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Showing posts from October, 2017

Matthew Lenton, Jonathan Morton, Vanishing Point and the Scottish Ensemble - Tabula Rasa

In a dimly lit rehearsal room, a troupe of performers are slow-walking their way into the performance area as mournful music plays. Led by actresses Pauline Goldsmith and Cath Whitefield, the other twelve people seem to be clawing their way onstage,cutting loose as they go in some undefined quasi religious ritual. At moments the choreographed stage shapes they throw look somewhere between the video for Michael Jackson's song, Thriller, and a line dance. While some of it can't help but look silly, it is the sight of a company cutting loose in order to explore what their performance, in its early stages and still largely formless, is about.

This may be standard for a theatre company such as Vanishing Point, whose artistic director and creative visionary Matthew Lenton is sitting in the dark, shouting words from a text at the performers as they go. With the musical accompaniment, it's a hypnotic and oddly moving spectacle. The best thing of all about is when you remember th…

The Monarch of the Glen

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

Enough tartan tat to line Pitlochry high street carpets the stage like a badly furnished highland hotel at the opening of Peter Arnott's swish new stage adaptation of Compton Mackenzie's 1941 comic novel. A pantomime style stag looms on the horizon before a troupe of socialist hikers march onto land marked by 'No Trespassing' signs later used for firewood.
Welcome to Glenbogle, the crumbling pile overseen by Donald MacDonald of MacDonald, aka Ben Nevis, whose territorial claims on the land don't seem to apply when he and his partner in crime Kilwhillie are flogging it off to big-talking American developer, Chester Royde. Chester's trophy bride Carrie has her own vested interest, while her sister-in-law Myrtle is more inclined to colonise hunky nationalist poet, Alan, than nice-but-dim Hector. Tellingly, Alan sides with the tartan Tories to repel English boarders.

The symbolism is laid on with a Saltire-patterned trowel in…

Pathfoot Building at 50 - The Spirit of '67 and Turning the World Upside Down

In 1967, the world was being turned upside down. With the counter culture in full psychedelic swing, the so-called Summer of Love was about to break, even as protests against the Vietnam War were building to a peak while race riots flared up across America. In the UK, homosexuality was decriminalised, while abortion was legalised.

Closer to home, Celtic won the European Cup and championship, the first Northern European club to do so. Meanwhile, the global village Marshall McLuhan had predicted was brought into our living rooms when the first ever live international satellite broadcast saw 400 million viewers watch the Beatles fanfare in All You Need is Love.
It may have been the Fab Four's kaleidoscopic masterpiece, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and later their Magical Mystery Tour record and film that sound-tracked the year, but things were happening underground as well. Beyond the tripped-out whimsy of Pink Floyd's debut record, the Doors, Love's Fore…

Young Fathers - Squaring Up to A Black and White World

When Mercury Music Prize winning band Young Fathers were commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to make a short film, the Edinburgh based trio of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings relished the proposition. The context was a UK tour of Van Dyck's seventeenth century painting, Self-portrait. Having been purchased by the NPG in 2014, Van Dyck's work formed a key part of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's Summer 2017 exhibition, Looking Good: The Male Gaze from Van Dyck to Lucien Freud, which explored male image, identity and appearance.

Young Fathers' film was one of six commissions. Other artists who made films were Marcus Coates, John Stezaker, Mark Wallinger, Karrie Fransman and Jason Turner. It was Young Fathers' film, however, that garnered much of the attention.

Over a low electronic hum, the film, shot in SNPG, features a text co-written by Bankole with Young Fathers former manager Tim Brinkhurst. The words are …

Stephen Sutcliffe: Work from the Collection

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow until January 21st 2018

2017 has been a busy year for Stephen Sutcliffe, the Glasgow-based pop cultural obsessive who re-imagines a pick-and-mix of late twentieth century iconography culled from his personal archive in his own fractured image. GOMA's showing of three video collages, photographs and wall drawings follows the Anthony Burgess inspired No End to Enderby in Manchester and the Lindsay Anderson based Sex Symbols in Sandwich Signs in Edinburgh. It marks the first public showing of five of the works together since being bought by Glasgow Museums in 2013. Two others loaned by Sutcliffe complete the show.

The walls may be painted bright yellow, but the crossed-out cartoon clouds are anything but bright in Untitled Wall Drawing (Selected Errors) (2011), which, inspired by New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg, sets out its store as a monument to failure. Such expressions of self-doubt and ennui were part and parcel for serious young men of Sutcliff…

Shadows of War: Roger Fenton's Photographs of the Crimea, 1855

Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh until November 26th

The image of nineteenth century war photographer Roger Fenton dressed as an Algerian soldier at the start of this major showing of the Rochdale-born snapper's extensive frontline dispatches from the Crimean War says much about the sense of derring-do that pervades early on. With Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia at war with the Russian Empire since 1853, Fenton was hired by Manchester publishers Thomas Agnew and Son to document the War in a way that could be used by painter Thomas Barker, who they also commissioned. More than fifty of Fenton's studies are rounded up in Barker's The Allied Generals with the Officers of their Respective Staffs Before Sebastopol, a piece worth it for the title alone, which resembles that of a Howard Barker play.

