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Showing posts from August, 2016

Mogwai – Atomic

Edinburgh Playhouse
Five stars

Following Playhouse dates by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros, it was only fitting that EIF's contemporary music programme completed the holy trinity of 1990s sired noise rock with two very special appearances by Mogwai to perform the soundtrack to Mark Cousins' film, Atomic. Subtitled Living in Dread and Promise, Cousins' film is an astonishing visual poem that cuts up archive footage to tell the story of nuclear weapons, from Hiroshima to Faslane, stopping off at all points inbetween.
With a six piece version of the band sat in darkness beneath a screen, things begin gently enough with a positively twinkly underscore to images of trees, flowers and other earthly delights that suggest a kind of uncorrupted global village. Within minutes, however, the appliance of science gives way to a barrage of atrocities accompanied by a relentless but still textured sturm und drang that heightens a sense of dread and foreboding with pummeling fo…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 9 - Blow Off - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Blush - Underbelly, Three Stars / All the Things I Lied About - Summerhall, Four stars

In an Edinburgh Festival Fringe dominated by radical feminist riot girls, there have been few shows more explosive than Blow Off, A.J. Taudevin's fearless dramatic treatise on what drives a woman – and the fact that is a woman is key here – to blow up a very male symbol of corrupted power in city centre of sleek and gleaming towers.

In what Taudevin describes as a piece of guerrilla-gig-theatre, she is accompanied onstage by musical director Kim Moore and Susan Bear and Julie Eisenstein, aka Glasgow alt-punk duo Tuff Love for a rollercoaster glimpse from the frontline of one woman's mind in a music-punctured monologue that howls with barely suppressed rage.

In the current political climate, where responses to terrorist attacks have included policemen stripping a Muslim woman of her burkini on a French beach, Taudevin's punk rock assault on patriarchy is as incendiary as it is necessary. Taudevin's delivery in a piece co-directed by her and Graham Eatough is a piece of …

Music is Audible – Especially in August

Back at the very start of this year's August Edinburgh extravaganza, the Edinburgh Tattoo featured a musical tribute to the late David Bowie at Edinburgh Castle. A few nights later, Edinburgh International Festival opened with Deep Time, a spectacular audio-visual event that beamed state of art projections onto Edinburgh Castle's walls to a thundering soundtrack of work by Glasgow-based band, Mogwai.

Both events were epic examples of the significance of pop and rock music to international culture, and EIF's contribution to this has already been highlighted on these pages.
Elsewhere, the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme featured readings from former Fall guitarist Brix Smith-Start and ex Dr Feelgood driving force, Wilko Johnson,while live music featured prominently in the festival's late-night Unbound strand. On the Fringe, live music fused with theatre in many shows.

This coming Monday, as EIF prepares for its final big bang at the Fireworks Concert, E…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 8 - Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat - Underbelly, Four stars / Letters To Windsor House - Summerhall, Four stars / Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again - Traverse Theatre, Three stars

When Lucy McCormick opens her somewhat singular take on the life and death of Jesus in Triple Threat dancing with a purple dildo in hand alongside a pair of butch male angels (though sadly not Herald ones) in pants who look like they've stepped off the set of Eurotrash, it sets the tone for an eye-popping hour of dramatic salvation.

With McCormick casting herself in all the main parts in Ursula Martinez' Soho Theatre/Underbelly production, she brings the bible to life with all the boring bits left out. The Three Kings dance to camp disco, Judas betrays McCormick's leotard-clad messiah with considerably more than a kiss, while come ressurrection time there is a decidedly liberal interpretation of what constitutes stigmata. All opf this comes complete with power ballad karaoke in a blissfully blasphemous take on the greatest story ever told that flings wilfully ridiculous concepts of power, glory, agony and Ecstacy around with gay abandon. For a grand finale, a massed ascen…

Richard III

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars


The 1940s style microphone that hangs down from the rafters throughout German director Thomas Ostermeier's Berlin Schaubuhne production of what is arguably Shakespeare's most malevolent play is a telling nod to some of the showbiz-styled reference points that follow. The royal court bursts onstage in a riot of glitter punchlined by Thomas Witte's relentless noise rock drumming. This is an impressive curtain-raiser already before Lars Eidinger's Richard takes the microphone and centre-stage for his opening monologue that makes “Now is the winter of our discontent” sound like a stand-up live art routine.

