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Showing posts from September, 2011

Calum's Road - Raasay's Local Hero

What happens if you can't get from A to B because there's no road to
take you there? In an already isolated island community with a
declining population such as Raasay, the fourteen-mile long
no-man's-land that lies between Skye and Scotland's mainland, such a
lack of civic facilities can cut people off from each other even more.
This was something crofter, assistant lighthouse keeper, part-time
postman and resident of Arnish at the island's north end Calum McLeod
could see first hand.

What happened next can be found in Calum's Road, a new stage play inspired
and adapted by David Harrower from journalist Roger Hutchinson's 2006
book of the same name. Co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland
and director Gerry Mulgrew's Communicado company, Calum's Road will
tour in tandem with a revival of children's show Tall Tales For Small
People before finishing up on Raasay itself.

This is further recognition of McLeod's feat of every…

The Fire Burns and Burns

The Arches, Glasgow
3 stars
For The Fire Burns and Burns, Arches Live veterans Peter McMaster and
Nic Green pool resources for an intimate experiential work in which an
audience of eight are asked to disrobe psychologically and emotionally
as much as physically. After introductions while sat on chairs in a
circle, we move through to a room where a sauna-like teepee awaits us.
Inside, we speak in turn about what fires us.

While it would be quite wrong to reveal what was said over the next
forty-five minutes, it's safe to say that there were elements here of
confessional, co-counselling and the last night of summer camp.
McMaster and Green have adopted the sort of 1960s-sired techniques
which, in the wrong hands, can be left open to ridicule, abuse or both.
Yet proceedings are orchestrated with such tenderness and care that
it's easy to go willingly into a set-up which many might ordinarily
find uncomfortable.

For this old hippy, more of a build-up, and indeed a com…

Men Should Weep

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
The barbed-wire covered container guarded by a couple of shell-suit and
trainer-clad likely lads that greets the audience for the National
Theatre of Scotland's revival of Ena Lamont Stewart's tenement tragedy
speaks volumes about the play's contemporary relevance. While Graham
McLaren's vividly visceral production never labours things, when the
pair pull back the door as the sparks of long-redundant industries fly
off-stage, it's as if what should by rights be a museum piece kept in storage has burst into angry life, part history lesson, part warning.

The dark age inhabited by Maggie Morrison and her errant brood was
searingly of the moment when Stewart's play first appeared in 1947, and
its characters remain instantly recognisable, from Kevin Guthrie's
feckless mummy's boy Alec to the ruthless ambition of his trophy bride
Isa and the equally ambitious Jenny. Veteran folk singer Arthur
Johnstone punctuates e…

1000 Airplanes On The Roof

National Museum of Flight, East Fortune
4 stars
It may have been a coup bringing the then new Philip Glass scored
musical melodrama to Glasgow back in 1990, but it can't have played a
venue since that's as perfect as the National Museum of Flight's
Concorde hangar, where James Brining's new production opened on Sunday
night as part of the Lammermuir Festival prior to dates in Glasgow and
Aberdeen. Even so, in a work that's essentially about one man's
alienation, extra-terrestrial or otherwise, one can understand why
actor David McKay's troubled copy-shop clerk 'M' might feel overwhelmed
as he ducks around and about the under-carriage of flight's most
spectacular jet-age folly.

David Henry Hwang's text is a dense monologue concerning 'M's voyage
into his very own twilight zone, which McKay delivers heroically
throughout the piece's eighty-five minute duration. Constantly in
motion as the audience promenade after him, M…

Dancing Shoes – The George Best Story

Glasgow Pavilion
3 stars
When footballing playboy George Best ordered one more magnum of
champagne to be delivered to the hotel room where he was rolling around
a bank-note carpeted bed with newly-crowned 1973 Miss World Marjory
Wallace, he was asked by room service where it all went wrong. This
incident may be immortalised in Marie Jones and Martin Lynch's musical
play about the first ever superstar footballer's spectacularly public
rise and fall, but this isn't the traditional lads mag version of the
tale. Rather, the incident, told here in song, reveals Best as a
terrified mummy's boy who had too much too soon, and, unable to deal
with fame in a pre-gagging clauses world, partied his way to an early
grave.

It's a telling moment in a show that is never shy of easy laughs in
Peter Sheridan's spit n' sawdust production, but says stadium-loads
about how working-class aspiration can become back-alley Greek tragedy.
Opening with a feelgood study …

The Missing

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
When Andrew O'Hagan's social memoir which his new play is adapted from arrived
in 1995, it tapped into a barely explored British malaise that took in
everything from the Bible John murders to the then still fresh killings
by Fred and Rose West. O'Hagan's study remains the most significant
non-fiction book of the last two decades. But how to put it onstage?

