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Showing posts from April, 2011

Metronomy

Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh
4 stars
There's something that feels scarily like you've gate-crashed an
episode of hedonistic teen drama Skins at this fourteens and over show,
such is the sing-along fervour that Joseph Mount's squeaky-clean
electro-pop dervishes are greeted with. It's easy to see why,
especially after the too eager to please but increasingly powerful
estuarised indie hip hop of support act Ghostpoet, whose current BBC
6Music favourite Survive It is shaping up to be an anthem for the
twenty-first century dole queue kids.

Metronomy themselves are appealingly geeky and unerringly polite in
their demeanour, even as they serve up a jaunty brand of left-field
suburban pop as demonstrated on their recent third album, The English
Riviera. It's an angular sound that continues a line from XTC through
to Field Music, but which live becomes a musclebound punk-funk
maelstrom powered by Gbenga Adelekan's slap bass guitar and Anna
Prior's crisp …

Karla Black - From the British Art Show to Venice

Karla Black likes making a mess. Granted her large-scale sculptures are
an organised mess straight out of some pre-school activity club
exercise in making do with every smelly material to hand, but a
glorious mess nevertheless. It's this constant child-like striving to
make order out of chaos by way of a primal imagination bursting forth
into the world that finds Black not just a highlight of this year's
British Art Show, which tours to Glasgow this month following a stint
at the Hayward in London, but also, as curated by Edinburgh's
Fruitmarket Gallery, the Scottish representative in the forthcoming
Venice Bienalle.

West Dumbartonshire-born Black may already be internationally renowned
for work that at various points has included lipstick, nail varnish,
body cream and fizzed-up Alka Seltza left out in the rain as its raw
materials, but both gigs remain pretty high profile stuff. For the
British Art Show – subtitled 'In the Days of the Comet,' Black ha…

Kommissar Hjuler & Mama Baer / Ninni Morgia & Silvia Kastel

The Banshee Labrynth, Edinburgh
Monday April 18th
4 stars
Two couples stand side by side in a projected snapshot at the back of
the stage. The fashions are retro, the pose casually studied somewhere
between a 1970s terrorist cell and the anti-Abba. In the flesh, a
blonde woman is slumped on all fours on the floor, babbling profane
gibberish in free-associative tongues into a microphone. Her partner
behind her, a dark-haired man, manipulates an old-fashioned cassette
recorder. Further back, a dark-haired woman stands behind a vintage
Korg synth unleashing shards of white noise into the ether. The small
man next to her scrapes out minimal abstractions from his electric
guitar, gradually steering things into full-on metal.

These two noise duos playing together in a German/Italian avant
provocateur supergroup alliance are closer to live art in their sonic
extrapolations. Together they conjure up the ghosts of Throbbing Gristle by way of Popol Vuh and Diamanda Galas all the way through t…

Paul Vickers and The Leg/Andy Brown/Zed Penguin

Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
Thursday April 14th
4 stars
Edinburgh eccentrica in exelcis is the order of the day for this triple
bill based around the unveiling of Paul Vickers and The Leg's
forthcoming third album of wacked-out Beefhearian music-hall blart.
Opening proceedings, however, is Zed Penguin, aka Aussie ex-pat Matthew
Winter, whose vintage amp appears to have a heartbeat, and who ushers
himself in with an elaborate backing track intro before launching into
a set of heavily-echoed thrash-blues that errs towards the left-field
in a twangingly captivating fashion.

Even more of a show-man is Sara and the Snakes guitarist and best
dressed man about town Andy Brown, who in his Victorian Karaoke guise
plays to backing tapes, effectively duetting with himself in a voice
somewhere between a whisper and a growl. Brown changes hats, gives a
singalong rendition of tiny tots nursery rhyme 'This Little Piggy,' and
does warped disco segues into George McCrae's …

Pitlochry Festival Theatre 60th Anniversary Season

Change is in the air in Pitlochry this year. Not at first glance, it
has to be said, as to the naked eye the town this time of year remains
the most tasteful tourist trap for miles, salmon ladder and all. Look
beyond the politesse of afternoon teas and ice-cream in the sun,
however, and you'll see the most impeccably turned out theatre in the
country warming up for its sixtieth anniversary season of six plays
with some very familiar themes on show. As what has effectively been
the stylistic equivalent of a west end producing theatre set against a
picture postcard backdrop of rolling Perthshire hills, Pitlochry
Festival Theatre understands tradition more than most, but as artistic
director John Durnin explains, this year's selection of classic works
have been very carefully chosen.

