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Showing posts from June, 2014

The Yellow on the Broom

Pitlochry Festival Theatre Three stars This week's announcement by T in the Park that as of next year it will shift sites from Balado to Strathallan Castle may embed Scotland's liveliest music festival even firmer on Perthshire soil, but it is far from the first temporary tented village to plant roots there. This is made vividly clear in Anne Downie's dramatisation of Betsy Whyte's 1979 autobiography, which has barely been seen on Scotland's stages since it was first produced by the appropriately nomadic Winged Horse company in 1989. On the one hand, Downie has penned a richly evocative first-person rites of passage of Whyte's alter-ego, Bessie, the tobacco-guzzling brightest spark of the Townsley clan, a family of Travellers winding their way through 1930s rural Scotland. As Betsy, her father Sandy and her mother Maggie are forced to move from place to place, however, they run a gauntlet of class-room snobbery and institutionalised prejudice that looks frighte

The Art School Dance Goes On Forever – Snapshots Of Masters Of The Multiverse

Intro – Snapshots – Deaf School 1 In 1980, the same year as the Manchester band, Magazine, released a 7 inch single called A Song From Under The Floorboards – a three verse and chorus distillation of Dostoyevsky's novel, Notes From Underground – an art school scandal occurred. This scandal took place in Liverpool, and was based around a project called the Furbelows, although it became better known in the Liverpool Echo and other organs that reported it as the Woolly Nudes. The Furbelows, or Woolly Nudes, were a group of artists who had come out of Liverpool College of Art, who, dressed in grotesque woolly costumes which featured knitted approximations of male and female genitalia, made assorted public interventions around the city centre as kind of living sculptures acting out assorted narratives. The Furbelows project had been funded by what was then Merseyside Arts Association, and, after the participants were arrested and taken to court on obscenity charges

UPLAND – War and Peace in Camp 21

1 Good afternoon, and welcome to UPLAND, a unique site-specific group exhibition presented by staff and students from Edinburgh College of Art's Intermedia course here at Camp 21, the former Prisoner of War camp, Cultybraggan. My name is Neil Cooper, and I’m a writer and critic about theatre, music and art for various publications. Before I introduce the panel, I just want to go through the procedures of the afternoon and introduce a few ideas and connections about it that have been thrown up in my mind since I came on board. Once I’ve introduced the panel, each of them will talk for a few minutes, introducing their ideas about things relating to Upland, which may open things up for discussion later. I’ll then ask each of the panel some questions before we open things out to the floor. After that, who knows, but we’ll be aiming to finish  at about 5 O clock, but before we do I’ll ask each of the panel to try and sum up, and if anyone wants to we can continue the discuss

Cut-Up For Tzara – A Re-Enactment Of Sorts

In the 1920's at a Surrealist rally Dadaist  poet Tristan Tzara created a poem on the spot by pulling words out of a hat. There was a riot, and the theatre was wrecked. Andre Breton expelled Tristan Tzara from the movement and grounded the cut ups on the Freudian couch. I originally thought Tzara did this in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire nightclub in Zurich, but I was wrong. In 1959, painter and writer Brion Gysin cut newspaper articles into sections and rearranged the sections at random. Gysin introduced the cut-up technique to William Burroughs. Burroughs published The Naked Lunch the same year. The Naked Lunch revolutionised literature and made Bill famous. That was Bill you heard just now. Bill once said that “Language is a virus from outer space.” He may have been right. Cut-ups were later used by the band Cabaret Voltaire. That's them you can hear just now. Musically speaking, cut-ups soon became known as samples. Sampling changed dance music forever. Just ask Grand

The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show

Oran Mor, Glasgow Four stars 'No Pseudo Indy Debate' bore the legend scrawled onto a small blackboard slammed on the upstairs bar of Glasgow's best-connected West End hostelry as a pair of punters bordered on the verge of a square go last night. While such an accessory may prove essential for all pub landlords between now and September, the blackboard was actually displaying one of a series of punchlines that made up writer Kevin P Gilday's contribution to the National Theatre of Scotland's marathon twenty-four hour online extravaganza of bite-size works inspired by the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. Downstairs, some twelve other playlets were performed live to camera and broadcast globally as part of a programme of more than 180 works selected by playwright David Greig and theatrical maestro David MacLennan, who sadly passed away last week. Oran Mor's selection opened with Victoria Bianchi's touching letter to her unborn ch

In My Father's Words

Tron Theatre, Glasgow Four stars When the increasingly senile old man at the heart of Justin Young's moving, Toronto-set new play declares to his estranged son in Gaelic that “We will go fishing,” the initial reaction is one of incomprehension. By the end of Philip Howard's elegiac production for Dundee Rep, however, Don has built a bridge, not just with his classics lecturer son, Louis, who he hasn't seen for fifteen years, but with Flora, the Gaelic-speaking carer Don hires so he can get on with his self-absorbed and  long overdue translation of Homer. Inspired by an Iain Crichton Smith's poem and set in a pre-laptop, pre-Google early 1990s, what at first looks like a quiet play about fathers, sons, and everyday dysfunction opens itself out to grander themes of odyssey, exile and the gulf that can open up among families when separated by war. Such  classical allusions never lose sight of the basic human cost of this absence. With Lewis Howden's Louis the epitome o

