Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Death of A Salesman

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

'LAND OF THE FREE' goes the neon-lit legend emblazoned high across the back of the stage in Abigail Graham's production of Arthur Miller's damning critique of mid twentieth century capitalism. Like a contemporary pop art installation, the lights fizz in and out of life over the course of the play, mirroring how the spark has similarly faded in Willy Loman, the worn out patriarch in crisis who gives Miller's play its title.

What stands out first in Graham's Royal and Derngate Northampton production is how modern everything looks. This isn't just to do with the steel grey walls of Georgia Lowe's minimalist set, which features just a bed and plastic table and chairs. It is about how people dress. Tricia Kelly's Linda Loman wears jeans, with Willy's errant sons sporting tracksuit bottoms and trainers. George Taylor's under-achieving Biff lounges about in a checked shirt like a Generation X style slacker. Willy's profit obsessed boss Howard, played by Thom Tuck, hustles his way through the day in a 1980s wise-guy suit.

As Nicholas Woodeson's increasingly bemused Willy shuffles through all this, it is as if a collision of brighter, brasher worlds that he can't keep up with are rushing in on him. His cheap suit is probably older than the monster-size fridge that looms large in the corner, the ultimate past-its-sell-by-date symbol of broken down aspiration and built-in obsolescence.

Stepping into the breach as Willy following the untimely passing of Tim Pigott-Smith, Woodeson gives a mighty performance of a man out of time. It is a devastating portrait too of a world where apparent freedoms look cheaper by the day.

The Herald, June 22nd 2017


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Makoto Kawabata, Atsushi Tsuyama and Tatsuya Yoshida - Japanese New Music Festival

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Sunday June 18th

When three key members of Japan's musical underground fall to the floor in unison a few minutes into a pummelling slab of power trio mayhem, it's easy to fear the worst. This supergroup of Acid Mothers Temple guitarist and co-founder Makoto Kawabata, the group's recently departed bass player Atsushi Tsuyama and Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida are playing it for laughs, however. They keep on playing even when they're down but clearly not out in a genre-hopping set broken up into eight 'projects' announced with a co-ordinated flourish.

In what is essentially a carefully structured revue that forms the latest collaboration between Edinburgh's Braw Gigs and Summerhall's in house Nothing Ever Happens Here initiative, this sees the trio play solo, in duos and in full-on wig-out mode. Despite the latter, the set belies any notions of freeform freakouts in a meticulously organised virtuoso display. Humour is key to this, and the group set out their store from the start as a multi-voiced hydra announcing their presence.

"Welcome to Japanese New Music Festival," they say in unison. "We're going to play eight projects by three people."

They make similar announcements between each section, with the opening salvo followed by a short solo set by Kawabata. This comes after the pre-show music, which has been left running throughout the trio's initial assault which drowned it out, is belatedly turned off. This too adds a levity to proceedings, before Kawabata takes a bow to his guitar, building little orchestral flourishes that make for a twisted symphony. This is aided further by Tsuyama, who mock-conducts from the side of the stage.

After a fleeting foray into pure noise, Kawabata ekes out a guitar melody which initially resembles Keith Levene's circular patterns on Poptones, one of first generation Public Image Limited's defining moments. Here things remain vocal free, with Tsuyama's busy bass runs and Yoshida's drums lending a dubby feel. As the volume seems to crank up several notches, the rhythm section lopes this way and that, while Kawabata's guitar seems to channel Like A Hurricane era Neil Young by way of Blue Oyster Cult.

Project Three takes a turn for the absurd, as a duo of Tsuyama and Yoshida take microphones to the zips on their trousers. As they pull the zips up and down, creating a little metallic call and response, they too jump up and down. Variations on this theme see the pair use scissors to create a piece of Steve Reich style percussive combat. The following miniature sees Tsuyama and Yoshida make egg slicers twang like the soundtrack to a discordant tea ceremony. Half filled water bottles are used as flutes. Yoshida mics up a camera so his snapshots can be heard as well as eventually seen.

Next up is a solo set by Tsuyama, who plays a solo guitar set which, accompanied by his own vocal, sound like mediaeval psych folk airs. Yoshida takes the helm for the fifth project, in which he constructs an aural battering ram of treated drums that morphs into an avant bump and grind routine.

Tsuyama describes the sixth project as "the most stupid duo in the world," as he and Kawabata embark on covers of what Tsuyama describes as "new music and famous song" is a cover of Deep Purple's Frank Zappa referencing Smoke on the Water. The trick here is that it's done in the discordant style of Captain Beefheart. Something similar is achieved with Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, before Japanese flutes prevail on something more traditional sounding.

