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Showing posts from November, 2011

Shelagh Delaney Obituary

Playwright, screen-writer, author Born November 25th 1939; died November 20th 2011. When Shelagh Delaney, who has died of cancer aged seventy-two, saw Terence Rattigan's play, Variations On A Theme, she was appalled, both by its writing and by what she saw as an insensitive treatment of homosexuality. The response of this precocious Salford-born teenager was to pen A Taste of Honey, a play about a girl her own age who becomes pregnant to a black sailor on a one-night stand, then moves in to bring up the child with what would now be regarded as her gay best friend. When the play was produced in 1958 by Joan Littlewood's ground-breaking Theatre Workshop company in London's east end, its taboo-breaking in terms of its depiction of race, class and a sexuality that had only just been decriminalised in England became a hit. Delaney was just eighteen. The play transferred to the West End, then Broadway. In 1961, Tony Richardson's film of the play that cast Rita

A Citizens Spring - Dominic Hill's First Season at the Citz

When Dominic Hill took up his post as artistic director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow following his departure from Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, big things were expected from one of Scotland's few directors who is capable of working on a truly epic scale. The announcement today of his first full season of work as exclusively revealed by The Herald confirms both the sense of expectation Hill's appointment shook up, and the scale of his own ambitions for the Citz. Even by themselves, the presence of a play by Pinter, a Beckett double bill and a Shakespeare are enough cause for celebration. The fact that, not just King Lear, but both Pinter's mid-period ménage a trois, Betrayal, and Beckett's solo miniatures, Krapp's Last Tape and the rarely performed Footfalls, will be directed by Hill on the theatre's main stage rather than its two studio spaces, says much about Hill's thinking. Betrayal, Krapp's Last Tape and Footfalls may have sma


Liquid Room, Edinburgh 4 stars “Can you ever really escape your past?” Wire's glengarry-sporting bassist Graham Lewis asks as the band return for their first encore of a louder, punkier and less polite set than when they visited Edinburgh in February. The answer to such a philosophical enquiry is probably no, even if vocalist and guitarist Colin Newman has spent much of the set peering over professorial specs reading lyrics from a twenty-first century ipad which he later morphs into a keyboard. Material from this year's Red Barked Tree album and some older fare is played at a volume coruscating enough to compensate for the band's no-nonsense lack of chat. Given their art school roots, it's surprising how uncompromisingly basic a set-up Wire keep. Where their peers might theatricalise or recreate an album's studio embellishments with orchestral add-ons or such like, Wire strip everything back. There is nothing onstage that isn't black and white ot

Pass The Spoon

Tramway, Glasgow 4 stars The knives are out at the start of David Shrigley, David Fennessy and Magnetic North director Nicholas Bone's 'sort of opera'. This shouldn't, however, signal any alarm bells in terms of what follows. Because, for all the out and out ridiculousness of Pass The Spoon, Shrigley's TV cooking show-based yarn is an irresistibly irreverent riot of surreally grotesque humour and avant-garde music that waves a refreshing two fingers at serious theatrical conventions even as it takes them to the max. Our hosts for the evening are June Spoon and Phillip Fork, a fawningly supercilious Bleakly and Chiles of the Ready, Steady, Cook set. With rictus grins fixed on an invisible autocue, Pauline Knowles June and Stewart Cairns' Phil introduce us to a world where smiley-faced puppet vegetables are auditioned to dive into the soup, Gavin Mitchell's alcoholic Mr Egg is on the verge of cracking up, Martin McCormick's pompous banana

Pass The Spoon - David Shrigley's 'Sort Of Opera'

