Sunday, 26 June 2011

Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits - Estait of the Nation

The first time Paul Henderson Scott saw Ane Satyre of the Thrie
Estaits, Sir David Lyndsay's sixteenth century epic that took the rise
out of church, state and gentry, it was a life-changing experience.
That production of Scotland's oldest known surviving play, as knocked
into textual shape by Robert Kemp, was seen by Scott at the 1948
Edinburgh International Festival. Then, as he related to National
Theatre of Scotland artistic director Vicky Featherstone several weeks
ago, he couldn't believe he'd never seen it before. Here was a play
that represented his culture, his history and his mother tongue in a
way that nothing else had in his experience.

Since Scott's eureka moment, he has gone on to see it in home-grown
productions in 1949, 1973 and in 1985, when Tom Fleming's production
for the now defunct Scottish Theatre Company played at the Edinburgh
International Festival. The production was revived the following year
at Glasgow's Theatre Royal before flying out to the Warsaw Theatre
Festival, where what was then a fairly rare sighting of Scottish
theatre abroad won a prize as the show of the festival.

Since then, however, Warsaw has proved to be the Thrie Estaits last
hurrah. This despite Henderson Scott's ongoing campaign to revive the
play with a tenacity that has b become a fixture at public events.
Every year at the announcement of EIF, Henderson Scott has made a point
of asking successive directors if they planned to do the play. Since
the formation of the National Theatre of Scotland Henderson Scott has
lobbied in a similar fashion. Up until now the answer to his question
has been in the negative. With the NTS planning to analyse the Thrie
Estaits as part of their online book group in August, Henderson Scott
has been invited to give a lecture on the importance of the play. As
part of the NTS' fifth anniversary Staging The Nation series of events.
This is a direct result of a conversation between Henderson Scott and
NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone.

“It was a fantastic meeting,” according to Featherstone. “I think Paul
felt his voice wasn't being heard properly, but as soon as he told me
about how it affected him the first time he saw it, I knew exactly what
he meant, so we're interrogating the play, and we need to find out why
it's an important piece of writing, and whether it's dramatically
important for now.”

For Henderson Scott, this is a given.

“It's a magnificent piece of work,” he says. “It's a very clever piece
of drama, and its importance to the history of Scottish drama is
significant, and it's always been a mystery to me why it hasn't been
done for so long.”

At this juncture it might be pertinent to confess my personal
experience of The Thrie Estaits. In 1986 I'd just started as a first
year on the drama course at what was then Queen Margaret College in
Edinburgh. One afternoon, all the males in a year whose female
colleagues included future Ugly Betty and Extras star Ashley Jenson
were called into a room where we were asked to line up before a man
called Tom Fleming. This play I'd never heard of was being taken to
Warsaw following a couple of nights at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow,
and as well as the large cast already drafted in, they needed a dozen
extras to enter waving flags as a fanfare sounded.

Selecting six from Queen Margaret and six from RSAMD (based on height
rather than acting ability, much to the chagrin of our shorter
classmates), Fleming then put us through our flag-waving paces, which
then involved us all standing stock still onstage for a couple of hours
holding our standards aloft as the action went on around us. I was
thrilled, especially as Iain Cuthbertson, who I knew from his larger
than life turn as Scots gangster Charlie Endell was in it, as was too
Angus Lennie, who'd played tragicomic hotel chef Shughie Mcphee in
teatime soap opera Crossroads, and Russell Hunter, who I recognised as
Lonely from Callan.

Having left my native Liverpool less than two years earlier, I at first
found the play itself incomprehensible, although this was leavened
somewhat by the sense of spectacle and colour Fleming and the actors
brought to it in the rehearsal room. Myself and my fellow flag-bearers
were kitted out in outfits which I thought resembled the costumes in
Planet of the Apes, and I at least sported thick-lined face make-up in
a fruitless attempt to look mean. Yet, even with a crippling dose of
Polish flu and a steady diet of beetroot soup that only a huge banquet
at the Polish Consulate took away the taste of, once onstage with
little to do except listen to what was going on around me, things
gradually began to make sense.

The end result of this crash course in auld Scots was that by the time
we left Warsaw I had a far better grasp of my adopted country's native
tongue than I had when I arrived. I still have the front page of a
Polish newspaper featuring an image from one of the Polish
performances, with the entire page covered in autographs collected from
the entire company, Iain Cuthbertson, Angus Lennie, Russell Hunter and
all.

The Scottish Theatre Company's Polish visitation with the Thrie Estaits
may have been the last major production of the play to be seen, but it
has continued to fire the imagination in other ways. In 1996 the late
John McGrath, founder of 7:84 Scotland and no stranger himself to
theatrical pageantry, updated it as A Satire of the Four Estates – with
the modern-day media now thrown into the rogues gallery they now
conspired with – for a production for Wildcat at the Edinburgh
Conference Centre. The same year Scottish Youth Theatre performed an
updated, more streetsmart version of Sir David Lyndsey's original.

Even more up to date is young director Stasi Schaeffer's five-minute
version of the play which will be performed at some point over the next
twenty-four hours as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Five
Minute Theatre online extravaganza. An American, Schaeffer came across
the Thrie Estaits on taking up a place on RSAMD's post-graduate
directing course when she realised she didn't know one Scottish play.
Her researches led her straight to the play, whereupon she became
intrigued by its possibilities, even in five minutes. With playwright
Maried A Martin on board, however, things worked out differently.

“My original idea was that we could do all the hight points of the
play,” Schaeffer says, “but we realised that just wasn't going to be
possible, so we decided to just do a section instead.”

Martin and Schaeffer have updated their bite-size version to a hotel
boardroom.

“It's the perfect venue for this play, which asks big questions about
ethics and how things are run, which I think is still really pertinent
to today.”

Given what Vicky Featherstone's comments about how if the Thrie Estaits
was revived it would have to be done by as director who could make it
mean something to modern-day audiences, might Schaeffer be the one to
do it in full?

“I'm always up for a challenge,” she says.

While Featherstone will only commit to her ongoing interrogation of the
play, Henderson Scott can see no reason why it can't be done within a
couple of years.


“I don't just want the Thrie Estaits revived,” he says. “There are
others as well. I don't want the National Theatre of Scotland to just
be doing old plays, but there should be one or two a year.”

www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

The Herald, June 21st 2011

ends

Five-Minute Theatre

Various venues
4 stars
It's 4.55pm on a rainy midsummer solstice, and at assorted hubs around
Scotland, the logo on the National Theatre of Scotland website looks
suspiciously like the BBC's old trade test transmission, cheesy muzak
and all. By 5.01pm, however, actress Sally Reid is being beamed in from
Perth Theatre, where she is playing the venue's ghost in a fittingly
theatrical opening monologue for this unprecedented live streaming of
two hundred and thirty-five bite-size plays broadcast over twenty-four
hours across the world. Ten minutes later, Tam Dean Burn is wearing a
toy theatre on his head beside the Clyde with a glove puppet salmon on
one hand and the rush-hour traffic behind while Beltane style
percussion is beaten out. Within the hour we've seen a swimming pool
choir, a Gaelic internet dating yarn and several contemporary dance
troupes from all parts of Scotland and beyond.

There's brilliant work too by Douglas Maxwell and Dundee Rep, a
fantastic piece from Alison Peebles and Anne Lacey, and Stasi
Schaeffer's inspired boardroom-set contemporary version of Ane Satyre
of the Thrie Estaits. But this isn't just about the professionals. This
is about joining in and showing off a multitude of talents in a way
that captures the ongoing crossing of boundaries between audience and
performer, and where participation is a communal need.

Given the scale and complexity of the operation things are charmingly
shambolic at times, with lost links and frozen screens recalling the
early, gloriously anarchic days of Channel Four, when physical-based
pieces like Jamp and Watch Me Disappear would have been a staple. For
those who missed some of these, they are downloadable now as a
magnificent living archive of a nation at play.

The Herald, June 23rd

ends

After The End

Dundee Rep
4 stars
It's a somewhat disarming experience seeing a second home-grown
production of Dennis Kelly's brutal two-hander within weeks of
Glasgow's Citizens theatre's own. Set in a nuclear fallout shelter
where Mark and Louise might just be the last two people alive following
an apparent apocalypse, Kelly's drama sets up an increasingly ugly
power-play between Mark's geeky outsider figure and his vivacious and
popular work-mate that is at times harrowing to watch.

Director Emma Faulkner takes the audience off-site to a concrete props
store that gives the action the gritty, grimy feel required and leaves
both actors with nowhere to hide. Pulsed by the low hum of Philip
Pinsky's sound design, things start quietly enough, as Tony McGeever's
Mark attempts to explain to Helen Darbyshire's Louise exactly what
happened before and after the blast. Before long, though, hidden
agendas come to the fore as it becomes clear that the game Mark is
playing is a whole lot more serious than the Dungeons and Dragons he
starves Louise into joining in with.

For all the play's nastiness, Faulkner has extracted subtle nuances in
the text that shine through a pair of unflinching performances.
Darbyshire in particular lends complexity and maturity to an
increasingly ambiguous set-up of seismic emotional shifts. If obsession
and the manipulative abuse of power is the play's main theme, there's
something going on here too about identity and being comfortable or
otherwise in you're own skin. By the end, and despite everything Louise
has survived, a disturbing unspoken empathy between the pair remains.
They've been through hell and back, it suggests, and no-one else on
earth can say the same.

The Herald, June 21st 2011

ends

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Wild Swans

The Captain's Rest, Glasgow
Tuesday June 7th 2011
Heroism comes in many forms, but Paul Simpson's ongoing awfully big
adventure fronting his reconstituted, reconfigured and on this showing
on the first date of a short UK tour thoroughly reignited Wild Swans
nom de plume is a sublime experience that falls somewhere between a
vintage copy of Boy's Own magazine brought to life and an indie
supergroup in excelcis.


In a set gleaned largely from new album, The Coldest Winter For A
Hundred Years, it's a call to arms from the off, with Simpson's lyrics
a one-man campaign against the worst excesses of urban regeneration,
his beloved Liverpool in particular seen through a mix of rose-tinted
yearning for the days that defined him, and an impassioned despair at
the 'dark satanic shopping malls' that have wiped out the fields where
Simpson used to play.


Set to the shimmeringly busy jangle of former Brian Jonestown Massacre
guitarist Ricky Mayme - fresh from an unspecified brush with the local
constabulary and putting his own stamp on a sound patented by original
Wild Swans guitarist Jeremy Kelly a good two years before Johnny Marr
did something similar in The Smiths - and underscored with the FX box
textures of ex Spiritualised and Lupine Howl sonic architect Mike
Mooney, the result is a gloriously contrary counterpoint of the
melancholy and the triumphal. With Simpson looking a little bit Mad Men
in dapper suit and retro tie, where Mooney cuts a coolly studious dash
with his glasses perched on his head, Mayme is a more ebullient figure,
bouncing along to every upbeat flourish he and his comrades have just
carved out.