The seventh project sees Kawabata and Tsuyama swap instruments, with Tsuyama taking the lead on the sort of psychedelic boogie that for more ordinary bands would be the climax of the show. Here, however, Kawabata, Tsuyama and Toshida follow up with the eighth and final project by getting up on their feet to seemingly pass words around in what becomes a game of vocal tig. Choral harmonies and silent movie madrigals gradually evolve into a piece of Kurt Schwitters style slapstick.

The band put stools and Yoshida's floor tom on their heads as they might with an elaborate hat, then perform a ridiculous march that weaves its way through the audience and back again, where they mime playing cards with the piled up CDs on their merch table. They encore, as they must, with a full on heavy garage thrash that marks out a ringing end to a festival that covered all bases.
Product, June 2017


Gordon Barr and Janette Foggo - These Headstrong Women - Bard in the Botanics

Shakespeare's women don't always get a good deal. If they're not going mad or swooning over teenage suitors, they're dying in tragic circumstances after being psychologically abused by the same men. This is something this year's Bard in the Botanics series of open-air productions of Shakespeare attempts to redress with a season boldly titled These Headstrong Women.

Over the course of four plays, directors Gordon Barr and Jennifer Dick not only attempt to counter the perception of Shakespeare's female creations as being mere ciphers in thrall of his male heroes in The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure. By initiating cross-gender casting for Timon of Athens and what is now styled as Queen Lear, they give strength to the characters alongside a new spin on some of the more complex aspects of Shakespeare's canon.

At the centre of all of this are a quartet of actresses who effectively lead each production. The title role of Timon of Athens will be played by Nicole Cooper, who did similar last year in Coriolanus, for which she recently won the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland Best Female Performer award. Emma-Claire Brightlyn will play opposite Cooper as Apemantus. With Cooper also playing Isabella in Measure for Measure, a radical reworking of The Taming of the Shrew features Stephanie McGregor as Kate. Taking on the mighty title role in Queen Lear will be veteran actress Janette Foggo.

“Women are at the heart of all four of the plays we're doing,” says Barr. “The season was born out of the choices of the plays we were interested in doing and the actors we wanted to work with. Once we realised how central to each play the female characters were, we just thought, let's go with it. We were also aware that we've never had gender parity with the company, and we feel we've got work to do in that respect. There's a really important discussion going on regarding classical theatre right now about gender, and about how there should be more opportunities for women, and in choosing to do these plays the way we're doing them, we want to reflect that discussion in terms of what's going on I the world right now.”

Barr's new adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew is here styled as a more questioning Taming of the Shrew? This new version combines the original with material taken from The Tamer Tamed, a riposte to Shakespeare's unreconstructed world-view by his seventeenth century protege, John Fletcher.

“Given the name of the season it's something of a controversial choice,” Barr says of Shakespeare's original. “However you look at the play now, what happens in it is distasteful in many ways. By putting in material from The Tamer Tamed, we can see that Fletcher is saying that what Petruchio did to Kate is wrong. We've set it in the 1950s, when society was still steeped in old-fashioned attitudes towards women, but where things were beginning to change, and by doing it the way we're doing it, Kate gets her chance to fight back.”

The production of Timon of Athens that opens the same night has no need for such a reinvention.

“It's so rarely done,” says Barr, “but is such a prescient play for now. It explores capitalism and greed, and the selfishness that breeds, and it's really about how you have to get beyond that and start looking after your fellow human beings. As is the case with Shakespeare, there are scenes in it that could be about what's happening now, and Jennifer's setting it in the 1920s, so it has references in it to the Wall Street crash.”

While Cooper plays Timon, “this is one where cross-gender casting doesn't make a massive difference. It's still a strong and powerful role, whether it's played by a man or a woman.”

Queen Lear, on the other hand, was what Barr describes as a no-brainer in terms of what approach to take.

“Jen has been working towards this production for three years,” says Barr, “and after all the publicity surrounding Glenda Jackson playing Lear in London, we nearly put it on hold, but I think our approach is different to that. Jen wants Janette to play it as a woman, a queen and a mother, and for audiences to be able to see the consequences of that.”

Foggo comes to Lear after forty years experience as an actress, including playing opposite Cooper in last year's Bard in the Botanics season as the mother of Coriolanus.