Wearing a harness and rugby style skull-cap and contorting himself as he goes, Eidinger's Richard is by turns straight man, clown and old pro who flits between court jester and MC, but who really wants to be top of the bill. In this way he's a mash-up of Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman and wannabe comic turn Rupert Pupkin in Martin Scorse…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 7 - The View From Castle Rock - Artspace@St Mark's, Four stars / The Hours Before We Wake - Underbelly - Three stars / The Way the City Ate the Stars - Underbelly, Three stars

Canadian writer Alice Munro is something of a heroine in literary circles. This is something that the sell-out staging of two of her short stories in The View From Castle Rock confirms, as it brings to life Munro's real life nineteenth century ancestors, the Laidlaw family, who leave the Scottish borders behind for a new life in Canada. Rather than focus on what happens when they get there, Munro's text, adapted faithfully by Linda McLean and split between five actors in Marilyn Imrie's production for the Stellar Quines company as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival, charts the voyage itself.

As the actors enter along the pews of St Marks' magnificent interior clutching copies of Munro's book, we ushered into a messy world of lives in motion, as several generations of Laidlaws attempt to make themselves heard,criss-crossing dialogue and description between them. In this way the story is given weight, depth and a poignancy elevated both by Pippa Murphy'…

Sadie Hasler and Asfaneh Gray - Fran & Leni and Octopus

When former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine defaced the signage at the British Library's current Punk London: 1976-78 exhibition a few weeks ago while there to take part in an event with writer Jon Savage, it was a very necessary gesture. Albertine's inking in of the names of her own band as well as X Ray Spex and Siouxsie and the Banshees in an otherwise all male list was followed by the question 'What about the women?' alongside her signature

At an exhibition where visitors have even been admonished for taking photographs, it was about as punk as it gets. This was something recognised too by Faber and Faber, publishers of Albertine's memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, when they tweeted to the British Library that Albertine was 'still more punk than you.'

Writer and performer Sadie Hasler committed a slightly less public but equally significant act of rebellion the week when she laddered her tights just before she w…

Paul Vickers - Jennifer's Robot Arm and Twonkey's Mumbo Jumbo Hotel

Paul Vickers never planned to make his Edinburgh Festival Fringe act his main thing. As the former frontman of John Peel championed band Dawn of the Replicants turned collaborator with Edinburgh underground supergroup Paul Vickers and The Leg, his foray into off-kilter comic cabaret with his debut show, Twonkey's Cottage, in 2010 was meant to be a diversion from producing a Beefheartian stew of punk-folk clatter to accompany an increasingly fantastical series of narrative vignettes.

As it is, seven years on, the man now known as Mr Twonkey is in the thick of Twonkey's Mumbo Jumbo Hotel, the latest instalment of an ongoing and at times mind-boggling saga involving songs, puppets and an absurd set of interactive routines that may or may not involve a nest of knickers. As if that wasn't enough for this junkyard Edward Lear who last year was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, this year Vickers has branched out into doing straight theatre. Almost stra…

Thomas Ostermeier - Richard III

The last time Thomas Ostermeier brought a production on at Edinburgh International Festival, the German director was considered to be a young wunderkind. As he blazed a trail through his country's theatrical establishment before alighting at the Berlin Schaubuhne, his iconoclasm seemed aligned in some way to the so-called in-yer-face wave of British writers who had taken much of their influence from the similarly iconic post 1968 generation of German playwrights.

Ostermeier first came here in 1999 with a production of Marius von Mayenburg's play, Fireface, then again in 2002 with David Harrower's English language translation of Norwegian writer Jon Fosse's play, The Girl on the Sofa. Fourteen years on, and still in charge of the Schaubuhne, Ostermeier's provocative aesthetic remains intact in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III which thrusts one of |the bard's most complex characters centre stage on an interpretation of an Elizabethan globe style the…

Ross Dunsmore - Milk

There is a pre-fab house close to where to Ross Dunsmore lives that is boarded up from the inside.

“It looks like no-one's living there,” says the Glasgow-born actor and writer, “but there's this beautiful ornamental garden outside. You take an imaginative leap, and you wonder what it was that made people hide from the world in this way. Is the world moving so fast and so noisily that this is what some people feel that they have to do? That made me start to think about what people need to feel fulfilled.”

The result of such close to home influences is Milk, Dunsmore's debut full length play that looks at three seemingly different couples from across the generations who are all trying to survive in an increasingly scary world.

