Skip to main content

Stan Douglas - Helen Lawrence

Like all great film noirs, there's nothing black and white about Helen
Lawrence, the post World War Two 'cinematic stage production' put
together by Canadian artist, photographer and film-maker Stan Douglas
in collaboration with screen-writer Chris Haddock. What there is on
both stage and screen in this international co-production is a set of
familiar noir-based iconography that shows off an altogether bigger if
somewhat shadowy picture of life after, rather than during, wartime.

“Post-war periods are real periods of flux,” says Douglas, “and I
wanted to look at how governments deal with the issue. In Canada, A lot
of war veterans came back to Vancouver, and there was a real housing
problem. People were living in huts because they had nowhere else to
go. Also, there was a lot of corruption. Everyone was a little bit
crooked, but after the war that wasn't going to be tolerated. It was a
local symptom of a global condition.”

Helen Lawrence is set between Vancouver's iconic Old Hotel, which was
squatted by homeless war veterans before being sequestered as an
official military hostel, and the mixed race Hogan's Alley
neighbourhood, where illicit gambling dens and whore-houses existed
after hours alongside a lively underground. As with most inner-city
areas of character and artistic endeavour – some might call them slums
– both were razed to the ground by Vancouver's city fathers in the name
of 'urban renewal', modernism's great botched utopia that has
frequently occupied Douglas' work.

Before the bull-dozers move in, however, in steps Douglas' eponymous
heroine, a pill-popping and booze-soaked femme fatale in search of the
man who framed her for her  husband's murder and saw her confined to
the sanatorium.

“She's a foreigner who's come to find somebody,” says Douglas. ““She's
experienced war herself.”

With such a hard-boiled scenario, Haddock's experience writing and
producing TV drama, including episodes of HBO's gangster series,
Boardwalk Empire, is clearly an asset.

“The film noir is caused by experiences of war,” says Douglas. “There
are femme fatales, and tight-lipped tough-guys who've done horrible
things in the war. So filom noir was certainly not like anything on
YouTube. I suppose the negative equivalent of film noir was something
like Singin' in the Rain. They were spectacles to time. Then in the
1970s, post Vietnam War, a lot of film-makers all began at that moment
to make films on a low budget, people like Robert Altman, Martin
Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola.”

As with the generation of baby-boomers he references, with Douglas it's
what happens after the blast that counts.

“Wars happen,” he says.”Wars are our new reality. It's how you deal
with them that matters.

Helen Lawrence, King's Theatre, Sunday 24-Tuesday 26 August, 8pm;
Monday 25 August 3pm

Edinburgh International Festival magazine, August 2014



Popular posts from this blog

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…


Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …


Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars

A flying saucer orbits over Edinburgh Castle before landing outside the Usher Hall. That's the story anyway according to the animated visuals for this 3D extravaganza from the original electronic boy band. Whether the alien craft is responsible for depositing the over-excited stage invader who briefly manages to jump aboard mid-set isn't on record. The four men of a certain age lined up hunched over fairy-lit consoles and sporting LED laced Lycra outfits as they pump out their hugely influential back-catalogue of retro-futuristic electro-pop remain oblivious.

There is nevertheless a sublime display of humanity on display. The quartet of Ralf Hutter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Falk Grieffenhagen lend a surprising warmth to compositions given fresh pulse by the state of art visual display. While the band stand stock still at what appears to be a set of old-school keyboards, sound and vision are in perpetual motion. This is the case whethe…