Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Tristan & Yseult

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Five stars

Things are swinging down at the Club of the Unloved in the Cornwall based Kneehigh company's audacious pop-tastic reworking of the oldest love story in the world. The balloons are out and a chorus of balaclava and cagoule clad 'love-spotters' are trying out their chat up lines in vain. The music comes from a retro-styled record player at the front of the stage and a junkyard house band that plays all the heart-breakers and more.

When a gang of hard-men are kicked into touch, French-speaking Tristan goes on a cruise to Ireland to bring back the ring-leader's sister Yseult for the ruling King Mark. Under the influence of a heady brew, Tristan and Yseult fall head over heels, as is related by Kirsty Woodward's Jackie Kennedy-alike narrator, Whitehands. Inevitable tragedy ensues, but not before a melee of slapstick inspired routines explodes into riotous life.

In Emma Rice's circus-styled revival of a production first seen in 2003, Dominic Marsh's Tristan is a shades-sporting pin-up and Hannah Vassallo's Yseult a vivacious independent woman. Niall Ashdown's cross-dressing turn as Brangian, meanwhile, is a comic masterclass that would give Mrs Brown's Boys a run for its money. With twelve people on designer Bill Mitchell's circular wooden stage, there are shades here too of period sit-com Up Pompeii! Or Up Penzance! if you will.

Nothing is black and white here, however, and the darkening of tone in the second half comes with the wedding night itself, as all passion is spent following the ultimate betrayal. What follows, as Whitehands makes clear, is a lot of leftover love that makes for two very different halves of a magnificent caper.

The Herald, June 1st 2017

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Hidden Door - Philip Jeck and Rebecca Sharp - Rules of the Moon

Leith Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

"How does it end?" are the first and last words spoken by playwright and poet Rebecca Sharp in this spectral collaboration with composer Philip Jeck, that fuses storytelling and projections with Jeck's electronically generated soundscape. The pair's contribution to this year's Hidden Door festival charts the fantastical flight of Mary Christie, a young Girl in a red jumper who runs away from a fire and goes deep into the darkness, both of the city and her own psyche.

It begins with the seeming innocence of a music box melody and projections of what turns out to be a 60 watt bulb. As Sharp's live words are punctuated and overlaid with recordings of her voice, her initially fractured poetry is given a more linear narrative pulse as we follow Mary into the night. Along the way, there are stolen cars, cracked electronics and images of a luminous blue night sky that lend an eerie urgency to an increasingly dream-like after-dark yarn.

Initially inspired by a real-life childhood memory, what drives Sharp's young protagonist on the run appears to come from the skies, as she keeps on moving. This contrasts with the stillness of the performance, with Jeck seated behind a laptop at the side of the stage and Sharp stepping to the microphone sporting a red jumper of her own as she reads. While the piece itself would work equally well on the page, on record or in the cinema, seeing and hearing all this in Leith Theatre's main auditorium gives proceedings an even darker atmosphere. As for Mary Christie, she continues to move like quicksilver whatever, still chasing the fire within.

The Herald, May 31st 2017

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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Andrew Panton - Taking Over Dundee Rep

Andrew Panton was at his new desk at Dundee Rep by 7am last Thursday morning. Given his recent appointment as artistic director of the Tayside theatre, such enthusiasm is understandable, especially as Panton was putting the final touches to his first season, which was announced at an event at the theatre on Saturday night.

Outside the window of Panton's office, an industrial cherry-picker was already at work, with those inside the vehicle taking down the lettering on the wall beside the entrance to the theatre. By now, a new set of letters will have been unveiled as a symbolic pre-cursor to Saturday's announcement that marks a new chapter in Dundee Rep's history.

“It's suddenly made everything feel very real,” says Fife-born Panton, as each letter is removed while the sun shines. “There's going to be a whole new branding, and a new logo, so the whole theatre will look and feel a little bit different. Watching the old branding being taken down is making all of that sink in.”

For the last eighteen months, Joe Douglas has helmed Dundee Rep as an associate director following outgoing artistic director Jemima Levick's departure to run the Stellar Quines company. Douglas' final show of his tenure, a community tour of Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, opens this week.

Panton's new programme that follows isn't so much a new broom as a continuum. Given that it features seven new productions, with the 2018 community tour still to be announced, it is also a full one. This is the case even without taking into account the programme from resident company Scottish Dance Theatre and assorted youth and community initiatives. Panton alone will be directing four of the main stage shows.

Nowhere is the continuum more evident than in the pre Edinburgh Festival Fringe run of The Last Queen of Scotland, which sees Levick return with a new show for Stellar Quines with support from both Dundee Rep and the National Theatre of Scotland. Written by Dundee-based playwright Jaimini Jethwa, the play focuses on a Dundee woman's return to Uganda, a country she has never known, but which is where her family and others were expelled from in 1972 by its ruler, Idi Amin.

“With all those Dundee connections it's a lovely way to start,” says Panton, “and with Jemima directing, it feels very much like things coming full circle.”

Autumn begins with Panton directing the Scottish premiere of Tracey Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning 2008 play, August: Osage County. While best known in the UK from a film version starring Meryl Streep and Ewan McGregor, it was the Chicago-based Steppenwolf company who first made Letts' tale of family dysfunction it a hit.

“I've wanted to direct it for years,” Panton says of the play. “It's great story-telling, and that's what I want Dundee Rep to be about. We want to use as many different ways to tell stories as we can. For me, for theatre to use music, dance and story-telling is when it becomes really exciting.”

The choice of the next production was inspired by the presence of Dundee Rep's permanent ensemble of actors. This unique set-up was introduced by then artistic director Hamish Glen almost twenty years ago, and is something Panton wishes to capitalise on for The Maids, Martin Crimp's version of Jean Genet's brutal treatise on power which features meaty roles for three female actors.

“The acting ensemble are the heart and soul and the engine room of what we do,” says Panton, “and I feel privileged that the Rep has such an amazing resource of all these remarkable actors. Emily Winter, Irene Macdougall and Ann Louise Ross have been with it from the start, but chatting to them we realised that they'd never really done something all together, and The Maids was the first thing that came to mind.”

The Maids will be directed by Eve Jamieson, former artistic director of Winged Horse theatre company, and who also has strong Dundee connections from when she was director of the School of Theatre at The Space, the innovative performance training centre based at Dundee and Angus College.

Taking the Rep up until the end of the year will be Panton's second stint as director, when he takes charge of A Christmas Carol, which will be the theatre's already announced Christmas show this year. While he previously directed Neil Duffield's adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, this time out Panton will add a new twist by casting Ann Louise Ross to play Ebeneezer Scrooge as a woman.

2018 begins with a production of Deathtrap, Ira Levin's classic pot-boiler, which currently holds the record for being the longest running thriller on Broadway. Dundee audiences will also have the tantalising prospect of it being overseen by director Johnny McKnight and designer Kenny Miller.

Panton will then direct two productions back to back. The first marks an ambitious collaboration between Dundee Rep and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik's musical version of Frank Wedekind's play, Spring Awakening. Panton will then present a new production of Stephen Greenhorn's road movie for the stage, Passing Places. Greenhorn will forever be linked with Dundee Rep after it presented the original production of his Proclaimers sound-tracked musical, Sunshine on Leith. The partnership with the RCS will see the Rep stage a musical theatre production on an annual basis, and will provide a showcase for emerging talent to work alongside the Ensemble.

With Panton retaining his post as artistic director of musical theatre at the RCS, this allows him to combine these two worlds in a way that his career has been building towards through a diverse array of work. As well as working as a music and movement director, Panton has spent five years as choir director with the BBC's Children in Need initiative, vocal coach of Susan Boyle, as well as other TV work on shows such as The Voice.

“It was about getting as many experiences as possible,” he says, “whether that was in music, theatre or TV, it was about trying to gather everything up until I could be at the point I'm at now and feel equipped to do this. This is the right time for me, , and for some reason it's always been Dundee Rep that I've wanted to run. I don't know why, but I've always found it the most exciting place to see shows.”

With Dundee in the midst of a transformation that includes the forthcoming opening of the new V&A Museum of Design on the waterfront and a bid to become European Capital of Culture 2023, Panton's arrival at the Rep is timely.

“Dundee Rep has a long legacy of fantastic work,” he says, “and while our local audiences are the bedrock of what we do, we want more people to see it in more places. We're planning co-productions and collaborations nationally and internationally with artists who have the same ethos as us, and with them we want to find out what stories we want to tell. Dundee right now feels very much a city that is reaching out to the world, and we want to be part of that.”

Tickets for the new season at Dundee Rep are on sale now.
www.dundeerep.co.uk

 
The Herald, May 30th 2017

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Monday, 29 May 2017

Hidden Door / Charlotte Hastings - Heroines / The Mash Collective / Creative Electric - Sinking Horses / FOUND / BDY_PTS / Marnie / Manuela

Leith Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The sun may have shone on Leith this weekend, but inside Leith Theatre, the stars were looking down on the first swathe of artistic interventions this shamefully neglected building has seen for a quarter of a century. Those stars may have been projected, but they gave a sheen of cosmic glamour to a reinvigorated space that is the sort of large-scale civic hall the capital has been crying out for.

Beyond the main auditorium, all manner of performances, film screenings and interventions took hold, from beneath the main stage right up to the makeshift galleries on the roof of the building. Things began early on Friday night, with the theatre's upstairs balcony playing host to Heroines, Charlotte Hastings' three-woman cut-up of speeches by female icons of Greek tragedy. The entire auditorium was utilised by The Mash Collective, a grey-clad ensemble who tapped into Leith Theatre's history with a series of dance routines. In one of the smaller spaces, Heather Marshall and her Creative Electric troupe presented Sinking Horses, a personal meditation on mental illness that saw a group of young female performers sharing their darkest thoughts.

