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Showing posts from September, 2014

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Queens Hall, Edinburgh Five stars Sophie Ellis-Bextor has come a long way since her first Edinburgh appearance fronting short-lived indie band TheAudience at La Belle Angele in 1998. While the intervening years have seen her epitomise T4-friendly disco diva electro-pop, this year's Wanderlust album has found her pretty much coming full circle in an eclectic collaboration with Mercury nominated singer/song-writer Ed Harcourt. Harcourt is at the keyboards as part of the black-clad sextet that accompany Ellis-Bextor on the current leg of the tour to support the album, as they were earlier in the year at Oran Mor in Glasgow. In what is effectively a two-act show, the stage is bathed in red as Ellis-Bextor enters in matching mini-dress to open with the eastern-tinged movie theme melodrama of Birth of An Empire before moving through a conceptual pot-pourri of off-kilter ballads, woozy Cold War waltzes and epic chorales. Some charming between-song banter covers tour bus Conga injuries and

Matthew Lenton - Into Tomorrow With Vanishing Point

Things change when you get older. Just look at Tomorrow, the latest theatrical meditation from Vanishing Point, which plays its only Scottish dates at Tramway from this weekend following its premiere in Brighton and follow-up dates in Brazil. In the company's Glasgow rehearsal room, a largely youngish cast from Scotland, England, Russia and Brazil convene under director Matthew Lenton's guidance to go through a scene in what, despite only makeshift scenery, conjures up the slightly derelict feel of an old people's home. As the cast assemble, their natural ebullience seems to slow as they ease into character. When they cover their faces with tight-fitting latex rubber masks, the transformation is complete. Only when one or other of them breaks into their natural stride do things jar. Otherwise, it's as if time itself has caught up with them in an instant. “I was interested in doing something about care,” says Lenton. “I had this image of having a cast in their eighties o

Tragic (when my mother married my uncle)

Cumbernauld Theatre Four stars A sulky teenager dressed in black sprawls aloft the raised platform of his bunk-bed, going through his photo album on his ipad, which projects enlargements onto a big screen on the other side of the room. Everyone's in there; his mum, his best mates, one of his kind-of girlfriend's selfies. Most significantly are the portraits of the boy's dad, who died the week before, and his uncle, who his mum just married. As the boy lays bare his plans to stab his uncle in revenge for the killing of his dad, it becomes clear that he is a contemporary version of Hamlet, and that the pictures projected in his room are of his mum Gertrude, his best pal Horatio and his squeeze Ophelia. Then there's his uncle, Claudius, who he calls Uncle C. This is a neat trick in Iain Heggie's fresh look at the bard, performed with youthful confidence by Sean Purden Brown in Heggie's own production for Subway Theatre Company in association with Sico Productions.

Choir

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars When a middle-aged man walks onstage in his underwear, puts on a pair of bright scarlet shoes and declares himself the reincarnation of Judy Garland, evidence may suggest otherwise, but it's a provocative opening nevertheless to Lee Mattinson's solo outing about one man's belated coming to terms with who he is. The man in his underwear is Francis, a spoon-playing romantic in search of true love as he moves through the back-street club scene that becomes his own yellow brick road en route to salvation fronting a local community choir. Just as Francis finds a sense of belonging, alas, a one-night encounter with a building-site worker he obsesses over before being hit with a restraining order leaves him diagnosed with Aids. Such a life and death litany is related in florid terms in Mattinson's script, which references the mundane everyday minutiae of Francis' existence in a way which resembles an Alan Bennett monologue. Jennifer

The Man Jesus

Dundee Rep Four stars When a Morningside-accented Judas gives a two-part definition of the word 'politics' in Matthew Hurt's ecclesiastical solo vehicle for Simon Callow, the applause provoked by its second half suggests more than a hint of recognition in its description  of politicians as annoying insects in need of swatting. When Judas, seated at the centre of an otherwise empty row of chairs awaiting the Last Supper, goes on to describe the faithful rump of his former messiah's followers as “masochists with a fetish for disappointment,” the silence that follows is equally telling. By this time Callow has already introduced us to many of the people who shaped Jesus or where shaped by him in a version of the gospel seen from a dozen points of view. Using a variety of largely northern accents beside a pile of chairs, we first of all meet Jesus' mother, Mary, and his brother, James. In Callow's hands these become plain-talking Yorkshire folk, the apostles are ha