The answer in John Tiffany's multi-faceted production, set on a
checkered dance-floor flanked by stacked-up, end-of-the-night chairs,
is to make an impressionistic, sensurround construction that is
hauntingly evocative while remaining faithful to its own source.
Central to this is Joe McFadden's writer figure, who begins by
interviewing grieving parents with an ache where a son or daughter once
lived, but who ends up on an existential quest for himself. The crucial
phrase here is when McFadden's character says “I'm not from anywhere,”
becoming part detective, part …

The Writing On Your Wall - Jeremy Deller Gets Political

When Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller made a series of posters
to raise funds for the Labour Party at the last General Election, it
was typically engaged stuff from the man who'd set up and filmed a
recreation of the Battle of Orgreave, the very real English civil war
between police and striking miners that took place in the summer of
1984. 'Vote Conservative' the white-lettered legend went on a sky-blue
background in Deller's new construction, with 'the words For a New
Britain' emblazoned below in smaller letters. Beyond such mixed
messages, however, it was the face next to the slogan that caught the
eye.

Rather than an image of Tory leader David Cameron, a far more telling
photograph of a beatific looking Rupert Murdoch beamed out, looking
like butter wouldn't melt in his somewhat wrinkly mouth. At the time,
while no-one doubted the Murdoch media empire's influence on British
politics, Deller's work appeared to be the subtles…

The Missing - Andrew O'Hagan Dramatises His Past

The room upstairs feels like a bed-sit. The sloping ceiling, flecked
wallpaper and the small trestle table writer Andrew O'Hagan sits behind
are all familiar to him from his time researching his 1995 book, The
Missing. O'Hagan spent a lot of time in kitchens during that period, in
Glasgow, Ayrshire, Liverpool and Gloucester, asking grieving parents
what it was like to lose a child who'd either been murdered or else
simply vanished into thin air.

As it is, the room we're sitting in is on the top floor of The Glue
Factory, the former industrial space turned arts hub now used as an
occasional rehearsal room by the National Theatre of Scotland among
others. Downstairs, through a windowed door, director John Tiffany is
working with his cast on O'Hagan's stage adaptation of The Missing, a
book that is part journalese, part social history and part
autobiography, which makes forensic inquiries into serial killers Bible
John and Fred and Rosemary West. The …

Allan Ross Obituary

Allan Ross, Musician, Sculptor, Painter
Born, September 13th 1940; died September 5th 2011.

Without Allan Ross, who has died after a long illness aged 70, this
newspaper's Herald Angel awards, which are given weekly throughout
Edinburgh's August festival season, would be infinitely less colourful.
Because the numerous winged statuettes, lovingly created by Ross in all
their fragile, sepulchral glory alongside the Archangel, Little Devil
and Wee Cherub Awards, are works of art in themselves which have become
treasured by those gifted them, even if they might not always be aware
of the modest, gentle giant of a man who created them.

It's unlikely too, that they would make the connection with Ross as the
fiddler extraordinaire in the 7:84 company's original 1973 production
of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, John McGrath's
legendary ceilidh-play, which told Scotland's real story through an
array of loose-knit popular theatrical forms, and…

My Romantic History

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
If one's memory plays rose-tinted tricks, as D.C. Jackson's extended
'non-rom-com' suggests, then this speedy revival of a work first seen
during the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe appears now to be this most
wilfully adolescent writer's coming of age play. Tom, the hero of
Jackson's yarn, is a feckless and somewhat gormless rake who finds
himself thrown together in the Friday night sack with Amy, a just-met
colleague from his new office job. Like the responsible adult he isn't,
Tom, still carrying a torch for his first schoolboy crush, tries to
make-believe nothing ever happened. But in a world where drunken sex is
“smashin'!”, there are two sides to every story, and the play's
stylistic back-flip so we see things from Amy's point of view shows she
has history too.

All of this may have been textually intact last year, but Jemima
Levick's new production for Borderline seems infinitely less madcap and…

Men Should Weep - Ena Lamont Stewart Rediscovered

If things had worked out differently, writer Ena Lamont Stewart would
have lived long enough to bask in the overdue success of her 1947 play,
Men Should Weep. As it is, by the time her searing depiction of Glasgow
tenement poverty during the depression was first rediscovered by John
McGrath's 7:84 company in 1982 as part of their legendary Clydebuilt
season of lost working class masterpieces that also included Joe
Corrie's In Time O' Strife and Robert McLeish's The Gorbals Story,
Lamont Stewart was already seventy years old. Any sustained drive for
writing she may have harboured would soon be lost with the onset of
Alzheimer's Disease and her eventual death in 2006.

By that time, Men Should Weep had long been regarded as a modern
classic, and had been named as one of the hundred most important plays
of the twentieth century in a list compiled by the National Theatre in
London. If that company's 2010 production went some way to prove that
Lamont Ste…

Hearts Unspoken

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
Asylum seeking, as only those in the thick of things can fully realise,
is a minefield. Just when you think you've found the UK's apparently
promised land as a haven from whichever brutal regime you're on the run
from, a brand new set of oppressions appear. So it goes in this
semi-verbatim piece by director Sam Rowe, which looks at the hitherto
unexplored complexities of seeking refuge on the grounds of sexual
orientation rather than race or religion.

