Sunday, 30 October 2011


Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Faith, hope and not so much charity as big business sponsorship are at
the heart of Abi Morgan’s heartfelt new play for the National Theatre
of Scotland. Inspired by Dr David Snowdon’s book, Aging With Grace,
based on his scientific study of nuns and the effects of Alzheimer’s
disease, Morgan sets up a text-book culture clash between two very
different orthodoxies trying to find meaning and enlightenment in a
fast food, hi-tech, wonder drug world which cares for neither.

In one corner is Nicholas Le Prevost’s shy but driven American, Dr
Richard Garfield, in the other the force of nature that is Maureen
Beattie’s Sister Ursula Mary. Orbiting around them in the west of
Scotland nunnery over half a decade are infinitely more realistic
elements from both younger and older generations, who map out their own
destinies while Richard and Ursula remain in very different forms of

There are times in Vicky Featherstone’s monumental-looking production
where the play’s intense, metaphor-laden naturalism is almost too dry.
As retreat gradually turns to ethical and emotional confrontation in a
struggle to turn dirty money clean regarding matters of life and death,
however, Ursula’s howl of rage at the world speaks volumes.

It’s moments like these that make the play, with Beattie especially
giving a fearless study of doubt, loss and belief. The last half hour
in particular is spellbindingly good. By the end, both Richard and
Ursula have acquired a less rigid view of the world. Richard in
particular has learnt the hard way not to be so pious, and that if you
let enough light into your world, miracles may happen yet.

The Herald, October 27th 2011


One Man, Two Guvnors

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
James Corden isn’t an obvious matinee idol. Such is his wide-eyed
control over the audience in Nicholas Hytner’s National Theatre
production of Richard Bean’s audacious reinvention of Goldoni’s The
Servant of Two Masters, however, that it’s impossible not to warm to
his barn-stormingly full-on performance.

Corden’s TV-friendly features help, of course, in what, in Bean, Hytner
and especially physical comedy director Cal McCrystal’s hands is
transformed into a riotous end-of- the-pier seaside postcard sit-com.
Bean sets things in Brighton during 1963, that crucial year, as poet
Philip Larkin put it, when sexual intercourse began ‘between the end of
the Chatterley ban and The Beatles first LP’.

It was also the year the skiffle boom was stamped on by rock and roll,
as Corden’s estuarised harlequin Francis Henshall finds to his cost
when he and his washboard are chucked out of his band. Out of such
adversity, Francis blags his way into the pay of both Jemima Rooper’s
psychopathic gangster who’s actually the Kray-like kingpin’s twin
sister, and Oliver Chris’ toff who apparently killed him. With a
barrow-load of dodgy geezers, would-be stage stars, nice-but-dim
daughters and pneumatic proto-feminists in tow, Francis double-bluffs
his way into one mess after another in a breathless virtuoso ensemble

Beyond such fine-tuned hilarity, there’s also some subtle social
comment going on about the state of post-World War Two British culture
as it moved out of 1950s austerity and started to swing. There’s a
sense of soon to be thwarted feel-good optimism at play here too that
sits oddly in tune with just now. Such a sly and vividly knowing
approach makes this an unmissable comic experience on every level.

The Herald, October 27th 2011


James Corden - One Man, Two Guvnors

James Corden bounds into the boardroom of the National Theatre on
London's South Bank at full pelt, like an overgrown puppy whose master
has just come home. Fifteen minutes earlier he'd had a packed matinee
crowd at the National's Lyttleton Theatre in the palm of his hand in
One Man Two Guvnors, Richard Bean's saucy seaside postcard style
adaptation of Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters. Nicholas Hytner's
production, which opens in Edinburgh tonight, gives vent to a
rollickingly relentless performance by Corden as an on-the-make chancer
who, fired from his skiffle band, wheedles his way in and out of
trouble in 1960s Brighton.

Over the course of the afternoon, Corden literally throws himself into
every minute of what is a wonderful vehicle for his ongoing if somewhat
self-conscious rehabilitation into the nation's comedic heart. In a
Mod-era romp that looks like it could have been dreamt up by a Park
Life era Damon Albarn in some unholy union with the late Joe Orton, one
minute Corden is bashing himself about the head with a metal tray, the
next he's playing a vibraphone while sporting a fez. It's infectious
stuff, totally in keeping with the original play's Commedia d'ell'Arte
roots as Corden indulges in some panto-style audience participation.

Best of all is when he invites a couple of kids onstage to join him in
a heavy removal routine. The two boys in this instance happen to be a
pair of well-spoken eleven year olds called Frederick and Xavier.
Frederick, the taller of the two, somewhat uncannily bears the gait and
the hair of a pre-pubescent Boris Johnson.

“I'm slightly worried that these two are already better educated than
me,” Corden quips as he surveys the boys. Then, as they prepare to pick
up their load, “This may be the only manual labour you two ever do.”

As Frederick and Xavier provide this extra soupçon of class-based
hilarity to proceedings, the overall effect is somewhere between
Opportunity Knocks, Crackerjack, Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game and
Russ Abbot's Variety Madhouse. All of which may have been prime time TV
favourites, but which were lifted wholesale from a vaudeville circuit
that would have made Corden's cheeky chappie persona a top turn.

On this showing, Corden fits into as long line of entertainers who've
been cast in serious drama. Ken Dodd and the late Max Wall both spring
to mind as Corden pratfalls fearlessly. Let's not forget, however,
that, while Corden may have been responsible in part for lame TV sketch
show Horne and Corden and self-explanatory big-screen enterprise,
Lesbian Vampire Killers, he has also appeared in films by Mike Leigh
and Shane Meadows. Given that Corden was also one of the original cast
of Alan Bennett's smash-hit play, The History Boys, one can also
probably let him off a couple of boorish appearances hosting awards
ceremonies and TV quiz shows.

If Corden has been doing his growing up in public ever since The
History Boys, then One Man, Two Guvnors is his coming of age. Or at
least that's the impression you get from this hoodied-up bundle of
energy's eager-to-please demeanour.

“It's the hardest thing I've ever done,” he says of the show. “Five
minutes before you're thinking you've got a really steep hill to climb
before you can relax, but that's why you do it, to be challenged in
that way.”

Of The History Boys, Corden says that “All eight boys who were in that
play have a romantic attachment to this building, and to Nick (Hytner),
and I think we all feel that it changed our lives. Not just
professionally, but personally. You come in here for an audition one
day, and a year and a half later you've shot a film and you're living
in New York. It's a dream of a thing to be involved in.

“The weirdest thing was coming back (to the National Theatre) without
those seven friends. We were like a little gang, and you always feel
stronger in a gang. But immediately those feelings evaporated, because
you just feel, or I feel, constantly lucky to be in a play like this,
to be playing a part like this. I can't quite believe that I am. That's
the truth. When I was growing up I never dreamt of playing Hamlet or
things like that. I remember going to see Me and My Girl with Gary
Wilmot in the West End and thinking, 'Oh, my God, that's the most
amazing thing I've seen in my life, and I want to do that'. So to do
this is an absolute joy from start to finish.”

Corden is back onstage in a couple of hours for the evening performance
of One Man, Two Guvnors, and must be exhausted. You'd never guess this,
however, as he holds court at what is called in the trade a 'regional
press day'. All those gathered today have signed a disclaimer at the
behest of the publisher of Corden's tellingly titled autobiography, May
I Have Your Attention, Please? This is to ensure nothing will appear in
any publication prior to the book's high-profile serialisation in a
well-known tabloid. Since then, of course, May I Have Your Attention,
Please? has been all over the place, and a book-signing tour of each
city that One Man, Two Guvnors travels to has been factored into his

One gets the impression from all this activity that Corden is somehow
taking stock and making amends for past misdeeds. Everything he says is
invested with humility. Part of this clearly comes from the wake up
call that came with the birth of the thirty-three year old's first
child to his partner, Julia Carey. Yet, beneath his professional
niceness lies a contrary mix of burning ambition and a deep-set

Corden doesn't so much tell as acts out a story that's in the book,
about how, as a toddler at his sister's christening, he was put on a
high chair by the vicar because he couldn't see. He instinctively
started to perform, eliciting giggles from the congregation, which he
thought was “great.” Once his dad took him down, however, and no-one
could see him anymore, it felt “rubbish. From then on in it just became
a quest, really, for attention, which I don't think exists anymore,
certainly in the last few years since I became more successful, but
this was all I ever wanted to do.”

After years of auditioning following a stint at stage school in High
Wycombe, Corden got his first professional job aged seventeen in the
chorus for west end musical, Martin Guerre. If such bit-parts weren't
enough, even the attention The History Boys brought with it had its

“There was one day when me, Russell (Tovey) and Andy (Knott) were all
being biked these scripts from our agents for a British film. There
were these two lead parts thety were seeing them for, and I was being
seen dor the part of a newsagent. I was really upset by it, because you
go, is this it? I always thought that I would get a chance to play good
parts. I didn't just want to be the guy who drops off Hugh Grant in a

Beyond this current tour, One Man, Two Guvnors looks set for the West
End and beyond. Corden also has a bundle of writing, acting and
presenting jobs for TV on the go.

“I've never felt more fulfilled,” Corden says sincerely. “Both
personally and professionally, I've never felt happier.”