The first act to grace the main stage on Friday were FOUND, the now two-piece band who made full facility of the venue's lights and sound system with a set of instrumental electronica, the likes of which hadn't been heard within Leith Theatre's walls since Kraftwerk played there. This was followed by BDY_PTS, the duo of Jenny Reeve and Jill O'Sullivan, who combined epic electronic pop chorales with a few contemporary dance steps and the sartorial extravagance of Bloomsbury Group super-heroines. The pure pop vibe was kept up by Helen Marnie, co-vocalist of Ladytron who, as Marnie, channelled an infectious pot pourri of full on R ' B bubblegum. The audience lingered into the small hours, with more electronica from Rival Consoles, aka Ryan Lee West, that gave the night a rhythmic momentum even a fire alarm couldn't stop.

Saturday's main stage action was enlivened by Manuela, the vehicle for recently departed Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy and his partner, singer Manuela Gernedal. As was demonstrated by a set of chunky disco pop anthems, if Eurovision ever went indie, Manuela could represent the world. At one point, McCarthy's guitar licks were a dead ringer for ABBA's Knowing Me, Knowing You. Hidden Door remains well and truly open all this week.

 
The Herald, May 30th 2017

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Friday, 26 May 2017

Damo Suzuki's Network

The Mash House, Edinburgh
Sunday May 21st

An old Japanese man in a blue t-shirt stands on a dimly lit stage clutching a microphone stand as if his life depended on it. Diminutive in stature and ascetic in appearance, the man babbles into the microphone with transcendent intent. Damo Suzuki's done this a million times before, and over the next fifty minutes loses himself inside his performance once more. As his straggly silver hair snakes across his face, his voice rises and falls, one minute a high-pitched mantra, the next wordless gurgle. In the gloom behind him, an ad hoc band carve out a slow-burning backdrop. It begins with bowed guitar, adding percussive flourishes and bass and keyboard patterns that steadily flesh out to become a complementary pulsebeat to the incantations they accompany.

Suzuki first carved out his niche with Can, the German kosmische hippy classicists he joined after being spotted busking on the streets of Munich in 1970 by the band's bass player Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. This was after their original vocalist Malcolm Mooney quit after one album, following doctor's advice.

Suzuki's first recordings with Can appeared on the band's Soundtracks album, and stayed for three full releases, the holy trinity of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days, before he took a decade out from 1973 to give himself to religion. Since returning to music, for the last two decades Suzuki has embarked on a never-ending tour that sees him hook up with locally sourced 'sound carriers' wherever he goes. Despite this, and judging by his hypnotic, relentlessly intense delivery, even after all these years it's as if this mercurial poet-ruffian is attempting to break on through to a higher plane.

Last month marked fifty years since the formation of Can, whose free-form pre-punk avant-disco-rock workouts opened the doors of perception for several generations of musical explorers. With a new box set of singles pending, to commemorate, keyboardist and founding member Irmin Schmidt took part in The Can Project, a curated extravaganza at the Barbican in London that saw him conduct the 78-piece London playing the world premiere of Can Dialog, a self-referencing piece written with composer Gregor Schwellenbach. Following a screening of Can's 1972 performance in Cologne, this, am eight-piece supergroup led by Thurston Moore and featuring ex Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe among others, including a presumably revitalised Mooney, performed a should-have-been greatest hits set.

While Leibezeit had been scheduled to appear prior to his death earlier this year, whether Suzuki was asked to take part isn't on record. Judging by his nomadic restlessness over the last two decades, such backwards-looking formalities probably wouldn't have been this sixty-something's style. What was very much on the agenda for his first Edinburgh show in fifteen years was an attempt to make something that was both spontaneous in execution and timeless in delivery. This is always a tall order for whoever the sound carriers might be, who, whether by accident or design, and as past showings have demonstrated, just can't help sounding a little bit like Can.

Tonight, however, a six-piece band culled from Edinburgh's underground scenes rise above both imitation and homage. Guitarists Sarah and Simon Cuthbert-Kerr and drummer John Sinclair play in Wozniak. Saint Judes Infirmary bass player Grant Campbell is also half of Optic Nerve with Cosima Cobley Carr, who on keyboards tonight. Playing alongside percussionist E-da, formerly of Japanese band Boredoms, they add moody little textures to a controlled set of on the spot arrangements that never give way to easy wig-outs. With Suzuki at the music's centre, metallic rhythmic shards of sound drive each other onwards over one continuous piece, before a euphoric Suzuki points his fingers to the skies, for the moment at least, sated, before the trip continues anew.

 
Product, May 2017

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Sons of the Descent – Lazy Glamour (Brawsome Productions)

Somewhere in the midst of the 1980s/1990s indie-pop goldrush, amongst the Baggy casualties and shoegaze superstars, there were a million others of equal merit who fell by the wayside, plagued by bad luck, bad timing or both. Come on down Hugh Duggie and Ian White, who, as Sons of the Descent, are the waggish brains behind this low-key smorgasbord of quietly crafted off-kilter pop gems.

Given their respective backgrounds, it was inevitable that Duggie and White would eventually find each other. Duggie served time in late period Lowlife, the band formed by ex Cocteau Twins bassist Will Heggie, before going on to front Mute Records-connected noiseniks, Foil. White, meanwhile, played guitar with Edinburgh band The Wendys, who were signed to Factory Records not long before the late Tony Wilson's musical plaything/utopian folly crashed and burned into financial ignominy, a glorious victim of its own largesse.

The result of the pair's collective pedigree is a suitably wacked-out collection of eleven world-weary postcards from the edge. The opening Look at the Sky burbles into life with a repetitive bass riff and waggish guitar twang. This underscores a spoken-word paean to a mid-life sense of wonder possibly brought on by a summer afternoon while on the sick. You Don't Have to Know My Name is a shuffling piece of libertarian scallydelic whimsy peppered with little fanfares. While the first song resembles a less louche Blue Aeroplanes, the second is laid-back enough to conjure up the ghosts of early Beta Band.

The mood continues on Dolphin and Elm, which combines electronic beats with mournful guitar to soundtrack a bar-room shaggy dog story that picks up on the catchphrases of disgraced showbiz entertainers. The song proceeds to serenade them with snatches from Dvorak's New World Symphony, aka the Hovis advert. Situation in Your Head charts the perils of everyday paranoia, as our heroes stumble into the same musical district occupied by Scouse pop fantasists, Space. Keyboards wheeze in at the opening of Reports from the Colonies like a faux Edwardian psychedelic hangover voiced by a hang-dog stowaway looking for a safe place to land.

Golden Misfits serves up a piece of panoramic high drama that swaggers broodingly into view in the face of what sounds like an entire Sioux tribe warbling in the background. Similar in tone, Flighty rumbles with underlying sci-fi menace and a hissing megaphone-muffled vocal that snakes its way through much of the record. Things get even darker on Charisma Sans Charlie, a mumbled stumblebum confessional that props up the bar while a wild west guitar kicks up dustbowl fantasies before a redemptive chorus promises the world.

The effect of such pick-and-mix diversity is akin to turning the pages of a collection of fictional miniatures culled from a twilight zone occupied by Hogarthian pub bores and other animals. A textured subtlety peppers every song, some laced with a sly, dry-as-bone wit to offset the darkness. Harm is No Answer is a foreboding gallop delivered with cold intent, before the slow rain that opens My Mind Will Shine gives way to downbeat mutterings vying with vintage cut glass vocal samples

Finally, Deep Sea Buffalo (Theme From This is the Winter) bursts into the light with a cut and paste concoction of retro-styled samples and instrumental jauntiness. As it fades out, the buoyant wave of handclaps and chants that go with it suggests Sons of the Descent may be in the gutter, but they remain a musically dynamic duo still looking squarely at the stars.
 
Product, May 2017
 
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War in America

Former Royal High School, Edinburgh
Four stars

“The state does not commit terrorist acts.” So says Mr Fox, the thrusting home secretary of an un-named European government in Jo Clifford's attempt to cut through a make-believe sham of so-called democracy. Clifford does this by making the situation critical, so both powers are divided, not by political parties, but along gender lines. Even here, alas, while the carefully styled She appears to be strong and stable, it is the spin doctoring duo of Ms Warp and Ms Webb who pull the strings.

As Saskia Ashdown's She pulls off her blonde wig and kicks her power heels away, Clifford strips back the public image to get to the messed-up human within. As the new woman-only authority attempts to court the youth vote as well as their weaker male contemporaries, She is in pieces over her estranged activist daughter. While older members of the House are haunted by ghosts, Andrew Cameron's Mr Fox unwinds by exploring the limits of real freedom through kinky sex with Imogen Reiter's foreign prostitute.

Although Clifford's play was written in 1996, watching the youthful and hopefully still idealistic Attic Collective company premiere Susan Worsfold's production this week, when atrocities close to home have left us reeling, is an at times chilling experience. This is made especially so seeing it performed in the debating chamber of what might have ended up as the home of the Scottish parliament. If the sight of a pair of machine-gunned SAS types is scarily prescient, as the cast of eighteen unravel the play's multi-faceted Greek-styled spectacle of public ritual, a spiritual dimension emerges that becomes an urgent plea for humanity.

The Herald, May 29th 2017

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Andrew Dallmeyer - Obituary

Andrew Dallmeyer – Playwright, actor, director

Born St Boswell's, January 10 1945; died May 21, Edinburgh


Andrew Dallmeyer, who has died aged 72 following a battle with Motor Neurone Disease, was a fiercely individual artist. This was the case both as a writer of an estimated 78 plays, many of which remain unpublished, or as an actor, whose expressive facial tics and looming physicality made him a natural for the range of grotesques and downbeat absurdists he specialised in. This was mirrored in his writing, which similarly set him beyond the mainstream as a seemingly wilful and at times eccentric outsider.