It was a commercial gig, with Fenton encouraged by friends in high places to deliver a more heroic counterpoint to the critical …

Our Fathers

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Between them, Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone have successfully carved out separate careers in off-kilter contemporary theatre. While Drummond is a playwright and solo performer of semi auto-biographical shows, Bone is a director and founder of the Magnetic North company. Given their propensity for creating various shades of onstage ritual, it perhaps should come as no surprise to discover that they are both sons of clergymen. Bone grew up the child of an English bishop, while Drummond's father was a Church of Scotland minister.
The sins of those fathers have clearly left their mark in this co-production between Magnetic North company and the Traverse, a seventy-five minute meditation on this pair of self-confessed atheists (or are they?) respective relationships with their dads. The starting point for this is a copy of Edmund Gosse's book, Father & Son, which charts Gosse's life growing up with his preacher father and his subseq…

Sandy Neilson obituary

Sandy Neilson – actor, director

Born January 29 1943; died October 19th 2017


If the narrative of Scottish theatre had taken a different turn, Sandy Neilson, who has died aged 74 after being hospitalised following a fall, might have ended up leading one or other of the country's major theatres. As it was, despite working extensively in pretty much every theatrical institution in the country, Neilson remained both inside and outside the mainstream, developing long-term working relationships with many key directors of his generation who were in charge of such buildings.

Neilson featured in numerous productions by Michael Boyd, both during the latter's tenure running the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, and when Boyd took over the helm at the Royal Shakespeare Company. These included Boyd's epic staging of Shakespeare's History Cycle at the RSC. Prior to the latter, Neilson worked at Dundee Rep, where for three years he became a senior figure of the permanent ensemble company se…

Peter Arnott - The Monarch of the Glen

The theatrically named Hurricane Ophelia may have blown in and out of Scotland like a banshee by the time these words appear, but in Pitlochry, the season's more regular winds have already taken root in the Perthshire town. Such a blustery climate has allowed Peter Arnott the opportunity to don what the Glasgow based playwright calls his Kenny Ireland Memorial Cap while taking regular constitutionals from rehearsals for his new stage version of Compton Mackenzie's novel, The Monarch of the Glen.

Arnott has so named what looks like a traditional fisherman's cap in honour of the late director, actor and former artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Ireland's outgoing Lyceum production in 2003 was of Arnott's piece of Victorian Edinburgh Gothic, The Breathing House. The pair later collaborated with designer Hayden Griffin on stagings of classic Scottish novels at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen. Arnott adapted both The Silver Darlings by Neil …

Love Song to Lavender Menace

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Everything happens after dark in James Ley's dramatic tribute to Edinburgh's radical gay scene of the 1980s. This is the case for Lewis and Glen, who rehearse their homage to the owners of Lavender Menace, the pioneering basement bookshop that sold gay literature long before chain-stores took it into the mainstream. It's also the painful truth for the married man in a suit who loiters outside at various points in the play, yearning to go inside.

1987, and Lavender Menace is moving from its basement premises to a swankier new place uptown. With a new name and a new identity, the move is a kind of symbolic coming out from the underground. Legendary Princes Street club Fire Island is about to be sold off to Waterstone's, and, only seven years after homosexuality was legalised in Scotland, it feels like the end of an era. Over one final night after hours, Lewis and Glen take drama queenery to the limit as they role-play how their relations…

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

Vic Godard & Subway Sect – Beyond Rock and Roll

October 15, 2016. Onstage at the Wee Red Bar, ostensibly Edinburgh College of Art's student union but so much more besides, the living legend that is Vic Godard is baring his soul. The louche frontman of Subway Sect, whose support slot to The Clash on the Edinburgh Playhouse date of the iconic headliners' May 1977 White Riot tour effectively spawned what became known as the Sound of Young Scotland, has just sung backing vocals to his own song, Ambition, as performed by The Sexual Objects.

The Sexual Objects, of course, are fronted by Davy Henderson, one of those in attendance at the Edinburgh Playhouse show. His incendiary band, Fire Engines, were key figures in Scotland's post-punk renaissance, before morphing into glossy New Pop pioneers Win. Henderson got back to basics with The Nectarine No 9, then embraced all that’s sublime about rock music with the Sexual Objects. And now here they are, playing Ambition while the song's visionary writer takes…

Eve Jamieson - Jean Genet and The Maids

When Eve Jamieson was invited to direct Jean Genet's play, The Maids, at Dundee Rep, it wasn't the regular experience for an incoming director. While Jamieson has more than thirty years theatrical experience behind her, the Rep's ensemble company are a tight-knit group, and Irene Macdougall, Ann Louise Ross and Emily Winter, who appear in Jamieson's production, which opens tonight, have been working together cheek by jowl for eighteen years.

