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Showing posts from October, 2015

Tipping The Velvet

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

Punk rock probably wasn't uppermost in Sarah Waters' mind when she wrote her iconic 1998 novel about one young woman's getting of wisdom as she burls through nineteenth century lesbian London. When a a train ride to the big city becomes a cut-up sound art chorale, however, it is clearly at the heart of Lyndsey Turner's audacious production of Laura Wade's equally wild adaptation.
As provincial girl Nancy falls for gender-bending music hall diva Kitty, life becomes one big cabaret, though not before the show begins with a cheeky wink to Lyceum shows past care of David Cardy's Good Old Days style Chairman. He dictates the action with his gavel, thumping things along when they get a tad dull. With a Palm Court style band accompanying the action, it is this embracing of theatricality that makes what follows so exquisite.

So while Nancy's home-life is expressed through a series of flattened-out sketches, her awakening…

The Choir

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's fitting that Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross' new musical play is set in the shabby, wood-panelled walls of a Wishaw community hall. For among the chairs that sit as mismatched as the people who form the choir founded by Iraqi doctor, Khalid, there are few contemporary plays that nail their colours to a grassroots mast quite as much as this.
As single mums, ex cons and zero hours contract workers are thrown together with Tory councillors and other posh locals, each with a theme tune they share with the group, a cross-class, cross-gender, pan-generational supergroup finds unexpected harmony through singing together. There is romance, between Ryan Fletcher's twenty-something Donny and Nesha Caplan's unemployed Velia, sexual tension between Jess Murphy's suburban wife Charlotte and Peter Polycarpou's Khalid, and a melting pot of life between. In the end, however, it is tracksuit-clad Scott's political rap that divides the …

Midsummer

Bharatiya Ashram, Dundee
Four stars

The central wisdom of playwright David Greig and composer and songwriter Gordon McIntyre's lo-fi musical rom-com as gleaned from an underground car park ticket machine is that change is possible. With this in mind, director Ros Philips takes such everyday philosophy by the scruff of the neck and runs with it to blazes in her Dundee Rep Ensemble production that forms the company's latest community tour.
Where the play was originally performed in 2008 by two actors, Philips does it with a cast of eight, as thirty-something lost souls Bob and Helena's wild weekend after falling together in an Edinburgh bar is charted by a cagoule-clad chorus who double up as assorted waifs, strays and hangers-on the pair meet en route. While this may lose something in terms of manic urgency, it also fleshes out what begins as a drunken one-night stand and ends with what might just be a dream come true. As they pause for breath inbetween scampering from one …

Thingummy Bob - Lung Ha's Theatre Company at 30

When a young tree surgeon called Richard Vallis responded to a poster by learning disabilities charity, The Action Group, it set in motion a chain of events that not only changed his life, but changed the cultural landscape of Edinburgh forever. It was the late 1970s, and The Action Group, set up in 1976 by parents of children and adults with learning disabilities, were looking for volunteers to work with them.

Lancashire-born Vallis had recently moved to the city, and, wanting to meet new people in the place he still calls home, thought he'd chance his arm. Today, Lung Ha's Theatre Company, which was formed as a direct result of Vallis' involvement with The Action Group, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary as one of the UK's leading exponents of inclusive arts working with performers with learning disabilities.

While an informal celebration will take place next week, this weekend sees the opening of Lung Ha's latest production. Thingummy Bob is a new play by…

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Liquid Room, Edinburgh
Four stars


The last time Godspeed You! Black Emperor played Edinburgh was in 1998, when the Quebec-sired nontet played only their second ever UK show at the tiny Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street at the behest of the short-lived but pioneering leftfield music promoters, The House of Dubois. Given the explosive nature of the band's extended strings and guitar-led instrumentals, the venue's private view size speakers were duly blown, though not before neighbours alerted the local constabulary regarding the impending apocalypse below.

Seventeen years on, not much has changed with Godspeed's template. As the now eight-piece ensemble of two bassists, two drummers, three guitarists and lone fiddler Sophie Trudeau gradually flesh out an opening violin and bass motif, there's still the same scratched-out projections with the word 'Hope' on it that top and tails an epic two-hour suite of slow-burning thunder that move between the martial and the mou…

The Bridge

North Edinburgh Arts, Edinburgh
Three stars

Bells chime and voices sing in what sounds like a mix of celebration and mourning at the opening of Annie George's solo play, performed by herself during the closing stages of a short tour following its Edinburgh Festival Fringe run. As we see projections of George writing out her own name at the bottom of her family tree, a very personal quest for identity ensues as she dramatises her inquiry into her own history through the voices of her ancestors who become witnesses to a world in turmoil.
The starting point for this is the life and work of George's grand-father, Paduthottu Mathen John, whose portrait is projected as George adopts his persona to illustrate her hand-me-down legacy. She does this too through snapshots of her mother and father as her family eventually move to the west and a less turbulent way of life than in both pre and post colonial India.