One Man, Two, Guvnors, Kings Theatre, Edinburgh, October 25-29

The Herald, October 25th 2011


Happy Days In The Art World

Tramway, Glasgow
3 stars
There's an uber-cool whiff of Hollywood as well as Samuel Beckett about
this new show by Berlin-based Scandinavian art duo Elmgreen & Dragset,
which this weekend received two low-key work-in-progress previews en
route to a full run at the Performa festival in New York. The first
comes in the form of real life movie star Joseph Fiennes onstage. The
second, despite the title, looks to Beckett's other existential
masterpiece, Waiting For Godot, for guidance.

Fiennes plays one of two men who wake up on bunk-beds in a black room,
too hungover to remember where they were the night before or why
they're all dressed up in identical black suits. The private view
babble that sounds as the lights go down gives the game away in spades,
however. Fiennes' ID and Charles Edwards' ME are idealised versions of
their authors, an art-star double act trapped in a self-reflexive
bubble. They're waiting for salvation, not from Godot, but the

In what's effectively a great big elaborate in-joke, overwrought gospel
versions of portentous U2 epics and all, Elmgreen & Dragset laugh at
their own pseudyness even as they revel in it. This is especially the
case with the helicoptered-in arrival of blind fed-ex courier BI, who
doubles as their version of Godot's Lucky. Her spewed-out speech,
however, references Derrida, Lacan, Tate Modern and other coffee-table
art-scene iconography absorbed by rote.

With script advice from Forced Entertainment's Tim Etchells, it's hard
to fault the slickness of Toby Frew's production, however old-fashioned
it all looks. In the end, ID and ME carry on regardless just as their
Beckettian forbears did, the Turner pointlessly in their sights.

The Herald, October 24th 2011


A Day In The Death of Joe Egg

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
If Ricky Gervais wants a few tips on what constitutes real artistic
taboo-breaking, he should perhaps consider attending Phillip Breen's
revival of Peter Nichols' dangerously black comedy. First presented on
the same stage forty-four years ago, this tale of a couple whose
freefall marriage is defined by their daughter's disability may be a
jazz-soundtracked period piece, but it retains more comedic edge than
much contemporary fare.

It begins with Miles Jupp's frustrated teacher Bri addressing the
audience as if we're an unruly end of afternoon classroom. Moving
indoors to his seemingly domestic bliss with Sarah Tansey's
highly-strung Sheila, it soon becomes clear the pair have constructed
an elaborate game centred around wheelchair-bound Joe. With such
survival strategies becoming increasingly exhausting, Sheila has taken
refuge in amateur dramatics, leaving Bri, hemmed in by his own
frustrated intelligence, to what turns out to be his own extreme

Breen's production flits between music hall archness and gut-wrenching
seriousness, something with which Jupp's own in-the-moment experience
as a stand-up helps sustain. All involved
speak out-front to the audience as if we're complicit in some voguish
group therapy. Even Sheila's ghastly am-dram pals get to say their
piece like drawing-room relics.

Nichols' one-liners are deadly, and Miriam Margolyes' cameo as Bri's
twin-set clad mum Grace is a masterclass in suburban grotesquery.
Combined, an increasingly desperate portrait emerges of a society
emotionally and institutionally ill-equipped to deal with anything out
of the ordinary. No change there, although let's hope this new era at
the Citz will open its doors to similarly provocative twentieth
century classics rarely done this side of the border.

The Herald, October 24th 2011


Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Writing On Your Wall

Edinburgh Printmakers until October 25th 2011
4 stars
When Jeremy Deller put Rupert Murdoch's wrinkled walnut face on a
sky-blue 'Vote Conservative' poster to raise funds for the Labour
Party, it looked like satire. Given the ongoing phone-hacking saga, it
now feels like prophecy. The 'Murdoch Doesn't Give A XXXX' poster
opposite from 1986's Fortress Wapping days may be dated in terms of its
reference to a then novel Australian fizzy lager, but, seen alongside
Deller's piece, it's an important pointer to how history repeats itself.

Curated by Rob Tuffnall, this group show aims to reclaim the radical
grassroots of print., when a pamphlet, a poster and a button badge were
the ideologue's weapons of choice. Such notions date all the way back
to James Gillray's early nineteenth century cartoon, awash with
pop-eyed society grotesques. Crucial archives from post 1968 Notting
Hill provocateurs King Mob include a flyer for the famed department
store Santa action which Malcolm McLaren may or may not have been
involved in. James Connolly's magnificently named slim volume,
'Socialism Made Easy' and Christopher Logue's post Vietnam poem posters
marry pop and protest in a way today's largely aesthetic-free
groupuscules could similarly learn much from.

Alsadair Gray's portraits of very personal defiance, Ruth Ewan's
text-based provocations and Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan's 'An
Indirect Exchange...Of Uncertain Value' series are similarly striking.
A new piece by Dellar shows a newspaper photo of a glum-looking quartet
outside their soon-to-be-closed community centre. Dominating the room
are ten prints by some-time collaborators of Mayo Thompson's avant-rock
band, The Red Krayola, Art & Language. Taken from the covers of A&L
publications, quasi-mock heroic images take a stand in classic
socialist-realist apparel. A new piece, a framed, text-heavy
paper-chain, might well be the missing link beteween theory and action.

Such militant tendencies are probably best personified, however, by the
presence of an old-school typewriter and the sort of hand-operated
vintage printer that fuelled a thousand late-night strategy meetings by
clandestine cells of agitators fine-tuning manifestos to turn the world
upside down. This is the means of production seized in all its
inky-fingered fervour.

The List, October 2011



Sneaky Pete's Edinburgh
Sunday October 9th
4 stars
Lewis Roberts may only be just about old enough to attend a club, but
judging by this appearance he certainly understands what's required to
keep the customers satisfied. Still in his teens, this Glasgow-based
Welshman has patented a form of lazy, low-slung electronica on his
somewhat obliquely titled twelve inch single, 4D/MTI, awash with
stop-start twitchy-fingered glitches and sampled divas that sounds
designed for the play-room . Live, Roberts somewhat wisely cranks
things up a bit, lest anyone think they're at a groovily soundtracked
dinner party where people think its okay to talk over the music. Some
still do anyway, but they're twats.

The novelty here is having Roberts perform behind his laptop on a stage
mounted in the centre of the dancefloor, thus creating an in-the-round
experience hitherto unexplored in Sneaky Petes' bijou interior. As
Roberts mixes and matches an array of beats and twinkles flanked by
dancers on all four sides during a forty-minute set, a very up close
and personal wig-out ensues, especially when a few show-offs take to
the venue's regular stage. The Koreless sound is a quietly commercial
one, and Roberts could easily translate his appositely bright-eyed
brand of dubstep to a full-on band situation. It worked for Moby.

The List, October 2011


Minimal – Philip Glass at 75

Tramway, Glasgow, Saturday October 29; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow,
Sunday October 30.

How fragile is Glass? And how shattering? Audiences have had plenty of
time of late to ponder the cause and effect of veteran New York
composer Philip Glass' considerable body of work. Glass himself
appeared with his Ensemble to perform the dizzying soundtracks to
Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy of films as part of Edinburgh
International Festival. Hot on its heels came a performance of '1000
Airplanes On The Roof,' the Glass-scored 'science-fiction opera',
featuring The Red Note Ensemble playing beneath a Concorde in a hangar
at the National Museum of Flight.

The latter performance is repeated, sans Concorde, as part of the
self-explanatory Minimal festival, which this year celebrates Glass'
seventy-fifth birthday with a weekend programme split between Glasgow
Royal Concert Hall and Tramway. As well as '1000 Airplanes On The
Roof,' avant-chamber group Bang On A Can will present free afternoon
programmes at both venues showcasing some of Glass' cutting-edge New
York heirs, while a Saturday teatime Tramway show features some of the
elder statesman's more hardcore concoctions.

More intimate should be The Smith Quartet's renditions of Glass's
string-works, while the Scottish Ensemble will feature violinist Robert
McDuffie playing a double bill of Vivaldi's Four Seasons alongside
Glass' The American Seasons, written especially for McDuffie. Moving
beyond Glass even further, Bang On A Can and Red Note will converge for
the weekend's final performance of Music For Airports, Brian Eno's 1978
suite that formed the first of his self-styled 'Ambient' series, pretty
much inventing chill-out rooms as he went.

The List, October 2011


John Foxx & The Maths – Interplay (Metamatic Records)

4 stars
Now a real-life silver Foxx, the pushing-sixty electro-pop/clash
pioneer and former vocalist with Ultravox before Midge Ure made them
rubbish might just have found his time. Even if, it must be said, this
retro-future compendium of detached, dystopian analogue-synth ditties
enabled with collaborator Benge was originally released in March this
year. While the two extra tracks on this special tour edition don't
really constitute a new album, neither do they take away from the
ice-cool machine-age sexiness of an appositely warm revisitation to a
sound designed for serious young men to suck their cheekbones in to
while standing on their own in neon-lit nightclubs watching lip-sticked women

The List, October 2011


Abi Morgan - The Hour Has Come

If Abi Morgan hadn't met a couple of nuns on train, her new play for
the National Theatre of Scotland might not have happened. The writer of
lauded TV drama The Hour and forthcoming Margaret Thatcher biopic, The
Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep, was travelling up to the Edinburgh
Festival, and fell into conversation with the pair sitting opposite her.

