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Showing posts from September, 2011

Calum's Road - Raasay's Local Hero

What happens if you can't get from A to B because there's no road to take you there? In an already isolated island community with a declining population such as Raasay, the fourteen-mile long no-man's-land that lies between Skye and Scotland's mainland, such a lack of civic facilities can cut people off from each other even more. This was something crofter, assistant lighthouse keeper, part-time postman and resident of Arnish at the island's north end Calum McLeod could see first hand. What happened next can be found in Calum's Road, a new stage play inspired and adapted by David Harrower from journalist Roger Hutchinson's 2006 book of the same name. Co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and director Gerry Mulgrew's Communicado company, Calum's Road will tour in tandem with a revival of children's show Tall Tales For Small People before finishing up on Raasay itself. This is further recognition of McLeod's feat of ev

The Fire Burns and Burns

The Arches, Glasgow 3 stars For The Fire Burns and Burns, Arches Live veterans Peter McMaster and Nic Green pool resources for an intimate experiential work in which an audience of eight are asked to disrobe psychologically and emotionally as much as physically. After introductions while sat on chairs in a circle, we move through to a room where a sauna-like teepee awaits us. Inside, we speak in turn about what fires us. While it would be quite wrong to reveal what was said over the next forty-five minutes, it's safe to say that there were elements here of confessional, co-counselling and the last night of summer camp. McMaster and Green have adopted the sort of 1960s-sired techniques which, in the wrong hands, can be left open to ridicule, abuse or both. Yet proceedings are orchestrated with such tenderness and care that it's easy to go willingly into a set-up which many might ordinarily find uncomfortable. For this old hippy, more of a build-up, and indeed

Men Should Weep

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars The barbed-wire covered container guarded by a couple of shell-suit and trainer-clad likely lads that greets the audience for the National Theatre of Scotland's revival of Ena Lamont Stewart's tenement tragedy speaks volumes about the play's contemporary relevance. While Graham McLaren's vividly visceral production never labours things, when the pair pull back the door as the sparks of long-redundant industries fly off-stage, it's as if what should by rights be a museum piece kept in storage has burst into angry life, part history lesson, part warning. The dark age inhabited by Maggie Morrison and her errant brood was searingly of the moment when Stewart's play first appeared in 1947, and its characters remain instantly recognisable, from Kevin Guthrie's feckless mummy's boy Alec to the ruthless ambition of his trophy bride Isa and the equally ambitious Jenny. Veteran folk singer Arthur Johnstone punctuate

1000 Airplanes On The Roof

National Museum of Flight, East Fortune 4 stars It may have been a coup bringing the then new Philip Glass scored musical melodrama to Glasgow back in 1990, but it can't have played a venue since that's as perfect as the National Museum of Flight's Concorde hangar, where James Brining's new production opened on Sunday night as part of the Lammermuir Festival prior to dates in Glasgow and Aberdeen. Even so, in a work that's essentially about one man's alienation, extra-terrestrial or otherwise, one can understand why actor David McKay's troubled copy-shop clerk 'M' might feel overwhelmed as he ducks around and about the under-carriage of flight's most spectacular jet-age folly. David Henry Hwang's text is a dense monologue concerning 'M's voyage into his very own twilight zone, which McKay delivers heroically throughout the piece's eighty-five minute duration. Constantly in motion as the audience promenade after him

Dancing Shoes – The George Best Story

Glasgow Pavilion 3 stars When footballing playboy George Best ordered one more magnum of champagne to be delivered to the hotel room where he was rolling around a bank-note carpeted bed with newly-crowned 1973 Miss World Marjory Wallace, he was asked by room service where it all went wrong. This incident may be immortalised in Marie Jones and Martin Lynch's musical play about the first ever superstar footballer's spectacularly public rise and fall, but this isn't the traditional lads mag version of the tale. Rather, the incident, told here in song, reveals Best as a terrified mummy's boy who had too much too soon, and, unable to deal with fame in a pre-gagging clauses world, partied his way to an early grave. It's a telling moment in a show that is never shy of easy laughs in Peter Sheridan's spit n' sawdust production, but says stadium-loads about how working-class aspiration can become back-alley Greek tragedy. Opening with a feelgood stu

The Missing

Tramway, Glasgow 4 stars When Andrew O'Hagan's social memoir which his new play is adapted from arrived in 1995, it tapped into a barely explored British malaise that took in everything from the Bible John murders to the then still fresh killings by Fred and Rose West. O'Hagan's study remains the most significant non-fiction book of the last two decades. But how to put it onstage? The answer in John Tiffany's multi-faceted production, set on a checkered dance-floor flanked by stacked-up, end-of-the-night chairs, is to make an impressionistic, sensurround construction that is hauntingly evocative while remaining faithful to its own source. Central to this is Joe McFadden's writer figure, who begins by interviewing grieving parents with an ache where a son or daughter once lived, but who ends up on an existential quest for himself. The crucial phrase here is when McFadden's character says “I'm not from anywhere,” becoming part detective, pa