“There's not a lot in Shakespeare about mothers and daughters,” Foggo says, “which is one of the things that interested me in playing Lear. It's not a part I'd necessarily want to do, but having just spent three months with the text at my side, all the questions the play asks about power and everything else besides, it gives you every answer you require, as any great play will do.

“One of the issues for women in classical drama is that they are completely isolated in a world of men. That's the same whether it's Lady Macbeth or Ophelia or Desdemona. They are all women living in a world of men, and that has an effect on how we talk and think about women.

“The thing about Lear is that, although there are three daughters in it, it's essentially a play about masculinity. A male actor can leave drama school and he could spend an entire career playing different parts in the play. There isn't a play that has that kind of range for women. Of course, doing it this way changes things a bit. The dynamic is different, But I'm a mature, sophisticated woman who's been around a bit, and why shouldn't I play a woman in power in this way?”

The final play in the season will be Measure for Measure, in which the focus will be on Isabella.

“Isabella's not the most popular of Shakespeare's women,” says Barr. “She can be seen as cold, but in the play she's asked to be raped to save someone's life, and that's not okay.”

In this way, the These Headstrong Women season is as much a critique of Shakespeare as a dramatic rendering of his work. Not everyone would approve. One of the most vocal detractors of onstage equality of late was playwright Ronald Harwood, author of The Dresser. Harwood made his objections to Glenda Jackson playing Lear plain.

“He said that if Shakespeare had wanted to write the character as a woman then he would've done so,” says Barr. “Well, he wouldn't, because he had fourteen year old boys playing all his women characters. We want to celebrate the plays by cross gender casting in the way we are doing, and looking at all the complex characters that can help create.

“Doing it in this way is less tokenistic now. I don't think we've ever done a season where there's not been some kind of cross-gender casting, but I think it's important to say that there are as many women on this planet as there are men. For us, it's about finding out all the different things the plays can be.”

Bard in the Botanics' These Headstrong Women season begins with The Taming of the Shrew, June 21-July 8 and Timon of Athens, June 22-July 8, both at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow.

The Herald, June 20th 2017


Mary Rose

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

The blast of war that opens Richard Baron's stately revival of J.M. Barrie's trauma-tinged ghost story is a telling signifier of what follows. Written in 1920 when the world was still reeling from the Great War, the seismic events that occurred between 1914 and 1918 cast the heaviest of shadows over the play.

Barrie himself introduces proceedings as played by Alan Steele, who breaks up the action throughout as he delivers Barrie's elaborate stage directions. This adds a surprisingly sly wit to Barrie's story of a young woman who vanishes twice on a Scottish island, only to return still youthful while all around her have grown old. There are little one-liners similarly peppered throughout the text, especially in the well-worn interplay between the disappeared Mary's parents, played with understated elegance by Ian Marr and Irene Allan. This has clearly become a form of self-protection as the family attempt to survive their loss.

Amidst the hokey hints of mysticism and Barrie's over-riding belief in the purity of childhood through a cosmic form of arrested development, something far more serious is going on. Hammer horror style tricks are heightened by Wayne Dowdeswell's moody lighting and a dissonant knife-edge score by Jon Beales. Neil Warmington's dust-sheet laden set doubles up as both haunted house and the possibly sacred isle which Sara Clark Downie's Mary skips her way through en route to her destiny. For all the unavoidable clunkiness of some of the play's period politesse, as lives are turned upside down several times over by events nobody could predict or understand, a palpable sense of poignancy points up a pain that haunts those left behind forever.
The Herald, June 20th 2017


Monday, 19 June 2017

A Season in Hull – Neu! Reekie!'s Where Are We Now? festival at Hull City of Culture 2017

Prologue - Thursday

Outside the grand facade of Hull City Hall two Thursday tea times ago, kids are playing in the sun on Queen Victoria Square. The main attraction is a syncopated water fountain, the multiple streams of which, arranged on a large circle like maids in a row, shoot some seventy-seven jets of computer operated water at various heights, speeds and directions. For the kids playing among it, the display becomes a shower of surprises.

Mel Chantrey's construction isn't part of Look Up: What is it?, the city's year-round programme of temporary public art commissions. This has already seen Blade, a seventy-five metre wind turbine blade by multi-media artist Nayan Kulkarni, installed in the square. Judging by the sense of communal participation introduced as part of Hull City Council's £25million facelift for public spaces in the city, it may as well be.