Hamlet

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Four stars It is the ghosts who are left standing at the end of Dominic Hill's brooding new production of Shakespeare's tragedy, which puts a bespectacled Brian Ferguson centre-stage as the Danish Prince in angry search for closure following his father's murder. With the back of the battleship grey stage lined with reel to reel tape recorders in what appears to be an abandoned and possibly haunted house where the party never stops, Hamlet and his pals attempt to capture the voice of his father's spirit by way of a BBC Radiophonic Workshop style soundtrack worthy of 1970s horror thriller, The Legend of Hell House. Leading the charge in all this is Ferguson, who plays Hamlet as a dour-faced pistol-packing wind-up merchant trying out different versions of himself. One minute he has an old-school cassette deck slung across his shoulder, interviewing Peter Guinness' Claudius and Roberta Taylor's Gertrude like an on-the-spot reporter, the nex

Rachel Maclean – The Weepers

An Tober, Tobermory, Isle of Mull Until September 27th Four stars The Scotch mist that wafts around Duart Castle at the opening of Rachel Maclean's new film speaks volumes about where she's coming from in what looks like a major leap towards something even more ambitious than her previous work in this major commission for the Mull-based Comar organisation. Films such as LolCats and Over The Rainbow became pop cultural cut-ups featuring green-screen footage resembling Lady Gaga and Katy Perry video stylings in which Maclean played a multitude of day-glo Cos-playing creatures lip-synching dialogue sampled and rearranged from a similarly eclectic array of film and TV sources to create her own fantastical narratives. Following her three-screen epic dissection of broken Britain in the Oliver-sampling Happy and Glorious, however, The Weepers sees Maclean put flesh and blood on her dressing-up box multi-tracking as she directs real live actors in a bricks-and-mortar setting. Not that

Exhibit B - Should The Barbican Have Cancelled Brett Bailey's Edinburgh Hit?

When Brett Bailey's Third World Bunfight company presented Exhibit B as part of the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival, the show's twenty-first century reimagining of colonial era human zoos, when black Africans were shown in front of their white thrill-seeking masters as novelty artefacts to gaze on, garnered a slew of five-star reviews. As someone who gave Exhibit B a five star review in this magazine, I was aware before I saw the show's series of tableau vivant of the accusations of racism that had been levelled against Bailey, a white South African artist. These accusations came from protesters in various countries where Exhibit B had been seen, as well as in Britain, where it was set to transfer from Edinburgh to the Barbican's Vaults space in London this week. Today's announcement by the Barbican that their week-long showing of Exhibit B has been cancelled following protests on the first night that saw the road outside the venue blocked comes following an o

John Byrne - Three Sisters

John Byrne hates exposition. In his own writing in now classic works such as The Slab Boys and Tutti Frutti, his characters talk in baroque flourishes of pop cultural patois that ricochet between them. In his new version of Chekhov play, Three Sisters, however, which opens next week at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow before embarking on a national tour, tackling such rich but exposition-laden source material hasn't been easy. “I love Chekhov,” Byrne says over a Cappuccino in Edinburgh's Filmhouse cafe, “but you can only capture about a third of it, because it's Russian. I thought The Seagull particularly was all exposition, all that 'I dress in black because of my father's death' sort of thing, which we're so unused to, characters describing themselves and saying what's happening to them. So I wouldn't normally like that, but all life is in Chekhov's plays. “I chose an old literal translation of Three Sisters by some woman I didnae know at all. It wa

Kill Johnny Glendenning

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars Wannabe gangsters take note. It's unlikely that anyone will ever be able to take you seriously again after DC Jackson's scurrilous comedy set in the mankiest of Ayrshire pig-farms. Here, would-be good fellas Dominic and Skootch are holed up with tabloid hack Bruce as the mother of all shoot-outs accidentally ensues. When smooth-talking MacPherson turns up, his patter is just a curtain-raiser to what happens when emigre Ulster Loyalist Johnny Glendenning finally shows face. If this sounds like standard sub-Hollywood tough guy fare, Jackson's play is delivered with such potty-mouthed filter-free glee as it piles up the bodycount that it becomes both shocking and hilarious. While it is a study too of West Coast of Scotland machismo and the perceived glamour of being part of a gang, Jackson’s dialogue is peppered throughout with the geekiest of pop cultural detritus. Computer games, mobile phone apps, the restorative powers of Aswad, B

The Greatest Little Republic (In The World!)

