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Showing posts from March, 2015

Sue Glover and Liz Carruthers - The Straw Chair

When Sue Glover's play, The Straw Chair, first appeared at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 1988, it's eighteenth century setting and focus on volatile female characters was in stark contrast to a prevailing trend of gritty realism. The play's study of Lady Grange, exiled from Edinburgh to a barren St Kilda by her philandering husband, was a hit nevertheless, and regarded by many as a contemporary classic.

It is curious therefore, that Liz Carruthers' revival of the play which embarks on an extensive Scottish tour this week, is the first time Glover's play will have been seen in Scotland in a full production for twenty-seven years.

“I never pushed for it,” says Glover today. “The Traverse used to say to me that if only I wrote about housing estates and drugs they could market me better, but I wasn't interested in that, and a lot of bigger theatres didn't think it suitable. The play wasn't published until later either, and after about five years or…

Kai Fischer - Last Dream (On Earth)

When Kai Fischer was growing up in East Germany when the Berlin Wall still divided his country, the big dream of his generation was to travel beyond the Wall to all the perceived liberties the west apparently offered. Around the same time, the story of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 had been the first man in space, had already captured Fischer's imagination as it had little boys around the globe. More recently, Fischer saw parallels with African migrants trying to get to what they imagined to be a European land of freedom and liberty.

The result of these musings are brought together in Last Dream (On Earth), the theatre designer best known for his work with the Vanishing Point company's follow-up to Entartet, an audio installation based on transcripts that accompanied the Nazi Party's Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937. Using similar sound-led techniques devised with composer Matt Padden, this new co-production between Fischer, the National Theatre of Scotland …

Hardeep Pandhal – A Neck or Nothing Man!

An Tobar, Tobermory, Isle of Mull April 3rd-June 27th

When Hardeep Pandhal first visited Mull, he heard a story of how a wooden statue of a highland warrior pointing passers-by towards a heritage centre had been physically defaced. The image seemed to tie in with a childhood memory of growing up in a Sikh community in Birmingham, where Pandhal remembered another image of legendary warrior and martyr Baba Deep Singh, who continued to avenge the desecration of the Golden Temple by the Afghan army while holding on to his own decapitated head.

With a burgeoning interest in Victorian satirical cartoonist and original illustrator of Charles Dickens' George Cruikshank thrown into the mix, the end result is a four-metre high sculptural reimagining of the Cruikshank cartoon which greets visitors outside the Comar organisation's Tobermory-based An Tobar centre and gives the show its name. In the original, an animated guillotine takes flight to chase a government on the run. Recast as …

Hedda Gabler

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

There's an over-riding sense of languor at the start of Amanda Gaughan's revival of Henrik Ibsen's nineteenth century Freudian tragedy, seen here in a version by Richard Eyre. As the maid Berthe removes dust-sheets from the furniture of newly-weds George and Hedda Tesman's new house, off-white curtains waft in the breeze to far off piano patterns. Nicola Daley's similarly shimmering Hedda seems to sleepwalk her way onto the chaise longue where she lays hot and clearly bothered before unveiling a portrait of her stern-looking father that perches in the corner watching everything that follows.
All this is shot to pieces once Hedda has put on her well-practiced rictus grin and, in the face of a hopelessly devoted husband, his well-meaning fuss-budget aunt Julia and his highly strung ex Thea, she looks every inch the thoroughly modern woman who has it all. When Benny Young's horny Judge Brack and Jack Tarleton's …

The Producers

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

If the brief hiatus that occurred when the curtain fell at the end of the first scene of this touring production of Mel Brooks' musical satire was really down to a technical hitch, it couldn't have been more appropriate. Because when Broadway has-been Max Bialystock explains to naïve accountant wannabe Leo Bloom later on that one of his three golden rules of producing is that you never ever bring down the curtain after the first scene, it heightens the show's self-referential meta-ness to the nth degree, winning deserved laughter.
As played by Cory English and Jason Manford in Matthew White's production for real life producers Adam Spiegel in association with Tulchin Bartner and Just For Laughs Theatricals, Max and Leo's plan to make a couple of million dollars by putting on the worst play on the planet backfires with spectacular effect. When the pair stumble across Phill Jupitus' manic Nazi Franz Liebkind's Springtim…

