noise Abatement Society, and claimed to loathe amplified music in all forms. The feedback is a consequence of a late-running sound-check caused by a piano’s exterior splintering in a way that rendered it unusable. A replacement piano found at short notice, a piano tuner was also required to before work could proceed.The band is led my musical director James Fortune, and includes multi-instrumentalist and recipient of a Herald Little Devil award Nick Pynn. Pynn, who has worked with c…

Chris Corsano - Edinburgh Man

Time was that if you lived in Edinburgh it felt like you could see drummer Chris Corsano play live pretty much any night of the week. During his time living in the capital in the mid to late noughties, the New England-sired drummer whose collaborators range from former Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore to free jazz saxophonist Evan Parker was a ubiquitous figure here.
Having hooked up with the city's fecund Noise scene, shows ranged from teaming up with assorted affiliates of the Giant Tank disorganisation, to duos with pedal steel vixen Heather Leigh Murray or bass player Massimo Pupillo of Italian power trio, Zu, to taking part in Arika's Resonant Spaces project. All this while touring the world with Bjork, whose Volta album Corsano appeared on.
One particularly busy couple of weeks in 2007 saw Corsano play Edinburgh with female Noise duo Hockyfrilla, another Edinburgh date in a duo with former Geraldine Fibbers and Evangelista vocalist Carla Bozulich, supporting Faust a…

This May Hurt A Bit

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars It's a strange sensation, hearing an actor open Max Stafford-Clark's production of Stella Feehily's impassioned call to arms to save the NHS with Socialist firebrand Aneurin Bevan's speech that launched this most treasured of institutions in 1948. A politician with ideals and integrity is such a rarity these days that it can't help but sound heroic. This is the case too watching a piece of political agit-prop, a form which not that long ago was considered to be passe, but which now appears to have been reborn for the age of austerity with a vigorous sense of righteous urgency. This is with good cause, as Feelihy proves in the play's central tale of one family's travails after their 90 year old mother Iris has a stroke. A sadly familiar story of over-crowded and understaffed hospital wards is punctuated by a series of sketch-like interludes, as Bevan and Winston Churchill step out of the audience to form a …

Best of the Village Pub Theatre

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars For the last couple of years, an ever expanding group of writers, actors and directors have set up shop in a pub function room in Leith to showcase their work at a series of lo-fi monthly events. Every night last week, Edinburgh's original home of new writing has hosted a set of similar events presented by the team behind the Village Pub Theatre in a way that suggests VPT has quietly become a significant force on the theatre scene. As a grand finale to the week, Saturday night saw script in hand presentations of eight works previously seen at the company's regular home alongside a series of quick-fire Twitter plays, with each one using no more than 160 letters. There was an end of term feel to proceedings as VPT founders, writer James Ley and director Caitlin Skinner, introduced the evening, which began with Morna Pearson's Of The Green Kind, a look at the effect an invading alien has on three very different young women…

Sam Halmarack & The Miserablites

The Arches, Glasgow Four stars There must be few things more dispiriting for a band if no-one turns out to see them play. But what if the band themselves don't turn up, leaving just the possibly deluded singer to bare his soul? No, this isn't the latest exercise in social engineering by The Fall's Mark E Smith, but is the premise of Bristol-based performer Sam Halmarack's hour-long dissection of pop mythology in miniature. There is no rise or fall here, only the bitter-sweet taste of never making it to cling to for comfort. Somehow, however, by getting the audience to join in on rudimentary glockenspiel, drums and keyboards as instructed by a home-made rehearsal video, Halmarack snatches triumph from adversity in a way that gives the Arches chair-stripped studio theatre the power of a stadium. On one level, surrounded by an array of space-age silver instruments, Halmarack comes over like an electro-pop John Shuttleworth. Yet, in his gold track-suit top an…

Stuart Paterson - Cars and Boys

Stuart Paterson never meant to write Cars and Boys, his new play which opens at Dundee Rep next week in a production by the Rep's artistic director, Philip Howard. The prolific playwright and screenwriter whose numerous Christmas plays are a staple of the festive theatre circuit had been working on another piece, which, by his own admission, “was going nowhere, and this one sort of crept up on me. I was going to the theatre a lot, and not really enjoying it. I saw plenty of ideas there, but what I wanted to do was something that was simple and human, and that wasn't just about words and dialogue, but was more about the sound of words as well.”
Cars and Boys tells the story of Catherine Miller, the ageing matriarch of a big-time haulage company who has been calling the shots all of her life. Even after she suffers a stroke and is confined to a hospital bed, it seems, Catherine is determined to take charge of everyone and everything around her.
“It's about the life of a …