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Showing posts from February, 2015

The Effect

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

What does it mean to be love sick? Lucy Prebble's award-winning play, first seen at the Royal National Theatre in 2012, explores this painful question through two couples confined in very different ways by clinical drug trials in a medical testing centre run by a tellingly named pharmaceutical company. Connie and Tristan arrive as strangers, but within hours find themselves attracted to each other in a way that might just be chemically enhanced. Lorna and Toby, meanwhile, are the doctors overseeing Connie and Tristan's trial, and whose uneasy shared history dictates everything that follows.
As Connie and Tristan's terminal flirtation eventually spills over, so Lorna and Toby come to redefine their relationship through a series of double bluffs which have devastating consequences for them all.

The inner landscape Prebble explores in this fascinating dramatic analysis of chemistry, biology and sheer physical and mental desire is the sort …

Twelve Angry Men

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The scales of justice hang heavy in stark black and white on the gauze through which the murder jury sit in the shadows at the start of this touring revival of Reginald Rose's post courtroom classic, first seen as a television play before being made iconic in Sidney Lumet's big screen debut in 1957. Christopher Haydon's production, first produced by Birmingham Rep before becoming a West End hit, casts Tom Conti as the anonymous Juror 8, initially the sole dissenter of a pack intent on sending a young boy of colour to his death in what initially seems a cut and dried case.
As the facts are gradually revealed over the next two riveting hours, they also lay bare an assortment of everyday prejudices and knee-jerk notions of law and order fuelled by ignorance, fear and self-loathing.

It's not hard to recognise contemporary universal parallels in Rose's play, which burns with claustrophobic heat in the shabby room of Michael Pav…

Alexander and Susan Maris – The Potter's Field / Tim Sandys – Damocles / Kenny Watson – Last Rites

Lust and the Apple, The Old School House, Temple, near Gorebridge until April 19th
Four stars

It's all too fitting that the outside lights weren't working on the opening night of this new venture from Paul Robertson, the iconoclastic former curator of Summerhall, whose sudden departure from the former Royal Dick Veterinary School in August 2014 has yet to be explained. Situated in the former primary school of a Midlothian village fourteen miles south of Edinburgh and steeped in Knights Templar folklore, Lust and the Apple's opening triple-headed hydra of shows appears tailor-made to cope with electrical gremlins, and seeing the work in the raw and partly shrouded by the blackest of night skies enhances rather than denudes their sense of public ritual.
This is evident from the moment you enter the old school's car park to be greeted by six helium balloons suspended in mid-air, each with a wooden spike pointed firmly downwards. As indicated by the spikes already embedded…

Florian & Michael Quistrebert - Visions of Void

Dundee Contemporary Arts until March 22nd
Four stars

White light, white heat and pop art fun palaces are what initially spring to mind as one enters this biggest UK display to date by the French-born Quistrebert brothers to a mind-bending projection of op-art geometric patterns beamed onto canvas in a pitch-black room. Such black and white counterpoints in what is styled as Stripes 2 (2013) gives off the image of a well turned out chill-out room designed for sensory disorientation and altered states in ways many of DCA's shows have explored over recent years.
In the main gallery there is plenty of space left between the paintings that make up the Overlight series (2015), on which are daubed thick-set layers of modelling paste mixed up with coatings of either gold, chrome or gold chrome. Inside these already shiny surfaces are embedded tiny LED lights, both coloured and clear.
Parked next to each other, with two next door using a gritty powder used for high visibility road markings, ea…

Jenny Sealey - Blood Wedding

In the Sun-filled rehearsal room on the top floor of Dundee Rep, a tender scene is being played out. On the floor, two young lovers are declaring undying devotion to each other. “We'll never ever leave each other,” the young man utters earnestly to his heart's desire as they hold on to each other, albeit somewhat gingerly. “My body is yours. Your body is mine,” he says, with her repeating his words back at him.

Watching over the scene alongside assorted stage managers and crew is a woman who appears to be dressed in a pair of checked pyjamas. While choreographer Mark Smith negotiates the couple's movements as actors Miles Mitchell and Amy Conachan repeat the scene several times, the woman eventually can't help herself, and, as the “My body is yours” lines are being spoken, moves into the playing area and puts Mitchell's hands firmly onto Conachan's breasts. “Touch each other,” the woman says out loud.