“There's a craving there,” says Dunsmore. “These people are always seeking nourishment. There's a desire to feed others and to be fed. These people all live in the same community, where they brush up against each other on a journey to this ki…

James Thierree - The Toad Knew

Family matters to James Thierree, the Swiss-born theatrical alchemist who brings his dark tale, The Toad Knew, to Edinburgh International Festival next week. Such concerns are there in this tale of a brother and sister who remain children forever, but it's there as well in his real life lineage growing up in his parents circus where as a child he performed alongside his own sister. Given too that Thierree's grand-father was comic genius Charlie Chaplin, and his great-grandfather playwright Eugene O'Neill, it might be fair to say that Thierree is following in some pretty large artistic footsteps.

As The Toad Knew should make clear, however, he has trodden his own singular path in a piece made for his Compagnie du Hanneton ensemble that follows the adventures of five characters in a mix of dance, circus and physical theatre which also looks to the likes of Salvador Dali and Tim Burton for its fantastical execution.

“I wanted to explore something intimate,” Thierree says of t…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 6 - Counting Sheep - Summerhall@ King's Hall, Four stars / The Red Shed - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Mouse - The Persistance of An Unlikely Thought - Traverse Theatre, Four stars

“In a revolution you don't need a diary,” says an audience member to her partner during a mass waltz mid-way through Counting Sheep, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra's 'guerilla folk opera' retelling of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that opened up in 2004 before turning nasty a decade later. A relatively innocuous beginning sees the room kitted out for what looks like it's about to host a church hall feast with big makeshift screens beaming out news footage above. The junkyard klezma euphoria that soundtracks the starter bursts wide open along with the space, so keening east European chorales accompany a military raid that tears the interior of the premises apart.

From that point on, the audience and the show's seventeen performers are pretty much inseparable in a gloriously messy barrage that sees us mucking in, manning barricades and embracing the still beautiful idea of revolution as carnival. Created by Mark and Marichka Marczyk, a Canadian and a Ukranian who m…

Anything That Gives Off Light

Edinburgh International Conference Centre
Four stars

It feels like a wake at the opening of this transatlantic collaboration between New York wunderkinds The TEAM, the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival. As Brian Ferguson steps out into a deserted pub to consider what's Scottish, the top soil is still fresh on the floor as his character, also called Brian, makes a prodigal's return from his London home with his granny's ashes in tow. Hooking up with his old pal Iain, an uneasy reunion unlocks a shared history of anti Poll Tax demos and anti Thatcher protests before Brian 'sold out.' When they're hit on by American tourist Red, the trio take a road trip to the Highlands, where hard truths come home to roost.
What sounds like a conventional road movie style yarn lurches into a whisky-fired fantasia that sees the three role-play the Highland clearances before heading stateside to the country roads of West Virginia past and present…

Helen Monks - Raised By Wolves, Dolly Wants to Die and E15

The story of how Helen Monks ended up playing a fictional version of a teenage Caitlin Moran in TV sit-com Raised By Wolves is pretty well known by now. It's the one about how student fan-girl Monks went to a book-signing by the best selling author of How To Be A Woman, whose journalistic career began aged sixteen after winning a newspaper competition. During the event Moran let slip that she was writing a semi autobiographical show with her sister Caroline, and when she went up to get her book signed, Monks suggested that she could play her.

Being an all round good sort who understands the power of being precocious more than most, Moran took Monks' email address. The next thing she knew, Monks was auditioning for Raised By Wolves sporting a fat suit borrowed from her brother. Moran had googled the twenty-three year old, and, still only in her second year at Sheffield University, was cast as the uber excitable Germaine, hormonal eldest daughter of the housing estate schooled G…

Thomas Richards - The Jerzy Grotowski Workcenter

Thomas Richards was a young student at Yale University when he first encountered the work of Jerzy Grotowski. Little did Richards know then that he would go on to become what the Polish theatrical guru would later describe as his 'essential collaborator', let alone take charge of Grotowski's work and legacy as artistic director of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards following his mentor's death in 1999.

As the Workcenter, founded in Pontedera, Italy in 1986, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, Richards and his collaborators and co-producers at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance bring a short Grotowski season to Edinburgh, where the director's production of Stanislaw Wyspianski's play, Akropolis, first introduced western audiences to his work at the Festival in the late 1960s.

