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Showing posts from May, 2016

Hidden Door 2016 - Ubu Roi / Bones / Experts in Short Trousers

Abandoned Street Lighting Depot, Edinburgh
Four stars


Make the most of Hidden Door, the now annual nine-day festival of grassroots art, music and performance, which opened this weekend. This year it styles itself as The Electric City in honour of its sprawling temporary home off King's Stables Road which will soon be converted into yet another soulless development. This despite Hidden Door proving the hunger for such an enterprise on a more permanent basis.

The theatre programme opened with a new take on Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi by Edinburgh-based international collective, The Ludens Ensemble. Here, four Pierrot-faced actors in identi-kit junkshop outfits took on Jarry's gloriously puerile reinvention of Macbeth and invested it with a kitchen-sink's worth of styles. Philippos Philippou's wilfully messy work in progress featured grotesque puppets, live video feeds and animated projections, while an entire battle scene was acted out in shadowplay in a way that gives juve…

The 306: Dawn

Dalcrue Farm, Perth
Five stars

In a barn outside Perth, three young men are being forced to face up to their unplanned, unwanted and heartlessly unnecessary destiny in Oliver Emanuel's meditation on the 306 men executed for cowardice in World War One. As brought exquisitely to life in Laurie Sansom's impressionistic music theatre staging, this epic co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, World War One centenary art commissioning project, 14-18 NOW, and Perth Theatre in association with Red Note Ensemble belatedly honours the dead.
Emanuel's play focuses on three of the men; Harry Farr, Joseph Byers and Joseph 'Willie' Stones, and shows the human frailties behind their eventual fate. From a shellshocked Farr's final moments with his young wife Gertrude, to Byers' enthusiasm to join up, all three men are brutalised by the institution they so loyally served.

Seen between the hours of 2.30 and 4am, the action moves across five stages which are r…

Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When the eight squaddies fighting for king and country swap Protestant sashes before going into battle towards the end of Frank McGuinness' 1985 play, revived here by Jeremy Herrin, it resemblance a victorious football team swapping shirts with their noble opponents. Such an image speaks volumes about McGuinness' mighty meditation on maleness in all its troubled forms. By this stage the World War One volunteers have moved from act one's peacockish barrack room sparring to become a unit who would die for each other, with everything that really matters between them left painfully unsaid.
These men too are the ghosts conjured up by old Kenneth Pyper, the regiment's sole survivor of its final battle, who wakes as if from a nightmare at the start of the play and ushers his former comrades to would-be triumph at its end. Inbetween, Pyper's effete aesthete holds court to a role-call of Belfast tough guys, failed preachers and others …

Thon Man Moliere

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The play may be the thing, but the lives of those who write them can often prove equally compelling. So it goes in Liz Lochhead's comic love letter to her greatest inspiration ever since her Scots version of Tartuffe graced the Lyceum stage thirty years ago. Here we find Moliere himself, played by Jimmy Chisholm as a middle-aged roue dubbed 'Pokey' by the rag-tag troupe of actors he and his inspiration, Madeleine Bejart, have pulled together, riling up the establishment as he goes.
Enter a cast list of Steven McNicoll's queeny old ham Gros-Rene du Parc, Nicola Roy's past her sell by date debutante Therese and James Anthony Pearson's thrusting young buck, Michel Baron. There is also Sarah Miele's ingenue Menou, whose presence turns everyone's world upside down in a telling take on the consequences of what happens when you do let your daughter on the stage.

Lochhead's story of an older woman usurped by a …

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars

If romance is dead, nobody told Holly Golightly, the self-invented good time girl at the heart of Truman Capote's 1958 novella, made iconic in Blake Edwards' big-screen adaptation three years later. Nikolai Foster's Curve Theatre, Leicester production of Richard Greenberg's stage adaptation opens with Emily Atack's Holly gazing at her own shop-soiled reflection clad in regulation little black number and movie star shades as Moon River serenades her. In terms of button-pressing homage, however, that's as far as it goes.
Here Matt Barber's would-be writer Fred narrates the story of a woman he might easily have dreamt up, and who already seems to be every man's fantasy figure as she burls her way through New York's high and low 1940s society with bohemian abandon. When her past and present collide with suitably dramatic panache, the country girl who chased something more glamorous in the big city is as quick to go on…

David Hutchinson - Sell A Door

As international calling cards go, having the words New York, London, Dundee emblazoned on your stationery is possibly as good as it gets. For David Hutchinson, who as a young graduate of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2009 co-founded a small theatre company called Sell A Door, it's one more milestone on what after seven years is looking increasingly like an ongoing exercise in world domination.

