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Showing posts from January, 2016

Joseph McKenzie: Women of Dundee & Photographs from the Margaret Morris collection

Stills, Edinburgh, 6th February-9th April

At first glance, two old women gossiping on a half-demolished street may not have much to do with the group of nymph-like waifs in swimsuits draping themselves across the branches of a tree in synchronised unison. Seen alongside each other as in this two-part exhibition at Stills, however, the documentary photographs of Joseph McKenzie and images by Fred Daniels taken from the collection of choreographer Margaret Morris fuse social history and artistic archive in fascinating counterpoint.
Where Joseph McKenzie was regarded as the father of Scottish photography up until his death in 2015, the shapes thrown in Morris' 1920s world were the epitome of abstraction applied to everyday life. Both, in their own ways, were radical pioneers.

“The Margaret Morris collection is a really early example of an artist recognising the importance of documentation,” Stills director Ben Harman says,“while Joseph McKenzie's photographs are early examples…

Chris Gascoyne - Endgame

Coronation Street may look like the end of the world to some, but for Chris Gascoyne, his time on the iconic TV soap has in part been a platform which has allowed him to explore other avenues. While on the one hand Gascoyne has notched up some seventeen years “more on than off,” playing Peter Barlow, son of the ever-present Ken, in the red-brick Wetherfield limbo, he has also developed a parallel theatre career. This has taken him to the National Theatre, the Royal Court and now to Glasgow in the Citizens' Theatre's new production of Samuel Beckett's dystopian masterpiece, Endgame.

Performing alongside his long-term Corrie colleague David Neilson in co-production with the newly-established Manchester venue, HOME, Gascoyne plays Clov, the doting servant to Neilson's blind and ruthless master, Hamm. With Hamm unable to walk and Clov incapable of sitting, the pair's sparring is punctuated by the dustbin-dwelling appearance of Hamm's parents, Nag and Nell, in a bla…

'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

When second year acting students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland performed Romeo and Juliet a couple of weeks ago, it may have been their first introduction to classical tragedy. Seen next to John Ford's seventeenth century gore-fest, however, Shakespeare's play must look pretty prim to the other half of the year's ensemble who perform Ford's masterpiece this week.
The same iron bed is there in Gareth Nicholls' production to help illustrate consummation of the play's doomed young lovers' affair. It starts similarly enough too, with over-exciteable boys sparring and confessing all while the object of their affections preens herself impassively in front of a full-length mirror. The fact that Ford's lead starlets, Giovanni and Annabel, are brother and sister, makes this an infinitely more grown-up affair.

All of Nicholls' eight-strong ensemble grab hold of Ford's taboo-busting tendenc…

Heathcote Williams – Stop Wars / If You Left For Mars

The arrival of new work by Heathcote Williams is always a cause for a very revolutionary kind of celebration. In certain circles, after all, Williams has long been regarded as the conscience of a very fractured nation. A key figure in London's 1960s counter-culture, as a writer, his first book, The Speakers, was an impressionist portrait of the characters who brought Speaker's Corner to colourful life in Hyde Park. An adaptation of the book was later staged by Joint Stock Theatre Company.

As an activist, Williams was a prime mover in the 1970s squatting and graffiti scenes that graced the streets of London's then run-down Notting Hill district, and he co-founded the alternative nation of Freestonia.

As a playwright, Williams penned AC/DC, a critique of the anti-psychiatry techniques pioneered by R.D. Laing, and wrote The Local Stigmatic, which was championed by Al Pacino. In Hancock's Half Hour, Williams explored the debilitating curse of fame through the final moments o…

Sue Tompkins & Elara Caluna – Double Disc Pack

It's only too fitting that the debut release from the newly constituted VoidoidARCHIVErecords comes in a silver plastic bag. There are few artists other than the label's founder, artist Jim Lambie, after all, who have taken the Warhollian pop-art dream and used it for his own ends quite so convincingly.

The label was born of activities in Lambie's Glasgow-based Poetry Club over the last three years, which has seen several generations of underground movers and shakers perform there ever since he opened it to host a show by Richard Hell in 2012. The likes of Factory superstar Gerard Malanga, poetry evangelist John Giorno and Patti Smith have all performed inside The Poetry Club's bijou confines, as have Felt frontman Lawrence, Primal Scream, Young Fathers and Teen Canteen.

