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Showing posts from April, 2017

Giles Havergal - Travels With My Aunt

"My God!” beams the rangy figure towering over the foyer of the Citizens Theatre, “I bet you thought you had a date with Lazarus!"

Giles Havergal's presence announces itself with unbridled glee. For a man whose well turned out appearance was a one-man reception committee on every opening night during his thirty-three years in charge of the Gorbals-based institution between 1969 and 2003, it's as if he's never been away.

Havergal has just been getting his picture taken in the theatre's auditorium, where he and his co-artistic directors Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse created so much remarkable work as they defined the Citz's flamboyant style over three decades. In the corner of the foyer, tucked away en route to the toilets, images of Havergal, MacDonald and Prowse hang side by side like maids in a row. They were taken not long before all three men departed the institution they'd put on the international theatre map as a new era was ushered in.

On the Radical Road

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Three stars

For an ever increasing fan-base, the work of Hamish Henderson remains a force to be reckoned with. Poet, song-writer, folk-lorist and freedom fighter, Henderson's influence continues to trickle down the generations. This new hour-long compendium of work presented by the Edinburgh-based Theatre Objektiv as part of Tradfest keeps the spirit of the old master's voice to the fore in a more formal presentation than old haunts of Henderson's such as Sandy Bell's might allow.
Subtitled Enacting Hamish Henderson, the show is a journey of sorts that charts Henderson's adventures in words and music that attempts, in his own words, to use poems as weapons. With musical director and institution in his own right Alastair McDonald leading the charge, he and the three other members of the show's on-stage troupe rattle their way around France, Italy and World War Two. In just under an hour, there are also shout-outs for Nelson Mandela, digs at …

The Addams Family

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Family values are at the heart of things from the opening number of the brand new touring production of Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice and Andrew Lippa's musical version of cartoonist Charles Addams' creepy creation. A colourful chorus line of Addams ancestors are raised from the dead to bust some moves that look somewhere between the Rocky Horror Show's Let's Do the Timewarp Again routine and Michael Jackson's Thriller video.
The focus on what follows is on Wednesday, the family's pale and interesting daughter. Having grown up to be a crossbow-wielding teenage goth, she takes a walk on the bright side after falling for the more straight-laced Lucas. Old habits die hard, however, and, as played with sublime sass by Carrie Hope Fletcher, Wednesday tortures her brother Pugsley while belting out an exquisite version of identity crisis anthem, Pulled. In a show riddled throughout with hints of psycho-sexual deviancy, Wednesday…

Douglas Maxwell and Matthew Lenton - Charlie Sonata

The inspiration behind Douglas Maxwell's new play won't get to see it performed when it opens at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh this weekend. Nor did Maxwell's old friend Bob see it when it was performed by acting students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow last year. Without Bob, however, Charlie Sonata wouldn't exist. For Maxwell and everyone else left behind, the play is the only type of reunion they can ever have now. If Bob was still around, well, even though he'd cleaned up his act and settled down, they might not even have that.

“Bob died before I could show the play to him,” says Maxwell. “I wanted to write something in which he was this hero, and we could have a laugh about it, but we did the student production and I hadn't told him, and I don't know why. Even when David Greig took the play for the Lyceum, I still didn't tell him, and then it was too late, but his sister read the script, and she's given the green light…

Monstrous Bodies

Dundee Rep
Four stars

A girl with shocking pink hair introduces herself as Liberty. She stands centre stage and invites everyone to keep their mobile phones on so they can take pictures of what follows. This isn't what one might expect from a play advertised as being about Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin's time in Dundee in 1812 before, as Mary Shelley, she introduced the world to science-fiction with her novel, Frankenstein. In the hands of the Poorboy company's Sandy Thomson, however, one should expect nothing less.
Subtitled Chasing Mary Shelley Down Peep O'Day Lane, Thomson's production of her own play charts Mary's travails as a fourteen year old put into the care of the wealthy and quasi-progressive Baxter family. She juxtaposes this with a modern-day scenario involving Roxanne, a girl the same age as Mary. When a compromising photograph is taken of Roxanne without her knowledge, the talk she is preparing on Shelley sees her attempt to conquer her fears just a…