In Scottish Opera's top floor rehearsal room, all talk is of appendages. The phallic attachment in question is for Mr Granules, a grotesque dinner guest in Pass The Spoon, visual artist David Shrigley's 'sort of opera' for director Nicholas Bone's Magnetic North company. Based around an absurd idea of a daytime TV cookery show, Pass The Spoon features characters that include a life-size banana and an alcoholic, manic depressive, mood-swinging giant egg. Actor Gavin Mitchell has already donned a foam-based egg costume for his turn as Mr Egg. This provoked much debate about whether or not the foam egg should have holes for arms. With Mitchell's hands flapping about in a ridiculously limited circumference to express Mr Egg's full emotional range, Humpty Dumpty he most certainly isn't. If the egg does have arms, Shrigley points out, then every movement will pull its flexible but none too taut construction out of shape enough so it stops being

Bill Bollinger – Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

October 28 2011-January 8 2012 4 stars Onscreen in black and white, a man is attempting to stand a log upright of its own volition. Time and again the man methodically lifts the log off the ground, moving it from horizontal to vertical before it topples as though felled with some invisible axe. For a second it looks like it’s there, only for it to go down with a silent thump. It’s a Sisyphean task, and, as the film’s jump-cuts suggest, one that took an age. Then, finally, in what’s become an unpredictably prolonged performance, the log is up there, standing tall, proud and monumental. So what does the guy do but only go and knock it over some more. ‘Movie’ goes some way to explaining the high-tension methodology of the late Bill Bollinger, the aeronautical engineer turned 1960s New York contemporary of Bruce Nauman, Robert Ryman, Eva Hesse and co. Unlike them, Bollinger died in obscurity in 1988, aged not yet fifty. This lovingly sourced retrospective, instigated by the

FareWell Poetry / Matthew Collings / Hiva Oa / Opul

The Third Door, Edinburgh Monday November 14th 2011 4 stars Salsa class is cancelled tonight, according to the blackboard outside what used to be after-hours hippy student dive Medina, but which now looks intent on filling the DIY boho gap that the Roxy Arthouse and The Forest once occupied so randomly. The lights are low and the room is rapt for an exquisitely thought out bill to support Anglo/French sextet and Gizeh Records artists Farewell Poetry for a nuanced evening of low-key cinematic poetics. The apocalypse starts early with Opul, a collaboration between poet JL Williams and composer James Iremonger, who blasts out a laptop-sourced blend of industrial beats and impressionistic piano sketches to frame Williams' words. If the music resembles cities being razed and rebuilt in some woozy dreamscape, Williams' words are witchy, her delivery beguiling, threatening menaces with all the rhythmic performative drive of Patti Smith or Kathy Acker, even as she look

Twin Sister

Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh Thursday November 10th 2011 4 stars In her geek-girl specs and floppy Annie Hall hat, Twin Sister chanteuse Andrea Estella appears as quintessentially kooky a New Yorker as any afficionado of 1970s me-generation peak era Woody Allen movies could wish for. The check-shirted quartet of preppy boys cooking up a post Vampire Weekend groove behind her concur, even as they counterpoint Estella's wispiness with something infinitely more twenty-first century. Guitarist Eric Cardona actually opens his mouth first to sing in a disarmingly high voice before Estella picks things up for Bad Street, a sassy little strut fleshed out from the band's debut album proper, In Heaven, and which flits between bass-led punk-funk-lite, twinkly synths and even a brief Debbie Harry style rap. With shades of Saint Etienne, Fleetwood Mac, Broadcast and Curved Air gone disco, more often than not in the same song, such pick and mix eclectism soars into the ether

Various – Songs For Dying (PJORN72)

4 stars The local Noiserati and associates’ recent reclaiming of their Techno and/or Metal roots helped their clan avoid a nihilistic dead end. As this bumper fifteen track compendium of clings, clangs, sci-fi slapstick, sepulchral drones, lysergic loveliness, ghosts in the machine anthropological excavations and other light and shade metal machine music suggests, things remain in the blartiest of health. Nackt Insecten, Blood Stereo, Jazzfinger, Culver, Dead Labour Process, UFO Antler Band and others produce an array of increasingly subtle, artfully mature and largely low-key meditations. All oddly life-affirming, even as it sometimes trips the shit out of you. The List, November 2011 ends

