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Showing posts from June, 2017

F For Fake – The Secret Goldfish, Spectorbullets, The Sexual Objects

Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh
Saturday June 24th

Orson Welles looms large over this art-pop triple bill brought east by the Creeping Bent Organisation, vintage purveyors of fine sounds and visions. The maverick auteur's 1973 documentary study of forgery and authenticity that gives the night its title beams out behind the acts on show. The soundtrack that results bursts forth from a set of conceptualists so rarely sighted as to out-do the late Howard Hughes, who also pops up in Welles' opus.

In real life, a trio of groovy bucket chairs are set up for what might well be a mock-up of a Dick Cavettt chat show, but is in fact an opening acoustic set by The Sexual Objects, here a guitar-wielding trio of Davy Henderson, Simon Smeeton and Douglas MacIntyre. Opening with an instrumental sketch inspired by a dream Henderson had about legendary producer Jack Nitzsche, the super cool, super louche set that follows sees the SOBs lay bare their roots with a cover of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbre…

Nomanslanding

Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …

The Lying Kind

Anthony Neilson is considering his future. The Edinburgh born playwright, director and one-time enfant terrible of mainstream theatre, whose early works were lumped in with the 1990s in-yer-face wave of plays turned fifty recently, and on a sunny day in London is taking stock.

“I'm trying to recharge,” says Neilson, whose most recent play seen in Scotland was a new version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which he created for the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. “I've been working solidly for the last few years, and I think it's good to take a step back for a bit.”

After almost thirty years working up a body of work which has moved from the dark noir of his professional debut, Welfare My Lovely, in 1990, and the provocations of other early plays such as Penetrator, through to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland itself, you can see his point.

As Neilson takes time out, perhaps the Tron Theatre in Glasgow's forthcoming revival of his 2002 farce, The Lying Kind…

Timon of Athens

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

There's a wild party going on at the opening of Jennifer Dick's 1920s style adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most wayward tragedies, which forms the opening production of this year's Bard in the Botanics season. With the great hedonist that gives the play its title here transformed into the grandest of dames, Nicole Cooper's Timon shimmies into the Kibble Palace sipping champagne before winding up the gramophone and wriggling her way into a slinky little number. As assorted pleasure-seeking gold-diggers fawn over her affections, Timon buys her way into the in-crowd of poets and painters, with only EmmaClaire Brightlyn's glum philosopher Apemantus steering clear of all the fun. When the bills have to be made, however, poor Timon is left in the gutter, with barely a star in sight.
With allusions to the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression that followed in its wake, Dick's production cuts to the core of a society div…

People

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars

Imagine Little Britain PLC as a giant porn film set, fetishising old world charm to make a quick buck. This is kind of what Alan Bennett does with his 2012 play, which he sets inside a crumbling stately home in Yorkshire. Here, fading belle Dorothy and her doting companion Iris live gamely in the past. While arch-deacon June is out tending her flock, Dorothy is attempting to flog off her heritage to the highest bidder.
On the one hand is the National Trust, a seemingly safe pair of hands overseeing the theme parking of the nation. On the other is the brasher face of The Concerned, a dubious think-tank who sound like Brexiteers in waiting. When an unexpected third way appears in the form of Dorothy's old flame and skin flick auteur Theodore, the women are awakened to a life of erotic promise by proxy.

There's something quaintly Chekhovian about the first half of Bennett's play, brought jauntily to life by director Patrick Sandford.…

Death of A Salesman

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

'LAND OF THE FREE' goes the neon-lit legend emblazoned high across the back of the stage in Abigail Graham's production of Arthur Miller's damning critique of mid twentieth century capitalism. Like a contemporary pop art installation, the lights fizz in and out of life over the course of the play, mirroring how the spark has similarly faded in Willy Loman, the worn out patriarch in crisis who gives Miller's play its title.
What stands out first in Graham's Royal and Derngate Northampton production is how modern everything looks. This isn't just to do with the steel grey walls of Georgia Lowe's minimalist set, which features just a bed and plastic table and chairs. It is about how people dress. Tricia Kelly's Linda Loman wears jeans, with Willy's errant sons sporting tracksuit bottoms and trainers. George Taylor's under-achieving Biff lounges about in a checked shirt like a Generation X style slacker…

Makoto Kawabata, Atsushi Tsuyama and Tatsuya Yoshida - Japanese New Music Festival

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Sunday June 18th

When three key members of Japan's musical underground fall to the floor in unison a few minutes into a pummelling slab of power trio mayhem, it's easy to fear the worst. This supergroup of Acid Mothers Temple guitarist and co-founder Makoto Kawabata, the group's recently departed bass player Atsushi Tsuyama and Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida are playing it for laughs, however. They keep on playing even when they're down but clearly not out in a genre-hopping set broken up into eight 'projects' announced with a co-ordinated flourish.

