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Showing posts from March, 2011

Staging The Nation

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
When John Byrne is asked by fellow playwright Chris Hannan about his
use of language in his seminal slice of Scots working class
tragic-comedy, The Slab Boys, Byrne states how the baroque, pop culture
savvy patois that drives the drama came from a hatred of “pedestrian”
writing. Byrne singles out mundane lines like ‘What time is it?’ as a
particular example of naturalistic banality. Ten minutes later,
actresses Charlene Boyd and Julie Duncanson are on the floor acting out
a scene from the play between glamourpuss Lucille and tea lady Sadie.
In an already hilarious set of exchanges, Duncanson utters the
self-same line just dissed by its author, and the packed audience
erupts at the gloriously contrary joy of what has just occurred.

Subtitled The Traverse, New Writing and How it Changed the World, this
first of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Staging The Nation Events
gathered together many of the key players who helped sire The Slab Boys
and duly ush…

Caged

The room looks like a bombed-out kindergarten, and through an amped-up
ipod Joe Jackson is singing something about pretty women out walking
with gorillas on his street. The floor is carpeted with piles of
upturned books, a paddling pool filled with soil and assorted goblets,
buckets and other casual detritus. At the centre of the room inside a
circle chalked on the floor is a large banquet table that seems to have
been the venue hosting a particularly unruly chimps tea party. The
walls are lined with sheets of A4 paper with assorted self-help mantras
scrawled on. ‘You cannot change another’, reads one. ‘You can only
change yourself. ‘It is good to step into another’s shoes’, declaims
another.

As the music plays, four people clamber about the room, trying on coats
and hats, picking up assorted props, or, in one case, hanging upside
down beneath the banquet table. Two of the people, Andy Manley and Ros
Sydney, are actors, and such behaviour should probably be expected from
such professio…

The Phantom Band/FOUND

Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh
4 stars
On paper the Phantom Band shouldn’t work. The Glasgow sextet’s unholy
stew of Green-era REM guitars, Scots folk balladeering, motorik
Krautrock rhythm and Appalachian Americana tugs in so many ways – quite
often all in the same song - it should all collapse in on itself in
disaster. As their debut album Checkmate Savage and 2010’s follow-up
The Wants proved, however, it makes for thrilling listening.

Live it’s even better, as is the support from Chemikal Underground
labelmates FOUND, the Edinburgh trio who, for their third album,
Factorycraft, have stripped down, grown some muscles and let rip where
loose-fit post Beta Band stylings used to sit. So fiercely focused is
their pot-pourri of electronic squiggles and wigged-out references to
Vincent Gallo and Johnny Cash, that vocalist Ziggy Campbell not only
breaks a string on his own guitar, but also on the borrowed Phantom
Band axe that replaces it.

Three of the Phantom Band sport wooly bu…

Journey’s End

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
‘Your Country Needs You’ says the empire-building legend on the stage
curtain as an accusatory pre-cursor to David Grindley’s mighty and
elegiac production of R.C. Sherriff’s World War One play, which, more
than eighty years after it first appeared, seems as tragically
pertinent as ever. Set in a British officers dug-out on the eve of the
March 1918 German offensive, it’s a bleak and twitchy world we’re led
into, that resembles an extension of a public school dormitory, with
all the same pecking orders intact.

Top of the heap is Stanhope, a once heroic figure whose mercurial
nature has been tempered by terror, self-loathing and whisky after
three years in charge on the frontline. Into this highly-strung
emotional morass comes Raleigh, who hero-worshipped Stanhope at school,
and now sees war as some kind of Boys Own romance. The shell-shocked
reality, however, is starkly different.

Jonathan Fenson’s claustrophobic, candle-lit set looks almost sepia
tinted i…

Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer

The Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh
3 stars
The best Royal portrait ever was a line drawing gracing the cover of
post-punk zine City Fun in 1981 to commemorate the wedding of Prince
Charles and Lady Di. A classic image of the happy couple was waggishly
reconfigured so the couldn’t-believe-his-luck fruitcake’s hand was
stuffed into his doomed fiance’s blouse, groping away like bilio.