At the side of the City Hall, the window is awash with posters of forthcoming attractions. Comedian Ed Byrne is coming, as is a programme of old-school British wrestling that may look a bit American. In the top left hand corner, a size smaller than most, is the poster for Where Are We Now?, a three day and night festival/intervention curated by Neu! Reekie!

With Where Are We Now?'s aim being both to question as much as celebrate the state of the nations in terms of counter cultural arts activity, arriving in town a week before the UK General Election in a city that polled one of the highest pro-Leave votes during the Brexit referendum, the weekend's accidental timing was fortuitous.

In the box office window of the City Hall, the poster for Where Are We Now ?#1 is tucked into a corner. The weekend's biggest event is a seemingly incongruous Friday night extravaganza that puts Young Fathers on a bill with people's diva Charlotte Church and her Late Night Pop Dungeon. These are preceded by short sets from veteran dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and poet Hollie McNish.

Even seen in miniature, the poster, designed by Jamie Reid using the same cut-out ransom-note style lettering that his record sleeve designs helped define he Sex Pistols captures the anarchic spirit of both Neu! Reekie! and Where Are We Now? in their full insurrectionist, agitational glory. That's without even mentioning the melee of hip hop artists, poets, performers, talkers and trouble-makers also taking part.

Inside the City Hall's old-school Victorian civic theatre splendour, awash with wood-panelled walls and red brick arches, and with a giant church organ at the back of the stage, the get in for the Friday night show is ongoing. The green room isn't that much smaller than the hall in the Scottish Book Trust, where Neu! Reekie!ring-maestros Michael Pedersen and KevinWilliamson first set up shop.


Where Are We Now? was named after David Bowie's piece of late period melancholia that became the first single from his penultimate album, The Next Day, released in 2013. It's fitting, then, that the festival begins on Friday lunchtime in the cosy back room of a restaurant called Kardomah94 with a Bowie cabaret by Nick Currie, aka Momus. Over an hour long show, Currie throws shapes to a musical backing sourced solely from his laptop, and which in part reinvents some of Bowie's lesser-known back catalogue in his own image.

These are performed by Currie against a video back-drop of found material that evokes Bowie's influence and legacy through images of fellow counter-cultural icons and peers. Andy Warhol is in there, of course. So is Lindsay Kemp. Buster Keaton's turn in Samuel Beckett's Film is also in the mix, as is a studiedly Bowieesque John Foxx. As more familiar numbers - Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Absolute Beginners and a compulsory Where Are We Now? - which Currie recorded and released online a few hours after Bowie's original came out - are served up, Momus taps into Bowie's sense of pure performance. This isn't a tribute act, but is a homage that interprets the originals with a torch singer's sense of intimacy and candour.

Over on Humber Street, warehouse turned night-club Fruit is seeing daylight for once. Inside, What's in a Safe Space? is the question being asked by Gal-Dem, a zine and creative collective run by young women of colour. There's a precarious looking bed set up at the back of he room, and on the floor sat at a desk a young woman is scribbling away at a make-shift desk. It suggests a sleep-over, the original space for young women to share stories without fear of being laughed at.

The sheer power of work by poets including Amina Jama and Rachel Nwokoro is fearless. Young Fathers manager turned creative director Tim Brinkhurst leans in at one point, and whispers how, in all his years of being involved in left wing and progressive politics, he's never seen an event organised by young black women. Why?

“Confidence”, he whispers back.

Next door, in the recently opened Humber Street Gallery, a montage of posters by Jamie Reid lines a wall tucked mysteriously out of view from the gallery's main space

The Where Are We Now? poster is nowhere to be seen, but the picture of the Queen with a safety pin through her nose from Reid's Sex Pistols days is there.

'God save Trump' says one slogan.

'God save us all' is the riposte.


This slogan reveals Reid's roots in situationism, the non-movement movement of actionists and interventionists whose seeming irreverence as provocoteurs of fun may or may not have inspired punk, and is possibly the reason why Where Are We Now? is happening. One of them, anyway.

Reid's images - and Reid - are the umbilical link between generations of the British counter culture, from situationist hippy to punk provocateur and back again. This is best exemplified in another poster by Reid, which has the words 'City of Culture' carved out over a black and white image of an open air gig in a field. Below on the back of a t-shirted festival goers sagging jeans, in the same letters are the words 'My Arse'.

