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Showing posts from 2022

Dave Rushton - MERZ – Rebuilding from the Past

The spirit of Kurt Schwitters looms large over MERZ, the exhibition and artists’ residency space housed in a former lemonade factory and surrounding outhouses in the village of Sanquhar, Dumfries and Galloway. Founded by Dave Rushton in 2009, MERZ takes Schwitters’ collagist approach drawn from his cutting up the German word, ‘Kommerz’ (commerce) to create something new.   The notions of ‘Reconstruction and Fabrication’ that are at the heart of MERZ are best exemplified by Schwitters’ Merzbau (Merzhouse), whereby several rooms of his family home were transformed utilising assorted detritus. Schwitters went on to create similar constructions in Lysaker, near Oslo, then in Cumbria, where he was exiled after fleeing Nazi Germany prior to his death in 1948.   Rushton learnt about Schwitters’ story while visiting Cumbria, and has applied his inspiration’s aesthetic to his own MERZ through an ongoing series of residencies that culminate in exhibitions by resident artists in the gallery or fo

You Know We Belong Together

Edinburgh International Festival The Lyceum Four stars Life is one big soap opera for Julia Hales in her autobiographical show-and-tell, which finally arrives in Edinburgh after the COVID pandemic prevented it from visiting, not once, but twice. Even now it has arrived, the drama keeps on coming, as Clare Watson’s production for Australia’s Black Swan State Theatre Company had to be rejigged due to five of the seven-strong cast being struck down by the virus, necessitating their appearance on film rather than in person.   This doesn’t stop the irrepressible Hales, who weaves her personal story of life with Down syndrome alongside her life long obsession with Home and Away, the sunkissed Australian soap still going strong after thirty-four years. Hales does this with considerable charm, as she invites us all to share in her story in designer Tyler Hill’s mock-up of the diner in Summer Bay, Home and Away’s fictional town where anything can and usually does happen. She even creates her ow

When You Walk Over My Grave

Edinburgh International Festival Church Hill Theatre Four stars Death becomes Sergio Blanco, the Franco-Uruguayan playwright who puts himself as the main character of his forensic and surprisingly fun dissection of the desire to shuffle of this mortal coil on one’s own terms. The audience aren’t greeted with anything remotely funereal, but with the cast wielding electric guitars and regaling them with an indie rock song while lined up on stools like some weekend bar band. Behind them are projections of newspaper style death notices that double up as company biographies.   This makes for a lively curtain raiser to Blanco’s latest piece of what he calls auto-fiction, a kind of fantasy autobiography in which he gives full vent to his assorted obsessions. In this case his opus moves between London and Geneva, as Sergio Blanco the character explores assisted suicide and necrophilia, winding up in the room where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein - another life and death yarn - before taking a

John Maher – Nobody’s Home

The landscape has changed since John Maher first took his photographic studies of abandoned and derelict houses on the islands of Lewis and Harris that make up his exhibition, Nobody’s Home. Almost a decade on from its first showing in 2013 at An Lanntair, on Lewis, in tandem with work by fellow photographer Ian Paterson, the current selection of twenty-eight images by Maher at Dunoon Burgh Hall is a glimpse of a world that has largely been demolished.   “ It's probably two or three years since I last went back to revisit some of the houses,” says Maher, “but there's a point where that decay gets to a stage where it doesn't become photographically interesting to me. For instance, there's one that’s got a yellow Rayburn stove as the focal point of the picture, but the last time I went there, the ceiling had collapsed, and the floor had gone through. If it had been in that state when I originally looked in, I probably wouldn't have bothered taking a picture.   “There


Three stars   Be careful who you flirt with over a business lunch, or you might end up in the same heap of trouble as Daphne, the sexually adventurous heroine of Rafaella Marcus’ play, which starts off like a thoroughly modern piece of dating game froth, but ends up taking a far darker turn into the forest. Out of this comes a heady dissection of power, manipulation and psychological abuse within the emotional maze that Daphne finds herself trapped inside.   At first glance, Marcus’ play is as first world zeitgeisty as it gets, and may yet make a glossy prime time mainstream thriller. Given that it is also a loose knit twenty-first century reimagining of the story in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, in which the god Apollo pursues the nymph Daphne until she turns into a laurel tree, the bar is raised considerably in terms of dramatic chops.   Jessica Lazar’s production - a collaboration between Atticist, Ellie Keel Productions, and MAST Mayflower Studios in association with 45North - sees Jessica