John Byrne – Sitting Ducks

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, June 14-October 19 It was a chance meeting with an Edinburgh councillor on Leith Walk that eventually led to Sitting Ducks, painter and playwright John Byrne's show of rarely seen work that opens at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this month before touring to Inverness. Having suggested to Byrne that it was about time he had a major show in the capital, the councillor wrote to the National Galleries of Scotland, who agreed, and the wheels were duly set in motion for the exhibition of some fifty-odd works drawn mainly from private collections dating as far back as the 1960s, many of which have never been seen publicly before. “It was just stuff I remembered that people had bought,” Byrne muses, “so I made a list. A lot of it is stuff I've not seen since I did it, drawings of my children, things like that.” There are self-portraits too, including one from the early 1970s “which can be dated from the fact that I'm wearing b

David Greig - The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show

The sad passing last week of David MacLennan robbed the theatre world of one of its true gentlemen and artistic pioneers of several decades standing. It also meant that the founder of the A Play, A Pie and A Pint lunchtime theatre phenomenon, founder of Wildcat and co-founder of 7:84 would not be able to witness what has turned out to be his final project. The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show was conceived and curated by MacLennan with playwright David Greig as a theatrical look at the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. With Greig a Yes supporter and MacLennan having come out for a No vote, it wasn't the most natural of alliances. As the two most diplomatic advocates of their respective causes in the arts, however, mutual respect has been the key to the end result. As the title suggests, Greig and MacLennan's collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland follows the NTS' previous Five Minute Theatre shows, in which the public a

Avenue Q

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars It doesn't matter how wilfully potty-mouthed it gets, there's something delightfully and reassuringly old-fashioned about Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty's scurrilous Sesame Street inspired hit puppet musical. This is despite a set of furry characters who not only swear, but have one-night stands, screw each other over and mess up their lives in a manner that would make Kermit The Frog blush. As wide-eyed but unemployed English graduate Princeton moves into the down-at-heel but colourful multi-cultural boulevard of broken dreams that gives the show its title, the monsters that occupy it are either porn-crazed sociopaths, in-the-closet queens, slutty night-club singers or, like Princeton's neighbour Kate, a love-lorn school-teacher. The people aren't much better, not even down on his luck real life child star of kids TV favourite Diff'rent Strokes Gary Coleman, here played by a woman. Cressida Carre's touring r

The Nectarine No 9

Rutherglen Town Hall Five stars By opting to reconvene after a decade to perform their 1995 Saint Jack album in full, Davy Henderson's Edinburgh-sired guitar auteurs The Nectarine No 9 proved themselves as maverick as the End Social programme that hosted them to remind the kids where their new pop idols learnt their chops. With the final Nectarines line-up having morphed into the still utterly essential The Sexual Objects, it wasn't that hard to round up the troops to recreate Saint Jack's poundingly dark mix of skewed rock and roll eclectica. Ever the conceptualists, however, Henderson and co don't do things by rote. With the opening screening of silent movie, Death of the Kelly Family, mutating into a Stan Brakhage style abstraction, Douglas MacIntyre strikes up a garage-band bass-line before drummer Ian Holford comes on sporting raincoat and boxer shorts. Holford remains standing to take lead vocals on the magnificently named Couldn't Phone Potatoes as Henderson

Kenny Miller - Perth Theatre's Cross Country Stories

During Rachel O'Riordan's all too brief three-year tenure in charge of Perth Theatre before she departed the city's Horsecross Arts organisation to run Sherman Cymru in Cardiff, she enlivened a theatre previously seen as a solid but safe producing house with a series of hard-hitting productions that could compete alongside any other stage in Scotland. As the theatre prepared to close for major refurbishment, O'Riordan also set plans in motion to keep Perth Theatre in the public eye with several off-site initiatives. The first fruits of this is Cross Country Stories, which consists of two forty-five minute solo plays which will tour hotel bars in the region in a pair of up close and personal productions overseen by Kenny Miller. Face, written by by Peter Arnott and performed by Janette Foggo, opens tonight at the Kinross Hotel with its female protagonist opening up to strangers in a way she's not used to Alan Bissett's piece, Jacquoranda, performed

First Cosmonaut

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars The peasants huddling round a hand-cart and wooden ladder at the start of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company's biographical study of pioneering Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagaran may not be revolting, but the dressed-down quintet are clearly keeping a self-consciously stern eye on the audience as they gradually troop in to a suitably heroic soundtrack. As it turns out, director of the Sligo-based company Niall Henry has them frame Jocelyn Clarke's forensically researched script as an arch  facsimile of a rural Soviet theatre group paying homage to their country-man. As the three men and two women strike a series of Meyerhold-inspired poses, this develops into a gloriously deadpan device which they sustain throughout the play's full seventy-five minutes. Following an opening monologue which appears to give a very Russian nod to David Bowie's Space Oddity, the ensemble's suitably collective retelling charts Gagarin's rise from a littl