In what is essentially a carefully structured revue that forms the latest collaboration between Edinburgh's Braw Gigs and Summerhall's in house Nothing Ever Happens Here initiative, this sees the trio play solo, in duos and in full-on wig-out mode. Despite the latter, the set belies any notions of freeform freakouts in a meticulously organised virtuoso display. Humour is key to this, an…

Gordon Barr and Janette Foggo - These Headstrong Women - Bard in the Botanics

Shakespeare's women don't always get a good deal. If they're not going mad or swooning over teenage suitors, they're dying in tragic circumstances after being psychologically abused by the same men. This is something this year's Bard in the Botanics series of open-air productions of Shakespeare attempts to redress with a season boldly titled These Headstrong Women.

Over the course of four plays, directors Gordon Barr and Jennifer Dick not only attempt to counter the perception of Shakespeare's female creations as being mere ciphers in thrall of his male heroes in The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure. By initiating cross-gender casting for Timon of Athens and what is now styled as Queen Lear, they give strength to the characters alongside a new spin on some of the more complex aspects of Shakespeare's canon.

At the centre of all of this are a quartet of actresses who effectively lead each production. The title role of Timon of Athens will be pla…

Mary Rose

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars


The blast of war that opens Richard Baron's stately revival of J.M. Barrie's trauma-tinged ghost story is a telling signifier of what follows. Written in 1920 when the world was still reeling from the Great War, the seismic events that occurred between 1914 and 1918 cast the heaviest of shadows over the play.

Barrie himself introduces proceedings as played by Alan Steele, who breaks up the action throughout as he delivers Barrie's elaborate stage directions. This adds a surprisingly sly wit to Barrie's story of a young woman who vanishes twice on a Scottish island, only to return still youthful while all around her have grown old. There are little one-liners similarly peppered throughout the text, especially in the well-worn interplay between the disappeared Mary's parents, played with understated elegance by Ian Marr and Irene Allan. This has clearly become a form of self-protection as the family attempt to survive their loss.

Ami…

A Season in Hull – Neu! Reekie!'s Where Are We Now? festival at Hull City of Culture 2017

Prologue - Thursday

Outside the grand facade of Hull City Hall two Thursday tea times ago, kids are playing in the sun on Queen Victoria Square. The main attraction is a syncopated water fountain, the multiple streams of which, arranged on a large circle like maids in a row, shoot some seventy-seven jets of computer operated water at various heights, speeds and directions. For the kids playing among it, the display becomes a shower of surprises.

Mel Chantrey's construction isn't part of Look Up: What is it?, the city's year-round programme of temporary public art commissions. This has already seen Blade, a seventy-five metre wind turbine blade by multi-media artist Nayan Kulkarni, installed in the square. Judging by the sense of communal participation introduced as part of Hull City Council's £25million facelift for public spaces in the city, it may as well be.

At the side of the City Hall, the window is awash with posters of forthcoming attractions. Comedian Ed Byrne is…

Room

Dundee Rep
Four stars

“Is this what it means to be free?” asks five year old Little Jack in Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her startling 2010 novel, brought to the stage by director Cora Bissett. The only life Jack has known previously is the claustrophobic confines of a wooden shed, where he lived with his doting Ma after she was kidnapped seven years before by a man known only as Old Nick. Here, Jack conjures up a world drawn from his fertile imagination. Inanimate objects become his playmates, and a sense of wonder and adventure prevails. When Ma and Jack finally manage to escape their captor, they find themselves in a new kind of prison.
An over-riding warmth emanates from every pore of this co-production between Theatre Royal Stratford East and Abbey Theatre, Dublin in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and Covent Garden Productions. There is a sense of empathy and care too with Donoghue's characters. This is clear from the relationship between Witney White&…

Niall Greig Fulton and Tam Dean Burn - Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath

Making connections was everything for Tom McGrath, the late poet, playwright, jazz pianist and all round seeker of artistic and spiritual enlightenment, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 68. This is something Edinburgh International Film Festival senior programmer Niall Greig Fulton recognised as a young actor in the 1990s. Then, McGrath took Fulton under his wing after seeing him play his old friend and fellow traveller of the 1960s counter-culture, novelist Alexander Trocchi, in a one-man show.

