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Showing posts from November, 2014

Scotch and Soda

Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square, Edinburgh
Three stars
What happens in a bar after-hours stays in a bar after-hours. Unless,
that is, the late-night action is immortalised and worked up into an
hour-long routine by a troupe of alt-circus performers who resemble
extras from a Tom Waits song. This is the case here, as Australia's
Company 2 transform drinking games into gymnastics in the Underbelly's
flagship show for Edinburgh's Christmas 2014 programme.

A quintet of acrobats accompanied by the equally five-strong Crusty
Suitcase Band introduce the audience into a speak-easy atmosphere with
a fanfare that moves between rag-time and bump n' grind. Things start
off simple enough with a set of what looks like party tricks, as sole
female member of the ensemble Chelsea McGuffin takes a walk across some
upright champagne bottles.

The elaborately bearded Mozes indulges in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it
full-frontal flash before embarking on a far more impressive solo
trapeze act. Hi…

Nikola Kodjabashia - A Christmas Carol

Ebeneezer Scrooge and composer Harrison Birtwistle may not be the most
obvious of artistic bedfellows. Without the latter, however, one
suspects Nikola Kodjabashia would not have been able to make the
Citizens Theatre's seasonal production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas
Carol as adapted by Neil Bartlett sound like it does when it opens this
weekend.

It was Birtwistle, after all, who effectively taught Kodjabashia his
musical chops when the Macedonian composer studied under the former
musical director of the National Theatre in London before giving  him
his first theatre gig on Sir Peter Hall's production of The Bacchai.

Since then, Kodjabashia has worked all over the world, and has forged a
particularly fruitful working relationship with the Citz's artistic
director, Doninic Hill, who will oversee A Christmas Carol. This
follows on from Hill's acclaimed productions of Crime and Punishment,
which saw Chris Hannan adapt Dostoyevsky's epic novel for the stage, as
w…

Pere Ubu

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Four stars
“Ma body may be broken,” drawls Pere Ubu's vocalist and de facto
director David Thomas to explain why he won't be getting up from his
chair so the people at the back of the room can see him, “but ma miiiiiind
is more dangerous than ever.”

It may sound like a line from a Tennessee Williams play, but having
already thrown his walking stick to the ground en route to an
explanation of Random-access memory, Thomas' seated presence as he
slugs a bottle of red wine inbetween reading lyrics from a music stand
is clearly a bodily necessity.  Mercurial belligerence may have always
been Thomas' thing, but his uncompromising stance is also a knowing
piece of self-reflection as the current Ubu line up play two sets
culled largely from the band's recent Carnival of Souls album.

With no mention of Ubu's recent appearance on the soundtrack of the
latest series of American Horror Story, the first half hour is a
loose-fit alliance o…

Jean-Denis Leduc and Orla O'Loughlin - New Writing From Quebec

When the Traverse Theatre's artistic director Orla O'Loughlin touched
down in Montreal in September of this year to take part in an
international exchange between Scots and Quebecois playwrights, one of
the first things she saw was a Saltire hanging from a city centre
balcony. A week after the referendum on Scottish independence, feelings
were still raw.

Edinburgh's new writing theatre had spent referendum night itself
presenting their production of John McCann's play, Spoiling, which
imagined the Realpolitik behind an independence win as Scotland's first
minister of international affair prepared her maiden speech. The
Traverse also hosted an informal presentation of David Greig's
independence-themed Twitter plays. As the referendum result became
clear, however, the next night of Spoiling was by all accounts an even
more emotional affair.

It was against this backdrop that O'Loughlin arrived in Montreal with
Scottish writers Rob Drummond, Dougla…

Stan Douglas

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
November 7th-February 15th
When Stan Douglas' play, Helen Lawrence, played as part of this year's
Edinburgh International Festival, its live depiction of a post World
War Two film noir beamed against a a 3D photographic backdrop looked at
the class and racial divides of Vancouver's run-down Hogan's Alley
district, later cleaned up then razed in the name of urban renewal.