Star Quality

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh 2 stars Noel Coward knew a thing or two about theatre by the time his back-stage set short story was published in 1951. With both absurdism and the Royal Court social-realist revolution about to turn the British stage on its head, Coward's glory days were over, and his own dramatised version never quite grew legs. Just why Christopher Luscombe's adaptation has managed to stay in the commercial repertoire for more than a decade, then, is a mystery. Or at least that's the case if Joe Harmston's flat production is anything to go by. The clue is in the title. Amanda Donohoe plays a leading lady on the wane who runs rings around both the wet behind the ears playwright who fawns over her and the been-there-done-that director who's nominally in charge. It's his 'personal assistant' who really calls the shots, however, as the writer is sweet-talked into making changes to his masterpiece so the dame can still appear grand.


Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars You could hear a pin drop on the opening night of Katie Posner's touring revival of David Harrower's blistering psycho-sexual pas-de-deux. The fact that the bulk of the audience for this co-production between Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal were in their teens speaks volumes about exactly how much they can take in terms of a thoroughly adult play that neither patronises or exploits them. Instead, Harrower lays bare some of society's greatest taboos through the eyes of one life-changing event's survivors. First seen at the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival, this new, studio size production is made all the more provocative by the close proximity of its protagonists, Ray and Una. Caught off-guard in the mess of his strip-lit work-place, fifty-something Ray attempts to keep a proper distance from the brittle, tomboyish woman on a mission he had a whirlwind affair with fifteen years earlier, when she was twelve. With bo

Going Dark

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 4 stars Seeing stars is everything in Hattie Naylor's beautiful new play, made in collaboration with Tom Espiner of the multi-media based Sound&Fury company. In an impressive technical display that leaves the audience in the dark just as Naylor leaves Max, her astronomer protagonist, it's made painfully clear in Mark Espiner and composer Dan Jones' production just how the centre of our universe can be rocked in the blink of an eye. With the audience ushered into a pod-like construction on the Traverse stage that allows full black-out, it begins with Max giving a planetarium style lecture, complete with a map of the galaxy on the ceiling of Ales Valasek's intimately-styled set. If all this initially resembles a chill-out room take on The Sky At Night, things are upended within minutes when Max discovers he's slowly but surely losing his sight. Continuing an ongoing dialogue with his tellingly heard but not seen six yea

Glue Boy Blues

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 3 stars It’s swings, roundabouts and cheap thrills all the way in writer/performer Derek McLuckie’s latest collaboration with director Pauline Goldsmith, a rough and ready glam/punk era rites of passage for this year’s Glasgay! festival. McLuckie’s fifty-minute solo turn rewinds to a back-street boyhood where the only fun in town comes in a plastic bag full of sticky stuff. One minute Derek is a church-going angel in search of kicks beyond his dyed David Bowie cut, the next he’s finding salvation in visions of Pegasus, the doors of perception laid wide open to more flesh and blood pursuits. As he fancifully immortalises his own self-created mythology, McLuckie’s inner aesthete is torn between the Siouxsie Sioux pictures on his wall and the Judy Garland records he discovers behind the sofa of the Paisley high-rise that fails to hem in his wilder urges. There are a million stories like this, but McLuckie’s tale is infinitely less sentimental than a

George Costigan - An Actor With A Common Touch

George Costigan can’t ever see himself playing the king. Lear, that is. The man who became a familiar face playing a council estate lothario in Alan Clark’s big-screen version of Andrea Dunbar’s stage play, Rita, Sue and Bob Too, doesn’t really fancy it, to be honest. He doesn’t have the authority, he reckons. Which is why this bluffest of adopted northerners also reckons he’s right to play Ray, a very different kind of man on the ropes in Blackbird, David Harrower’s provocative psycho-sexual study first seen at the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival. In a new co-production for Pilot Theatre Company and York Theatre Royal, which tours to Glasgow’s Tron Theatre next week, Costigan plays Ray, a fifty-five year old man who had a sexual relationship with Una fifteen years earlier, when she was twelve. When Una turns up at his workplace unannounced, old emotional scars are opened up and the new lives each has built for themselves collapse into each other. “It’s not an ea