It's s just after 6pm on Friday night, and the early birds in Hull City Hall are watching What Was Done, the magnificent piece of mockumentary satire by Edinburgh film-maker and record producer, Bonnie Prince Bob. First screened at Neu! Reekie!'s pre Hull Edinburgh warm up, and with it clocking up more than a million views on YouTube, What Was Done cheekily imagines a future UK after Corbyn has won the General Election with a landslide. Screened in Edinburgh where Labour is seemingly a spent force is one thing. Seeing it in a northern English town a week before an actual election, and with the Tories getting more desperate by the minute gives it a completely different resonance.

Introducing a show that was planned pre-Brexit, pre-Trump and pre-General Election, Pedersen and Williamson flag up images of both Corbyn (cheers) and Theresa May (boos). It may be playing to the gallery, but it's still good to hear.

In the spirit of the event, Williamson had originally planned to stand or parliament in Hull as an independent candidate. He pulled out at the last minute when he discovered that it was too late to register anything other than his name on the polling card. As the outsider's outsider from a couple of hundred miles away, and with no mention of Where Are We Now? in place, for the floating voter, the exercise would have lacked context and meaning, so he withdrew.

The first performer is Hollie McNish, the pocket whirlwind who performs a set of infinitely personal poems about sex and the single mum and the everyday racism of her granny's neighbour' with an honesty and a razor-sharp wit. There's ones about being made to feel embarrassed after breast-feeding, another about McNish's little girl discovering herself in the mirror for the first time, and another about teenage girls learning to wank and getting it wrong. All the everyday mess of humanity is here, in all its insecure and hilarious joy. Everyone should have a granny like McNish's.

Linton Kwesi Johnson is as much historian as poet these days, but his litanies of decade on decade of institutionalised racism remain essential. It is Johnson's words that form the backdrop of the stage, and it is his mantra - 'Writing was a political act / and poetry was a cultural weapon' – that make up a manifesto for both Where Are We Now? and Neu! Reekie!

What follows, as Johnson moves through evocations of the notorious SUS law in Sonny's Lettah, the 1981 Brixton riots and an elegy for his father, is a mesmeric display of wisdom made even more special by Johnson's dignity and stillness.

Revolution turns pop next, as Charlotte Church's eight piece band who make up her Late Night Pop Dungeon sparkle into life with the operatic theme from Twin Peaks before moving into a euphoric set of covers. Church and co move from Prince's Get Off to Missy Elliot's Get Ur Freak On so you can't see the join. There are snatches of Talking Heads' Burning Down the House, Destiny's Child's Survivor, and a remarkable five-piece harmony on 10cc's I'm Not in Love before coming full circle for Prince's Diamonds and Pearls. Bootylicious, Rhythm is a Dancer and a finale of En Vogue's Don't Let Go shows the sheer emotive joy of pure pop.

Young Fathers open with an invitation to join them in a non existent country where everyone is welcome and the only rule is that no one is an arsehole. It's a week after the Manchester bombing at an Ariana Grande concert, and something so quietly righteous needs to be said. The set that follows rumbles with martial drums, urgent three-way cross-talk, boy band harmonies and some of the sweetest singing this side of Marvin Gaye. Such a hybrid isn't just musical. It's a statement that takes in a socio-political hybrid that's inclusive defiant and triumphal, exactly where we need to be right now.


Hip Hop day. In the morning, a series of workshops are a lively pre-cursor to a screening of Rodney P Presents...The Hip-Hop World News, a fascinating look at the people behind the music that started its life on the street. Public Enemy's Chuck D, Def Jam's Russell Simmons and New York rapper Rakim are all in the mix in a way that undoubtedly provided inspiration for the real life Hip-Hop Jam taking place down buy the docks.

This three hour long showcase features turntablists and a freestyle Hip-Hop challenge that set the scene for Where Are We Now? #2, the main event that took place across two stages in local night-club, The Welly. Inbetween, Mark Cousins screens his film, I Am Belfast, an evocative and impressionistic portrait of Northern Ireland's capital in all its contrary beauty, and which features a soundtrack by David Holmes.

On an already warm day, things hotted up even more down at the Welly.

'Enjoy your stay at the Welly,' says a sign inside. 'We come on peace...and so should you!
No drugs
No violence
Plenty of good vibes'

Opening with a euphoric display of break-dancing from a local crew, Where Are We Now #2 mixes and matches local acts with Neu! Reekie favourites and rappers and MCs from up and down the countries. A duo called Chiedu Oraka & Deezkid rhyme about the city's Northwood estate where they're both from, and a piece called Lockdown is a fierce critique of Hull.