Funny Girl

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Five stars

There is something infinitely special about Michael Mayer's touring revival of his smash hit 2015 production of composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill's myth-making 1964 musical. This is the case from the moment Sheridan Smith steps unassumingly from the shadows as 1920s Broadway sensation Fanny Brice. When Smith sits down at Fanny's dressing room mirror and utters the show's immortal “Hello gorgeous” greeting to herself, it is as if both women are switching themselves on to the spotlight.
It is this utter possession of her character that makes Smith's portrayal of Fanny so captivating. As she rewinds to her early days as a gawky New York bundle of adolescent energy, every facial gurn and every clumsy spin is alive to the possibility of success. Smith's entire body is possessed with Fanny's self-effacing and sometimes needy vibrancy that can't help but draw people to her. It doesn't matter that her doomed ro…

Why Inverleith House Must Be Re-Opened

This coming Sunday, April 23rd, marks the six month anniversary of the closure of Inverleith House,which for the previous thirty years has been one of the world's leading contemporary art galleries. This unique, light-filled venue, housed within the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, captured imaginations right up to its thirtieth anniversary exhibition, the tellingly named I Still Believe in Miracles...

Only after news of the closure leaked out did RBGE attempt to explain the decision by way of a written statement. While no proposed alternative use for Inverleith House was forthcoming, RBGE declared that they needed to focus on RBGE's core botanical function. In an interview with the Herald, RBGE's Regius Keeper Simon Milne stated that Inverleith House was unable to 'wash it's face' financially. For a publicly accountable custodian of a major public institution to use the language of a market trader in this way was telling.

Arts funding body Creative Scotland, w…

Nell Gwynn

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Joy, gaiety and a complete absence of complicated women. Such a holy trinity is what King Charles II declares it takes to get him into the royal box of the seventeenth century playhouse that looms over the lushly lit stage in Jessica Swale's Olivier Award winning historical romp. More fool him, as by this time a star has already been born in the form of wise-cracking orange seller Nell. Lured from heckling in the cheap seats, Nell takes the stage herself in a theatre scene reinvented for a new age. Old-school traditionalists, meanwhile, are suitably scandalised in this touring version of Christopher Luscombe's lavish production, first seen at Shakespeare's Globe and revived here by English Touring Theatre.
What follows is a gorgeously realised yarn that is part costume drama, part rom-com and part theatrical in-joke laced with sit-com styled one-liners worthy of Blackadder. As the most regal of stage-door Johnnies in search of a b…

Hifi Sean – FT. Excursions (Plastique Recordings)

Over thirty-odd years, Sean Dickson's musical journey has been a wonder to behold. From fronting Buzzcocks inspired Glasgow shamblers turned Baggy love-gods the Soup Dragons, Dickson's sideways move to psych-pop troupe The High Fidelity was nothing compared to the full-blown damascene dance-floor conversion that eventually followed. Since then, Dickson's euphoric adventures as a DJ and producer under the Hifi Sean moniker have sounded as far away from the Bellshill scene he came out of as can be.

2016's Ft. album capitalised on Dickson's eclectic connections with a hands-in-the-air grab-bag of beat-heavy confections featuring an all-star cast of guest vocalists and artistes. These ranged from Yoko Ono and Bootsy Collins to B52 Fred Schneider singing about trucks and Suicide's Alan Vega's last recording. As if such an array of synthesised soul, poppers-friendly floor-fillers and banging techno-abstractions wasn't out there enough, there was even an appear…

Jessica Swale - Nell Gwynn

When Jessica Swale decided to write a play about Nell Gwynn, she wanted to get beyond the cartoon image of English history's most famous orange seller, who went on to become the mistress of King Charles II. The result was a comedy that opened at Shakespeare's Globe before transferring to the West End, where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2016. Revived by English Touring Theatre for its current tour, Swale's play opens in Edinburgh tonight, when audiences should get a chance to see Nell in more depth than is often portrayed.

