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Showing posts from 2015

Annet Henneman - The Radio: Voices from the Territories of Conflict

When theatre director Annet Henneman came to Glasgow in the summer of 2012, she and her international collective of activists and performers that form her Teatro di Nascosto (Hidden Theatre) company worked with refugees from Sri Lanka, Africa and Kurdistan to create a new performance piece. Created over several days of improvisation, and using techniques inspired by Polish theatrical guru, Jerzy Grotowski, Refugee School was devised with Henneman leading a group who couldn't speak each other's language, but who went on to create a series of presentations that enabled them to find common ground by acting out and sharing their stories.

By the end of the first day of what was an understandably emotional experience for all involved, the group, who had only met hours before, were dancing in unison to recordings of Kurdish music. For those involved, it was both a relief and a joy to indulge in such seemingly simple pleasures which they'd previously been denied prior to their f…

Special Love - When 2 Become 1

When a man wearing a black woolen face-mask and a dirty raincoat with not much underneath takes the stage to let rip with a series of homo-erotic confessionals set to a dirty synth-pop back-drop, one could be forgiven for suspecting the vice squad might be paying a call soon. The truth is, when Special Love break cover to play live next week for the first time in a decade, their onanistically inclined vignettes will probably sound as charmingly old-school as the MySpace page which is one of the few means of hearing their few rough recordings which have survived the band itself.

Special Love existed for one year only in 2005, when the pseudonymous duo of Johnny Dave and Charlie George came together to fuse their lusty tales of after-hours voyeurism and other solitary fantasies. As tongue in cheek as their schtick was during live shows tailor-made for alternative cabaret nights of yore, Special Love nevertheless mixed the squelch of The Normal's Warm Leatherette and Nag, Nag, Nag er…

Golden Teacher – First 3 EPs

When Golden Teacher played an Edinburgh show on General Election night this year, it felt like the 1980s in more ways than one. While the big screen relaying live TV coverage in the bar area of the city's Mash House venue kept freezing, even technical gremlins couldn't hold off the Conservative Party's inexplicable majority which might just have doomed us to austerity forever after.

In stark contrast, the live room next door was awash to a darkly joyous stew of percussion-heavy psych voodoo club sounds that proved to be irresistible to dance-floor revellers seeking sanctuary from the gloom. As fractured as the times, Golden Teacher live seemed to be tugging in several directions at once. It was as if Giorgio Moroder and Brian Eno had moulded a back-drop of fourth world funk and deep-set techno libation into an increasingly euphoric mix that ushered in the rhythmic tease of Grace Jones circa 1981 and mid 1980s Cabaret Voltaire. In light of the disaster that was being played…

Scot:Lands 2015 - Subverting Edinburgh's Hogmanay

For several years now, something quietly subversive has been happening at Edinburgh's Hogmanay, the capital's high-profile festival now spread over several days and nights to see out the old year and usher in the new. While the Concert in the Gardens, this year headlined by Biffy Clyro, may receive much of the attention, it is the Scot:Lands event on New Year's Day where things start to look really interesting.

Set across eleven stages in the capital's old town, Scot:Lands draws together some of the country's most interesting artists working across all forms. A plethora of musicians, poets, visual artists, dancers and performance artists will present a variety of bespoke presentations curated by a nationwide array of small-scale arts organisations and venues.

These range from video and film installations to a five hour contemporary dance improvisation to a spoken-word extravaganza. On the musical side, audiences of more than an estimated 10,000 who register will al…

Michael Begg - Spem in Alium

In 1570, when Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis wrote his astonishing forty-voice motet, Spem in Alium (Hope in any other), , he probably didn't foresee the piece's transcendent propensities being co-opted by novelist E.L. James for her best-selling twenty-first century 'erotic romance', Fifty Shades of Grey. While such mass acceptance mercifully failed to dim the composition's splendour in the way Ravel's Bolero was kitschified following its use in Blake Edwards' 1979 rom-com, 10, it nevertheless saw recordings of Spem in Alium shoot to the top of the classical charts.