“It was quite a challenge to think about how we put the 2011 programme
together,” he says on a rare break from the rehearsal room, where three
productions are already on the go, with s…

Ovid's Metamorphosis

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
There's something ineffably clever about Pants on Fire's audacious
reimagining of Roman poet Ovid's post-BC best-seller. It's not just its
re-jigged setting to World War Two England, where soldiers of land, sea
and air rub up against posh-frocked gels who talk in cut-glass, quite
too utterly pukkah tones. It's the way this devised show, written and
directed by Peter Bramley alongside a seven-strong ensemble of
actor-musicians, manage to wend their merry way through a well-drilled
whirlwind of utilitarian parlour-room show-and-tell with hints of
Weimar cabaret to serve up a breathless reinvention of ancient myths.
This comes by way of a series of doomed golly-gosh yarns of love, death
and derring-do that attempt to pluck some order from the
all-encroaching chaos.

So Jupiter is a randy old toff whose long-suffering spouse Juno works a
magic of her own, Cupid is a mischievous, catapult-wielding evacuee,
Semele a pool-loving e…

Ivan and the Dogs

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
Recession-divined poverty destroys lives. Yet the survivor of
post-Communist Russia's 1990s economic meltdown in Hattie Naylor's
devastating solo play - a co-production between ATC and Soho Theatre - suggests there can be the strangest of liberations too. Based on a true story, Naylor's hour-long monologue
tells the harrowing yet appositely heart-warming tale of one
psychologically and emotionally damaged little boy's Dickensian flight
from domestic abuse onto the cold Moscow streets with only two packets
of crisps and a photograph of his mother for comfort.

Before he can be one more statistic, Ivan is taken under the wing of a
white dog and her brood of fellow strays. This pack he runs with become
his new family, developing an unspoken trust as they run the gauntlet
of gangsters, police and more hardened street urchin addicts, who only
confirm to Ivan that all humans are bad.

As related by actor Rad Kaim from the interio…

Mayfesto 2011 - Looking Left With Andy Arnold

There's a feeling of deja vu sitting in the bright and airy office of
Tron Theatre artistic director Andy Arnold. This time last year, he was
preparing to launch the inaugural Mayfesto, a mini showcase of
politically motivated but all too human theatre that drew inspiration
from the now defunct Mayfest festival that throughout the 1980s formed
a major part of Glasgow's cultural calendar. Then, as Arnold unveiled
his programme in what looked set to be the last days of New Labour in a
recession-blighted Britain, a happy coincidence saw Mayfesto open on
the day of the Westminster General Election that would – eventually –
force then Prime Minister Gordon Brown from office and usher in the
dubious alliance of Tory leader David Cameron and Lib Dem sidekick Nick
Clegg.

In the year since, there's been rioting on the streets, an increase in
unemployment and an increasingly widespread sense of public unrest
manifesting itself in threats of industrial action and civil …

Aberfeldy

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
4 stars
When Aberfeldy front-man Riley Briggs lost both a record label and some crucial members of his band following two albums of classically crafted grown-up pop, some thought the group would implode completely. Eighteen months on, Briggs hasn’t so much reinvented Aberfeldy as reinvigorated the band’s existing template. There’s a new duo of female multi-instrumentalist vocal foils playing keyboards that still sound lifted from a 1970s science programme. There’s also Chris Bradley adding weight on acoustic guitar, which allows Briggs to go a little bit Peter Frampton if he chooses.

What’s clear most of all through tonight’s selections of material old and new is that Briggs’ commercial sensibilities and way with a lyric should by rights see him hailed as one of the country’s cleverest song-writers. New single Claire, a homage to a complaining neighbour, is up there with the Difford and Tilbrook back catalogue, Denial may be the best break-up song since Prefab …

Aalst

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
When an underclass couple slaughter their two children in a small town hotel room, the kneejerk reaction is to find them guilty as charged. Seated side by side in the cruel public glare, Cathy and Michael Delaney’s own lives are relentlessly poked and prodded in a manner that tests every liberal sensibility they’re in the presence of.