While something similarly disrespectful should accompany Wills and
Kate’s forthcoming nuptials, there’s none of that in this handsomely
displayed archive of the definitive Royal snapper, primarily because
Adams ditched his subjects once puberty got the better of them. Leaving
aside how Adams would probably end up on the sex register today, we
take a sepia-tinted tour through the birth of Princesses Elizabeth and
Margaret, through to HRH’s own offspring Charles and Anne, and a
subsequent slice of the twentieth century establishment en route.

Princesses Liz and Mags seem to lose their sparkle as they get older,
u…

Chris Watson

InSpace, Edinburgh, April 22nd

How do you go from being a core member of experimental electronic
pioneers Cabaret Voltaire to becoming David Attenburgh and Bill Oddie’s
favourite sound recordist, with the odd radio documentary and
installation for assorted sonic arts festivals thrown in for good
measure? Sheffield-born Touch Records recording artiste Chris Watson
doesn’t have an answer for his seemingly wayward career trajectory over
the last thirty-odd years, but, on the eve of a trip to Iceland to make
a programme for BBC Radio 4 prior to a week-long Edinburgh residency
care of Edinburgh International Science Festival in association with
left-field music promoters Dialogues, neither does he see much
difference between his assorted outlets.

“I’m essentially a sound recordist,” Watson enthuses, “and I don’t see
any distinction between any of the things I do. Something I might do
for TV might end up informing an installation work, but what I get
excited by is the release of moving out of…

Claude Cahun / Sue Tompkins

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh until April 17th
4 stars
Two female artists bridge the last two centuries in these contrasting
but complimentary shows. Cahun’s all-angles black and white photographs
on the top floor of the gallery captures the artist’s striking
singularity via a series of portraits that look like an early twentieth
century pre-punk template for equally studied images by Patti Smith.

Downstairs, meanwhile, ex Life Without Buildings chanteuse Tompkins
expands her adventures with text-based pieces by utilising safety pins
and other accoutrements into her palette. With her text pieces becoming
increasingly minimal on paper at least, the opening of Tompkins’ show
saw her perform her opus ‘Hallo Welcome To Keith Street’ in full.

Reading from a thick swadge of paper scrappily bound in a folder,
Tomkins gave a gleeful rendition of what sounds like a very personal
set of free-associations, bippetty-boppitying about in front of the
gallery’s lift over the piece’s…

Somersaults

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
James is a man who left Lewis for London, made a mint on computer games
and became a twenty-first century self-made metropolitan man. Now,
however, he’s in meltdown. Having quit his job, lost his wife and been
declared bankrupt, he attempts to get back to the roots he can barely
remember anymore. Old university chums found on Facebook don’t help.
James can’t even recall the Gaelic word for somersault, so does them
out instead, defining himself by an action where a long-neglected
language used to live.

This is the rich and complex tapestry behind Iain Finlay Macleod’s new
play for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Reveal season, set in a
square-shaped and shrouded sandpit where past and present
impressionistically rub up against each other as James tries to find
himself anew, even as a gimlet-eyed accountant sells off his assets.
Vicky Featherstone’s production lets loose a tantalising meditation on
the struggle to retain one’s language and identity in…

Mother Courage and Her Children

Paisley Arts Centre
3 stars
Contrary to what some naysayers may think, inclusive theatre between
disabled and able-bodied performers is thriving to the extent of barely
being able to notice the join. Following hot on the heels of Robert
Softley’s Girl X, Birds of Paradise’s Glasgowed-up take on Lee Hall’s
chewily modern-sounding translation of Bertolt Brecht’s war-torn epic
plays much of it for laughs.

So while the action may nominally take place in seventeenth century
Poland during the thirty years war, Alison Peebles’ wily and
hard-bitten Mother Courage and her brood are gallus enough to suggest
they’re manning a stall down at the Barras. The way they stuff their
junk in carrier bags from Lidl and swig back Buckfast adds to the
effect, as does Johnny Austin’s portrayal of Courage’s son Swisscheese
as some galumphing escapee from Gregory’s Girl. The encircled A for
anarchy sign grafittied on the bombed-out walls of Hazel Blue’s set,
however, suggests something more serious.

