Tuesday, 29 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 usher in a new era for home-grown theatre. Cast members
included Robbie Coltrane, Jim Byars and Ida Schuster, with original
director David Hayman and former Traverse artistic director Chris Parr
– whose vision Byrne praised as something that “changed the whole
history of theatre in Scotland” – also in attendance.

With Hannan in the chair, the old gang run through a scene from the
play unrehearsed before the dots are joined between The Slab Boys and
other landmark works. Beyond the rapid-fire banter, some serious points
are made about the play’s sense of working class aspiration in a very
special once in a lifetime reunion of the team behind a crucial tipping
point of Scottish culture.

the Herald, March 24th 2011

ends

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

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 professional exhibitionists. The woman with the daft hat and
wrong-way round coat, however, is director Gill Robertson. And the
lanky guy holding on to the table by his fingertips beneath the banquet
table? That’ll be playwright Rob Evans, then, who is scripting Caged, a
new, none pantomime take on beauty and the Beast, which, as performed
by Manley and Sydney, is being overseen by Robertson.

Such a hands-on approach by none performers isn’t common among theatre
companies. This, however, is the Catherine Wheels way, where rehearsal
room improvisations become a great big giant playtime which everyone
can and usually does join in with. For what looks set to be an
infinitely more intimate look at Beauty and the Beast than the more
familiar Disneyfied version, play is especially important.

“I think it’s because we’re all daft,” says Robertson, pausing for
breath before she goes to pick up her own children from school.
“Because I act as well, and because Rob acts and directs, and because
Andy does everything, it just means that there’s a lot of good heads in
the room. So when you get stuff up and start looking at it, it’s a lot
better than four people sitting round a table talking about it. In this
way you can have a little think about it, and then just get up and do
it. Rob and Andy and I have worked together like this before, so we’re
used to it now.”

“I like it,” says Evans later. “I think a lot of shows could benefit
from everyone trying out different tasks like this. It’s good to see
each other’s ideas and to be able to feed off them.”

The idea for Caged first came from Manley, who’d seen a production of
Beauty and the Beast in Dundee, and was particularly taken with a scene
featuring just the two main protagonists. A German show at the
Imaginate festival of childrens’ theatre similarly looked at the
relationship between the two. All of which is a far cry from more
common interpretations of the story via a hairy but misunderstood
monster falling for someone way out of his league.

“I wasn’t all that interested in all the other characters,” remembers
Manley, seated with his co-creators later in an office that looks more
like a club-house for a gang, “but I became interested in this young
woman leaving her parental influence and moving into the world of a
love interest, that rites of passage from being a daughter to being a
woman and a lover. There’s also that thing of meeting somebody who’s
completely different to you. How do you negotiate getting on and
forming some kind of relationship?”

“That’s all our story is,” says Robertson. “It’s about two absolute
opposites negotiating their relationship. It’s almost like kids
playing. These two friends play, they fall out and say they won’t play
with each other anymore, then they make up again. Making this show has
been something similar. It’s been fun, but it’s also been painful as
well.”

At one point in the improvised show and tell that took place earlier,
Sydney laid down on the banquet table as if it was a bed. Beneath her,
on the floor, Manley lay in the exact same pose. As each turned on
their side, mirroring each others actions, what strikes one most is the
sense of intimacy at play that one wouldn’t normally associate with
Beauty and the Beast. Particularly in a show aimed at children aged
eight and over.

“But I think that passion you feel for your first friends is
important,” says Manley. “I know I felt a passion for my first male
friends, even though I knew there was no relationship there. I knew I
felt a really deep love for them. I think that’s the same for eight
year olds. At that age a friend isn’t just someone you hang out with.
There’s something much deeper going on.”

“You have to be willing to adapt to each other’s needs as well,” agrees
Sydney. “And when we’ve improvised scenes the pair of them feel quite
young as well, finding out about each other, testing each other and
prodding each other the way kids do. They really hurt each other as
well. There’s times Beauty can be a bit of a bully.”

Such an approach makes for an interesting power-play, in which
Catherine Wheels’ idea of the Beast is happy to traipse after his
captive beloved more like a simpering puppy than the wild animal his
would-be paramour treats him as.

“One of the big differences between our story and the traditional
eighteenth century story,” Evans points out, “is of Beauty as this idea
of perfection, whereas we’re doing a story about a girl who’s having to
find out what she is away from her familiar environment. Being a good
girl for your dad or for your family doesn’t really stand-up here with
him. Ours is a drama about change for both of them. He transforms how
he sees himself, and she changes how she sees both of them. That’s why
it’s a good story to tell for the age group we’re aiming at. If someone
doesn’t turn into a handsome prince, how possible is it to still love
them? We’ve also been negotiating whether it’s about a staid girl who
goes wild, but it’s not. It’s about a girl who’s getting older and
finds a new world. She finds love.”

In the play room next door, the banquet table may be covered in junk,
but once the guests arrive for Caged, anything could happen.

Caged, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, March 24th-26th, then tours
www.catherinewheels.co.uk

The Herald, March 22nd 2011

ends

Monday, 21 March 2011

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 bunnets as they launch into the
horror movie chorale of The Howling. Keyboardist Andy Wake especially
seems to have channeled the ghost of Tom Weir by way of Brian Eno,
while bearded vocalist Rick Anthony looks every inch the twinkly-eyed
hellfire preacher as he declaims every song like some arcane piece of
epic widescreen mythology.

By the time they climax with the rolling thunder of Left Hand Wave,
bassist Gerry Hart is standing astride the bass drum and Anthony is
climbing up the speaker stack and swinging from the ceiling vents as if
they’re monkey bars. The night ends with Crocodile, possibly the only
instrumental Paul Hogan tribute to feature dueling melodicas and
Giorgio Moroder synth. What else.