Mull Theatre Three stars On the vague off-chance that anyone has woken up in Utopia this morning, it might be worth visiting the fictional town in Chris Lee's new play for Mull Theatre to find out the extent to which such Shangri-las can be spoilt. Loosely based on Andorra, by German writer and contemporary of Bertolt Brecht, Max Frisch, Lee gives this epic yarn a contemporary spin that goes way beyond his source's analogies to his own era's cultural prejudices to capture something utterly current. Ushered in with the sort of triumphalist fervour  that would make a VisitScotland ad look understated, Alasdair McCrone's production sets Lee's play in a walled city which, while looking like an ancient Greek ruin, also oddly resembles McCaig's Tower in Oban. Here a former war journalist drowns his sorrows while his adopted daughter Anissah, seemingly an interloper from a land regarded with suspicion, works the local bar. Forever close to her brother Johan, played by

Still Game

SSE Hydro, Glasgow Four stars Given that it was the over 60s demographic that swung the victory for the No camp in this week's Scottish independence referendum, it's something of a surprise that Scotland's most curmudgeonly OAP double act, Jack and Victor, didn't lay their cards on the table last night in the first of their twenty-one night stadium-sized stage version of Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill's scurilous TV sit-com. In the end politics didn't matter  much in a show that started off simply enough as a series of routines were played out across Navid's open all hours corner shop and the legendary Clansman bar where Gavin Mitchell's bar-man Boabby held court to Winston, Tam, Isa and Navid. Once we're ushered into Jack and Victor's front room, however, things take a turn for the meta, as Kiernan and Hemphill take full advantage of the live arena for a series of self-referential gags that resemble something Pirandello might hav

Vote For Me

The Arches, Glasgow Three stars “By taking away my choice,” Marcus Roche soft-soaps his audience at one point, “you've given me my freedom.” Such sentiments may sound like they've been crafted by the snake-oil salesman this writer, director, performer and self-starting multi-tasker extraordinaire resembles. Given that Roche was actually preparing to flog off his vote for today's Scottish independence referendum as he toadied up to us with such gloriously contrary platitudes, however, he's pretty much on the money whatever the result. Of course, as with the real-life ebay shyster who attempted to sell his vote online, no back-handers were actually pocketed in Roche's one-night only extrapolation of just how much money talks when politics is involved.  Darting from laptop to lectern beneath two opposing flags of convenience in his contribution to the Arches' Early Days Referendum Festival, Roche does his bit for internationalism by way of soundbites from French a

Arika - Episode 6 – Make A Way Out of No Way

Tramway, Glasgow, Sept 26th-28th When the Arika organisation took a side-step from curating experimental music festivals in a now booming scene they laid the groundwork for with their Instal and Kill Your Timid Notion events, the more holistically inclined series of themed Episodes they embarked on seemed to chime with a renewed hunger for ideas and seditious thought. While Episodes still featured performances and screenings, they were consciously not made the centrepiece of events that involved discussions and debates which questioned the relationship between artist and audience, and indeed the structures of such events themselves. In Episodes 4 and 5, Arika concentrated on the musical and political liberation expressed by the black community through jazz, and a similar state of transcendence found for the Queer and Trans community through the House Ballroom scene. Episode 6 in part fuses both experiences in Make A Way Out of No Way, which over three days looks beyond the nuclear fami