This was the case whether playing the title role in the original 1980s production of Liz Lochhead's Scots version of Moliere's play, Tartuffe, at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, or writing about kindred spirits including Salvador Dali in his play, Hello Dali (1982), and Thomas de Quincey in Opium Eater (1984). The latter went on to win a BAFTA Scotland for its radio version, while in 1990 a TV adaptation starred Paul Rhys as de Quincey and Peter Mullan as his cohort Willy.

“I believe that, even though I'm writing biography, it's really autobiography mostly,” Dallmeyer said of the play in an interview with the Herald in 2010, “because it's about the writer struggling to find inspiration.”

Andrew Victor Dallmeyer was born in 1945 in St Boswell's, Roxburghshire, as one of four children to Christopher James Dallmeyer, known as Jimmy, and Ursula Dallmeyer, nee Balfour. He spent much of his childhood in Aberlady, East Lothian, where he developed a passion for Hibs football club in-between watching western films and putting on ad hoc performances.

Wanting to be Albert Finney, he studied drama in London, and began acting at Bristol Old Vic and Nottingham Playhouse. By the time he was 26, Dallmeyer had become artistic director of Liverpool Playhouse, where, following a UK tour of his first play, Manson and Calley (1973) some of his earliest works were staged.

Dallmeyer married actress Vivienne Dixon in 1969, and the couple had two children. While they parted in 1993, they didn't formally divorce until a decade later.

In the late 1970s, plays such as The Show Must Go On (1978), Tart an' Trues (1979) and A Big Treatise in Store (1979) were winning plaudits and awards on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Further works were seen in Edinburgh at Theatre Workshop, the Netherbow and the Traverse, including The Boys in the Backroom (1982).

As an actor, probably Dallmeyer's most high profile role in the 1980s was as Tartuffe, Moliere's wheedling con man given fresh life by Liz Lochhead's bawdy Scots version at the Lyceum. It was a role Dallmeyer revived a year later in tandem with a stint as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Dallmeyer's play, The Grand Edinburgh Fire Balloon (1986) was seen at the Lyceum around the same time. Much later, he would appear in A Madman Sings at the Moon, the theatre's then artistic director Mark Thomson's award winning play. Dallmeyer also directed an estimated fifty plays.

Current artistic director of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow Andy Arnold worked extensively with Dallmeyer since they met in the 1980s at Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh, and regarded Dallmeyer as his theatrical mentor.

“He was well versed in all the rituals and protocols,” says Arnold, “but treated them with utter disdain, and rehearsing a play with him was always inventive, exploratory and more often than not chaotic and hilarious.”

Arnold's first production as artistic director of the Arches in Glasgow was Rudolf Hess – Glasgow to Glasnost (1990), a play written especially by Dallmeyer which he also acted in. This wasn't unusual. As Arnold notes wryly, “His plays very often had a part best suited for him to perform.”

Eighteen years later, Dallmeyer appeared as Jimmy Jack in Brian Friel's play, Translations, which marked Arnold's swansong at the Arches. Inbetween, in what Arnold calls Dallmeyer's “inimitable style”, he played Virgil in Inferno, Monsewer in Brendan Behan's The Hostage, Dr Harper in Arsenic and Old Lace and what Arnold describes as “an unlikely but brilliant Bottom” in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

As Arnold observes, it was Dallmeyer's interpretations of absurdist and existential characters where he really stood out. This was the case in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter and The Birthday Party. He played Estragon in Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, Waiting For Godot, as well as taking on the solo tour de force of Krapp's Last Tape.

Other roles included Hyde in Jekyll and Hyde at Dundee Rep, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Theatre Workshop and Death in Swindle and Death at Mull Theatre.

Dallmeyer was, according to Arnold, “always unpredictable, always mischievous and provocative...a truly instinctive actor who you couldn't take your eyes off. There was a quality of genius about him.”

In later years, Dallmeyer courted controversy when, a year after 9/11, he played Osama bin Laden dressed as Santa Claus in Wanted: Dead or Alive. In Playing A Blinder (2002), he imagined the real life incident of the radio football commentator who was forced to improvise during the 1940 Edinburgh derby when he was unable to see the game because of fog.

In the same year Opium Eater was revived, Dallmeyer wrote Thank God for John Muir (2010). His most recent appearance on-screen was in Gillies MacKinnon's Peter McDougall scripted remake of Whisky Galore.

Few of Dallmeyer's plays have been published, with the writer often owning the only copies. If his Leith flat were to burn down, he said to the Herald, that would be his life's work lost forever. In the same interview, Dallmeyer admitted that he couldn't type, writing freehand in his spidery scrawl. He reckoned it cost him several hundred pounds a year to get his prolific output typed up.

“Sometimes people tell me I'll be successful when I'm dead,” he said, “but I believe if you write something worthwhile it will survive. But writing is something I've always done because I have to get something out there.”


Dallmeyer is survived by a brother, James, his son Toby and daughter Amy, and two grand-children, Leo and Holly. Another brother, Gavin, and a sister, Robina, pre-deceased him.

The Herald, May 26th 2017

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David Martin - Hidden Door at Leith Theatre

When Leith Theatre opens its doors as this year's home of the Hidden Door arts festival today, festival director David Martin believes it will be twenty-five years to the day since anyone last performed here. This was only discovered by accident when sound artist Dave House was researching a new work designed to mark what he calls the venue's 'melancholy-yet-beautiful state of disrepair'. Working in situ, House will use field recordings and environmental sound in an attempt to evoke the past, present and future of the building for a piece that will run throughout Hidden Door's ten-day duration.

Some of these sounds might well emanate from what happened two days into the festival get-in, when volunteers gutting the main hall discovered what lay beyond the black drapes and what turned out to be a false black proscenium arch. Once this was ripped away, it revealed a far more ornate surround that came complete with a crest at its the centre.

This is just one of the discoveries to be found in this criminally unloved building, which was gifted to the people of Leith by the people of Edinburgh following the decision to incorporate the Burgh of Leith into Edinburgh in 1920. After opening in 1932 as Leith Town Hall, it went on to become a much needed concert hall and theatre utilised by Edinburgh International Festival among others.

With the building now under the care of Leith Theatre Trust, ambitious long-term plans are afoot to restore the venue as a permanent fixture on Leith and Edinburgh's cultural calendar. As Hidden Door's artistic director David Martin moves around the back-stage nooks and crannies about to be transformed into assorted performance spaces, cinemas and galleries, it is clear there are many more discoveries to be made within its walls.

Old dressing room doors are engraved with ornate lettering that decree the spaces the domain of 'Female Accompanists' and such-like, a strict demarcation that couldn't imagine being anything other than a permanent backstage arrangement. Whether the rooms house the likes of headline acts Anna Meredith, who plays tonight, or Kathryn Joseph, who will appear next weekend, remains to be seen. However it works out, these two Scottish Album of the Year winners are very different sort of female accompanists to those envisaged by Leith Theatre's original managers.

Also appearing on the main stage over the next week will be Idlewild, former Ladytron vocalist Marnie, Lost Map Records duo Manuela, jazz legend Soweto Kinch and many others. Elsewhere in the building, artists of all kinds will take advantage of such atmospheric surroundings.

Theatre companies Creative Electric and the Ludens Ensemble will present new works, while there will be work-in-progress presentations by site-specific specialists Grid Iron and actor Tam Dean Burn.

A screening of Fritz Lang's seminal science-fiction film Metropolis will feature a new score by Kim Moore, aka Wolf, alongside fellow electronic composers Matt Collings, Dave House and Phil McBride. There will be spoken word from regular nights Inky Fingers and Flint and Pitch, plus a special performance of Rules of the Moon, a new collaboration between poet and musician Rebecca Sharp and sound artist Philip Jeck. While Sharp is best known for her work as a playwright at the Arches in Glasgow, Jeck's previous appearances in Scotland have been at experimental music festivals Instal and Kill Your Timid Notion. All of which suggests that Hidden Door isn't quite so hidden anymore.

“There's an element of jeopardy about it,” says Martin, sitting in the balcony of the theatre's 1,000 capacity auditorium while a small army of volunteers clatter around downstairs in what resembles a mini building site. “We're upscaling things this year because we've got the space, and it's a big risk, but having somewhere like this allows us to get a lot of people in the building to see a big band in a way that we couldn't do before. It also allows people to move around the building and see all the other stuff going on.”

Hidden Door was an initiative originally begun in 2010 at the old Roxy Art House, now Assembly Roxy, as an attempt to harness some of the artistic activity that was going on in Edinburgh. With Martin taking time out to take stock of that event, Hidden Door returned in 2014, taking over the then derelict row of arches on Market Street. For the last two years, it has been located at City of Edinburgh Council's old lighting stores in King Stables Road. All three venues in different ways created a sprawling village of alternative culture which Leith Theatre looks set to stamp with its own personality.

“When we started it was a bunch of artists and musicians, and we called ourselves the Hidden Door Collective,” says Martin. “The plan after that had been to try and do things in derelict spaces, but that never worked out, and after that it was about just trying to find out where the interesting spaces were, because there's a lot more in Edinburgh than people sometimes think. When we found the arches, the Council initially weren't keen, but after we made a success of that that they came to us, and they've been really supportive ever since.”

For a city where a year-round civic will towards artistic activity hasn't always been apparent beyond its assorted festivals, this is quite a breakthrough, particularly in relation to what was going on elsewhere.