The Herald, March 21st 2011

ends

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 in Sherriff’s slow-burning masterpiece about how boys were
forced to be men for a cause they could barely grasp. The full fear of
each man is captured perfectly, be it through gallows humour, the
fragile venom of James Norton’s Stanhope, or Hibbert’s out and out
terror. The scene between Raleigh and second in command Osborne as they
prepare for their mission feels as if they’re awaiting their execution.
When the shells start landing outside, the only noises apart from human
speech echo like the amplified and irregular heartbeats of the
terrified cannon fodder sounding their own death knell. As the volume
increases with the screams while the curtain falls, it’s a horrifying
moment in a grippingly intense production.

The Herald, March 17th 2011

ends

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,
until the wonderful final shot of what could be any normal 1950s family
at leisure. The overall effect is of wandering through the set of a
Stephen Poliakoff TV play; stately, regal and beautifully shot.

Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer, The Queen's Gallery, Edinburgh until
June 5th

The List, March 2011

ends

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 the studio. Sounds outside
are much more liberating.”

With Susan Phillipsz recently scooping the Turner Prize with her River
Clyde based sound installation, sonic art has effectively broken cover
in a way that Watson’s work, while different, can benefit from.

For his Edinburgh residency, Watson will trawl the sonic architecture
of North Berwick and surrounding areas prior to shaping the material
for a performance at InSpace.

“I’m interested in trying to capture that interface between land and
sea,” Watson says. “It’s about trying to capture the soul of a place.”

The List, March 2011

ends

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 full forty minute duration. With
Tompkins becoming an increasingly major figure, it’s refreshing to see
such a force of nature in full throes of inspired rapture.

The List, March 2011

ends

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 a modern world
where majority rules.

Advertised as a Platform Production – an awkward hybrid between a work
in progress and the finished article – it nevertheless looks more
complete and appears to have had more resources lavished on it than
most small-scale touring shows can muster And frankly, the play
deserves it, especially after Tony Kearney’s James has ripped down the
walls that hemmed him in, and the five actors sit among the audience
with the lights up. Addressing us directly in turn, the hard facts of
self-preservation hit home in an understated but powerfully direct
fashion. This lurch into direct address effectively splinters the
play’s form just as James has been torn in this oddly fascinating work.

The Herald, March 14th 2011

ends

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 contemporary close-to-homeness in Morven Gregor’s production does
much to remind us of the battle-scarred consequences of war, when the
free market turns to black market and survival matters more than whose
side you’re on. Yet, while there are some fine rough and ready moments
focusing on the personal rather than the political, as when Ashley
Smith’s mute Kattrin explores her blossoming womanhood via prostitute
Yvette’s red shoes and hat, the production overall needs more drive and
urgency. This comes in fits and starts during the ukulele and fiddle
accompanied songs, while Garry Robson’s ease with interacting with the
audience lends things a sense of spontaneity, but if this Mother
Courage is to survive, much more bite is needed.

The Herald, March 14th 2011

ends

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 confess all about who she was before the studios
reinvented her.

In a piece that is more willfully overwrought Kathy Acker style cut-up
than well-made play, Doherty looks to Joyce Carol Oates’ magnum opus,
Blonde, for inspiration. After that, however, anything goes in a messy
and discursive exploration of twentieth century American pop mythology
that at moments recalls early Sam Shepard at his most strung-out.

As the debut outing for Doherty’s SeenUnSeen company, it’s a pretty
bold calling card. But then, now even Nick Cave is singing of giving a
gift of the spinal cord of JFK wrapped in Monroe’s negligee to his true
love, Marilyn’s brittle elegy to herself looks oddly on the money.

The Herald, March 11th, 2011

ends

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 such a debate in Lynn’s
production nevertheless becomes an excuse for a silly and slightly
over-long farce involving Machiavellian manipulation of the BBC and a
suggestion that no matter how much deep water they get themselves in,
the men and women at the top will always survive.

Except, no matter how much Simon Williams’ Sir Humphrey and Richard
McCabe’s Hacker wangle their way out of the deepest of doo-doo, in an
age where politicians are being imprisoned in relation to improprieties
both sexual and monetary, as with the bankers, we need more. Or do we?
This is by all accounts the Kings’ biggest selling show this season.
Austerity chic, it seems, has yet to affect the market in nostalgia.

The Herald, March 15th 2011

ends

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
already indicated, in a work that frequently finds its characters
voicing their own sub-text or else has multiple voices collapsing into
one another like counterpointing little symphonies, even the posh
frocks are worn differently.

“I really feel this is the design I’ve been wanting over twelve
productions,” Griffiths beams while on a whistlestop visit to Edinburgh
to see the play’s opening. Griffiths is referring to the show’s
off-kilter couture created in part by design students from Edinburgh
College of Art. “I’ve never gotten anyone who was prepared to go this
far, and this is how far it needs to go.”

The question of how far can you go is central to Age of Arousal, which
came about after Griffiths found a dog-eared copy of The Odd Women,
George Gissing’s novel that inspired it, in the dollar-bin of a
second-hand book-store.

“I turned it over, and it on the back it said ‘Five Victorian
Spinsters’, and I thought, oh, that’s juicy. I’m so interested in the
idea of spinsters, and I wanted to feel I had the freedom to be wildly
inspired by it, but not do any traditional adaptation. So it’s a
collaboration between me and George Gissing. Now, he’s dead, but if
anyone is still doing any of my plays in a hundred years time, I will
let them mess with them. But the tone of the play is completely
different from Gissing’s. it’s playful, dangerous and there’s that bomb
inside it. In Gissing’s book there’s the bomb, but there is no soufflé
around it and no sense of humour. No-one goes to Berlin to smoke and
wear trousers in the book as they do in my play, which is meant to show
the restriction of the age, but in a way so we also see the freedom
that was building. I’ve a natural rebellious temperament, so I was
never going to write a conventional costume drama, and I was always
more interested in what was underneath than what was on top.”

This is done in Age of Arousal primarily through something Griffiths
calls Thought-Speak, in which each character expresses their inner
yearnings in a gush of words outwith the everyday politesse they
communicate with face to face. As a technique, Thought-Speak is more
integrated than an interior monologue or a Shakespearian aside, with
the effect of all the characters emotional irrationalle getting the
better of them and tearing up their insides beyond their external
control.

