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Showing posts from September, 2012

National Theatre of Scotland 2013 Season - Vicky Featherstone's Swan-Song

That there is no main-stage swan-song directed by National Theatre of  Scotland artistic director Vicky Featherstone in her final season before departing to run the Royal Court speaks volumes about her tenure over the last six years. Because it isn't any single production which has defined Featherstone's role. Rather, it is an all-embracing vision which has enabled artists to be bold and to think big while Featherstone has taken on a more diplomatic role protective of her charges. Indeed, it could be argued that Featherstone's own creative work has been neglected because of this. Of the season itself, if there is an element of baton-passing, with associate director Graham McLaren being particularly prolific, there is also a sense that theatre in Scotland has become increasingly exploratory. If the NTS has the resources to raise the bar, then the talent is already there to take advantage of it. It is an attitude the ongoing national embarrassment that is Creat

An Evening With Clare Balding

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 4 stars If Clare Balding wasn't already considered a national treasure, her ubiquity anchoring this year's London Paralympics has confirmed it. This may be why her autobiography, the tellingly named My Animals and Other Family, has been number one best-seller for the last two weeks. For a woman whose entire life has been spent in a horse-racing world where competition and the thrill of the chase means everything, one suspects these sorts of things matter to Balding. By the time she ambles onstage for this sold out talk sporting sloppy sweat shirt and jeans, Balding has already done a signing in St Boswell's, with one in Milngavie to go as part of a suitably marathon tour. Over an hour, Balding relates in impeccably jolly hockey-sticks tones a life which sounds not unlike one great big Girl's Own adventure, from posing for pictures astride legendary race-horse Mill Reef aged eighteen months, to being suspended from the same board

Sex and God - Linda McLean Explodes

Sex and God are quite understandably all over Linda McLean's new play  for Nick Bone's Magnetic North company, which opens this weekend in Easterhouse prior to a short tour as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Despite such strong transcendent themes pulsing the worlds of the four twentieth century women from different time-zones who occupy McLean's play, she had never considered it for a title. Only when McLean's son asked her what the new work was about did it become obvious. “I said it was about sex and God, but didn't have a title,” McLean explains, “and he said 'That's it!'” McLean's work is full of little eureka moments like this, in which characters in seemingly domestic situations are enlightened somehow. While you could say this about most drama, over the last decade or so McLean has quietly become one of the most experimental playwrights in the country. Her subversion of dramatic form has been subtle, h

The Guid Sisters

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh 4 stars A vintage recording of Lulu belting out Shout is the perfect scene-setter for Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay's audacious Scots reimagining of Quebecois writer Michel Tremblay's ensemble piece for fifteen women. It's also a magnificent double-bluff, as Serge Denoncourt's National Theatre of Scotland revival in co-production with the Royal Lyceum proves time and again. Yes, Tremblay's 1960s-set tale of a working-class back-kitchen sorority brought together by Kathryn Howden's blousy Germaine's winning of a million Green Shield Stamps is funny to it's riotous core. Look beyond the fur coat and nae knickers one-up-womanship, however, and you'll find a raging back-street portrait of a post World War Two society fit to bust. Life's a lottery for all of the women who gather to stick Germaine's stamps into books before she transfers them for a catalogue-bought dream home. As each woman repeats in

Johnny McKnight - A Superheroic Life

There's something heroic about Johnny McKnight. The writer, director,  performer and co-founder of Random Accomplice productions appears to be everywhere just now, so ubiquitous are his theatrical wares. With Random Accomplice, he and fellow director Julie Brown have just opened their sixteenth production, The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam, which is written and directed by McKnight, and currently running at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow prior to a Scottish tour. Beyond Random Accomplice, as a director, McKnight is currently at work on a rehearsed reading of All The Promise, a new play by Colin Bell performed as part of Glasgay!, as well as workshops with the National Theatre of Scotland on Sponsored Silence, a new piece by Douglas Maxwell. As a writer, McKnight is about to have an even higher profile. In October,his first radio play, Beloved, is set to be recorded. Onstage, McKnight has two new projects with Scottish opera in the pipeline. The Curse of the Macca