“They were in their late seventies or early eighties,” Morgan
remembers, “and were very sweet and very inspiring. But during the
course of the journey it became apparent that they were being left
behind, and that there were no new young women coming up in their
order. Suddenly they were looking beneath them at this society they'd
lived in all their adult lives, and there was no new blood. These
women’s' lives can be traced and mapped out. They don't have children,
they don't smoke, they've never married, and there's something
anthropological going on there about a way of life which is maybe going
to die out in the twenty-first century.”

Around the same time, Morgan was reading Ageing With Grace, a study of
almost seven hundred Catholic sisters aged between seventy-four and 106
by Alzheimer's Disease expert Dr David Snowdon.

“It's a beautifully written book,” according to Morgan, “and I saw the
parallels of two inherent forms of belief that exist in the world of a
scientist and the world of nuns. Science is a belief in something that
can be proven to exist, and religion is a belief in something that
cannot be proven. So I had this idea of imagining a very different type
of scientist and a notion of a study group under pressure. This doctor
has had a life out of art, and for him if something doesn't exist then
it doesn't exist. He comes into contact with Ursula, this Mother
Superior who fell in love with art and literature, and who has to
believe in a God that she can't see, and who she can't always
understand. These are two very intelligent people with two very
different kinds of faith.”

The result of all this is 27, which opens at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum
Theatre this coming weekend in a production directed by NTS artistic
director Vicky Featherstone. This will be a professional reunion of two
artists who first worked together a decade ago when Featherstone was in
charge of new writing company, Paines Plough. The pair worked on two
plays by Morgan which were produced within a year of each other, and
which both toured to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre.

The first, Splendour, was a relatively conventional study of four women
waiting for civil war while ensconced in a private residence in an east
European state. The second, Tiny Dynamite, was a collaboration between
Paines Plough and the more physically inclined Frantic Assembly, who
recently co-produced the high-octane boxing epic, Beautiful Burnout,
with the NTS. Coincidentally, during the run-up to 27, Morgan opened a
new collaboration with Frantic Assembly. Lovesong, which features Sian
Phillips in the cast, will tour to Glasgow's Citizens Theatre in
January 2012.

“I was really lucky to meet Vicky,” Morgan says. “There's been a series
of really inspiring women who've been incredibly supportive of my work.
There were all these women coming into positions of power who've
championed me, and I've been very lucky to be part of that wave. After
Vicky said she was interested in 27, its been really interesting watch
it evolve from very early workshops. It's been like watching this
really ugly baby being born and watching it grow into a swan.”

Somewhere between these two stints with Featherstone alongside several
other stage plays, Morgan became a writer of serious television drama.
She first made her mark in 2004 with Sex Traffic, a two-part drama
which won eight BAFTAs. Morgan followed this two years later with
BBC/HBO mini-series, Tsunami: The Aftermath, which won a slew of BAFTA,
Emmy and Golden Globe awards. In 2007 Morgan co-wrote (with Laura
Jones) an adaptation of Monica Ali's novel, Brick Lane, which won a
best screenplay award at the Dinard Festival of British Cinema. In
2010's TV film, Royal Wedding, Morgan looked at family life in the
Thatcher's Britain of 1981 set against the back-drop of a street party
to celebrate the wedding of Prince Charles and the then Lady Diana

All of Morgan's film and television work looks at the human stories
behind a recognisable historical social or political fabric. This was
even more pronounced in The Hour, the glossily stylised BBC drama set
among fictional BBC radio types in the run up to the 1956 Suez crisis.
The Iron Lady too looks set to be a talking point.

“I tend to write about big political events,” Morgan observes, “but
through very personal eyes. The Iron Lady is about power, but it's also
about a very personal view of politics.”

The daughter of actress Pat England and theatre director Gareth Morgan,
Morgan was aged eleven when Thatcher was elected. Growing up and coming
of age during the Conservative Prime Minister's three terms in office
may go some way to explaining Morgan's all too human concerns in her

“It's interesting that I've comer back to theatre, because I find
writing plays really hard. It's like pulling teeth for me, which I
think is something to do do with the intensity of focus. With TV and
film the director is the author, and you don't own the work in the same
way as theatre, where the playwright is much more central.”

It doesn't take too much thought to recognise other parallels in
Morgan's description of 27 with the creative process itself. As a
writer and an artist, she too must square up to the dichotomy between
an abstract idea and a blank screen on a daily basis, and some kind of
leap of faith must be required to marry the two.

“I suppose there are parallels between a writer and a nun,” Morgan
concedes. “They're both involved in a silent course of study, trying to
make order out of chaos, and I think we all have our rituals. There's
an isolation required to both as well, and there's a spiritual side to
that, so you could call it a leap of faith of you wanted.”

With two stage plays up and running and The Iron Lady pending, there is
plenty more of Morgan's work to come. A TV adaptation of Sebastian
Faulks' World War One novel, Birdsong, is in post-production, while
Shame, a collaboration with Turner Prize winning artist and director of
Hunger, Steve McQueen, due to be released in January 2012, has already
picked up five awards at this year's Venice Film Festival.

Morgan is currently writing the second series of The Hour (co-executive
produced, incidentally, by Morgan with Jane Featherstone, sister of
Vicky and managing director of Kudos Productions, makers of Spooks),
and there are “a couple of films” on the go.

“I just keep my head down and keep on writing,” Morgan says. “Writing
is how I keep myself stable and sane, and it's definitely my
compulsion. But I'm looking forward to having some time where I can
just look out the window and observe. There's a desire there I have to
connect with the world beyond that window, but I'm sure I'll go very
quiet after all this and you'll never hear from me again.”

27, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October 21-November 12

The Herald, October 18th 2011


Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat

Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh
4 stars
Everything's Getting Older, an album which paired pianist Bill Wells
with former Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffat, is a delicate creation of
wisdom and beauty. In the flesh, Moffat's evocatively deadpan portraits
of middle-aged ennui framed by Wells' equally melancholy tinkles sound
even more heartfelt.

This could have something to do with Moffat's cold, however, which he
announces on the first night of this mini-tour with an unhealthy
sounding clearing of the throat following Tasogare, the instrumental
that opens both the album and tonight's show. Moffat is surrounded by
drums and a music stand, while a pair of dictaphones containing
recordings of rain hang on his microphone stand. As the evening
progresses, Wells' compositions lend Moffat's words a patina of
sophistication that suggests jazz as their perfect backdrop. If that
sounds a little bit lounge-core, think again, as Wells throws some
left-field abstractions into the mix on the creepy Dinner Time.

Moffat is as candid as ever, whether on the reconstituted La Ronde of
Glasgow Jubilee or delivering The Copper Top's appositely
life-affirming sentiments. Accompanied by Stevie Jones on double bass,
Robert Henderson on trumpet and new boy Michael Marshall taking over
viola duties from Aby Vulliamy, the result is a downbeat Falkirk noir,
with Moffat sounding somewhere between Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and a
Caledonian Eeyore. Beyond the album, Wells and Moffat even manage to
make a cover of Bananarama's 1980s Smash Hits favourite, Cruel Summer,
sound more like Robert Wyatt's version of Shipbuilding. Two new songs
in the encore, one of which is very dirty indeed, suggest Wells and
Moffat's double-act may be ongoing. Long may the romance continue.

The Herald, October 16th 2011


Baby Baby

Dundee Rep
3 stars
It's something of a baptism of fire in Dundee Rep's revival of Vivian
French's adaptation of her novel for teenagers, which tours community
centres following a short run at the Rep itself. Ostensibly a vehicle
for the Ensemble's two new graduate actors, Baby Baby's depiction of
teenage mums can't be the easiest of calls. As two young women forced
to grow up too soon and with more in common than they think, however,
Kirsty Mackay and Natalie Wallace rise to the occasion with an
unsentimental steeliness that does the subject proud.

April and Pinkie run in different packs. Where April is a parent
pleasing little miss perfect, Pinkie is a black-clad rebel. Both, in
their own ways, are desperate to impress. Until the inevitable happens
and the pair are thrown together in a hostel, only a mutual gal crush
brings each to the other's attention. With new sets of responsibilities
to get a grip of once their babies are born, the messy bits are never
shied away from in Jemima Levick's production.

Using the conceit of a school presentation to frame the action and with
the dialogue delivered out-front on Lisa Sangster's mirrored set, like
any really good teen drama, French's script is actually about
considerably more than its advertised subject. As April and Pinkie find
a common bond, the growing pains of identity and difference are thrown
into the mix. While one might like to see the two girls connect more in
person, the way Mackay and Wallace play them there's never any
suggestion they'll be friends for life. If April and Pinkie can support
each other through the teething troubles and sleepless nights, it will
be enough.