What unravels in Duncan Mclean’s English-language version of Pol Heyvaert and Dimitri Verhulst’s Flemish original is a brutal cycle of poverty, crime and abuse destined to repeat and repeat until it’s beaten out of existence. Over a punishingly intense 70 minute interrogation by an un-named Voice (provided by Gary Lewis), Cathy and Michael are in turns edgy, remorseful, merciless, indifferent, self-deluding, pathetic and manipulative, their twisted logic a bewildering justification for their crime.

Based on a true story, Heyvaert remains director for this co-production between the Belgian Victoria company, Tramway and the Nation…

Yarn

Verdant Works, Dundee
4 stars
The fascinations of Grid Iron are manifold. In previous site-specific works Gargantua and The Devil’s Larder, the Edinburgh based company have ravished our senses with body-centric feasts based on sex, food and other delights. So it is with this latest knitted-together compendium conceived around the idea of clothes and their intrinsic meaning. Director Ben Harrison has taken material from Louise Bourgeois, Henry James and Thomas Carlyle, and fused it with some very candid auto-biographical scenes that leave the six actors metaphorically if not actually naked.

As we’re led through the industrial splendour of the Verdant Works old jute mill, beyond the buttoned-up men in grey for whom everything’s black and white is a dressing-up-box in which every garment tells a story. From the totemic qualities of an old coat, a scarf or some long lost hand-me-downs, we’re led along catwalks and through an oversize wardrobe into Mr Benn style adventures, where a glimpse…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars

The impact of this multi-lingual epic rendering of Shakespeare’s trawl through the underworld was huge when it first played outdoor arenas in Bombay.

It was thrilling enough six months ago when it moved indoors to London’s Roundhouse.

Here too on the last legs of its UK tour, Tim Supple’s production remains impressive, even if some of its expansive sense of scale is lost by squeezing it into an old-fashioned proscenium arch space.

What it holds onto is its joyously realised bravura that rips into a tale long hi-jacked by the heritage industry and makes it sexier and more muscular.

Acrobatics, live music and a gorgeous looking cast work their magic on a climbing frame underworld hidden by a paper curtain that’s literally ripped aside to reveal its rigging.

Puck is a bad-boy with Mohican hair-cut and Frankie Goes To Hollywood moustache, whose fairy helpers’ gymnastic displays give them the air of a tribe of lost boys and girls locked out of the love-in.

Mabou Mines DollHouse

Kings Theatre
4 stars
When Henrik Ibsen wrote his proto feminist dissection of the sex wars in 1879, the scandal it caused can’t have been a patch on Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell’s post-modernist dissection of it. Using what Breuer calls ‘the Politics Of Scale’ as its starting point, the result is a dazzlingly audacious deconstruction, which takes its central premise of patriarchal infantilism to its logical limit. All male characters are played by actors of restricted growth, while the women are all nearly six foot tall. Breuer even makes Ibsen laugh out loud funny via a series of routines derived from American music hall, silent movie slapstick and a knowing faux melodrama which acknowledges its own artifice at every turn. Having the cast talk in the sort of sing-song Scandinavian accent not heard since the Swedish chef baked his last cake on The Muppet Show helps too.

Opening on a bare stage, pianist Eve Beglarian takes a bow before seating at her keyboard to usher in what looks…

Dominic Hill - From Dundee to The Traverse

In the upstairs bar at Dundee Rep, the theatre’s two artistic directors are sitting apart. Given that one of them, Dominic Hill, is about to leave his post after five years to ease his way into his new job as artistic director of Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre following this week’s opening of his production of Peer Gynt, you might think some long festering impasse has finally come to a head. Especially as Hill’s co-director James Brining – also the theatre’s Executive Director – sits on the next table to Hill with his back to him while Hill sits alone with a bowl of soup.

First glances, though, can be deceptive. As it turns out, Brining is in a meeting with writer Colin Teevan, whose adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s picaresque epic attempts to convert a very Norwegian yarn into a far more familiar and contemporary looking romp. Hill, it transpires, has been on the go in the rehearsal room all morning, and is catching his breath and some much needed sustenance before squaring up to the play’…

Citizens Theatre Spring Programme 2009

The ghosts of Citizens Theatres past can’t help but occasionally haunt the Gorbals-based theatre’s current artistic team of Jeremy Raison and Guy Hollands. The announcement of their forthcoming spring 2009 season, however, as exclusively revealed by The Herald, goes rustling into dark corners which look to vaudeville and melodrama in excitingly invigorating ways beyond any shadowy figures looming over the pair. With The Citz’s own productions featuring classics old and new while visiting companies reinvent familiar stories, there’s also an emphasis on site-specific work which, in Raison’s words, “opens the building out.”