“I was looking with envy across the great divide of the M8,” says Martin. “It seemed, especially in the early 2000s, that things were happening in Glasgow in a pop-up and spontaneous kind of way that was really exciting. In Edinburgh it seemed that things were more staid and institutionalised, and there was no real way for artists to get their work out there. You could submit something to the RSA, but there was very little artist-led activity and very little collaboration. I could see how much talent there was here, and I thought there was a more dynamic way of doing things with that.

“Sometimes Edinburgh feels like it's an old lady's house, and once a year in August she'll let you have a massive party here that wrecks the house, then everyone clears off, and for the rest of the year the city tidies itself up again until there's another influx. I felt that there was enough talent here to do something the rest of the year, and there were enough interesting spaces around to use them in a different kind of way.”

Since then, Hidden Door has become part of a new wave of burgeoning if still largely unsung grassroots artistic activity across Edinburgh that shows it up as something of a Jekyll and Hyde city. The assorted festivals and national institutions that grace Scotland's capital may get all the attention, but it is off the beaten track where a new generation of artists are laying the foundations for the future.

As well as Hidden Door, the similarly expansive LeithLate festival has just announced its programme for this year, while artist-run spaces such as the Embassy and Rhubaba allow emerging talents to showcase and develop their work. The city-wide Edinburgh Annuale visual art festival does this on a larger scale. Then there is the Forest and an ever changing network of short-lived collectives and pop-ups that put on ad hoc one-off gigs in church halls and social clubs, reclaiming the original focal points for community activity as they go.

Long established organisations such as Out of the Blue and it's sister venue the Bongo Club led the way on this, mixing up art, music and club culture in a way that has fostered an attitude based on self-determination. Let us not forget either that now glossy institutions such as the Traverse Theatre and the Fruitmarket Gallery were born out of the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture.

While Martin acknowledges that there is a certain level of factionalism among Edinburgh's assorted pockets of creativity, such a welter of activity has both directly and indirectly opened up the city for Hidden Door to become a nomadic cauldron of creativity which is unlikely to sit still for long.

“What we've found is that the people of Leith are really up for stuff like this,” says Martin. “There's loads going on here at various levels in terms of small music venues and other things, but the area doesn't really have a large-scale social hub in a way that Leith Theatre will hopefully become.”

Whether Hidden Door happens in Leith Theatre again remains to be seen, although Martin expresses ambitions for it to be flexible enough to exist, not just in Edinburgh, but elsewhere as well.

“By doing Hidden Door in Leith Theatre, we want it to feel like something brand new is happening here, and hopefully the people of Leith will get behind it,” he says. It's exactly the right place to do it this year, but Hidden Door isn't just about Leith. It's for everywhere.”

Hidden Door opens today at Leith Theatre, Edinburgh, and runs until June 4.
www.hiddendoorblog.org

The Herald, May 26th 2017

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Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Glory on Earth

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When an eighteen year old girl sweeps into town with the world seemingly at her feet, the only opposition she faces is from a middle-aged white man who enjoys laying down the law. Plus ca change, it seems, ever since Mary, Queen of Scots was forced to square up to John Knox over a series of meetings that took place in Edinburgh between 1561 and 1563.

Linda McLean's new play imagines these showdowns through the prism of Rona Morison's fiercely intelligent Mary, a dancing queen who isn't afraid to put her head on the block. Backing her up in David Greig's swish and suitably chic looking production are a fabulous entourage of six other Marys, who shimmy alongside the teen queen like a 1960s girl group. More than a mere chorus, they become different facets of Mary's inner self, giving her strength as she goes. By contrast, Jamie Sives' Knox is a mansplaining absolutist resembling the most rabid of internet trolls.

As McLean's dark dramatic poem unfolds over an intense set of exchanges, Mary may just want to have fun talking about boys and busting the latest moves, but as she finds her voice, it is other middle-aged white men who let her down.

In a contemporary landscape where the tragic results of such blinkered religious intolerance and abuse of male privilege are more blatantly apparent than ever, this is a story crying out to be told. In the face of latter day zealots as terrified of joy as Knox appears to be, this is a call to arms for young women everywhere, to be fearless, regret nothing and to dance for dear life itself.

The Herald, May 25th 2017

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Emma Rice - Tristan and Yseult

The last time Emma Rice spoke to the Herald was in 2015, when she was overseeing a tour of her audacious staging of Daphne du Maurier's novel, Rebecca, with the Cornwall-based Kneehigh theatre company. While she was then artistic director of Kneehigh, with whom she had begun her theatre career as an actress, her appointment as incoming director of Shakespeare's Globe had recently been announced. As successor to Dominic Dromgoole, hopes for Rice's tenure, which she took up at the beginning of 2016, were high.

Less than two years on, and with a touring revival of Rice's Kneehigh production of mediaeval romance Tristan and Yseult arriving at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow next week, Rice has already announced that she will be leaving the Globe in spring 2018. That announcement came after Rice had only been in post for a few months, and followed concerns from the theatre's board regarding some of her artistic choices. This appeared to be in relation to her introduction of artificial lighting into a venue which has traded on its 'authenticity' in terms of staging Shakespeare unadorned by such new-fangled indulgences of electricity.

Presuming that Rice was hired on the strength of her back catalogue and that the board knew what they were getting regarding Rice's irreverent and expansive reimaginings of classic works, this seemed a curious decision. In April, Rice published an impassioned public letter to her still to be decided successor. Published on the Globe website, Rice's missive was both celebratory of the work she and her artistic team made at the theatre, and critical of a board she said failed to respect that work.

“It's really tough on some levels,” Rice says of her impending departure, “and it's very sad, because I love it at the Globe, and I love my team, but everything comes to an end. It's just happened a bit earlier than I would have wanted it to have done.”

Dashing between rehearsals for Tristan and Yseult with Kneehigh and a brand new production of Twelfth Night as part of Rice's Summer of Love season at the Globe, Rice sounds anything but sad. Revisiting a show she first did fourteen years ago, one suspects, is a very personal form of taking stock.

Originally derived from twelfth century Anglo-Norman literature inspired by Celtic legend, Tristan and Yseult is a romantic tragedy which Rice and Kneehigh have transformed into a theatrical spectacle which is clearly a labour of love.

“I just sort of melt, really,” says Rice of working on the show. “It's extraordinary going back to something that I first did in 2003, and looking at it again, it somehow seems stronger and more powerful than it was then. I don't know what it is, and if I could bottle it, I would. It was the final rehearsal of it on Saturday, and I was in floods of tears. There's something about the show that does that too you. I'm besotted with it.

“I hate the idea of recycling shows, because there's a danger that what was special about it becomes diluted, but because we've done it several times now, we have a pool of actors from each production who are in this one, so there are only two people in this company who haven't done it before, and all of that reinvigorates it somehow. It doesn't happen with all shows, but it feels like this one has matured as we've matured.”

Tristan and Yseult wasn't the first choice of play for Oxford born Rice to direct for the company she had first appeared onstage with in 1994.

“I'm ashamed to say it wasn't me who thought of doing it,” she says today. “I inherited it. The artistic director of the company at the time was going to do it. I'd been acting with the company, and it was around the time I was moving into directing, and they just said, Emma, you should do it.

By her own admission, for a director who would go on to stage playful versions of classic plays, as well as film inspired works such as The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death, it wasn't the most obvious material for Rice to try and get her head round.

“I didn't understand all the mediaeval stuff,” she says. “I don't like Game of Thrones or anything like that, and I had to try and find a way into it. I remember railing one night that I didn't want to just tell the story of two attractive people getting together. I think it was around the time of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting off, and I didn't want it to be like that. Then I had this idea of telling the story through the unloved, and that gave it depth. We set it in the Club of the Unloved, which on the one hand makes it very funny, but it also gives it a certain sadness as well.”

The result is a wild and thoroughly modern theatrical tour de force which is about as far removed from TV sword and sorcery epics as one can imagine.

“There's not a dragon in it,” says Rice. “At its heart is a love triangle about a king who marries a queen, who then falls in love with a knight. It's like what might happen if Kate Middleton fell in love with Prince Harry or something like that.”

Having opened Twelfth Night at the Globe in tandem with Tristan and Yseult's current tour, Rice isn't exactly resting on her laurels. While she clearly has plans beyond next April, she remains uncharacteristically coy about committing to anything specific.

“I'm keeping quiet,” she says. “I don't really want to say just now, just in case things don't work out.”

Whatever Rice does next, one suspects it will be done with a similar sense of largesse and pop cultural savvy which has defined her work, both with Kneehigh and Shakespeare's Globe, and which is rooted in what used to be called alternative theatre. As one of the companies who took such a stream of work out of the margins and onto some of the UK's bigger stages, to some extent Kneehigh have perhaps irked the classical purists along the way. It is possibly for this reason that Kneehigh and Rice remain a perfect match.

From the outside, her revival of Tristan and Yseult following such tumultuous times at the Globe looks like the perfect vehicle for her as a means of coming home. While she is no longer artistic director of Kneehigh, neither did she ever fully leave the company.

“You can't really leave Kneehigh,” she says. “It's a very close company, and is part of my DNA. I made all the decisions about doing Tristan and Yseult again long before the drama at the Globe kicked off, so it's funny how it's worked out. Life has a brilliant way of reaping all sorts of rewards by accident.

Tristan & Yseult, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, May 30-June 3.
www.citz.co.uk

 
The Herald, May 23rd 2017

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Sunday, 21 May 2017

Music is Torture

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Poor Jake. One minute he and his band, Test Card, are the in sound of 1998, the next he's playing a shaker on a Belle and Sebastian B-side and doing a dog food commercial. For the last fifteen years he's been stuck in the Sisyphean hell of his similarly past-its-sell-by-date recording studio, working on an endlessly unfinished album by a band called Dawnings, who are stuck in a sound booth repeating themselves ad nauseum. When Jake's waster hanger-on Nick uploads a long-lost slice of brain-pummelling techno called Kill Them All, Jake looks set to make the big time for all the wrong reasons.