Such contempo…

DEATH, Dumb, Blonde

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Blonde ambition is all over the Citz this week. To compliment Marilyn,
Sue Glover’s audacious look at the ultimate tragic pin-up girl for its
final lost weekend in the main theatre before transferring to
Edinburgh, the Circle Studio plays host to writer and director Neil
Doherty’s arguably even wilder dissection of the Marilyn Monroe legend,
in which Doherty attempts to reclaim the screen goddess’s fragile
psyche in an entirely different fashion.

At first glance things look geared to a post-Warhollian trash aesthetic
in exelcis, as Tyler Collins’ be-wigged Drag Act enters his/her boudoir
to a David Bowie soundtrack. As emotional traumas are laid bare, the
superstars in the doorstop-size Monroe biography under the bed step off
the pages to find a truly captive audience. First up comes Jonathan
Dunn’s Sharp Shooter, part gangster, part shrink, part grim reaper, who
puts the Drag Act under the influence until Kirsti Quinn’s Dumb Blonde
herself appears to co…

Yes, Prime Minister

Kings Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Something ever so slightly shocking happens towards the end of the
first act of Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s updated stage version of
their 1980s political TV sit-com. One minute PM Jim Hacker, his cabinet
secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby and private secretary Bernard Wooley are
in Chequers trading decidedly old-school repartee that nevertheless
reveals them to be occupying a world filled with Blackberries, Euros,
global warming, a brand new recession and female advisers in the shape
of the formidable Claire Sutton. The next they’re considering the moral
maze that comes with the prospect of procuring an under-age prostitute
for the foreign secretary of the imaginary state of Kumranistan in
exchange for a loan.

In a show that in the brutal age personified by the far racier environs
of The Thick of It, such a lurch shows how politics has become even
nastier since the days of Thatcherism that still hang heavy over
Westminster and beyond. What follows beyond su…

Linda Griffiths - Age of Arousal

A Victorian costume drama with a radical feminist bent might not sound
the most entertaining of prospects. As has already been proven at
Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, however, Stellar Quines’ production
of Canadian writer Linda Griffiths’ Age of Arousal, which opens at
Glasgow’s Tron Theatre before touring the country, defies convention at
every level.

‘Wildly inspired,’ as Griffiths would have it in her programme notes,
by George Gissing’s progressive novel, The Odd Women, Age of Arousal is
a playfully serious and utterly theatrical look at female liberation
during as time when women outnumbered men three to one. Those unlucky
enough not to marry, it seems, were marginalised by a society that had
yet to view women as equals. Based around a secretarial school which
hopes to liberate its pupils via the typewriter, the play focuses on
the different solutions chosen by three sisters who enroll in the
school run by a precursor to the Suffragettes and her younger lover. As…

King Lear

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
4 stars
It’s been some time since Shakespeare’s mightiest imagined history epic
has been seen in full pomp in these parts, but Michael Grandage’s
stately and grandiloquent take on these touring dates of his Donmar
Warehouse production has event written all over it. Central to this of
course is the appearance of Derek Jacobi in the title role, although
the full sixteen-strong ensemble contribute to the overall picture in
spades.

Grandage sets things on Christopher Oram’s dappled barn of a set, where
Jacobi’s initially impish and attention-seeking king plays the sort of
games with his three little girls that only those in their dotage can
get away with. Only his favourite, Cordelia, alas, recognises how every
daddy’s girl needs to fly the nest, even as her big sisters play a more
ambitious game. The casting of the sisters unveils a fascinatingly
complex set of archetypes, with Gina McKee’s Anglo-Saxon steeliness as
Goneril contrasting increasingly sharply with the C…

David Hayman in Barlinnie

It wasn’t the first time David Hayman had been inside HMP Barlinnie. In
truth, the veteran actor and director’s appearance this week in the
former home of convicted murderer turned sculptor Jimmy Boyle to give a
bravura solo turn in his friend and colleague Rony Bridges play, Six
and a Tanner, makes him something of an old lag.