At the back of the stage, former Echo and the Bunnymen bassist Les
Pattinson, similarly suited and booted, provides ballast and authority,
as does drummer Stuart Mann, a Wild Swan for a mere two days on the
night, and with only “a rehearsal and a quarter” under his belt
according to Simpson. Off to the sides, long-haired keyboardist and
album producer Richard Turvey rings out the sort of
classically-inclined piano flourishes that original Swan Ged Quinn (now
a respected fine art painter who designed the cover of The Coldest
Winter and is still clearly a Wild Swan in spirit) used to play out.


The Wild Swans template, then – a broodingly Blakean romanticism made
by and for serious young men – remains the same. Yet, despite Simpson's
elegiac world-view as explored through a series of lists that recall
original Mersey poet Adrian Henri as they counterpoint idylls of old
Albion (or old south Liverpool, really), with the all-pervasive curse
of supermarkets, Sun reporters and Cash Converters that blight
inner-city living as highlighted in the soaring Play For Today scenario
of English Electric Lightning, there's nothing po-faced about it.


Simpson seems relaxed, dedicating Chloroform, about Simpson's
grandfather fighting in the first world war, to Drew Mulholland, aka
Glasgow's electronic boffin Mount Vernon Arts Lab. A fellow traveller
from both parties days on the Gloucester-based Ochre Records when
Simpson was releasing pretty electronic instrumentals under the name
Skyray (Ochre was also the home of Echo and the Bunnymen guitarist Will
Sergeant's 'psychedelic trip-scape' project, Glide), Mulholland had
gifted Simpson a vintage army arm-band, a gesture Simpson wished to
gratefully acknowledge.


While God Forbid retains the busy musical urgency of its 1982 recording
produced by Echo and the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas and released
as a double A side twelve inch single with the anthemic The
Revolutionary Spirit on Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe's myth-making
Liverpool-based label, Zoo (their finest release ever, according to
Drummond), Simpson's delivery is less excitable, more composed and
fused with the wisdom and experience the last thirty years has brought
to the song.


With Bringing Home The Ashes revived from the second, late 1980s major
label incarnation of The Wild Swans, new material blurs seamlessly into
old, even as some wag calls out for Flaming Sword, the 1983 single
released by Simpson's post Swans collaboration with Lightning Seed in
waiting In Broudie, Care. By the time Simpson and co climax with a
rousing Revolutionary Spirit, it's clear that, after three decades in
the wilderness, Simpson's mission at the vanguard of The Wild Swans
might just have been accomplished.


The List, June 2011


ends

Thomas Houseago – The Beat of the Show

Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh until July 3rd 2011
4 stars
The relationship between the title of the first museum-based show by
Leeds-born sculptor Houseago and the work itself may not be immediately
apparent. It's taken from 'Transmission', the urgent post-punk anthem
released in 1979 by Joy Division, who implored listeners to 'Dance,
dance, dance to the radio'. Wander through the sepulchral marble-white
hemp, iron and wood structures possessing Inverleith's ground
floor, however, and something monumental grabs hold. It's as if the
imposing dome at the centre of a room littered with sawn-off remnants
of trees or the bulbous giant leg in the next are paying tribute to the
aftermath of some Ballardian dystopia, marking time until whatever
happens next.

The masks, the walk-through wooden gate and the giant fox-head in the
basement further suggest a society getting back to basics. Either that
or totems of some primitive cult warding off interlopers as thry stand
outside the house in preparation for Houseago's forthcoming Edinburgh
Art Festival show in an imposingly stately fashion.

The List, June 2011

ends

Nina Rhode – Friendly Fire / Cara Tolmie – Read thou Art And Read Thou Shalt Remain

Dundee Contemporary Arts until July 31st 2011
4 stars
If the world is a circle without a beginning and nobody knows where it
really ends ('laa-la-laaa-la'), as a zenned-out Hal David once wrote to
a Burt Bacharach choon for the big-screen Shangri-la of Charles
Jarrott's 1973 remake of 'Lost Horizon', then both Nina Rhode and Cara
Tolmie's worlds seem to be on a permanent loop in these wonderfully
complimentary shows. For Glasgow-based Tolmie, this comes via two
films, one an actual loop of a Death Valley landscape viewed from a
speeding car, the other a hand-crafted pop-up toy theatre made with a
shoebox, some sticky-back plastic and some close-up cut-outs of a
similarly mountainous mural and a window that blows hot and cold. Out
of this comes a narrative both domestic and epic, set as it is in a
room with a very special view.

In her first ever UK solo show, Berlin-based Rhode's series of spinning
wheels, cut out shapes and endless mirror images suggests a playfully
utopian infinity of touchy-feely exchanges by way of an interactive
fairground attraction that is forever in motion without ever going
through them. This major affair is book-ended by a large spinning wheel
at the gallery entrance and the wonderful 'Rudolf Beuys' in the
activity room, effectively a blackboard in motion that allows a
creche-load of infants to make art. In the gallery itself, spinning
harmonicas do a Terry Riley number, used fireworks are built into an
organ shape, self-portraits through a looking glass take Rhode to
wonderland and a melted street bin captures the spirit of Berlin's
anti-capitalist riots of 2009. Best of all is 'Gong', in which a log
hung between two stone-cutting steel discs can be swung to chime out a
gloriously clattering ceremonial.

The List, June 2011

ends

Wounded Knee – Anicca (Krapp Tapes)

4 stars
This latest excursion in Drew Wright's ongoing adventure in
ethno-celtic vocal loops marries two extended pieces back to back on a
cassette that comes in a plain brown hand-stamped envelope and wrapped
in an offcut of tweed. Where 'Whither?' eventuality morphs into
snatches of al green's 'Take me To The River,', flipside 'Wither,' a
kind of dub version of the former, comes over more biblical in its
bullfrog mantra. The length of both tracks allows Wright's
extrapolations space enough to breathe in an ideal accompaniment for
Sunday afternoon strolls up Arthur's Seat with bigger hills in mind.
There's even a plaster in case you trip on the crags.

ends

White Heath – Take No Thought For Tomorrow (Electric Honey)

3 stars
The latest graduate of Stow College's music industry course's in-house
record label is this Edinburgh five-piecce's collection of epic
soundtracks to vocalist Sean Watson's heartfelt lyrical concerns.
Delivered in an opaque vocal rasp, this is an album chock-full of
widescreen ambition that at times resembles the sublime adventures of
late-period Talk Talk mashed-up with Sigur Ros, with its grandiose
piano, violin and bass trombone arrangements overlaying the urgent
melodrama of the guitars. Watson certainly puts himself through the
emotional wringer, and sometimes it all gets too much, but at its
sweepingly regal best, this is grown-up heartbreak made for fractured
times.

The List, June 2011

ends

After The End - Not The End of The World As We Know It

When a young woman has been left with two black eyes you fear the
worst. When that young woman just happens to be an actress appearing in
a brutal contemporary play in which power games between the sexes are
brought to the fore in a disturbing and claustrophobic fashion, you
could be forgiven for speculating on how life imitating art might not
necessarily always be such a good thing. As it turns out, the injuries
sustained by Nicola Daley, who has just finished a run of Dennis
Kelly's play, After The End, in a production directed by Amanda Gaughan
at the Citizens Theatre's Circle Studio in Glasgow, are nothing to do
with anything that happened onstage. Rather, Daley's two shiners were
acquired in an offstage stumble that nevertheless lent her performance
opposite Jonathan Dunn in Amanda Gaughan's production an accidental
whiff of authenticity.

Just as the Citz production has been put to bed, however, another take
on After The End prepares to open in Dundee in a site-specific
production directed by Emma Faulkner which in August will head to the
capital for a run at The Pleasance as part of the Edinburgh Festival
Fringe. Emma Faulkner's production featuring the Rep ensemble's
graduate actors Helen Darbyshire and Tony McGeever may not have real
life bruises, though it is going for broke by adopting a site-specific
approach in a yet to be revealed space close to the theatre.

What, then, is the appeal of Kelly's play, first seen in 2005 in a
production by Paines Plough directed by Roxana Silbert and seen at
Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre?

Set in an antiquated nuclear bunker owned by Mark, he and Louise come
to after the apparent end of the world following a massive explosion
the night before. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that far
from the knight in shining armour he initially appears to be, Mark is
something of a loner who has finally ended up alone with the girl of
his dreams. Trapped together at such close quarters, an increasingly
violent power struggle unfolds that has life-changing consequences for
them both.

“It's a nightmare scenario,” Gaughan points out, “and it's a hell on
earth which I think we can all empathise with, particularly just now,
when there's a lot of scary stuff going on in the world with potential
terrorism in the middle east and everything else. There's a point where
we can all go what if we were put into that situation. There's also
something there about the power struggle between the two characters and
the competitive nature of it. But what I was really interested in was
whether this was a twisted love story or not. During rehearsals we
spoke about if you could just get someone you really loved or really
fancied in that room and you talked to them and showed them the real
you, wouldn't that be fantastic?”

While clearly planning a very different production to Gaughan's,
Faulkner in part concurs with her sentiments, pointing out that “It's
very very contemporary. It's as play about fear, isolation and power,
and looks at some of the things you go through in extreme situations.
With everything that's going on, it feels very pertinent to the times
we live in.”

In practical terms, the play is also ideal for today in as much as
economics dictate that small-cast plays look set to become more
prevalent. A two-hander, then, is ideal, especially for theatres such
as Dundee and the Citz, both of whom have graduate or apprentice
schemes for young actors. Finding meaty parts for such ingénues can
often be a tricky business, with only Enda Walsh's now classic Disco
Pigs being on a similar level with After The End. For trainee directors
such as Gaughan and Faulkner, both wishing to make a mark beyond
assisting at the start of their career, After The End has plenty to
grab hold of.

Gaughan initially trained at RSAMD on the Contemporary Theatre Practice
course, before working with Paisley-based theatre in education company
PACE. She then went back to RSAMD to study direction in relation to
contemporary and classical text, since when she has worked on work by
writers such as Douglas Maxwell and Davey Anderson, as well as
producing the Arches-based On The verge festival of new work. After a
year at the Citz assisting on the likes of Marilyn and A Clockwork
Orange, After The End is both graduation piece and calling card.

As it is too for Faulkner, who joined Dundee Rep as part of the
Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme in association with the Young
Vic in London. Prior to that she studied English at Glasgow University
before joining a literary agency. It was here she developed a love of
working on scripts, and went on to study directing. Since then Faulkner
has directed Joe Orton's Ruffian on the Stair at the Orange Tree in
Richmond, where Citizens Theatre artistic director in waiting and
former boss of the Rep cut his directing teeth. Faulkner has also
directed David Harrower's Knives In Hens at Battersea Arts Centre, and
in Dundee has assisted on Sunshine on Leith and A Doll's House. More
recently she directed Linda McLean's lunchtime short, What Love's For,
at Oran Mor. After The end, though, looks set to be her biggest
challenge to date.

