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Showing posts from February, 2016

The Destroyed Room

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's all so civilised at the start of Vanishing Point's latest study of the world through a lens darkly. A master of ceremonies introduces the night, and points out how what is about to follow was prompted by a photograph by Canadian artist Jeff Wall, and how his image of domestic destruction was inspired by a painting by Delacroix. After introducing actors Elicia Daly, Pauline Goldsmith and Barnaby Power, the MC stands behind one of two video cameras that film the next seventy-five minutes, which is beamed onto a screen above the stage that distances the live action below. The actors sit on the red sofa and chairs in what looks like an elegant looking chat show set, and they talk.
In something resembling a dinner party gone increasingly wrong, they talk of online videos and pictures of Bataclan and Syria, and how such images may or may not have affected them. As the talk goes on, meticulously constructed criss-crossing conversations become a…

Blackbird

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When the lights go out on twenty-something Una mid-way through David Harrower's taboo-busting psycho-drama, she's left alone in a room full of domestic debris. The painful silence and eventual cry for help that follows make it feel like this is the second time she's been deserted by Ray, the man now known as Peter who she went on the run with fifteen years before. That was when he was forty and she was twelve. In the gulf between the couple's two meetings, lives have been lived, torn apart and just possibly rebuilt. In the play's 100 minute duration, played without an interval, those lives are exposed in all their fragility before being turned upside down once more.
A decade after it premiered at Edinburgh International Festival, the emotional cache of Harrower's play becomes more powerful with its every reading. As this new production by Gareth Nicholls – no stranger to intense two-handers following his production of Gi…

Canned Laughter - Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott

In a Leith warehouse on a cold Wednesday afternoon, something funny is going on. Just how funny remains to be seen, because, as pantomime favourites Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott have long known, comedy is a very serious business indeed, and when comedy partners fall out, it really is no laughing matter.

You can see this when all three are on their feet for rehearsals of Canned Laughter, a brand new play co-written by Ed Curtis with Stewart about Alec (Stewart), Gus (Gray) and Rory (Stott), an imaginary 1970s comedy troupe on the verge of the big time.

Such showbiz mythology is familiar territory for Curtis, who had directed Stewart in the title role of Al Jolson in Jolson and Me. Curtis later directed Alan McHugh and Elaine C Smith's Susan Boyle based musical, I Dreamed Dream, in which Gray appeared. Prior to both shows, in 2007 Curtis wrote and directed Never Forget, the Take That jukebox musical which focused on a tribute band trying to get their break.

With Can…

Hairspray

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

“If we get anymore white people here,” says Little Inez, the sparky kid sister of the male half of Baltimore's first inter-racial teenage couple in this latest touring revival of the 1960s-set John Waters inspired musical, “it'll be a suburb.” Such seemingly throwaway observations speak volumes about where writers Marc O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan's book is coming from in Paul Kerryson's production, which originated at Leicester's Curve Theatre.
Adapted from Waters' 1988 commercial breakthrough film and taken from real events, for all it's bubblegum-coloured nostalgia , Hairspray is a show that lays bare the brittle superiority of so-called normal society. That it does so with an all-singing, all-dancing cast led by Freya Sutton as curvy heroine Tracy Turnblad and Tony Maudsley cross-dressing as her mother Edna makes it even better.
Sutton's Tracy is “that chubby Communist” who wants every day to be Negro Day o…

Paul Higgins - Blackbird

Paul Higgins won't be able to make the Glasgow Film Festival screening of Couple in A Hole, the off-kilter thriller he appears in alongside Kate Dickie, and which has already garnered plaudits at festivals abroad. Instead, Higgins will be just across the river, performing in the Citizens' Theatre's new production of Blackbird. David Harrower's troubling dissection of the emotional fallout of an illicit relationship between twelve year old Una and forty year old Ray shows what happens when Una turns up unannounced fifteen years after Ray was sent to prison.

Higgins can also be heard shortly in a new radio adaptation of John Wyndham's ecological science-fiction novel, The Kraken Wakes, in which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes an unlikely cameo. All of which is in keeping with Higgins' back catalogue as an an actor unafraid to appear both vulnerable and ridiculous, as he did on TV in both The Thick of It and Dennis Kelly's graphic novel styled Utopia.

Ons…

Private Lives

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

The French windows are suitably symmetrical at the opening of Tom Attenborough's handsome-looking touring revival of Noel Coward's superior sit-com, knocked off over a long weekend in 1930. They're certainly better matched than Elyot and Amanda, the former lovers now on the rebound and on honeymoon with brand new spouses. It's telling, however, that the adjoining balconies where chance meetings are inevitable on Lucy Osborne's set more resemble an art deco cruise liner that's fleetingly docked in port than the hotel it actually is.
What follows as Tom Chambers' Elyot dallies with Charlotte Ritchie's Sybil while Laura Rogers' alpha female Amanda toys with Richard Teverson's pompous Victor is a riot of wildly choreographed savage love that falls somewhere between passion and politesse in its cut-glass execution. Attenborough's production too presents a company of equals, with Ritchie making a bright and spar…

Michael Head - Bouncing Back With The Red Elastic Band

Michael Head is full of stories. This is something the audience at Oran Mor in Glasgow should find out tomorrow night when Head brings a trio version of his latest venture as Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band to town. There's the one, for instance, about how this prodigiously talented songwriter first fell in love with music beyond his mum and dad's country and western records when he saw Julian Cope's band, The Teardrop Explodes, on a TV show hosted by Factory Records boss, Tony Wilson.