There is considerable charm in George's impressionistic labour of love, …

Hector

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Three stars

The story of Hector MacDonald is one of the least sung tales in British military history. For those who engineered this one-time nineteenth century war hero's downfall, this is possibly with good reason. David Gooderson's play, first seen at the Finborough Theatre in London in 2013 as So Great A Crime, and revived here for an extensive tour in this co-production between Eden Court, Inverness, the Mull-based Comar organisation and Ed Littlewood Productions, makes this abundantly clear.
Born in the Black Isle, Gaelic-speaking crofter's son MacDonald rose through the ranks to become Fighting Mac, a terrier-like warrior of the Second Afghan War who eventually became a Major General, serving in what was then Ceylon. Here, among a more leisured officer class, MacDonald was vilified by his peers, who eventually brought him down with accusations of inappropriate behaviour.
In a story where the truth of what actually happened has been all…

Desire Lines, Music is Audible and City of Edinburgh Council's Noisy Silence

On Tuesday I attended a meeting of City of Edinburgh's Culture and Sport Committee. I was there in my capacity as a member of CEC's Music is Audible working group, set-up a year ago following a tsunami of dissent concerning the capital's attitude towards live music during a meeting of the city's musical community at the Usher Hall under the banner Live Music Matters.

One of the main issues raised at LMM was that of noise complaints. CEC's current legislation dictates that live amplified music must remain inaudible beyond the four walls of where it is being performed. Many argue that this favours a complainant. While outside of John Cage any notion of music being inaudible is an absurdity, such legislation isn't made any more credible by CEC officers not being trained to measure sound in any meaningful scientific way. This has made for some full, frank and very necessary exchanges between music professionals and CEC officers.

The culmination of this process wa…

The Devil's Larder

Customs House, Edinburgh
Four stars

The lost-looking sailor who opens the door into one of Leith's most grandiloquent buildings where Grid Iron Theatre Company's tenth anniversary staging of vignettes from Jim Crace's food-absorbed novel awaits may look like he's stepped off a ghost ship, but there's something even more haunting beyond. From Johnny Austin and Charlene Boyd's sexy Addams Family style couple who top and tail the show with some of its more wildly erotic imaginings, to the over-riding and all-pervading sense of melancholy that runs throughout Ben Harrison's production, life, death, sex, loss, mortality and everything inbetween are served up in a way designed to gorge on.
Navigating the capacity audience of just forty around the building through a network of rarely occupied rooms prior to a short Scottish tour, the action veers from staircase erotica to an array of settings and situations, with each tale of the unexpected brought vividly to life…

Rebecca

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When the second Mrs de Winter surges forward onto the beach at the opening of Kneehigh Theatre's radical reworking of Daphne du Maurier's iconic windswept classic, it isn't clear whether it's the storm she's just walked through or the last breath of her predecessor that soundtracks her every triumphant sashay into the night. Either way, when she utters the novel's immortal opening line about how last night she dreamt of Manderley, the seaside house where her widowed older husband Max took her following a whirlwind romance, it gives new resonance to everything that follows.
Rather than offer up some slavish sub-Hitchcockian homage, Emma Rice's production of her own adaptation more resembles a late night Freudian explosion in Mrs de Winter's head that gives her a very rude awakening. As she stumbles through designer Leslie Travers' take on Manderley built of higgledy-piggledy staircases that climb to chandelier…

Asian Dub Foundation - THX 1138

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four Stars


The two laptops that shine in the gloom from one side of the stage flanked by Asian Dub Foundation's live quartet speak volumes about how far we've come since George Lucas's first and best feature film appeared in 1971. Before Lucas veered off into smash hit space operas and pulp adventure yarns, THX 1138's depiction of a medicated dystopian society utilised hi-tech surveillance techniques and computer data to illustrate a form of social control which seemed like so much post-1960s paranoia. Almost half a century on in ADF's mash-up of sound and vision that began a UK tour this weekend it now looks and sounds like prophecy.

ADF have previous form in grafting live soundtracks onto the likes of La Haine and Battle of Algiers, and you can see the appeal of Lucas and co-writer Walter Murch's parable about a man who attempts to escape from a psyched-out world of sex crimes and virtual messiahs to such a politically charged band.