Luke Rollasen - Bowerbird

Four stars   A bowerbird, as Luke Rollason never quite gets round to telling us in his latest madcap potpourri of mime and existential angst, is from a fruit eating species of feathered friends renowned for their unique courtship behaviour. As the Wikipedia oracle does tell us, this ritual sees the male bowerbird build a structure and decorate it with sticks and brightly coloured objects in an attempt to attract a mate.   Welcoming his audience with a lampshade on his head while dressed akin to a Hare Krisnna jogger, whatever the significance of the show’s title, by the end of it Rollason has lots of mates. Utilising a ton of domestic detritus and kitchen drawer clutter, a singing sofa and coathanger shoulders for reals, Rollason’s set up resembles a friendlier take on Gethin Price’s self-destructive routine in the cabaret club segment of Trevor Griffiths’ play, Comedians.   This is punctuated by a pseudo lecture on comedy by Rollason cos-playing his physical slapstick forebear John Wr

A Little Life

Edinburgh International Festival Theatre Festival Theatre Five stars   What goes on behind closed doors between friends is nobody’s business but theirs in Ivo van Hove’s epic staging of Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 novel. This sense of insularity permeates van Hove’s production, initially coming from the way the four college buddies at the core of Yanagihara’s story hang out and party hard while the world goes on outside.   What begins looking like a more regular rites of passage as Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm become successful in their fields takes a lurch even more inwards, with lawyer Jude becoming the centre of the action as his story unfolds. Over the next four hours, van Hove and co lay bare a relentless litany of sexual abuse that provokes a lifetime of self-loathing and self-harm, as Jude becomes the doomed heart of the relationship between the quartet.   Performed in Dutch with English supertitles, Koen Tachelet’s adaptation brings home the brutality of Jude’s self-hatred. This is

The End of Eddy

Edinburgh International Festival Theatre Church Hill Theatre Five stars   Four sexy boys line up at the back of the stage like pretty maids in a row at the start of this electrically charged adaptation of  Édouard Louis’ autobiographical novel about growing up gay in an impoverished working class French town, where being a tough guy counts. The quartet of handsome devils could be the usual suspects in a police identity parade, something the crime scene style tent that is erected by them in the next few minutes in a brief burst of manual labour  seems to confirm.   Once things get going in Norwegian director Eline Arbo’s production, however, they more resemble a classic boy band, hanging tough in costume designer Rebekka  Wörmann ’s streetwise trappings, which can’t help but betray an intent of homo-erotic camp. Sure enough, the whole gang are singing and dancing within minutes.   This provides a surprising levity to Louis’ brutal rites of passage, which charts a messy childhood of bull

Muster Station: Leith

Edinburgh International Festival Theatre Leith Academy Four stars   If it feels like we’re living in a real life disaster movie right now, Edinburgh’s site-specific auteurs Grid Iron are here to take the temperature of the times in epic fashion. As the culmination of Edinburgh International Festival’s four-year residency at Leith Academy, director and co-writer Ben Harrison working alongside playwrights Nicola McCartney, Uma Nada-Rajah and Tawona Sithole have contemplated a worst-case scenario for the end of the world as we know it and brought it to life.   Utilising the full expanse of the school, Muster Station: Leith reimagines the venue as part sanctuary, part concentration camp for those on the run from an environmental catastrophe close to home. It begins with a queue, as the audience are ‘processed’, as they might be in a post Brexit airport, detention centre or Covid vaccination centre. From here we’re promenaded from swimming pool to gym to library, where a cast of eight play

This is Memorial Device

Wee Red Bar Four stars   Like Shakespeare and Greek tragedy, you know how plays about bands are likely to turn out. So it goes in Graham Eatough’s adaptation of David Keenan’s wild novel about an unknown 1980s beat combo straight outta Airdrie, who crash and burn like so many before them. As related by local fanzine writer and one-time band insider, Ross Raymond, Memorial Device were legend, and none more so than their mercurial psychik guru frontman Lucas Black.      Director Graham Eatough’s adaptation sets things up as a presentation by Raymond, who rewinds back to the heady days when bands formed, not with a career plan, but out of need. Embodying the fab four by way of artfully posed shop window mannequins, Raymond and others captured in filmed interviews present an impressionistic oral history of the band and the grim times they came out of by way of a series of possibly unreliable memories.   At the centre of this is Paul Higgins, who plays Raymond as a giddy wannabe turned John

The Book of Life

Church Hill Theatre Four stars   Odile Gakire Katese is already sitting comfortably as the audience enter for the Congo born Rwandan writer and performer’s meditation on the aftermath of the 1994 genocide of her country, when up to as many as an estimated one million people were killed by state sanctioned militia during the Rwandan Civil War. Introducing herself as Kiki, Katese emanates a cosy charm a million miles away from the subject of her presentation.   If it weren’t for the eight women flanking her sat behind drums, she could be talking to you in your living room. The women’s’ intermittent displays of choral song make things even more welcoming. Only when Katese starts reading letters penned by those from all sides who survived the purging to those who maybe didn’t does the utter seriousness of her endeavour take hold.   These are letters she solicited from people, like a one woman reconciliation committee, or some questing folklorist intent to keep a set of very personal histor