The Writing On Your Wall - Jeremy Deller Gets Political

When Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller made a series of posters to raise funds for the Labour Party at the last General Election, it was typically engaged stuff from the man who'd set up and filmed a recreation of the Battle of Orgreave, the very real English civil war between police and striking miners that took place in the summer of 1984. 'Vote Conservative' the white-lettered legend went on a sky-blue background in Deller's new construction, with 'the words For a New Britain' emblazoned below in smaller letters. Beyond such mixed messages, however, it was the face next to the slogan that caught the eye. Rather than an image of Tory leader David Cameron, a far more telling photograph of a beatific looking Rupert Murdoch beamed out, looking like butter wouldn't melt in his somewhat wrinkly mouth. At the time, while no-one doubted the Murdoch media empire's influence on British politics, Deller's work appeared to be the subtle

The Missing - Andrew O'Hagan Dramatises His Past

The room upstairs feels like a bed-sit. The sloping ceiling, flecked wallpaper and the small trestle table writer Andrew O'Hagan sits behind are all familiar to him from his time researching his 1995 book, The Missing. O'Hagan spent a lot of time in kitchens during that period, in Glasgow, Ayrshire, Liverpool and Gloucester, asking grieving parents what it was like to lose a child who'd either been murdered or else simply vanished into thin air. As it is, the room we're sitting in is on the top floor of The Glue Factory, the former industrial space turned arts hub now used as an occasional rehearsal room by the National Theatre of Scotland among others. Downstairs, through a windowed door, director John Tiffany is working with his cast on O'Hagan's stage adaptation of The Missing, a book that is part journalese, part social history and part autobiography, which makes forensic inquiries into serial killers Bible John and Fred and Rosemary West. The

Allan Ross Obituary

Allan Ross, Musician, Sculptor, Painter Born, September 13th 1940; died September 5th 2011. Without Allan Ross, who has died after a long illness aged 70, this newspaper's Herald Angel awards, which are given weekly throughout Edinburgh's August festival season, would be infinitely less colourful. Because the numerous winged statuettes, lovingly created by Ross in all their fragile, sepulchral glory alongside the Archangel, Little Devil and Wee Cherub Awards, are works of art in themselves which have become treasured by those gifted them, even if they might not always be aware of the modest, gentle giant of a man who created them. It's unlikely too, that they would make the connection with Ross as the fiddler extraordinaire in the 7:84 company's original 1973 production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, John McGrath's legendary ceilidh-play, which told Scotland's real story through an array of loose-knit popular theatrical forms,

My Romantic History

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars If one's memory plays rose-tinted tricks, as D.C. Jackson's extended 'non-rom-com' suggests, then this speedy revival of a work first seen during the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe appears now to be this most wilfully adolescent writer's coming of age play. Tom, the hero of Jackson's yarn, is a feckless and somewhat gormless rake who finds himself thrown together in the Friday night sack with Amy, a just-met colleague from his new office job. Like the responsible adult he isn't, Tom, still carrying a torch for his first schoolboy crush, tries to make-believe nothing ever happened. But in a world where drunken sex is “smashin'!”, there are two sides to every story, and the play's stylistic back-flip so we see things from Amy's point of view shows she has history too. All of this may have been textually intact last year, but Jemima Levick's new production for Borderline seems infinitely less madcap

Men Should Weep - Ena Lamont Stewart Rediscovered

If things had worked out differently, writer Ena Lamont Stewart would have lived long enough to bask in the overdue success of her 1947 play, Men Should Weep. As it is, by the time her searing depiction of Glasgow tenement poverty during the depression was first rediscovered by John McGrath's 7:84 company in 1982 as part of their legendary Clydebuilt season of lost working class masterpieces that also included Joe Corrie's In Time O' Strife and Robert McLeish's The Gorbals Story, Lamont Stewart was already seventy years old. Any sustained drive for writing she may have harboured would soon be lost with the onset of Alzheimer's Disease and her eventual death in 2006. By that time, Men Should Weep had long been regarded as a modern classic, and had been named as one of the hundred most important plays of the twentieth century in a list compiled by the National Theatre in London. If that company's 2010 production went some way to prove that Lamont St

