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Showing posts from September, 2015

Agatha Christie – A Quietly Subversive Assassin

Imagine tempting eight of the most unpleasant people in the world to an isolated house on uninhabited island. Then imagine wining and dining them into a false sense of security before methodically and mercilessly bumping them off one by rotten one as an act of poetic justice for the crimes they've escaped punishment from.

This is effectively what happens in And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie's novel long regarded as her masterpiece since it was first published in 1939. And it is a trademark set-up of her murder-mystery oeuvre, whether putting her characters in a country house drawing room for the big reveal or else decamping them to the middle of nowhere.

The allure of taking characters out of their comfort zone and throwing them to the metaphorical lions may be sated these days by the mass appeal of reality TV, but Christie got there first. More significantly, perhaps, the mind games she plays are a whole lot subtler, shot through as they are with a hardcore sense of …

Up Close and Personal - 50 Years of The Close Theatre

As the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow celebrates its seventieth year of theatrical excess with a welter of
activity that includes several high-profile shows and a BBC TV documentary, Blood and Glitter, set to be screened this week, a much less lauded but equally key influence on the Citz style and way of doing things is also being
celebrated.

It was fifty years ago that that The Close, a 150-seat studio space in a former gambling club adjoining the Citz, opened its doors to a new world of experimental theatre. In the club-based theatre's short but colourful life between 1965 and 1973, The Close played host to some of the more outré
contributions to the European art house canon in a uniquely underground environment which managed to circumnavigate the censorship imposed on live performance by the Lord Chamberlain up until 1968 when his role was abolished.

In its eight year existence, The Close may have began with productions of rarely seen curtain-raisers by Shaw, but there was also a contr…

Wonderland

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars


Why should Alice in Wonderland be forever presented as a white, blonde and very
English ingénue? What if she was a little different, and the rabbit hole she
fell down not as enticing as her own fantastical uniqueness? These are questions
posed by director and performer Josette Bushell-Mingo on the second and final
day of Progression 2015, this weekend's international celebration of deaf arts
hosted by the pioneering Glasgow-based Solar Bear Theatre Company.

The answers come in the show-and-tell finale that follows a day of workshops with
some of deaf theatre's leading practitioners, including Bushell-Mingo and her
team from the Swedish Tyst Theatre (Silent Theatre), a company which has been
developing deaf theatre for forty-five years as an offshoot of the national
touring company, Riksteatern.

The loose-knit programme begins with some interactive games with the audience before Bushell-Mingo hands over to a mix of hearing and non-hearing teenage actors…

Unlocked Freedom/No Rights To Have An Angel

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars


This week's announcement of the establishment of the UK's first deaf performing arts degree course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has been pushed hugely by the Glasgow-based Solar Bear Theatre company. The company have been working with deaf artists and performers since its
inception, and are quite rightly co-running the course in partnership with RCS.
It's timely too that Solar Bear's recent flurry of activity peaked this weekend
with their hosting of Progression 2015, a two day international celebration of
deaf arts.

Thursday night saw a double bill of large ensemble-based works by
the Moscow-based Nedoslov company. The first piece, Unlocked Freedom, was based
on Maxim Gorky's 1882 short story, Makar Chudra, about a horny young peasant who
murders his gypsy bride only to be stabbed to death in turn by her father.  The
second, more impressionistic piece, No Rights To Have An Angel, looks at art,
life and death through a jazz age s…

Joanna Gruesome

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Four stars


It's an unintentional piece of synchronicity that Cardiff-sired nouveau-riot grrrl
indie-pop noiseniks Joanna Gruesome have broken cover to release their second
album, Peanut Butter, the sparky follow-up to their 2013 debut, Weird Sister,
just as the other-worldly voice of the chanteuse who inspired their name, Joanna
Newsome, has similarly reappeared on the scene.

With former front-woman Alanna McArdle departing following the recording of Peanut Butter, twin vocalists Kate Stonestreet of Glasgow fem/queer punks Pennycress and Roxy Brennan of Two White
Cranes have stepped into the breach in a way that makes them sound more wilfully
disparate than ever.

The Edinburgh date of JoGrue's inaugural tour in their new six-piece line-up forms part of Summerhall's ongoing Nothing Ever Happens Here
series of shows, and opens with the headliners Fortuna Pop! label-mates and
fellow travellers, The Spook School. Like their forbears, the Edinburgh-based
quartet are a …

Waiting For Godot

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


In the middle of nowhere in a barren grey and white world, two old men
stay busy doing nothing while putting their increasingly blind faith in someone
destined to never arrive. So begins Samuel Beckett's now half a century old
piece of bombed-out existential vaudeville, revived here by the Royal Lyceum's
artistic director Mark Thomson to open the Lyceum Company's fiftieth
anniversary season as well as his own swan song in charge of the Grindlay Street
institution.