In the 1980s when Hayman was at the helm of left-wing theatre company,
7:84, he would frequently host rehearsals of forthcoming works before
inmates. Hayman’s associations go back even further, to the days of
Barlinnie’s controversial special unit, which enabled Boyle and other
offenders the resources to become artists under a progressively
enlightened regime.

Hayman played Boyle in the 1981 STV drama, A Sense of Freedom, based on
Boyle’s autobiography. Hayman also directed Silent Scream, a 1990
feature film starring Ian Glen as Larry Winters, another Special Unit
inmate who died of an overdose of barbiturates in the institution.

Neither film was made at Barlinnie…

Girl X

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
Beneath a busy city underpass, seventeen people meet to talk, argue and
engage. The internet has gone down, so such real live flesh and blood
encounters are deemed necessary to allow a collective letting off of
steam. At the centre of this is actor and disabled activist Robert
Softley, who puts on the agenda the ethical dilemma of what to do when
the parents of a child with cerebral palsy decree to desexualise her,
stunting her growth and keeping her forever young. Out of this comes a
torrent of tangents, twists and turns any debate can veer off into,
online or otherwise. Taboos are broken, things are said in the heat of
the moment and at times things go too far. The conclusion? If there is
one, it’s left hanging, waiting for the next posting.

On one level Softley’s collaboration with Belgian director Pol Heyvaert
and dramaturg Bart Capelle for this contribution to the National
Theatre of Scotland’s Reveal season is community theatre writ large,
with t…

Love Letters To The Public Transport System/Count Me In

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars/3 stars
The National Theatre of Scotland’s rolling Reveal season has thus far
focused on big ideas presented in small packages. These two works in
progress exemplify this approach in two solo pieces performed by their
authors in an engagingly charming fashion. Gary McNair’s Count Me In is
a stand-up lecture that takes McNair’s self-confessed political
ignorance as the starting point for an inter-active power-point led
trawl through the history of what passes for democracy. As witty as it
is, McNair over-eggs his simple premise with an over-reliance on
hi-tech gadgetry when a simple hand in the air would suffice.

Simplicity is the key to Love Letters To The Public Transport System,
Molly Taylor’s autobiographical monologue in which she attempts to
track down the train and bus drivers who transported her and others to
their accidental destiny. Sat on a twin seat from a double-decker with
a pile of discarded tickets beside her on the floor, Taylor cuts up…

Sweetness

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
3 stars
Once upon a time in the north, in a land that Jamie Oliver’s Healthy
Dinners forgot, two brothers are dying side by side, albeit in separate
houses where their estrangement festers. Archie has cancer, while
Murdo’s obesity suggests his heart might fail any second. Especially as
his endless sugar-rushing extends to spoon-feeding himself with pus
from his own sores. Into this war of attrition steps Kate, a writer
from the south on a tour of the land’s less populated arenas. Stranded
by the snow, she moves between the two men, hearing different versions
of a real-life epic involving dismembered cats, a lost doll, a wife
secretly shared and a lost child each claims as their own.

Adapted by Kevin MacNeil from Swedish writer Torgny Lindgren’s novel,
Hummelhonung, Sweetness is a piece of skewed post-modern story-telling
that revels in its own oddness. Matthew Zajac’s production for Dogstar
even puts Sean Hay in a humungous fat suit as Murdo la…

Gina McKee

Gina McKee doesn’t seem to mind throwing herself in at the deep end.
Playing Goneril, the eldest of three sisters in the Donmar Warehouse’s
production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, which arrives in Glasgow tonight
with Derek Jacobi in the title role, she doesn’t really have much
choice. This is partly down to director Michael Grandage, who, rather
than spending hours around a table deconstructing every word, prefers
his cast to be free of the script and on their feet as early on in
rehearsals as possible. It is, says McKee in her soothing Geordie burr,
“very liberating.