“It's the first time a play's ever been done in this space,” Faulkner
reveals, “but After The End is absolutely right for it, and doing it
site-specific will certainly help with the feel of the play in terms of
creating an atmosphere. Obviously there are concerns about making it
safe for an audience, which is why it will have such a limited
capacity, and there are technical challenges as well, but I think if we
can bring everything together it should make for a pretty interesting
experience.”

While Gaughan too is no stranger to site-specific work through her time
on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course and through her work at the
Arches, putting her production on in a more conventional space was a
deliberate choice.

“We thought about it a lot,” she says, “but for some reason with this
play it became about making it as theatrical as possible. We looked at
all the nooks and crannies in the building, but in the end we opted for
a studio space so it would have an intimacy but also retain that sense
of voyeurism you get in the play.”

Given the play's at times shocking look at psychological and physical
abuse, it's notable that all three UK productions have been directed by
women. This isn't something either Faulkner or Gaughan have allowed to
affect their approach, however.

“We did think about how you avoid making the woman a victim,” Gaughan
admits, “but I became more interested in the characters psychological
deterioration. I think we can all get ourselves in situations that
spiral out of control, and I think in this play the moral compass goes
askew really quickly. That's what's exciting about it.”

Faulkner concurs. “I don't think audiences will know what to expect,”
she says, keeping her fingers crossed that none of her actors end up
going home with black eyes.

After The End, Dundee Rep, June 16th-25th; then at The Pleasance,
Edinburgh, August 6th-28th.
www.dundeerep.co.uk

The Herald, June 14th 2011

ends

CATS Awards 2011 Overview - Scottish Theatre Is In Rude Health

“If you believe a story’s worth telling, you’ll believe in it to the
death.” So said Cora Bissett, director of Roadkill, an astonishing look
at sex trafficking close to home and winner of the year’s Best
production award at yesterday’s Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland.
If ever there was a sentiment that summed up the creative whirlwind of
just how much theatre in Scotland is punching well above its weight,
Bissett captures it perfectly. This is especially the case in the
current economic climate, with cuts in arts funding as inevitable this
side of the border as they were recently in England.

Bissett accidentally captured the gung ho, never say die approach that
makes artists create work in the face of adversity, and the CATS awards
rightly celebrates this. Apart from anything else, it also shows off
the full diverse range of the work made in Scotland that is a world
apart from the London awards scene centred mainly around commercial
west end shows.

As well as Roadkill, all of the nominees, as anyone who witnessed them
will confirm, are world class at any level. As are too the myriad of
nominees with productions great and small who made judging the awards
for myself and my colleagues a tortuous and at times nigh on impossible
process. One of the big breakthroughs this year was to see children’s
show White, produced by the CatherineWheels company, not just win in
the Children’s and Young People’s category, but to scoop both Best
Design and Best Technical Presentation gongs as well. This shows how
seriously the work for children and young people is taken in this
country, and how much it can stand alongside its more grown-up peers,
both here and on the European scene the sector is now a leading player
in.

One thing brought home by the CATS, itself now an important part of
Scotland’s theatrical calendar, is just what a plethora of magnificent
artists there is here. The survival of them and their work needs to be
fought for, on these pages and elsewhere. To the death if necessary.

The Herald, June 13th 2011

ends

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Chris Watson - Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer

Chris Watson began his tape experiments as part of pioneering electronic band Cabaret Voltaire, and later co-founded The Hafler Trio. He has recorded albums for Touch Records, created sound installations across the world, recorded nature documentaries with David Attenborough and collaborated with artists including Alec Finlay and Hanna Tuulikki. He is currently working on ‘Whispering In The Leaves’ for 2008’s AV festival in Sunderland, UK.


What’s going on in the garden?

I was commissioned to do a sound piece for the Winter Garden in Sunderland. It’s similar to the sorts of places I remember in Sheffield from when I was a kid. All these rich Victorian philanthropists who didn’t know what to do with their money sent out their people to collect specimens and showed them for public benefit in what were basically massive public greenhouses. As soon as I walked in it reminded me of plants from a rainforest, where you hear more than you see, except it was as if someone had provided me with a set. I’ve done two pieces using sounds from rainforests, one for sunrise and one for sunset. Both are about twenty minutes long, where the sounds are compressed in the way that time-lapse photography is. It’s the best way to interpret what I record, because with television and film you rarely get a chance to use your imagination. Here you can literally immerse your audience in the sound of a place.

In at the deep end?

I’m also doing this piece with Nurse With Wound called ‘Wet Sounds.’ The last two years I’ve recorded sounds of the ocean for a commission from National Geographic. So now people can go into a swimming pool and hear sounds from the Pacific, including some really nice recordings of killer whales. A lot of people say they want to swim with dolphins, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to swim with whales.

What’s the frequency?

With sound installations, curators are still at a very early stage in terms of dealing with sound properly, and when it’s bad it’s really crap. How something’s presented is crucial. It’s the same as if a painting is lit badly. It kills the experience.

From industrial urban to back to nature. How did you get here?

From aged eleven when my parents bought me my first tape recorder I’ve just been doing the same things, really. In Cabaret Voltaire I became more interested in sounds outside the studio that those inside. It was that fascination that was the deciding factor why I left, through a gradual sense of detachment, and being able to hear things outside that sounded more beautiful, strange and immersive. Industrial was never a term Cabaret Voltaire used. Our major influences were Stax, Tamla Motown and early German stuff, but the industrial tag was never important. It was only later when we met people like Kraftwerk we realised there was this subliminal connection. Funnily enough, my next album for Touch is full of industrial sounds recorded on a train journey in Mexico.

What was Cabaret Voltaire’s experience of ‘playing’ Edinburgh Film Festival in 1975?

We weren’t there. We sent a film and a sound tape, which were deliberately unsynchronised. Most of the staff didn’t know what to do with it. It was an extreme, but it was an extreme which was exactly right for the time

Nature or nurture?

I’d like to think people are risking more in terms of what they listen to. There’s enough music in the world. Now we have to learn to listen. This morning I was coming out of a shop on the high street, and there was a mistle-thrush singing, and with all the traffic noise it was a moment of beauty.

What else do you listen to?

Late Junction, Radio 3, Larry McCrae. John Lydon summed it up when he said that there’s decent music and there’s rubbish.

Favourite album covers?

I’m biased, but I love Jon Wozencroft’s covers for all the Touch Records stuff. It’s so sympathetic, and immediately strikes a chord which encapsulates the work. I like all the Soul Jazz covers as well, the vibrancy of the colours.

What art is on your walls?

I’ve got originals by John Steel, who’s a Northumberland National Park Ranger, and does paintings of natural history. There’s also an old Cabaret Voltaire poster from a gig we did with William Burroughs at Plan K in Belgium.

What’s next?

I’m working on a piece in the Italian Alps, I’ve a co-commission with Matthew Herbert, and am working on a film in Orferd Ness, a weird low-lying spit off the Suffolk Coast, which must be one of the most secretive sites in Britain. It’s a strange mix of abandoned Cold War technology and a wildlife reserve. I also spent five days working at FACT in Liverpool, and stayed at The Adelphi Hotel, recording the noises of the lifts and corridors. There’s a great acoustic there, and it’s full of history and ghosts. It would be great to re-create that somewhere.


‘Whispering In The Leaves’, produced by Forma at AV festival, Sunderland, Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden, February 29-March 9, with a performance on March 6; ‘Wet Sounds’, London Fields Lido, July 6
www.avfestival.co.uk
www.forma.org.uk
www.chriswatson.net
http://www.chriswatson.net/

MAP issue 13, January 2008

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Shadowed Spaces

Edinburgh, July 15th 2007
Music, by its very nature, can take you anywhere. On record, the private consumption of something designed for public dissemination is already transcendent enough. In the live arena, the communal experience makes such experiences even more pronounced. Hence the mass appeal of stadium-rock fascist rallies and the mud-bath pilgrimages of the open-air festival.

Shadowed Spaces confounded expectations of both these secular desires to share…something. Or other. The Arika organisation’s follow-up to last year’s Resonant Spaces, a Scotland-wide tour which utilised the unique timbres of venues such as Hamilton Mausoleum and Smoo Cave for musicians John Butcher and Akio Suzuki to bounce off, Shadowed Spaces aimed to do likewise with urban alleyways normally hidden from view, their doors for once left ajar. Over a two week period, New York based drummer Sean Meehan, Japanese saxophonist Tamio Shiraishi and fellow countryman percussionist Ikuro Takahashi visited six sites which, under the beady eye of veteran American psychogeographer Denis Wood, were made public, private and secret all at once.

So, from a deserted railroad in Aberdeen to something similar in Edinburgh, the tour took in a car park and a smelly alleyway in Dundee and space nearby the shopping centre in Easterhouse, where one of the locals joined in playing a blade of grass. Newcastle saw an unfinished bridge and its needle-strewn underpass – both follies leftover as a legacy of the notoriously corrupt council leader T Dan Smith’s misguided stab at civic pride following his imprisonment on bribery charges in 1974 – finally put to some use. Corridors and stairwells were used to similar effect in Cumbernauld.

There was a Pied Piper feel to the Edinburgh leg, as the audience were led from a cemetery near to the Nuremburg style façade of the Scottish Office, winding towards a normally locked up (but clearly not impregnable) disused railway line, under a bridge, through densely overgrown bushes and beyond to a wasteland as yet untouched by the Legoland vampires of urban regeneration.

At random points in the undergrowth, Shiraishi’s sax squeaked aloft a barren pyre of burnt wood, while Takahashi and Meehan’s amped up drums set up a low-level call and response. At times, the sense of Zen calm that prevailed had more to do with the whoops of children playing and gulls overhead, not so much noises off as noises of.

There’s something unavoidably nostalgic about visiting such off limits arenas, a foreboding stickiness recalling Bill Nelson’s early stab of ambient, The Shadow Garden. Beyond the junkies and the drunks, here are places where school truants go to masturbate and dream, creating secret little worlds for themselves that reek of some barren no-man’s-land between town and country.

As Wood made clear standing aloft the railway siding’s natural stage evoking the spirits of Guy Debord and radical American town planner Kevin Lynch, it’s the spaces’ very lack of purpose that’s important. As he spoke, impassioned, evangelical, but never cranky, you sensed that Wood too has been hiding out in the wilderness while the rest of the world caught up with him.

Because the idea of ‘drift’ has become deeply fashionable over the last decade. American instrumentalists Labradford even had a Festival Of Drifting, both pre-dating and setting a template for the current swathe of left-field music festivals. Since then, in musical terms, ‘drift’ has become a by-word for ethereal washes of sounds so random as to do Brian Eno’s notions of ‘ambient’ a serious disservice. The grab-bag accessibility of the means of production via laptops, etc, has created a glut of such material, most of it prettily pointless.