Louise Quinn's knowing piece of gig theatre puts a novel twist on an all too familiar rock and roll take on Faustian self-destruction. In Quinn's world, brought to claustrophobic life in Ben Harrison's increasingly fantastical production, it isn't the star chasing band who sell their souls to the devil, but the lowly sound engineer looking for a break and a new pair of trainers.

The play is inspired by the research of musicologist and human rights campaigner Dr Morag J Grant, and co-produced by Quinn's Tromolo company and the Tron. Its lurch into darker waters is brought to life by Andy Clark playing an increasingly desperate Jake and Harry Ward as a deceptively hopeless Nick. Quinn's own group, A Band Called Quinn, play the fictional Dawnings as a Greek chorus illustrating Jake's moral dilemma with live velveteen guitar pop. It's this insider's world-view of an industry where selling out is the ultimate sin that gives the play its cynical bite, even as it bleeds its players dry.

The Herald, May 21 2017

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

Steven Claydon - The Archipelago of Contented Peoples: Endurance Groups

The Common Guild, Glasgow until July 9
Three stars

All that glitters is not necessarily gold in this first solo show in Scotland by Steven Claydon, a former member of avant-electro sleaze merchants Add N to (X), and a more recent shortlistee for the 2016 Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. Here, Claydon's new (or are they?) constructions question notions of authenticity and value, be it through a shrine to dead teeth, a similarly worshipful array of multi-coloured gas canisters, or numerous subversions of ethnographic fetishism which illustrate what Claydon calls 'cultural cannibalism'.

Chain-store 'African' heads devour gold-painted packets of pills, as if sanctioned by private medicine millionaires who would hike up the prices of life saving drugs by a thousand per cent. Shredded bank notes - a much more efficient way of dealing with money to burn - are framed as a dappled decorative back-drop. Crocodiles grow out of carved canoes, saved from some biblical flood. All this and the Pink Panther captured against a rug made of bark. Much of this is discreetly highlighted by LED lights, which both make things shinier and put them even more off limits in a plastic palace where nothing is how it seems.
 
The List, May 2017
 
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Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Jane Eyre

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

From the moment she comes bawling into life at the opening of director Sally Cookson's delirious staging of Charlotte Bronte's taboo-busting novel, the adventures keep on coming for its eponymous heroine. On designer Michael Vale's set of wooden platforms and catwalks, Nadia Clifford's furious Jane is shunted from pillar to post in a show as restless in its execution as Jane's own journey. Her brutalised childhood as an orphan hungry for knowledge is illustrated by a cast of nine, who morph from bullying family members to religiously oppressed pupils of the school where Jane is exposed to even more of life's cruelties.

Mirrors are held up en masse so Jane can confront herself inbetween attending to her inner voices that drive her onwards. As she grows into a still wilful young woman, her self-protective shell gives way under Rochester's mercurial influence, until at the end of act one she crumbles into a defeated heap, crazy in love but not knowing what to do with her feelings.

Bronte's constant theme of how independent women are locked up is made explicit. This is done both by the scarlet lighting that illustrates Jane's early incarceration, and in the operatic gospel sung by Melanie Marshall as Bertha, the first Mrs Rochester. This is pointed up even more by Benji Bower's live chamber jazz score and a couple of knowing contemporary pop numbers.

Originally spread out over two nights in its first outing at Bristol Old Vic in 2014, this current tour follows the show's National Theatre run by serving up a single three hour sprawl through Jane's psyche. The end result is a fearless and unmissable whirlwind of a show.

 
The Herald, May 17th 2017

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Jo Clifford - War in America


When Jo Clifford's play, War in America, opens at the former Royal High School in Edinburgh in just over a week's time, the scenario it depicts might seem worryingly familiar. Clifford, after all, has imagined a world whereby America is in turmoil, while the unelected female leader of a European power is taking her country to the brink of disaster. Meanwhile, in the real world, the post Trump, post Brexit landscape becomes increasingly dramatic by the day.

Given such a back-drop, one could be forgiven for presuming that Clifford had knocked out such a contemporary-sounding state of the nations saga in response to recent events. In fact, Clifford wrote War in America in 1996 as one of a mooted five play series that fused the personal and the political. In hindsight, the play could either be considered out of step with the time it was written in, or elsew a prophecy of things to come.

“You couldn't make it up,” says Clifford, on the morning of the latest eruption from the White House, which has just seen President Trump sack the head of the FBI. Except, of course, Clifford did make it up, penning a play about “the complete corruption and collapse of the democratic system. It was so uncanny reading the previews of the American election, people openly talking about the possibility of civil war, and I saw that coming.”

Clifford isn't being boastful when she says this. Given that it has taken twenty-one years for War in America to reach the stage, it sounds more like vindication. Originally commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, the play's first draft was subsequently rejected because the theatre's then management found some of its content offensive.

The play was also turned down by the Traverse Theatre, souring a relationship with the new writing based theatre that had scored an international hit with Clifford's early play, Losing Venice. Up until she presented them with War in America, the Traverse had produced a succession of Clifford works that served up more poetic visions than the then prevailing wave of gritty realist drama allowed for. It was her follow up to Losing Venice, Lucy's Play, where the roots of War in America stem from after it was produced by an American theatre company in California.

“They flew me out to Long Beach for the opening,” Clifford remembers, “and I was in the richest part of the world. A couple of months after that I was in Bangladesh with my adaptation of Great Expectations, so I was in the poorest part of the world. Inbetween the two, I was in Cairo, and I turned on the television news, which was showing images of people knocking down the Berlin Wall. I understood then that everything that I knew about the world, from my whole childhood, which had been dominated by the conflict between east and west, and the possibility of nuclear war at any time, everything had been transformed.

“It seemed to me that being in these two cities – Dhaka and L.A. – it was obvious that we are living in the one world, that the poverty of one place was dependent on the wealth of the other, and the other way round. All the divisions between nationalities were out of date, and we were moving towards a global economy and a global state, and the conflicts in this global state was going to come from the divisions between rich and poor, and in this situation, all our political and social institutions and all our economic arrangements were no longer adequate.

“It was clear that we could no longer live in the same way. A new world was coming into being. It seemed to me we were living through a time that was very much like the renaissance, when the middle ages were falling apart and capitalism was ushering in a new way of being, except that now it's capitalism that's falling apart. Part of the artist's job is to reflect those changes, and to dream a new world into being.”

Clifford visited Bengal, and wrote her play, Light in the Village. Realising one play wasn't enough to tackle these themes, she decreed to write five plays that would be ready by the millennium. With no-one taking her ideas seriously, Clifford took advantage of a commission from the Lyceum to write War in America, which was where the trouble started. The Lyceum declared the play's content to be offensive.

“It marked the beginning of a very bleak time for me artistically,” says Clifford, who moved into teaching and translating. “I couldn't get anyone to commission me in Scotland for a long time, and it was the start of a very long silence.”

Clifford also moved into producing and performing her own work, and brought in director Susan Worsfold to direct her in The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, which presented the messiah as being transgender. Worsfold read War in America, and is now directing it as the second production by The Attic Collective, the theatre company set-up by Worsfold and producer Cat Sheridan with support from the Festival City Theatres Trust, and designed to stage large scale work with emerging actors. It follows on from the company's debut show, a version of Aristophenes' ancient Greek sex comedy, Lysistrata.

As well as its subject matter, the choice of venue for War in America is also timely. While the Thomas Hamilton designed school once mooted to become the home of the Scottish Parliament has lain empty since 1968, it is currently in the midst of a civic tussle between developers who want to turn it into a luxury hotel on the one hand, and those who wish to see it become the new home of St Mary's Music School on the other.

In terms of the slow-burning cultural revolution going on among a new generation of theatre makers, the play's belated arrival points to how the world appears to have caught up with Clifford. Where gender issues were once taboo, they are firmly back on both the political and theatrical agendas. The new wave has returned as well to looser forms of direct address that stem from old-school alternative theatre, and which have little truck with naturalism. It is telling too that Clifford chose not to rewrite or rework War in America, but that it remains perfectly in tune with the state we're in right now.

“Some people,” says Clifford, “like Trump and May, peddle illusions and falsehoods, and an artist's job is to resist those falsehoods, and to say, look, this is what is happening, but at the same time try to offer hope, and not fall into despair. I think that despair is a horribly reactionary and dangerous state of mind to fall into, and as an artist it's my job to resist it as best I can. And I think there is a glimmer of hope at the end of War in America. There is a sense that, no, things can be different. It's very much a glimmer, but I think it's still there, I hope it's a play that offers some kind of comfort in very bleak times.”

War in America, Former Royal High School, Edinburgh, May 24-27.
www.edtheatres.com

 
The Herald, May 16th 2017

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Monday, 15 May 2017

Rachel Maclean – Spite Your Face

When Rachel Maclean was chosen to represent Scotland at this year's Venice Biennale, the world appeared to have just been turned upside down, and not in a good way. As so-called fake news dominated the discourse of a post-Brexit world in which promises were broken pretty much immediately by the pro-Leavers, the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President appeared to have been countenanced by misinformation on a grand scale. The liberal fairytale, it seemed, had turned into a nightmare.

The result of this for Maclean following a ten-day script-writing session in Venice last December is Spite Your Face: A Dark Venetian Fairytale. This new thirty-minute film was commissioned and curated by the Scottish Borders based Alchemy Film and Arts in partnership with Talbot Rice Gallery and the University of Edinburgh.