“There was a lot of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams in the house,” Head remembers. “I think I was about twenty-five before I heard Revolver, but in 1978, there was this programme Tony Wilson did, and the theme tune got me straight away, 'cos it was Shot By Both Sides by Magazine, and I remember bombing down the stairs, and I was standing there in the living , watching the Teardrop Explodes transfixed transfixed, and my dad said, you like that, don't you. I said, yeah, it's…

The Crucible

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Everything is laid bare in John Dove's production of Arthur Miller's all too timely fable of new puritanism and how a divide and rule ideology can damn us all. It happens between the cracks of the bare floorboards of designer Michael Taylor's spartan set. It's there too in the skeletal framework that surrounds it flanked with barren trees. Most of all it's there in the hearts and minds of Miller's small town rural society that's ripped asunder by secrets and lies. Once exposed, the mass hysteria these provoke destroys everyone who claims any kind of moral high-ground.
Fear is at the heart of Miller's seventeenth century story in which solitary farmer John Proctor goes to the gallows along with most of Salem after his illicit liaison with Abigail Williams kickstarts a witchhunt. It's a fear of sex, books, dancing and all those things that might enlighten us enough to see through an oppressive regime that w…

My Name is Saoirse

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Freedom comes easy to the teenage girl who gives Eva O'Connor's solo play it's title. As performed by O'Connor herself, even sitting at the sewing machine patching up her home-made dresses with jaggedy seams as she does in the opening scene of Hildegard Ryan's production for the Sunday's Child company seems to give her a quiet kind of liberation. That will never be a match for Saoirse's best friend Siobhan, mind, a well-developed wild child who's loved by all the boys.
Over fifty-five minutes, O'Connor exposes all of Saoirse's growing pains as she wends her way through 1980s rural Ireland, where sexual enlightenment is a dirty secret more in keeping with Victorian values than the late twentieth century. Sure enough, it's Saorise who falls prey to a temptation that will end her girlhood before it's even begun.

First seen in Edinburgh at the tiny Discover 21 theatre in independent arts space St Marg…

WHITE - New Pop Fabulists On The Road

WHITE know a thing or two about putting on a show. This should become instantly clear to anyone who puts on their glad-rags and shimmies on down to one of the dates on the Glasgow-sired quintet's first full tour, which opens this week. As they hit the floor to grandiose Sensurround pop epics such as Future Pleasures, Living Fiction and Private Lives, pleasure seekers of all ages will be taken, not just by the gloss, drama and glam-o-rama of the songs themselves, but also by the shape-throwing bravura of frontman Leo Condie.

As he leaps into action, hair flopping, arms akimbo, you get the impression that Condie has been rehearsing this moment for years. With a consciously voguish sound that mines the entryist New Pop of early 1980s forebears such as Paul Haig and The Associates, it's as easy to see where WHITE are coming from as it is to see the scale of their ambition.

“Before we launched the band,” says Condie, who formed white with guitarists Hamish Fingland and Chris Potter…

This Is Not This Heat

Cafe Oto, London
February 12th-13th

“It was forty years ago today, eh, Charles?,” Charles Hayward beams from behind his giant drum-kit to guitarist Charles Bullen mid-way through the second night of this most extraordinary resurrection of the work of This Heat, one of the key conglomerations of England's musical avant-garde over the last half-century. With Gareth Williams completing the line-up, This Heat existed between 1976 and 1982, a crucial period when anything seemed possible. Over two albums, their eponymous 1979 debut best known as the blue and yellow album, and 1981's Deceit, with the Health and Efficiency 12'' EP inbetween, This Heat can now be regarded as an all but missing link between prog and post-punk.

In response to Hayward's reverie, Bullen merely nods gnomically from behind his beard on the other side of Cafe Oto's packed playing area in a room equally brim-full of several generations of London's leftfield musical underground, many of wh…

Michael Boyd - Right Now

When a script for a new play called Right Now landed on Michael Boyd's desk, it couldn't help but remind the former boss of the Royal Shakespeare Company of a few things. Here was a play, after all, written by Catherine-Anne Toupin, a Quebecois playwright, which looked at the inner workings of a woman's mind in a way that was both fantastically strange and darkly comic in its execution.

Prior to his time leading the RSC out of a financial mire and into some of the biggest successes in the company's history, Boyd had been based in Glasgow, where he was the artistic director of the Tron Theatre. During his decade there, his standout productions included a stage version of Janice Galloway's novel, The Trick is To Keep Breathing, in which three performers played different aspects of the main character.