David Hare - The Absence of War

When David Hare was granted access all areas to the Labour Party to research the play that became The Absence of War during what proved to be an unsuccessful campaign to get the Party's then leader Neil Kinnock elected Prime Minister in 1992, politics looked very different. Twenty-two years after Hare's fiction infuriated some Labour grandees, Jeremy Herrin's revival for the Headlong company in co-production with the Rose Theatre Kingston and Sheffield Theatres couldn't be timed better.

With a Westminster General Election looming as Herrin's production tours to Glasgow in a post independence referendum climate in which the Scottish Labour Party are predicted by many to be all but wiped out, Hare's play looks even more pertinent.

“Yet again,” says Hare, “the Labour Party has got itself into a situation where it daren't speak, and once again they seem to have in Ed Milliband a leader who can't seem to connect with the majority of people. They've had…

James Harkness - The Absence of War

When James Harkness utters his opening lines in the Headlong company's revival of David Hare's play, The Absence of War which arrives at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow next week, he will mean every single word he says. This is how it should be for any actor, of course, but for Gorbals-born Harkness, the words 'I love this moment', as spoken by the minder for would-be Labour Prime Minister George Jones, will have extra resonance.

It was on the Citizens Theatre stage where Harkness first stepped onto as a teenage member of the community-based Citizens Young Company between 2007 and 2009. It was from this that Harkness appeared in the company's contributions to the National Theatre Connections season of plays performed by young people as part of the initiative's Theatre of Debate season.

It was here that Harkness was spotted by Anthony Banks, the NT's associate director of learning, who mentored Harkness while preparing for the drama school auditions he'd…

The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When the Edinburgh New Town dwelling Jekyll clan pose for a family portrait at the start of Morna Pearson's loose-knit large-scale reinvention of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel for Lung Ha's Theatre Company, they look like pillars of respectable society. Scratch the surface, however, and beyond Dr Jeremy Jekyll's scientific dissections of the human brain, his wife Jane sees her life through an ever refreshed wine glass, while son William wastes his days in lieu of his inheritance.
It is book-reading daughter Miriam who is most frustrated by her lot, however. Physically restrained by a too tight corset that becomes a symbol of a society that would rather keep women in their place, her fierce intelligence and ambitions for university combined with a blossoming womanhood sees her led astray by a black clad alter ego who unleashes her libertine spirit.

Pearson has constructed a fascinating feminist reimagining of Stevenson's s…

Paul Vickers and The Leg – The Greengrocer (Pumpkintone/Alter Ego)

Four stars

Don't be fooled by the troubadourish mediaevalisms of the jaunty guitar flourish that opens the third and much belated opus by the wildest junkyard auteurs to ever embark on a galloping collision course of surrealist lyrical fantasms and stumblebum musical fury. There may be church bells and rivers flowing inbetween the ten manic vignettes contained therein, but it's open all hours in this food-stuff-based quasi concept album co-released through King Creosote's new micro-label, and which can't help but inspire words like 'opus' and 'therein' as they tap into Vickers' wilfully archaic fairytale-kingdom sooth-saying.
Within seconds, Vickers is phlegmatically regaling us with the poignant tale of 'My Trifle' with the guttural urgency of Kevin Coyne accompanied by the three-pronged assault of The Leg's Dan Mutch on guitar, Pete Harvey on cello and Alun Thomas on drums. Nothing more is to be taken as lightly, from the deranged E…

The History Boys

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

It's an interesting time for the enterprising Sell A Door company to be reviving Alan Bennett's boy's school smash hit a decade after it first appeared before going on to global acclaim on stage and screen. In a post Yewtree environment when barely a day passes without reports of establishment-based indiscretions with minors, having a maverick teacher who touches up his teenage pupils on the back of his motorbike at a play's centre probably means something different today to how it did back then.
Not that Bennett's 1980s-set play, in which Richard Hope's literature loving English master Hector prepares his very own crème de la crème for Oxbridge entrance exams, aims to shock. It is so pithily written, in fact, that Hector's downfall, when it comes, is treated with almost apologetic understatement.