A siren sounds, signalling the arrival of Stanley Odd on stage 1, which sits at one end of the room adjacent to the second stage. The young people edge forward for an Edinburgh band they've probably never heard of. The six piece fusion of rap, soul and funk that follows is so infectious that within minutes they're grooving along to songs about the Scottish referendum. Vocalist Dave Hook cribs from a poster for the night to bolster an on the spot rhyme using the names of the acts on the night. By the end, the youth of Hull are singing along to anthem in waiting It's All Gone to Fuck, before another bout of break-dancing ensues. The community vibe that infects the room is a joy.

Genre hopping singer and MC Eva Lazarus taps into this in a set that flits between Jungle, Hip-Hop and dancehall reggae. Her performance is enlivened even more by a customised cape that sports the word 'Labour' on the back, with 'Corbyn' across the front.

Hollie McNish is in the house, and says how refreshing it is seeing so many young women in the audience. She used to go to a lot of shows like this, she says, and there were hardly any. It's probably because there are female artists like Lazarus on the bill, she reckons. This echoes Brinkhurst's words from the day before about Gal-dem.

McNish and Lazarus know each other virtually from an online group of female spoken word artists, but they've never met before. McNish goes up to her and the pair chat face to face for the first time. It's a lovely moment of solidarity, and sums up everything Where Are We Now? is about.

Headliner Akala had been on TV a couple of nights before talking about the election. Tonight, he's cutting loose doing “the thing he enjoys the most” as he puts it. Over an hour long set accompanied by a live drummer, this doesn't stop this accidental conscience of the nations from getting the now packed audience from raising their collective middle fingers to a singalong of 'Fuck the Tory cunts'.


In the restaurant of Kardomah94, Bill Drummond is sitting at a large text based painting emblazoned with the words 'FORTY DARKEST THOUGHTS'. He's been spending the weekend polishing forty pairs of shoes as a shoeshine boy and asking each person who's shoes he's shining to share their darkest thoughts. A decade ago he took it upon himself to twin Hull with people's darkest thoughts, and now he's back to see how it's worked out.

So far he's added the words of someone who's worried about a right wing takeover akin to Nazi Germany, and someone scared they'll murder someone because it's something they've always wanted to do.

Before that, Hollie McNish introduces poet, playwright and performer Sabrina Mahfouz to read from How You Might Know Me, her new book of poems which gives voice to women working in the sex industry. As she puts on different accents and attitudes, her four characters come to life in ways that are funny, defiant, vulnerable and fearless.

Mahfouz worked in a strip club to pay her way through university, and has written about such scenarios previously in her splay, Dry Ice, which was seen in the Edinburgh Fringe. As she reveals during a discussion with McNish, the poems were originally written for a mooted TV drama, but were dropped at the last minute when the TV company didn't know how to market it.

Heroically, a young woman in the audience called Virginia steps up to read her own poem drawn from her experiences working as a stripper in New Zealand.

In the interval, Drummond and assured Neu! Reekie! types have been shifting 25 of Drummond's paintings from the back of a hire van to the stage, poking them high inbetween two easels. On the easels sit two paintings. One is the 'YOUR FORTY DARKEST THOUGHTS' one. The other just has the words, 'YOUR DARKEST THOUGHTS'.

Drummond has effectively just designed and built a stage set which, while remaining largely untouched, adds depth and an extra dimensions to his wayward pontifications that follow as he introduces himself as Tenzing Scott Brown.

“Tenzing Scott Brown can do all the things Bill Drummond could never do,” he says, before holding aloft a couple of paintings by his childhood neighbour, Mr Agnew. This introduces an hour long mind-expanding ramble that goes some way to explain how, under the auspices of the Intercontinental Twinning Association, he twinned Belfast with 'Your Wildest Dreams' and Hull with 'Your Darkest Thoughts.' From this premise, Drummond was supposed to collect forty of the local population's thoughts while cleaning their shoes. While this had prompted several conversations the night before with the diverse, multi-cultural residents of Hull, as Drummond points out “This whole talk was supposed to be about something else.”

Drummond relates how he took his Imagine Waking Up One Day and All Music Has Disappeared project to Haiti, where he painted the slogan on a wall in Port-au-Prince, a city where music can be heard on the street all day long. Following an earthquake, however, the city was all but silenced, with Drummond's mural one of the few structures to survive. Word filters back to Drummond that people in Haiti now think he's a prophet.