“It’s really interesting when you do a show like this. A lot of people
know the play, and because I knew I was going to be doing it a long
time before we started, a lot of people were like, ooh, Goneril, evil,
evil. But I wanted to make sure that it’s not just a stock
interpretation of the character, but that we find out what fuels her.
So, I went, okay, what are the facts? We know she’s married to Albany,
and we know she…

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Dundee Rep
4 stars
Jim Cartwright’s 1992 northern English musical romance may now look
like a pre X-Factor, pre Su-Bo period piece, but in its lineage of
working-class drama from A Taste of Honey through to The Royle Family
and early Shameless, its depiction of self-determination against all
odds still packs an emotional punch. Jemima Levick’s new production
also recognises the power of the three-minute pop song epics that
painfully shy teenager LV learns by rote from her dead dad’s old record
collection, and which provide salvation from her drink-sodden mother
Mari’s increasingly manic adventures in excess. Everything changes,
however, when the latest flame Mari brings home is seedy showbiz agent
Ray Say, who thrusts LV reluctantly into the spotlight, even as young
telephone engineer Billy pursues her in a different way.

Levick and designer Janet Bird invite the audience into this gig of all
gigs from the off by seating them at nightclub tables before tinsel
drapes that offer an illusio…

The Haunting

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
Say what you like about hoary old ghost stories, but, as with the
runaway success of The Woman in Black, in terms of sensationalist fun
with smoke, mirrors and a bag of stage tricks as old as Methuselah
himself, they’re hard to knock. This one even has the literary cred of
being (very) loosely adapted by writer Hugh Janes from a quintet of
Charles Dickens short stories, with an extra added soupcon of incident
and colour culled from Dickens’ own real life interest in all things
supernatural to knit together a suitably shadowy and impeccably plummy
haunted house yarn.

Young book dealer David Filde is seconded to catalogue the country
house library of his uncle’s late colleague, whose money-centred son
has become the new Lord Gray. Other things are afoot beyond financial
transactions, alas, as Filde encounters Dostoyevsky-loving
poltergeists, disembodied female voices off and all manner of things
that go bump in the night.

This might well be unashamedly comm…

Staircase

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
In a low-rent London barber’s shop one increasingly frantic Sunday,
Charlie is awaiting a knock on the door from a police-man serving him a
summons. Tomorrow, the daughter Charlie sired twenty years previously
but has never seen is coming to visit. Keeping Charlie company is
Harry, his much put-upon gentleman friend and dirty little secret. As
the pair bitch and spar their way to a gin-soaked impasse, Charlie’s
increasingly long dark night of the soul goes beyond his initial tough
guy bluffness to suggest this might just be the last act for the
ultimate old ham.

Playwright Charles Dyer might not be a household name of post-war
British theatre, but as Andy Arnold’s rare revival of his 1966 curio,
camped-up like bilio on film by Rex Harrison and Richard Burton,
testifies to, he took Pinter’s grotty demotic to a new level of
fantasy-fuelled meta-narrative that predicts Kiss of the Spiderwoman.
The testy co-dependence between Charlie and Harry is laced with
deli…

The Comedy of Errors

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
It’s worth keeping an eye on the sombrero-sporting bar band playing
package tour Mariarchi as the audience take their seats for Edward
Hall’s sit-com inspired romp through Shakespeare’s double-bluffing yarn
of twins separated at birth. Running in tandem with the all male
Propeller company’s similarly audacious production of Richard 111, by
the time we reach the interval, they’re collecting for charity on the
stairs, busking a set of pop classics that somehow manages to mash up
Eurhythmics with the White Stripes.

If such levity suggests Hall and his twelve-strong cast are having fun
with the bard’s shortest work, you’re not wrong. The words are all
there, but so is a scarlet-suited Duke who should be fronting a Heaven
17 tribute act, a dominatrix Abbess and a northern club turn with a
firework up his bare backside who could be the ghost of Malcolm Hardee.
The lost twins themselves are a riot of loud shirts and quiffs for the
two versions of Antipholus, wh…

Richard 111

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
The men in white coats looking like zombified extras from The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre and wielding baseball bats are the first of many
striking images in Edward Hall’s radical redux of Shakespeare’s
nastiest imagined history play. The Victorian hospital setting which
Hall and designer Michael Pavelka go for in this production for Hall’s
all-male Propeller ensemble opens up a world of possibilities, as
Richard Clothier’s callipered-up schemer moves through a gothic whirl
of screens, sinister looking chairs and operating tables splattered red
like some long banned video nasty.