This came at a period when a new wave of Scottish writers, actors and thinkers were exploring counter-cultural thought and reinventing it in their own image through a fusion of punk-inspired lit-zines such as Rebel Inc and a free-thinking rave scene. Theatrically speaking, in Edinburgh this manifested itself in what would now be known as a pop-up venue, where Fulton first crossed paths with McGrath.

“Tom turned up at the first performance,” says Fulton, “and someone said there was someone…

Kraftwerk

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars

A flying saucer orbits over Edinburgh Castle before landing outside the Usher Hall. That's the story anyway according to the animated visuals for this 3D extravaganza from the original electronic boy band. Whether the alien craft is responsible for depositing the over-excited stage invader who briefly manages to jump aboard mid-set isn't on record. The four men of a certain age lined up hunched over fairy-lit consoles and sporting LED laced Lycra outfits as they pump out their hugely influential back-catalogue of retro-futuristic electro-pop remain oblivious.

There is nevertheless a sublime display of humanity on display. The quartet of Ralf Hutter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Falk Grieffenhagen lend a surprising warmth to compositions given fresh pulse by the state of art visual display. While the band stand stock still at what appears to be a set of old-school keyboards, sound and vision are in perpetual motion. This is the case whethe…

Saint Etienne

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars

“This is dedicated to Theresa May.” These aren't the sort of words you'd expect to hear at a Saint Etienne concert, especially given that singer Sarah Cracknell is sporting a feather boa and introducing the band's well worn cover of 1970s bubblegum hit Who Do You Think You Are? Touring on the back of their just released Home Counties album, the band's core trio of Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs remain a contrarily conceptualist bunch. An expanded eight-piece line-up troops onstage following a series of floridly fonted village notices beamed behind them. These are localised to include 'We Miss Josef K' and the Hue and Cry referencing 'Winthrop My Baby' (think about it).
The opening Kiss and Make Up conjures up ghosts of indie discos past in a a set that pitches an impeccable electro-pop pastoralist back catalogue alongside brand new nuggets. This allows the Euro-fizz of I've Got Your Music and Telstar k…

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Dundee Rep
Four stars

Onstage, a little guy with limited ability bullies his way to the top. Surrounded by a coterie of yes-men,stylists and spin-doctors, he manufactures attitude, until he no longer has to scape-goat or hold people at gunpoint to get the popular vote. People believe him anyway, and willingly put him in power for what looks like an untouchable reign.
Joe Douglas' production of Bertolt Brecht's tragi-comic mash-up of Damon Runyon archetypes, Shakespearian villains and Nazi Germany starts off with a Tom Waits style medley of some of Brecht's greatest hits. Everybody's hanging out with the audience, looking sharp in 1930s mobster suits. Only when piano playing actor Brian James O'Sullivan sticks on a stupid false moustache and morphs into wannabe kingpin Arturo Ui do things take a lurch into a nightmare world where gangsterism and capitalism look pretty much the same thing.

Brecht wrote this play in 1941, while waiting for a visa to enter the United…

Sarah Cracknell, Saint Etienne and Home Counties

Sarah Cracknell is all too aware of the perils of small town life. Having grown up in Berkshire and now living in Oxfordshire, Saint Etienne's smooth-voiced chanteuse for more than a quarter of a century is used to everyone knowing each other's business. Playing last month's Common People Festival in Oxford, she was prepared for the worst.

“It will be excruciating for me,” she says a few days before the show. “There'll probably be loads of people there who I know from my kids school or the doctor's waiting room. Everyone knows everyone else.”

Some of this spirit has undoubtedly crept into Home Counties, the ninth album by Saint Etienne's core trio of Cracknell, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, who will appear at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh tonight leading an expanded eight-piece line-up of the band.