This double 7'' limited edition of 100 was released last month to coincide with the Club's multi-media night, Paraphernalia. Elara Caluna are the Glasgow-based duo of Benedict Salter and Ki…

The Weir

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

You could have heard a pin drop when Valerie told her story midway through Amanda Gaughan's revival of Conor McPherson's brooding 1997 masterpiece. As played by Lucianne McEvoy, Valerie is the most unassuming of strangers, embraced into the fold of a west of Ireland boozer where Jack, Jim, Finbar and barman Brendan hold court. In self-imposed exile from Dublin, over the course of one dark night Valerie rubs up against the men's shared experience and peacockish attempts to impress her.
The latter comes in the form of a series of whisky-fuelled supernatural yarns that conjure up an assortment of apparitions that Valerie too falls prey to in the most devastating of ways.
Such a simple set-up is brought to life with exquisitely low-key power on Francis O'Connor's desolate set. At the play's start, rain batters down beside the telegraph poles beyond the pub's four walls as the sound of a solitary fiddle that forms Mic…

Bitches Brew - Jazz and the Female of the Species

When iconic trumpeter Miles Davis released his Bitches Brew album in 1970, the record's use of electronic instruments and studio editing broke the mould for for many jazz aficionados even as it
confounded others more used to the artform being primarily a live affair captured in the moment.
Either way, it's notable that out of the dozen players that made up Davis' supergroup gathered for
the recording, not one of them was a woman. Almost half a century on, a new night for female jazz and improv musicians has co-opted the title of Davis' of-its-time opus to correct such a gender imbalance.

Co-founded in the summer of 2015 by saxophonist Sue McKenzie and double bass player Emma Smith, Bitches Brew is a bi-monthly night that takes place at the small but perfectly formed Jazz Bar on Chambers Street, across the street from the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The idea was to provide a platform for female players who, despite working in a more left-field free and improv …

Jenna Watt - How You Gonna Live Your Dash

When Jenna Watt went to see Werner Herzog's film, Into The Abyss, things changed. Herzog's documentary focuses on two inmates on Death Row, and at one point, a state executioner who's just had to oversee the killing of a woman for the first time begins to to think about his life. Someone observes that on your tombstone between the words Born and Died and the year of each there is a dash which sums up everything inbetween. How you gonna live your dash, he says, is up to you.

“When I heard that phrase something just clicked,” says Watt. “I'd never heard it expressed that way about how you're going to live, and whether you're going to move forward or stay where you are. All of that seemed really poignant.”

Around the same time, Watt found herself drawn to the photographs of Italian artist Filippo Minelli, whose Silence/Shapes series of images used different coloured smoke bombs to illustrate everyday explosions disrupting their immediate surroundings.

“I thought…

Giant Tank Offline #4 / Ali Robertson & His Conversations

“If you can put a little bit of yourself into the work....” So says Collette Robertson on the first track of Ali Robertson & His Conversations, the latest sonic missive from one of the brains behind the Giant Tank cottage industry, which has rattled the mainstream's bag for more than a decade now with an ever expanding series of gonzoid dispatches.

Both this newish record and the fourth edition of the GT in-house zine continue an assault on culture which dates back to the pummelling sludge-core of Giant Tank the band in the late 1990s. Since they split, the Robertson-run Giant Tank label has been based primarily around the activities of Robertson and cartoonist Malcy Duff. As Usurper, this double act of absurdist provocateurs have become key players in an outsider weirdo network that is both related to and is the antithesis of a now widespread Noise scene.
Utilising a toybox of 'disabled' instruments – marbles, loose change, old springs and other detritus – alongsid…

Romeo and Juliet

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars

The big brass bed that sits at the centre of the stage has already seen plenty of action by the looks of things at the start of Emily Reutlinger's production of Shakespeare's doomed love story, performed here by a cast of eight second year BA Acting students. There's a torch on top of the covers, and Romeo and Juliet themselves are standing there with their fractured families, telling the audience what happened with a venom only the victims of a pointless feud can muster.
Beginning the play at its end like this so everything that follows is in flashback is an initially disarming proposition for the audience watching from three sides of a strip-lit stage area, but it's one that's never laboured in a production that focuses on the uber-real looking interplay between the main players. Michael Abubakar in particular is a revelation as an urchin-like Romeo, who blags his way into the Capulets' big do with his ma…

David Bowie – Some Live Like Lazarus

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Last Friday night, I was supposed to go to a Bowie Birthday Tribute Night. This was being held at Edinburgh's Citrus Club to celebrate both the release of Bowie's new Blackstar album and the great man's sixty-ninth birthday. As is usual with such tributes, the night would feature a compendium of Edinburgh punk/post-punk alumni doing covers of the thin white duke's finest works in their own Edinburgh punk/post-punk alumni kind of way.