The Herald, October 16th 2011


Sunday, 16 October 2011

Dublin Theatre Festival 2011 - The Edinburgh Connection

'Strength. Endurance. Tenderness.' Such a legend is one of half a dozen
gracing a series of covers for the 2011 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre
Festival. 'Power. With some twenty-eight productions on show over three
weeks, and with sixteen produced by Irish companies, such epithets
cover all bases in a festival which, along with the Dublin-based
Absolut Fringe festival, which immediately precedes the Theatre
Festival, appears to bear little resemblance to its Edinburgh

Both are smaller for one thing. Despite the 'Dublin Loves Drama'
banners posted around town, there's little sense of the city-wide
saturation of Edinburgh in August. Unlike the free for all of the
Edinburgh Fringe, its Dublin equivalent is curated, and the care taken
over both the Absolut Fringe and the Theatre Festival programmes is
more akin to Edinburgh International Festival. With Dublin
concentrating solely on theatre, however, and with no crossover between
the two events in terms of timing (the Fringe happens in September, the
Theatre Festival in October), both are more self-contained, with little
chance of major work being swamped by the melee.

Look at the 2011 Theatre Festival itself, however, and the crossover
with Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland's theatre scene in terms of
personnel if not the work itself is vast. There is a significant
presence of Edinburgh Fringe favourites. The Animals and Children take
To The Streets, the second show by the 1927 company, who meld
animation, songs and a subversive take on 1920s aesthetics, was first
seen at the Traverse in January prior to a full August run at the
Pleasance. Also looking to the past for inspiration is diva Camille
O'Sullivan, who in Dublin joins forces with actor Lorcan Cranitch for
The Lulu House, a musical installation inspired by Wedekind's Lulu

Pat Kiernan's Corcadorca company announced the arrival of playwright
Enda Walsh and actors Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh back in 1997 when
they brought Enda Walsh's blistering debut, Disco Pigs, to Edinburgh.
Fourteen years on, Kiernan directs Eileen Walsh, now resident in
Edinburgh, in Request Programme, German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz's
wordless close-up of a woman's final hours.

All these works point to some over-riding themes running through this
year's Dublin Theatre Festival, in which women dominate both onstage
and off. So while male directors such as Howard Davies, Patrick Mason
and Dutch wunderkind Ivo van Hove oversee some of the key works on
show, they don't throw their weight around unless the work requires it.

Davies' production of Sean O'Casey's Juno and The Paycock at The Abbey
Theatre, a co-production with the National Theatre in London where it
will transfer, is a case in point. While such a collaboration would
have been considered betrayal when the play first appeared in the
original Abbey in 1924, here O'Casey's tenement-set yarn is delivered
with a confidence and brio that never avoids the underlying seriousness
of a play too often treated as stick rep fare.

Sinead Cusack is a wonder as Juno, keeping body and soul together while
her emasculated spouse Johnny, played by former Citizens Theatre
veteran Ciaran Hinds, self-mythologises himself into the gutter. Cusack
and Hinds bring O'Casey's play to life with a rare confidence that
isn't about grand[-standing, but more lays bare what happens when the
poor are made even poorer.

Dutch director Ivo Van Hove is renowned for reinventing neglected
classics as high-octane portraits of lives in crisis. He did this in
Edinburgh with Caligula and Marguerite Duras' India Song, and he does
it again in the black box space of Trinity University's Beckett Centre.
It would be easy to treat Jean Cocteau's 1930 play, La Voix Humaine, in
which a woman hangs on the telephone for a lover who refuses to
connect, with a fetishistic eye for period detail. Having the fearless
actress Halina Reijn appear behind the glass window of what appears to
be a high-rise flat with her hair scraped back and wearing tracksuit
bottoms and trainers, however, lends what follows a stark and brutal

As with Request Programme, La Voix Humaine is a painful study of what
goes on before a suicide. The women in both plays have something
missing from their lives. In La Voix Humaine, soundtracked here by Paul
Simon's Fifty ways To Leave Your Lover, only the voice at the other end
of the telephone keeps her alive. After she's hung up, there's nothing

There are echoes of O'Casey's Juno at the O'Reilly Theatre in
Belvedere College in Arthur Riordan's audacious new version of Ibsen's
Peer Gynt. These can be seen both in the self-aggrandising flights of
fancy Peer embarks on, but especially in the figure of his mother, who
indulges and eventually loses her son. In this instance, Peer travels
to much darker psychic waters in Lynne Parker's production for Rough
Magic, as O'Riordan and Parker place the action in a psychiatric ward.
Here Peer can give full vent to his wanderings without ever going

A cast of eight led by Rory Nolan as a pyjama-clad Peer give a
rollicking run through the first half of the play. Riordan's rhyming
dialogue, punctuated by five-piece band,Tarab's live score, possesses
the sing-song playfulness of Dr Seuss before the fun stops. Time and
again Peer is left in silence, until he too resembles Juno's Johnny,
lost and alone.

A mother's losses find an even greater emotional outpouring over at the
Project Arts Centre in
Testament, Colm Toibin's astonishing dramatic monologue, performed in
Garry Hynes' pitch perfect production by a heart-rending Marie Mullen.
Audiences walk along a path of sand to enter the auditorium, suggesting
we too are on the road to Calvary. When the false ceiling rolls back to
reveal projections of dark clouds with the odd shaft of light piercing
through, one could be fooled into thinking this to be Mary's story,
rather than the bit-part player in the biblical legend it is actually

In a room bare except for a table and an empty chair, Mullen slowly
unleashes a tale of warped miracles, and how the cause that robbed her
of her boy made her look to the old, less dogmatic gods for comfort.
There's something elemental at play here which Mullen captures in the
quiet rhythms of her incantations. When she mimes crucifixion, the
shadows she throws up look like she's protecting her offspring in a
performance so staggering as to be worth the trip to Dublin all by

Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival runs until October 16th

The Herald, October 11th 2011


Days of Wine and Roses - Owen McCafferty Takes To Drink

“I don't think I've ever seen a farce before,” claims playwright Owen
McCafferty. “It was an eye-opener for me, because everyone around me
was laughing, and I just didn't get it.”

McCafferty is talking about his visit to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast,
the night before, when he watched Kenneth Branagh and Rob Bryden mug
their way through The Painkiller. Adapted and directed by Sean Foley,
one half of The Right Size, The Painkiller is a version of a work by
French screen-writer/director Francis Veber, who originally filmed it
in1973 as L'emmerdeur, or A Pain in the Ass. Notable for the casting of
Belgian torch singer Jacques Brel in the lead role, L'emmerdeur has
since been remade twice, once by Billy Wilder. For McCafferty, at
least, Foley's version seems to have lost something in translation.

“Irish writers don't tend to go down that route,” he says of what now
in his eyes look like some very English japes.

McCafferty certainly hasn't, as his version of J.P.Miller's Days of
Wine and Roses made clear when it first appeared at the Donmar
Warehouse in 2005 prior to a west end transfer. This new co-production
by Glasgow's Tron Theatre and the already cinematically inclined
Theatre Jezebel sticks with McCafferty's reimagining of Blake Edwards'
1962 drink-sodden big-screen vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.
Here, McCafferty relocates the action from the fast-moving American PR
world to 1960s London, where two Belfast emigres take flight, before
lapsing into a downward spiral of alcoholism. The Henry Mancini-scored
film had already been liberal in its adaptation of the original John
Frankenheimer-directed TV play starring Cliff Robertson and Piper
Laurie four years before. This allowed McCafferty considerable license
in his approach.

“I'd always liked the movie," he says, “but writing it was the
strangest journey. At the time I'd never done an adaptation, and when I
started it I set it in San Francisco, and tried to follow the original
story as much as I could. But was halfway through writing it, and it
was crap. I couldn't hear the voices in it, and I just thought either
don't do it, or find another way, or an equivalent way of doing it.”

Shifting the action closer to home opened up a world of possibilities.

“We're always told about this myth of the swinging sixties,” McCafferty
explains. “Well, that didn't happen for everybody. I thought about the
people who were coming from Ireland to London at that time, and in
terms of writing the play it made the picture slightly bigger. The
important thing was to keep the play's essence, but doing it the way I
did meant it wasn't just about alcoholism, but also made it a bit about
the Irish experience. There's huge connections between England and
Ireland, and a huge amount of people went over, so there's several
generations there now.

“At the start of the play, London is this wonderful experience, and if
they weren't alcoholics they'd still be there. Nut at the end it's
horrendous, because one of them is leaving the other one behind. Cities
do that to people. They can be lonely places.”

This may explain why McCafferty's version of Days of Wine and Roses has
been successfully produced throughout Europe, South America and beyond.
Audiences in Spain, Argentina, Chile and Finland have all found
something in the play to relate to.

“There's two things, “ McCafferty observes. “There's something about
the immigrant thing, and there's something about love and addiction.
These things are universal. All these countries have their problems
with alcohol, but it doesn't seem to cause the trouble in these places
that it does in Ireland and Scotland. The way the story's told in the
play, you find out there's different types of alcoholism. One is
social, and one is almost genetic. His alcoholism is to do with his
work, and he can stop. With her, at the start of the play she doesn't
drink at all, but as soon as she takes a drink, you know she's doomed.”

As well as the play's human tragedy, as McCafferty sees it, there's
something about the play's name that also holds an appeal.

“Even if people haven't seen the movie, they'll know the phrase. I'm
doing a verbatim piece next year for the hundredth anniversary of the
sinking of the Titanic, and as soon as people hear the word 'titanic'
they know about it, or they think they know about it.”

