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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 Castle, or a rare performan…

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-five …

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 safety o…

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
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 pen agi…

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 inspira…

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 mome…

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

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 histo…

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
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 house …

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-up post…

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

Telling the increasingly fantastical story of one Toru Okada, whose
loss of his cat initiates a series of encounters wit…

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 farmyard animals,

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 in a com…

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 th…

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 hersel…

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 the…