Somehow this leads to Drummond talking about writing plays, and taking a vote on whether to drop either his dad's old army bible or a box of his old books which have been gathering dust in storage from the Humber Bridge. The books win the vote.

The young Haitian artist who Drummond is paying to recreate some of Drummond's already existing works isn't returning emails, and Drummond is worried. Drummond asks the audience to email him to make sure he's okay, and to say that Bill hasn't heard from him. Along with the books, Drummond produces a box of left-over mugs from 2004, when he twinned Kensington London with Kensington in Liverpool. While the mugs are flogged off in the foyer, a small army of volunteers troop in and out of Kardomah 94 once more, loading paintings back into the van, and he's off into the Hull afternoon. Tenzing Scott Brown has very definitely left the building.


The next morning, after a last night party in the New Adelphi Club, one of the best small venues on the planet, Neu! Reekie! and Where Are We Now? may be gone, but over at the fountain in Queen Victoria Square, the water is already on and the kids are up and the dancing. In Hull, this is where we are now. As far as everything that's happened since, in the General Election and everything else, goes, Where Are We Now? was a necessary show of strength that proved the counter-culture still matters.

Product, June 2017


Wednesday, 14 June 2017


Dundee Rep
Four stars

“Is this what it means to be free?” asks five year old Little Jack in Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her startling 2010 novel, brought to the stage by director Cora Bissett. The only life Jack has known previously is the claustrophobic confines of a wooden shed, where he lived with his doting Ma after she was kidnapped seven years before by a man known only as Old Nick. Here, Jack conjures up a world drawn from his fertile imagination. Inanimate objects become his playmates, and a sense of wonder and adventure prevails. When Ma and Jack finally manage to escape their captor, they find themselves in a new kind of prison.

An over-riding warmth emanates from every pore of this co-production between Theatre Royal Stratford East and Abbey Theatre, Dublin in association with the National Theatre of Scotland and Covent Garden Productions. There is a sense of empathy and care too with Donoghue's characters. This is clear from the relationship between Witney White's Ma and Little Jack, played here by Harrison Wilding, one of three child actors taking turns at the play's pivotal role. The unspoken complexities of Jack's responses to his plight are given voice by Fela Lufadeju's Big Jack.

 Played out on Lily Arnold's busy set and given depth by Andrzej Goulding's animated video projections, Donoghue and Bissett's construction is fleshed out further through songs written by Bissett and Kathryn Joseph, and performed by White and Lufadeju. The end result is a heart-rending depiction of a mother and child's survival of the unthinkable through the power of a love that finally allows Jack and Ma to come home.

The Herald, June 15th 2017


Niall Greig Fulton and Tam Dean Burn - Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath

Making connections was everything for Tom McGrath, the late poet, playwright, jazz pianist and all round seeker of artistic and spiritual enlightenment, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 68. This is something Edinburgh International Film Festival senior programmer Niall Greig Fulton recognised as a young actor in the 1990s. Then, McGrath took Fulton under his wing after seeing him play his old friend and fellow traveller of the 1960s counter-culture, novelist Alexander Trocchi, in a one-man show.

This came at a period when a new wave of Scottish writers, actors and thinkers were exploring counter-cultural thought and reinventing it in their own image through a fusion of punk-inspired lit-zines such as Rebel Inc and a free-thinking rave scene. Theatrically speaking, in Edinburgh this manifested itself in what would now be known as a pop-up venue, where Fulton first crossed paths with McGrath.

“Tom turned up at the first performance,” says Fulton, “and someone said there was someone who wanted to talk to me. That was Tom, and the first thing he said to me was 'This is an evening of great triumph.'”

McGrath went on to work closely with Fulton to develop the show, giving notes, telling old stories of the sixties involving himself, Trocchi and R.D. Laing, the radical psychiatrist who formed the third part of Scotland's counter-cultural un-holy trinity.

“My clearest memory is of being in the Lyceum with Tom,” says Fulton, “and him saying, okay, you're Alex, you're at a party in New York in the 60s, and there's a woman on the other side of the room you want to get to, but you have to negotiate with room full of people to get there. I'd act it out, and then Tom would say, there's quite a few things Alex wouldn't have done. There was a generosity there, a gently provocative mentoring.”

More than two decades on, Fulton is squaring the circle with Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath, a programme of play readings, screenings and talks either by, about or inspired by McGrath. The former will feature a new look at The Hard Man, McGrath's controversial prison drama co-written with former Glasgow gangster turned artist Jimmy Boyle. This will be given a new twist, with director Tam Dean Burn casting acclaimed actress Kate Dickie in the title role. Also on show will be a look at The Android Circuit, McGrath's rarely seen science-fiction play, which was seen at the then Grassmarket-based Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, where The Hard Man had premiered the year before.