Maclean's recognisable tropes drawn from the pop cultural ephemera of girls magazines, MTV videos by the likes of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, Disney films and computer games here looks to Pinocchio. The puppet boy whose nose grows every time he tells a lie was originally brought to life in a novel for children by Italian writer Carlo Collodi in 1883. Despite numerous adaptations, the story probably remains best known from Walt Disney's 1940 cartoon film. All of which was born out of a ten-day script-writing session in Venice last December.

“It was shortly after Brexit, and Donald Trump had been elected,” says Maclean, “and the Italian election was happening as well, so it was a very scary moment politically, but it was also exciting to be there. I hadn't been in Venice at that time of year before. It's quieter and spookier. Quite a lot of the script came directly out of that post Brexit climate, about truth, lies, post-truth, and how lies had been used in the Brexit campaign.”

Since studying painting and drawing at Edinburgh College of Art, Maclean's films have grown to become a body of what look increasingly like a series of skewed state of the nation commentaries. While the early confections of Lolcats (2012) looked like a candy-coloured dreamscape culled from the unintentionally trippier end of children's TV, Feed Me (2016), which was featured in British Art Show 8, looked at the infantilisation of adulthood in away that mashed-up Barbie, Disney princesses and Britney Spears.

Please Sir (2014) similarly dissected class division and austerity culture through cutting up The Prince and the Pauper and Oliver Twist with Britain's Got Talent and Jeremy Kyle. In a dizzying feat of Cos-play inspired shape-shifting, Maclean generally plays every role in all of her films. Spite My Face sees Maclean expand her canvas even more.

“Like a lot of my work it uses these displaced fairy-tales,” she says, “and because I was in Venice I looked at Pinocchio, which is a story that's very close to Italy, and I wanted to look at that through the lens of everything else that was going on. Fairy-tales help substantiate people's ideologies, and if you look at how lies were used in the Brexit campaign, the narratives the politicians used over-simplified things, but they still related to people. Facts can be thrown at them to disprove them, but they do nothing to change people's worlds.

“This time I've not looked at political speeches literally, and there are musical theatre elements in there that relate to Pinocchio, so there's something of the language of fairy-tales in there, but, like my other work, the characters and the narrative are unstable.”

Maclean's sensory palette is broader here too .

“Spite Your Face had got quite a different colour scheme to my other work,” she says, “which I think came out of being in Venice. It's still bright and pretty gaudy, and it still references pop cartoons and children's TV, but it's also really very baroque, in the real, literal sense of the word.”

Spite Your Face will be housed in Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Cannaregio, a de-consecrated church originally built as a base to uphold moral authority and reaffirm a political-religious power-base. For Maclean, the connections are perfect.

“The work is lent an aura of the church just by being in one,” she says. “I've always been interested in renaissance painting and Italian painting, both of which look quite a lot at truth, so there's a similar sense of perspective.”

While it may not be explicit in her work, Maclean has spoken previously of how it is driven in part by anger. Issues of class, gender, nationhood and power have all been explored by her. Given everything that has happened over the last few months, Maclean's anger might be more obvious than in previous work.

“I think, like a lot of people, that the resurgence of white male privilege and its complete lack of substance is really worrying,” says Maclean. “Before, those attitudes were dormant, but to see it rear its ugly head again now in a way that normalises that sort of behaviour, it makes me angry that those behind it will try to manipulate people who had a real reason to be angry.”

As with her other films, Spite Your Face was filmed using green screen, with Maclean colouring in each fantastical backdrop with computer-generated graphics. Where many of her films have utilised cut-ups of TV and film to provide the dialogue, here Maclean's own script is voiced by actors. She has used other voices in this way previously, even going so far as to use have actors appear physically in her gothic-inspired film for the Mull-based Comar organisation, The Weepers (2014). Both suggests a growing confidence is blooming behind her multitude of masks.

“I think Spite Your Face feels the most narrative-based of my films,” says Maclean. “I'm filming the narrative in a more formal way, so it's not as fragmented. I'm really interested in running with something that's more linear.”

Despite such stream-lining, Maclean remains conscious of the context in which Spite Your Face will be seen.

“Showing the film in a gallery is different from it being seen in a cinema,” she says, “because people are coming in at different times, so I've tried to make it so there's no beginning and no end, and it just goes round and round.”

As her work has grown more ambitious, Maclean's increasingly formal tone that goes beyond the subverted trappings of pop video bubblegum could potentially develop into something that would sit in both art-house and multiplex cinemas.

“I keep developing larger ideas,” she says, “and I get quite excited about how you can develop characters over a longer period. Working with Alchemy already feels somewhere between the art world and cinema. One ambition of mine is to write a treatment for something much bigger. There are so many different ways of looking at how I might do that, but I really like the idea that work can relate to people outwith the art world. Even using Pinocchio and stories that people know, but done with layers of complexity beyond that really appeals. Working in cinema really appeals in that way, but I don't see me moving out of the art world either.”

Given the wild theatricality of her films and a clear love of rummaging through the dressing up box to become a multitude of characters, Maclean is having tentative thoughts about bringing her work into the live arena.

“I have this idea of developing work into some kind of live performance,” she says. “I'm not sure how I'd do that yet, but it's another way of expanding things. I'd probably work with actors rather than be in it myself. It's a big leap to do that, but I like theatre that uses video within it, so maybe it could move between video and live performance, but I don't know yet.”

Whether she ends up as director, performer or designer, Maclean is already an auteur whose creations could easily burst through the screen to become extravagantly realised Busby Berkeley style epics. In the meantime, Spite Your Face will receive its UK premiere at Talbot Rice in 2018. By then, the world may have changed again, but chances are Maclean's film will still chime with the times in the most audacious and playful of ways.

“I hope Spite Your Face reflects something of what's happening in the world just now,” she says, “and that politics is seen through a different lens and a different language than it being discussed purely through journalistic means. By interrogating ideas about truth and lies, and illuminating that through fairy-tales, hopefully people who see the film will be able to get something about what's going on in the world in a different way.”

Spite Your Face: A Dark Venetian Fairytale by Rachel Maclean will be shown at Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Cannaregio, Venice representing Scotland + Venice 2017 at the 57th International Art Exhibition- La Biennale di Venezia, May 13th-November 26th 2017. The UK premier of Spite Your Face will be held at the Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh in early 2018.
 
Scottish Art News, May 2017, Venice issue.

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Polygraphs

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow until September 17th

Fake News alert. All is not what it seems in this group show that questions the con trick of authenticity through a series of appropriations of history as modern myth-making. Taking Hito Steyerl's seven-minute film, Abstract (2012), as its centre-piece, a much bigger picture is revealed by the show's seventeen artists, who explore notions of colonialism, slavery, the arms trade and identity politics. This in turn subverts received hand-me-down narratives dressed up as truth.

In this respect, Polygraphs questions the show's own existence within the context it sets down for itself and GOMA's perceived complicity in the yarns it spins even as it critiques them. A polygraph, after all, is a lie detector, that pulse-racing gizmo beloved of pulp crime thrillers and daytime TV quiz shows, and itself questionable in terms of reliability.

From Peter Kennard's subversion of Constable with his now classic anti-nuclear montage, Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1980), through to Scott Myles' STABILA (Black and Blue) (2009), in which exhibits from an assault case between two construction workers are reconfigured as something more ordered, first impressions count for nothing in a show which requires forensic investigation. Graham Fagen's Plans and Records (2007) dissects the slave trade by way of reggae and Robert Burns. Gerard Byrne's Loch Ness-based images put himself in the frame and in the murk of the grandest of hoaxes.

Constructions by Alasdair Gray, Ian Hamilton Finlay, David Hockney and others all offer windows onto alternative realities or else challenge existing ones. In Know Your Enemy (2005), kenardphhillips do this through a backwards-facing image of Bush and Blair walking into 10 Downing Street as a torture victim is beaten behind them, the everyday lies of those holding high office laid bare.

Abstract itself is a twin-screen creation that casts Steyerl as both protagonist and author as she attempts to excavate the clues behind her friend Andrea Wolf's death in 1998 in Kurdistan. With footage dove-tailing between the scenes of the crime in Kurdistan and outside the Berlin offices of arms manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Abstract becomes both document and eyewitness in a drama that recognises its own sense of mediation. 'The grammar of cinema follows the grammar of battle' goes one caption on an otherwise blank screen as Steyerl is led through a bombed-out inventory on the other. In terms of truth being stranger than fiction, in the case of both Abstract and Polygraphs, the truth hurts. For reals.

Scottish Art News, May 2017


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Sally Cookson – Reimagining Jane Eyre

“It's a girl!” These are the first words uttered in Sally Cookson's audacious staging of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte's taboo-busting 1847 novel concerning the book's eponymous heroine's journey from headstrong orphan to an independent woman living and loving on her own terms. Those words may not be lifted from Bronte's story, but in a production that uses music, movement and theatrical spectacle as key tools in telling a similarly multi-faceted story, the words bring Jane kicking and screaming into the world with a sense of purpose that suggests that, while her sex is important in everything she does, she is much more besides.

“Jane Eyre was a story I'd been interested in turning into a piece of theatre for a long time,” says Cookson,who first created the play in 2014. “When I first read Bronte's novel as a young woman in my twenties, I was struck by the power of this woman who knew what she needed to do to have a satisfying life, be that physically or emotionally. Whenever she's threatened with having to take a different path, she takes action. It's a play about human rights, really, and Jane is a role model, not just for women, but for men as well in what is this incredible coming of age story.”

In taking Bronte's story off the page and reimagining it for the stage, Cookson knew she didn't want to go down the glossy heritage industry route which has too often rendered Bronte's key work as little more than a romantic costume drama. With class, gender politics and the restraints of religious morality all in the mix, Cookson wanted to produce something with more substance.