Based on interviews with real-life refugees, through a trio of
criss-crossing monologues Rowe's play lays bare a litany of
institutionalised homophobia in countries which would rather sweep such
ills under the carpet along with the rest of their human rights
records. Where such true stories could be delivered with understandable
anger, Rowe has his cast relate things with a matter-of-factness so
calm it borders on meditation. In a piece too where simply putting a
Senegalese, a P…

The Prince – The Johnny Thomson Story

Kings Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Eighty years ago this Monday past, Celtic Football Club's twenty-two
year old goal-keeper Johnny Thomson died from injuries sustained while
saving a ball kicked by Rangers centre forward Sam English during an
Old Firm game at Ibrox. This new work co-produced by CFC aims not only
to homage one of the finest footballing talents of his generation, but
to appeal for some display of unity as Scotland's sectarian shame is at
last being challenged. Thomson, after all, was a Protestant.

Opening with a coffin sitting at the centre of an otherwise empty,
green-bathed stage, The Prince serves up a loose-knit biography of
Fife-born Thomson, from his heroic rise to the tragic nature of his
death. Our guides for this are a couple of likely lads called Billy and
Tim, who help punctuate each sketch-like scene with a series of
cabaret-style club anthem singalongs as a series of big-screen action
replays are beamed out. Some might call it padding.

The …

God Bless Liz Lochhead

Oran Mor, Glasgow
3 stars
You know you're a literary legend when you're referenced in the titles
of other writers works. It happened to Alice B. Toklas and Virginia
Woolf, and now, on the eve of a revival of her 1987 play, Mary Queen of
Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, Scotland's Makar receives similar
treatment in Martin McCardie's new play. As you might imagine, this
first of A Play, A Pie and a Pint's autumn season of lunchtime theatre
is as appropriately theatrical as its title implies. Taking as its cue
the reunion of three survivors of a fictional Highland tour of
Lochhead's now classic Scots verse take on Moliere's Tartuffe a quarter
of a century earlier, McCardie proceeds to unwrap a big daft
post-modern in-joke tailor-made for west end thesps that takes in
reality TV, the pecadilloes of arts funding and the ongoing promiscuity
of insecure theatre types both in and out of work.

Andy Gray's past-his-best Danny opts to play Tartuffe wit…

Shauna Macdonald - From Spooks To Monarch

Shauna Macdonald sees herself everywhere just now. As the former star
of TV spy drama Spooks prepares to play the title role in a new
production of Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her head Chopped
Off, so ubiquitous around town are images of the iconic historical
figure her character is based on that Macdonald might easily suspect a
plot as labrynthine as the one told in the play.

“Mary's on the back of all the buses,” Macdonald shrieks in only
partially mock alarm. “I'm cycling to work thinking about my lines,
thinking it'll all be alright, when suddenly Mary passes me on the bus
and I'm like, Oh, God, the pressure.”

The bus hoardings may be aimed at luring tourists into Holyrood Palace,
where the twenty-two year old monarch once resided following her
marriage to Lord Darnley in 1565, but the image remains captivating
enough for Macdonald to feel a certain sense of responsibility in her
version of Mary.

“All the characters are complicated, and …

Bryan Ferry

Edinburgh Castle
4 stars
The pre-show soul soundtrack may be telling of former Roxy Music
frontman Bryan Ferry's roots, but the wash of purple lighting and giant
flashing lightbulb on the big-screen backdrop as Ferry's black-suited
seven-piece band and silver-frocked vocal quartet arrive onstage
appears infinitely more airbrushed. As does too the opening take on
Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put A Spell On You, which segues into ultimate
1980s softcore soundtrack, Slave To Love. As the accompanying film
montages show off a series of soft-focus neon-lit city-scapes populated
by mysteriously aloof women, the two flesh and blood young ladies
bumping and grinding in pink-tasselled leotards beneath only add to the
spectacle.

From such a tastefully textured opening, Ferry confounds expectations
by launching into If There Is Something, from Roxy Music's 1972 debut
album. With sax player Jorja Chalmers moving centre-stage, the sheer
drama of the extended riffing is th…

National Theatre of Scotland - Emerging Artists Break Cover

When the National Theatre of Scotland was launched five years ago,
there were some who suggested that the scale of the company's resources
would effectively kill off the chance for younger artists to develop,
let alone find an outlet for their work on a shoestring budget. The
launch of two new initiatives by the NTS, however, begs to differ.

The New Directors Placement Programme and the Emerging Artists
Attachment Programme will enable three directors and four emerging
artists to work at close quarters with the NTS, either assisting on
specific projects or else given the time and space to develop their own
practice over the next year in a more recognisably holistic approach
than simple traineeships.

Crucial to these two schemes is the support of the Bank of Scotland
Pioneering Partnership, itself a new venture. Long time champion of the
Bank of Scotland Herald Angel awards and currently Managing Director of
Lloyds Banking Group Scotland Susan Rice has been particularly…