“Nell Gwynn was a really important actress,” says Swale. “I don't think there's been much about her onstage or screen that presents her as anything other than a tart with a heart. Most people have heard of her without really knowing anything about her, and only really think of her as this orange seller who married the king, but she was so much more than that.

“The play is very much Nell's story. We see her as a young woman w…

Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space Live

Edinburgh International Science Festival @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Wednesday April 12th 2017

“This will always be for Yuri,” says a disembodied laptop-generated voice, sounding like a cross between a more pukka Stephen Hawking and a badly spliced old-school Pearl & Dean cinema ad for a local steakhouse, “but especially tonight.”

Fifty-six years to the day since Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey to outer space when his craft orbited the earth on April 12th 1961, Public Service Broadcasting's musical tribute that follows, simply named Gagarin, is suitably epic. As is too the whole of PSB's The Race for Space album, performed in full at the end of a two-year voyage since the record's release as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival.

As with their debut EP The War Room and follow-up album Inform-Educate-Entertain, PSB's mix of vintage newsreel samples and warm instrumental infusions on The Race for Spacetap into a sense of nosta…

A Machine They're Secretly Building

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

For anyone reading this, chances are all information, data or opinion that follows will already have been documented and archived somewhere we may not know about. Likewise for the show itself, an hour-long dramatic dissection of surveillance culture past, present and future, presented here by Proto-type Theatre with input from several producing partners, including Tramway, Glasgow. Maybe that's why the two young women who greet the audience in the Tron's bunker-like Changing House space are wearing pink, Pussy Riot style balaclavas. As they peer out from behind a desk loaded with notes, their hidden faces are enlarged on the screen next to them by way of a live video feed.
As with the overload of information that follows, once the masks are off, identities are revealed alongside a life-hack's worth of leaks. The show's devisers and performers Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees move from the Cold War to 9/11 and beyond without ever quite gi…

And Then Come the Nightjars

Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Three stars

The barn may initially appear biblical at the opening of Bea Roberts' play, revived for a short tour of the Scottish countryside after being seen in London and Bristol throughout 2015. The wise men who occupy it, however, have precious few gifts left to give in an at times brutal treatise on country matters. It begins in 2001, when South Devon vet Jeff and farmer Michael are holed up with Michael's cattle in the thick of the foot and mouth scare that decimated the rural landscape at the time. As the pair spar their way through a crisis that lays bare their more personal losses, the lives of both men are changed forever as they find some kind of grim solidarity amongst all the despair.
Paul Robinson's original production for Theatre503 and Bristol Old Vic is overseen here by a partnership of Perth Theatre and Theatre by the Lake, Keswick. Over its seventy-five minutes, the play highlights a way of life under siege in a rural world tha…

Sandy Thomson - Monstrous Bodies

Sandy Thomson was halfway through writing her new play, Monstrous Bodies, when news broke of the then presidential candidate Donald Trump's latest indiscretion. Following a stream of derogatory remarks about women and numerous allegations of sexual assault, the Washington Post released a recording from 2005. This captured Trump making off-camera remarks captured by the Access Hollywood show about how when you're apparently a star like him, you can 'Grab them by the pussy'. When Thomson heard the remarks, she was so incensed that it turned her play upside down.

“I was affronted,” says Thomson, the founder and driving force behind the Angus-based Poorboy Theatre Company, who are co-producing Monstrous Bodies with Dundee Rep, where the play opens next weekend. “I was affronted that thirteen allegations of sexual assault hadn't stopped him, and I was affronted that he could say all those things he did about women, and it still didn't stop him.”

Up until that point,…

Teen Canteen – Sirens EP (Last Night From Glasgow)

Teen Canteen first swaggered into view a few years back like a Glasgow girl gang weaned on C86 indie-pop and 1960s’ bubblegum. The sound the all-female quartet aspired to was a consciously constructed sugar-rush led by lead vocalist, synth-ist and chief song-writer Carla Easton. As their canon matured, while heart-on-sleeve harmonies remained key, a meatier, beatier post indie fabulism emerged that was writ large across their 2016 debut album, Say it All With A Kiss.