The Incredible Adventures of See Thru Sam

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars Heroes and villains mean everything when you’re a teenager, especially one who’s living in a world of his own like Sam. Sam used to be invisible, but once his mum and dad prove to be thoroughly mortal in a car crash, he loses those powers, and starts to be noticed. Even so, as Sam tells the audience his not so secret origin from the off he has a destiny to fulfil. Or so it seems in Johnny McKnight’s fantastical rites of passage strip-cartoon adventure, in which Sam, his side-kick best pal Walrus, and maybe, just maybe his very own super girl Violet take on the world. In Sam’s head, this comes in the shape of evil genius Uncle Herbie and Violet’s bullying boyfriend. The power of the imagination can only take a small-town school-boy so far, it seems, no matter how high Sam is aiming. McKnight’s own production for Random Accomplice takes an array of comic book idioms and brings them to life via a set of meticulously timed animations which a

David Michalek: Figure Studies

Summerhall until September 27th 2012 4 stars There's something heroic about David Michalek's three-screen sequel of sorts to his similarly styled Slow Dancing triptych of larger-than-life slo-mo studies of dancers in motion, first seen in 2007. Where in that piece five blink-and-you'll-miss-em seconds apiece were stretched out to ten minutes of extended play performed by professionals, the choreography applied here is to a more diverse array of long, short, tall and less whippet-like physiques. Seen largely naked, acting out routines of every-day movement, Michalek's subjects – a woman with a double mastectomy, a bearded old man shifting bags of cement in his Y-Fronts, a couple holding their baby aloft – become monumental pin-ups striking a pose, as every sinew, muscle and twitch is accentuated and buffed into shape. As a conscious form of homage to and reinvention of cinematic and photographic techniques pioneered in the nineteenth century by Eadward M

Michel Tremblay - The Guid Sisters Return

When a Scots language production of a Quebecois play originally written in French toured to Montreal, it wasn't so much the equivalent of taking coals to Newcastle as making a serious political statement, about language, about women and about the self-determination of two small nations. Twenty years on, The Guid Sisters, Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay's translation of Michel Tremblay's play, Les Belles-Soeurs, is regarded as a contemporary classic twice over. As the National Theatre of Scotland prepare for a major revival of The Guid Sisters in co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, there are many theatre-goers too young to remember Michael Boyd's original production for the Tron in Glasgow. Yet without this tale of fifteen women who gather for a party after one of them wins a million Green Shield stamps, arguably an entire generation of Scots playwrights might never have expressed themselves so vigorously in their own voice. The roots of Les Bel


Queens Hall, Edinburgh 5 stars When Kevin Rowland's latest incarnation of soul brothers and sisters appeared live in May, One Day I'm Going To Soar, the first Dexys album for twenty-seven years, had yet to be released. Four months on, the album's eleven songs played in order sound like a pub theatre musical in waiting. Emotional and geographical exile, romantic yearning, fear of commitment and sheer hormone-popping lust are all in Rowland's loose-knit psycho-drama, pulsed by the music's joyously libidinous thrust. It opens in darkness, with keyboardist Mick Talbot playing an after-hours piano motif before the band burst into life and the lights go up on Rowland and co sporting various shades of Cotton Club depression chic in front of a big red velvet curtain. Rowland pimp-rolls the stage in synch with the music, or else sits astride a wooden chair for the ballads. For She's Got A Wiggle he and vocal foil Pete Williams conspire like the Dead End ki

The Mill Lavvies

Dundee Rep 4 stars Life is one long tea-break in Chris Rattray’s 1960s-set play, first seen on Dundee Rep’s stage fourteen year ago, and now revived in Andrew Panton’s solidly assured production. Performed back to back with Sharman Macdonald’s She Town, this is the male flip-side to that play’s women only zone, as it follows a sextet of mill workers escaping from the daily grind via the laddish banter of the rest room and its accompanying toilets. It’s here we meet simple-minded skivvy Archie, old lags Robert, Geordie and Jim, upstart Teddy-Boy Henny and Beatle-loving Kevin, who mark time indulging in assorted shaggy-dog stories and pranks with seemingly little consequence. Out of this comes a lovingly observed portrait of working class society in flux that revels in its localism even as it follows in the work-play tradition of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys and Roddy McMillan’s The Bevellers. Barrie Hunter’s pompous Robert and Martin McBride’s nasty Henny are both reli

The Cone Gatherers

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen 4 stars Robin Jenkins’ World War Two set novel is a broodingly strange affair. Peter Arnott’s new adaptation takes all of Jenkins’ concerns about class, good, evil and the self-destructive fear of otherness on the one hand and an empathetic desire to transcend one’s own station on the other, and makes a big serious statement on the human condition that retains its human heart. Set on a remote Highland estate, the leafy splendour occupied by what are here referred to simply as Lady and Captain, as well as Lady’s liberal-minded twelve year old Roddie, is ripped asunder by the rude intrusion of two brothers, the dour Neil and his brother Callum, the latter of whom would be classed today as having learning disabilities. Watching over all this is game-keeper Duror, who, with a terminally ill wife in her sick-bed, resembles a contemporary vigilante on the verge and is already on the shortest of fuses. In Callum, Duror recognises imperfection