As a p…

Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross - The Choir

Singing was a way of life for actor Paul Higgins when he was training to be a priest. Deacon Blue frontman, Ricky Ross, on the other hand, didn't want to sing at all, but just wanted to write songs for others. For one reason or another, things worked out differently for both men, with Higgins becoming a familiar face on stage and screen in the likes of Black Watch, The Thick of It and Utopia, while Ross and band helped defined mainstream popular music throughout the late 1980s and beyond.

The results of both men's relationship with song have led to The Choir, a brand new musical play written by the pair which opens in a major production this week at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in co-production with commercial producers, Ambassadors Theatre Group. As the first fruits of an initiative designed to nurture and develop new musicals by homegrown writers and composers, The Choir somewhat fittingly tells the story of how a community choir in Wishaw gradually comes together, overco…

Emma Rice - On Staging Rebecca for Kneehigh Theatre

It was inevitable that Emma Rice would go to Manderley one day. As both a long time fan of Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier's iconic 1938 novel transposed so memorably to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock two years later, and as joint artistic director of the Cornwall-based  Kneehigh
Theatre, Rice was more than aware of the story's dramatic potential. As her production should prove as it arrives in Edinburgh tonight for a string of dates in Scotland, what might initially appear to be a commercial staple is a Rebecca like no other.

Where purists might prefer  a more slavish recreation of Du Maurier's gothic noir concerning the unseen presence of Maxim de Winter's first wife who died at sea in mysterious circumstances, and the influence she has as he brings his new young bride home to his country pile, Rice takes an infinitely more playful approach. It begins with a live chorale of sea shanties performed by a chorus of fishermen who pop up through trap doors in upturned boats…

Martyr

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


There are moments when it feels like Benjamin, the teenage Christian fundamentalist at the heart of Maja Zade's English translation of German playwright Marius von Mayenburg's drama, is bursting, not just out of his school uniform, but out of his very skin in this co-production between Actors Touring Company and Unicorn Theatre. One minute he's quoting the scriptures to justify
his refusal to take part in mixed swimming lessons, the next he's thrown into temptation by both his
classmate Lydia and his would-be disciple and good cause, George.

Growing pains and a bursting sexuality, it seems, are guided by a blind faith that is prepared to sacrifice anything that gets in its way. This is made flesh here by Benjamin's  biology teacher, Erica, who, in between dodging the everyday sexism of her male colleagues becomes an equally obsessed believer.

Set on an array of wooden surfaces and platforms which his cast navigate, Ramin Gray's…

Jim Crace, Grid Iron Theatre Co and The Devil's Larder

In a Leith rehearsal room, the cast of Grid Iron Theatre Company's production of The Devil's Larder, which begins a short tour of some of Scotland's more less travelled venues next week, are pondering the contents of a label-free tin of something that's presumably edible.

“Do you know what it is?” asks Johnny Austin.
“I don't want to know,” Charlene Boyd snaps back.
“It feels quite syrupy,” Ashley Smith ponders as she shakes the tin.
“I know what it is,” says Antony Strachan.
No-one asks, with Austin and Boyd slipping into character as they proffer the tin up like gothic quiz show hosts that could have been made flesh and blood from an Edward Gorey drawing as they salivate and speculate over the tin's potentially aphrodisiac contents with thrustingly lascivious intent. So erotic is Austin and Boyd’s routine that director Ben Harrison gets them to pare things down so that only the faintest whiff of sex remains.
“Maybe if you stopped touching each other,” he …

Sleaford Mods

La Belle Angele, Edinburgh
Four stars

“This is a Sleaford Mods disco party,” the Nottingham-sired duo's demonic frontman Jason Williamson roars at one point before launching into Tied Up in Nottz, “and you're all invited.” It had already been a busy week for Williamson and and feral-looking trucker-capped beats-meister Andrew Fearn even before this first of four sold out dates in Scotland, which culminates in a show at Glasgow Art School on Saturday. The night before, Williamson and Fearn had played live on BBC TV's Later...With Jools Holland as the unlikely musical meat slapped between a sandwich of Burt Bacharach and Labi Siffre.

There will be more on the forthcoming extended edition of the show, though it's unlikely to top the Mods' third visit to Edinburgh, a trip which began two years ago when they played to a handful of curious Noise fans in an Old Town basement dive before gatecrashing a performance art night next door. With such a pedigree, their wilfully …

Lord of the Flies

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


It's telling that it's a British Airways style Union Jack crest ripped asunder on the tail of the decapitated passenger plane that's been bombed out of the sky at the opening of Regent's Park Theatre's touring stage version of William Golding's novel. As it's colonialist history has made clear, behind the flag's stiff-upper-lipped veneer lays a symbol of something altogether less edifying.