The woman is Jenny Sealey, who since 1997 has been arti…

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Before the opening of Mark Thomson's new production of Bertolt Brecht's late-period masterpiece, seen here in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, the large ensemble cast begin to mill about the auditorium. Dressed down in jeans and hoodies, they chat with the audience as they enter, or else warm up their accordion playing in the box seats above Karen Tennant's expansive set, left wide-open with pianos and a drum kit arranged around a gallows and some pillars.
As a plummy-voiced civil service type attempts to foster social engineering in a war-ravaged village, Sarah Swire's rock diva narrator breezes onstage, and the villagers become a multi-tasking musical theatre troupe, playing out the plight of servant girl Grusha, who flees an uprising with her Imelda Marcos-like mistress's forgotten child after pledging herself to soldier Simon. With Grusha's survival dependent on others, her story eventually gives way to tha…

The Fair Intellectual Club

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When a white-clad young woman lights a set of candles at the opening of Lucy Porter's sleeper hit of the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, she ushers us into a very different age of enlightenment to the world history normally allows us privy to. Our hosts, after all, are Polyhymnia, Thalia and Clio, the three founder members of The Fair Intellectual Club, a female-led secret society operating in Edinburgh in the early eighteenth century as a counterpoint to the men only hellfire clubs and salons that proliferated at the time.
As our three fiercely intelligent graces engage with each other as much of their brand new world of history, philosophy and big ideas, their intellectual endeavours are only distracted by affairs of the heart, the wild new indulgence of chocolate and a looming matrimony which, as is so often the case, may break up the gang forever. Or not, as the case may be in what looks like a pre-cursor to the free university movement.

Revi…

Design in Motion

Travelling Gallery, Dundee until February 27th, then touring Scotland
Three stars

It's appropriate that the opening dates of this seventeen week, seventy-eight venue bus-bound pre-show to the forthcoming V&A Museum of Design Dundee's purpose-built waterfront takeover are where they are. Flanked on one side by the Caird Hall, which once doubled up as a Moscow theatre in John Schlesinger 's 1983 TV film of Alan Bennett's An Englishman Abroad, and Tony and Susie Morrow's statue of DC Thomson's comic favourites Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx on the other, such monumental icons demonstrate exactly how the local could go global in a pre-digital age.

Back on the bus, meanwhile, five artists and two studios showcase wares drawn from fashion, textiles, jewellery, gaming and software in an understated array of state-of-art displays. 3D is all the rage throughout, most notably via Anarkik3D Ltd's duo of Ann Marie Shillito and Xiaoqing Cao, whose Cloud9 softwa…

Jekyll and Hyde

Perth Concert Hall
Three stars
The stage seems to be taking deep breaths at the start of the Sell A Door company's touring production of Jo Clifford's reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic split personality tale. If such amplified rumblings sound like they've been dredged up from Quatermass's pit, such allusions to dark futurescapes are all too fitting in Clifford's version, set in an shiny 2020 where all the measures right-wing fundamentalists aspire to have been set quietly in stone, steel and glass.

Here cancer specialist Dr Jekyll is a celebrity saviour, a publicity-hungry charity runner who, away from the cameras, can't control his desires. Once he tests his wonder drug on himself, the rush of testosterone turns such everyday abuse into something even more predatory. Jekyll's alter-ego Mr Hyde is like a feral werewolf on heat, at one point humiliating his prey in what looks like a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey rendered as music hall.
T…

Jo Clifford and Morna Pearson - Two Very Different Jekyll and Hydes

When the Sell A Door theatre company's touring production of Jo Clifford's futuristic take on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde opens in Livingston tonight, theatre regulars could be forgiven for doing a double take at the schedules. Clifford's version, after all, arrives just a month before another new version, this time by Morna Pearson, appears in a production by the Lung Ha's company in association with Drake Music Scotland.