If Tallis was turning in his grave during the Fifty Shades hoo-har, he can rest more than easy regarding Michael Begg's infinitely more seasonal sounding 'arrangement and erosion' of an already majestic work. Rather than use voices, Begg utilises slowed-down strings and sepulchral sounding drones for a treatment that enhances the beauty of Tallis' original, even as it subver…

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Edinburgh Playhouse
Four stars

A giant pink lipstick stands centre-stage with proudly phallic intent at the opening of Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott's camp musical take on Elliot's 1994 film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The equally garish map of Australia that stands behind it marks out the route which our cross-dressing, gender-bending hero/ines will follow over the next two and a half hours in their magic bus.
A coloured lightshow turns the Playhouse into a gay disco writ large as it ushers us into the backstage world of Tick, aka Mitzi, Adam, better known as Felicia, and Les Girls veteran Bernadette. While getting a glimpse of Jason Donovan in his pants as Tick before he dons feather boa and wig to lip-synch with artful abandon is enough for some, there is the small matter of Tick's six year old son and the promise of a job on the other side of the country.

This is the only plot-based excuse required in Simon Phillips' production to soundtrac…

Gavin Mitchell - Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the Turner Prize may not be the most obvious of bedfellows. Anyone wishing to find the connection between the latest run of the campest of musicals and this year's cutting edge contemporary art competition, however, need only look to Gavin Mitchell.

Tonight, the actor best known to TV audiences as Boaby the Barman in hit sit-com Still Game will be onstage in Priscilla at Edinburgh Playhouse. For these dates only, Mitchell will be playing opposite Jason Donovan in the relatively low-key role of Bob, the mechanic picked up by the bus-load of drag queens in Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott's long-running stage musical version of Elliot's hit 1994 film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Last Monday night at Tramway in Glasgow, however, it was Mitchell's dulcet tones that could be heard introducing former Sonic Youth vocalist, bass player and artistic polymath Kim Gordon. Gordon may have been announcing the Turner award i…

Neu! Reekie! - The Five-Year Plan

When spoken-word mash-up maestros Neu! Reekie! open up the doors of Edinburgh's Central Hall this Thursday tea-time for their latest extravaganza, the melee of poets, novelists, pop stars, film-makers, artists and other ne'er do wells taking part will not only signal the full-on arrival of the festive season. They will also mark a five-year rollercoaster ride for Neu! Reekie! and its ring-masters, Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson. Together with an army of collaborators and contributors, this double-act has helped change the landscape in terms of a now burgeoning appetite for what used to be called alternative cabaret, even as the night has its roots in pop poetry scenes of yore.

With a bill headlined by Irvine Welsh and Liz Lochhead, and featuring musical sets from hip-hop troupe, Hector Bizerk, and New Pop fabulists, WHITE, the singularly named #NeuReekiesXmasKracker looks set to be a variety show to savour. The night will also see one-off collaborations between Emma Po…

The Pop Group – For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?

In the absence of younger artists willing to become the nation's conscience in the face of ongoing austerity culture, The Pop Group returned in 2010 to reclaim their oppositionist mantle. During the five years since, the Bristol-sired post-punk incendiarists have co-opted PledgeMusic to fund both a reissue of their explosive 1980 compilation album, We Are Time, as well as this year's Citizen Zombie, the first new Pop Group recordings in thirty-five years.

Now the quartet of sooth-saying vocalist Mark Stewart, guitarist Gareth Sager, bassist Dan Catsis and drummer Bruce Smith resurface with another campaign for the first ever CD release of their provocatively named 1980 album, their second, For How Much Longer Must We Tolerate Mass Murder? This is accompanied by a separate limited edition release of their equally in-yer-face 1979 single, We Are All Prostitutes.

With the album's urgent dispatches such as Forces of Oppression, There Are No Spectators and Rob A Bank lobbed …

Tracks of the Winter Bear

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

A snow-ridden pathway flanked at either end by flung-out furniture opens the Traverse's exquisitely realised double bill of seasonal but utterly grown-up plays. By the end of these two short works by Stephen Greenhorn and Rona Munro, however, designer Kai Fischer's gauze-shrouded white landscape has thawed considerably in a slow-burning and emotional show which, despite its title, is riven with all too recognisably human experience.
In the first piece, Greenhorn unravels a love affair between two women that rewinds from its final plague to its first flush as it moves from atop Arthur's Seat to a first kiss on Portobello Beach, and all points inbetween. Munro's follow-up work puts a woman in an initially adversarial situation with a real live polar bear. As the Bear channels the inner hunger of those she devours, both try to find their way home, be it in Abbeyhill or a winter wonderland far away.

