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Showing posts from August, 2011

Retreat! - Back and Forth Into History With the New Kids On The Block

Anyone who hates Edinburgh in August is probably missing the point. The last month has opened up opportunities to see ex Soft Cell vocalist Marc Almond appearing solo in discordant song cycle Ten Plagues, the Philip Glass Ensemble playing the live accompaniment to Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy of films, and young American upstarts The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) present their most accomplished dissection of capitalism yet with Mission Drift, featuring songs by New York downtown singer/songwriter Heather Christian. Then there's the chance to see The TEAM's New York peers Banana Bag and Baggage deconstruct ninth century epic Beowulf by way of a skronky, wonky, jazz-punk band featuring Joanna Newsom's trombonist, or the National Theatre of Scotland do something similar with border balladeering in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. How about local hero Paul Vickers of The Leg's unique take on DIY junkshop absurdism in Twonkey's

Bryan Ferry - Art and Pop's Great Contradictions

Bryan Ferry looks very comfortable sitting on the balcony of Edinburgh Castle. You might even suggest he looks like he owns the place. Which, given the former Roxy Music singer and style icon's aristocratic social connections, his place in the Sunday Times rich list and his recently acquired CBE status, is a perfectly reasonable observation. In a rare burst of August sun, Ferry, dressed from head to toe in various immaculate shades of blue, looks over the balcony where what might well be his subjects mingle below. Ferry is on a recce to the city prior to his concert here next Thursday night, and, as befits his art school background, is already making festival plans. “I'd love to see the Richard Strauss,” he says, referring to the Mariinsky Opera's German language production of Die fraue ohne Schatten. “I'd love to see the Robert Rauchenberg exhibition as well.” Cultural references are never far from Ferry's lips. It's like when the dapper sixty-

Edinburgh 2011 Music Round-Up - Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlin / Ulrich Schnauss / The Pineapple Chunks

Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlin – Cabaret Voltaire – 4 stars Ulrich Schnauss – Electric Circus – 4 stars The Pineapple Chunks – Electric Circus – 4 stars Three middle-aged men walk onstage sporting colonial pith helmets and medals. With one seated at a keyboard and another clutching an acoustic guitar, the third stands behind a plinth and bangs a gavel before declaiming an introduction to The North Sea Scrolls, a pop culture referencing alternative history of England by left-field pop curmudgeons Luke Haines and Cathal Coughlin, with music journalist Andrew Mueller as MC. Seemingly gifted to the trio by bit part TV actor Tony Allen, doyen of uncredited roles in The Sweeney and Minder, here fascist leader Oswald Mosley served two terms as Prime Minister of an England successfully invaded by Ireland, singer/songwriter Tim Hardin was an MP and electronic pioneer and producer of Telstar, Joe Meek, was Minister of Culture, putting John Lennon under house arrest for the sa

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2011 - Theatre Uncut / Maybe If You Choreograph Me, You Will Feel Better / Untitled Love Story

Theatre Uncut – Traverse Theatre – 4 stars Maybe If You Choreograph Me, You Will Feel Better – Forest Fringe – 4 stars Untitled Love Story – St George's West – 4 stars If the recent spate of rioting on Britain's streets were a response in part to the alliance government's ongoing public spending cuts in a society that's been told for the last thirty years that greed is good, then Theatre Uncut now looks like prophecy. First presented across the world on March 19th this year, this series of eight plays by major writers in response was protest theatre at its most intelligent. Presented this week at the Traverse as a rough and ready script in hand performed reading in a loose-knit production by Traverse artist in residence Stewart Laing and one of the project's instigators, Hannah Price, the plays range from absurdity to anger, taking advantage of the short form in much the same way the likes of the post 1968 generation of political writers used to pe

Cora Bissett - From Roadkill To The Glasgow Girls - What Cora Did Next

Cora Bissett is all over the place this week. As the actress and director remounts Roadkill, the heartbreaking site-specific smash hit of the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe that looked at the human cost of sex trafficking in an Edinburgh town house, she is also preparing for Glasgow Girls. With Roadkill forming part of the Made in Scotland and British Council showcases having scooped pretty much every award going, including a Bank of Scotland Herald Angel and the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, Glasgow Girls is the result of Bissett and Roadkill being co-winners of last year's Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize. With the victors of this award given a small amount of money to develop new work, The Hub has already played host to the divine avant-cabaret of Meow Meow. Glasgow Girls too looks set to have a musical bent, albeit in an unlikely if audaciously ambitious context, which, as with Roadkill, draws from a real life incident for inspir

One Thousand and One Nights - EIF 2011

Royal Lyceum Theatre 4 stars Sex and violence charge Tim Supple's epic, just shy of six-hour production of some of the greatest stories ever told, as he magics sixteen of Shahrazad's life-saving yarns into a majestic feast of erotically-charged life that is both profound and entertaining. Things start simply enough on a carpet-covered stage, but within five minutes there's an athletic orgy on the go that's just one of a series of visually stunning set-pieces involving a gorgeous, primarily young cast of nineteen powered by the hypnotic swirl of a five-piece band. Shahrazad's deflowering by slighted, woman-hating king, Shahrayer is brutal and loveless in Hanan-al-Shaykh's poetic, feminist-centred script. Performed in Arabic, English and French, each story melds into the next with a magnificently subtle sense of fluidity that punctuates the eternal interconnectedness of things as an array of powerful women and desperate men offload their defining m