A restless Easton went on to all but upstage herself with the soul-glam euphoria of side-project Ette on the Homemade Lemonade album. Barely pausing for breath, Easton is back in the Teen Canteen fold with guitarist Chloe Philip, bass player Sita Pieraccini and drummer Debs Smith for this shiny new four-track EP. Released on 10” transparent blue and red vinyl with white splatter, studio sparkle seems to have been sprinkled liberally across all four songs.

Any pre-conceptions of tweeness are blown away from the start,…

The Weaver's Apprentice

Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh until July 1st 2017
Four stars

The title of Dovecot's new retrospective of its own history may suggest something tinged with arcane magic, but the loom set up on one side of the room points to weaving as a living and painstakingly intricate art. Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the untimely passing of Dovecot's founding master weavers, John 'Jack' Glassbrook and Gordon Berry, both killed during World War One, the show unwinds across the centre's past by way of a series of archival works that led to its current status. Notebooks, photographs and letters reveal a moving dedication to the weavers' craft.
At the show's centre is the work of Dovecot's current apprentice weaver, Ben Hymers, whose Untitled (Hipsters Love Triangles) and Penelope are vividly coloured imaginings laced throughout with bronzed classical allusions that reference Homer's Odyssey and Margaret Atwood, spanning the centuries as they go. Thes…

The Honourable K.W. Harman: Ltd Ink Corporation

31 Bath Road, Leith Docks, March 17th-20th

In a monumental shipping container down by Leith Docks, a Sex Pistols tribute band is playing Anarchy in the U.K.. on a stage set up in the middle of the room. Either side, various constructions have been built in such a way so viewers can window shop as they promenade from one end of the room to the next, with the holy grail of a bar at either end.

Inbetween, there’s a confession booth and a mock-up of a private detective’s office with assorted documentation of real-life surveillance pinned to the walls. Two people seem to be having a conversation in public as if they're on a chat show. An assault course of smashed windows are perched on the floor like collateral damage of post-chucking out time target practice. A display of distinctively lettered signs originally created by a homeless man in search of a bed for the night are clumped together on placards that seem to be marking out territory or else finding comfort in being together. Opp…

John 'Hoppy' Hopkins - Taking Liberties

Among many remarkable pictures in this essential retrospective of London’s 1960s counter-culture’s snapper-in-residence, there’s a wonderful study of the editorial team behind International Times, the era’s alternative bible. In it, eleven people huddle together behind a cluttered desk. Among them are poet Jeff Nuttall, the Traverse Theatre’s spiritual guru Jim Haynes, the era’s chronicler Barry Miles and, unrecognisable, the late Glasgow-born playwright Tom McGrath, then IT editor. Here were people who, judging by the brim-full-of-confidence, touchy-feely grins, genuinely felt like they were changing the world.

This spirit spills over everywhere throughout the inaugural show in Street Level’s new home on the ground floor of the Trongate 103 complex. All the usual suspects are here; a scowly William Burroughs, an uncharacteristically chipper Alexander Trocchi in front of a ‘Fuck Communism!’ poster; a euphoric Allen Ginsberg outside the Royal Albert Hall prior to the seminal 1965 poetr…

A Number

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There are rooms within rooms through the doorway of designer Fred Meller's cube-like construction for Zinnie Harris' production of Caryl Churchill's 2002 play. It may be smoke and mirrors that gives the illusion of infinity, but it's a telling pointer to what follows in a play born out of the scientific breakthrough in cloning by way of Dolly the Sheep.
Churchill's play opens just after a middle-aged man called Salter has revealed to his son Bernard that he is one of a number of clones. These were created by scientists seemingly without Salter's knowledge after he attempted to replace the apparent loss of his actual son. Both Bernards react in different ways, as one might expect of one child who was loved and another who was effectively dumped in a way one might do with an unruly pet. How the other nineteen versions of Bernard are getting on remains to be seen.