Hearts Unspoken

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars Asylum seeking, as only those in the thick of things can fully realise, is a minefield. Just when you think you've found the UK's apparently promised land as a haven from whichever brutal regime you're on the run from, a brand new set of oppressions appear. So it goes in this semi-verbatim piece by director Sam Rowe, which looks at the hitherto unexplored complexities of seeking refuge on the grounds of sexual orientation rather than race or religion. Based on interviews with real-life refugees, through a trio of criss-crossing monologues Rowe's play lays bare a litany of institutionalised homophobia in countries which would rather sweep such ills under the carpet along with the rest of their human rights records. Where such true stories could be delivered with understandable anger, Rowe has his cast relate things with a matter-of-factness so calm it borders on meditation. In a piece too where simply putting a Senegalese,

The Prince – The Johnny Thomson Story

Kings Theatre, Glasgow 3 stars Eighty years ago this Monday past, Celtic Football Club's twenty-two year old goal-keeper Johnny Thomson died from injuries sustained while saving a ball kicked by Rangers centre forward Sam English during an Old Firm game at Ibrox. This new work co-produced by CFC aims not only to homage one of the finest footballing talents of his generation, but to appeal for some display of unity as Scotland's sectarian shame is at last being challenged. Thomson, after all, was a Protestant. Opening with a coffin sitting at the centre of an otherwise empty, green-bathed stage, The Prince serves up a loose-knit biography of Fife-born Thomson, from his heroic rise to the tragic nature of his death. Our guides for this are a couple of likely lads called Billy and Tim, who help punctuate each sketch-like scene with a series of cabaret-style club anthem singalongs as a series of big-screen action replays are beamed out. Some might call it padding.

God Bless Liz Lochhead

Oran Mor, Glasgow 3 stars You know you're a literary legend when you're referenced in the titles of other writers works. It happened to Alice B. Toklas and Virginia Woolf, and now, on the eve of a revival of her 1987 play, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, Scotland's Makar receives similar treatment in Martin McCardie's new play. As you might imagine, this first of A Play, A Pie and a Pint's autumn season of lunchtime theatre is as appropriately theatrical as its title implies. Taking as its cue the reunion of three survivors of a fictional Highland tour of Lochhead's now classic Scots verse take on Moliere's Tartuffe a quarter of a century earlier, McCardie proceeds to unwrap a big daft post-modern in-joke tailor-made for west end thesps that takes in reality TV, the pecadilloes of arts funding and the ongoing promiscuity of insecure theatre types both in and out of work. Andy Gray's past-his-best Danny opts to play Tartuffe

Shauna Macdonald - From Spooks To Monarch

Shauna Macdonald sees herself everywhere just now. As the former star of TV spy drama Spooks prepares to play the title role in a new production of Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her head Chopped Off, so ubiquitous around town are images of the iconic historical figure her character is based on that Macdonald might easily suspect a plot as labrynthine as the one told in the play. “Mary's on the back of all the buses,” Macdonald shrieks in only partially mock alarm. “I'm cycling to work thinking about my lines, thinking it'll all be alright, when suddenly Mary passes me on the bus and I'm like, Oh, God, the pressure.” The bus hoardings may be aimed at luring tourists into Holyrood Palace, where the twenty-two year old monarch once resided following her marriage to Lord Darnley in 1565, but the image remains captivating enough for Macdonald to feel a certain sense of responsibility in her version of Mary. “All the characters are complicated,

Bryan Ferry

Edinburgh Castle 4 stars The pre-show soul soundtrack may be telling of former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry's roots, but the wash of purple lighting and giant flashing lightbulb on the big-screen backdrop as Ferry's black-suited seven-piece band and silver-frocked vocal quartet arrive onstage appears infinitely more airbrushed. As does too the opening take on Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You, which segues into ultimate 1980s softcore soundtrack, Slave To Love. As the accompanying film montages show off a series of soft-focus neon-lit city-scapes populated by mysteriously aloof women, the two flesh and blood young ladies bumping and grinding in pink-tasselled leotards beneath only add to the spectacle. From such a tastefully textured opening, Ferry confounds expectations by launching into If There Is Something, from Roxy Music's 1972 debut album. With sax player Jorja Chalmers moving centre-stage, the sheer drama of the extended riffing is

National Theatre of Scotland - Emerging Artists Break Cover

When the National Theatre of Scotland was launched five years ago, there were some who suggested that the scale of the company's resources would effectively kill off the chance for younger artists to develop, let alone find an outlet for their work on a shoestring budget. The launch of two new initiatives by the NTS, however, begs to differ. The New Directors Placement Programme and the Emerging Artists Attachment Programme will enable three directors and four emerging artists to work at close quarters with the NTS, either assisting on specific projects or else given the time and space to develop their own practice over the next year in a more recognisably holistic approach than simple traineeships. Crucial to these two schemes is the support of the Bank of Scotland Pioneering Partnership, itself a new venture. Long time champion of the Bank of Scotland Herald Angel awards and currently Managing Director of Lloyds Banking Group Scotland Susan Rice has been particula