Claude Closky – 10, 20, 30 and 40%

Summerhall, Edinburgh until September 26th Three stars They could be pages torn from an art-zine, an architect's portfolio or a sketch-pad given to pre-schools on a rainy day, such is the playful but matter-of-fact show-and-don't-tellness of French avant-savant Claude Closky's new series of pen-and-ink miniatures. Spread across four rooms in ascending or descending numerical order depending on which way you go at it, a series of black ball-point pen lines mark out assorted patterns on white paper sheets that fade into the background of barely-there clip-frames or matching white wooden ones that form a kind of camouflage in which even the bare floorboards seem to be in on the act. The lines themselves sit side-by-side by Closky, or form squares, curves and triangles that could have been inked on using an old-school Spirograph set or else Etch-a-Sketched into being to make up end-of term games of Noughts and Crosses, Battleships and Hang the Man.  The percentages themselves,

The Mousetrap

Theatre Royal, Glasgow Three stars Sixty-two years is a frightfully long time to keep a secret. Where Agatha Christie's evergreen whodunnit is concerned, however, keeping schtumm has transformed an inter-audience conspiracy into a global institution which not even social media and the internet has betrayed. With this in mind, there will be no spoiler alerts in what follows, except to say that, in its depiction of how cruelly children can be treated, this touring production that first flew its London coop two years ago looks oddly current. Set in a mansion turned guest house just opened by the increasingly furtive Mollie and Giles Ralston, these refugees from the big city find themselves fully booked with a house full of guests seeking shelter from the storm, all of whom come clad in regulation dark overcoat, muffler and face-concealing fedoras. A murder has been committed in town, and, according to the game Sergeant Trotter, who skis into this TripAdvisor nightmare

Brian Ferguson - Playing Hamlet

One could be forgiven for thinking that Brian Ferguson has just seen a ghost. As he takes a lunchtime break from rehearsals for Dominic Hill's new production of Hamlet, the actor playing the title role looks suitably haunted and not a little drained from the experience. “It's so big to do,” a breathless Ferguson reflects. “I didn't really know, as a part, what it actually meant. Obviously every actor knows the name Hamlet and the character of Hamlet, but I wasn't very well versed in the play. I haven't seen many productions of Hamlet, so that kind of cracking it open has been mind-boggling, really, to get the opportunity to crawl around inside it has been incredible.” Ferguson won't be drawn on Hill's approach to the play, nor to what his own interpretation of Hamlet may end up as. All he'll admit to at this stage is that, as the publicity photograph of him backed into a corner sporting a contemporary dark suit on the show's flyers suggest, “It's

Wallace

The Arches, Glasgow Three stars On the weekend before the Scottish independence referendum, it perhaps wasn't unusual to witness someone all Bravehearted up in kilt and Saltire face-paint going in to see a play called Wallace. Especially when the play in question is the centrepiece of a mini referendum festival thrown by the Arches called Early Days. As it turns out, the audience member in question is one Wallace Williamson, a very special guest of The Great Cause, a political chat show that forms the first part of Rob Drummond's timely new play. Also in attendance is an all too familiar parcel of rogues, including Honourable Members from the SNP and Conservative Party, a newspaper scandal-monger, a controversial comedian and the show's charming hostess herself. As awkward questions are asked by a mix of plants and the actual audience, some very dirty laundry is aired, revealing the flawed human face behind the professional political classes.  A second act lurch into histor

Heather Phillipson – sub-fusc love-feast

Dundee Contemporary Arts until November 9th Four stars Playing God appears to come natural to Heather Phillipson as the London-born poet, performer, sculptor and video artist gets back to nature by way of a jungle full of photographic cut-out dioramas and big-screen video cut-ups that suggests hat the so-called natural world is not so much being tamed as remixed and reimagined. Shown as part of the DCA's Discovery Film Festival, Phillipson's series of multi-dimensional configurations move from Eden to Heaven, Hell and other promised lands on earth as assorted fruits of the original sin are blown up to juicily epic proportions. Wildlife, on the other hand, look shrunken and out of proportion, while upside-down human limbs offer something else to chew on as giraffes and pink flamingoes graze. On the flipside of what are in fact a set of artfully arranged wooden flats, the same swirly day-glo writing that provides animated captions to the films point up the film-set style fakery o