J.P. Miller took the title of his original play from a line in Vitae
Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetet Incohare Longam, an 1896 poem by English
writer Ernest Dowson. Miller's appropriation might well have put the
phrase into popular parlance, but despite its acclaim elsewhere,
McCafferty's version has yet to break America. Miller's own stage
version of the play opened briefly in New York in 2003, two years after
its author's death. While there was talk of a U.S. transfer of the
Donmar production, once McCafferty relocated the play, producers lost
interest. Miller's widow and daughter did attend the London opening,

“It was a weird experience, because half of me was really concerned
about it, and half of me couldn't care less, because I'd done it. But
it was delightful meeting them, because it made it very human, and this
sounds wanky, but there's no other way of saying it, but it was like a
baton had been passed. You become aware of your responsibility from one
playwright to another. If Miller were alive and watched my version of
the play, he would recognise it, but it would be different. He'd have
to recognise it, or else there's no point.”

For McCafferty, Days of Wine and Roses is a love story as much as

“It's very difficult to write about love now. Mainly people want to
watch plays about what's going on in society, so with Days of Wine and
Roses, you're looking at something that's a problem, but when people go
to see it, it's a love story. So if it's difficult to sell something
solely on the strength of a relationship, Days of Wine and Roses does
it through other means.

“Every time it's been on, people, especially women, always come up to
me and say, that's my husband up there. Everyone knows someone like
that, which is a sadness in itself, but the play's quite raw. There are
certain things said in that play looking at the rawness of
relationships, and that hits home in a way that's very painful indeed.”

Days of Wine and Roses, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 14th-29th

The Herald, October 11th 2011


The Salon Project

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
If you think the modern world is killing the art of conversation,
Stewart Laing's exquisitely constructed reimagining of nineteenth
century salons for a post-modern age is a perfect night out for closet
intellectuals in need of stimulation. By taking over the whole of the
Traverse and putting the audience at the heart of the action, Laing and
his huge team for Untitled Productions are bringing back social
networking in the old-fashioned way.

It begins back-stage, with the audience attended to by a coterie of
dressers, who kit us out in formal garb that improves the posture and
inspires all manner of fancy thoughts. Once we step inside a mocked-up
drawing room complete with chandeliers, our own costume drama is
enlivened by a rolling programme of entertainments. On the first night,
these included blindfolded performance artist Donna Rutherford mashing
up some 78RPM vinyl with three wind-up gramophones, a stripped-bare
tableau vivant with each model clutching some modern-day device to keep
them connected with the here and now, and a live pianist under-scoring
the affair with increasing intensity. Artist Rose English and Laing
pepper the evening with conversational interludes, while guest speakers
talk of designing imaginary tomorrows.

In what might well be a tribute to recently deceased Apple pioneer
Steve Jobs, Laing and co juxtapose past, present and future in what is
essentially an extended parlour game in which cleverness is encouraged.
Only at the end of the evening are the pleasantries shattered as a film
is shown of what looks like a symbolic murder of thought itself. As an
apocalyptic thunder shakes the room's foundations, it only sounds scary
until you realise it's all created with computers.

The Herald, October 12th 2011


Saturday Night

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
To suggest Vanishing Point's latest peep through the windows of the
human soul is a sequel to their international hit, Interiors, is to be
lulled into a false sense of security. The stylistic trappings of a
glass-fronted house in which people wordlessly interact may be the
same. This time out, however, director Matthew Lenton takes his cast of
six beyond everyday minutiae to produce something infinitely more

It begins idyllically enough, as a young couple move into an empty
living room they'll soon turn into a home. Within seconds, it seems,
their space is invaded and their private world turned upside down, be
it by cloyingly intrusive neighbours, a sprung leak or faulty
electrics. As an old woman rocks in her chair upstairs, doors open of
their own volition. The wildlife documentaries and footage of the early
Apollo missions to the moon that play on the TV become someone's worst
fears made flesh. The astronaut who floats upstairs is as cuddly as
the toy polar bear that is a totem of the couple's love.

Lenton and his team have constructed an exquisitely realised meditation
on life and death. At its most comically absurd, the juxtaposition of
sound and image recalls episodes of Pink Panther or Charlie Brown
cartoons. At its darkest, with predatory creatures creeping in from the
wilderness and mortalities in every room, the eerie hiss of Mark
Melville's score helps make it look more like an ecologically inclined
take on Roman Polanski's psycho-drama, Repulsion. Somewhere in-between,
a sense of loss pervades. In every dream home, it seems, there really
is a heartache, in a quietly compelling close-up of human nature, and a
whole lot more besides.

The Herald, October 10th 2011


Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Salon Project - Stewart Laing Gets Philosophical

There's a place just off Edinburgh's Royal Mile which the chances of
you or I ever having been invited inside are pretty slim. By all
accounts, the select few who have graced the doors of occasional
functions at this residential address a stone's throw from Holyrood are
shaping future intellectual thought. Inspired by ideas of eighteenth
century salons, in which the latest ideas on philosophy, science and
art were debated in a lively social environment, this twenty-first
century Edinburgh model is the latest example of a new wave of salons.
Here, enlightened thinkers can talk freely in a way in which the
democratically elected members along the road either can't, won't, or
are simply not clever enough to engage in such a discourse.

In his glass-windowed office in Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre peering
over a scaled-down model of the theatre's main stage, theatre director,
designer and current Traverse artist in residence Stewart Laing appears
as far away from such rarefied gatherings as one can imagine. As
instigator of The Salon Project, a very public piece of participatory
spectacle in which the audience are required to dress up in an allotted
costume as some of the great minds of our generation hold court,
perhaps we should think again.

All this is represented in miniature inside Laing's model by a huddle
of plastic figurines tucked into a corner gathered around a
doll's-house size pianola. Peering over this approximation of Traverse
1 with its banks of seating removed, and with a false ceiling masking
the space's vertical expanse, however, Laing is struggling for words.

“It's three hundred and sixty degrees,” he says of the space, “which is
a two-dimensional expression, but I don't know what the word is for
something that's three hundred and sixty degrees in both directions.
I've been asking people, but nobody seems to know.”

Perhaps this is something one of the eminent scholars invited to take
part in a rolling programme will be able shed light on such matters. In
the meantime, Laing's own thinking behind The Salon Project is also
worth dissecting.

“We're going to be presenting provocations for conversation,” he says.
“That seems to be the historical function of the salon. It's all about
conversation. So in a lot of ways I feel more like a curator than a
director, because in terms of any kind of dramatic arc, it's quite low.
There'll be different people on every evening, and there's nothing
there that I can control in terms of what happens.”

As one might expect from Laing's ongoing fascination with left-field
literary icons from Verlaine and Rimbaud through to Jean Cocteau, The
Salon Project has similarly fan-boy roots.

As Laing explains, “There was a performance piece I'd read about. The
text was by Proust, and the music was by (Venezuelan composer) Reynaldo
Hahn, and just because I have an interest in both those artists, I
thought it was an extraordinary thing that they'd collaborated,
especially at a live event, and especially because I had no knowledge
of Proust ever having done any dramatic writing. It was a piece called
Portraits of Painters, that they performed together at a salon in Paris
in 1895, and while I was trying to track it down, I had this idea that
it might be interesting to present it in the same circumstances, with
the audience dressed in period costume. Everyone I spoke to about it,
all my collaborators, got very excited about this idea, but when I
eventually tracked down the piece, it turned out to be really dull.”

Even so, the idea stuck with Laing, who pulled together a group of
like-minded artists, musicians and performers. As it stands, a company
of roughly twenty will be made up of a mix of speakers and guides to
allow the audience of sixty to navigate the space once split up into
six groups of ten. At the heart of an evening, performance artist Rose
English, who famously appeared onstage at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre
with a performing horse, will hold court.

Laing also approached artists Robbie Thomson and Jack Wrigley. Part of
the 85A artists collective in Glasgow and graduates of Glasgow School
of Art's Environmental Art course, the pair impressed Laing with a
piece about a Polish submarine that utilised live soundtracks to silent
movies in a space that recreated the submarine out of cardboard.

“It was one of the most exciting things I'd seen in Glasgow in years,”
Laing gushes.

The Salon Project itself sounds part intellectual speed-dating, part
art-cabaret a la the original Cabaret Voltaire nightclub at which early
Dadaists did turns in a Swiss nightclub.

“A lot of people have mentioned cabaret,” Laing concedes, “but I see
the idea of the salon as pre-cabaret. I always think of cabaret as a
sort of alternative or underground form of entertainment, but I think
there's something interesting about these aristocratic salons, because
there was this idea of exclusivity about them. You could only go if you
were invited, and there was no other means of entry. It was a small
group of people, making art, music and poetry for themselves and their
friends. So I think it's about exploding that idea of exclusivity is
what I'm interested in.”

But isn't that sense of exclusivity half the appeal? The idea of your
name not being down on the guest list, after all, is what made the
likes of Studio 54 in the 1970s or The Groucho Club in the 1980s so
legendary. Yet if The Salon Project is a way of opening things up in
terms of discourse, Laing remains in charge.

“It's an aesthetically controlled event,” he says.