That history is all but acted out in microcosm in Timothy Sheader's production of Nigel Williams' adaptation, which begins with jungle drums beating hard as the surviving schoolboys of the crash are thrown together on an unknown island. With Luke Ward-Wilkinson's Ralph an unassumingly wide-eyed outcast whose authority is challenged by the tribalism and mob rule of Freddie Watkins' Jack
and his gang, their little boys games soon get very serious indeed.

Played out on the vast expanse of Jon Bausor's detritus-litter…

We Are The Mods?....No, We Are The Mods – Life's A Riot With Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods are having their moment. The first time the dynamic duo of vocalist/wordsmith Jason Williamson and techno-primitivist soundscaper Andrew Fearn brought their acerbic alliance of shop-floor social commentary and four-to-the-floor electronic abrasion to Edinburgh in 2013, they played in Old Town basement dive The Banshee Labyrinth to a handful of the city's fertile Noise-scene regulars used to more abstract rackets.

Afterwards, Williamson and Fearn were taken to a performance art night at a rehearsal space next door, and ended up playing the same set again to an audience that made it into double figures this time. Seeing them second time around in such close proximity helped make sense of the short, sharp shock that was the equivalent of a musical punch to the face earlier on, but it was no less startling.

When Sleaford Mods returned to Edinburgh in November 2014 on the back of supporting the reformed Specials on tour, it was to a sold out Electric Circus, where, with…

Nigel Williams - Adapting Lord of the Flies

When William Golding said to Nigel Williams that the latter's stage version of Golding's iconic novel, Lord of the Flies, would be performed at 'the crossroads of great cathedrals', he probably wasn't thinking it might end up on an open-air stage at Regent's Park in London. On an early autumn night in a clearing flanked by trees more than a quarter of a century after Williams' adaptation was first performed in his son's Wimbledon school by students, however, that's exactly where it's ended up.

Parties of school-children still in uniform, some clutching dog-eared paperback copies of Golding's 1954 tome about a party of boys who survive a plane crash on an uninhabited island, look initially overwhelmed by the authentic looking sight of a decapitated passenger plane splayed totem-like as part of designer Jon Bausor's set. The noise of planes coming into land that punctuates the action overhead for the next two hours of Timothy Sheader'…

Not About Heroes

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


You can hear the bombs from the off in Philip Howard's touring revival of Stephen MacDonald's play focusing on the relationship between poets Siegried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen while incarcerated in what in 1917 Edinburgh was Craiglockhart War Hospital. As they sound, the two men face each other at opposite ends of Kenneth MacLeod's abstract, marble-patterned set, being dressed in the formal trappings of a military uniform that may give them standing, but which will keep more
personal feelings thoroughly buttoned up.

As these two shellshocked casualties find common ground after being thrown together, fanboy Owen gradually grows in stature as the emotionally stunted man who becomes his mentor opens up a whole
new world for him before the inevitable occurs.

It's easy to make such a portmanteau piece look small, but in Howard's hands for this Eden Court Theatre, Inverness production, MacDonald's play is lifted out of its own seeming…

Ghosts

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars


You can tell things aren't going to turn out well in Megan Barker's contemporary new take on Henrik
Ibsen's nineteenth century treatise on hand-me-down guilt and the long-term consequences of desperate actions. It's something about the way John Hogg's Osvald, the motorbike riding, film-making prodigal returning to his mammy's Highland home, kills a stag en route. For such a symbol of macho pride to be felled so cruelly seems to be a portent of Osvald's emasculation, even as it forms his opening monologue in Barker's richly poetic text.

Osvald is greeted, not by his widowed town councillor mother, Helen, as played by Alison Peebles,
but by Scarlett Mack's social-climbing young assistant Regina. Her plans are waylaid by her ex policeman father, Jacob, before Helen arrives with her political ally, Martin. With plans afoot to bankroll a care home in honour of Helen's late husband, it's a summit meeting to be reckoned…

Lot and His God

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars


It's hard to gauge exactly who's turned on the most in Howard Barker's
erotically charged reimagining of the Bible's Old Testament myth set in the last
days of Sodom. It might well be Daniel Cahill's horny angel, here named Drogheda
and sent down by God to save Lot and his wife from the destruction that's about
to wipe out the original Sin City. Or it could be Lot's wife Sverdlosk, played
by Pauline Knowles as a faithless drop-dead femme fatale resembling the
shoe-hoarding wife of a deposed dictator on the run, who gets her kicks by
defying Drogheda's celestial intervention.