David Ireland - Kill Johnny Glendenning

When DC Jackson asked David Ireland what might be the Belfast-born actor and playwright's ideal part, for a man who had nominally quit the stage to concentrate on writing, it was a no-brainer. “I said I'd love to play a psychopathic loyalist gun-man,” Ireland remembers, “because it seemed that I only ever got to play losers.” Ireland's declaration clearly lodged inside Jackson's pop culture infested brain just as a bullet might. The result is The Killing of Johnny Glendenning, Jackson's scurrilous comedy which looks at the celebrity status of an imaginary set of Glasgow hard-men who live the high-life while make-believing they're in a gangster film. Ireland plays the title character in a play, which opens the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh's Autumn season with what one suspects will be a bang before transferring to the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. An Ulster gunman and self-publicist extraordinaire, Johnny is headed for the mother of all show

New Works 2014

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars It is an inspired idea, having young drama students on the verge of going out into the world work with seasoned professional playwrights to develop brand new works that stretch the talents of all involved. So it is with the three new short plays by Clare Duffy, Jo Clifford and Isabel Wright performed and directed as a series of double bills by the graduates of the Royal Conservatoire Scotland 's MA Classical and Contemporary Text course with support from Playwrights' Studio Scotland. Clare Duffy's 1914 Machine starts off looking like a girl's own adventure yarn, as female spy La Marquise flies across the English channel to deliver secret war plans to the government, and ends up lurching into a science-fiction future in which everyone communicates through screens. Inbetween, La Marquise flies high with a pre-war bohemian set for whom she supplies cocaine and some stolen radium that might just hold the key to the fut

Mr Bolfry

Pitlochry Festival Theatre Three stars A giant crucifix flanked by The Ten Commandments is the opening gambit of director Patrick Sandford's wryly observed and all too rare revival of James Bridie's World War Two era philosophical inquiry into good and evil in a Wee Free Highland Manse. If this sounds like a wilfully portentious statement, once the two squaddies stationed there, Cohen and Cully, hook up with the minister McCrimmon's flighty niece Jean and embark on a game that conjures up the Devil himself, the play more resembles a fantastical TV show peopled by sophisticated demons who spout long-winded monologues in pursuit of the souls of the youthful and equally articulate gang tasked to thwart them. If Bridie unwittingly penned an admittedly hokey template for Buffy, Charmed, et al, Sandford's production remains rooted in the era it was written in. Dougal Lee's smooth-talking Mr Bolfry breezes into the manse's Sunday night austerity and offers up a litany

The Glass Menagerie

Dundee Rep Four stars When actor Robbie Jack takes the microphone as Tennessee Williams' alter-ego Tom Wingfield at the start of Jemima Levick's post-modern tinged revival of Williams' 1944 semi-autobiographical full-length debut, he could be the compere of some latter day live art confessional cabaret night channelling the spirits of Lenny Bruce and Eric Bogosian. As Jack signals for the blank wall of Alex Lowde's clean-lined set to raise, it's an unexpected opening to an openly sentimental affair more regularly gift-wrapped in more traditional theatrical ribbons and bows. Here, however, as type-written keywords from the script are projected above to signal moments within moments, the play becomes Tom's work in progress which he writes ever larger with every re-enactment he conjures up in dreams haunted by  his mother Amanda and sister Laura. The Wingfield apartment may be small, but it provides an escape route for all. For Irene Macdougall's Amanda, foreve

Sunset Song

Perth Concert Hall Three stars Like many women of her generation, there is something tragic about Chris Guthrie, the heroine of Lewis Grassic Gibbons' A Scots Quair trilogy of novels. Or at least that seems to be the case in this new touring co-production between the enterprising Sell A Door Theatre Company and Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, of Alastair Cording's evergreen stage adaptation of the trilogy's first and best known part. Here, book-loving free-spirit Chris, living off the land with her bullying father John, ferociously played by Alan McHugh, and eternally pregnant mother Jean, is forced to put aside her windswept ideals and grow up too soon as she finds herself shunted by circumstance from one patriarchy to another. Even the emancipation her inheritance provides can't save her from the brutalising effects of little boys games, although by the end, she finally seems to have found salvation of sorts. The corrugated iron skyline of Jan Bee Brown's set lends