This week sees the company's production of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach arrive in Edinburgh as part of a tour which has just visited the Middle East and will soon travel to Hong Kong. The company's take on Footloose: The Musical will shortly arrive in Glasgow and Aberdeen following a run in Edinburgh, while a revival of grown-up puppet musical, Avenue Q, was seen in Edinburgh earlier this month. In the autumn, ambitious plans for a new stage version of iconic comic strip The Broons are already under way, while a new tour of cult musical Little Shop of Horro…

Shall Roger Casement Hang?

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

In a cell in Scotland Yard, a knight of the realm is in custody awaiting questioning after being found on an Irish beach with a bag full of bullets. By the next day, where he should have been immortalised as a glorious martyr to a doomed cause, other factors will dictate that he is, not written out of the history he helped make, exactly, but hardly lionised the way his fallen comrades are.
So it goes for Roger Casement in Peter Arnott's gripping two-hander, in which Casement's rebellious adventurer, human rights activist and republican gun runner caught out in the run up to the 1916 Easter Rising sounds like some pulp fiction super-hero. This is especially so considering the fact that he is also a well-heeled establishment figure and a homosexual who likes to document his illicit liaisons in prose that comes to define him even as it brings about his downfall.

Such contradictions run deep in Andy Arnold's Tron Theatre Company production for …

REaD

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Three stars

Has there ever been a better time to declare yourself better red than dead? Try asking The Red Haired Sirens, the flame-locked trio at the heart of this narrative cabaret that imagines a world where its ginger-follicled inhabitants are made second-class citizens and forced to exist as outlaws underground. In the case of Esther, Shelley and the all seeing Madame, this means entertaining themselves at the Scarlet Church, a tellingly named Kit-Kat Klub style after-hours retreat in what is a red light district in more ways than one.
Here the ladies hold court by way of song, dance and recitation, all on a strictly red theme as made flesh from the pen of poet Kevin P Gilday. In their private moments, the trio contemplate their lot before working some real live red magic en route to liberation. All of which as delivered by Sarah McCardie, Linda Duncan McLaughlin and Belle Jones can't quite decide if it wants to be a 1970s politically inspired revue…

Emily Atack - Breakfast At Tiffany's

Emily Atack has been playing a lot of girlfriends lately. The twenty-six year old actress may have first come to prominence breaking geeky schoolboy hearts as sassy Charlotte Hinchcliffe in The Inbetweeners, but more recently she has been seen in the big-screen reboot of classic sit-com, Dad's Army. In the film, Atack plays Daphne, the wartime squeeze of local spiv Private Walker, who, as played by Daniel Mays, manages to get everything on ration.

Atack plays girlfriends as well in two upcoming feature films. Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race is a sequel to a Finnish science-fiction comedy about what happens when Nazis from the Moon invade Earth. Atack plays Tyler, the partner of a cult leader played by Tom Green. In Lies We Tell, Atack is gangster's moll Tracey in an action thriller led by Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel and Gina McKee.

In her professional stage debut, however, Atack gets to play a far more independent woman in a touring production of Breakfast At Tiffany's that a…

Blaine L Reininger - Tuxedomoon

Blaine L Reininger was on a solo tour with former Josef K singer Paul Haig when he was introduced to ex Velvet Underground chanteuse, Nico.

“Nico looked at me,” Reininger remembers, “and says, do I know you? I said no, and Nico said, I didn't think so. That was that, and that's the way it's always been.”

As one third of San Francisco-sired post-punk electronic trio Tuxedomoon, Reininger had helped cause a quiet sensation in 1980 with the release of the band's debut album, Half-Mute. The record's low-slung mix of noirish saxophone and violin pulsed instrumentals combined with abrasive vocal-led tracks were an after-hours cocktail of post-modern cabaret sleaze, avant-garde austerity and multi-media poise.

Given a record that sounded so alien and so studiedly European, moving to Belgium seemed like a natural move. Here Tuxedomoon became part of an international avant-garde based around record labels, Crammed and Les Disques du Crepescule. They released albums of the…

Northern Star

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Whether it's politics or theatre, everybody knows it's behind the scenes where the real work gets done. This is something Lynne Parker's production of the late Stewart Parker's 1984 play, revived by Rough Magic for the Tron's Mayfesto season, recognises in abundance. Parker opens her uncle's study of Henry Joy McCracken, the lost hero of the 1798 Irish rebellion, by having her troupe of actors wander onto a stage which has been turned around to reveal a rare glimpse of its wings. In what begins in a safe-house where McCracken and his lover Mary Bodle are holed up after the rebellion, this framing device heightens Stewart Parker's dramatic fantasia, so history is mythologised even as it is being made.
Stewart Parker does this by interspersing McCracken and Mary's last night together with delirious reflections presented in the manner of the greats of Irish literature. Key moments are delivered as part pastiche and part hom…