Rob St John – Weald (Song, by Toad)

4 stars Forget the much misused F(olk)-word. Rob St John is miles better than such lazy reference points, and putting a full electric band behind his whey-faced Lancastrian intonations has put muscle and guts on his musings. Yet for all the low-key chorales, musical saws and string-laden back-woods baroque pulsing his full-length debut’s eight songs, it's St John’s increasingly forceful mix of melancholy and other-worldly rapture that counts. At the record’s core is the slow burning eruption of Sargasso Sea and the slash and burn revelation of Domino. If the late Nick Drake and another old Nick’s Bad Seeds ever hitch up at some rural English crossroads, this is what such an unlikely clash of souls might sound like. ends

Viv Albertine

Henry’s Cellar Bar, Edinburgh Saturday November 5th 2011 “Penis!” Former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine may only be checking her sound levels, but her one word opening gambit sets out her store for the artistic splurge that’s to follow. Within seconds Albertine is relating how she thinks about sex all the time but doesn’t believe in love; about how her seventeen-year long marriage broke down after she picked up her Telecaster guitar for the first time in years; about how her first band, The Flowers of Romance, formed with Slits drummer Palm Olive and future Sex Pistol Sid Vicious (on saxophone, no less!) used to rehearse in Joe Strummer’s squat. Pedigree? Without Albertine and fellow Slit Ari Up, who passed away in 2010, sisters doing it for themselves from Riot Grrrl to Muscles of Joy would never have happened. Slotting in this late-night ‘secret’ show on the back of her mini Scottish tour and accompanied only by the aforementioned Tele and a floor-load of FX boxes


O2 ABC, Glasgow Saturday November 5th 2011 4 stars “I don’t know,” says Howard Devoto, wearily wiping his palest of faces. “Have we done enough songs about the wrong kind of sex?” The band behind him launch into the icy menace of 1979 album Secondhand Daylight’s closing epic Permafrost for good measure, anyway. Devoto has a point. As the archest man in pop entered wielding a Brechtian style placard bearing the legend, ‘Let’s Fly Away To The World’, the band he reformed after thirty years away strike up an opening rally of Definitive Gaze, Give Me Everything and Motorcade. Heard in rapid-fire succession, the songs show off the light and shade of a canon that lays bare Devoto’s soul via an array of psycho-sexual baroque brutalist bon mots. With new album No Thyself and bass player Jon ‘Stan’White added to the fold to replace Barry Adamson since they first toured in 2009, Magazine sound more urgent than ever, with Devoto’s self-absorbed confessionals offset by a dirty whit


Jordanhill Parish Church, Glasgow 3 stars Breaking the rules is instinctive when you’re of an age whereby you’re not entirely sure what they are yet. This was evident from the primary school age audience watching this new show created by John Retallack for his Company of Angels operation in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland. Throughout sixteen unrelated scenes that tackle a variety of cross-generational conflicts, these not easily impressed charges giggled at the swear words and whispered throughout. It’s not that they weren’t getting the seriousness of what was going on. It’s just that, as with the characters onstage, they too were seeing how far they could take things. From the boy squaring up to a shopping mall security guard and the mum whose teenage daughter is more grown up than she’ll ever be, to more immediately recognisable forms of parental abuse and avoidance, Retallack pulls no punches. Based on interviews with families from Glasgow-bas

The Fall

HMV Picture House, Edinburgh Thurday November 3rd 2011 The moustached man from the local tattoo parlour onstage is giving it loads. His whine-perfect karaoke impression of Mark E Smith has the advantage of having the most crack-shot surf-garage band around backing him, who, for the previous half-hour, have been proving just how good they are with a series work-outs made necessary by the prolonged absence of their vocalist, conductor, arranger, director, gaffer and guru. It all started so well, with Smith practically bounding on stage on the dot of 9pm and within a minute of the band striking up the hundred-mile an hour chug of the forebodingly titled Nate Will Not Return, a highlight from the new Ersatz G.B. album. Guitarist Tim Presley from the 2006 American Fall line-up has rejoined the fold while his replacement Pete Greenway takes time out on 'maternity leave', and Presley's twitch-hipped boyish demeanour adds extra urgency to an already relentless fu