Similarly, ‘psychogeography’ is one of those words dropped by part time punks high on the Situationist rhetoric employed by the likes of Stewart Home in his thumbnail umbilical zigzag through would-be revolutionary currents, ‘The Assault On Culture.’

Neither is re-appropriating neglected landscapes anything new. On a formal level, urban regeneration, particularly in post-industrial cities, was based on it. Hence Tramway in Glasgow, Bristol’s Tobacco Factory and others. In the negative, yesterday’s now deserted banks are today’s designer bars.

Moving outdoors, rave culture was founded on secret gatherings in forgotten fields well off the main drag and word-of-mouth networking. The mini wave of guerrilla gigs did similar for Shoreditch fashionistas with badly tuned guitars.

More significantly, theatre, for once, has been ahead of the game. The rise of site-specific and site-sensitive shows both indoors and out by Edinburgh’s Grid Iron company in particular opened the door for other practitioners. Angus Farquhar’s NVA company have been mediating landscapes in this manner for years, so it’s no surprise that Arika and Farquhar will be collaborating in September 2007.

As the audience are ferried to the next venue in a fleet of black cabs, it’s clear that Shadowed Spaces has body-swerved any ready-made presumptions of some alternative heritage industry fetish. Rather, as Meehan and Takahashi play a pindrop duet beside the city bypass traffic roar before Shiraishi leads us home into the familiar, it’s a once in a lifetime pause on the road to nowhere.

www.arika.org.uk

MAP issue 11, July 2007
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Simon Fisher-Turner - Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer

Simon Fisher Turner is a composer and musician who recently appeared at Tramway, Glasgow, performing at Alexandre Perigot’s exhibition, Pipedream, inside a life-size recreation of Elvis Presley’s former home, Gracelands. Fisher-Turner’s first album was produced by Jonathan King, and he later worked with Derek Jarman, composing soundtracks for The Last Of England, The Garden, Edward II and Blue. He briefly played with The The, and has released a string of albums under a variety of names, including his own. He provided scores for Croupier, directed by Mike Hodges, and was nominated for an Oscar for Anna Campion’s feature, Loaded. His most recent album, Lana, Lara, Lata, was released on Mute Records in 2005


How did you get to Gracelands?
I’ve worked with Alexandre for a few years. He comes up with these crazy ideas I half understand, then go and do something with them. We once did a project called Fanclubbing in a deserted arts centre in Marseille, and by the end we had a whole album. This is the same. It’ll be noise. No noise. Some noise. In one way or another it’ll work, but I can’t guarantee what it’ll sound like. It’s kind of like plunderphonics, using stuff from all over the world, so it tends to work at the drop of a map.

Film soundtracks, art projects and dance scores. Your music lends itself to other arenas. Accident or design?
My life has generally been an accident. I’ve never had a grand plan and I’m always stuck for ideas. I’m incapable of doing the same thing twice. It’s not in my personality to repeat myself. I can’t even remember lyrics. I’ve got no idea, because I’ve got no ideas.

Lana, Lara, Lata works with sound in relation to colour. Brian Eno has produced similar work. Ambient or just obscure?
I’m never sure about ambient, but I’ve an idea for an album. There’s a restaurant I go to in London, and Harold Pinter’s always in there. I always hear him talking to people, and he has such a distinctive voice I thought I’d tape him without him knowing until I’ve got all these recordings, then do something with them. No-one has to hear him clearly, and no-one has to know it’s Harold Pinter, but his voice is so intriguing it’ll be a good place for me to start thinking about things.

Musical epiphanies?
Terry Riley, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Throbbing Gristle. They changed my life. I’ve also seen everyone you’ve never heard of. My first gig was Stray and Rare Bird at The Record Mirror Olympia Festival. I saw The Sex Pistols at the ridiculous Screen On The Green show. Johnny Rotten was amazing. The first time I saw Throbbing Gristle I was terrified and wanted to run away. Seeing them at The Tate recently I wanted them to be unbearable again, but it was so listenable it was ridiculous. Now I listen to Throbbing Gristle while I’m washing the floor.

Choir boy. Child actor. Teeny-bopper idol. Growing up in public?
I was in this BBC series called The Silver Sword. One of the actors introduced me to Jonathan King, and Jonathan must’ve thought, ‘pretty young boy, blue eyes, blond hair. Let’s make him Britain’s answer to David Cassidy.’ It didn’t work, but when you’re 15 years-old and someone wants to make an album with you, it’s amazing. It was awful, but it was fun. I was on telly a lot, and chased by girls who wanted to sleep with me. There was no AIDS, and it was a very promiscuous time. There was a lot of sex. With girls. It’s the same today, whether it’s with Take That or any of the new guitar bands. They’re all manufactured.

Your soundtracks for Derek Jarman again bridged the visual and the aural.
It was punk time, and everything was wide open. I’d just been The Green Cross Code boy on three public safety ads, didn’t have a job, and ended up working on The Tempest. You put Derek’s visuals in front of you, the like of which you’ve never seen before, and he gave you the space to do anything you liked.

What new music are you listening to?
The new Bjork album’s fantastic. Alva Noto, which is Ryuichi Sakamoto and Carsten Nicolai. I still like my minimal electronics, but too much of it isn’t a good thing. Cocorosie’s album’s good. There Thaemlitz is a transgendered guy who lives in Japan and does this stuff called Fag Jazz. He can’t play, and it’s all wrong, but it’s the most exciting electronic music I’ve heard for years. But I’m not a purist, and I loved The Beatles Love album. As Derek said, who cares about old buildings? Pull ‘em down and build ‘em new ones.

Seizing the means of production?
There’s a lot of experimental and ambient stuff, but a lot of it is very bad. You can tell what equipment everybody’s got. There’s a lot of people making music now who shouldn’t. As soon as someone does something new now they give it a name. Glitch? Who cares?

What art do you have on your walls?
I’ve got a piece by Barry Flanagan, who sculpts these awful bronze leaping hares, but I’ve got some plain monochrome canvasses he did in the 60s. I’ve got two kids, so I’ve got a lot of their pictures on the wall. I wish I had one of Derek’s paintings, but he’s given me enough already, and you can’t have everything.

You’ve recorded as The King Of Luxembourg, Loveletter, Monday Sinclair, Deux Filles, Jeremy’s Secret, Bad Dream Fancy Dress and Kendall Turner Overdrive. Who’s Simon Fisher-Turner now?
I’m lost. Lost in fatherhood. Lost in producing a new album. Lost with technology. I tried chopping up everything I’ve ever done, and made a 45 minute collage of my musical life so far, but I’ve not done anything with it yet.

Favourite Elvis song?
Heartbreak Hotel, but that’s because John Cale’s version was so good. Elvis’s voice was amazing, but what a beautifully mismanaged man.

Simon Fisher-Turner will be taking part in The Istanbul Biennial with Alexandre Perigot in September

www.myspace.com/simonfisherturner

MAP issue 11, July 2008

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Throbbing Gristle – Part Two - The Endless Not (Mute)

When the original ‘Wreckers Of Civilisation’ declared that ‘The Mission Is Terminated’ in 1981, a legend was already in motion. It’s one that Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson had been living up to since Throbbing Gristle’s notorious 1976 debut at COUM Transmissions’ ICA exhibition led Tory roustabout Nicholas Fairburn to take the moral high-ground. TG’s provocative mix of cheap n’ nasty analogue-electro-sludge and performance art terrorism continued to turn nihilism into an art-form which Punk could only cock a rusty safety-pin at.

This silver jubilee reunion fast forwards to a time where the industrial template TG set down has begat the fright-wig stadium bombast of Marilyn Manson, but which has more significantly been appropriated by today’s fertile and fanatical scuzz-house noise scene. The Endless Not is subsequently an odd and self-conscious revisiting to one-time extremities long since superseded.

As with Iggy Pop’s carefully stage-managed rehabilitation with The Stooges, any shock involved is that anyone’s alive to tell the tale of a now legitimised past. Again like Iggy, the newly pandrogynous Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is more pantomime wicked witch seemingly modelled on Eddie Izzard than corrupter of youth. Then again, who can blame TG for reclaiming what they pioneered before it was hi-jacked by leather-kecked storm-troopers in drag.

If the sledgehammer yelps of the opening ‘Vow Of Silence’ is a benchmark-setting show of strength, ‘Rabbit Snare’ is woozy cocktail-hour anti-jazz, ‘Separated’ a submerged, plastic-bag-over-the-head waltz and ‘Lyre Liar’ a punishing martial incantation that’s part violation fetish, part fascist rally. There’s no context, rhyme or reason for any of this after so long away, but with repeated plays its stark insistence makes more sense and becomes increasingly addictive.

With seven tracks credited to P-Orridge and one apiece to Tutti, Carter and Christopherson, it’s clear where much of TG’s collective energy stems from, even if each member appears to be working in artistic isolation. Beyond the squelch, the album’s quasi-conventional centrepiece is ‘Almost A Kiss,’ a wracked torch ballad sounding somewhere between moon-in-June and Death In June, and just dieing for a straight reworking, possibly by Bryan Ferry.

‘Can we rise again?’ P-Orridge desperately pleads on the title track as if to capitalise on this rebirth, still pushing towards some kind of liberation. On this outing, whippersnappers duly shown who’s in charge, the answer for Throbbing Gristle is a breathless, unrelenting yes.

www.throbbing-gristle.com
www.mute.com

MAP issue 10, April 2007

Paul Rooney – Lucy Over Lancashire (SueMi)

Paul Rooney is an obsessive auto-didact of a certain age, weaned on a back-street pop culture he’s upended, rummaged through the fag butts of at length, then rolled around in on his own doorstep before spinning the acquired wisdom and experience into shaggy-dog stories down at his defiantly red-brick northern English local. Or at least, that’s how it appears from this magnificently chewy and utterly surreal 12” single, released on delicious raspberry ripple, joke-shop blood coloured vinyl through Berlin’s SueMi Records.

Anyone who witnessed Pass The Time Of Day, the exhibition this Liverpool born, Edinburgh College Of Art trained chancer curated on tour in London, Edinburgh’s Collective Gallery, Nottingham and Manchester throughout 2004/5 will get the idea. Via a series of installations, Rooney and fellow travellers including Arab Strap, Stephen Sutcliffe and Mark Leckey explored primarily pop music as a distraction from the everyday, a way of getting ‘out of it.’

There’s previous form too, playing in the eponymous Rooney, a bona-fide John Peel championed band, whose single, ‘Went To Town,’ was voted number 44 in the Radio 1 icon’s 1998 Festive Fifty, and who recorded a session for the programme the following year. By hub-capping the title of his first release in seven years from The Fall’s 1986 B-side, ‘Lucifer Over Lancashire,’ a fact acknowledged within the record’s gothic absurdist narrative, Rooney sets his store for what follows from the off.