Cliff Burnett's Lot, meanwhile, works himself into a lather over even the idea of Sverdlosk and
Drogheda embarking on a last-gasp pre-apocalyptic liaison. It might also be worth keeping
an eye on Ewan Somers' silently disdainful waiter who  clearly has ideas above
his station.

Debbie Hannan's production of Barker's late period chamber piece
sets…

The Shawshank Redemption

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


While there are plenty of bankers who should be in prison, Andy Dufresne,
the banged-up hero of Stephen King's 1982 short story, Rita Hayworth and
Shawshank Redemption, isn't one one of them. It is to King's original story
rather than the iconic 1994 big-screen version of it that Owen O'Neill
and Dave Johns' stage adaptation looks to.

Here, Dufresne's incarceration for allegedly killing his wife and her lover in 1940s America is told through the eyes of Ellis 'Red' Redding, the prison go-to man, who can supply pretty much anything
any self-respecting jailbird would need. For Dufresne, this includes a rock
hammer and a pin-up poster of Hayworth for reasons which are eventually made
clear.

Inbetween navigating his way through the institutionalised brutality of
the penal system on both sides of the law, Dufresne manages to negotiate a
library into being. This becomes a symbol of his quietly unwavering
determination to stay true to h…

Megan Barker - Ghosts

It was a strange sensation for Megan Barker when she stepped off the train at Glasgow Central Station en route to the first read-through of her new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play, Ghosts, which opens at the city's Tron Theatre this week. Alighting onto Argyle Street from the station's back exit and into the gloom of the station bridge for the first time in several years, Barker was greeted by the sight of the former entrance to The Arches.

The understated doorway had once been a portal to one of the most important arts venues in Europe, a place which for twenty-odd years hosted a steady stream of audiences and artists. Now the venue where Barker's first play had been produced while still a student, and which, like so many others of her generation, opened her up to the possibilities of what theatre could be, lay locked up and empty after it was forced to close down earlier this year following Glasgow City Council's decision not to renew its late licence on the …

The Last Yankee

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Four stars


Disappointment pulses throughout every second of Arthur Miller's late
period 1993 play, revived here by Rapture Theatre as the second part of the
company's 100 Years of Miller celebrations following their large scale tour of
All My Sons last month. It's there on the face of Leroy Hamilton, the wilfully
underachieving descendent of one of America's founding fathers, who sits in the
waiting room of the state mental hospital where his wife Patricia is spending a
third period in an attempt to keep her depression at bay. It's there too in the
face of John Frick, who may have embraced the American Dream that Hamilton
rejected, but whose own wife Karen is in the same hospital. Most of all,
however, it is Patricia's soul itself that is so fatefully marked by failed
expectations as she attempts to take control of her life once more.

It's key to Miller's chamber piece that we see how men are prior to the doors opening on
Patricia and Karen'…

Brian Friel obituary

Brian Friel – Playwright

Born January 9 1929, Killyclogher, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland; died October 2 2015, Greencastle, County Donegal, Ireland.


Brian Friel, who has died aged eighty-six following a long illness, was a quiet giant of modern Irish theatre, whose greatest plays tapped into the beating heart of the human condition through notions of human frailty and community in the face of adversity. If the former was evident in Faith Healer (1979), a quartet of interlinking monologues charting the inconsistent muse of the Fantastic Frank Hardy, the latter pulsed throughout some of Friel's great ensemble works, including Translations (1980), which dealt with cultural colonialism during a volatile period of Ireland's history, and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), in which memory and history becomes an even more personal for of artistic endeavour.

Bernard Patrick Friel was born in Killcogher, near Omagh, to a school teacher father and post mistress mother, who moved their fa…

Brave New World

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


"Forget about the future," says pill-pacified pleasure seeker Lenina
at one point in Dawn King's stage adaptation of Aldous Huxley's dystopian 1931
novel en route to an emotion-free liaison with Bernard Marx, the most awkward
alpha male in town. "There's nothing we can do about it. Just live for
today."

Such a self-absorbed lifestyle choice was probably as all the rage in
Huxley's between-the-wars world as it is today. All dressed up in space-age
wigs, video projections resembling a Brian Eno installation and a stentorian
electronic soundscape care of pop panoramicists These New Puritans, however,
James Dacre's production for the Royal and Derngate, Northampton and The Touring
Consortium renders the story as all too recognisable prophecy.

It opens as a lecture, with the audience the new trainees being given a guided tour around a
hatchery centre where test tube babies are sired in a social caste system that
seemingly seals t…