She Town

Dundee Rep 3 stars If Dundee was Scotland’s first female-led republic, it is all but reborn in Sharman Macdonald’s epic tale of life in the city’s jute mills during the 1930s depression. Wages are being cut every week, and a strike led by would-be writer Isa looks imminent. Elsewhere, legendary singer and Spanish Civil War veteran Paul Robeson is booked to play the Caird Hall, and auditions are underway for a local choir to back him up. In some respects, the latter element reflects the sheer scale of Jemima Levick’s production, which puts some forty women onstage to deal with Macdonald’s multi-layered narrative. This begins with a sick child, a loaded gun and some mass constructivist choreography before opening up Alex Lowde’s huge skewed tenement set where smaller lives epitomised by Isa and her feisty sisters dwell. If Isa’s aspirations lead towards Spain, other women make different choices. For some, sexual allure will keep them in glad rags, while mill owner’s w

Rachael Stirling - Breaking the Medea Code

There's something familiar, if not instantly recognisable about Rachael Stirling. The Scottish-born actress may have been playing a leading role on prime time telly the night before in the first episode of three-part mini-series The Bletchley Circle, but, as she sits munching on a salad in the garden of the Union Chapel, Islington, you'd never guess it. Stirling is on a lunch-break from rehearsals for Mike Bartlett's new contemporary version of Medea, which opens the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow's new autumn season in a co-production with Headlong. In the early September sunshine, however, with her claret-coloured hair tied up, she could be any north Londoner seeking sanctuary in the Union Chapel's leafy quietude. Only the much thumbed script in front of her with the words 'Why am I here?' scrawled across the first page in big inky letters in Stirling's girlish hand-writing is a give-away. “It's the most amazing, exciting – I could lick the s

What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do

CCA, Glasgow until September 15 2012     Anyone who ever visited the wonderland that was the Third Eye Centre will know that, pre-Transmission/Tramway/Arches/Kinning Park Complex/Summerhall, this holistic, slightly ramshackle Sauchiehall Street hub was pretty much the only avant-fun in town. Before it morphed into the CCA, the Third Eye's multi-purpose art-space, studio theatre, vegetarian restaurant and the best bookshop on the planet was a boho nirvana for seekers of artistic enlightenment.   Much of the Third Eye's early spirit was down to the enabling energies of the late Tom McGrath, the Rutherglen-born playwright, poet, pianist, polymath, former editor of counter-cultural bibles Peace News and International Times, and the Third Eye's first director between 1974 and 1977. This first public sighting of an ongoing excavation of the Third Eye archive as part of the Glasgow School of Art Arts and Humanities Research Council research project on Glasgow's hidden cultural

On The Record – Manufacturing Another Edition of You

1 At the 2012 Edinburgh Annuale, the city's annual festival of independent and grassroots artistic activity, Record Store was one of some thirty-odd events taking place in galleries, found spaces, shops, tunnels, lecture halls, flats and back gardens throughout June of that year. Curated by Obstacle Soup, the duo of artists Chris Biddlecombe and Janie Nicoll, Record Store took place in Avalanche, Edinburgh's long-standing indie record emporium, now based in the Grassmarket. This followed the show's original tenure in Glasgow at the even more eclectic Monorail Music, which also doubles up as as a bar, venue and pop-up DIY book shop selling zines and artists books. The opening week at Monorail coincided with world Record Store Day on April 21st, as well as Glasgow International festival of Visual Arts (GI). World Record Store day is the Association of Independent Music's initiative to highlight the role of independent record shops in fostering and showcas

My Shrinking Life

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 4 stars Alison Peebles is on her feet for the entire eighty-five minutes of her new show, devised with Belgian director Lies Pauwels and an ensemble of three dance artists and a little girl for the National Theatre of Scotland. For this most charismatic of actors, it must be agony. Not for having to carry this defiantly impressionistic meditation on her life as a performer who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis twelve years ago, although that must be hard enough. Rather, for a woman who confesses her love for shoes but who can’t wear high heels anymore, having to watch lithe young bodies stretch, pirouette and cavort with choreographed perfection from the front corner of the stage must add insult to an injury that’s not of her making. This, though, is the point of the exercise, which puts the body politic centre-stage in a series of routines underscored by a jukebox full of early 1960s pop hits, and played out in a mint-coloured room with a