The first evidence of this comes in Sub Rosa, a co-production with David Leddy’s Fire Exit Ltd company, while Museum Of Dreams is a development led by Hollands. Beyond this are two deeply contrasting main stage productions, first of Willy Russell’s commercial staple, Educating Rita, which is followed by a rare look at Henrik Ibsen’s guilt-trip of a play, Ghosts. With …

Cabaret

Edinburgh Playhouse
4 stars
A recession always loves a musical. Kander and Ebb’s triumphantly feel-bad interpretation of Weimar era Berlin, though, not only charts the back-street decadence of dark times, but the accompanying rise of the extreme right and the persecution of minorities that goes with it. If ever a commercial block-buster chimed perfectly with the here and now, this is it. As Henry Luxemburg’s penniless writer Cliff Bradshaw falls in with an underground bohemian scene epitomised by good time chanteuse Sally Bowles, it’s what happens after someone calls time on the party that makes Cabaret so consistently fascinating.

Rufus Norris’ 2006 west end production is revived here in a touring incarnation that stays true to some of the original’s more maverick touches. This most notably stems from Javier de Frutos’ libidinous choreography and a concentration on the play’s more serious side. A jaunty first half is kicked off by Wayne Sleep’s impish Emcee peeking through a giant bi…

Arches Award For Stage Directors 2008 - Rob Drummond and Daljinder Singh

One of the best things about the Arches Award For Stage Directors Awards since they were set up several years ago is the breadth of work it allows. With a brief for its two winners to concentrate on new work presented as an original idea rather than a finished script, participants can utilise a variety of methodologies. These can vary from taking total ownership of the project from its inception, to employing outside artists in a more collaborative venture.

Results have been varied, although the award, now run in association with The Traverse Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland, has consistently provided early showcases for some of the brightest talents around. These include Davey Anderson, Cora Bisset, Adrian Osmond and Neil Doherty. Significantly, all are noted for taking a polymath’s attitude towards theatre making, with all four having worked between them as writer, actor or composer as well as directors of self-generated work.

This year’s Arches winners are typically div…

And Then There Were None

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
3 stars
How would Agatha Christie have fared in the DNA age? Not, one suspects, very well. Which is why, despite much of her canon crying out for some post-modern deconstruction, her work is protected in a manner only Samuel Beckett has inspired. The reinstatement of a downbeat ending worthy of Sarah Kane in this starry production by director Joe Harmston’s Agatha Christie Company, then, is an eyebrow-raisingly welcome piece of revisionism. This despite the airbrushing out of the original, politically incorrect title of the novel from which Christie adapted her stage version.

Eight archetypes land on an obscure Devon island in a house whose deco wood panelling and giant porthole front entrance suggests a plush prototype for Butlin’s. With the butler and his missus completing the set of crusty old buffers and bright young things from the professional classes, each party is forced to face up to past misdemeanours before being poetically dispatched.

Trouble is, bey…

Zinnie Harris - Fall

When Zinnie Harris embarked on writing a trilogy of plays about war five years ago, the idea of a politically engaged theatrical mainstream was still only being taken half seriously by those who saw such a notion as a hangover from the 1970s. Half a decade on, and The Traverse Theatre’s two flagship productions for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe are steeped explicitly in the nowness of ongoing international turmoil. Where Simon Stephens’ play, Pornography, looks at the aftermath of 7/7, Zinnie Harris’s seasonally titled Fall, which follows Midwinter and Solstice, imagines those caught in the crossfire of a war crimes trial.

Two days before the opening of her new play, and on what turns out to be the same day that Bosnian war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic is arrested, Harris is understandably twitchy when talking about her new play, even as she puts it in context.