In keeping with a science-fiction theme, the season will feature a screening of The Nuclear Family, McGrath's 1982 TV work for the BBC's short-lived Play For Tomorrow strand of stand-alone dramas. With its mind-expanding look at both dystopian and utopian futures, science-fiction was as much a liberating force for change adopted by the hippy underground as sex, drugs, poetry and jazz.

A programme of TV interviews with McGrath will be seen alongside a screening of Wholly Communion, Peter Whitehead's film of the 1965 gathering of the counter-cultural clans at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where a young McGrath read his poetry alongside Allen Ginsberg in an event hosted by Trocchi.

Two lectures see historian and lecturer Angela Bartie look at McGrath's 1960s and 1970s past, while Scott Hames analyses how McGrath used language in The Hard Man. McGrath's poetry comes under the spotlight in a concert by jazz saxophonist Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. As well as playing work by Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, both of whom McGrath brought to Glasgow in the 1970s while director of the Third Eye Centre, now the site of the CCA, Tam Dean Burn will read some of McGrath's hard to find poetry. Linking all this together with suitable looseness will be a screening of Shirley Clarke's film of The Connection, Jack Gelber's jazz and drugs steeped 1959 play, first produced by Julian Beck's beat-inspired Living Theatre.”

“I first saw the film in 1996, when Tom was launching his book, Birdcalls,” says Fulton, “and he was asked by the Shore Poets, who were putting on the event, to choose a film to go with it. That introduced me to the work of Shirley Clarke, and I ended up programming a season of her work at the Film Festival. So there are all these links that all come back to Tom.”

Another link in the chain comes through Burn, whose role in proceedings stems from appearing in McGrath's version of Quebecois writer Daniel Danis' play, Stones and Ashes, at the Traverse.

“It meant so much to Tom to get that play on,” says Burn. “He was all about being in the moment, and was enthusiastic for whatever was going on there and then. He was enthusiastic for other writers as well. He was very selfless.”

Burn's work has straddled several generations of the counter-culture, ever since he was a young punk fronting Edinburgh band Dirty Reds, who, with Burn departing for an acting career, later morphed into Fire Engines. How things connect up is illustrated further by the fact that Fire Engines records were released by Bob Last. Now the producer behind successful films including Terence Davies' version of Sunset Song, Last co-founded concept-based record label Fast Product. A few years earlier, he had been the set designer of the original Traverse Theatre production of The Hard Man. McGrath would have loved such connections.

“Music was such a driving force for Tom,” says Burn. “That was where he came from, and that was what we had in common. In that way he wasn't of the same ilk of a lot of people in theatre at the time.”

Fulton concurs with Burn's observation, particularly in relation to jazz.

“There were traces of jazz in everything he did. It was all about rhythm, and one thing leading to another without you ever being quite sure where you were going with it.”

Fulton tells a story which McGrath related to him about when he brought Miles Davis to Glasgow, and how he was heartbroken when Davis refused to acknowledge him, leaving all niceties to a middle-man while he just stood there smoking. This continued until just before Miles' departure, when, on the way up the stairs as Miles and his middle man were going down them, he heard a voice.

“Hey,” said Miles, who had stopped and turned to face McGrath. “It's not a bad suit for a white man.”

Electric Contact forms part of The Future is History, a post Brexit nod to the 1970s and 1980s through the filmic identities of Great Britain, Scotland and the grandly named Western World of the Future. This will feature screenings of key films made by former Beatle George Harrison's HandMade Films, including A Sense of Freedom, John Mackenzie's take on Jimmy Boyle's life story, and Bruce Robinson's ultimate look back in languor, Withnail and I. A season of science-fiction films will feature the Glasgow-shot Deathwatch.

“It's very personal to me,” says Fulton about the season. “Tom did so much, and trying to draw all those things together has been quite a job. What fascinates me about Tom is what he could see that others couldn't. Whether he ever fulfilled what he wanted to fulfil creatively I'm not sure, because everything he did fed into something else. He couldn't stop creating. I used to say playing Trocchi changed my life, but actually it was changed by Tom McGrath.”

Electric Contact: The Visionary Worlds of Tom McGrath runs as part of The Future is History at Edinburgh International Festival from June 21-July 2.

The Herald, June 13th 2017