Over six segued cut-ups, we’re introduced to Lucy, a lonesome sprite locked into the record’s grooves like some jabber-mouthed ghost in the machine who’s the intangible equivalent of the sort of girls who hang out on street-corners during school hours. Under the spell of the mysterious Alan (possibly former Lancashire station Red Rose Radio’s 1980s shock-jock, Allan Beswick, who makes a brief, bile-fuelled appearance), Lucy regales her captive audience with selected hand-me-down local mythology passed on by Alan as gospel. In this way, ‘Lucy Over Lancashire’s hex-strewn subject matter draws from the same well as some of the Moors-set contemporary and ancient folk song field trips by Daniel Patrick Quinn.

Here, though, the effect is not unlike Caroline Aherne’s schoolgirl single mum character from ‘The Fast Show,’ ‘Our’ Janine Carr, a precursor to ‘Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard, bending your ear with some old wives tale picked up off some superstitious relic of a relative. One thinks too of the wide-eyed ingénues played by Rita Tushingham in the films ‘Smashing Time’ and ‘A Taste Of Honey,’ the latter of which featuring dialogue by Shelagh Delaney so evocative that Morrissey appropriated much of it for the first Smiths album.

As much as Lucy is a ‘Shameless-friendly ASBO in waiting, she’s also a creature of naïve but considerable supernatural force. Outside her stories, this manifests itself through a spindly, sampled Country N’ North-Western guitar backing that’s bent out of shape by some primitive white indie Dub drum and bass alchemy possibly conjured up by Lucy herself. Together, the words and music become a cheeky, increasingly overwhelming litany of folk yarns old and new, in which Manchester United’s nickname of The Red Devils is imbued with dark significance. In a part of the country where real life witch trials took place, red really is the colour, however symbolic.

Somehow the babbled splurge of a Samuel Beckett monologue is possessed by the sort of hidden Satanic messages found in backwards-speaking Beatles records. Also in there are fellow northern souls John Cooper-Clarke, red-haired Mick Hucknall and his band Imply Red (sic), who founded Blood And Fire Records to put out Dub reggae records to appropriate Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry for what Lucy calls the “Dark Forces, capital D, capital F.”

‘Lucy Over Lancashire’s closest relatives are Big Hard Excellent Fish’s piece of mid-1980s Scouse ambient melancholy, ‘The Imperfect List,’ on which Pete Wylie of Wah!’s then paramour Josie Jones painstakingly spits out a role-call of ills inflicted, either on her or the world at large. ‘The Imperfect List’ was used by Morrissey as his intro music on his 2004 tour, and there’s the same sense of sad, trapped, Sisyphean resignation found in Lucy’s final words before she vanishes into the run-off groove after 16 and a half minutes of woozily incessant clatter.

Lucy might feel less lonely if she ever heard ‘Clowntown,’ an even spookier piece of subverted post-punk music by Pink Military Stand Alone. Even more Scousers, Pink Military were led by Jayne Casey, who’d previously fronted Big In Japan with Bill Drummond, often wearing a lampshade on her head. ‘Clowntown’ was even more primitive than ‘Lucy Over Lancashire,’ a far scarier melodramatic shriek of a record, extended by lo-fi studio techniques so it sat perfectly next to the late-night Dub played by John Peel. By coincidence, the first and only Pink Military album, ‘Do Animals Believe In God?, was produced by early Simply Red bassist Tony Bowers.

‘Lucy Over Lancashire’ cries out like a D-stream banshee to be heard full-blast in a club. As it is, it fulfilled its own prophecy in November 2006 when it was played on BBC Radio Lancashire’s avant-rock and roots reggae show, ‘On The Wire.’ If that sounds like a happy ending, for Lucy it’s a curse.
www.suemi.de

MAP issue 10, April 2007

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Hanna Tuulikki

When Hanna Tuulikki was growing up in Brighton, she spent five years living in a mobile home while her architect father built his family a brand new house. In such cramped confines, the then 11-year old understandably craved the great outdoors, where sea, sand and sky were in abundance. Now 24, the Glasgow based sound artist and singer with off-kilter free folk groups Nalle and Scatter concedes that being at one with nature at such a formative age has (+ital)maybe(-ital) influenced her current practice.

This includes a recent residency in Cromarty, recording people imitating the slow but steady inhalations and exhalations of the sea on 100 Breaths, 100 Waves, and a replication of a dawn chorus on Salutations To The Sun. Rather than kooky affectation, however, Tuulikki’s outdoor pursuits were developed on Glasgow School of Art’s Environmental Art course.

“I was very idealistic,” Tuulikki says, “and was interested in how art could provide solutions to a person’s environmental problems. But I felt very vulnerable, because I was wearing my politics on my sleeve, and the most important thing, which was music, was getting lost, and everything was becoming dry and calculated. I basically spent my final year thinking about how I could bring my voice and my singing into my practice.”

An epiphany came via Call and Response, in which Tuulikki sang and played clarinet to feathered occupants of a wildfowl sanctuary, incorporating the resultant birdsong into the ‘performance.’ Tuulikki has since solicited similarly styled invocations on Singing Bowl, a ‘participatory song sculpture,’ and Pollockshaws Song Portrait, which recorded songs chosen and sung by ten participants, then fused them into an overlapping chorale. All are documented on CDs released through Tuulikki’s own Gleaners imprint.

Given such grassroots oral archiving, Tuulikki’s influences unsurprisingly stem from Joseph Beuys’ organic extrapolations by way of New York composer Pauline Oliveros’s notion of Deep Listening.Tuulikki also cites Matt Stokes, whose own Dawn Chorus, involving video projected choir, recently opened at Gateshead’s Baltic Centre.

If Tuulikki has a guru, though, it’s Chris Watson, the former Cabaret Voltaire electronicist turned wildlife recordist for David Attenburgh’s Life On Earth documentaries and soundscape artist for Touch Records. Watson provided Tuulikki with seal recordings for her degree show, a video and sound installation which attempted to achieve with seals what Call and Response had done with birds.

Since Cromarty, Tuulikki has been recording and touring with Nalle. With a name meaning teddy-bear in Finnish, and a cover drawing of a winged grizzly, the band’s debut album, By Chance Upon Waking, is awash with Tuulikki’s wide-eyed predilections with suns, skies, mountains and forests. Tuulikki also contributed to Flight/Vuelo, a multi-media project with Cuban video artists curated by Nicola Atkinson. Davidson. A second collaboration formed part of Atkinson.Davidson’s Hanging By A Thread exhibition at Paisley Museum. Glass Mountain utilised sounds generated from a recycling dump, while Tin Can Telephone had Tuulikki play recordings of herself as an infant as her grown-up self handed out toys.

A further collaboration with Atkinson. Davidson, a public art project in Fife, is scheduled for March 2007, as is a possible screening of Tuulikki’s degree show film at the Royal Scottish Academy, and an already recorded sound library of vocal inflections for an interactive web programme devised by Simon Yuill.

Tuulikki also expresses a long-term desire to create a space solely devoted to sound art. Such ambitions stem from observations that “within gallery spaces the audience are less interested in engaging with sound works than visual. But it’s not just sound that’s problematic. People walk round galleries reading a sheet of paper rather than looking at the paintings. So I guess it’s trying to create a space where you can build an atmosphere that allows the audience to lose themselves a little bit.”

With music and art now no longer separate worlds, she’d “like there to be even more of a synthesis, so that I can play a show that can be an art show at the same time, and people wouldn’t have to ask if I was an artist or a musician. I don’t want to have that distinction,” Tuulikki says, catching her breath, waiting for the next wave.

MAP issue 9, January 2007

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Approximately Infinite Universe

CCA, Glasgow, September 19th 2008
The padded cell-like interior of the Centre of Contemporary Arts’ performance studio may be an accident of design, but it’s been an oddly appropriate setting of late for a spate of left-field sonic activity. Such one-off events have proved so intense that they’ve occasionally threatened to spill beyond its chi-chi walls, psychically if not physically. Most of this energy has stemmed from a template laid down by the missing-in-action Subcurrent festival, which programmed some of the most exciting purveyors of so-called free folk artists and electronic primitivists re-defining 1960s hippy idealism for a lo-fi DIY age.

In spirit, the opening night of this fancifully named eight date UK tour and self-styled ‘caravan of raw sound magic,’ in which Finnish and American free spirits join hands via a quartet of cross-country collaborations, takes on Subcurrent’s best attributes, albeit with a more formal, consciously curated modus operandi. This is most evident in the opening set by Es and Fursaxa. Es is Sami Sänpäkkilä, who heads up Finland’s premier cottage industry record label, Fonal, whose beautifully packaged releases have provided a focal point for much of the Finnish scene’s energy. Fursaxa is nouveau psych high priestess Tara Burke. Together, their fusion of wordless vocals, 1960s organ, guitar and FX creates a hauntingly spectral gush.

It’s a beautifully sunny-side-up opener, although, as with what follows, you sense many artists are still tip-toeing around each other, not quite ready yet to get too touchy-feely before they find common ground in this all too rare foray into Scotland by the Arts Council England run Contemporary Music Network is itself a three-way split in association with the Newcastle-based No-Fi organisation and kindred spirits (No.Signal) from London. So it is with Tampere based Jan Anderzen, whose Kemialliset Ystavet band project is paired with Axolotl’s Karl Bauer on electronic percussion. Led by insistently repetitive bass and wigged-out guitars, the combination leans towards the extended rhythmic mantras of German Kosmische music. The insistent Neu! homage that ensues is a delight nevertheless.

More surprising is Helsinki diva Islaja, aka Merja Kokkonen, who, aided by Blevin Blectum & Samara Lubelski, take a beat-heavy foray into Teutonic gay disco. Finally, the lights are dimmed for Dream Triangle, for which Anderzen returns in his Tomutonttu guise to join Spencer Clark and James Ferraro’s Skaters duo for a blissed-out finale of insular chilled-out beauty. It would be fascinating to hitch a ride with this particular caravan and see how its journey goes. By the time it reaches its final destination, one suspects all involved will be feeling some serious love.

MAP issue 16, September 2008

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Paul Rooney – Lost High Street

Collective Gallery, Edinburgh – May 31 – July 12 2008
It’s a good life on the buses. Ask Paul Rooney, whose alter-ego revisits his alma mater via the tourist route on an open-topped double-decker in this newly commissioned video installation, which plays on the sort of wood-finish screen every des-res aspired to in the three-channel age.

Like a VHS version of Lindsay Anderson’s ‘The White Bus’, which sent ‘A Taste Of Honey’ writer Shelagh Delaney’s own imagined self on an impressionistic voyage round her native Salford, Rooney’s journey isn’t so much into some urban heart of darkness, but visits a leaf-lined, heritage-industry limbo where the ghosts of wartime spies lurk.