“It blew my mind,” Richards says of his initiation into Grotowski's methodology that went on to change his life. “When I was at Yale we were introduce…

Davey Anderson, Rachel Chavkin and The TEAM - Anything That Gives Off Light

Enlightenment can come at any time. Just ask the artists behind Anything That Gives Off Light, the international co-production between American wunderkinds The TEAM, the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival, which opens at EIF this week.

As is usual with the TEAM, the company's artistic director Rachel Chavkin has worked with a group of TEAM regulars to create a show that explores national identity in a post Scottish Referendum, post Brexit climate in which the shadow of the forthcoming American elections has been looming large and increasingly loud.

For Anything That Gives Off Light, Chavkin has been joined by Glasgow-based writer and director Davey Anderson as associate director. The show's writing credits feature Chavkin and TEAM member Jessica Almasy on the American side, with Anderson and actors Brian Ferguson and Sandy Grierson providing input from the Scottish members of the team.

“Because we're in different countries,” says Chavkin, …

Measure For Measure

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars

Everybody's watching throughout Declan Donnellan's production of Shakespeare's most cryptic comedy, presented at EIF in this Russian language version produced by Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod's Cheek by Jowl company and Moscow's Pushkin Theatre. Church, state, military and common man and woman are all in it together from the start as they march around an array of five large red cubes in silence after what sounds like the shackles of eternal imprisonment have sounded out in darkness.
As each one breaks off one by one, a pecking order is gradually revealed, so when the Duke goes undercover, leaving Vienna in the hands of Angelo, an increasingly oppressive world takes shape. With Claudio sentenced to death for sex crimes, it is left to Angelo to see how far the condemned man's saintly sister Isabella will go to save him. Andrei Kuzichev's Angelo is a dead-eyed bureaucrat out of his depth, while Alexander Arsentyev's …

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Reviews 5 - Greater Belfast - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Daffodils - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Putting the Band Back Together - Summerhall, Three stars

The pre-show Undertones soundtrack is a telling marker of what's to come in Greater Belfast, Matt Regan's spoken word tone poem to Northern Ireland's capital where he no longer lives. While from Derry, the punky purveyors of Teenage Kicks were the epitome of what was possible despite the violent divisions that defined what Regan calls the T word in his sixty-five minute love letter to his home town from an exile's point of view.

Accompanied by the sublime arrangements of the Cairn String Quartet, Regan leads us on an impressionistic travelogue through Belfast old and new, a city marked by songs and an eternal desire for an alternative ulster that nevertheless acknowledges the bombsite of old.

Developed at Glasgow's Tron Theatre, who now co-produce this finished version with the Traverse and Regan's Little King company, Claire Willoughby's production weaves the different elements of the show into an elegant suite loaded with as much black humour as operati…

Sigur Ros

Edinburgh Playhouse
Four stars

It's interesting to observe how two of Edinburgh International Festival's contemporary music acts have fared since they shared a tour together fifteen years ago that took in a Glasgow club date. Where Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who played the Playhouse last week, have stayed wilfully in the shadows even as they soundtracked a second dark age, Icelandic soothsayers Sigur Ros have retained an epic warmth that has seen them crossover into date night territory.
This is evident from the first of two nights at EIF, where the band's core trio of vocalist Jonsi Birgisson, bass player Goggi Holm and drummer Ori Pall Dyrason are all but hidden from view during the opening numbers. Lined up like maids in a row behind state of art 3D projections that begins with a moody blue forest before cascading into more interstellar imagery, the three eventually move centre-stage just as the meditative tone of the first two tunes splits wide open.

From there on…

Mark Fell - Descartes, Techno and Diagramming the Listener

Rene Descartes isn't the first name you think of when talking about techno-inspired electronic sound and light installations. The seventeenth century French mathematician and founding father of modern western philosophy is very much on Mark Fell's mind, however, as the artist, producer and sonic explorer talks about Diagramming the Listener, a new installation that forms part of Summerhall's Edinburgh Festival Fringe visual arts programme.

“When Descartes wrote 'I think, therefore I am,” says Fell, “it defined what it means to be human, this rational being who solves problems at a distance. In philosophy this is called the Cartesian subject, and is something that's deeply embedded in our culture, but I try to question that.

“For example, coming from a working class background, you make things with your hands, but you can also observe that my dad, who was a steel-worker, is very different to Cartesian man. Descartes only came to the conclusions he did because he h…