There has always been a sense of place to Saint Etienne's work. This has seen them move from an imagined swinging London that bridged the1960s with its 1990s f…

Shackleton

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There isn't a word spoken in Blue Raincoat Theatre's mesmeric evocation of Irish-born early twentieth century explorer Ernest Shackleton's ill-starred but ultimately heroic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17. To fill in the back story, Shackleton's attempt to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic on the ship Endurance was blighted when the ship became trapped in ice, was crushed and eventually sunk. This necessitated the crew to man the lifeboats and set up camp on an uninhabited island, while Shackleton led an 800 mile trip to South Georgia to enable a rescue mission.

While there may be four people onstage in Niall Henry's dense, slow-burning production, such a complex tale of derring-do in the face of elemental adversity goes beyond words. Instead, over seventy remarkable minutes, the windswept-looking quartet use little more than a handful of sheets, a model ship and a bunch of wooden poles to carve o…

Tricia Kelly and Victoria Yeates - Playing Miller's Wives in Death of A Salesman and The Crucible

If you think of the body of work written by Arthur Miller, what becomes immediately clear is that these are men's plays. The heroes put on stage by this great chronicler of the the post World War Two souring of the American dream are patriarchal and unreconstructed blue-collar figures. As the plays also reveal, they are damaged goods, messed up by the things they aspire to in a system they have no control over.

Behind these men who provide such great parts that allow male actors to vent, winning all the plaudits as they go, are far quieter but even greater women. This should be made clear as two Miller productions arrive in Scotland this month. Next week, the ever enterprising Selladoor theatre company brings their co-production of The Crucible to the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. The week after, the King's Theatre, Edinburgh hosts the Royal and Derngate, Northampton's look at Death of A Salesman.

The Crucible charts the hysteria that ensues in the seventeenth century puritan…

Florian Hecker: Synopsis

Tramway, Glasgow until July 30th
Four stars

Listen hard, and for a fleeting moment,the cascade of chimes that open Florian Hecker's twenty-five minute sound installation sounds a dead ringer for The Wedding March. Within seconds, however, the four compartmentalised areas of Tramway's main space that hosts Hecker's quartet of variations on a theme explode in a riot of sonic confetti. These sounds fall over and under each other from a network of suspended speakers walled off by a maze of acoustic panels.
The starting point for the prolific genre-busting German artist and some time collaborator of Russell Haswell and The Aphex Twin among others is Formulation (2015), a computer generated piece that plays through a trio of speakers at angles to each other. As a composer of space as much as sound, Hecker creates what are effectively three remixes to play simultaneously in the other allotted areas.

While three speakers are allotted to each composition, two spaces contain two…

Where Are We Now? #1 - Young Fathers / Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon / Linton Kwesi Johnson / Hollie McNish

City Hall, Hull
Five stars


'Writing was a political act' goes the legend projected on the back wall of Hull City Hall, 'and poetry was a cultural weapon'. These are the words of Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, one of four artists performing tonight, but his mantra may as well be the slogan for Neu! Reekie!, the Edinburgh sired spoken word, music and film night which has taken the capital's underground out into the world.

Neu! Reekie'!'s weekend long Where Are We Now? festival that formed part of Hull City of Culture 2017 was a gathering of the counter-cultural clans. With its name taken from David Bowie's piece of late period melancholia and a poster designed by Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid, the aim of Where Are We Now? was to celebrate oppositional art as much as provoke.

Poet Hollie McNish performed a witty and street smart set that covered sex, motherhood and the everyday bigotry of her granny's next door neighbour. Johnson, now as much hist…

The Writing on the Wall – The Last Nights of Studio 24

Last Saturday night, Studio 24 was in full swing. The cottage-like nightclub and venue on Calton Road in Edinburgh was having one of its final flings before it closes its doors forever next month. This follows the club's sale to developers by the family who have owned the club for a quarter of a century. This came about following what Studio 24 say was a series of complaints from neighbours regarding noise from the club and apparent threats to their licence from City of Edinburgh Council officials. CEC say no complaints have been received since November 2016. Studio 24 say otherwise.

On Saturday in the main room downstairs, a night called Keep it Steel was hosting a 'Heavy Metal Prom Night'. Upstairs, in the venue's smaller room, Betamax played a mix of post-punk and new wave classics. Among a cross-generational spread of dancers, award-winning contemporary dance artist and choreographer Jack Webb was there at Betamax, as he frequently is, busting some moves inbetween …