Not About Heroes

Napier University, Edinburgh Three stars It is more than thirty years since Stephen McDonald's study of the relationship between poets Sigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen while both residents in the Edinburgh-based Craiglockhart War Hospital appeared during MacDonald's tenure as artistic director of Dundee Rep. Arriving in Edinburgh in a new touring production by Feelgood Theatre Productions as the latest in a flurry of plays produced to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the play's mix of poetry and condemnation looks more pertinent than ever. This is especially the case when performed inside the striking looking building where Sassoon and Owen first met long before it became Napier University's Craiglockhart campus. Here we see Owen as a young, nervy and shell-shocked literary groupie who suddenly finds himself in the same institution as one of his idols. While Owen is initially cowed, under Sassoon's

Gabriel Quigley - Spoiling

Scottish independence referendum pollsters take note. Gabriel Quigley is here to help. It's not that the actress's current stage role as Fiona, the first ever Foreign Minister in an independent Scotland in John McCann's play, Spoiling, has gone to her head or anything. Neither is it the fact that the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh's Festival Fringe production of McCann's play, which is currently playing at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, will return to the Traverse during the week of the vote. Indeed, Quigley will seize the reins of power as Fiona in Spoiling on referendum night itself. It's just that, being a familiar face off the telly in prime time comedies like Chewin' The Fat and the Karen Dunbar Show, Quigley gets to chat to taxi drivers a lot. In the current climate, there is pretty much only one subject that comes up. “I'm doing a secret survey,” deadpans Quigley, spilling the beans that YouGov and co have unilaterally failed to take int

Kate Bush – Before The Dawn

Hammersmith Apollo, London Five stars   A flash of white lights up the blue, and Kate Bush leads her five backing vocalists, who include her sixteen year old son, Bertie, onstage in a jaunty conga as her seven-piece band kick into Lily, from Bush's 1993 The Red Shoes album. Twelve nights into her twenty-two night marathon, it's a playful opening to Bush's first live shows for thirty-five years, which have rightly generated screeds of praise for their inherent theatricality. Over the course of three acts, a delighted Bush get back to her pub-band roots in the first six numbers of sophisticated funk and a couple of hits punctuated by showbizzy “I really hope you enjoy this,” type cooings. This is followed by two suites, The Hounds of Love's The Ninth Wave, and, following an interval, Aerial's A Sky of Honey, performed in their entirety. With dialogue by novelist David Mitchell and co-direction by former RSC boss Adrian Noble,  these are revealed as a

Delusion of the Fury

King's Theatre, Edinburgh When Tom Waits hung his nightclub barfly shtick out to dry in favour of something more primal with his 1983 Swordfishtrombones album, as Tristram Bath made clear in a thirtieth anniversary study of the album in The Quietus in September 2013, it was composer Harry Partch who in part liberated Waits' muse. Partch, who died in 1974, built his own instruments with extravagantly other-worldly sounding names such as the Chromelodeon and the Quadrangularis Reversum. He also worked with micro-tonal scales that ditched western systems for more exotic-sounding sonic provocations gleaned from Africa and Japan. Partch's interest in the East may have been voguishly in keeping with the trappings of post World War Two modernist esoterica, but his interests in ancient Greek drama and Japanese Noh theatre lent his increasingly ambitious fusions of sound, song and spectacle a classical formality that gave what was effectively the original junkyard orchestra a gravit

Nick Thomas - Who Built The Access Road?

Telfer Gallery, Glasgow September 13th-28th The missile testing range on South Uist built by the RAF in 1957 may have been privatised in 2001, but the fascination of what is regarded as the largest air and sea range in the UK goes on. Nick Thomas' filmic portrait of Uist that makes up his show at the Telfer looks at the impact of the range on those who live, work and have grown up in its shadow that dominates a landscape where the ancient and modern rub up against each other. “There's also a consideration of the Catholic iconography of the area and its historical role,” the Glasgow-based artist explains, “as public art, in the initial ideological conflict around the site.” Thomas' fascination with the site has seen him make other Uist-based work since graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 2012, though this is the most substantial piece to date, with much of its research techniques learnt while Thomas worked on the moving image archive of pioneering Sauchiehall Street art