Both playwrights take radical but very different approaches to Stevenson's classic split personality tale, which has seeped into mass consciousness by way of numerous interpretations of the story on stage, film, radio and television. Where Clifford has reimagined the story in an oppressive futurescape where Dr Jekyll is recast as a high-flying cancer specialist testing a new drug, Pearson has kept her version in a Victorian locale, but has chosen to relocated it to Edinburgh. Here she focuses…

The Slab Boys

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The black and white portrait daubed on the cupboard door of A.F. Stobbo's carpet factory slab room sums up everything in David Hayman's revival of John Byrne's play that changed so much in Scottish theatre when it was first seen in 1978. Here is the original rebel without a cause who already crashed and burned by the time the play opens in 1957, but who, looking down like a god and painted in a pop art style, points to the cultural revolutions to come for working class wannabes like Spanky and Phil, the fast-talking heroes of Byrne's play.
Dean's image is a bridge too between the drab greyness of the cramped slab room and the customised splashes of colour which Spanky and Phil have adorned their work-place with on a set designed by Byrne himself with a sculptor's eye for detail. It's as if his subjects' lives are bursting out of their post-war restraints with a rock and roll abandon born of frustration as much as am…

Return to the Forbidden Planet

King's Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When pipe-smoking Dan Dare-alike Captain Tempest suggests that “It's a trick we might just get away with” in the twenty-fifth anniversary production of Bob Carlton's smash-hit musical, he may be talking about reversing the polarities to save the universe, but it may as well be a mission statement for the show's entire trip. Here, after all, is a play that not only fuses the 1956 science-fiction B-movie reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest with a blistering live rock and roll soundtrack, but throws in some hippy-inspired counter-cultural philosophy laced with a soupçon of feminist theory for good measure.
None of this may be immediately apparent when Queen's guitar-playing astro-physicist Brian May opens Carlton's Queens Theatre, Hornchurch production with a filmed prologue that sets the tone of comic book kitsch that follows. By the time Joseph Mann's high-kicking robot Aerial has digested Dr Prospero's mind-ex…

John Byrne and David Hayman - Reviving The Slab Boys

One afternoon in the late 1970s, John Byrne turned up at the Citizens Theatre canteen in Glasgow to see actor David Hayman. At that time, Byrne's first play, Writer's Cramp, had been a hit at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, though Byrne was still best known as a painter and set designer. Hayman, meanwhile, was the mercurial young star of the Citizens acting ensemble who was about to play Lady Macbeth.

Over a cup of tea, Byrne handed Hayman what he called a present. Byrne told Hayman it was a new play he'd written, and which he wanted him to direct. When Hayman read what turned out to be The Slab Boys, it was a revelation.
Byrne's tale of Phil McCann and Spanky Farrell, a pair of Paisley teddy-boys with artistic ambitions beyond A.F. Stobo and Co's carpet factory and a mutual eye on Lucille Bentley - the femme fatale of the factory floor - after all, wasn't what Hayman was used to.

“I'd been acting in all these reinterpretations of the classics,” he sa…

The Sexual Objects

Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
Thu January 29th
Five stars

“This song is side 1, track 3 of our new album in case anybody's not
heard it yet,” drawls Davy Henderson from behind Factory-issue shades
introducing the wiggy wonders of his song, 'Kevin Ayers'.  The joke
being, of course, that unless the mystery bidder who paid £4,213 in an
eBay auction for the sole vinyl copy of the Sexual Objects' second
long-player, Marshmallow, is in the room, none of the hundred or so
mixture of the faithful, the curious and the recently converted
squeezed into Sneaky Pete's bijou confines are likely to have heard a
note of it.

The punchline of this conceptual gag is made even better by Henderson's
louche delivery and baroque phrasing. As with all his between-song
asides, this  makes him sound like a charisma-blessed distant relation
of 1970s TV gangster Charles Endell Esq doing a Lou Reed stand-up
routine. Which, even without the songs, is sheer performative joy.

This Thursday night t…

D. Gwalia – The Iodine Trade (Elizabeth Volt Records)

Three stars

D. Gwalia has cut a shadowy figure around the unsung sidelines of Edinburgh's myriad of low-key music scenes. Originally from Wales before taking a peripatetic path to Oxford, Gwalia's cracked folk and strung-out gothica was first heard on his 2010 debut, 'In Puget Sound.' This follow-up digital-only release charts even starker terrain in a bleak compendium of scratched-out song collages and apocalyptic portents which conjure up the strung-out ghosts of post Pink Floyd Syd Barrett at his most insular, all whimsy lost.
This is most evident on the opening 'A Day Out', in which a sparse but insistent electric guitar pattern is eked out behind a Mogadon choir-boy vocal. 'Vamp', which follows, is Bauhaus' 'Dark Entries' rewritten for the troubadour age. A martial drum-beat adds to the mood of 'Annihilation Pair' before ushering in the muffled spoken-word narration of the album's title track, which sounds like free-associa…

What next for the Creative Scotland losers?