The Hub Four stars Love and anger are at the heart of the National Theatre of Scotland’s stately and sensual revival of Liz Lochhead’s ferocious and sometimes surprisingly funny take on Euripides’ study of how hell really does have no fury like a woman scorned. There are moments in Michael Boyd’s thrilling production when it looks like Adura Onashile’s furious Medea and her hubby Jason’s new squeeze Glauke, played by Alana Jackson, might tear physical chunks out of each other as much as verbal ones.   The fact that all this is played out aloft designer Tom Piper’s catwalk set, with all involved suited and booted for Jason and Glauke’s wedding, gives things an even more combative air. As does the ten-strong all woman Chorus who initially come out of the audience to give Medea some sisterly back-up, and end up witnessing the depths of her rage.   When Medea talks about how no-one likes you if you’re foreign, it sums up the small town resistance to difference she’s been up against since s

Ross Stenhouse - An Obituary

Ross Stenhouse – Actor, Writer   Born November 18, 1961; died August 5, 2022   Ross Stenhouse, who has died aged sixty, was an actor and writer of tremendous heart, who lit up Scotland’s stages from his early years as a key member of the original Arches Theatre Company, as well as with Hopscotch Theatre, the children’s  company he co- founded in 1988 with Grant Smeaton. With Stenhouse writing original scripts and Smeaton the songs to go with them, the company toured schools in and around Glasgow, and is still going strong today. Regarded as the life and soul of the company, Stenhouse’s work on and off stage had an outrageous comic glee possessed with a depth that could see his tone switch to pathos in an instant.    Ross Stenhouse was born in Glasgow, the elder of two sons to Sheena (nee Clarke Campbell), a comptometrist, and Alexander Stenhouse, an accountant, and grew up in Cardonald and Crookston. He attended Cardonald  Primary School and Penilee Secondary School, where he played gu

Andrew Leigh - An Obituary

Andrew Leigh – Theatre manager   Born February 17 1941; died July 28 2022     Andrew Leigh, who has died aged 81, was a theatre manager who helped make things happen in some of the UK’s key producing houses. From his early days at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, and the Traverse, Edinburgh, Leigh continued his association with Scotland by way of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and latterly with Fringe regulars Pleasance theatre, with whom he was a board member. Inbetween, he was instrumental in the founding of the Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster, and the Paines Plough company. He also helped shape the relationship between subsidised and commercial theatre, and had a lengthy tenure at the Old Vic, London.   Throughout his sixty year career, Leigh navigated organisations through what were sometimes turbulent times with a level headed and good humoured approach while always remaining a champion of forward thinking ideas.   Andrew Leigh was born in Ottawa, Canada, where his mother Marion (nee Bl

Hannah Lavery - Scotland, You’re No Mine

Hannah Lavery didn’t choose the title of ‘Scotland, You’re No Mine’, the Edinburgh International Book Festival event the capital’s recently appointed Makar takes part in at the end of the month. The title comes from the name of one of the key poems in   Blood Salt Spring (2022), Lavery’s debut full-length collection, and is one of the oldest poems in the book.    ‘Scotland, You’re No Mine’’s evocation of Lavery’s love/hate relationship with the country she lives in had already appeared in slightly different forms, both in Lavery’s pamphlet,  Finding Seaglass: Poems from The Drift (2019), and in her poetic drama,  The Drift (2018) itself. The poem has also become one of her most popular works, being named in 2019 as one of Scotland’s favourite poems.   “It's a poem that people often request of me,” says Lavery, “so it’s obviously had a resonance, but I suppose it’s quite a big poem, in that it's talking about colonialism, Scotland's history and it’s place within that, but wi

Ishiuchi Miyako

  Four stars   Old clothes  tell a multitude of stories in Japanese photographer Ishiuchi Miyako’s debut solo exhibition in Scotland. Drawing from three bodies of work, ‘b odies’ is the operative word here. While no flesh and blood are on show in Miyako’s memorialising of her mother, artist Frida Kahlo and the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, by showing the everyday accoutrements that adorned them both honours and memorialises her subjects.    In  Hiroshima (2008), crumpled dresses are spread out like evidence, scorched beyond repair.  Mother’s (2002) shows off close-ups of shoes, false teeth and lipstick.  Frida: Love and Pain (2012) reveals the ultimate self-creation through clothes and make-up jars.    Combining very personal images with much more collective mementoes shows how intertwined things are, joining the dots between public, private and secret selves with an intimacy that moves beyond any fears of morbid intrusion to immortalise and mourn.    Stills Centre for Ph