Such none-naturalistic interventions stem back to Griffiths’ early
years as a performer with Theatre Passe Muraille, creating work
collectively out of improvisations. Even then, however, Griffiths stood
out in an already kooky crew.

“I don’t like boring an audience,” she says. “In the improv work I was
always bringing in strange things, ghosts and another level of reality.
I like to work in terms of a microcosm with relationships, a macrocosm
in terms of political realities, and then another level of the magic
that theatre can involve.”

Age of Arousal is the second of Griffiths’ British Trilogy of plays,
inspired in part by her Rotherham-born father. The first, Wallis
Simpson aka The Duchess: an unabashed epic, looks at the American
divorcee whose marriage to King Edward caused him to abdicate. The
third, The Last Dog of War, is a solo piece performed by Griffiths over
the last four years, which is inspired by a trip she took with her
father as he embarked on a reunion with his old RAF squadron.

“There’s always an element in my work of fantasy, or what I call
fabulism,” Griffiths twinkles, “so in Wallis Simpson, her jewels are
personified, and they become characters in the play. There will be that
uber level that the play goes to. There’ll be no Thought-Speak, but
there is this other thing that is reached for. So while the three plays
are different, I guess they’re about me wrestling with my heritage, and
bringing my own perspective to it.”

For all Griffiths’ wildness, she isn’t deconstructing her sources in
the sort of freeform post-modernism that New York experimental veterans
The Wooster Group might indulge in. Rather, by remaining faithful to
her inspirations, she reimagines them afresh so something newly
invigorated comes out the other side.

As an actress, Griffiths became widely known in Canada for Maggie and
Pierre, in which she played former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau, his wife Margaret and a journalist called Henry. Griffiths
also won awards for her performance in John Sayles’ film, Liana. Yet
for every commercial success, Griffiths is just as adept at ducking out
of view, too weird for the mainstream but not odd enough to be
considered avant-garde. Falling between two stalls like this is
something Griffiths seems to delight in.

The connection with Stellar Quines came about through Griffiths’
Canadian agent, who had already connected with Romanes, who they flew
over to Toronto to see the play’s second production. Romanes liked the
play, but felt there was more to it beyond what she saw in Toronto and
another production in Montreal. The end result, as Edinburgh audiences
have already seen is a provocative delight.

“The theatricality is in the text,” she says, “and then you can take it
farther, like with the dance in the middle of the play. The text lends
itself to that, to doing something performative.”

As for the declaration by one of the characters that all gender issues
will be resolved within thirty years, such apparent naiveté may be easy
to laugh at from a twenty-first century distance, but it’s something to
believe in.

“The Victorians were optimists,” Griffiths points out. “They believed
you could figure it out, and that’s part of the irony of the play, that
these people believe that in thirty years all difficulties with gender
will be erased. But it’s also part of the joy of the play, that they’re
fighting for this thing. I think of it as a bon-bon with a bomb inside.
It’s very audience friendly and it’s fun, but every once in a while it
comes right into the gut.

“The play is never according to the proper polemic a feminist point of
view. So if women are supposed to be strong, when are we silly? When do
we luxuriate in the weakness, which is also part of the fun of being a
human being? So I never take the polemic straight. It’s always bent.
It’s always twisted, just like it is in real life.”

Age of Arousal, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, March 15-26, then tours.
www.tron.co.uk
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, March 15th 2011

ends

Sunday, 20 March 2011

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 Celtic fire of
Justine Mitchell’s Regan and the guileless defiance of Pippa
Bennett-Warner’s Cordelia. Elsewhere, Ron Cook’s Fool is bitterly
abrasive, while Alec Newman’s Edmund is fullof thrusting urgency.

In a play that is as much about fathers and sons as fathers and
daughters and inter-gender sibling rivalry, it’s the head of the clan
who stands out most. In Jacobi’s hands, Lear’s emotionally bruised veer
into the irrational is never simply mad. His crucial and traditionally
bombastic big storm speech is here delivered by Jacobi in a breathily
echoed stillness, as if the elements themselves were enraptured briefly
before erupting into chaos once more. When the bird-song twitters into
life as the play ends, however, the rising sun heralds the most
appositely brightest of dawns.

The Herald, March 9th 2011

ends

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, however. Hayman was even banned by
the Scottish Office from entering a prison for ten years, just for
playing Boyle, whose public profile became such a thorn in the
establishment’s side.

The Special Unit may be long gone, and the hundred or so young men
dressed in blue or red fleeces who filed into Barlinnie’s
high-ceilinged chapel yesterday to the strains of a jaunty Earl Hines
record for the first of four performances of Six and a Tanner may not
even have heard of it. Only a large ledger turned scrap-book in the
corner of the room bore witness to the centre’s past, with pages of
messy newspaper clippings pasted alongside a full list of Special Unit
residents from 1973, Boyle and Winters included.

As Barlinnie’s current residents watched Hayman perform Bridges’
autobiographical tale of one man’s coming to terms with the effects of
a violent and alcoholic father, however, as Hayman’s angrily addressed
a coffin at the centre of the raised stage, one suspects at least parts
of this painful story hit home for them.

Once Hayman launched into the piece, initial snickering turned to
silence, and by the time Hayman whipped the coffin with a belt the same
way his character’s father had whipped him, you could hear a pin-drop.
A less captive experience can be had when the play visits Oran Mor in
Glasgow’s west end next Monday, Thursday and Sunday nights.

The Herald, March 9th 2011

ends

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 the sixteen-strong choir squaring up to Softley en masse in a well
orchestrated fashion. On another, it’s a powerful soapbox for Softley
to vent his spleen on disabled politics in a mainstage public platform.