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - EIF 2011

Kings Theatre 4 stars Putting a six hundred page magical-realist Zen noir state-of-the-nation novel onstage in a multi-media two-hour mash-up of film, puppetry, shadowplay and live music isn't easy. Director Stephen Earnhart has achieved this heroically, however, with his and co-writer Greg Pierce's slow-burning version of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's 1995 epic, in which the tone is set from the off by a series of black-clad figures slow-walking onstage to make some tai chi style gestures before departing. Ostensibly telling the story of how twenty-something urbanite Toru Okada's seemingly orderly life is usurped by a series of brief encounters he has no control over, and which plunge him into crisis, a woozy dreamstate slowly emerges from the goo. Up until now Toru has been sleepwalking his days away, but with the disappearance of his cat and his wife, he embarks on a mysterious David Lynch style adventure as all about him offload their secret hi

Hotel Medea - Up All Night With The Brazilian Fringe Sensation

One of the defining hits of this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been Hotel Medea, the six-hour all-night version of the Greek Medea myth that runs each weekend in August from midnight until dawn. Produced by Anglo-Brazilian theatre company Zecora Ura in association with London-based, Yemen-born director and performer Persis Jade Maravala, who plays Medea as well as co-directing with Zecora Ura's Jorge Lopes Ramos, Hotel Medea is a disorienting experiential whirlwind that puts the audience in the thick of the action, from the rave-like fiesta of love, death and colonialism that opens the first two hours, to the after-hours dream-state of a dormitory bunk-bed where you're stroked to sleep by nurse-maids as a very personal war rages close by. As a piece of theatre Hotel Medea is all-consuming. This isn't just the case for the audience too, but also for Maravala and Ramos, who've spent the last six years creating what is clearly a labour of love. As

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2011 - I, Malvolio / As The Flames Rose We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens / 2401 Objects

I, Malvolio – Traverse Theatre – 4 stars As The Flames Rose We Danced To The Sirens, The Sirens – Summerhall – 4 stars 2401 Objects – Pleasance – 3 stars Tim Crouch's ongoing fascination with the nature of performance appeared to have reached its limit with his previous show, The Author. In I, Malvolio, however, Crouch manages to go further, and, by tapping into the out and out ridiculousness of one of Shakespeare's crucial characters in Twelfth Night, he manages to both laugh at his subject while gently unveiling his inner tragedy. As he silently mouths the words of a letter from his would-be beloved, Olivia, clad in stained and tattered long-johns, animal ears and presumably stinking yellow socks, Crouch's Malvolio more resembles Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream than the spick and span servant he once was. As he launches into a monologue littered with contemporary references, however, it's clear the pomposity of old remains intact. With the

Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Reviews 2011 - Beolwulf / Dry Ice / Midnight Your Time / No 52

Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage - Assembly – 4 stars Dry Ice – Underbelly – 4 stars Midnight Your Time – Assembly – 3 stars No. 52 – Summerhall – 3 stars This year's Edinburgh Fringe has already seen one classic ripped into with reckless abandon in the shape of all-night epic Hotel Medea. Now along comes a riotous take on ninth century narrative poem Beowulf by the New York based Banana Bag and Bodice company. What is often delivered as a dusty museum piece is here ripped into in Rod Hipskind and Mallory Catlett's loose-knit extravaganza by turning it into a live art musical that cocks a snook at academe in much the same way same way as the National Theatre of Scotland deconstruct border ballads for the twenty-first century in their bar-room hit, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. In Beowulf, a trio of academics clutch copies of Seamus Heaney's version of the story, declaiming into microphones as it comes to life before their eyes like a messed-u

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Putting Haruki Murakami Onstage

When American film and theatre director Stephen Earnhart met Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami with a view to adapting Murakami's 1995 novel, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, for a multi-media stage production, the deal was sealed over a mutual love of David Lynch. Six years later, and Lynch's influence on the world premiere of Earnhart's interpretation of Murakami's six hundred page epic that opens at the Edinburgh International Festival this weekend may not be obvious, but it remains telling that the artist that bonded the two men is an American. Because the book's spare, understated prose is more akin to something by Raymond Chandler or Raymond Carver, both in the way Chandler made great literature out of genre fiction, and in the way Carver took the meat and two veg of everyday mundanity and imbued them with an ambiguous significance. Telling the increasingly fantastical story of one Toru Okada, whose loss of his cat initiates a series of encounters wi

