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Showing posts from November, 2015

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Sirens and sleigh-bells are the dramatic pulse behind Andrew Panton's epic new staging of C.S. Lewis' Christian fantasia, adapted here by Theresa Heskins in a version given a fresh breath of life with new songs by Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour. The sirens accompany the story's four child heroes' escape to the country where they spend the war exploring the cavernous house where an eccentric professor lives. The sleigh-bells usher in the far darker presence of the White Witch who rules Narnia by force, decreeing it to remain forever winter, but without a hint of Christmas.
But there are prophecies to be fulfilled, and Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund are key players in all this, even as the ice slowly melts to signal the coming of Aslan, played by Ben Onwukwe as a dread-locked lord of all goodness.

Panton's production is an impressive feat of theatrical light and shade from the off, as the siblings enter the wardrobe of …

Boots For Dancing – The Politics of, Ooh, Feeling Good!

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It was a poet who gifted the name to Boots For Dancing, the critically neglected Edinburgh-sired agit-Funk auteurs led by vocalist 'Dancing' Dave Carson during Post-Punk's first flourish between 1979 and 1982. The phrase was introduced into the lexicon by way of an off-the-cuff counterpoint to another band's three-word melding of socio-cultural tropes. Such tropes were forged in the heat of a generation's existential disaffection in late 1970's Thatcher's Britain. They also tapped into everything Boots For Dancing were about.

Here was a name that implied a Doc Marten buffed youth club gang cutting loose from the working week and letting off their collective tension on the floor. There was a sense of pride too in such a mass ritual, where sartorial elegance and cutting a dash was as much a part of the experience as the moves themselves. Looking good, feeling better was an unspoken mantra. It came with a package, that understand music was a matter of life…

Martin Creed – Let Them In / Border Control

Responses to the ongoing refugee crisis have been many, but Turner Prize winning artist and musician Martin Creed's is probably the pithiest statement to date. Consisting of a AA-side free download single with accompanying videos released this weekend, Let Them In and Border Control form a new body of audiovisual work that is as short and as sharp as the miniatures on Creed's Love To You and Mind Trap albums.

Both songs are meticulously structured in keeping with Creed's forensically patterned canon. The self-explanatory Let Them In offers up a vocal arrangement that gives a superficial nod to the Beatles' All You Need Is Love by way of REM's Shiny Happy People, while its even briefer flipside is a dry-as-a-bone minimalist word game that resembles protest poems of counter cultures past. Heard together, these two minutes and five seconds of DIY pop sound like fractured nursery rhyme anthems to sing along to in a way that might just help change the world.

Product, N…

Leaders of the Pack - Teen Canteen and The Girl Effect #2

Turning thirty was a bigger deal than it should've been for Carla Easton, singer, song-writer and driving force behind all-female quartet, Teen Canteen. Instead of either trying to ignore such a benchmark or else drown the sorrows of her twenties last hurrah, Easton decided to get pro-active. Roping in an A-Team of musical friends including Eugene Kelly of The Vaselines, Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, Easton arranged a night designed to celebrate girl groups while raising funds for Scottish Women's Aid, and The Girl Effect was duly born.

Those attending the sold out show at Edinburgh's Summerhall venue in May this year in association with the arts centre's in-house promoters, Nothing Ever Happens Here, saw some fourteen acts play two songs apiece by female artists of their choice. These ranged from covers of classic 1960s pop from the likes of Martha Reeves and The Ronettes through to more recent chart botherers such as Destiny…

Jessica Hardwick - Rapunzel

Jessica Hardwick could be forgiven for wanting to let her hair down. The Borders born actress has barely had a breather since she graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2013 to join the Citizens Theatre as one of the company's acting interns for that year. Her new tenure threw her in at the deep end for her first professional role as Sonya in Dominic Hill's epic staging of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment adapted by Chris Hannan. This was followed with Hardwick playing the maid, Christine, in Hill's equally intense staging of August Strindberg's play, Miss Julie, as adapted by Zinnie Harris.

For both of these roles Hardwick was awarded playwright John Byrne's inaugural Billy award, named in honour of actor Billy McColl and introduced to support the best in rising young talent. Hardwick was subsequently cast in Byrne's take on Chekhov's Three Sisters at the the Tron Theatre, where she also performed with Stellar Quines in Lucy Porter'…

Grace Ndiritu - A Return To Normalcy: Birth of a New Museum

Reid Gallery, Reid Building, Glasgow School of Art until December 12th

"The things people think about Africa," says the down to earth and very English sounding voice of Grace Ndiritu in her video piece, Raiders of the Lost Ark (2015), at one point, "and they never go to Africa. Fuckin' Hell, man."

Filmed on location at the Wusha Mikel Church in Ethiopia and the Samyeling Tibetan Monastery, Raiders of the Lost Ark's prosaic observation sums up everything Ndiritu's vast catalogue of film and video works, paintings, photographs and performances are about. Raised in Britain and with a Kenyan heritage, as Ndiritu bridges the shadow line of cultural assimilation, appropriation and fetishisation of the exotic, a transformative visual poetry emerges that fuses shamanic ceremonial with trash pop notions of ethno-delic glam chic and ancient future ritual.