Whether it’s saying anything that can’t be found in an episode of Glee,
for instance is itself a matter for debate, but it nevertheless
challenges the wet liberal consensus by acknowledging things that would
normally be politely ignored, including the fact that projected
surtitles are being used because Softley’s voice isn’t always easy to
understand.
If it is to make a difference, Girl X probably needs to go further. As
a conversation piece, however, it’s a start.

The Herald, March 7th 2011

ends

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 her
own tales of love lost and found with those of actor Tam Dean Burn and
a Glasgow woman’s seeming road to nowhere.

Out of this comes a moving, funny and totally heartwarming personal
meditation on how things we normally take for granted can become very
personal totems en route to the great adventure called love, even, and
sometimes especially, if it doesn’t last. It’s a show about beginnings
more than endings, and one hopes that the purity of Taylor’s
matter-of-fact delivery isn’t spoilt by high-concept production values
when developed further. As it stands, this fragile and utterly
beautiful piece of work reminds us of the reason we’re alive.

The Herald, March 7th 2011

ends

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 lays prostrate and
immovable. Yet, where on the page each man’s vivid descriptions might
provoke a reader’s imagination, heard out loud they don’t always
captivate the way they should. This isn’t helped by unnecessary hiatus’
caused by the interminable wheeling back and forth of a partition
between Murdo and Zajac’s Archie.

Yet there’s something at the heart of such a wild piece of contemporary
folklore that says something about the ruthlessness of creation itself.
As Lynne Verrall’s Kate becomes nursemaid, confessor, therapist and
go-between, she also becomes the siblings’ life-saver, the St
Christopher she’s been writing about. By relating her own versions of
the truth to each, Kate finally gets her story, the maker of her own
mythology.

The Herald, March 7th 2011

ends

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 has half the kingdom, which was originally going to be
divided into three before Cordelia was banished, so where does that
leave a woman politically? She has power, but not the benefits of
power, because she’s a woman.

“Her father’s behaving irrationally, and if he can banish his favourite
daughter, just imagine what he can do to you. So there’s a lot at
stake, but she’s a survivor. If only she didn’t fall for Edmund.
Because of that, she goes from being a sharp political operator to
shooting herself in the foot by letting her heart rule her head.”

McKee is in her dressing room in Llandudno as she says all this, an
unlikely venue for such an epic that will travel to New York for six
weeks.

“There are contrasts, it has to be said,” she says wryly in a down to
earth manner that
dates back to her early days growing up in Peterlee. It was while
living in the County Durham new town that she developed her quietly
fearless have-a-go-attitude that permeates her conversation after being
drawn to a community-based drama club run by the husband and wife team
of Ros and Graeme Rigby.

“I didn’t know what it was,” McKee confesses, “but we went along
because we were curious, and had a great time, even though we pretended
we didn’t because we wanted to look cool. There was a tremendous
response to it, and because it was a new town, the drama group was used
as a way of finding out what it was like living in Peterlee. Eventually
Graeme wrote a play about it which I was in, and which we put on for
three nights.”

In the audience on opening night was former teacher Malcolm Gerrie,
then a producer for Tyne Tees television, who would go on to re-define
music television with the live Friday teatime show, The Tube. Gerrie
brought along some colleagues from the network’s drama department, and
fourteen year old McKee was asked to audition for a new children’s
series that had been commissioned. Titled Quest of Eagles, McKee
appeared in all seven episodes of the show, and her future, it seemed,
had been mapped out.

McKee had originally planned to go to art school to study design, yet
after three summers spent with the National Youth Theatre, “by the time
I was eighteen I knew what I wanted to do. I’d applied for three drama
schools, one of which said to come back the next year, while the other
two said no, and they were probably right, but deciding I wasn’t going
to art school was an eleventh hour decision. I went to the National
Youth Theatre and just stayed in London. I got the midnight bus on a
Sunday to start rehearsing on the Monday morning.”

Coming from a staunch mining community with no artistic background,
McKee’s nearest and dearest were surprisingly supportive.

“They just said, well, why the hell not,” McKee remembers, “and if I
don’t try it, then I’ll never know.”

Such an attitude chimes perfectly with Grandage’s approach to King Lear.

“Just because you’ve tried something doesn’t mean it’s written in
blood,” McKee says pragmatically. “But you’ve just got to get in there
and try. There’s a similar ethos there, I think, which was one of my
early life lessons. I think I probably benefited from not going to
drama school, but really I was desperate to go, and I used to go to all
these classes that would do anything that drama school did. It took me
a very long time to learn to trust the experience I already had.”

McKee’s career nevertheless found its feet for the next decade via
small parts on television and a stint on Lenny Henry’s comedy show.
Then came Our Friends in the North, Peter Flannery’s epic 1996
nine-part television drama that charted the lives of four Newcastle
born friends over three decades. Adapted from Flannery’s stage play
produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and set against a back-drop
of real life events, Flannery’s state of the nation approach moved from
the 1960s civil rights movement to the 1984 miner’s strike and the rise
of New Labour.

McKee played Mary, who moves from living in a badly-built Newcastle
high-rise to become a go-getting Labour MP who, if the series had been
made a couple of years later, would invariably been presented as one of
incoming Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘babes’. McKee won a BAFTA award
for Best Actress, although arguably more valuable in practical terms
was the doors which her raised profile would open.

“It was funny going back to it recently,” McKee says. “I was asked to
provide a commentary for the first episode for the DVD, and it still
seems to speak to people. There was a real gear change in terms of the
things it opened up for me after that. After playing Mary, which was
such a fantastic opportunity, to play a character over such a long
period of time, the roles I was asked to go for had more responsibility
about them.”

While the same could almost certainly be said for her co-stars,
Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong and future James Bond Daniel Craig.
McKee’s rise to prominence has been more gradual. Even in her early
days, she admits, “It was always a bit of a slow-burner with me. I was
always a bit backwards in terms of pushing myself forward.”

Nevertheless, high profile roles onscreen in Notting Hill and In the
Loop, as well as stage roles at Chichester Festival Theatre in Alan
Ayckbourn’s Separate Tables and again with Michael Grandage at the
Donmar in Ivanov, suggests a steeliness that could easily be applied to
Goneril.