“Each play,” she says, “looks at a different aspect of war and the responses to it. Solstice looks at what happen…

Tryst

Engoyholmen, Stavanger 2008
4 stars
There’s a brand new boat docked at Engoyholmen, the tiny island a short sail away from Stavanger in Norway, where it was built as part of an ongoing project enabling young people to focus their energies into acts both creative and practical. The boat, launched last week, was named Meriel, after an unseen but crucial character in this latest outing by Edinburgh-based site-specific theatrical iconoclasts, Grid Iron, who were commissioned to create a new work for Stavanger’s year as European Capital of Culture. It’s a fitting legacy to a show that’s about the sea’s power to rock two couples seemingly idyllic world.

The play begins on another boat, which transports the audience across to Engoyholmen’s large wooden interior, where most of the play is presented promenade-fashion. Here actor David Ireland bursts out of the ferry’s luggage hold beneath the seats looking like some crazed sea captain as he regales us with his chronicle of a death foretold to …

Gregory Thompson Takes Over The Tron

There’s a feeling of déjà vu sitting down with The Tron’s new artistic director in the theatre’s grand Victorian bar. It’s a relatively short time ago that the job’s previous incumbent, Ali Curran, was seated at the same table outlining her future plans. Her surprise departure after only a year in the post left a vacancy that’s now been filled by Gregory Thompson. Where Curran followed in National Theatre Of Scotland departee Neil Murray’s shoes as a producer, Thompson’s tenure marks the arrival of the first rehearsal room based artistic director since Michael Boyd departed to run the Royal Shakespeare Company, leaving Irina Brown in charge.

It’s perhaps for this reason that Thompson doesn’t exactly go overboard on hard sell or spin. Even with his debut production of Grae Cleugh’s play, The Patriot, which can’t help but be viewed as a hint of things to come, Thompson isn’t giving much away.

“It’s a well-made play,” Thompson says of a work set among the idealists and hucksters co-exis…

The Winter’s Tale

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
The Winter’s Tale has always been a play with an identity crisis. In part demonstrating the consequences of Leontes’ own mid-life funk when unfounded jealousy gets the better of him, its third act lurch into altogether sunnier climes is an awkward looking fancy which frankly outstays its welcome by a country mile before the reconciliation with Hermione takes place.

Mark Thomson’s deceptively bright production by and large plays it straight, as anyone familiar with Thomson’s stabs at Shakespeare will recognise. Handsome, suited and booted, utterly faithful to the text – at times too much so - and frequently featuring the ever brilliant Liam Brennan in a leading role, all of this is present and correct here to the extent that there are times you can’t help but crave more audacity beyond the snowy flecks on the mens’ jackets.

When it comes, in the face of Time, who ushers us among the country artisans where a grown-up Perdita frolics with Polixene…

The Parade

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
A languid sense of ennui pervades the atmosphere of Glasgay!’s latest exploration of Tennessee Williams’ lesser-known works, as middle-aged playwright Don suns both himself and his desires beside pretty-boy actor Rich. Rich teases the older man like some beach bum Mr Sloane, aware of his beauty and promising much, but unwilling to deliver. Just as such pan-generational heavy breathing looks like it might turn into some death on Venice beach scenario, a third party, Miriam, enters as Rich leaves. She too wants something she knows she’ll never have, but, unlike Rich, meets Don on equal terms via extended musings on Jung, Freud and Marx. Most of all, though, Miriam becomes a sounding board for Don’s self-obsessive yearning after the parade of the play’s title, a crazed, discordant mess called love.

Completed in 1940 but not performed until 2006, Laurance Rudic’s approach to Williams’ early miniature looks timelessly contemporary. Fleshed out with modern…

The Lost Soul Band - Gordon Grahame Finds Himself Again

Things have never run smoothly for The Lost Soul Band. By rights, in the early 1990s when the Edinburgh based five piece were at their peak, they should have become one of Scotland’s national treasures. As it went, however, an uncaring record label dropped them after releasing two albums, the loose-knit Friday The 13th and Everything’s Rosie and the more polished The Land Of Do As You Please. This left the band’s classic Bob Dylan and Van Morrison inspired song-writing high and dry in an era dominated by American grunge bands that would later give way to Brit Pop. The Lost Soul Band sound - heartfelt and euphoric as it was on songs like Looking Through The Butcher’s Window, Coffee and Hope and their masterpiece, You Can’t Win them All Mum – simply didn’t fit in with the prevailing orthodoxies. A final, self-released album, Hung Like Jesus, was a more strung-out affair than its predecessors, and the band imploded shortly after.

Thirteen years on, singer/songwriter and guitarist Gordon …