Unlike ‘The White Bus,’ there are no stopping off points in ‘Lost High Street.’ Rather Rooney is trapped on some Sisyphean Groundhog Day, sentenced to traverse the streets of Edinburgh forever, undercover and in danger of being shot by both sides, whoever they might be.

Such first-person interior monologues are the raison-detre of Rooney, who last graced MAP’s pages with ‘Lucy Over Lancashire,’ a 12-inch single on which an imagined sprite regaled her lusty tale of life and death trapped within the record’s grooves. A more formal narrative is contained in ‘Failing That,’ the published text that formed part of his recent ‘La Decision Doypack’ show at Matt’s Gallery in London. Even more ambitious, ‘The Pendular Destabiliser Show,’ a new sound-based work at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, imagines two Paris ’68 radicals arguing through a hole in the wall.

‘Lost High Street’ is more personal, a nostalgic wander through old haunts Rooney’s character can no longer visit, but only see life through a lens as if occupying some shaky-handed DIY Cold War flick. Its spindly punk theme song, ‘performed’ by tour guide Aileen, could be a kindred spirit of Lucy’s, and suggests a kind of Rooney-verse, parallel or not, in which all his characters will eventually connect up to create some kind of six degrees of separation soap opera.

Accompanying ‘Lost High Street,’ ‘Monster’ dates from 2004, and was filmed in Melbourne, Australia. As filmed street scenes are reflected into mirrors either side of the scene, a male Australian voice recounts what may be the collected works of imagined poet Ern Malley. The result is a quasi-Whickeresque travelogue which, if you stand just-so, gives the viewer a glimpse of infinity which Rooney-verse is already orbiting.

MAP issue 15, July 2008

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Die Todliche Doris – Soundless Music

alt. gallery, Newcastle,
November 28 2007-February 9 2008
www.altgallery.org

‘The East Is Best, But The West Is Better.’ So declared German electro-primitivist duo Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft in 1981. Whether by accident or design, such a manifesto/gauntlet summed up the spirit and creative needs and contradictions of an austerity-era post-war generation who may have been physically hemmed-in by the Berlin Wall, but were testing new boundaries beyond it by sometimes literally bashing through it.

Die Todliche Doris - literally The Deadly Doris, though often mis-translated as The Deadly Dose – was created and convened as an ever-mutating, imaginary and archetypal uber-Frau by Wolfgang Muller and Nikolaus Utermohlen alongside a variety of drummers. The group became the more playful but equally iconic flip-side Yin to the po-faced Sturm und Drang Yang of Einsturzende Neubaten, who they shared a wasted boho scene with.

‘Soundless Music’ pulls the viewer/listener through the group’s entire aesthetic, as they display the thirteen ‘fashion styles’ which accompanied their 1981 debut album, “ “. Defining their oeuvre solely by parentheses in this way wasn’t some self-consciously arch, retro rain-coated pose. Rather, it saw the trio wilfully co-opting old identities and scribbling all over them till their sides split in a self-styled display of wilfully provocative and occasionally troubling knockabout.

Nearly three decades on, pictures of women in bikinis made of wigs, ornamental tooth braces crafted out of pearls, shoes fashioned to resemble woodpeckers, a shaved head with squares of carpet glued on and other cut n’ paste ephemera are revealed as grainy samizdat dispatches from a time when the underground had an explicitly political edge. With each item a visual representation of the basic panic-stricken kindergarten Weimar racket produced on each song, the effect of such found and re-assembled detritus resembles a ‘Zine era ID magazine as curated by Joseph Beuys.

‘Soundless Music’ draws its title from ‘Die Todliche Doris in Signs and Gestures’, a looped film document of a 1998 performance at the Deaf Music Festival in Berlin’s Volksbuhne. As the “ “ album played, two female sign language interpreters, clad in classic mime-artist black, act out each one in a series of wordless physical vignettes.

Muller’s supplementary lecture, ‘A History Of Die Todliche Doris,’ showcased Super 8 film footage, including the band’s contrary appearance on TV show Rock Palast, which attempted to fetishise its subjects by setting them against a suitably bleak Berlin Wall back-drop. Also shown was ‘The Life Of Sid Vicious,’ in which the doomed Sex Pistol’s cat-walk down a Parisian boulevard wearing a Swastika emblazoned t-shirt is re-created by a toddler on a Berlin Strasse. The fact that the boy is called Oskar as with the terminal child in Gunter Grasse’s ‘The Tin Drum,’ may be coincidental, but is Doris at her deadliest.

MAP issue 13, January 2008

ends

Friday, 10 June 2011

Simon Reynolds - Retromania

Simon Reynolds mentions Kate Bush before I do, and the first lady of
other-worldly warbling is clearly on both of our minds. As we talk
through the background to Reynolds' new book, the tellingly titled
Retromania – Pop Culture's Addiction To It's Own Past, Bush's decision
to release Director's Cut, an album of reworkings of material from 1989
album The Sensual World and 1993's The Red Shoes is a prime example of
what Reynolds is getting at. As is too former Joy Division and New
Order basssist Peter Hook's decision to tour his new outfit The Light
playing Unknown Pleasures, his first band's debut album, in full, with
Hook effectively fronting his own tribute act.

The plethora of reformed acts doing likewise and the BBC 4 re-runs of
1976 editions of Top of the Pops are just the top of the iceberg. A
seemingly endless cycle of fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and
nineties revivals rub up ever closer to each other by way of the
infinite archive of musical gems available on Youtube, Spotify,
Soundcloud and a multitude of other websites. It is this overwhelming
feeling of post-modernism gone mad that pulses Retromania. Reynolds
observes too that Adele's recent album of carefully studied 1960s
styled soul has been number one in America, where the long-standing
observer of left-field pop culture now lives, for a staggering twenty
weeks. Right now, though, it's Kate that concerns us most.

“It's quite disappointing,” Reynolds says of Bush's strategy, if not
Director's Cut itself. “She's a great musical figure who's still hugely
relevant, and who early on with The Dreaming pre-figured sampling, but
it's not really clear why she's chosen to revisit her work like this.
The album might be quite good, but it's still disappointing that she
felt she had to do this.”

Retromania is the culmination of Reynolds' long-term dissection of
music ever since he became addicted to it via punk at a time when the
music papers were bibles of high theory and the sort of discourse
Reynolds himself now pursues. As the culture changed, so did Reynolds'
interests, as charted in his analysis of dance culture in his book,
Energy Flash. This was followed up by Rip It Up and start Again, which
named itself after Orange Juice's biggest hit as it looked at the
fecund era between 1978 and 1984 now known as post-punk. Where those
books captured moments that looked to the future, however, Retromania
unashamedly looks back.

“I think I've been aware for a while of how rock culture's past is
piling up behind itself,” says Reynolds, “and how there is now more and
more material for young groups to pick a piece of. I think there was a
moment in the mid-eighties after punk and post-punk, which were all
about looking forward, when suddenly people started looking back to the
sixties, and bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain started using the
byrds and Phil Spector as reference points. Then more recently there's
the whole trend of bands playing whole albums. Then there was that
album that came out called love, which was George Martin revisiting the
Beatles records and making a kind of mash-up of them. Now you've got
these 1970s editions of Top of the Pops being shown, and what strikes
me is how weird it would be if you could travel back to the 1970s and
say to people that these are going to be shown again in 2011 and see
what their reaction would be.”

While Retromania charts what Reynolds calls 'the shock of the old' in a
scholarly but always readable fashion, one thing that stands out
compared to Reynolds' other books is how personal it is. It's no
coincidence that it's dedicated to his brothers (one of whom died last
year) with whom he shared his formative musical experiences, some of
which, including embracing the skewed anxieties of post-punk and
becoming a born-again raver, are mentioned. There are mentions too for
Reynolds' wife, Joy Press, and their children, who are just discovering
obsessions of their own.

“I suppose it is my most personal book in lots of different ways,”
Reynolds admits. “Both Energy Flash and Rip It Up were a love affair
with the things that found me and were about my passion for those
periods. But in the text I've stepped back a bit and let the characters
have the spotlight, as they should. Whereas in this one I've come to
the fore a lot more, and I suppose kit's more about my concerns about
what music means to me in a total life thing that's involved with this
idea of the future but can't get away from the past. But then, I've
always had this nostalgic streak. It's a big battle I have with myself.
I remember getting nostalgic when I was four.”

Given such a set of personal contradictions that go beyond theory,
isn't Reynolds, then, himself a part of the problem of information
overload identified in Retromania? As well as his published material,
after all, he does host five blogs as well as contributing to umpteen
others.

“One of the weird things about online culture is how easy it is to put
stuff up,” Reynolds observes. “And when you do put something up it
feels like you've achieved something. There's actually only my main
blog that's updated regularly, but you could have three hundred blogs
if you wanted.”

As in the book, Reynolds remains optimistic for the future, in which a
generation who have only ever heard music via the internet will have
grown up and set what Reynolds calls “new baseline conditions of
possibility. I think these last ten years maybe people have been a bit
shell-shocked by the internet and all the new technology, but now maybe
a brighter breed is coming through to navigate all this. I still hear
an awful lot of good music, but very little of it is new. Maybe we're
going through a phase where newness is irrelevant.”

Looks like Kate Bush got there first, then.

Retromania – Pop Culture's Addiction To It's Own Past is published by
Faber on June 2nd, GBP 17.99
www.

The Herald, June 7th 2011

ends

Bard in the Botanics - Ten Years of Open-Air Shakespeare in Glasgow

It's quite an odd sensation for Gordon Barr being indoors. On the eve
of the launch of the tenth anniversary of Bard in the Botanics, the
annual festival of open-air Shakespeare that takes place in Glasgow's
Royal Botanic Gardens, the company's artistic director finds himself
spending Saturday afternoon in Scottish Youth Theatre's Brian Cox
Studio overseeing an epic production of The War of the Roses trilogy
performed by twenty-one final year acting students from RSAMD.

While this dramatic conflation of Henry V1 parts one, two and three and
Richard 111 will later play in the open-air over three nights, for one
day only at least, Barr has the luxury of not having to keep an eye on
the weather forecast, lest rain stop play as has happened more often
than he'd like over the last decade. This year, however, Barr,
associate director Jennifer Dick and their core ensemble of actors have
come prepared. Because, while the large marquee that's about to be
planted in the grounds of the Botanics will primarily provide a home
for Barr's swinging musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, a
seasonal if unsurprising winner of a public vote to find the people's
favourite Shakespeare play, the tent will also act as a safehouse and
shelter for other productions in the season that would otherwise fall
prey to the elements. Throw in a rare sighting of Pericles in the
Kibble Palace, and this year's Bard in the Botanics looks set to go
through its driest spell yet.

“It's good to have the back-up option of a tent,” Barr admits, “because
after nine years of nights being rained off, it becomes a little bit
wearing. Most years we're okay, but sometimes you just want to do the
play, but the rain won't allow it.”