“My favourite parts are those I feel an affiliation with or an
affection for,” McKee says, “that feeling you get when you need to get
something out of your system. My desire is to keep on getting new
challenges or to learn a new skill. I think it’s important to be put in
a place where you’re made to feel scared. Anything so I don’t get stuck
in a cul de sac.”

King Lear, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, tonight-Saturday.
www.ambassadortickets.com/Theatre-Royal-Glasgow

The Herald, March 8th 2011

ends

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 illusion of glamour light years from the shabby
two-up two-down Mari and LV call home. As played by Irene MacDougall
and Robert Paterson, LV’s immediate elders resemble grotesque escapees
from a John Cooper-Clarke poem, with the arch playing style retaining a
gritty edge.

Helen Darbyshire, in a confident debut, plays LV as someone learning to
express herself by instinct despite not being given the vocabulary.
Billy with his lights and LV with her songs are like some inarticulate
Romeo and Juliet who’ve found poetry in other places. The ending can’t
avoid sentimentality, and Levick goes for it in spades, but watching LV
blossom into an artist existing on her own terms is a lump-in-throat
thrill nevertheless.

The Herald, March 4th 2011

ends

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 commercial hocus-pocus resembling some
1970s prime-time TV pot-boiler. Yet, as has been observed on these
pages before, material like this uses exactly the same theatrical
accoutrements that a host of younger and hipper theatre makers are
reclaiming as their own in a host of experience-based shows.

While essentially a vehicle for veteran sit-com and musical star Paul
Nicholas and ex East Ender Charlie Clements, Wooldridge’s talky
production sets up a debate of sorts between Nicholas’ cynical
rationalist and Clements’ wide-eyed seeker of spooks. There’s also a
hint of Victorian values courtesy of Filde’s dead sister, and a
double-bluff of an ending that suggests it might all have been in
Filde’s head all along.

The Herald, March 2nd 2011

ends

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
deliciously baroque one-liners that flit between cruelty and pathos,
with Benny Young’s Harry even suggesting that Charlie, played by Arnold
himself, is “one great tube of none-sequiter.”

So grubbily evocative of its age is Dyer’s play that you can’t help but
think of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, Joe Meek and Dirk Bogarde’s
blackmailed barrister in Victim, all of whom were destroyed one way or
another by the criminalisation of homosexuality. But Staircase goes
further. Charlie’s second name, it seems, is Dyer, and his flamboyantly
christened acquaintances from his life on the stage remain equally
close to home. Even Harry’s role isn’t clear in a life-time of denial.
Like the man said, “God help us all and Oscar Wilde.”

The Herald, February 28th 2011

ends

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, while the smiley t-shirted Dromios look
like some runtish cheerleaders for the impending rave generation. With
the twins female counterparts (as played by the guys) done up to the
nines in primary-coloured mini dresses, leggings and Madonna-style
top-knots on their faux-vintage head-bands, it feels like Hi Di Hi goes
to Benidorm.

The difference between Hall’s production and the 1970s big-screen
comedy adaptations it resembles is that it’s funny, with the entire
ensemble well-drilled enough to throw in a whole load of live sound
effects and period Kung Fu chops to the already cartoon violence.
There’s even a version of The Girl From Ipanema serenaded to the
senoritas on the front row. Hola! to that.

The Herald, February 28th 2011

ends

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 played by puppets, while
the men in frocks playing the female parts seem to fit perfectly with
all this self-conscious weirdness. The second half is even more
playful, with the scary chorus loitering in the auditorium before a
guitar accompanied punk anthem onstage helps make Richard, with his
limp and long leather coat, resemble a posher Ian Dury holding court.

This isn’t trendy gimmickry, however. Hall and his cast of fourteen may
go hell for leather with such a pop art smorgasbord, but they never
lose sight of the play’s inherent seriousness. As Richard gives a final
defiant chuckle before giving up the ghost, his demise looks like the
hollowest of victories. Bloody, bloody England indeed.

The Herald, February 25th 2011

ends

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 an
old school Citz feel, as does its post-modern affinity with pop
cultural iconography which Philip Howard's handsomely audacious
production brings out from the off, with Frances Thorburn's bumping and
grinding entrance as Marilyn. As she and Signoret in turns bond and
bitch, as a mother and daughter would,Monroe is revealed as a scarred
and frightened little girl yearning for a Daddy to call her own in a
world that is as much ageist as sexist, and which ultimately killed her.

It's a bravura turn by Thorburn, particularly in Marilyn's mock award
speech, where she finally gives vent to her real voice. As Marilyn
applies her pouting presence to Lady M, she may get her man rather than
Simone's Oscar, but she's losing a whole lot more.

The Herald, February 23rd 2011

ends

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 aseach woman has their world rocked beyond the Remingtons. Molly Innes' twitchy Virginia finds comfort in a sharp suit in Berlin, while Clare Lawrence Moody's politically pure Rhoda's feelings get the better of her with Jamie Lee's once cock-sure Everard, the play's sole male presence.

Griffiths' rich dialogue is punctuated throughout with manic internal asides that throb with locked-up passion, the collective voices overlapping and counter-pointing each other to make gorgeous little vocal symphonies. Physically, there's a glorious archness beyond theplay's erotic pulse, with a wonderful scene of mass fainting ending the first act with a riot of feminine self-will. If sexual politics is evenmore complex and contrary today, being equal but different, it seems,has always been the way of things.

The Herald, February 21st 2011

ends

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 idea of direct action on our own doorstep, particularly on
this lengthy tour that opened in Dunfermline itself, even if history
has caught up with such notions. Michael Emans’ production points up
what is essential a series of extended monologues ricocheting between
the quartet with a deadly edge to every one-liner. This is particularly
apparent in Jordan Young’s controlled, razor-sharp portrayal of Eddie,
a masterly study of how intelligence and energy can be wasted, not even
on an empty cause, but on violence for its own end. These days Eddie
would be on the football terraces or finding salvation in the English
Defence League. As it is, in the perennially capitalist world, apart
from the revolution, it’s another working day.