Kate Saxon's production heightens things from the off, with Hector's motorbike hanging at the centre of the sta…

Christine Borland and Brody Condon – Circles of Focus

CCA, Glasgow, April 4th-May 17th

Donating body parts after death has long been a staple of the scientific world. Yet, despite occasional conceptual appropriations of blood and guts, art hasn't attracted a similarly civic-minded set of card-carrying citizens. Christine Borland and Brody Condon's 'Circles of Focus' project may go some way to change that, as the pair show off the fruits of their long-term researches in the shape of pit-fired ceramic sculptures, performance documentation and legal paperwork which will also function as a proposal to potential body donors who the artists have worked with over the past two years.
“The work with clay began after spending time with a local experimental archaeologist in Orkney focused on the reconstruction of Neolithic pots, and later with similar jar coffin experts in Korea,” explains Condon, whose previous collaboration with Borland, 'Daughters of Decayed Tradesmen', was seen at the 2013 Edinburgh Art Festival. “We wer…

Possibilities of the Object: Experiments in Modern and Contemporary Brazilian Art

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh until May 25th
Four stars

Revolutionary spirit in abundance pervades throughout this compendium of eighteen contemporary Brazilian artists, many of whom have been rarely seen outside their volatile homeland since the 1950s which some of the earliest works on show date from. It's all too telling in the downstairs gallery that each of the ten black cubes scattered around the centre of the room that make up Antonio Dias' 'Cabecas' ('Heads') (1968) have a slot in the top. While they look as if they're awaiting a kiddy-sized bus party, they also have the air of stolen ballot boxes put into a more fun environment that redefines politics as playtime.
Elsewhere the bits and pieces of the show are denuded completely, with Jac Leirner's 'Vago 51' ('Vacant 51') (2008) a plastic bag not only flattened on the wall behind glass, but its innards gutted, rendering it useless other than the remaining handle which effectiv…

The King's Speech

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

When a rather serious looking man comes out from behind a solitary blue curtain into an old-school wood-panelled BBC sound studio wearing just a vest, socks and undershorts, only his stately gait suggests he's about to become King of England during one of the most volatile periods of twentieth century history. Exposed in this way at the start of Roxana Silbert's revival of David Seidler's play, it really is a case of emperor's new clothes as a bustle of servants burl about the man known to his intimates as Bertie, dressing and feeding him while he looks on with bemused surrender.
When Bertie opens his mouth he's left even more vulnerable by a terminal stammer that renders his already stilted social graces even more disempowered. By flatly refusing to doff his cap to such stuffiness, vulgarian Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue is the only person who can help the future King George VI find his voice and give him the authorit…

Michael Green Obituary

Michael Green - Actor, producer, curator, theatre-maker

Born January 21 1957; died February 10 2015


Michael Green, who has died in a car crash aged fifty-eight, was a theatrical visionary, whose fearless radicalism pretty much reinvented the theatre scene in Calgary, Canada with One Yellow Rabbit, the company he co-founded in 1982, and was co-artistic director of. Working with like-minded free spirits, Green and One Yellow Rabbit introduced a hitherto rarely seen wildness to a previously staid Calgary scene, whether playing a Nazi colonel in Ilsa, Queen of the Nazi Love Camp or an alien abductee in Alien Bait.

Both of these shows, as well as other One Yellow Rabbit creations such as Doing Leonard Cohen and Somalia Yellow, toured to Scotland, playing either the Tron Theatre in Glasgow or the Traverse in Edinburgh, where the company's audacious mix of absurdist counter-cultural vaudeville found fans and friends among each theatre's artistic leadership.

Green blazed a similarly …

Stef Smith - And The Beat Goes On

When Stef Smith met Johnny McKnight, the playwright who first made her name scripting international hit, Roadkill, and the co-founder of the Random Accomplice company had quite a few things in common. Most of these, they discovered, were musical, and while their ongoing debate regarding the musical merits of Madonna looks set to run and run, their mutual fondness of Cher has already borne fruit. This comes in the shape of And the Beat Goes On, Smith's new play for Random Accomplice which is about to open at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow in a co-production with Perth's Horsecross organisation.