Whatever the weather, A Midsummer Night's Dream is always a winner,
although Barr promises something different from standard summer fare.

“Perhaps it's not a surprise that A Midsummer Night's Dream won the
vote,” he says, “because it is seen as the ultimate outdoor play. So if
that's the case, then let's put it in a tent and make it a musical set
in a burlesque jazz club. There's musical numbers taken from anywhere
and everywhere from Ella Fitzgerald to Lady Gaga, all done in a jazz
style, so we hope people will come along and get something they perhaps
didn't quite expect.”

If A Midsummer Night's Dream is being reconstituted in such a manner,
neither is the rest of this year's Bard in the Botanics season obvious
in terms of its outdoor action. The company's first ever production of
Hamlet, indeed, might well be best viewed during torrential rain, while
Pericles, Prince of Tyre is rarely seen indoors or out.

“Jennifer has a real affinity with and love for Hamlet,” Barr explains,
“and she's been building her repertoire over the last few years, and
now feels the right time for her to tackle it, as well as for us to do
what's probably the last of the really big titles we've never done
before. As for Pericles, it's part of what we jokingly call the
lesser-spotted Shakespeare. Most people don't really know it, but it's
got some great writing in it, as well as some potentially dodgy writing
and a crazy road-movie feel that allows you to play around with it and
make a feature of only having a cast of four.”

Bard in the Botanics was born from an idea by American ex-pat director
Scott Palmer, who picked up on a series of shows put on by Glasgow
University lecturer Steve Bottoms at the West End Festival. Palmer had
trained at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and when Bottoms moved on,
Palmer grabbed the mantle to continue.

“We all thought, you crazy American, how long have you been in
Scotland, outdoors, are you mad? But he said it would work, and
brought this positive spirit that he has to the project, and he was
right, it did work.”

While initially looking like an expanded exercise in student drama,
Bard in the Botanics has slowly but surely professionalised its
operations as it's gone on. As student actors moved into the industry,
a network developed across several generations of performers, and Barr
cites 2006 as a turning point.

“We'd been going long enough to make our presence felt,” he says, “and
that seemed to be the year more experienced actors joined the ensemble
and more people in the theatre community started coming along to see
people they knew and thinking it was quite good.”

One of the most recent developments for Bard in the Botanics has been
the development of its Emerging Artists scheme, which exists in a
similar vein to the graduate schemes in place at Dundee Rep and the
Citizens Theatre, and which enables young actors and directors to work
alongside more experienced professionals. One of these is Marc
Silberschatz, a directing graduate who last year directed Titus
Andronicus, and this year tackled the first part of The Wars of the
Roses.

As for the man who started it all, these days Palmer is overseeing a
similarly styled open-air Shakespeare festival in Portland, Oregon.

“We send each other our production shots,” Barr says, “and where ours
are always grey, his are always full of glorious sunshine.”

Whatever the weather, though, “There's an event nature to open-air
Shakespeare,” Barr says, “where you get a group of friends and a
picnic, and a lot of barriers, where people might be intimidated by
Shakespeare, aren't there. But because of that you really have to
engage directly with your audience, because there are distractions, and
people can walk away from you at any point. So making that connection
between what we do with Bard in the Botanics and our audience is
absolutely crucial.”

Even so, while open-air Shakespeares have become as heritage industry
staple of the summer theatre season on the lawns of English manor
houses, Bard in the Botanics has always subverted expectations, and not
just with the more familiar plays in the canon either. Way back in 2002
Palmer directed Kabuki-Titus, a Japanese-styled look at Titus
Andronicus, while Palmer's swansong for the company three years later
with a three-actor take on King Lear. In 2006, David Leddy's
site-specific sound-based promenade, Susurrus, premiered as part of
bard in the Botanics prior to a successful Edinburgh Festival Fringe
revival.

More recently in 2010, Jennifer Dick devised and directed Queen
Margaret, taken from the same plays as The Wars of the Roses nut
focusing on the triangular relationship between the French born monarch
and the two men in her life, husband Henry and man who would be king,
Richard. Reconstituted to a World War Two framework and performed in
the Kibble Palace, Queen Margaret was the sort of audacious cut-up of
Shakespeare that has rarely been seen since Charles Marowitz's arts lab
experiments of the 1960s.

“Scott really likes to mess around with Shakespeare,” Barr says, “and
that aspect of the work has continued, and that's important. We want to
be viewed as a popular theatre company doing Shakespeare, but we don't
want to be viewed as a tourist attraction. Bard in the Botanics is far
more serious than that.”

A Midsummer Night's Dream, June 22nd-July9th; The Wars of the Roses,
July 6th-8th; Hamlet, July 13th-30th; Pericles, Prince of Tyre, July
19th-30th.
www.bardinthebotanics.org

The Herald, June 7th 2011

ends

Dead Man's Cell Phone

The Arches, Glasgow
Neil Cooper
3 stars
There are few things more pervasive in this gadget-obsessed society
than the ringing of a mobile telephone. The mere possibility of some
life-changing call is so great, it seems, that staying in touch at all
times is crucial. Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer Sarah Ruhl
makes this abundantly clear in her increasingly absurd study of just
how desperate making a connection can be.

It starts inconsequentially enough, with a man and a woman sat at
separate tables in a quiet little diner. If the possibility of
flirtation is there then no-one's saying much about it. Only when the
man's phone rings in earnest is the woman, Jean, prompted into an
action that steers her on a picaresque adventure involving grieving
mothers, wronged mistresses and loving brothers, not to mention the
proposed sale of a kidney in a South African airport.

Ruhl's play may only have been written in 2006, but so far has
technology come in terms of smartphones, social networking and all the
other new-fangled jiggery-pokery that keeps us hanging 24/7 that Euhl's
play – a UK premiere - already looks dated. It might have helped too in
Stasi Schaeffer's playful if uneven production if a clearly game cast
led by Susan Worsfold as easily-led innocent abroad Jean kept to the
script's clear American rhythms rather than their own voices.

Even so, as Jean lives vicariously through others, all the while making
amends for the life she's accidentally acquired, there's still great
fun to be had with Ruhl's take on a world where switching off and
pulling the plug on the latest gidget is for some a terrifying prospect.

The Herald, June 10th 2011

ends

Knives in Hens

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
Two kilt-clad women tear around a bottle-strewn stage flashing their
knickers to the strains of Lulu's 1969 Eurovision winner Boom
Bang-A-Bang, repeatedly whipped off their feet by a similarly apparelled
man who looks like he's fallen off a Scots Porridge Oats ad. A vaulting
horse sits next to a brightly-coloured mini carousel on which assorted
bodies collapse. Three microphone stands are lined up in front,
enabling actors Duncan Anderson, Susan Vidler and Owen Whitelaw plus
dancer Vicki Manderson to be heard above the din, be it a Tammy Wynette
classic or an Edith Piaf showstopper as the action erupts into a
hell-for-leather maelstrom that looks part Olympic gymnastic display,
part demented mardi gras.

These aren't the most obvious trappings to accompany David Harrower's
1996 play, a flint-hard rural affair about a woman who finds liberation
from her faithless marriage to a ploughman through the power of words
taught to her by the local miller. Normally played in a super-realist
manner, Belgian director Lies Pauwels has ripped up the rule book for
her National Theatre of Scotland revival, installing the full stylistic
kit and kaboodle more readily associated with Victoria, the European
enfants terrible she has worked extensively with.

Hatherley's Miller is a twitching, stammering misfit, while the Woman's
ongoing self-discovery is signalled by Vidler donning fur coat, high
heels and Jackie O shades as she wiggles her tush for all she's worth.
Purists will hate it, but through all the libidinous mess a series of
rituals are played out signalling a much bigger sense of renewal that
goes beyond words to get a grip of the body politic in all its lusty
glory.


The Herald, June 9th 2011
ends

Touched

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
A plane crash and a stray bullet changes everything in the lives of the
group of twenty-somethings in Chris Thorpe's 2009 play, originally seen
at the National Student drama Festival and revived here by director
Jane Hensey and an eight-strong ensemble of final year acting students
from RSAMD. Yet it takes a ghost to become the social glue that holds
this complex web of friends and lovers dealing with matters of everyday
life and near-death experiences as together as they'll ever be.

At first glance, Daniel Sawka's Dan appears to be just another prodigal
back-packer heading back to the town he fled with a set of anti-war
stories acquired while protesting against globalisation in exotic
climes. But as he strikes an almost too free-and-easy liaison with his
old friend Mel's flatmate Laura, it slowly becomes clear that the mess
he left behind will go on to define them, no matter how much Helen
Macfarlane's Tash pretends it won't.

The initial mundanity of Thorpe's snapshot-like play points up the
world-rocking extremes that upend us and grab us by surprise to remind
us we're alive. Or, in the case of one character who flits between
scenes like some peace-making angel, dead.

With actors slouched artfully against the walls of the Tron's Changing
House space when not in a scene, Hensey takes advantage of her cast's
youthful empathy with their characters, even as they're forced to grow
up too soon in a play that's about survival at both its most basic and
its most dramatic level. Life goes on, it says, and if there's a ghost
of a chance of anything else, grab it while you can.

The Herald, June 6th 2011

ends

Friday, 3 June 2011

Dominic Hill - From The Traverse to the Citz

Anyone visiting Edinburgh's Traverse Bar Cafe recently will have
noticed a brand new set of posters adorning the far wall. These posters
aren't for shows currently holding court in Scotland's new writing
theatre, however. Nor are they advertising the Traverse's 2011
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, announced on June 9th. These
posters actually illustrate every in-house show produced at the
Traverse since the arrival in January 2008 of Dominic Hill as artistic
director.

These range from Zinnie Harris' wartime drama, Fall, through to
co-productions with the National Theatre of Scotland, Oran Mor and,
with Edinburgh International Festival, Rona Munro's The Last Witch.
Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, Ursula Rani Sarma's The
Dark Things, Linda McLean's Any Given Day, and, most recently, Chris
Hannan's swashbuckling take on The Three Musketeers and the Princess of
Spain are all up there.

It's an impressive body of work, and if there's any feeling of memorial
in such a display, it's accentuated by Hill's recent appointment to
head up the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow from October. With Hill's
Traverse swansong yet to come this August, The Herald's exclusive
announcement of the Citz's first season under his tenure can reveal
that, while he won't be directing anything himself until Spring 2012,
Hill has chosen the season's flagship in-house production.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg lays down a stamp of both the
contemporary and the classical that looks set to be a hallmark of
Hill's reign. Especially as Peter Nichols' 1967 play had its world
premiere at the Citizens prior to a west end transfer starring Albert
Finney.