Themes of mortality pulse both …

The Tempest

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

In the darkness, a Pierrot-faced Ariel pads her way onto a stage littered with a tower of computer monitors. She climbs aloft a box, and with the wave of a hand, conjures up a storm that's beamed out from the screens and made flesh by some very regal looking castaways. So begins Ali de Souza and Katy Hale's look at Shakespeare's late period tale of exile, reconciliation and letting go for Prospero beyond his solitary kingdom, and adult awakenings for his daughter Miranda. There are new freedoms to be explored too for Ariel, as played by Alyssa Wininger, and for Prospero's slave, Caliban, brought to ferocious life by Oystein Schiefloe Kanestrom.
First up, however, is a father and daughter heart to heart between Laurence Pybus' Prospero and Lauren Grace's Miranda, stepping among ship-wrecked bodies splayed out on the shore as they go. Among the debris is Sebastian, played here by Jessica Brindle as the sister …

Walls Come Tumbling Down – Assemble and the Turner Prize

When artist, writer and musician Kim Gordon announced Assemble as the winner of the 2015 Turner Prize at Tramway in Glasgow on Monday night, she played an absolute doozy. This wasn't just because she mentioned the city's seminal 1980s Sunday psych-punk-indie club, Splash 1, where her old band Sonic Youth played an early Scottish show.

While that alone was an acknowledgment of the DIY energy that trickled down the decades into the fertile and incestuous grassroots music and art scenes that now go some way to defining Glasgow, it was more to do with the way Gordon so charmingly fluffed her lines. So instead of saying 'this year', the words “this weird” came out.

Once she checked herself, she followed up by initially announcing the award for the 2016 Prize instead of 2015. While Gordon laughed off these glitches with unflustered cool, once she announced Assemble as winners, both goofs couldn't have sounded more appropriate.

Even with the Turner's chequered hi…

Rapunzel

Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Flowers grow wherever Rapunzel goes in Annie Siddons' hippified take on the Brothers Grimm's classic tale. From the day this sparkiest and spikiest of young heroines is abandoned in the woods, life blooms around her. It's a good job, then, that she's taken in by Mother Gothel's tribe of herbalists, whose handiness with exotic tinctures rubs off on their adopted daughter.
Once Rapunzel hits puberty, however, Gothel morphs into a jealous sociopath who locks her up in a tower where Rapunzel's already voluminous locks grow into a curtain that hides her from the world. Not that this matters to Rapunzel, who, in her dungarees, geek girl specs and buffed red Doc Marten boots, is more than capable of wrestling soppy Prince Patrizio to the ground when he comes calling. The adventure that follows is a walk on the wild side for them both in Lu Kemp's production, which becomes a psychologist's paradise as Wendy Seager'…

Stephen Greenhorn and Rona Munro - Tracks of the Winter Bear

You could be forgiven for thinking Stephen Greenhorn and Rona Munro have come in from the cold. Tracks of the Winter Bear, the writers' collaborative double bill of plays which opens at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh tonight, sees both writers getting back to their roots with the theatre company where some of their earliest work was seen. The production will also be Greenhorn's first stage play since Sunshine on Leith began its road to international acclaim in 2007.

While Munro's plays have been seen at the Traverse more recently, her one-act contribution to this new compendium will be a considerably more intimate affair than the epic sweep of The James Plays, her trilogy of history plays presented at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival by the National Theatre of Scotland.

“Tracks of the Winter Bear is much smaller,” she says, “but it's really magical as well. I'd had this idea for a while about doing a kind of adult Christmas show that had this great bi…

Madeleine Worrall - Playing Jane Eyre

When Madeleine Worrall steps out onto the stage tomorrow night to play the title role in a new stage version of Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, it won't just be the audience at the National Theatre who will be watching. As part of the NT Live initiative, a live feed of Sally Cookson's production, originally seen at Bristol Old Vic in 2014, will be screened simultaneously in more than 650 cinemas across the UK. In Scotland alone some fifty-four cinemas will show the production. All of which sounds more than a little bit daunting for the Edinburgh born actress, who remains onstage throughout the show.