Magazine - Howard Devoto Knows Thyself

“Suicide has always been quite an important idea to me,” says Howard Devoto, vocalist, lyricist and mouthpiece in chief of post-punk fabulists, Magazine. Devoto is talking about Hello Mr Curtis (with apologies), the band's recent single which trailed No Thyself, the first album of new Magazine material for thirty years. The Mr Curtis in question is one Ian Curtis, the former singer with Magazine's Manchester scene contemporaries Joy Division, who hanged himself on the eve of what should have been the band's first American tour in 1980. Devoto's song also references a certain Mr Cobain, as in the late Kurt, of 1990s grunge icons Nirvana, and another rock and roll suicide. By the end of an appositely jaunty number in which both of his forbears are put on the couch and encouraged to explain what caused them pain enough to take their own lives, Devoto is declaring his own intentions to die like a king. Such a lofty pronouncement is up-ended somewhat when th

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh 3 stars Scarlet drapes tumble about the stage in the living junk-shop that forms the back-drop to Simon Callow’s double bill of Charles Dickens short stories originally performed by the great man himself a century and a half ago. Mr Callow is the ultimate patter merchant, whether relating a yarn about a vertically challenged sideshow turn who hits the jackpot, or else becoming the hawker whose life is turned upside down when he adopts a speech and hearing impaired young girl. Mr Chops is up first, with Callow acquiring the cockney rasp of henchman Toby in a barrel-organ sound-tracked lament for his partner, who on winning the lottery is patronised and abused by the grasping grotesques of high-class society. In the second half, the widowed Dr Marigold tugs the heart-strings all the way to Christmas Day. As Chops grows in moral stature prior to his demise even as Marigold finds salvation, it’s easy to see where sit-com scribes Galton and Simpson

Raydale Dower - Piano Drop

“Anyone who has ever played a piano,” Tom Waits declared in a recent interview, “would really like to hear how it sounds when dropped from a twelfth-floor window.” Waits probably hasn’t heard of Raydale Dower, but if the gravel-voiced troubadour can bring his wonkily-inclined junkyard orchestra over to Tramway this week for the Glasgow-based artist and musician’s new three-dimensional audio-visual installation, he might just be able to find out. As its title suggests, Piano Drop is a Sensurround record of what happened when Dower let loose a winched-up keyboard from the venue’s ceiling, filming it as it smashed into a million match-stick size pieces. The result, slowed down by up to forty times and relayed through a film loop and an ambisonic speaker arrangement, aims to enhance the hidden musicality of such a seemingly destructive action. “It was a simple piece of musical curiosity,” Dower explains of Piano Drop’s roots, “just to explore the straightforward absurd an

Simon Callow - A Dickensian Life

Simon Callow can’t get away from Charles Dickens. When he arrives onstage at Edinburgh’s Kings Theatre tonight to perform Dr Marigold and Mr Chops, it will be a continuation of Callow’s lifelong fascination with one of the figureheads of world literature. These two stories, adapted here by Patrick Garland, were staples of Dickens’ repertoire as he toured theatres to give energetic renditions which one suspects were on a par with Callow’s own all-encompassing presentations. First presented at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms in 2008, Dr Marigold and Mr Chops finds Callow transforming himself first into a travelling salesman who adopts a deaf and dumb girl; then into a freak-show turn who wins the lottery and makes his way through a well-heeled society he becomes increasingly repulsed by. “I really feel quite like actors of yester-year,” Callow admits, clearly revelling in his bravura performance. “These stories were last seen onstage a hundred and forty years ago, with Dickens