“Mine and Johnny's entire friendship was founded on a mutual love of Cher,” Smith confesses. “I remember saying to somebody at the time that I don't think I'd ever met another Cher fan before. My love of her comes from when I was a child and my mum used to play all her albums, and I guess something stuck. There's something there as well about Cher being a strong independent …

Thank God For John Muir

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Three stars

On a patch of leaf-sodden earth, a young man sits on a wooden chair, his eyes bound as if blinded by a blast from some bomb-powered war. As it is, the man who will go on to become the world's first eco-warrior has temporarily lost his sight in an accident at a saw-mill in his birth-place in nineteenth century Dunbar. Over the fifty minutes of Andrew Dallmeyer's interior monologue, Muir's spidey-senses are a-tingle as his sensory antennae becomes more sensitive to a natural world of sound rather than vision. As he notices the flow of rivers and the noises around him, the epiphany that engulfs him once he regains his sight prompts him to get back to nature and devote himself to a world beyond the all-encroaching industrial revolution.
Originally seen at Oran Mor in 2011 as part of the Glasgow venue's A Play, A Pie and A Pint season of lunchtime theatre, Dallmeyer's play is revived here in a new production by Paul Brotherston f…

Beating McEnroe

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

What happens when your heroes lose, proving themselves to be not as invincible as you once thought they were? At an impressionable age the effects can be traumatic enough to last a life-time, as was clearly the case when a six year old Jamie Wood watched a brattish John McEnroe beat Swedish demi-god Bjorn Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon men's singles final, robbing Bjorg of a sixth victory. As Wood's hour-long solo show isn't ashamed to confess, he's been dealing with the emotional fall-out of such a tragedy ever since.
It begins with Wood sitting cross-legged on the floor playing catch with the audience and some tennis balls that match his green attire. Such meditations usher in Wood's very personal psycho-drama, which he gets the audience to act out in order to purge it from his being. Investing his performance with a mix of pathos and self-deprecatory humour, Wood manages to transform his inner turmoil into a comic ballet that…

Roxana Silbert - The King's Speech

When Roxana Silbert decided to direct a new production of writer David Seidler's original stage version of The King's Speech, it was something of a calculated risk. Originally written in 2007 before being picked up by director Tom Hooper at the suggestion of his mother and turned into a hit film starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, Seidler's drama about the relationship between King George VI and the Australian speech therapist who cured the monarch's stammer led a short if distinguished life when it premiered on the West End in 2012.

Then, the play's original producers were happy to admit that their show had been staged too soon after the film, which was still prevalent in the minds of many audiences. Three years on, Silbert's new co-production between Birmingham Rep, the theatre she is artistic director of, and Chichester Festival Theatre, would appear to have acquired just enough distance from both as it arrives in Glasgow as part of its national tour nex…

King Lear

Royal Conservatoire Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

The knives are out from the off in Mark Saunders' all-female version of Shakespeare's inter-familial political tragedy, performed by students from the MA Classical and Contemporary Text course. With Lear's throne set atop a chess-board flooring, as he courts the favour of each of his three daughters in full view of his extended entourage, he inadvertently sets in motion a series of physical, political and emotional conflicts which will rip apart an already divided kingdom.
Step forward Claire Winkleblack's Edmund, a floppy-haired dandy who takes advantage of both Goneril and Regan, adding an erotic frisson to the ongoing round of corruption and double bluffs that fuel the power-crazed schemes of each. Out in the wilds,meanwhile, is where Lear, Edmund's brother Edgar and their blinded father find out what really matters.