“It is a bit terrifying for us,” she admits. “We think we're just doing it in front of the audience in the theatre, but we're actually being seen in cinemas all over. I'm trying not to think about it to be honest, but the NT Live people are being very clear that we're not trying to make a film, but are filming a theatre performance, with everything that goe…

The Witches

Dundee Rep
Three stars

Young audiences beware. Choose carefully which brand of sticky confectionery you stuff your faces with during the interval of Dundee Rep's festive production of Roald Dahl's supernatural classic, as adapted here by Dahl specialist David Wood. If you scoff down the wrong kind, you might just return having been transformed into a mouse. This is exactly what happens to the Boy narrator of the story and his greedy friend Bruno when they accidentally gatecrash an international witches conference in Bournemouth's swanky Hotel Magnificent.
Such notions of subjugation and social control over the young have already been cranked up at the witches conference itself. While the Tory-blue twin-sets stay on, attendees toss aside all vestiges of humanity that their wigs and gloves provide. This adds to the grotesquerie as Emily Winter's Grand High Witch holds the floor like some crazed tin-pot dictator waging war on imaginary enemies.

Using a mix of mouse pupp…

Lucy Parker – Blacklist

When a blacklisted construction worker on camera compares his experience to something written by Kafka, given everything that has gone before, you know exactly what he means. Especially as, rather than such a statement coming from some Cold War era East European dissident as he reads his once secret files, these words are being uttered at a table in a London pub by a middle-aged man in the early years of the twenty-first century.

The incident is captured in the twenty minute video that forms the heart of Blacklist, Lucy Parker's multi-media work-in-progress running this week at Edinburgh's Rhubaba artspace. It comes during a round-table discussion between several men who were on a list of some 3,213 names compiled between 1993 and 2009 by the UK-based Consulting Association. Those on the list had either spoken out about on-site working conditions or else were known trade union members or activists. With the lists circulated among construction companies bank-rolling The Consult…

The Nectarine No 9 - Saint Jack (Heavenly)

There's a darkness at the heart of Saint Jack, the second album by The Nectarine No 9, Davy Henderson's skewed ensemble take on rock and roll following his adventures with Edinburgh post-punk primitivists Fire Engines and the major label pop entryist gloss of Win. Originally released in 1995 on Alan Horne's briefly reignited Postcard label, Heavenly's twentieth anniversary reissue goes some way to unearthing the missing link between those early deconstructions and Henderson's current guise leading the equally conceptualist Sexual Objects, who this year auctioned the sole copy of their second album, Marshmallow, on eBay for a cool £4,213.

Having 'regrouped' once already last year and with dates pending in London and Glasgow to play Saint Jack in full, The Nectarine No 9 might just have found their time.

With the band named after a Japanese love hotel, the title of this follow up to their loose-knit debut, A Sea And Three Stars (or C***, if you will), was a t…

Pauline Knowles - The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

When Pauline Knowles was cast as the White Witch in the Royal Lyceum Theatre's Christmas production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which opened at the weekend, she wasn't sure what to make of her character. In a career that has seen the Edinburgh-born actress play such roles as Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song as well as a plethora of new plays including David Harrower's Knives in Hens, it was the first time she would be playing such an out and out villain.

Given the intelligence, depth and quiet steeliness Knowles has consistently brought to her work, her approach was never going to be a one-dimensional affair.

“It's interesting,” she says, taking a break from technical rehearsals which have included her seeing the White Witch's wand light up for the first time.,“because I've had to try and think of her as someone who isn't a human being. All of the other creatures in it are beavers and what have you, but she's completely different. She's som…

Jeremy Thoms - The Stereogram Revue

When Jeremy Thoms decided to start a record label, it was initially to put out the debut album by his own band, The Cathode Ray. Three years on, Stereogram Recordings has a roster of eight acts, six of whom will be taking part in the two-night mini package tour this week styled by Thoms as The Stereogram Revue. A seventh, The Band of Holy Joy, will be represented by proxy, but more of that anon.

“It's something that hasn't happened for a very long time,” Thoms says of the initiative. “I was inspired by the likes of the Stax revues in the sixties, and the Live Stiffs tours in the seventies, where all the acts on the label play on the same bill. With the Stereogram Revue, everybody plays twenty minute sets and hopefully leaves their ego at the door. There will be rough edges to it, I'm sure, but I quite like that. All my favourite artists, like Vic Godard, just plug in and thrash it out. Even so, I suspect I'll be a complete nervous wreck on the night.”

With James King a…