Hogan's Alley's 3D remains can be seen in Douglas' remarkable
large-scale image that forms part of his new show at Edinburgh's
Fruitmarket Gallery. Also on show will be Video, which recasts Orson
Welles' film of Kafka's The Trial with a Senegalese woman in the
Parisian suburb of La Courneuve, where some of the worst violence of
2005's Paris riots took place.

“Sarkozy was still Minister of the Interior when we shot the piece,”
says Douglas, “and his office tried to shut our production down, even
though we had made deals with the local mayor and loca…

The Kite Runner

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
A lone tabla player ushers in Giles Croft's formidable production of
Matthew Spangler's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel
with a frantic overture that points up the turmoil of the story's
Afghan origins. If the images of big city skyscrapers that loom behind
offer up some kind of salvation, the opening speech by the play's
narrator Amir is poetic enough to resemble a Tennessee Williams
monologue.

Worlds collide and cultures clash in far crueller ways over the next
two and a half hours, from the moment Amir plays cowboys with his
father's servant's son and best friend Hassan after watching John Wayne
films in the Iranian cinema in mid-1970s Kabul. Separated by class and
ethnicity, Amir and Hassan's fates are marked by a shocking childhood
event that sees Hassan brutalised, while Amir's shameful acquiescence
leaves him hard to sympathise with, let alone like.

What follows, as the Russian invasion o…

Pamela Carter – Slope

When Untitled Projects' production of Slope opens this week at the
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow as part of this year's Glasgay! festival,
both the writer and director of this sex and drug fuelled study of the
love affair between nineteenth century poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud,
will be absent from the auditorium. Instead, director Stewart Laing and
playwright Pamela Carter will be watching a live online feed of a show
first seen at Tramway in 2006 in a production which put the audience
above the stage peering down into the poets' bathroom as if spying on
some of the lovers' most intimate moments.

Slope's new hi-tech approach will further the play's underlying theme
of voyeurism. This originally developed, not out of the script, but
from the starting point of Laing's design.

“All those years ago,” Carter recalls, “Stewart had this design, and
wanted to develop a piece of work using it. It struck me that having an
audience peering down into a bathroom is as voyeur…

Symphony

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
There's a slick but laid-back rapport between the overall-clad
four-piece band playing a punky overture at the top of this ménage a
trois of lo-fi mini musicals from the nabokov company and Soho Theatre.
They address the audience as they enter the theatre, setting a casual
tone to what follows as they step into character and costume for each
playlet.

Proceedings open with Jonesy, Tom Wells' tale of a sports mad asthmatic
boy who can't finish a netball match without a brush with death, but
still finds music in his heart. Ella Hickson's A Love Song For The
People of London finds two solitary travellers adrift in the big city
catch each others eye with tragi-comic results, while My Thoughts On
Leaving You is a quick-fire run through a relationship, as boy meets
girl in a nightclub toilet before playing out their everyday urban
melodrama in song.

While the first piece is essentially a fleshed-out monologue, the
following two are old-scho…

The Fundraiser

Salutation Hotel, Perth
Four stars
In the banqueting hall of the oldest hotel in Scotland, a very special
event is about to take place. The party tunes are playing, and the
stage is swathed in sparkly scarlet tinsel designed to match the oh-so
OTT outfits of our glamorous auctioneers, Tina and Rachel. They are
here to raise money, spirits and a smile for Tina's heroic
cross-channel swim following a near brush with death after an asthma
attack.

Once the audience have been escorted to their tables with bidding cards
and raffle tickets in hand, what follows in Robert Jack's production of
Lesley Hart's new play at first looks like a kitsch and slightly camp
dissection of the toe-curling spectacle which a well-meaning but
misguided fund-raising event can easily end up as. The bad gags, rictus
grins and awkwardly staged amateur hour routines are all grotesque
enough in the hands of the double act of Sally Reid as Tina and Claire
Knight as Rachel in something which initially resembl…

Towards The End of the Century – On The Road With Passing Places

If the 90s were just the 60s turned upside-down, as some wag once
suggested, then such a notion  confirmed what cultural commentator
Michael Bracewell described in his book on the era as an age 'when
surface was depth'. What this appeared to mean by the time Stephen
Greenhorn's play, Passing Places, appeared in 1997, was a definition of
a decade that had already spawned Brit Pop, Girl Power, New Laddism and
Cool Britannia. Here, then, was a shallow pool of pop without politics,
Barbie Doll feminism in a Union Jack mini dress and sexism with an
apparently ironic twist.