When Creative Scotland announced their regular funding decisions towards the end of last year, it showed just how much Scotland’s arts funding quango hasn’t changed since the appointment of a new set of administrators following the departure of its previous incumbents at the end of 2012.


While the decisions highlighted justified winners, including the likes of Vanishing Point and Grid Iron theatre companies, as well as contemporary music producers Arika, 28 organisations who received funding in 2014-15 were declined regular funding for 2015-18. Those who missed out included Scottish Youth Theatre and Untitled Productions, whose show Paul Bright’s Confessions of A Justified Sinner has been lauded at home and abroad. Untitled have announced that the company is being left dormant for the foreseeable future, while Scottish Youth Theatre is to receive funding directly from the Scottish Government for the next three years, in the run-up to Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018.

Manipulate - Unchained / Tristissimo / Autumn Portraits

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
“A little illumination always brings more light.” So says the puppet-sized music hall ham who's just tunelessly regaled us in Autumn Portraits, Eric Bass' meditative compendium on mortality for the American Sandglass Theater. Bass' show was the quietly grand finale of Wednesday's programme for this year's Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival, in which illumination came in spades.

The evening opened with a double bill of work by two very different companies. The first, Unchained, saw the aerialist duo Paper Doll Militia in a black and white world where one of them is encased in a tent-like cage which is raised ever higher as their boiler-suited other half cuts through the ribbon-like bars to rescue them. Set to a clanging industrial score, the pair become mirror images of each other in an exquisite physical display before the tables are truly turned.

This was followed by an extended version of Tristissimo, a contemporary interpret…

To Kill A Mockingbird

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars
Whatever the facts behind this week's announcement that novelist Harper Lee is set to publish Go Set a Watchman, a novel presumed lost for fifty-five years and featuring a grown-up version of Scout Finch, the narrator of her much-loved debut, there is no better time to stage To Kill A Mockingbird. Especially when it is such a poignantly evocative take on Lee's story as it is here in Timothy Sheader's touring production, which visits Edinburgh and Aberdeen following this week's Glasgow run of a piece originally produced by the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London.

It opens with twelve actors lining the stage wearing modern dress, reading the opening pages of Lee's novel in their own accents from the books held open before them. As each steps in and out of character, lining either side of Jon Bausor's wide-open set throughout as Luke Potter plays his live acoustic guitar score, this opens out Lee's treatise on tol…

Dead Simple

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
Property developers take note. Be careful who you cut deals with, both
in business and pleasure, or else you might end up like the hapless
pair at the centre of Peter James' best-selling thriller, adapted here
by Shaun McKenna and directed by Ian Talbot for a stage version
co-produced by James himself. One minute Michael and Mark are making a
cool five million, which they've carefully lodged in a Caymans Island
account while shooting the breeze concerning Michael's impending
nuptials to Tina Hobley's drop-dead gorgeous Ashley. The next, Michael
finds himself six feet under in the local forest after an elaborate
stag night prank goes tragically awry.

Enter James' regular copper in chief Detective Superintendent Roy
Grace, who just made the headlines after putting faith in a doting but
underwritten Medium rather than foraging for clues the old-fashioned
way. With his sidekick DS Branson in tow, Gray O'Brien'…

Bob Carlton - Return to the Forbidden Planet

When Bob Carlton first devised a late-night rock and roll show with the
actors he was working with  in a tent run by a London fringe theatre
company, he never thought that its mix of science-fiction, Shakespeare
and a live band would have a life beyond its short run. As it is,
Return to the Forbidden Planet  is about to embark on a twenty-fifth
anniversary tour which touches down in Glasgow next week and Edinburgh
shortly afterwards.

The latest outing of this commercial smash-hit may be commemorating its
Olivier Award winning West End run, but it already had a colourful
life, first at the London Bubble Theatre, then later at the Everyman
Theatre in Liverpool, when Carlton revived it in 1984.

“I never thought it would go on so long,” says Carlton today of a show
inspired by 1950s sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet, which was inspired by
Shakespeare's The Tempest. “I went to do a show at the Bubble, which
was then being run by Glen Walford, and once we'd done the main show,
we started …