This is made most explicit in Holotropic Breathing for the Masses (2015), a film of what in September of this y…

King Charles III

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

As constitutional crises go, the death of the Queen and subsequent accession of Prince Charles in his mother's wake might well rock the establishment where they are both figureheads. And if the man who would be king breached royal protocol and started tasking charge of matters of state, who knows how things might turn out?
This is the starting point for Mike Bartlett's contemporary history epic, which begins in this UK tour of Rupert Goold's Almeida Theatre production with a solemn candlelit requiem as the cast process into a brick-lined semi-circular crypt that doubles up as the bowels of Buckingham Palace. Here we meet Charles and his tabloid-friendly brood: a dutiful William, a ruthlessly ambitious Kate and a hopelessly hapless Harry, who falls for Jess, a St Martin's art school girl who introduces him to some real common people. Charles, meanwhile, must confront old ghosts even as he squares up to a reactionary government.

Ruth Connell - Supernatural

Fans of long-running cult American fantasy series Supernatural will have spotted a new arrival in its tenth season, currently airing on E4 in the UK. The red-haired woman called Rowena may not have said anything during her first appearance sitting in her hotel room at the end of the episode, Soul Survivor, which aired last month. The two men hanging from the ceiling above her impaled by stakes, however, spoke volumes about her demonic intent.

As fans of the show will find out when Rowena makes her presence fully felt in the season's eighth episode, Girls, Girls, Girls, on November 25th, what turns out to be a 400 year old matriarch with some very important progeny also speaks with a Falkirk accent. This comes in the form of thirty-six year old actress Ruth Connell, who was last seen on these shores playing Mrs Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh back in 2008, but who now seems to have entered an even more fantastical realm.

“Rowe…

Capital Converse

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose, as some street-smart sage once wrote. So it goes for Malky, the Leith Walk wag at the heart of Mikey Burnett's play as he lets rip over one tragi-comic night sparring with his flat-mate Frank in the bathroom. When Malky bursts in, he's lost his last pound on a sure fire winner that fell at the first, the dole have stopped his money, and, most crucially, the love of his life has dumped him to the point of almost having to get a restraining order out on him.
What follows over the next fifty minutes is a quickfire riot of the sort of twisted desperado logic which initially comes on like a post Trainspotting flat-sharing sit-com. Things take a more serious turn in Iain Davie's production for the Napier University sired Trig Point Theatre company, as such exchanges point up just how much those backed into a corner by economic and emotional poverty can end up clutching at any st…

Brix and The Extricated - Life After The Fall

When Brix Smith Start picked up a guitar for the first time in fifteen years, it was an understandably emotional experience. Smith Start, after all, is a survivor of not just one, but two stints as guitarist with legendary punk-sired outsiders, The Fall. She was also married for six years to this most truculent of bands' mercurial vocalist and leader throughout almost forty years, thirty-odd albums and countless ex members, Mark E Smith.

Following such service above and beyond musical duty, Smith Start eventually moved into a career in fashion, first running a chain of boutiques with her current husband, Philip Start, then on TV alongside Gok Wan on Gok's Fashion Fix.

Once she started playing guitar again, however, there was no turning back, and the result of this renewed love affair is Brix and The Extricated, a band she fronts with no less than three former Fall members, including bassist Steve Hanley and his drummer brother Paul, who first played with The Fall aged fift…

Our Man in Havana

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

One could be forgiven for presuming the loneliness of the long-distance vacuum cleaner salesman to not exactly be the most dynamic raw material for top-drawer adventure yarns. This didn't stop Graham Greene, however, whose 1958 pastiche of very British spy stories was filmed a year later by Carol Reed. Clive Francis' stage version dates from 2007, and in Richard Baron's new production mines an ongoing vogue for doing pocket-sized modern classics with one eyebrow archly raised.
Baron's cast of four open the show with a nod to Greene's own tenure in the spying game as each shares the narration between them to unveil the fast-moving story concerning Jim Wormold, the down-at-heel salesman who's been ditched by his wife for an American and left in Cuba with his precocious teenage daughter Milly in tow. Inexplicably enlisted by the London secret service to keep an eye on any nefarious activities Johnny Foreigner might be getting …

The Importance of Being Earnest

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

One fears for the worst when a curiously past-it looking Algernon drops a cue in the opening scene of Oscar Wilde's evergreen rom-com concerning mistaken identity amongst courting couples who flit and flirt between town and country. Within seconds, however, it becomes clear that Lucy Bailey's touring production is throwing the audience a googly. This comes in the form of the Bunbury Company of Players, the fictitious home counties am-dram group used as a framing device to justify Bailey's casting of older actors in roles usually reserved for ingenues.
As scripted by Simon Brett, the Bunbury Players have been revisiting Earnest since their first production of the play in 1970, so it is now the preserve of the company's elder statesmen and women rather than starlets. While the rehearsal room role-call of offstage affairs, reluctant butlers and cricketing distractions add an extra layer of hammed-up identity crises, they aren…