“I knew the story from the BBC adaptations that I used to watch, and I was a fan of that,” she says, “but it wasn't until I actually read the book that I realised what a powerhouse Jane was. Then going back to the 1970s TV version, it concentrated on the story as a romance, when in fact Jane is this incredibly strong character who wants to live a life that's rich and full of opportunity. That was inspiring.”

Rather than beginning with an existing script, Cookson began with just the book, devising the show over extended workshopping with a company that ended up with a cast of fifteen actors and musicians onstage.

“Everyone gets very scared when there's no script,” Cookson admits. “We played around with a few ideas that we used as building blocks, but otherwise we sat round in a circle with the book in the middle of us and responded to it as we went through it. That was exciting and thrilling, but it was also very hard. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into making that show. The fact that Jane Eyre is cited as the finest book of all time made it doubly challenging, but I knew I absolutely didn't want to turn it into a piece of costume drama. I wanted to find the best elements to tell the story, whether that was through music, movement or text.

“One of the hardest things was looking at all these conversations between Jane and Rochester, which go on for thirty pages. There are so many great lines in there, but we knew that if we just let them talk for thirty pages that it wouldn't have worked.”

When Cookson's staging was first seen, it was presented in two parts. When it was remounted at the National Theatre in London it was seen as one continuous epic. This is the case too for the show's current UK tour, which coincides with the 170th anniversary of the first publication of Bronte's mould-breaking novel.

“It's still epic,” says Cookson, “and having the opportunity to hone things and cut out the flab has been a fascinating process.”

For all Cookson and her team have breathed fresh life into Bronte's story, its essence of a woman taking charge of her own destiny in a man's world remains.

“The fact that the protagonist of the story is a girl is very important,” Cookson says, “especially at the time it was written. Jane has no money, no power and no place in society, but she was still determined to make her way in the world on her own terms. The opportunities a girl had in 1847 are very different to the opportunities a girl might have today, and what Jane achieves is extraordinary.”

Cookson also sees the story in broader terms beyond Jane's experience.

“I think more of it as a life story than a love story,” she says. “The original title of the book was Jane Eyre – An Autobiography, after all, and in it we see how from a very early age Jane needs nourishment. She hungers for these basic human needs, and she does everything within her power to live the life that she wants to live, and that's something I think that speaks to everybody.”

Jane Eyre, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, May 15-20; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, June 5-10; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, August 28-September 2.

Commissioned by John Good and Co as programme notes for the tour of Bristol Old Vic's production of Jane Eyre, April 2017.

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Thursday, 11 May 2017

Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars


It was a ghost in the machine, it seems, who inspired an already curious Daphne Oram to pursue her fascination with electronically generated sounds. The most famous result of the seance held by the Wiltshire teenager's parents was Oram's key role in the founding of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. As Paul Brotherston and Isobel McArthur's restlessly engaging dramatic portrait of Oram makes clear in words and music, however, Oram was much more than that.

On a stage peopled with pukka post-war sorts, McArthur's Daphne takes the microphone to address the audience in immaculate cut-glass tones. As her amplified words are distorted, it becomes the perfect illustration of how Oram's pioneering experimental compositions were by turns mocked, sidelined and airbrushed away by a patriarchal BBC.

This is played out by a wonderfully engaging McArthur and the four male actors who pivot around her central presence with a cartoon-like playfulness. Such glorious irreverence has become something of a stock-in-trade of the Blood of the Young company, directed by Brotherston in co-production with the Tron as part of the theatre's Mayfesto season.

Key to the experience is the presence of contemporary sonic alchemist Anneke Kampman, who provides an electronically generated score worthy of Oram herself. In a show developed out of the host venue's Tron Theatre CREATIVE initiative, Brotherston navigates his cast around Ana Ines Jabares-Pita's retro-styled set with confidence and flair.

As we zone in on Oram's later years, the play goes beyond electronic archaeology to get to the heart of an entire society in motion. Daphne Oram's world isn't just about sound. It's about a woman's right to be heard at every level.
 
 
The Herald, May 15th 2017
 
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Monday, 8 May 2017

Anneke Kampman - Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound / Kathryn Joseph - Room / Louise Quinn - Music is Torture

Daphne Oram spent less than a year working as studio manager with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the body she co-founded in 1958 after persuading the BBC to invest in experiments with electronic sound and music concrete. By that time, Oram had already composed the sine-wave based score for the 1957 radio production of Jean Giraudoux's play, Amphitryon 38, which was the first piece of electronic music to be commissioned by the company. The same year, Oram worked on the debut recording of Samuel Beckett's radio play, All That Fall, which led directly to the setting up of the Workshop.

Having begun her career at the BBC as a junior studio engineer in 1942, Oram's abrupt departure nevertheless paved the way for the likes of Delia Derbyshire, who had a major hand in creating the original theme music to Dr Who. Beyond her extensive exploratory work with something she dubbed Oramics, Oram's relationship with drama continued after she left the BBC in TV, film and theatre, as well as collaborations with Edinburgh born opera composer Thea Musgrave.

According to composer Anneke Kampman, who is providing the live score for Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound, a new play based on the composer's life, Oram was the victim of institutionalised sexism on two counts.

“When she got her first job, all the men who might have been given it were away because of the war,” says Kampman, who has performed as Anakanak at the Glasgow-based Tectonics festival, and is formerly one half of electronic-based duo, Conquering Animal Sound. “She left because the BBC said that she could only work there for six months, because they were worried about how such experimental work might affect her. They said there were dangerous properties of sound, although they never said that to her male co-founder of the Workshop.”

Fourteen years after Oram's death, Kampman and two other female composers are exploring their own dangerous properties of sound in relation to theatre through three very different stage works which put music at their centre.

Kampman will appear onstage in Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound, created and produced by the Blood of the Young company as part of this year's Mayfesto season at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Also at Mayfesto is Music is Torture, in which A Band Called Quinn's Louise Quinn explores the power of music through issues raised by musicologist Dr M.J. Grant. This includes A Band Called Quinn performing as imaginary group, Dawnings.

Meanwhile, Scottish Album of the Year winner Kathryn Joseph has composed new songs with director Cora Bissett for a stage version of Emma Donoghue's novel, Room. This co-production between Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in association with the National Theatre of Scotland has just opened in London prior to dates in Dundee next month. With all three women coming from a broad pop background rather than straightforward theatre composition, the shows mark a creative leap for them all.

“I've never done anything like this before,” says Joseph. “This is the first time I've ever written songs for someone else to sing, and I'm so set in my ways in how I write, and so obsessive about what I do, that it's been really hard sometimes. Cora and Emma have been great at being able to take things I've done and help put it into a language for someone else, and it's been good for me to let go of it.”

Joseph was contacted after Bissett was on the judging panel of the Scottish Album of the Year Award the year Joseph won with her remarkable debut, Bones You Have Thrown Me, and Blood I've Spilled. Fortuitously, Room was one of Joseph's favourite books.

“I read it when I was pregnant, and I couldn't stop crying,” she says of Donoghue's novel about a five year old boy held captive by his mother, which has already been adapted for a successful film version. “To write for something so beautiful, and to work with these people who thought I would be able to do it has been a real confidence booster. I was very uncomfortable with it before, but this is one of the most beautiful things I've ever done.”

Unlike Kampman and Joseph, Quinn already has experience in theatre, having worked extensively with the Mischief La Bas company, and appeared with A Band Called Quinn in Vanishing Point's co-production of The Beggar's Opera at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh. Quinn studied at what is now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at the same time as Bissett, whose own musical past began playing in bands Darlingheart and Swelling Meg. Director of Music is Torture, Ben Harrison, has worked extensively with Bissett, while it's interesting to note that in 2005, the Tron produced Standing Wave, a play about Delia Derbyshire penned by Nicola McCartney, who was dramaturg on The Beggar's Opera.

Set in a recording studio, Music is Torture is another example of mixing up forms which Quinn has pursued, both in theatre and in a band context with her Tromolo theatre company, and follows on from the company's previous show, Biding Time (Remix).

“I really wanted to push things as far as possible and integrate music as part of the narrative,” she says. “It's not just a case of it being actors with a band.”

Such an approach is coming increasingly to the fore in what has become known as gig-theatre, and which, during these increasingly cash-strapped times, chimes with a punkier DIY aesthetic. Joseph says she'd like to work in theatre again, “but I can't imagine being so obsessed with something like I was with this.”

With Kampman's solo work becoming noticeably performative over the last couple of years, the experience on Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound has allowed her to explore her relationship with other art forms.

“I find I can be more experimental in terms of creating in this kind of context,” she says. “It expands things, and you don't have to work within traditional musical structures. With Daphne Oram, it's been really exciting being part of the making of it. One thing I've learnt from Blood of the Young is a desire to tell a story that's really textured, but which can still have broad appeal. You don't have to know about oscillators to enjoy it.”

Despite this, Kampman's endeavours might not necessarily manifest themselves through narrative theatre.

“I'm more interested in exploring sound in other mediums, working with text or film or theatre and in gallery spaces.”

Kampman has already begun work on a series of what she calls 'sound films'.

“I've done some work with a choir on a piece about Florence Lawrence, who was regarded as the first Hollywood actress, and that's made me think about how you can use the voice to tell a story, but also be experimental through theatrically staged vocal performances.”

Quinn too is focusing on fusing music and theatre. While Kampman looks to Oram and Lawrence, Quinn has her own female icons.

“I'm thinking about doing a show called Lives of the Saints,” she says. “It's reimagining female saints as pop stars and superheroes. When I was a kid we had this book of saints, and the women in it were the only female icons I had until they were replaced by Debbie Harry and Chrissie Hynde. It says a lot about how icons can inspire you.”

Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, May 9-13, then tours until June 2; Music is Torture, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, May 18-20, then tours until June 1; Room, Theatre Royal Stratford East until June 3, Dundee Rep, June 13-17, Abbey Theatre, Dublin, June 24-July 22.

www.tron.co.uk
www.tromoloproductions.com
www.nationaltheatrescotlamd.com

 
The Herald, May 9th 2017

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The 306: Day

Station Hotel, Perth
Four stars

Outside the grand entrance to the Station Hotel, a row of ten women stand in silence. Some hold wooden placards, which are tellingly blank and slogan free. As welcoming committees go, it's a powerful pre-cursor to the second part of Oliver Emanuel's 306 trilogy of plays, designed to open up the largely hidden history based around the 306 British soldiers executed for cowardice during World War One.

Where the first part focused on the men themselves, this follow-up looks at the lives of the women left behind and forced to fight battles of their own. Where Gertrude struggles to survive once her husband is killed by the state, Mrs Byers waits in vain for a letter from her son, also a victim of the government. Mrs Byers' daughter Nellie is a munitions factory firebrand, whose husband is in prison for being a conscientious objector, but who won't be silenced, whatever the cost.

Jemima Levick's production is a beautifully conceived construction, which weaves together Emanuel's patchwork of stories performed by a cast of six on Becky Minto's portable set of multi-purpose wooden tables. At the play's centre is Gareth Williams' aching cello and piano score, played live in this co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, Perth Theatre and Stellar Quines by Robert Irvine and Laura McIntosh of associate company, Red Note Ensemble,.

As Angela Hardie, Dani Heron, Fletcher Mathers, Steven Miller, Wendy Somerville and Amanda Wilkin belt out a mix of fiercely defiant chorales, they unveil a litany of lesser known war crimes. They also unleash a collective power that needs to be reclaimed with every passing day.

The Herald, May 8th 2017

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Travels With My Aunt

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Don't be fooled by the stage's resemblance to a railway station waiting room in a particularly sleepy suburban hamlet at the opening of Phillip Breen's new staging of Graham Greene's 1969 novel. As the book's adaptor and former Citz co-artistic director Giles Havergal has proven countless times since it was first seen in the same auditorium almost three decades ago, what follows is the most deceptively subversive dissection of society's mores you're likely to see.

In a post-Brexit climate, where free movement is being curtailed and fought-for liberties stripped away, Greene's tale of how retired bank manager Henry Pulling is enlightened into new life by his free-thinking Aunt Augusta is also a darkly prescient if still frothy affair. With Havergal's ingenious conceit of having the text split between four men in suits, Breen's quartet look here somewhere between a surrealist's convention and a cosplay tribute to vintage children's TV icon Mr Benn.

This allows them to flit between characters and continents in an instant, as a terminally befuddled Henry is led astray into all manner of international intrigues. With the fag end of a sexual revolution hiding in plain sight and mind-expanding experiences on every corner, tending his dahlias is suddenly no longer an option for Henry on a trip that resembles a much belated gap year.

As place names are projected onto the back of the stage resembling a text-based painting by that other great adventurer, Bill Drummond, this delicious concoction is performed by Tony Cownie, Ian Redford, Joshua Richards and a gloriously wordless Ewan Somers with a weight that goes far deeper than it might first appear.

Arriving onstage in a week where the world – or at least the little British part of it – appears to be over-run by pre-enlightenment Henrys, an unavoidable melancholy seems to hang over things. As Henry himself observes once the results of his own wasted youth gradually dawn on him, a world of “ailing people who only know of danger from the newspapers” is in the miserable ascendant. Now, more than ever, we need a legion of Aunt Augustas to shake those people into choosing life once more.

The Herald, May 8th 2017

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Friday, 5 May 2017

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling
Four stars

It is somehow fitting that Rapture Theatre's touring revival of Edward Albee's explosive 1962 play opens within the grounds of a university campus. George and Martha, the warring couple at the play's heart, after all, live within an old-school academic bubble in which they have to make their own amusement. Over the three and three quarter hours that follow in Michael Emans' production, the games they play almost destroy them, even as they're all that helps them to survive.

What is immediately striking as soon as Sara Stewart's blousy Martha and Robin Kingsland's George stumble through their front door is that, beyond the sparring, there is a deep-rooted affection between them. Kingsland plays George with an effete waspishness rising above his crushed intellect, so you get a glimpse of what Martha saw in him before disappointment set in. For all Martha's attention-seeking fury, in Sara Stewart's mercurial interpretation, she too only wants to be loved.

As Nick and Honey, the young couple Martha lures to her lair, there is nothing wet about Paul Albertson and Rose Reynolds' approach. Once the drink kicks in and the edifices of politesse collapse, Nick's brooding tough guy act looks increasingly ridiculous. As Honey too opens up, Reynolds etches in her goody-too-shoes routine with a sense of tragic denial.

As the quartet literally drown their sorrows, this makes for a bruising and relentless ride, and it is only the heightened sense of mayhem that both sustains things, and stops them from falling apart. By the end, all passion may be spent, but the pain in everyone's eyes looks set to fire up another day.

 
The Herald, May 9th 2017

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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Running Wild

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Ever since War Horse stole the world's heart, another staging of one of Michael Morpurgo's deeply moral novels was inevitable. Stand up Samuel Adamson's adaptation of the author's 2009 work for young people, which starts off in a London park, where nine year old Lilly remembers spotting wild birds with her football crazy dad. Little does she know she will end up being saved from a tsunami in the wilds of Indonesia by a flatulent elephant called Oona. Somewhere along the way we learn that Lilly's dad was a casualty of the Iraq war, while the hunters who stalk the jungle are as likely to take pot-shots at her as an orangutan named after footballer Frank Lampard.

In an expansive staging by co-directors Timothy Sheader and Dale Rooks, both Lilly and Oona are caught in the crossfire of these money-obsessed predators, as their destruction of the natural world is exposed. Beyond such an eco-friendly triumph of right over might, Paul Wills' vast set houses a parade of life-size animal puppets designed by Finn Caldwell and Toby Olie, operated by the company with a beguiling and emotionally charged finesse.

For all the puppetry's eye-popping delights in a production first presented by Chichester Festival Theatre and Regent's Park Theatre, and revived here by the Children's Touring Partnership , the show is carried by a remarkable performance by eleven-year old India Brown. As one of three young actresses who play Lilly, she remains on stage throughout the play's two hour duration. By switching the gender of the book's main protagonist, Adamson introduces a new level of emancipation to a heart-wrenching tale of grief, loss and survival.

The Herald, May 4th 2017

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Andrew Wasylyk – Themes for Buildings and Spaces (Tape Club Records)

Dundee, as everyone knows, is on the up. With much of central Dundee having been flattened and turned into a series of building sites over the last couple of years, and with developments such as the forthcoming V&A design museum looming at the dock-side, Tayside's would be European Capital of Culture 2023 is in the throes of reinvention.

In response, Dundee-born Andrew Wasylyk takes a wander around his home town in the form of eight impressionistic instrumentals that create a wistful psycho-graphic portrait of a time and place caught somewhere between past, present and future. Such a line of inquiry is a far cry from Mitchell's tenure as front-person of country-tinged alt-pop outfit the Hazey Janes. His stint as bassist with a rejuvenated Idlewild too is not obvious grounding for such a leap. Mitchell has previous form with atmospheric ambience, however, by way of the dreamy electro space pop of Art of Memory Palace, the duo he formed with Raz Ullah to record the 2015 This Life is But A Passing Dream album. The same year, Mitchell made his debut as Andrew Wasylyk, taking his surname from a Ukrainian uncle for the vocal evocations of his first album, Soroky.

For this follow-up, Wasylyk shops strictly local, as indicated by the cover image, a black and white cityscape at dusk by Joseph McKenzie, the late London-born photographer and lecturer at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art. The shadow of McKenzie's 1966 series, Dundee – A City in Transition, hangs heavy here.

The opening Drift creaks in with a jaunty piano-led skip across the sights before stern Salvation Army style horns suggest a stern no-go area as guitar twangs make a break for the playground. Wasylyk describes the following Under High Blue Skies as an 'ode to brutalism', and it retains a propulsive sense of wonder as the horns mellow out. Vic Cricis slows the pace even more for a lush horn-led perambulation.

The lights dim to something even eerier for Ghosts of Park Place, where children can be heard playing in the middle distance over brooding and insistent layers of sound that grow woozy as the memories blur into one another. The mood continues on Come The Autumn, on which a plaintive trumpet seems to sound the last post on the rough and tumble of Wasylyk's unreconstructed boulevard of broken dreams.

The juxtaposition of electric guitar and treated keyboard patterns on Lower Dens Works could be the soundtrack to a post 1960s ITC TV drama, a melancholy jumble of aspiration, reflection and grown-up disappointment. Think Albert Finney's Charlie Bubbles character making a prodigal's return to a bombed-out Salford in a white Rolls Royce. Menzieshill is even more insular, its solitary piano eventually given weight and depth by electronic textures and a mournful and utterly British brass sound. Finally, The Howff swells up as if an entire industrial landscape is being ripped from its foundations and a lifetime's memories are demolished.

With the whole thing clocking in at just over twenty minutes, the record's mix of languor, nostalgia and Proustian sense memories at times recalls the stark classicism of Harold Budd's Children on the Hill or Virginia Astley's evocation of an English summer on From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. The dark atmospherics of Bill Nelson's early ambient work are there too. As Wasylyk peers forever into the distance, however, a very personal view emerges in a place where shadows appear to be the only thing that's left.
 
 
Product, May 3rd 2017
 
 
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