“Joe Egg is a play I've always loved,” Hill says of Nichols' play about
the strains put on a couple's marriage as they struggle to raise a
daughter with cerebral palsy. “I think it has this extraordinarily
rough, raw kind of theatricality and emotion to it, because it comes
from a very personal place for the writer. I don't think a lot of
people know that Joe Egg started at the Citz, so I think it's exciting
that it returns to where it was born as it were. It's also a play that
has a kind of vaudeville, stand-up feel to it, even though the subject
matter is pretty brutal, and which is something that absolutely suits
that theatre. Joe Egg is a play that lots of people know about, but
which hardly anybody's seen, so it feels right show to start out with
it.”

Also in the autumn season is the National Theatre of Scotland's revival
of Ena Lamont Stewart's Men Should Weep, another classic play made
famous at the Citz in Giles Havergal's 1982 revival for John McGrath's
7:84 company. While the only other main stage in-house show beside Joe
Egg will be Alan McHugh's take on Hansel and Gretal for the Christmas
season, the theatre's Stalls Studio will host Ulla, a new children's
show by Clare McGarry in association with the Citz, while in the Circle
Studio the Citizens Young Co gear up for Halloween with Gothic, while
the Citizens Community Company host their latest instalment of A Wicked
Christmas.

The Glasgay! Festival will present two new works, Spain by James Ley
and Martin O'Connor's Ch Ch Changes. An adaptation of Robert Tressell's
seminal working class novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist will
be presented by Townsend Theatre Productions. It's the very first show
of the season, however, that hints at where Hill's ambitions lie.

Scottish Opera's production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld,
seen and heard in a new translation by Rory Bremner, has already been
highlighted on these pages. Given Hill's championing of music at the
Traverse during his reign there, both through chamber operas from
Music Theatre Wales and from collaborations with composer John Harris'
Red Note Ensemble, the show looks like an accidental continuum.
Especially as Hill is too one of few theatre directors in Scotland who
can convincingly direct opera, a talent he shares with Citz alumni
including Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Stewart Laing.

“I like what Scottish Opera are doing in terms of trying to break that
mould of just creating opera to be done in huge theatres,” Hill says
unprompted. “There's an opportunity here for them in terms of
small-scale works. A lot of eighteenth century works would work really
well in that space, so hopefully Orpheus will be the beginning of a
relationship.”

Of his own new relationship, Hill talks like a fan-boy who's just been
given the keys to the best toy-box ever.

“There are a small number of theatres in the UK that you think I'd love
to have it,”,” Hill says. “That's always been the case with the Citz
since I first went, and previewing The Last Witch there reinforced
that. Working in it you realise the space is extraordinary. It's
intimate, epic, rough, dirty, faded and haunted. Which is everything a
theatre should be. It reminds me of places like the Berliner Ensemble
and other theatres that are alive with their history and with their
theatricality. So when the opportunity came up to apply for the job I
felt that I couldn't turn it down.”

There's something there too about being able to present classic works
on a grand scale. Few directors in Scotland apart from Hill understand
how to work a big space. This is evident from Hill's time as
co-director of Dundee Rep, where he directed the likes of Howard
Barker's Scenes From An Execution and – crucially – an audaciously huge
production of Peer Gynt. Only the sainted Citz triumvirate of Havergal,
Prowse and Robert David MacDonald did something similar. A taste of
what may be about to take the Gorbals by storm too could be found in
Hill's recent production of The City Madam for the Royal Shakespeare
Company.

“I think there's a huge opportunity in Scottish theatre to reinvigorate
that space,” Hill says of the Citz. “On the west coast there is no
large-scale classical work being produced, which is ridiculous, so it
felt like there was a gap in terms of cultural vision.”

For all the reasons outlined, if there was any sense of disappointment
in the Traverse at his departure, there was probably little surprise,
despite his successes in opening out the space to less formal events.

“The Traverse at its most thrilling is when you've got the festival
atmosphere permeating throughout the year,” Hill says. Whoever his
replacement is, and tongues are already wagging on the grapevine,
Hill's experience is telling.

“I think we need to find a way to get more work onstage,” he says
flatly. “I wish that had been possible over the last few years, because
there's no point in developing writers if you can't get their work on.
If there's not going to be any more money, you just have to think about
how you spend it, and strip everything back. The same thing of getting
more work on applies to the Citz, because there is not enough Citizens
company work on, and that has to change, otherwise I don't know what
it's there for. I want to find ways of putting on large-scale,
exciting, innovative work mainly rooted in the classical repertoire. We
need to get an audience back in there and make the Citz a sexy exciting
place to go to. To do that we need to be ambitious in terms of style
and presentation. Theatre for me always has to be an event. You're
halfway there with that theatre, which jump-starts what can
potentially happen on the stage. It has to be thrilling.”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Autumn season are on sale from today
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, Citz Autumn Season / Dominic Hill
by
Neil Cooper

Anyone visiting Edinburgh's Traverse Bar Cafe recently will have
noticed a brand new set of posters adorning the far wall. These posters
aren't for shows currently holding court in Scotland's new writing
theatre, however. Nor are they advertising the Traverse's 2011
Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme, announced on June 9th. These
posters actually illustrate every in-house show produced at the
Traverse since the arrival in January 2008 of Dominic Hill as artistic
director.

These range from Zinnie Harris' wartime drama, Fall, through to
co-productions with the National Theatre of Scotland, Oran Mor and,
with Edinburgh International Festival, Rona Munro's The Last Witch.
Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, Ursula Rani Sarma's The
Dark Things, Linda McLean's Any Given Day, and, most recently, Chris
Hannan's swashbuckling take on The Three Musketeers and the Princess of
Spain are all up there.

It's an impressive body of work, and if there's any feeling of memorial
in such a display, it's accentuated by Hill's recent appointment to
head up the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow from October. With Hill's
Traverse swansong yet to come this August, The Herald's exclusive
announcement of the Citz's first season under his tenure can reveal
that, while he won't be directing anything himself until Spring 2012,
Hill has chosen the season's flagship in-house production.

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg lays down a stamp of both the
contemporary and the classical that looks set to be a hallmark of
Hill's reign. Especially as Peter Nichols' 1967 play had its world
premiere at the Citizens prior to a west end transfer starring Albert
Finney.

“Joe Egg is a play I've always loved,” Hill says of Nichols' play about
the strains put on a couple's marriage as they struggle to raise a
daughter with cerebral palsy. “I think it has this extraordinarily
rough, raw kind of theatricality and emotion to it, because it comes
from a very personal place for the writer. I don't think a lot of
people know that Joe Egg started at the Citz, so I think it's exciting
that it returns to where it was born as it were. It's also a play that
has a kind of vaudeville, stand-up feel to it, even though the subject
matter is pretty brutal, and which is something that absolutely suits
that theatre. Joe Egg is a play that lots of people know about, but
which hardly anybody's seen, so it feels right show to start out with
it.”

Also in the autumn season is the National Theatre of Scotland's revival
of Ena Lamont Stewart's Men Should Weep, another classic play made
famous at the Citz in Giles Havergal's 1982 revival for John McGrath's
7:84 company. While the only other main stage in-house show beside Joe
Egg will be Alan McHugh's take on Hansel and Gretal for the Christmas
season, the theatre's Stalls Studio will host Ulla, a new children's
show by Clare McGarry in association with the Citz, while in the Circle
Studio the Citizens Young Co gear up for Halloween with Gothic, while
the Citizens Community Company host their latest instalment of A Wicked
Christmas.

The Glasgay! Festival will present two new works, Spain by James Ley
and Martin O'Connor's Ch Ch Changes. An adaptation of Robert Tressell's
seminal working class novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist will
be presented by Townsend Theatre Productions. It's the very first show
of the season, however, that hints at where Hill's ambitions lie.

Scottish Opera's production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld,
seen and heard in a new translation by Rory Bremner, has already been
highlighted on these pages. Given Hill's championing of music at the
Traverse during his reign there, both through chamber operas from
Music Theatre Wales and from collaborations with composer John Harris'
Red Note Ensemble, in the show looks like an accidental continuum.
Especially as Hill is too one of few theatre directors in Scotland who
can convincingly direct opera, a talent he shares with Citz alumni
including Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Stewart Laing.

“I like what Scottish Opera are doing in terms of trying to break that
mould of just creating opera to be done in huge theatres,” Hill says
unprompted. “There's an opportunity here for them in terms of
small-scale works. A lot of eighteenth century works would work really
well in that space, so hopefully Orpheus will be the beginning of a
relationship.”

Of his own new relationship, Hill talks like a fan-boy who's just been
given the keys to the best toy-box ever.

“There are a small number of theatres in the UK that you think I'd love
to have it,”,” Hill says. “That's always been the case with the Citz
since I first went, and previewing The Last Witch there reinforced
that. Working in it you realise the space is extraordinary. It's
intimate, epic, rough, dirty, faded and haunted. Which is everything a
theatre should be. It reminds me of places like the Berliner Ensemble
and other theatres that are alive with their history and with their
theatricality. So when the opportunity came up to apply for the job I
felt that I couldn't turn it down.”

There's something there too about being able to present classic works
on a grand scale. Few directors in Scotland apart from Hill understand
how to work a big space. This is evident from Hill's time as
co-director of Dundee Rep, where he directed the likes of Howard
Barker's Scenes From An Execution and – crucially – an audaciously huge
production of Peer Gynt. Only the sainted Citz triumvirate of Havergal,
Prowse and Robert David MacDonald did something similar. A taste of
what may be about to take the Gorbals by storm too could be found in
Hill's recent production of The City Madam for the Royal Shakespeare
Company.

“I think there's a huge opportunity in Scottish theatre to reinvigorate
that space,” Hill says of the Citz. “On the west coast there is no
large-scale classical work being produced, which is ridiculous, so it
felt like there was a gap in terms of cultural vision.”

For all the reasons outlined, if there was any sense of disappointment
in the Traverse at his departure, there was probably little surprise,
despite his successes in opening out the space to less formal events.

“The Traverse at its most thrilling is when you've got the festival
atmosphere permeating throughout the year,” Hill says. Whoever his
replacement is, and tongues are already wagging on the grapevine,
Hill's experience is telling.

“I think we need to find a way to get more work onstage,” he says
flatly. “I wish that had been possible over the last few years, because
there's no point in developing writers if you can't get their work on.
If there's not going to be any more money, you just have to think about
how you spend it, and strip everything back. The same thing of getting
more work on applies to the Citz, because there is not enough Citizens
company work on, and that has to change, otherwise I don't know what
it's there for. I want to find ways of putting on large-scale,
exciting, innovative work mainly rooted in the classical repertoire. We
need to get an audience back in there and make the Citz a sexy exciting
place to go to. To do that we need to be ambitious in terms of style
and presentation. Theatre for me always has to be an event. You're
halfway there with that theatre, which jump-starts what can
potentially happen on the stage. It has to be thrilling.”

Tickets for the Citizens Theatre's Autumn season are on sale from today
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, May 31st 2011

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