Casting Brian Cox as a bright-eyed Vladimir and Bill Paterson as
his more melancholy sparring partner Estragon is an inspired move from the off,
as the pair wrestle with ill-fitting boots in Estragon's case or a wet-patch
inducing prostate like Vladimir, all with a time-filling determination that
borders on OCD.

As the pair indulge in terminal small talk and deadpan gallows
humour on Michael Taylor's walled-in semi-circular set that lends things a real
sense of faraway depth, Be…

Brave New World - Dystopia and Science-Fiction Theatre Now

The spacious bar area of the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton doesn't look much like a teenage wasteland. At the first night post-show party for the theatre's co-production with The Touring
Consortium  of Brave New World, Dawn King's adaptation of Aldous Huxley's
increasingly recognisable dystopian novel, it's the sounds of Baba O'Riley, The
Who's damning statement on a strung-out, acid-fried Woodstock generation that
underscores the chit-chat beside the drinks table. It's appearance is probably
an accident, but, given Huxley's prophetic study of a society numbed into
submission by a pill called Soma, and where sexual promiscuity is encouraged to
the point that no one feels a thing, Pete Townshend's counterblast to the summer
of love sounds oddly appropriate.

The play itself, as directed by Royal & Derngate artistic director James Dacre, is as state of the art as it gets, a fast-moving voyage through a world where a medically bred elite ca…

The Citz at 70 – Growing Old Disgracefully

It was all too fitting that director Graham Eatough and writer David
Greig's audaciously ambitious staging of Alasdair Gray's novel, Lanark, was
playing at the Citizens Theatre on September 11th, seventy years to the night
since the Gorbals-based theatrical powerhouse first opened. Following Lanark's
Edinburgh International Festival premiere, here was an epic take on on a
magical-realist story that defies easy categorisation today just as it did when
it was first published in 1981, and which both mythologised the powers of the
imagination to change a city like Glasgow even as it defined them.

If there is a building that could be said to do something similar, it is the Citizens,
the theatre more lovingly known to several generations of audiences, actors,
directors and designers who've been inspired by the work barely contained within
its walls as the Citz.

Founded in 1943 as the Citizens Company by playwright James Bridie (Osborne Henry Mavor), gallery owner Tom Honeyman and Irish …

The Notebook

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


Two bespectacled men in identical suits and patterned maroon sweaters step onto a
wooden floor empty save for a pair of matching chairs with a bottle of water
beside each. Standing alongside each other, the two men open the brown paper
covered notebooks each are carrying, and, in unison, announce each chapter of
their back pages.

What follows in Forced Entertainment's interpretation of Hungarian writer Agota Kristof's novel concerning twin boys' experiences while evacuated to their grand-mother's farm during World War Two and beyond is a fascinatingly grotesque look at the brutal extremes survival can take.

As performers Robin Arthur and Richard Lowden read their first-person narrative as
if unveiling their joint diaries at a spoken-word night, it's as if Gilbert and
George had channelled John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos and married such an unholy
alliance to a bombed-out equivalent of Ivor Cutler's Life in A Scotch Sitting
Room.

Bey…

Brian Cox and Bill Paterson - Waiting For Godot

In the row of billboards on Lothian Road
in Edinburgh which act as a conduit to the capital's theatre district, the most
striking poster  features an image of two men standing side by side. Shabby
suited, bowler-hatted and somewhat officious as they appear, it is the faces
that captivate. Both lived-in and of a certain vintage, neither smiling, they
are by turns world-weary and wide-eyed, giving everything and nothing away.


In the upstairs green room of the Royal Lyceum Theatre that sits on Grindlay
Street just past the billboard-constructed conduit, the same two faces peer out
from a squishy sofa where it's dressed-down occupants sit side-by-side like
bookends. As with the billboard,  the two men look tired yet
still brimming
with accidentally acquired life.

The reason for the latter probably has
something to do with the fact that Brian Cox and Bill Paterson have just come
out of a strip lit rehearsal room where they've spent all day rehearsing
outgoing Royal Lyceum artistic director Ma…

Pyrenees

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars


"If you
don't want to see a man fall," the Proprietor of the out of season Alpine
hotel
says at one point in David Greig's stately meditation on identity, "look
away."

Like the play it belongs to, it's a line that works on many levels. The
fall the Proprietor refers to stems from the army of intrepid would-be explorers
braving the rocks, but it also refers to the plight of the unnamed middle-aged
Man found unconscious in the snow but unable to remember anything of himself or
how he got there. A young woman, Anna, is dispatched from the British Consulate
to find out who the man is, only to fall for his world-weary charm. When another
woman, Vivienne, arrives at the hotel, a whole new world opens up about who
exactly the Man might be.