Clothier’s Richard is a sly, psychopathic charmer, wooing the girls
with comedy flowers just as soon as he’d bite off their fingers to get
back his ring for his next conquest. His hired assassins are like some
Burke and Hare style music hall double act as they prey on Clarence,
the increasingly high death count eerily punctuated by jolly
sing-songs. The little princes are ingeniously…

Marilyn

Citizens' Theatre Glasgow
4 stars

"Who said Lady Macbeth was a brunette?" spits Marilyn Monroe at one
point in Sue Glover's imagined history of the bottle blonde bombshell's
encounters with French icon Simone Signoret in a Beverley Hills hotel
in 1960. Her outburst is the crux of Monroe's sense of frustration at
being cast as the eternal dumb blonde while filming the risible Let's
Make Love with Signoret's husband Yves Montand. In private too, while
Dominique Hollier's stately Signoret talks politics with Monroe's
latest father figure husband, Arthur Miller, Monroe is needy,
vulnerable, neurotic and insomniac, desperate to be taken seriously as
she reads Shakespeare rather than learning her lines. Darting between
the two is Pattie, Pauline Knowles's Olive Oil like hairdresser to the
stars who is the only one to see the real roots of Monroe's bad
daydream of a life.

Kenny Miller's footlit, red carpeted catwalk of a set gives the play…

Age of Arousal

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
"A shame that sex matters are so untidy," says one character in Canadian writer Linda Griffiths' 'wildy inspired' take on George Gissing's Victorian novel, The Odd Women, at one point. Previously, the characterin question, Hannah Donaldson's coquettish Monica, was the youngest,most flirtatious and sexually liberated of three sisters orbiting aroundproto-feminist Mary Barfoot and her young lover Rhoda Nunn, who run aschool providing emancipation via Remington typewriter. By the end of the play, Monica is trapped by the consequences of her own desires, and the thirty year road to sexual equality the women aspire to looks a lot further away.

There's nothing hidden in Muriel Romanes' production, which wears itssensuality on its sleeve in this alliance between Stellar Quines and the Lyceum. The title of each scene is projected onto a net curtain inold-school type-face before ushering in a series of playful liaisons …

Gagarin Way - Review

Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline
4 stars
When Gregory Burke’s devastatingly funny treatise on socialism,
capitalism and Fife’s most rubbish terrorist cell first appeared a
decade ago, ideology was believed to have died in what looked like a
post-political age. Like a slow-burning grenade lodged on some mythical
barricades, however, in today’s post 9/11, post 7/7, post-recessionary
climate of student riots and public anger with the banks, Rapture
Theatre’s revisiting of the play now looks like a hugely instructive
period piece.

Sentimental trade-unionist Gary and thrill-seeking auto-didact Eddie
kidnap what they believe to be a Japanese industrialist in the
Dunfermline factory they slave in every day. When victim Frank turns
out to be a Leven ex-pat just as disillusioned as them, the debate that
ensues goes beyond the high-minded theory of ex politics student and
security guard Tom to take a more nihilistic approach.

It’s still a brilliant idea, putting the all too often abstracted and
romantic …

Jeremy Millar - Resemblances, Sympathies and Other Acts

Jeremy Millar has just been listening to PJ Harvey’s new album prior to
talking about his forthcoming ‘Resemblances, Sympathies and Other Acts’
show at the CCA in Glasgow. Somehow the other-worldly, transcendent
qualities of this most hypnotic of singer-songwriters fits in with
Millar’s aesthetic, adding another presence over our shoulders as he
gathers his thoughts about why, exactly, he decided to encase himself
in silicon posed as a dead body for a newly commissioned sculpture,
‘Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (The Willows),’ that forms the show’s
centre-piece.

The cast for ‘Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (The Willows)’ has been
built by special effects expert Grant Mason, whose work has been
previously seen in ‘Taggart’ and David Mackenzie’s big-screen
adaptation of Scots beat writer Alexander Trocchi’s novel, ‘Young
Adam.’ While this lends Millar’s work a patina of pop cultural cred, it
shouldn’t undermine the seriousness of the work’s intention.