The Herald, February 21st 2011

ends

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 interested in artwork that has some kind
of effect,” Millar explains, the CD player muted, “that an object, an
act or a ritual has some sort of purpose and can bring about change. A
lot of this comes from my researches into anthropology, where you find
that in certain cultures an object or a sound can be deemed important,
and can bring about some sort of change in the world.”

Millar’s own set of totems come in many shapes and sizes.

‘Self Portrait As A Drowned Man (The Willows)’, which takes the second
part of its title from a ghost story penned in 1907 by Algernon
Blackwood and declared by many to be the best supernatural yarn ever
written, will sit in the same room as a life-size bronze cast of a fly.
This comes from a story by Virgil about a man who, tasked with removing
all the flies from Naples, put a similarly styled insect at the city
gates to ward off his winged peers.

“I like the idea that an object can have supernatural powers,” Millar
says, “and that it doesn’t matter what it looks like, but is more about
what it does beyond that. Also, dead bodies attract flies.”

‘A Firework For WG Sebald’ is a series of photographs inspired by the
German writer’s 1995 novel, ‘The Rings of Saturn’, and in part features
images of a lighthouse seen in Peter Greenaway’s 1988 art-house cinema
classic, ‘Drowning By Numbers.’ In the film, every time there is a
death, a boy sets off a firework. Millar has done something similar in
his tribute to Sebald, and even claims that the four of the pictures
are possessed by something suitably spectral.

“You can see Sebald’s face in the smoke,” Millar maintains with total
seriousness.

Of the remaining works, ‘The Writing of Stones’ is a film which
kaleidoscopically references a paragraph from French thinker Roger
Caillois’ similarly inclined examinations of the sacred, beginning with
the words, ‘Life appears.’ The key to ‘Resemblances, Sympathies and
other Acts,’ however, comes from Sol LeWitt’s ‘Incomplete Open Cubes,’
which Millar has constructed eight metre-square versions of.

“Sol LeWitt wrote that ‘Conceptual artists are mystics rather than
rationalists.’ In this way, conceptual art can become something
mystical or magical.”

Millar can’t explain where his fascinations come from, and he remains
resolutely secular in outlook.

“All of us have moments when we try and imagine ourselves in a pretty
horrific place,” he says. “There’s a sort of safety in knowing that
it’s not really happening.”

There are clear connections between Millar’s own work and ‘Every Day Is
A Good Day,’ a large-scale touring exhibition of paintings by composer
John Cage curated by Millar, which coincidentally opens in Glasgow the
week before Millar’s show.

“In a way I’m sitting back and letting things develop,’ he says. “I
quite like the idea of not having to make a decision.”

Beyond the CCA show, Millar will further his anthropological
explorations with a group of Balinese performers to make a piece of
musical theatre.

“I have no theatrical experience whatsoever,” Miller says, before PJ
Harvey carries him away once more “and I don’t know what form it will
take, but I like a piece that emerges, and you suddenly find yourself
a long way from shore.”

Jeremy Millar - Resemblances, Sympathies and Other Acts, CCA, Glasgow,
March 26th- May 17. Every day Is A Good Day, Hunterian Gallery,
Glasgow, February 19th-April 2nd.

The List, February 2011

ends

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 with your mates. One minute the sun’s shining and
everybody’s having this enormous laugh. The next, things go horribly
wrong and everything’s a mess.”

Hall’s approach to Shakespeare is a refreshingly laid-back one which
isn’t shy about dragging what are still misinterpreted in some quarters
as sacred texts kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.

“These two plays are polar opposites,” he says, “even though they were
both written around the same time. To think that the same guy wrote
them both is quite a thrill, and I’m interested in finding the
different dynamics in them, and it’s really quite exciting seeing them
shoved up against each other in this way. The clue’s in the title with
The Comedy of Errors, nut behind all the silliness is this really
soulful story about someone looking for his other half. So it’s a
lovely mix, and the trick is to try and bring out the soul of the play
alongside the anarchy.

“Richard 111 on the other hand is the last of Shakespeare’s history
cycle of plays, and we’ve set it in this Victorian hospital, which is
almost like this Hammer House of Horror style place. I‘ve never
actually done a formal Shakespeare in the conventional sense, because I
think you have to try and define what it is he was doing with his work.
You know, there’s no such thing really as a Shakespeare history play.
He made his plays ferociously modern, and if he was around today I
think this is the sort of thing he’d be doing. The thing is to find an
aesthetic that fits, and remind yourself that it isn’t real, and that
people in Shakespeare talk to the audience.”

This may be one of the reasons why Propeller have male actors playing
all of Shakespeare’s women, as was the case when the bard himself was
alive. As a device, it’s certainly helped Propeller in terms of
developing a unique profile.

“It was an experiment,” Hall says. “I’m interested in taking away the
modern equipment and giving everything a sense of purpose. When we did
Henry V, we had a chorus of squaddies telling the story of their hero,
so when men played women, no-one batted an eyelid. It’s not a weird or
extraordinary thing, but it keeps coming up whenever I do interviews.
When a man plays Hamlet, you’re not sure who he is as a person, but you
know he’s acting. When a man plays a woman it’s exactly the same
process. You just have to take a leap of imagination.”

Hall isn’t just about Shakespeare, and he has directed several episodes
of Spooks, the long-running labyrinthine TV drama concerning espionage
and skullduggery in high places.

“I really enjoy it,” he says. “It’s wonderful fun, even though it’s
really hard work and really intense. Shooting in London is probably the
hardest place on the planet to film, but the show is fast, it’s modern,
it’s pacey and it’s political.”

As the son of Sir Peter Hall and his second wife Jacqueline Taylor,
Edward Hall was exposed to theatre at the highest level from an early
age. Given that Hall senior founded the Royal Shakespeare Company in
1960, seven years before his son’s birth, one might think having to
follow in such a giant of British theatre’s shoes might be daunting.
Hall junior, however, sounds unfazed.