The Berlin Wall had come down in 1989, and, after a decade of class and
civil war by way of the Miners Strike and the Poll Tax, Conservative
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been forced to resign from office
after an eleven year reign of terror. Tony Blair's landslide New Labour
victory in 1997 suggested  that things could only get better, but
suddenly, with no pricks to kick against, it wasn't ea…

The Hypochondriak

Royal Conservatoire Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars
As openings go, when the cast of Ali de Souza's production of Hector
MacMillan's ribald Scots version of Moliere's seventeenth century
comedy, La Malade Imaginaire, come burling through the New Athenaeum
auditorium led by a bagpiper before launching into an onstage ceilidh,
it's a pretty strong statement of intent. What follows is an
accomplished and suitably larger than life study of how an old man
called Argan can take near masochistic pleasure in his imaginary
ailments. He is cured, not by quackery and a fondness for enemas, but
by waking up to his own gullibility as he's taken in by his
gold-digging wife Beline inbetween attempting to marry off his daughter
Angelique into the medical classes.

MacMillan's pithy and richly evocative dialogue is captured impeccably
by a young cast of final year acting students from the RCS, led by
Philip Laing's physically dextrous turn as Argan, who has some fine
comic interp…

Matthew Spangler - The Kite Runner

It seemed like there weren't many books dealing with a contemporary
immigrant's experience before Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite
Runner, was published in 2003. It was this quality that first attracted
playwright Matthew Spangler to adapt Hosseini's tale of two boyhood
friends – Amir  and Hassan -  growing up in Afghanistan against a
backdrop of war for the stage. With both men living in the same
Californian neighbourhood, Hosseini and Spangler met up for coffee,
with the end result being Spangler's adaptation of The Kite Runner,
currently on a UK tour in a co-production by Nottingham Playhouse and
Liverpool Playhouse, and which arrives in Edinburgh next week.

“I first read the book in 2005,” says Spangler, “and a lot of it is set
locally to me, in the area where the family in the novel move to. The
first attraction to me was that it was a book about the immigrant's
experience, but it's a book about many things. It's a love story, a
father-son story, it's…

Colquhoun and Macbryde

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Long before anyone invented the make-believe Glasgow miracle, Robert
Colquhoun and Robert Macbryde were creating a set of artistic
mythologies that set the tone for much that followed. Kilmarnock born
and Glasgow School of Art trained, as painters and lovers the two
Roberts blazed a drink-sodden trail through bohemian London that saw
them hailed as boy wonders before being spoilt by bad behaviour and
sidelined by the more voguish face of abstract expressionism.

Few have identified the talents of Glasgow's original artistic double
act more than John Byrne, whose original 1992 romp through their messy
lives has here been condensed into a suitably wild two-man version in
Andy Arnold's production for the Tron in association with the Glasgay!
festival. The bare back-side of a sprawled-out Macbryde being painted
by his partner-in-crime at the top of the show sets the tone for the
tempestuous and emotionally naked roller-coaster ride that follows. As
the…

The Ladykillers

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
The dramatic and musical cacophony that dovetails the two acts of
Graham Linehan's audacious adaptation of William Rose's classic Ealing
comedy speaks volumes about the post World War Two little Britain
occupied by the disparate gang of get-rich-quick villains at the play's
heart. By posing as a string quartet, the charming Professor Marcus and
his coterie of crooks made up of a cross-dressing major, a pill-popping
teddy-boy, a muscle-headed sidekick and a European psychopath may
appear respectable in the eyes of Marcus' new land-lady, Mrs
Wilberforce. Yet, as with the revolving set that allows the audience in
to Mrs Wilberforce's crumbling King's Cross pile in Richard Baron's
slickly realised revival, it's easy to see beyond the polite facade
towards something messier and more complex.

While Mrs Wilberforce is spotting Nazi spies in the newsagent, the
dog-eat-dog aspirations of Marcus and co points to a crueller futur…