Lewis Baltz with works by Carl Andre and Charlotte Posenenske

Stills, Edinburgh until July 9th
Four stars

The word 'Ideal' (1970) forms the title of a key image by the late American photographer Lewis Baltz in The Prototype Works (1967-76), one of three series of images seen in parallel with two text-based pieces by Carl Andre and a sculptural construction by Charlotte Poseneske. Framed in close-up monochrome as one of ten prints taken from this early selection, the elaborate music-hall turn of a font that beams out from 'Ideal' also points to the false optimism of post World War Two suburbia that never quite delivered.
As a prime mover in the New Topographics wave of 1970s landscape photography, Baltz captured the built-in obsolescence of the Californian desert once its untamed public space was co-opted and domesticated by developers across the decades. If The Prototype Works show off worlds already inhabited but destined to be gentrified, fetishised and restyled as 'vintage', the thirty-three images of Park City (197…

Liz Lochhead and Siobhan Redmond - Thon Man Moliere

When Liz Lochhead and Siobhan Redmond talk about being part of a theatrical family, it doesn't just relate to Thon Man Moliere, Lochhead's new play which Redmond appears in at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh when it opens next week. The theatre family that Scotland's former Makar and one of the country's foremost and most fiercely intelligent of acting talents are talking about is something more personal.

Ostensibly a comic study of the seventeenth century French playwright formerly known as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, Thon Man Moliere finds Lochhead returning to the writer who has arguably been her greatest dramatic influence over the last thirty years. The relationship began when she adapted Moliere's most scathing of satires, Tartuffe, into a ribald rhyming Scots that caused a sensation in 1986 when it first opened on the same stage that Thon Man Moliere will.

Since then, two more adaptations have followed. Miseryguts, taken from The Misanthrope, appeared in 200…

Connolly

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Audiences could be forgiven on Friday night for thinking they'd stumbled into Liberty Hall for real at the opening main stage production of this year's Mayfesto mini-season of politically driven theatre. The speak-easy vibe that punctuates Brian McCardie's searingly intense solo turn as James Connolly, the Edinburgh-born icon of the Easter Rising, when Ireland's free-thinking would-be liberators rose up against English rule a hundred years ago, may have been distracting, but it couldn't take away from the slow-burning power behind McCardie's performance in this self-penned piece.
The evening opened with three songs by singer Maeve Mackinnon accompanied by guitarists Fraser Spiers and the show's co-producer for the Fair Pley company in association with trade union Unite, Stephen Wright. After this, McCardie addressed the audience as if they were volunteers poised for battle. Beyond the low-key but impassioned rhetoric, Conno…

Three Irish Icons - Mayfesto 2016

When Andy Arnold first began Mayfesto at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, the idea behind the annual season of socially pertinent theatre was to fill a gap left behind by the long defunct trade union backed arts festival, Mayfest. While this chimed with a wider interest in politically engaged drama, Arnold's programmes have consistently cast a net which has combined the contemporary and the historical from both Scottish artists as well as those from further afield.

All this is captured in this year's Mayfesto, which focuses on the one hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish republicans attempted to end British rule by way of an armed insurrection that left its mark on politics in both Ireland and the UK forever after. While Arnold's love of Irish drama in general pulses his programme, three works in particular focus on very different Irish icons, both of the Easter Rising itself, and of the previous Irish rebellion of 1798.

The Tron's own production sees Arn…

Mary Poppins

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

When Mary Poppins soars over the heads of the audience at the end of Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne's musical staging of P.L. Travers' stories, the strings may be visible beyond the brolley, but the New Age mantra of 'Anything can happen if you want it to' uttered by this most radical of nannies makes perfect sense. As soon as Zizi Strallen's Mary beamed down into the upmarket town house where the nanny-baiting Banks children, Michael and Jane, were rebelling against the regimented routines implemented by their banker father George and ex actress mother Winifred, after all, an entire culture of hand-me-down repression was doomed. .
Once Mary hooks up with chimney sweeping street artist Bert, by way of a series of wonderful set-pieces led by Bourne's choreography, the park becomes a psychedelic wonderland where statues come to life and a sweetshop more resembles an underground shebeen. This exposes Michael and J…

This Restless House

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Ghosts are everywhere in Zinnie Harris' reimagining of the Oresteia, Aeschylus' ancient Greek soap opera trilogy. They are present in the first play, Agamemnon's Return, in the little girl lost that is Iphigenia, through Electra's daddy's girl in the second, The Bough Breaks, to the Singing Detective style raising of the dead in the final piece, Electra and Her Shadow. Dominic Hill's co-production between the Citizens Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland is possessed with an expansive wildness that matches the dark flights of fancy that drives Harris' writing. Seen in one marathon sitting, the trilogy evokes an internal fury prompted by domestic unrest in extremis, before demons are eventually purged.
Things open in a palace that resembles a community hall or a 1970s social club, where a comic trio who seem to have stepped out of Last of the Summer Wine hold court. Here, Pauline Knowles' Clytemnestra swans i…