“The last few years I’ve been intere…

Edward Hall - Propeller Theatre

When a bunch of guys hang out together without any female influence to
soften them up, a gang mentality inevitably develops. So it is with
Propeller Theatre, the company founded by Edward Hall in 1997 to
produce Shakespeare’s canon acted exclusively by men. The evidence of
fourteen years of male bonding can be gleaned this week when Propeller
fly into Edinburgh with The Comedy of Errors and Richard 111, two
radically different plays requiring equally apposite approaches. In
keeping with their thoroughly modern aesthetic, Hall and the Propeller
boys have opted to lace Richard 111 with a touch of Victorian gothic,
whereby the man who would be king marches through what might be a
mental asylum. For The Comedy of Errors, Hall has taken the company’s
all lads together approach to the limit by setting it on a cheap and
cheerful 1980s package tour in some equally cut-price Mediterranean
resort.

“I remembered what it was like,” says Hall, “scarpering off to Tenerife
or Magaluf w…

Non-Stick Erratic Carvery

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
Sunday February 13th
4 stars
Lazy Sunday afternoons in the Botanics will never be the same again
after this all-day extravaganza of nine acts culled from Edinburgh’s
fecund experimental hiss-and-mist scene set in the ornate upstairs
gallery of Inverleith House. Headlined by out-of-town guests
Jazzfinger, a series of mix-and-match collaborations between assorted
members of Scrim, Muscletusk, Hockyfrilla and Fordell Research Unit
came complete with natural light and the eerie outside silence outside
once darkness fell.

Cartoon sound-art double-act Usurper added a meta-narrative to their
usual japes by recreating the noise of their willfully absent
kindergarten junkyard kit using vocal noises rather than manufactured
ones. Deadhestcess was a loose alignment of Helhesten’s theatrical
sound poetics and Muscletusk/Dead Labour Process’s vocal deconstruction
of counter-cultural anti-psychiatric guru R.D. Laing’s volume of
word-game dialogues, ‘Kn…

Benni Hemm Hemm – Skot (Kimi)

4 stars
From the opening jangles of this latest magnum opus by Icelandic ex-pat
Edinburgh resident Benedikt H Hermannsson one could be forgiven for
thinking this was the missing link between the fey-pop joie de vivre of
early Orange Juice and the finished article of Belle and Sebastian a
decade or so later. As it is, Hermannson is very much his own man,
crooning in a frippish Icelandic over a set of gloriously jaunty piano,
horn and string arrangements from his home-grown kitchen-sink big band
(he has another version in Edinburgh he’s currently touring Europe
with). Knowing the lingo probably helps, but, throw in a whistling
choir or two, and it sounds like a work of pure joy nevertheless.

The List, February 2011

ends

Smalltown Review

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Ayrshire is a funny place. This comedy triptych sired by Douglas
Maxwell, D.C. Jackson and Johnny McKnight for McKnight’s Random
Accomplice company takes the three writers home-towns as the starting
point for a riot of willfully outrageous nonsense where the audience
even get to vote for which ending they prefer. The conceit binding the
plays together is a grand wheeze concocted by the marketing bods at the
local toon council who spike the newly branded Rabbie Juice with a
mind-altering substance which inadvertently causes the whole of
Ayrshire to go fifty-seven varieties of gaga. With a mop-up operation
in full swing, only three towns are still flogging off this strangest
of brews; Girvan, Stewarton and Ardrossan.

Maxwell’s opening Girvan-set piece focuses on this the most, in a
seaside post-card come to life featuring misguided civic pride, the
spectre of a boxing kangaroo, much ado with ice-cream cones and a
tourist trade that is literally dead in the wat…

Gagarin Way

When Gregory Burke’s debut play, Gagarin Way, first appeared at
Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in the summer of 2001, it’s thesis on the
apparent death of socialism via a bunch of rubbish terrorists in Fife
inadvertently marked the end of an era. While Gagarin Way summed up in
part an age of apathy where violence was for kicks rather than a cause,
before the year was out, the destruction of the World Trade Centre in
New York changed everything. A decade later, with few taking David
Cameron’s big society in any way seriously, and with the Con-Dem
alliance provoking riots on the streets of London, protest is very much
back on the agenda.