Sports Day

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Three stars From the moment River City star, stage actress and musician Joyce Falconer shuffles onstage sporting a vivid pink track-suit, Olivia Newton John sweat-band and Chariots of Fire ring-tone, it becomes clear that teamwork is at the heart of the Citz's big-scale community theatre response to the impending Glasgow-based 2014 Commonwealth Games. Falconer is Geraldine, the retiring but never shy janitor whose last day falls on the school sports day that this compendium of sketches, songs and short plays is based around. With Geraldine the linking device, narrator and social glue between each, Falconer also becomes the fifth member of the show's rousing live band led by Michael John McCarthy. From such a starting block on an astro-turf covered stage, we follow the lead-up to the main event through miniature dramas involving toffee-nosed head-masters, anxious parents, competitive dads and a family fending off  bribes from dodgy politicians who off

Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story

Tramway, Glasgow Four stars Anyone who ever witnessed the full live experience of dread-locked piper extraordinaire, Martyn Bennett, at the height of his 1990s pomp will know only too well how powerful his fusion of ceilidh and club cultures could be. Bennett's tragic death of cancer in 2005 aged just thirty-three robbed the world of a composer and musician bursting with talent and a lust for life which can't help but cause one to wonder how his work might have developed. Much of Bennett's passion is captured in this new dramatic homage, conceived and directed by Cora Bissett, who also collaborates on Kieran Hurley's script for a co-production between Bissett's Pachamama Productions, Tramway and the Mull-based Comar organisation. As with the show's inspiration, Bissett mixes and matches forms with abandon. Opening speeches to the audience find actors Sandy Grierson, Hannah Donaldson and Gerda Stevenson, respectively playing Bennett, Bennett's wife, Kirsten,

Sports Day - Guy Hollands on Commonwealth and the community

The opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next month has inspired a welter of extra-curricular artistic activity. One of the first out of the traps is Sports Day, a huge community show at the city's Citizens Theatre, which features a compendium of new short pieces penned by major Scottish writers, including Peter Arnott, Linda McLean, Douglas Maxwell and Julia Taudevin, all based around a school sports day. These will be accompanied by a series of new songs written by equally major song-writers and musicians such as Vaselines vocalist Eugene Kelly, Sparrow and the Workshop's Jill O'Sullivan, John Kielty and Claire McKenzie. All this will be linked by a series of scenes featuring River City star Joyce Falconer as the school's janitor. For anyone studying the form, the stats go like this. Sixty non-professional performers drawn from assorted Citizens-based community groups will perform some seventeen new plays accompanied by twelve brand new songs. With only

Chorale – A Sam Shepard Roadshow

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars It looks like someone's been stranded at the drive-in at the start of the first night of this weekend's bite-size tour through some of American playwright Sam Shepard's little-seen works by Presence Theatre and Actors Touring Company in association with the Belgrade, Coventry. There's some bump n' grind bar-room blues playing, and, in front of a back-lit big-screen, some drifter in a sleeping bag remains comatose throughout the screening of Shirley Clarke's 1981 video of Savage/Love, Shepard's dramatic collaboration with actor/director Joseph Chaikin. As the title suggests, Shepard and Chaikin's twenty-five minute masterpiece, performed to the camera by Chaikin himself with jazz duo accompaniment, is a relentless incantation on the highs and lows of obsessive amour. On video, it becomes both an impressionistic interpretation by Clarke and an essential document of Shepard and Chaikin's fertile collaboration, whic

Perfect Days

Pitlochry Festival Theatre Four stars One of the most remarkable things about Liz Lochhead's 1998 play is that, apart from a 2011 version in the Czech Republic, it has never been adapted for film or television. Here, after all, is a funny and utterly serious look at an independent career woman's mid-life struggle with life, love and a biological clock that is ticking ever louder, which arrived onstage just a few short months after Sex and the City was first aired. Throw in a gay best friend, a well-buffed toy boy and an ex husband with a girlfriend half his age, and, in the right hands, it could have made for a fine mini-series at the very least. As it is, Lochhead's edgy comedy concerning thirty-nine year old celebrity Glasgow hairdresser Barbs Marshall has become a stage staple that taps into the contradictions of a free-spirited twenty-first century woman who seemingly has it all with wit, style and some very grown-up humour. Liz Carruthers' new production for Pitloc

My Name Is...

Tron Theatre, Glasgow Four stars The newspaper headlines that surround the estranged family in Sudha Bhuchar's new play for Tamasha Theatre Company may scream of how a young Scottish/Pakistani girl was kidnapped by her father, but the truth is infinitely more complex. Drawn from interviews with the real life mother, father and daughter whose faces were seen all over the world in 2006 when just such an incident occurred, Bhuchar's play changes their names to try and explain the back-story to what happened. In Philip Osment's simple but stately production, Farhan and Suzy tell how they met and fell in love in Glasgow, with a teenage Suzy converting to Islam as they marry and have children, including their youngest, Ghazala. As personal and cultural tensions coming to the fore, the marriage falls apart and Farhan returns to Pakistan, with Ghazala moving across continents to be with one parent or the other. This is a sad, emotionally raw story that is laid bare without sentimen