Boyd's tenure was also notable for his production of plays by Quebecois writer, Michel Tremblay, in versions transposed to a ribald Scots demotic by translators Mart…

Laura Rogers and Charlotte Ritchie - Private Lives

“It doesn't suit women to be promiscuous” according to newly-wedded roue on the rebound, Elyot Chase, in Private Lives, Noel Coward's cynical 1930 dissection of love and marriage. As his ex wife Amanda Prynne so witheringly countered, however, “It doesn't suit men for women to be promiscuous.”

Coward invariably gave his women the best lines in this way, as should be seen when a new touring production of Private Lives arrives in Glasgow next week. While Amanda is played by Laura Rogers, Charlotte Ritchie takes on the less sung role of Elyot's new bride Sybil with a potentially more assertive streak.

“Amanda loves an argument, “ says Rogers during an afternoon off on the Brighton leg of the tour, “and she knows exactly what she wants. She knows how to flirt and how to manipulate her way through certain situations, but she's vulnerable as well, and even though she can bring out the worst in people and the best in people, she can also be like a little girl.”

As for S…

Cock

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The shapes projected onto the stage floor of the Tron speak volumes about Mike Bartlett's four-sided dissection of the twenty-first century mating game at the opening of Andy Arnold's revival, the first since the play premiered in 2009. A circle, two rectangles and an L shape not only frame the action on an otherwise bare performing area before they morph into a large square that looks like something more gladiatorial. They also suggest something more scientific is at play than just lust.
James Anthony Pearson is John, a young gay man perfectly at home with his long-term partner, but who finds himself falling for a woman in a way that turns out to be about a lot more than sex. He thinks women are like water when you really want a beer. She thinks he's like something drawn with a pencil and in need of colouring in.

Little linguistic flourishes like this are peppered throughout an at times filthily comic tug of love. Determined to keep thin…

Lyn Paul - Blood Brothers, The New Seekers and How Bill Kenwright Changed Her Life

Lyn Paul never expected to be appearing in Blood Brothers again. Then again, the now sixty-six year old actress and singer never expected to represent the UK as part of pre-Abba boy-girl band The New Seekers at the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, held at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

While Eurovision is now just a memory, almost two decades after she first played back street matriarch Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell's street-wise musical, Paul can be seen in Edinburgh this week on the latest Blood Brothers tour.

“We thought it was the end,” Paul says. “I went back for it's final dates in the West End in 2012, and we thought that was it, but now here we are.”

If things had worked out differently, Paul might not be here at all. Having formed her own girl group aged thirteen, Paul graduated from Manchester's working men's club circuit to international pop stardom with The New Seekers. She only considered a move into musical theatre in 1997 while playing the Cockney Cabaret…

Blood Brothers

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

An unreconstructed Liverpool skyline may hang over the action throughout the latest tour of Willy Russell's working class tragedy, but what follows could have happened in any post-industrial UK city that has had its heart ripped out of it over the last thirty years or so. That Russell's musical fable concerning the very different fortunes of two Scouse brothers separated at birth remains both phenomenally popular and damningly relevant after almost thirty years since its premiere speaks volumes about the state we're in.
Much of the show's appeal comes from the sheer heart of Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright's production, which heightens the action without ever losing its common touch. The latter comes through in the pop poetry of Kristofer Harding's funeral-suited Narrator as much as in the back-street demotic of Sean Jones' Mickey and Danielle Corlass' Linda. This counterpoints the more educated tones of Joel Benedi…

The James Plays

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There's never any peace in Rona Munro's epic trilogy of imagined Scottish history, revived for a brief Edinburgh run following its 2014 Edinburgh International Festival premiere before embarking on an international tour. This is plain to see on both a sweeping political level as well as something more intimate in all three parts of this co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the National Theatre of Great Britain and EIF itself.
The fact that the first all-dayer coincided with the kick-off of the Six Nations Rugby Union tournament may have been coincidental, but a similar sense of hand-me-down tribalism was inherent from the off in James I: The Key will Keep the Lock. With a section of the audience seated on a semi-circular platform onstage, a gladiatorial arena flanks a giant sword embedded into a floor on which the pathways of light form a Saltire.

With Steven Miller playing a poetry-loving James I, Andrew Rothney an …

Linder and Rachel Maclean - British Art Show 8

At first glance, the regal-looking pink love heart framed around a blue-eyed and smiling princess peering out from the flagship image for British Art Show 8, which arrives in Edinburgh this month, looks every inch the child-friendly image of a Disney princess to die for. Only the fact that the cartoon creation appears to have a bag over their head while wielding a frowning bauble and miming shooting itself in the head jars somewhat.

The image is from Feed Me, the new hour-long film by Rachel Maclean, which was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Hayward Touring, and is is being screened as part of BAS8 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Like the film, and indeed much of Maclean's back-catalogue, the image takes familiar pop cultural tropes and subverts them with a cut-up narrative in which an unrecognisable Maclean usually plays all the parts against a candy-coated green screen backdrop.

From the Lady Gaga and Katy Perry coloured fantasias of LolCats and Over…