The attraction for me was was the head-lining act, Finger Halo. This was the new band fronted by Jo Callis, who'd been guitarist in The Rezillos and then Boots For Dancing before joining The Human League, co-writing Don't You Want Me and going to Christmas number one in 1981. This sounded great, because whenever you see film footage of Jo Callis, even when he was in The Rezillos he looked like he should've been one of Ziggy Stardust's Spiders From Mars, and he looks even more like that now.

I'd suggested going to thi…

Amanda Gaughan and Lucianne McEvoy - The Weir

When Amanda Gaughan first read Conor McPherson's play, The Weir, she was so shaken by its contents that she knew she had to direct it. The end result of what sounds like a quasi spiritual experience as much as a physical one is Gaughan's new production of the play, which opens at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh this week.

Set in a west of Ireland pub populated by a smattering of regulars, The Weir steps into a very male world of boozy bravado and unspoken bonds that are opened up by the arrival of a female stranger called Valerie. Over the course of one night, as each man tries to outdo each other with supernatural yarns designed to both impress and scare the incomer, everybody's lives are quietly rocked by what eventually unfolds. And that's it. No grand gestures or epic sweeps of dramatic tricks, dance routines or live video feeds, just five people in a pub, talking. Which makes you wander what shook Gaughan up so much when she read it.

“It's got so much hu…

David Bowie - Lazarus, Baal and The Elephant Man

It came as no real surprise when it was announced that David Bowie would be co-writing a play set to open in New York. Here, after all, was a pop star – an artist – whose entire career had been one of theatrical reinvention, as he took on a different guise for each new record that looked increasingly tailor-made for the video age.

When it was announced that, rather than go down the crowd-pleasing jukebox musical route a la Abba's Mamma Mia! or Queen's We Will Rock You, this new work called Lazarus would see Bowie collaborating with playwright Enda Walsh and director Ivo van Hove, it sounded a tantalisingly serious proposition.

Both Walsh and Van Hove are Edinburgh stalwarts, with Walsh having carved out an international career from his Fringe debut, Disco Pigs, in 1997, to writing the libretto for opera The Last Hotel, which appeared at last year's Edinburgh International Festival. Van Hove's production of Antigone, starring Juliette Binoche, appeared in the same …

Piers Haggard - Pennies From Heaven, The Blood on Satan's Claw and Stage Directors UK

When Piers Haggard received notice that he was to be awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List, the veteran theatre, film and television director might well have presumed it to be for his achievements on stage and screen. Haggard, after all, was the man who steered Dennis Potter's mould-breaking 1978 TV drama series, Pennies From Heaven, to international acclaim. By that time, Haggard had also directed cult folk horror flick, The Blood on Satan's Claw, and would go on to oversee the 1979 mini series of Nigel Kneale's seminal Quatermass saga.

This followed a checkered theatre career, which began for Haggard at the Royal Court under George Devine, and led to stints at Dundee Rep and the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow before Haggard joined the newly founded National Theatre under Laurence Olivier. Haggard went on to work with Liza Minnelli on an American TV special, and more recently directed Vanessa Redgrave in an onscreen adaptation of Rosamunde Pilcher's novel, T…

The Chips and the Fury - Ellie Harrison and The Glasgow Effect

I'd vaguely noticed the picture of a poke of chips floating about an event post on my Facebook feed for a while before it really caught my eye. For a couple of days, ever since it was posted at one minute to midnight on Hogmanay 2015, I'd half-registered the words The Glasgow Effect accompanying the picture. At the time, the words didn't really mean anything, certainly not in the way they do now, so wasn't really something to concern myself with.

When I eventually clicked onto the post, I was first bemused, then confused by what I read. There are a ton of event invitations that pop up on social media over the course of the day, but this one seemed to be written in some opaque bureaucrat-speak, and didn't seem to refer to an event at all. Which is fine if that's what you're into, and the name Ellie Harrison rang a bell, right enough, but I was too distracted by other things to pay it much attention.

Only when a friend private messaged me with the words …