There is laughter and forgetting aplenty in John
Durnin's urbane revival  of Greig's 2005 play, which, in the courtyard of
Frances Collier's design, is rendered as a piece of broodingly ice-…

The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil

Dundee Rep
Five stars


The ceilidh band is already playing as the audience step onto
the bare floorboards of Joe Douglas' revival of one of the defining plays of
twentieth century Scottish theatre, and the whisky is flowing. Not as a
sweetener to encourage the smatterings of audience participation that ripple
throughout the show, but as a celebration, both of the play itself and  the
spirit of artistic and political resistance it continues to define.

First
performed in 1973, John McGrath's ribald melding of variety traditions tells the
hidden history of how Scotland has been plundered by self-serving capitalists
from the Highland Clearances onwards. What could so easily have been rendered as
cheeky revivalism becomes in Douglas' heartfelt production for Dundee Rep's
Ensemble company a vital statement on the world we live in now and the way very
little has changed in terms of who's ruled the roost over the last forty-two
years.

At times its series of sketches and rout…

Joe Douglas - The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil

Joe Douglas
was "Minus ten," when a rough-shod fusion of ceilidh and popular drama
knitted
together as something called The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black
Oil began a Highland charge around the nation's village halls in 1973 that would
go on to redefine Scottish theatre as we now know it.

In the forty-two years
since, John McGrath and his 7:84 Theatre Company's melding of music hall and
political commentary has become an iconic benchmark of how theatre can fuse
radical intent with populist heart in a way that has trickled down to the
National Theatre of Scotland's equally seminal production of Black Watch and
beyond.

McGrath's original production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black,
Black Oil featured now well known names including John Bett, Bill Paterson and
Alex Norton in a cast that also included McGrath's actress wife, Elizabeth
MacLennan, her brother David, folk singer Dolina MacLennan and fiddler Allan
Ross.

The show more or less invente…

Stones in His Pockets

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Four stars


Marie Jones' tragicomic dissection of cultural colonialism by a predatory
Hollywood film shoot in rural Ireland first appeared in Edinburgh in 1999 en
route to the West End and Broadway. At that time, the so-called Celtic Tiger
which had  reinvigorated the Irish economy and the film industry that went with
it so spectacularly was in its final throes of unfettered largesse. More
recently Ireland's landscape has provided a suitably fantastical backdrop for
Game of Thrones, though the sentimentally inclined sentimentalising of tradition
continues to prevail elsewhere.

Jones puts her story in the hands of
down-on-their-luck film extras Jake and Charlie, played
by two actors who
proceed to unveil a cast of thousands, from the last surviving veteran of The
Quiet Man to the American starlet feeding off the local colour. Through this
device, a very serious statement is made about the relationship between art and
commerce using an apposite and ingenious shoestri…

Document Scotland – The Ties That Bind

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, September 26th-April 24th 2016

One of the main legacies of the 2014 Scottish Referendum will be the multitude of images from all sides that document the pains and the passions of one of the country's pivotal political moments of the twenty-first century thus far. With this in mind, it's only fitting that some kind of collective response is gathered.

Step up photographers Colin McPherson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Sophie Gerrard and Stephen McLaren, who as Document Scotland have pulled together some fifty to seventy-five images of Scotland and its people from the front-line to commemorate the first anniversary of such a seismic event.

It is this sort of thing that makes documentary photography so evocative of moments great and small as the human hearts behind those moments are framed in a way that both historicises and mythologises them in the best senses of both words.

While a patina of politics is inherent in such an undertaking as The Ti…

All My Sons

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars


If war
is a curse, pity the official opening night of Rapture Theatre's new touring
revival of Arthur Miller's post World War Two dissection of the business of bad
government. Not only was actor Paul Shelley temporarily indisposed from playing
the play's pivotal character, Joe Keller, requiring company member David
Tarkenter to step into the breach, but midway through Act Two, actress Trudie
Goodwin, leading a crucial scene as Joe's self-deluding spouse, Kate, passed
out, causing the action to be halted for several minutes before the curtain
raised once more.

While both unfortunate incidents made for an understandably
uneven evening, they also lent a certain edge to proceedings, so that by the
time we get to a funereally played last act, the tension is palpable to
all.

Prior to that, things had started off in a wonderfully sunny American
suburbia, where Joe and Kate's forced niceties barely hide how Kate pines for
her pilot son, who went missing i…

Danny Krass - Kind of Silence

What does music mean when you can't hear it? That was one of the questions composer and sound designer Danny Krass asked before making Kind of Silence, his new piece of theatre for the Solar Bear theatre company, which opens in Glasgow this week. Loosely drawn from the legend of Echo and Narcissus, which featured in the third book of Ovid's Metamorphosis, Kind of Silence fuses physical theatre and choreography with state of the art technology that enables Krass and co to explore the relationship between them all in a deaf theatre context.

“It's quite a strange thing to be a sound designer on a deaf theatre production,” Krass points out, “and whenever I've done it I've always considered my role to be about making things accessible for a hearing audience. I've worked on a couple of shows for deaf people, which is I suppose where the initial idea for Kind of Silence came from. It always made me think about communication in different ways, and how you might look at…