Laing's ever-changing exercise in mind-expansion forms something of a
centre-piece in what looks like an odd-shaped autumn season at the
Traverse that puts ideas at its heart. As well as The Salon Project,
Traverse Resident Playwright Peter Arnott is spending his year long
term in association with the Edinburgh University based Economics and
Social Research Council (ESRC)'s Genomics Forum hosting a series of
informal talks on his work. For those who may be unfamiliar with the
term, genomics is a genetics-based discipline based around determining
the DNA structures of living organisms. Arnott's recent events have
included Whose View of Life?...Or Men and Monkeys Revisited, with
conversation-based workshops on Translating The Genome forthcoming.

Additionally, the next full Traverse production will be The Tree of
Knowledge, a new play by Jo Clifford which transports philosopher David
Hume and economist Adam Smith to twenty-first century Edinburgh. So,
what, then, is the big idea? Why are such public and private forums for
discussion becoming so prevalent beyond the hallowed halls of
parliaments and other, more formally inclined institutions?

“I think the idea of sharing ideas is very attractive, and especially
of sharing ideas in a social situation. A lot of the original salons
were very politically motivated, and I think that's the case with a lot
of the ones that exist today as well. There's a balance there between
sharing ideas and partying, and I think people are looking for
something like that again, which is partly why there's so much
participatory theatre going on just now. But I just want to people
think. That's really what I want to do, so the conversation goes beyond
what was on telly last night. I just want people to think ahead.”

The Salon Project, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, October 10th-22nd.

The Herald, October 4th 2011


Apocalypse: A Glamorously Ugly Cabaret

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
How would you spend your final hour and fifteen minutes on earth before
the world finally ended, with a bang, a whimper or otherwise? One
possibility is to idle the time with the black-toothed double-act
waiting for rapture in this transatlantic alliance between two ex
Benchtours visual theatre types reinvented as The Occasional Cabaret,
and the creative couple behind New York-based Edinburgh Festival Fringe
stalwarts, Clancy Productions. Combined, these creative couples have
put together a politically inclined compendium of monologue and song
which, in an ideal world, would soundtrack their way to Heaven. Or

With the audience sat at cabaret tables and a scarlet-draped stage
squeezed into the Tron's Changing House space, Lulu and Gdjet are a
couple of gold-garbed crones resembling end of the pier fortune-tellers
who didn't quite predict what was coming next. As vamped into being by
Catherine Gillard and Nancy Clancy, and aided by musician Tim
Brinkhurst, the pair play-act all four horsemen from the book of
Revelations to point up the evils of global capitalism and other ills.
There's a healthily cynical sleight of hand too, as liberal sacred cows
are slaughtered, while Lulu and Gdjet's heavenly ideal is exposed as a
totalitarian dream-state.

Scripted by John Clancy and directed by Peter Clerke, Apocalypse is a
self-consciously kooky experience. On one level it's recession-driven
Poor Theatre in exelcis. Yet, for all its rough-shod appeal and one or
two killer lines, such an indulgence might sit better in a late-night
bar-room slot. At the moment, things feel too formal, as if being
performed into a void. Given the show's theme, might well be the point.

The Herald, October 7th 2011


Twelfth Night

Perth Theatre
4 stars
A new wind has blown into Perth, just as it does in Shakespeare's
Illyria. That's the accidental message anyway during the opening storm
scene of the theatre's incoming artistic director Rachel O'Riordan's
debut in-house production. Because, in something usually played as a
knockabout rom-com, Riordan sets out her store from the start by
blowing away such surface froth to reveal near-Chekhovian depths.

Much of this stems from an update to a post World War One Scotland in a
crumbling petrol-blue house where a baby grand piano sits at the top of
an elaborate staircase. Here Conor Mitchell's Curio sips cocktails
while whipping up a jaunty Palm Court style soundtrack with violinist
and fellow gent Valentine. That's about as fizzy as things get,
however, as all involved wander about in a kind of shell-shocked limbo,
trying to re-connect with some sense of purpose.

Samara MacLaren's brittle, flapper-like Olivia and Martin Ledwith's
brooding Orsino are so wrapped up in themselves they don't even notice
that Laura O'Toole's exiled Viola is masquerading as a man. Even Steven
McNicoll's de-mob happy Toby Belch crashes around with a wounded anger,
his late-night roustabouts with John Paul Hurley's Aguecheek and
teasing of Tom Marshall's pompous Malvolio positively pathological.
Andy Hockley's Feste, meanwhile, sporting fez, waist-coat and white
beard, looks like an over-grown monkey who's lost his organ-grinder.

By mixing up Scots, Irish and Welsh accents, Riordan's reading suggests
a fractured set of countries, each one isolated by their losses. Only
when Viola finds her twin Sebastian does any kind of unity occur. Even
then, Feste's final song is a solitary lament, both for his lot and the
times he lives in.

The Herald, October 3rd 2011


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Echo and the Bunnymen - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Wednesday September 28th 2011

When Liverpool's most grandiose post-punk Scally-delicists released
their fourth album, Ocean Rain, in 1984, it was advertised as the
greatest album ever made. Despite the band's then manager Bill
Drummond's provocative hyperbole that he would later refine with the
KLF and the K Foundation, it wasn't, but it's collection of
string-laden epics was the sound of a band at the peak of their powers.
It was also the last time the original four members ever sounded so
special in a work that was both fragile and heartfelt.

To hear Ocean Rain live, then, complete with all-female teenage string
sextet The Cairns Strings bolstering original vocalist Ian McCulloch
and guitarist Will Sergeant leading a fine young band, should have been
an event on a par with The Crystal Day, the original all-day magical
mystery tour around the band's home town that preceded a three-hour
live spectacular by the band in Liverpool's St George's Hall. That
event, which included a bike ride, breakfast in a greasy spoon and the
inevitable ferry cross the Mersey, demonstrated just how far Echo and
the Bunnymen had come from cutting their teeth at Eric's, the cellar
club cum social experiment run by Roger Eagle, Pete Fulwell and Ken
Testi on Matthew Street a stone's throw from where the equally
underground Cavern club had been filled in and had a car park built
over it.

Eric's sired a million legends, and provided a shelter of sorts for
every freak in town searching for a voice. As well as Echo and the
Bunnymen, Julian Cope's Teardrop Explodes, Pete Burns' Nightmares In
Wax, and Pete Wylie's ever-expanding Wah! Project all graduated from
its sweaty interior to come blinking into the light with various
degrees of singular success.

Now, with Eric's itself a legend, immortalised onstage at the nearby
Everyman Theatre, once home to theatrical mad-man Ken Campbell, whose
Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool had also been based on Matthew
Street. Campbell did a crazed stage version of Robert Anton Wilson's
Illuminatus trilogy, which was a big influence on Bill Drummond, who
played in the show's house-band with future Lightning Seed Ian Broudie,
some-time Cream PR guru Jayne Casey and others who would go on to form
Big In Japan. Championed by Eagle, Big in Japan would go on to become
Eric's unofficial house-band, opening things up for all those named
above and a million more like them.

More than thirty years after Eric's was closed down following a police
raid during a Psychedelic Furs gig, a new, theme-park version has
appeared for the tourists who patronise the succession of gaudy theme
bars that line Matthew Street today, one of which is a similarly
rebuilt Cavern club, half a century too late. Would hearing Ocean Rain
played live twenty-six years after St George's Hall be similarly
grotesque? Or would it tap into something bigger than nostalgia, a
spirit, perhaps, of vindication for all the dole-queue dreamers of
Thatcher's Britain who found their own way to the stars?

As it was, despite the dramatic splendour of the music, in Glasgow, at
least, the city where the first-generation Bunnymen ended it all after
a show at Barrowlands, the same venue the band's second coming was
announced in 1997, a one-man car crash by a somewhat overly-refreshed
McCulloch gradually unravelled before an increasingly frustrated crowd.

Things begin with deceptive politesse. A charming opening set of
instrumental pop classics by the black-frocked Cairns sextet – bathed
in blue light and seated beneath twin mirror balls - includes
everything from Pachelbel's Canon (famously appropriated by the
Bunnymen's Scouse peers The Farm for their post-baggy hit, All Together
Now), George Harrison's Something, Craig Armstrong’s contribution to
Baz Lurhman's take on Romeo and Juliet, and Joy Division's Love Will
Tear us Apart. The effect is of a post-modern palm court tea dance.
This and a pre-show soundtrack of Kraftwerk and Bowie suggests a
well-thought out high-class concept.

Once the Bunnymen themselves hit the stage for their first 'greatest
hits' set before the main event, however, alarm bells begin to sound.
It isn't because of the band, who, on the opening Rust, with Sergeant
diffident as ever, standing to one-side and lit by a bedside lamp as he
carves gloriously minimalist solos from thin air, provide an
understated sheen to the generic melancholy of this second-generation
Bunnymen anthem. It's McCulloch who appears off-kilter, his delivery
faltering to say the least. Despite constant signals to the sound-man,
McCulloch even indulges in a rare moment of near humility when he
admits the previous performance to have been “a bit point
off the ten.” Sadly the score is to get considerably lower over the
next two hours.

Rust is followed by a more bombastic Pride than appeared on 1980 debut
album, Crocodiles, long lost B-side Stars Are Stars (which they never
played live back in the day) amid more recent material. By this time
McCulloch is encouraging the crowd to stand up, threatening to sing
Donald, Where's Your Troosers and muttering how the Beatles were really
cockneys before doing unlikely impressions of Jim Morrisson
impersonating Sid James (?!?). Later we get stuff and nonsense on
birthday cakes (a lot about birthday cakes, which seems to have been
prompted by the sweet sixteenth of one of the Cairns set that day),
allotments, how Glasgow Barrowlands saved his soul in 1987, and setting
his hair alight at school.