The Tempest - EIF 2011

King's Theatre 4 stars For the second eastern take on Shakespeare that heads up EIF's theatre programme, Korean director Tae-Suk Oh and his lively ensemble of twenty-three actors and four musicians rip into the bard's final work in a restless display of high-kicking music and dance theatre that fuses Shakespeare's original with a story taken from the Korean Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms. The result is an audaciously playful reading that must mark the production out as one of the lightest, brightest and precociously delightful Tempests ever. It begins with a flourish, as the white-clad troupe conjure up a storm with a gymnastic display and an elaborate network of sheets. Next we're introduced to Taoist magician King Zilzi, this version's equivalent of Prospero, here a black-clad ascetic figure. Caliban becomes Ssangdua, a grotesque two-headed creature, and Ariel a Shaman priestess made of straw. Throw in a menagerie of ducks, sheep and other fa

King Lear - EIF 2011

Royal Lyceum Theatre 4 stars When Chinese maestro Wu Hsing-kuo decided to tackle Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, it was a deeply personal decision rooted in his own creative turmoil. This becomes clear at the end of Wu's own production for his Contemporary Legend Theatre company, when, following the appearance of a scarlet-lit musical ensemble, he's lifted to the heavens in silence as a kind of Zen purging of all his demons. Prior to that, Wu plays the king with demonic brio, extravagantly robed and bearded as he enters in a smoke-filled triangle of light into a wilderness marked out with stone monoliths. A whirlwind of primary-coloured movement is punctuated by the urgent clatter of Lee Yi-Chin's live traditional Chinese score. Near child-like in his own fanciful musings, Wu plays peek-a-boo hide and seek with his own identity, only to erupt in a torrent of impatient rage as he strips bare his disguise to become a solitary warrior caught in a storm.

Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2011 - John Peel's Shed / Request Programme / Kurt Schwitters Sound Sonata

John Peel's Shed – Underbelly – 4 stars Request Programme - Pleasance@Inlingual School – 4 stars Kurt Schwitters Sound Sonata – Summerhall – 3 stars It may be accidental, but it's somehow fitting that tracks from Belle and Sebastian's still joyous debut album, Tigermilk, are playing in the bar prior to John Peel's Shed, John Osborne's wonderful autobiographical ramble through his love affair with radio. Peel, after all, was an early champion of Stuart Murdoch's Glasgow-based pastoralists. More pertinently, as Osborne observes, all girls love Belle and Sebastian. This is just one of Osborne's quietly witty observations in which he casts himself as the classic geeky outsider who finds salvation, not just in obscure outfits such as Atom and his Package, but through everything from Tommy Boyd's late-night phone-in show The Human Zoo to wilfully leftfield digital station Resonance FM. Osborne's starting point is a box of records he won i

One Thousand and One Nights - A Middle Eastern Epic in Edinburgh

Five minutes in Morocco, and the taxi radio is reporting a bombing in Marrakesh. While it's safe enough driving towards the centre of Fez on the other side of the country in April, it's just one more real life incident that colours the creation and rehearsals for One Thousand and One Nights, English director Tim Supple's epic multi-cultural, multi-lingual staging of the greatest set of stories ever told. It isn 't the first chapter of an awfully big adventure that began in Egypt before Supple's Dash Arts company and their co-producers from the Toronto based Luminato festival were forced to decamp to Morocco after the revolution there began, and, as it turns out, it won't be the last. Even in Fez, where the rain is unseasonally biblical and where Supple is putting his cast of nineteen actors and five musicians drawn from all the Arab states in a show of artistic strength and unity in a rundown temple where seven families still live on the edge of t

Request Programme - A Very German Tragedy

Friends said she was a loner, the obituaries might read when talking about the sole woman onstage in Request Programme, German writer Franz Xaver Kroetz's bleakly funny study of loneliness known in its original German as Wunschkonzert. She just kept herself to herself and didn't bother anyone. As Kroetz's 1973 play arrives in Edinburgh in a production by ad hoc Swedish company, SIRIS Original Theatre, given how much those words could apply to a twenty-first society in which more people now live alone than ever before, according to a recent survey by the Institute for Public Policy Research, Request Programme might just look like prophecy. Following one night in the life of a middle-aged woman who comes home from work to a private place where she can indulge in her personal little rituals while listening to her favourite radio show, Request Programme too is a fascinating insight into what goes on behind closed doors where the woman has effectively built herse

King Lear - A One-Man Chinese Tragedy

When Shakespeare wrote King Lear, his title character was an angry figure, so wounded by the seeming betrayal of his favourite daughter that he isolated himself from the world he could in turn rage against. Lear is a might role for any actor, and requires stamina as well as versatility and the weight of wisdom and experience to carry off such a complex personality. Most productions of Shakespeare's Lear, even in cash-strapped times, allow full vent to the play's epic nature, in which even Lear himself is allowed an offstage breather. Imagine, then, how exhausting it would be for one actor and one actor alone to play, not just Lear, but all the other characters as well, from his three warring siblings to their respective spouses and the court that surrounds them. Such a heroic task is tackled in this year's Edinburgh International Festival by Wu Hsing-kuo, whose Contemporary Legend Theatre has long sought to revitalise Chinese theatre by applying the total th