While Kristin Morris' Lear is a wild-haired demagogue surrounded by a tunic-clad court, Fr…

Blood Wedding

Dundee Rep
Four stars

“Whatever you say,” says Ricci McLeod's lovestruck groom Edward to his disapproving mother Agnes on the eve of his big flash wedding to his sweetheart Olivia in David Ireland's soap opera style reboot of Federico Garcia Lorca's classic tragedy, “say nothing.” Edward's advice to Agnes is all too telling in Jenny Sealey's slow-burning production, a collaboration between Dundee Rep, Derby Theatre and the Sealey-led Graeae company. Edward's old mum Agnes, after all, is deaf, dependent on her boy to help her communicate with the world and deeply jealous of Olivia, though not necessarily in that order.
The fact that in their tight-knit city neighbourhood, Olivia, and pretty much everyone else, is connected to the gangster who shot dead Agnes' husband and her other son probably has something to do with it too. Oh, and she's disabled. As for Olivia, she has other fish to fry in the shape of her irrepressible ex, Lee.

With surtitles bea…

Man in the Moon

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

While howling at the moon fuelled by a bottle of cheap cider probably isn't an uncommon pursuit for men of a certain age, few have maybe done it with quite so much venom or articulacy as Sean Doran, the bruised, battered but ultimately unbowed hero of Pearse Elliot's solo play. As performed by Ciaran Nolan in Tony Devlin's production for the West Belfast based Brassneck Theatre Company, Sean's litany of life, death and loss at every level is transformed from what could merely be bleak into something altogether more appealing as it becomes leavened by a gallows humour that falls somewhere between Runyonesque and Commedia dell'arte.
On one level, Sean's bench-bound reverie through which walk, run or lollop a cast of characters christened with street-smart nick-names who have barely survived the Northern Irish Troubles - “the black and white years” as Sean immortalises it – is as specific as it gets to a West Belfast housing estate…

John Hopkins - An Obituary

John 'Hoppy' Hopkins – photographer, writer, activist

Born August 15 1937; died January 30 2015


John 'Hoppy' Hopkins, who has died aged seventy-seven, was a key figure of the UK's 1960s counter-culture. This was the case whether documenting critical events of the era including the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation at a packed Royal Albert Hall, as co-founder of underground bible International Times and its short-lived spiritual home of the UFO Club, or else instigating the London Free School, a community-based adult education initiative which led to the founding of the Notting Hill Carnival.

As a photographer, Hopkins was in the thick of the action, whether playing records at UFO or being busted for cannabis possession. The latter event led to a high-profile trial that amplified the schisms that existed between generations, and prompted a full page ad in the Times newspaper funded by Paul McCartney and featuring messages of support from the likes of George Mell…

Nicola McCartney - New Plays from Russia and Ukraine

Five years ago, playwright and director Nicola McCartney was about to travel to
Russia, where over the previous seven years she had established a series of new
playwriting initiatives in a country still best known for its weighty theatrical
legacy rather than contemporary theatre. Before she left, David MacLennan, the
now late founder of A Play, Pie and A Pint, suggested to McCartney that she
should see if there was any scope in looking at writers to take part in
MacLennan's pioneering series of lunchtime plays at Oran Mor in Glasgow.

In association with the National Theatre of Scotland, PPP had previously hosted
seasons of plays from China, the middle east and Latin America, and McCartney
had already worked with a generation of writers who styled themselves as part of
the Novii Drama or New Drama wave of artists who broke the boundaries of
old-school social realism as well as political taboos.

The eventual result of this is a season curated by McCartney of three plays from Russia…

Phill Jupitus - The Producers

When Phill Jupitus takes the stage of Edinburgh Festival Theatre in a couple of weeks clad in Leiderhosen and Swastika armband to play deluded Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind in Mel Brooks' stage musical of his film, The Producers, it will be a far cry from Jupitus' original stage persona of post-punk word-smith Porky the Poet as he can get. By his own admission, however, Jupitus' turn as the author of goose-stepping smash hit, Springtime For Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden, is something he fell into. Jupitus was only cast after Ross Noble, who will play Franz for the Glasgow dates, was unavailable for the first ten weeks of the tour.

“I'm very much wearing the number twelve shirt,” Jupitus says on a break from rehearsals. “Ross signed up to it first, but then he couldn't do the opening few weeks, so they asked me instead. I've never been in rehearsals for the start of something before. I've always stepped into it once it's been up…