Rapture Theatre’s tenth anniversary revival of Burke’s play, which has
just opened in Dunfermline prior to its current tour, looks more timely
than ever. Looking back on the work that put him on the map and opened
the door for the even bigger success of Black Watch, Burke for one
suggests that Gagarin Way isn’t as big a political statement as some
people m…

Smalltown

Take three boys, all sired in not so sunny Ayrshire before they ran
away to the big city in the west to find fame and fortune. That fame
came through the theatre, where these three very different little boys
became playwrights, mainly of a comedic bent, writing at times of the
growing pains of being stuck in assorted backwoods hamlets dreaming of
escape. With such similar but different routes taken by D.C. Jackson,
Douglas Maxwell and Johnny McKnight, what one wonders, must be in the
Ayrshire water supply to cause such a creative overflow?

Audiences will be able to find out when they visit Smalltown, the new
play co-written by the trio and directed by McKnight for his Random
Accomplice company, who open at the Tron this week before taking the
show out on tour. With each author setting their individual
contribution in their own home town, Girvan (Maxwell), Stewarton
(Jackson) and Ardrossan (McKnight) become the back-drop for a
science-fiction B-movie inspired yarn charting the catastrop…

Death of A Salesman

Perth Theatre
4 stars
In the current economic climate, Arthur Miller’s masterly study of one
man’s downfall in a world where everything is for sale now looks like
the most painfully prophetic of all his mighty works. On a purely
domestic level, watching Willy Loman’s slow, self-deluded suicide as
the very edifice of everything he ever put faith in collapses around
him is even more harrowing. Rather than graft on any over-egged thesis,
however, Ian Grieve’s swansong production as artistic director at Perth
somewhat wisely lets Miller’s play speak for itself.

The result is both a telling insight into the cruelties of a boom and
bust society where the big-talking pitch is the norm, as well as a
compelling tragedy concerning the loneliness of the long-distance
little guy and the far-reaching consequences of his on-the-road
indiscretions. At first when Ron Emslie’s weary Willy first starts
talking to himself on Ken Harrison’s busy set, conjuring up scenes of
less tired times when he was king …

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart Review

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
5 stars
The National Theatre of Scotland’s ongoing adventures in popular
culture have impressed thus far by avoiding any sense of artistic
tourism. This latest foray into ad hoc informality finds writer David
Greig and director Wils Wilson going deep into the heart of folk ballad
country to make something which is by turns one of the most
rambunctiously life-affirming and touchingly beautiful reinventions of
its subject.

Designed to be played in spit and sawdust pub function rooms, and
performed here by five actor/musicians in the Tron’s already
atmospheric Victorian Bar, we’re introduced to the shy young folk song
collector of the play’s title who, inbetween doing a PhD on the
topography of Hell, is dispatched to Kelso in 2010’s bleak mid-winter
to deliver an academic paper. Stranded in the snow made here of torn-up
napkins and tinkled wine glasses, Prudencia finds herself caught in the
hurly-burly of supernatural excesses that resemble the musical yarns
she so lov…

Just Checking

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Falling in love is a disease that can strike at any time, turning one’s
world upside down and provoking all manner of irrational behaviour,
sheer terror included. In Karen McLachlan’s tragic-comic solo vehicle
for actress Blythe Duff, such an unexpected emotional whirlwind is
equated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a disease equally
all-consuming and just as common. Duff plays Izzy Grant, a high-flying
career woman who’s just met the man of her dreams and looks set for the
perfect wedding with the perfect cake and an even more perfect seating
plan at the reception. If only, as Izzy finds herself overwhelmed and
inveigled upon by all her worst fears she’s thus far protected herself
from via series of seemingly harmless rituals; “the glue that holds me
together,” as she puts it.

As Izzy addresses the audience directly in the spick-and-span kitchen
of her pristine white des-res, illustrating her anxieties with a series
of heightened physical tics, the over…