“I suppose I went to the theatre more than most people when I was
younger,” he says, somewhat understating his case. “But I always
remember that even then it seemed like a natural extension to playing.
It was just that grown-ups did it. Now I’m a father myself I can see
all the role-playing that goes on with kids, and that theatre is just a
more formal way of doing it. But seeing a lot of theatre when I was
young really exposed me to the scarier sides of life. You learn about
everything from murder to love.”

In terms of his father’s influence, Hall maintains that “He’s always
been supportive of whatever I’ve done. I think he was initially worried
that things might not work out for me, but I’ve just got my head down
and got on with it. If you do something interesting, then it’s, oh,
he’s Peter Hall’s son, and if you do something bad it becomes more a
gossipy thing. Regardless of that, though, I have to maintain my own
point of focus and shut all that stuff out.”

The father and son team even worked together on the eight hour epic,
Pantallus, where, according to Hall, “We’d slug it out. We have very
different ideas a lot of the time, and you have to stick to your own
guns.”

This is all a far cry from Hall’s directorial debut when still an
under-graduate embarking on the rites of passage that is the Edinburgh
Festival Fringe.

We borrowed the money to put it on,” Hall remembers. “We built the set
ourselves, and did everything together on a shoestring. There was a
real gang mentality to it all.”

All of which sounds not too dissimilar to how Propeller operate today.

“Propeller is still very small in feel,” Hall says. “We don’t have lots
of layers of management, and everyone gets involved in everything.
There’s a family feel to things in that way, I suppose. People who are
experts in business management have looked at us and asked us how on
earth we manage to do things the way we do. But it’s a free world, and
we just get on with doing things the way we do them. I started
Propeller with a small group of guys, and we’re still a small group of
guys doing much the same thing.”

The Comedy of Errors runs February 22, 24, 26; Richard 111 runs
February 23-26, both at Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
www.fcct.org.uk
www.propeller.org.uk

The Herald, February 22nd 2011

ends

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, ‘Knots.’ As dusk turned to black night, Duncan
Harrison’s presented a triptych of contrasting sonic bursts. Jazzfinger
played in darkness, conjuring up a sublime elemental brew of rolling
electronic thunder that became oddly meditative. Next time round, if
the wind is right, we might even be able to hear the grass grow.

The List, February 2011

ends

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 water. Jackson begins his
Stewarton-set segment in the bedroom of a teenage girl desperate to
lose her virginity, which she does as wonderfully played by Sally Reid
with gusto to the local dunder-heided stud. Yet what begins gloriously
puerile embarks on a strange metamorphosis where the fur really does
fly. Meanwhile, over in McKnight’s Ardrossan kitchen of a supermarket
café, there’s a zombie in the freezer who knows more than she’s letting
on.

Apart from a very Maxwellian speech about the joys of small-town life,
this is no high-minded state-of-the-nation treatise on life outside the
central belt. Rather, McKnight’s slightly over-long production is a
rip-roaring excuse for an anarchically O.T.T. compendium of bawdily
madcap, genitally obsessed post-modern fun.

The Herald, February 18th 2011

ends

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 make out.

“It’s a weird one,” Burke says on the eve of a trip to Washington where
Black Watch is currently touring. “Reading Gagarin Way again, and even
reading Black Watch, you can see bits of it that jar. Gagarin Way
doesn’t even feel much like a play, more a series of monologues. Don’t
get me wrong, it’s still funny, but it does feel very much like a first
play in capital letters. It was the first thing I ever wrote, so
looking at it now it feels a hundred years old. I wasn’t thinking about
the text when I wrote it. I was thinking about the ideas. Then a month
after it came out 9/11 happened. That didn’t rob the play of its
relevance, but it changed the game in terms of politics, and I think it
makes points about protest that are even more relevant now, even
though, as a writer, and as a playwright, I look at things in a much
more technical way.”

Taking its name from a street in Lumphinnans in Fife that was itself
named in honour of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who was the first
man to travel in space, Gagarin Way is centred around the kidnap of a
man seen as the epitome of capitalism. This sets up a debate about how
a once staunchly left wing working class community was decimated by the
effects of Thatcherism. The play arrived on the heels of a generation
of writers who were either questioning how political idealism had been
ditched in favour of a culture of hedonism, or else were ignoring
politics entirely.

As Rapture celebrate their own tenth birthday, their production of
Gagarin Way may well tap into a whole new set of meanings. Make no
mistake, however. While dissenting voices onstage now need to be heard
more urgently than ever before, Burke is no flag-waving keeper of the
left wing flame, and has no desire to be a spokesperson for his
generation. Rather, he too is a product of the generation who lost
faith. In Washington, for instance, Black Watch may be visited by
representatives of the Pentagon, but Burke is more interested in the
more celebrity-friendly part of the guest list with whom politics
almost certainly won’t be on the agenda.

“People do still pick up on the left wing politics in the play,” Burke
says of Gagarin Way, “but it’s not really about that. Maybe that’s
something to do with the fact that the play is humorous and doesn’t
preach. At the time, when it was touring abroad or being produced in
different countries, I would go round the world with it at all these
different openings to drink in a variety of different locations. That
was my grand scheme, to have fun. But at after-show discussions people
would expect you to be some kind of revolutionary and would tell them
something about that. You’d get all these anarchist groups turning up,
and the play wasn’t about that at all. For me the play was about the
paradox of not being interested in all that. From a historical
perspective that really interest me. It was the same with Black Watch.
They both ask where do you stand on things, and how will you stand in
the future. These things interest me rather than the nitty-gritty. Lots
of people in theatre want to tear down the walls of society, but if you
tear down all the walls, then there’ll be no theatre.”