Somehow the band also manage to get through an uneven pot-pourri of
Bring On The Dancing Horses and Bedbugs and Ballyhoo, as well as
several more recent, more predictably generic work-outs. All the while
through this, a steady flow of booze is never far from McCulloch's
lips, and, while the band sound ever more urgent on Never Stop and
Rescue, McCulloch ruins the latter with a barrage of verbal
diarrhoea that makes him more akin to Jimmy Tarbuck, Stan Boardman or
any other bad Scouse comic past their prime.

This is a long way from the revered holy trinity of Cohen, Bowie and
the Velvets who Mac once aspired to be on a par with, riffing with
snatches of lyrics that he made his own on the extended wig-outs of
Crocodiles and Do it Clean, neither of which are in evidence tonight.
Mac attempts something similar with Rescue, but even with a band so
energised, it stumbles, then falls flat on its already perfunctory

As for the singing, when McCulloch's not missing the high notes, things
are pretty much left to audience sing-a-longs in a pretty much hit-less
forty-five minutes. The Cutter, The Back of Love, Nothing Lasts
Forever, Lips Like Sugar and all the rest will be saved for the
encores, one presumes. No such luck.

The Ocean Rain set itself starts well, ushered in by the triumphant
opening flourish of Silver, and for a few minutes the elegant majesty
of the album sounds reborn as it soars into the woozy drama of
Nocturnal Me, and later again on The YoYo Man, the words of which sound
sadly applicable to Mac's own current state of mind. By this time
McCulloch's been off on one several times over, and when he asks “Do
you know the next song?” of no-one in particular prior to Crystal Days,
you know it's only going to get worse.

The poppier tracks tether him in awhile, but the loose-knit fury of
Thorn of Crowns – the music of which, incidentally, sounds like a proto
Grinderman in waiting – allows him to indulge himself in an
increasingly infuriating fashion. Always one to believe his own
self-deifying bullshit, McCulloch's patter grows in turns tiresome,
self-indulgent, self-pitying and self-aggrandising. Then it becomes
aggressive, offensive and downright abusive. Things start getting
really ugly when he starts threatening hecklers with violence, perhaps
not getting the fact that the aggrieved objects of his derision might
feel somewhat short-changed by the debacle considering the forty quid
they've shelled out for a ticket.

Remarkably, it gets worse. Where what should have been a thrilling
experience (and which, musically, it still is) has become a disaster.
Even the laptop working the filmed backdrop messes up. Yet, all the
while the band power on regardless, through a botched opening to The
Killing Moon, which McCulloch blames on the audience clapping out of
time, and beyond. The full version of the song even more painful,
making one wonder why McCulloch introduces it as “the greatest song
ever written” if he's then going to talk nonsense over it about how
Liverpool and Glasgow have the best accents in the world.

Seven Seas is a mess, which, again, the audience do most of the vocal
work on while the band attempt to salvage something from it. There are
flashes, especially on My Kingdom, when the Mac of old comes into view,
but largely this is sad, self-parodic stuff. “Sorry about my appalling
behaviour,” he slurs, “but I can't remember what I did.”

Ocean Rain, the album's title track, and its most beautifully heroic
song of all, collapses before it starts. People are angry now, and
McCulloch, a sneering, nasty drunk, his voice shot, taunts them even
more. For a moment it looks like something might kick off, but after
assorted threats, McCulloch stumbles offstage, unable to get it
together, like it's everyone else's fault. He comes back on, but he
shouldn't have bothered.

If the bad news he mutters something about receiving is the
case, the show probably shouldn't have gone ahead. As it is, and with
what looks like a real life tear-stained breakdown going on through the
shades he's hidden behind for the the entire gig, and indeed pretty
much all his life, McCulloch attempts a second apologetic stab at The
Killing Moon. He barely sings a note of it, opting instead to furiously
try and explain the song's meaning, babbling about death in-between
sparring some more with the crowd, clearly hurting about something or

If all this wasn't heart-breakingly troubling enough to watch,
McCulloch, still looking for someone else to blame, ambles over to
Sergeant, berating him for something he apparently didn't know about,
but which the band – or was it the audience? - did. After lobbing a
bottle at his band-mate of more than thirty years, McCulloch leaves the
stage for the final time.

As things peter into a sense of disappointment and anti-climax,
Sergeant might do well to perhaps ponder joining former Bunnymen bassist Les
Pattinson, who came out of ten years of musical retirement to join a
reignited version of the Bunnymens' early eighties Liverpool scene
contemporaries, friends and support act, The Wild Swans. Currently
knocking them dead in the Philippines, it should be remembered that the
sole Wild Swans release during their original, all too brief life-span,
was bank-rolled and produced by original Bunnymen drummer, the late
Pete de Freitas, who crashed and burned in a motorbike accident in 1989
aged twenty-seven.

Sergeant has played live with The Wild Swans already in Liverpool, and
also features on the band's just-released album, The Coldest Winter For
A Hundred Years, a record which possibly says more about Liverpool than
any record ever made. As anyone who saw The Wild Swans own Glasgow show
recently in the far more bijou confines of The Captain's Rest can
testify to, here is a born-again Scouse supergroup discovering their
own belated peak. Somewhow, though, you hope Mac and Will will get
through all this, at least until the end of this current tour.

As far as McCulloch is concerned, like his shades and his Jacks and
Cokes, his gobby bravado has always been a front to hide his
back-street shy-boy vulnerability. This side of him only fully came out
on the band's 2001 Flowers album, an uncharacteristically
straightforward and reflective mid-life impasse. Whatever monkeys are
on McCulloch's back tonight, however, whatever angels, devils and
demons are hanging over his shoulder tormenting him, one only hopes it,
he or they are exorcised soon, because such a public meltdown is a
desperately sad display to witness.

If it's not serious, and is just a bad night on the piss, then shame on
McCulloch, who is old enough to know better. He needs to have a word
with himself and remember that all his rock and roll casualty heroes
were either dead or had long cleaned up their act by the time they were
his age. The posters in the foyer for a forthcoming sixties revival
tour featuring first generation Merseybeat groups Gerry and the
Pacemakers and The Searchers may look like incongruous cabaret compared
to McCulloch's display, but at least they know how to keep it

As for Echo and the Bunnymen, the band and the Cairns Strings were
awesome, and deserve medals. The band's singer, figure-head and
auto-didactic genius, alas, cut a tragic dash, however fascinatingly,
horribly watchable he remained. Like the man said, bring on the new
messiah. For now, at least, this one is seriously all at sea. Again.

An edited version of this appeared on The Quietus, September 2011


Echo and the Bunnymen

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
1 star
When Liverpool's most grandiose post-punk outfit released their fourth
album in 1984, it was advertised as the greatest ever made. It wasn't,
although it's collection of string-laden epics was the last time the
original four Bunnymen sounded so special. To hear Ocean Rain live,
then, complete with an all-female string sextet bolstering original
vocalist Ian McCulloch, guitarist Will Sergeant and a fine young band,
should have been major. As it was, despite the music's dramatic
splendour, an overly-refreshed McCulloch steered us into chaos.

During the first 'greatest hits' set, McCulloch apologises for being “a
bit point off the ten.” Over the next two hours the score
gets considerably lower. Like a bad comedian, McCulloch threatens to
sing Donald, Where's Your Troosers, and does unlikely impressions of
Jim Morisson impersonating Sid James.

Ocean Rain is ushered in by Silver's triumphant flourish, and for a few
minutes the album's elegant majesty sounds reborn. The band, led by
Sergeant's sublime minimalist textures, are heroic, and the sole star
accompanying this review is theirs. McCulloch's patter, alas, becomes
increasingly offensive. Why introduce The Killing Moon as “the greatest
song ever written” if you're going to talk rubbish throughout?

The album's title track collapses before it starts. McCulloch, by now a
sneering, nasty drunk, walks offstage. On returning he mutters
something about receiving bad news. If that is the case, the show
shouldn't have happened. During a second apologetic stab at The Killing
Moon, McCulloch ambles across to Sergeant, berating him for something
he apparently didn't know about. After lobbing a bottle at his
band-mate of more than thirty years, McCulloch slopes off, truly all at

The Herald, September 30th 2011


Saturday Night - Another Quiet Night In With Vanishing Point

By the time you read this, Vanishing Point theatre company will have
almost finished the premiere run of their new show, Saturday Night, in
three Portuguese cities prior to opening in Glasgow next month. Back in
Glasgow rehearsal several weeks beforehand, and what's possibly the
biggest touring set in the world is waiting to be dismantled and
shipped out to foreign climes. For now, it's two-tiered expanse we're
allowed to peek into through full-length perspex windows holds court to
a series of private moments performed by half a dozen actors from three
different countries. The next day, however, this imitation of a
flat-pack ideal home des-res will be demolished, so there's nothing
left but a rehearsal room gap-site waiting for something as yet unknown
to replace it.