Revived by the Lyceum as part of Edinburgh Internation…

Girl in the Machine

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The metal shipping container that fills the stage at the opening of Stef Smith's new play is a monumental reminder of how the world still moves through physical endeavour. This exterior of Neil Warmington's set may also be a nod to The Aftermath Dislocation Principle, ex K Foundation provocateur Jimmy Cauty's own container-clad installation containing a model of a post-riot world. Once the sides slide away here, however, an almost too orderly futuristic des-res is revealed.
Within its minimalist interior, high-flying lawyer Polly and nurse Owen live together in hectic disharmony in a future where citizens are required to wear implants that chart their every waking hour. When Owen gives Polly a present of a mental pacifier called a Black Box that he stole from the hospital, for Polly, at least, things change for the better. The couple even receive a complaint on Polly's iPad from a neighbour complaining about their 'excessiv…

Dr Stirlingshire's Discovery

RZSS Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh
Three stars

It's a jungle sometimes in Morna Pearson's new play, performed in front of an audience who appear to be on safari within the grounds of Edinburgh Zoo as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival. Noted cryptozoologist Dr Vivienne Stirlingshire is in the building, and some of her fans on the staff are very excited indeed. The good, if somewhat demanding, doctor has returned from her latest adventure with a brand new mammal to show off to the world.
Dr Stirlingshire's brother Henry is sceptical. The fact that he runs the zoo doesn't help, but neither does the pair's sibling rivalry that's rooted in a damaged childhood which has left them estranged. With what is described as the something-or-other Vivienne brought back with her seemingly missing, she is forced to chase her way around a very human looking zoo in an attempt to rid herself of her personal demons.

This co-production between site-specific specialists…

Cosmonaut

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Three stars

Once upon a cold war, the space race was everything to America and Russia. In a world dictated by firsts, it was America who made it to the moon and back. It was Russia, however, that set the bar, firing the first man into space as well as the collective imagination of a world who saw possibilities beyond the Soviet experiment. Beyond the heroics, there were other, less sung stories, as Francis Gallop makes clear in his new play that forms part of the theatre programme of Edinburgh International Science Festival, who co-commissioned it.
Here, Gallop zones in on the hidden genius of Sergei Korolev, the engineer who pretty much invented the Soviet space programme, albeit in a near samizdat fashion following his imprisonment in a gulag. Meanwhile, in an Italian high-rise, Lucia and her brother build a home-made space-tracking system, which records what they believe to be a generation of prototype cosmonauts, whose doomed missions have been seemingly ai…

David Leddy - Coriolanus Vanishes

Linking Bridget Jones to Theresa May takes quite a leap, but somehow David Leddy has just done it. The Glasgow-based writer and director has been talking about Coriolanus Vanishes, his new solo show presented by Leddy's own Fire Exit company in co-production with the Tron Theatre, Glasgow. In particular he's been talking about people in powerful jobs who are able to present an unflappable public image even through they might be falling apart inside.

“I remember when the first Bridget Jones came out,” says Leddy, “and thinking it was really funny that all these high-functioning people were crying in the toilets. I was twenty-one years old, and presumed that sort of thing didn't happen when you were an adult in jobs like that. All these years later I know that's not true, and I know these things don't just stop, even for someone like Theresa May. I might disagree with what she stands for, but of course Theresa May cries in toilets.”

Whether anyone cries in the toil…

Offside

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

For too long now, football has been perceived to be just a boy's game. This wasn't always the case, as this dynamic little play co-written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish makes clear. It opens in the boot room, where wannabe women's team players Mickey and Keeley are preparing to try out for the national squad. Both are determined to make the grade for very different but equally personal reasons. Both too have their distractions, but they also have their heroines guiding them on.
These come in the form of Carrie Boustead and Lily Parr. Back in 1881, Boustead was a Scottish woman of colour who kept goal for several teams. Flash forward to 1921, and Parr is a star player scoring goals in front of thousands. Both were pioneers, but with the outlawing of female football, they've been airbrushed out of history. As Caroline Bryant's production for the women-centred Futures Theatre flips between time-zones, Mickey and Keeley …