Lorna Robertson: thoughts, meals, days

  Four stars Bright colours only appears to be the credo of Glasgow based artist Lorna Robertson in her exhibition of new paintings. These are possessed with a vintage air, both in the figures of women who occupy them like they might have perambulated out of a Katherine Mansfield short story, and in the sense of psycho-analysis induced free associations that seem to spirit from their minds beyond their blank mannequin’s visages.   Lined up like show room dummies in ice cream coloured pink and lemon apparel, these silent women appear to have taken a wrong turn while lost in their own dreamings, finding themselves among some Pepperland foliage, out of which their minds rush with images both pastoral and domestic.   In ‘Dumb’, Robertson’s women could be a display in a milliner’s window. ‘ We are the robots’ sees them perusing vases of flowers like judges at a fete. In ‘Words murmured’ they share swishy conspiracies. Elsewhere,  they are all but hidden by barricades of busy, all angles abs


 Four stars    The earth doesn’t quite move at the start of the Mechanimal company’s multi-media meditation on ancient rock formations, copper mining and standing stones, but its conceptual double bluff shows just how pretty much everything is affected by a technical meltdown. The fusion of techno beats, Flintstones samples and animated graphics that follow are heightened in physical form by good old fashioned graft, as performer Charles Sandford and sound artist Xavier Velastin duet to create what director Tom Bailey calls a ‘theatrical poem’.   Taking the roots of copper mining 10,000 years ago, and its key role in electrification as its source, rather than make a polemical piece on fossil fuels and seemingly endless extraction, Mechanimal have carved out a living mash-up of sight and sound. This builds as wildly as a Julian Cope excavation of sacred sites en route to something near seismic in intent.   The result is a playfully hypnotic virtuoso display, which by the end has become

Cassie Workman: Aberdeen

  Three stars   When Kurt Cobain killed himself in 1994, the reverberations of the troubled Nirvana singer’s death made him a grunge martyr for a generation. One of these was Cassie Workman, whose epic poem in homage to her fallen idol sees her take an imagined trip with him back to his hometown. Born of the Australian writer and performer’s real life pilgrimage, Workman elevates Cobain to heroic status in a piece that borders on Greek tragedy in its ambitious intent.   Casting herself as both hopelessly devoted fan girl and a kind of doomed Jiminy Cricket, her pleas with Cobain to save himself are possessed with an empathy that shows just how much one person’s art can touch its audience.   As Workman prowls the small stage area, looking the audience in the eye as she relays couplet after couplet, this understandably intense hour goes builds to become an emotional and heartfelt homage.   Just the Tonic Nucleus until 28 Aug, 4pm. The List, August 2022   ends 


Four stars   The female gaze on the big screen takes a dark turn in Matt Wilkinson’s solo play, which muses what might happen if Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic shower scene in Psycho were turned on its head and a different kind of gore-fest was the result. This is done by putting a tellingly uncredited forty-something actress in the spotlight as she recounts the build-up to the death of a maverick director, from her youthful heyday to auditioning for the Janet Leigh role in the director’s stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Freudian thriller.   Intimate exploitation, compromising situations and other clichéd phrases that sound like titles of 1990s softcore flicks all come under scrutiny in this knowing yarn that takes a stab at the sort of godlike auteur indulged for decades. As the actress, Emily Bruni combines gallows humour and thespian insecurities aplenty to go beyond what once upon a time might have been demonised as a bunny boiler, but who now comes out fighting to enjoy the sweet ta

A Sudden Violent Burst of Rain

Four stars   Something biblical pervades throughout Sami Ibrahim’s twenty-first century fable, and it’s not just the weather. It’s something to do with the way the eternal tale of migrants fleeing from dangerous lands only to face new obstacles transcends its bleak roots to become a poetic fantasia that more resembles a bedtime story than the damning indictment of an inhumane system it becomes.   Elif shears sheep for a rich landowner, with the discarded piles of wool floating into the air to become clouds. Inbetween lobbying the king for citizenship, a dalliance with the landowner’s son leads to further displacement, with Elif and her daughter Lily embarking on a Mother Courage style quest for survival.   As performed by Sara Hazemi, Princess Khumalo and Samuel Tracy, there are shades of John Berger by way of Italo Calvino in the depth that lies beyond the deceptively playful simplicity of Yasmin Hafesju’s production for Paines Plough and the Rose Theatre Kingston in association with