Behind the perspex, a pregnant woman attempts to turn a house into a
home. Upstairs, another woman moves in hypnotic motion in a rocking
chair. Back downstairs, the roof springs a leak, while a possible
intruder barges in as if he owns the place. As Vanishing Point director
Matthew Lenton directs an improvisation in a mix of French and English,
another quiet night in onstage looks set to be noised up by a set of
rude intrusions that will make up a companion piece of sorts to the
behind-closed-doors peep show of the company's 2009 international hit,

“We're making a dream play with dream logic, with actors who don't
speak my language, performing behind glass so no-one can hear, so its
nothing if not ambitious,” Lenton laughs as he attempts to qualify the
making of Saturday Night. “We're using a sort-of similar technique that
we used in Interiors, but it's a very different show. With Interiors we
discovered had a self-generating scenario that fed itself, where you're
essentially watching a group of people being intimate around a dinner
table. Saturday Night is a very different creature, because you have
three different rooms.

“So whereas Interiors is about zooming in on people, this has more of
the panoramic view. It's about coming out, and being able to balance
out different events that happen in different places at different
times. So if something big happens here, something tiny might happen
somewhere else, or just a door might open somewhere else again. We have
to decide whether that's all too much to take in. It's not like there's
any hard or fast rules. Some things that work one moment don't work the
next, so it really feels like we're discovering things literally moment
by moment.”

Lenton talks as he directs, stressing his points with force, but going
round the houses to get there, discovering what he's about as much as
anything. Such apparent lack of control goes some way to explaining the
process of making a show that was never intended to happen. Vanishing
Point had originally planned a piece provisionally called Wonderland,
developed from workshops run by Lenton at Ecole des Maites, an
international residential programme that puts directors of note with a
group of actors from different countries.

Wonderland was put on hold, however, after one of the company's
international partners, the Naples Theatre Festival, postponed its own
operations following a change of political administration in the city.
Rather than allow such an inconvenience to dampen their ardour, Lenton
and his team thought laterally. Saturday Night, co-produced with
Tramway and three Portuguese theatres in Porto, Guimarães and Lisbon,
is the result.

“Ideas had been bubbling away for some time,” says Lenton, “then when
Wonderland was put on hold they came to the fore. There was a desire to
explore further what we did in Interiors, and a curiosity to find out
what happens if we have more than one space and tell a story that goes
from one place to another. I'd had a feeling about doing something
about a house as a shelter from the outside world, but also as an
investment for one's future.

“There was a general fascination with houses and homes, and what makes
a home, how we live in them and whether they can protect us. All the
things you hope for and expect to have, nature can interfere with. You
want to have a nice home, you want to be in love, and you want to be in
control of all these things, but in the end, nature being this chaotic
force, it can have a terrible impact on your life. That's a really
important force in this show, those non-rational things that can change
everything, and I wanted to tell that story through images and

In keeping with such visual inspirations, Lenton cites American
photographer Gregory Crewdson as an influence. Crewdson's elaborately
constructed studies of small-town American living rooms themselves look
to David Lynch's film, Blue Velvet, and the paintings of Edward Hopper.
For Lenton, it's the moody ambiguity of all these that appeals; the
feeling that anything could happen if it hasn't done so already.

“As a viewer you have to put your own meaning on these images,” Lenton
observes. “If you look at a Gregory Crewdson photograph of a child
lying on the floor, a mother on a sofa and a man behind a window with a
torch, you have to work to find a meaning for it. You have to dream,
and write your story about the events you see. They're very clear
images, but you have to ask yourself what's going on in this world, why
they're there, why they're sitting in the way they are, and what's
going on out of shot. I'm really interested in making something like
that, where the audience have to work rather than being told what's
happening, and I know some people won't like that. For me, it's not
about work. It's play, and I want people to be beguiled by what they're
looking at.”

As an example of the sort of theatrical dream-state he's aiming for,
Lenton cites Breathe, a dramatic installation inspired by Samuel
Beckett's life and death miniature, Breath. Breathe appeared in
Edinburgh in a specially constructed space backstage at the Royal
Lyceum Theatre.

“There was nothing,” Lenton remembers, “just four letter-box shaped
movie frames, a thin film of water, and the sound of breathing. The
lights would come up and down, and every now and then there'd be a puff
of smoke. I sat there absolutely hypnotised, because I dreamt all my
own stuff. For me, there were little people in there, there were
creatures, and I totally went into this dream-world. I was so excited
by that, and I suppose there's some of that in what we’re trying to do.
You can either sit back and not engage, or you can dream about what
these people might be talking about, or what they're relationship is,
and put all these pieces together yourself.”

Despite such a willingness to lay his work open to interpretation, a
very singular vision remains.

“I always think of it as falling in love with something,” Lenton says.
“You have a love affair with an idea that won't go away, and that's the
thing you work on next, even though you might not necessarily
understand what it's all about.”

Saturday Night, Tramway, Glasgow, October 7-15, then tours.

The Herald, September 27th 2011


Elegies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Drama that deals seriously with prejudice and disease may be all the
rage in mainstream American teen TV these days from Glee to True Blood.
When Bill Russell and Janet Hood's flesh and blood wake for first
generation AIDS victims first appeared at the end of the 1980s, its mix
of schmaltz-laden show-tunes and social comment was considered edgy
enough to become a cause celebre.

More than two decades on, the gospel-tinged ensemble numbers and
overwrought ballads belted out by the nineteen performers onstage in
Paul Harper-Swan and musical director Michael Webborn's new studio
production sound all too X-Factor familiar. The stories they frame,
however, told in a series of rhyming monologues, are a heartfelt and
timely reminder of a world-changing epidemic that may no longer hit the
headlines, but still affects people every day.

Set here around the tables of a celestial cabaret club, the gathered
angels of the show's title may mourn their own deaths, but they
celebrate their lives far more. From the studs, night-owls and crack
whores in search of wisdom through excess, any notion of stereotyping
is quickly countered. A speech written for a little girl born with the
illness is made chilling by the guileless innocence with which it is
delivered. The money-savvy call girl whose life crashes and burns
alongside the recession sounds like an all too current metaphor.
American rhythms and reference points from Vietnam to Greenwich Village
dovetail with more localised inflections to mixed effect. In this
instance it takes Vincent Friell's Glasgow priest to fully bring things
home in a small but still affecting life and death affair.

The Herald, September 29th 2011


Singing Far Into The Night

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
3 stars
Strikes, riots and pay-cuts for the lowest earners are all the rage
just now, the first two possibly with good reason. None of this is
anything new, however, as Hamish MacDonald's new play for Mull Theatre
makes clear in a tale of would-be revolutionaries on the streets of
Glasgow and aboard a Royal Navy ship in 1931. Inspired by real life
events when sailors in Invergordon protested at a twenty-five per cent
wage cut while officers continued to lord it over them, MacDonald's
script follows the travails of Connal MacNab, who becomes a figurehead
for a mutiny that mirrors his journalist brother Finlay's would-be
Bolshevik tendencies on terra firma.

As an incarcerated Connal looks back on an adventure that led to his
downfall forty-odd years earlier along with thrill-seeking actress
Erica, what becomes evident in this hitherto buried piece of peoples
history is just how much the establishment are prepared to put the boot
in when they're found out.

Things are muddied somewhat in the first half of Alasdair McCrone's
production, which flits between scenes of Connal's interrogation and an
array of flashbacks which require more of a back-story to fully
connect. By the second act, however, a more elegiac tone for a
seemingly lost cause is realised. It is here that Harry Ward comes into
his own as Connal, thrust out into the world as Finlay and Erica find
some kind of reconciliation.

Beyond his play's occasional flaws, MacDonald has nevertheless
reclaimed a significant event and used it as a very timely metaphor of
how, if you push people too far, they become radicalised enough to
strike back.

The Herald, September 27th 2011


Para Handy – A Voyage Round The Stories of Neil Munro

Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
3 stars
Hard hats and fluorescent bibs are de rigeur down at Inverbeg Council
Recycling Depot at the opening of John Bett's musical reimagining of
some of Neil Munro's boat-bound yarns involving the saltiest of
sea-dogs. Bett's rough-hewn co-production between Eden Court and the
Open Book company looks to his own theatrical roots with 7:84 and
Wildcat as a rudder for this ribald compendium.

For those who may not know the legend, Para Handy is captain of pre
World War One puffer boat the SS Vital Spark. With first mate Dougie,
deckhand Sunny Jim and engineer Macphail in tow, adventures are many as
the crew navigate their way through the Clyde's nether-most reaches.
Once Bett's modern-day framing device is done away with, a busy melee
of song, archive film footage and silent movie style captions are
ushered in amidst an array of sketch-like scenes. These feature a
role-call of comic grotesques in what looks like an extended sit-com
that's burst rudely into life.

The result, once things calm down, is a series of fruitily Runyonesque
encounters, with the fly likes of Jimmy Yuill's Hurricane Jack, whose
courtship of Helen Mackay's Janice Toner-like Peaches McGlumpher is
played with relish. As soundtracked by Robert Pettigrew's live folk
band, such close-up duologues are when things work best, with Para's
own attempts at wooing Annie Grace's evasive Mary Crawford over tea and
buns an absolute hoot. Jimmy Chisholm's Para is played infinitely less
pop-eyed than his TV predecessors, with Peter Kelly camping up
book-worm Macphail for all it's worth in a fun if less than perfect

The Herald, September 26th 2011