Gagarin Way, Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, February 18th; East Kilbride
Arts Centre, February 19th; Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, February 23rd;
Eastfield Community Centre, Cambuslang, February 24th;MacRobert Arts
Centre, Stirling; February 25th; Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock, February
26th, then tours.
www.raptutretheatre.co.uk

The Herald, February 2011

ends

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 catastrophic results
of the neighbourhood’s polluted water supply when limited edition
bottles of water commemorating Robert Burns losing g his virginity are
poisoned. The results include zombies marauding through the
supermarket, horny teenagers unleashing the animal within and a game of
Russian roulette on the beach.

Best of all, in the spirit of the inter-active times we’re zapping our
way through, the audience get to vote on which of the three endings
they want to end the night with. While such a novel approach may endear
what is already a pretty silly premise to their audience even more, try
getting all three writers in the same room to talk about the experience
and its hard not to be overwhelmed by both the sort of banter that may
yet end up being said onstage and a healthy sense of competition you’d
think they’d have left back in the playground.

“It’s a bit like Grindhouse cinema the way we’ve done it,” says
Jackson, who previously applied his pop culture literate frame of
reference to an entire trilogy of plays set in Stewarton that moved
from The Wall to The Ducky and The Chooky Brae. “We’ve collaborated on
some bits, but essentially you’re getting three plays for the price of
one.”

“You say it’s like Grindhouse,” contradicts Maxwell, who last worked
with Random Accomplice on his play, Promises Promises, “but I think
it’s like the DVD bonus features of panto season.”

Whatever its grab-bag of post-modern propensities, Smalltown as a
project came about, as things often do, out of panic. With a funding
application deadline looming, the original project planned for Random
Accomplice had fallen through, and McKnight and co-director Julie
Austin had to come up with something quick. Going through some cuttings
of reviews, he chanced upon an article that questioned what was in the
Ayrshire water to produce such cheeky chappies as Jackson, Maxwell and
McKnight. It was a eureka moment to save the day, and the somewhat
wobbly foundations of Smalltown were cobbled together.

“It had never occurred to me before then that Douglas, Daniel and I all
came from the same kind of area,” McKnight says of Smalltown’s roots.

“Cos I’m from a nicer bit,” Maxwell chips in, provoking hilarity among
the trio.

“But also,” McKnight continues eventually, “I thought we’ve got quite a
similar sensibility, and I could imagine the three of us working
together. Also, socially as well I thought it would be quite good fun
having meetings and stuff.”

“That was definitely the reason I did it,” says Maxwell, “because right
from the initial concept I was like, er, but Ayrshire doesn’t have one
water supply, so I didn’t really think there was much of a concept. But
I thought it would be a scream, because I’ve worked with Johnny before,
and I’ve known Daniel for a long time. Those meetings Johnny’s talking
about, the first meeting we had we did fifteen minutes work, and then,
literally, eight hours of gossiping.”

“We transformed into these three crones of theatre,” asserts McKnight,
whose Little Johnny trilogy of plays put Random Accomplice on the map.

By a strange quirk of fate, this conversation is taking place the day
after Burns night, when Ayrshire’s most celebrated man of letters is
traditionally toasted with lashings of haggis, whisky and general bad
behaviour. Is Burns the metaphorical grand-daddy, then, of this
twenty-first century Ayrshire renaissance? Or is such a flowering of
talent mere coincidence? Maxwell, for one, is keen to distance himself
from any kind of scene.

“The difference between Girvan, Stewarton and Ardrossan is huge,” he
says, “and I rebelled against Burns when I was younger. He was a
tea-towel for me, and was more about golf clubs and the Masons until I
read a biography of him.”

“What we have in common is coincidental to coming from Ayrshire,” says
Jackson, although McKnight points out that “I think we love and respect
a type of theatre that maybe some of our peers don’t.”

“It’s not just about being popular,” says Maxwell, “but I think we all
think about entertainment. There’s something deeper going on as well,
but it has to entertain.”

Smalltown, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, February 15-19, then on tour
www.tron.co.uk
www.randomaccomplice.com

The Herald, February 2011

ends

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 of the world to his two boys, you
suspect such ramblings may be signaling the onset of Alzheimer’s
Disease. Soon, though, it becomes clear that Willy is plummeting in an
emotional and psychological freefall he’s too emasculated to deal with.

There’s a dream-like quality at play here, as Willy’s past and present
collide in a maelstrom of hand-me-down baggage that his sons Biff and
Happy have each inherited parts of. As the play’s centre, Emslie
navigates Willy through this with a bluff vulnerability that thoroughly
convinces. With Willy thrown onto the scrap-heap by the most
unsentimental of systems, the crash, when it comes, may be freedom of
sorts, but even that has its price.

The Herald, February 14th 2011

ends.

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 lovingly tends to.

Greig is fast becoming a master of appropriating old forms for
twenty-first century times, and here he even manages to slip a Karl
Denver tune inbetween Alasdair Macrae’s score as well as his own
waggishly realised rhyming couplets. Yet, by the erotically charged
second half, the tempo of the piece has slowed drastically to something
more intimate, and, as Madeleine Worrall’s Prudencia courts David McKay
and Andy Clark’s lost and lonely devil, downright heart-breaking. When
Prudencia finally takes the floor with a genuine pop classic reinvented
first as haunting lament before morphing into kick-ass hoedown and back
to karaoke stalwart, as with her own getting of wisdom, you shouldn’t
miss this show for the world.

The Herald, February 14th 2011

ends

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 oversize white cardigan she wraps
herself in gradually comes to resemble a strait-jacket in Liz
Carruthers’ deftly directed production for Duff’s new Datum Point
company. If a tad overlong in its current guise, McLachlan’s script
possesses just the right balance of light and shade to lend a broad
commercial appeal to what in other hands might have ended up more
obviously angst-ridden.

For those who only know Duff from TV cop show Taggart, here she is a
revelation, holding the stage with a confident mix of self-deprecating
swagger and frightened vulnerability for the play’s full eighty
minutes. As Izzy finally accepts that nothing’s perfect, anyone who
ever got cold feet might learn from her catharsis.

The Herald, February 8th 2010

ends