Given that power structures lie at the heart of Genet's play about two put-upon sisters who fantasise about killing their mistress, such existing intimacy might well have thrown up some accidental but hopefully not fatal parallels. As it is, Jamieson has used the close relationship between her three female leads to the show's advantage.

“There's a fearlessness there,” says Jamieson, mid-way through talking about her production the day after the show's first preview. “Normally, the director is the one who brings th…

Sue Tompkins – Country Grammar – A Film by Luke Fowler

The Modern Institute Airds Lane, Glasgow until November 4th 2017
Four stars

Anyone who has ever witnessed a performance by Sue Tompkins will be familiar with her dynamic delivery of fragmented texts, be it solo in gallery spaces or as vocalist with seminal turn of the century Glasgow-based quartet, Life Without Buildings. Luke Fowler's films have adopted a similar cut and paste approach to transforming more straightforward documentary footage into something more poetic.
This second collaboration between the pair sees Fowler filming Tompkins in the recording studio as she lays down a version of Country Grammar, one of her earliest performance pieces, which dates from 2003. Rather than adopt a make-believe verite approach, Fowler disrupts the process in various ways, from having sound and vision exist independently from each other to making the camera appear to be jumping up and down. This echoes the playful physicality of Tompkins' performance, which here uses two different mic…

Hedda Gabler

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

A woman in a dressing gown sits at an incongruous looking piano, bashing out a discordant melody in an empty grey room. The opening image in Ivo van Hove's touring revival of Henrik Ibsen's 1891 dissection of domestic power is either the glistening epitome of Zen minimalist chic or else just, well, empty. A maid sits to one side awaiting instructions, while the floor is loaded with house-warming flowers. Nothing has found its place yet, least of all Hedda, who is trapped in a room most definitely not of her own.
As played by Lizzy Watts, and surrounded by men in suits who only want to mansplain, objectify, control and abuse her, Hedda is barely able to suppress the urge to take charge of both herself and everybody else. All of which is inadvertently close to the bone right now in Van Hove's National Theatre production. Aided by Patrick Marber's lean new version of the play and Jan Versweyveld's ice-cool design, this contemp…

Ivo van Hove, Patrick Marber and Lizzie Watts - Hedda Gabler

When Ivo Van Hove's production of Hedda Gabler first appeared at the Royal National Theatre in London towards the end of 2016, as with much of the Flemish director's work, audiences were left reeling by his reinvention of a familiar classic. Henrik Ibsen's play about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage was already considered radical when it first appeared in 1891, both for its realism and its proto-feminist subject. Van Hove's production of a new version by Patrick Marber takes an even more daring leap into the twenty-first century, even as it remains faithful to Ibsen's original.

With Ruth Wilson taking the title role during the show's London run, for the UK tour that opens in Edinburgh tonight prior to dates in Aberdeen and Glasgow, Lizzie Watts steps into Hedda's shoes. The production also marks the third time Van Hove has directed the play, following productions in New York in 2004, and in Amsterdam in 2006 with his own Toneelgroep company.

“Some p…

Brothers Karamazov

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Brotherly love is in abundance in writer Richard Crane and director Faynia Willliams' staging of Dostoyevsky's epic 900 page novel, a philosophical treatise on church, state and family. The spiritual, psychological and emotional consequences of murder on such a terminally dysfunctional clan are also apparent. First seen at the Edinburgh Festival in 1981, Crane and Williams' revived collaboration puts just four actors onstage to tell all this over a mere two hours in a transcendent family reunion.
With all four siblings entering through the auditorium singing, this is about as harmonious as things get, as mercurial Dmitry, rationalist Ivan, youngest and most wide eyed of the brood Alyosha and illegitimate runt of the litter Smerdyakov gather. What follows is a soap opera that also fires a moral and ethical debate en route to some kind of enlightenment.

Set inside a construction that is part bearpit, part lecture theatre, on one level, Wil…

James Ley - Love Song to Lavender Menace

James Ley had never heard of Lavender Menace when he won an LGBT History Month Scotland Cultural Commission award to write a new play. While Edinburgh's pioneering gay book shop that existed between 1982 and 1987 before reinventing itself in new premises as West and Wilde wasn't on Ley's radar, he had vaguely heard of the Gentlemen's Head Quarters, the nickname for the public toilet that existed at the east end of Princes Street outside Register House. He was also half aware of Fire Island, the legendary gay nightclub that existed at the west end of Princes Street in a space that now forms the top floor of Waterstone's book shop.

As he discovered, Fire Island was a central focal point for what was then a still largely underground gay scene in Edinburgh's capital. Alongside the likes of the Laughing Duck pub on Howe Street, Fire Island was one of the few places where HI-NRG music could be heard in what would these days be dubbed a safe space for gay men and wo…