Saturday, 24 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 everyday heroism that
has already become a twentieth century legend. Because, by spending the
best part of two decades building a road by himself with only shovel,
pick-axe, wheelbarrow and a copy of Thomas Aitken's 1900 manual, Road
Making and Maintenance: A Practical Treatise for Engineers, Surveyors
and Others for company, MacLeod was carving both himself and his
one-man construction into history.

“It's a great story of a remarkable man,” is how Hutchinson sees it.
“But trying to make a play about a man building a road can't be easy.
It was tricky enough trying to write a novel. I've not seen what David
and Gerry have made out of it, but they came up to see me in Raasay, to
see the road and to chat to people, and I know they both have
formidable talent. And if the play helps spread the legend of Calum
MacLeod, then so much the better.”

The legend goes something like this. Born in Glasgow in 1911 of Raasay
parentage, MacLeod and his mother, two brothers and three sisters moved
to the house adjacent to his grandfather's following the outbreak of
World War One. MacLeod identified the going exodus of an already tiny
population, and, along with his brother Charles, spent the winters
between 1947 and 1952 building a narrow track across the island.

After years of unsuccessful petitioning for a fully-fledged highway,
and with Raasay's population down to around a hundred, MacLeod decreed
to do it himself. Between 1964 and 1974, he built almost two miles of
road that linked Brochel Castle and Arnish.

“Calum had identified the slow death of his community,” according to
Hutchinson, “but in a way it was a kind of parting shot, because by the
time he set about doing it, the population had declined so dramatically
that you could say he built his road forty or fifty years too late. But
in a way Calum was also making this huge gesture.”

Originally from the north of England, Hutchinson perhaps recognised an
unconscious affinity with MacLeod's rebellious streak and penchant for
very practical direct action from his time as caretaker editor on 1960s
and early 1970s counter-cultural magazine, Oz, while the publication's
editorial board were on trial for alleged obscenity charges in the
notorious Schoolkids Oz issue. Hutchinson went on to edit the
underground's other bible, International Times, before joining London
listings magazine, Time Out.

In the late 1970s Hutchinson joined the radical Skye-based newspaper,
the West Highland Free Press. It was through the paper that Hutchinson
first came into contact with MacLeod, himself a prolific and persistent
correspondent on assorted letters pages, as well as a contributor to
Gaelic publication, Gairm. MacLeod's other works were collected and
translated posthumously by his daughter, Julia MacLeod Allan, in
FĂ sachadh An-Iochdmhor Ratharsair: The Cruel Clearance of Raasay,
published in 2007.

“He was five foot eight and had the body of a teenager when he was in
his eighties,” Hutchinson says of MacLeod. “He was a real outdoors man
with this red, weather-beaten face, and was a deeply religious member
of the Free Presbyterian Church. He was fluent in Gaelic and English,
and kept up a rolling correspondence with exiled Highlanders in
Australia, New Zealand and all over. He had a very dry wit, and was
stubborn, obviously. He was a very thrawn kind of man. Once he decided
he was going to do something, then he would do it. When he set about
building the road, he wasn't elderly, but he was past middle age. The
paper had already followed the story of the road being built, and I
arrived to do a news story after the road had been completed and the
council had finally adopted it.”

It was almost thirty years before Hutchinson wrote Calum's Road. By
that time the saga had already been mythologised in song, first by
Capercaillie on their 1998 album, The Blood Is Strong, then in 2001 by
Runrig on the Macleod-inspired Wall of China/One Man, that appeared on
the band's The Stamping Ground album. Calum never heard either. He
passed away in1988, by which time he and his wife Lexie were the last
surviving inhabitants of Arnish.

“It seemed by the twenty-first century an age had passed,” says
Hutchinson. “I'd arrived in the Highlands at the back end of a
tradition. I'm not saying the language is dying, because it isn't, but
that whole Gaelic crofting and farming culture that Calum loved through
his fantastic sense of connection with the place, thirty years on it's
not as it had been. Calum had become a kind of parable for everything
that had gone before, and I was aware the book was going to be elegiac
as I was writing it, even though there's a happy ending when the road's
built and there are people living at the end of it again.”

Before the road was adopted and tarmacked, some observers likened it to
a piece of landscape art. Despite the beautiful stone-masonry involved,
MacLeod would have no truck with such fancy notions.

“He wanted a road,” says Hutchinson. “ remember ringing him up after it
was tarmacked to ask what he thought. 'It looks like an autobahn,' he
said. It was what he always wanted.”

With MacLeod's construction now immortalised in song, a book and a
play, and with film rights perennially 'in development', Calum's Road
is well and truly on the cultural map. What, though, would the great
man think of all the attention?

“I think he'd be tickled pink,” says Hutchinson. “He was never shy of
publicity. He wanted publicity for his cause, because he wanted to
shame the council, then once he'd finished the road he realised he'd
done something remarkable. He would always make time to talk to
visiting journalists, and I'm sure of he was still around he'd make
time for visiting playwrights and film-makers as well. If ever there
was a man who deserved to be memorialised, it's Calum.”

Despite such ongoing eulogies, things still aren't looking too rosy in
the Raasay garden. According to official sources, Raasay's population
currently stands at one hundred and ninety-two, and, according to
Hutchinson, is “still a long way from anywhere.

“Raasay is in need of some kind of economic kickstart,” he observes.
“If all the agencies involved, and I'm talking about Highlands and
Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and the Scottish Government,
invested one hundredth of the amount of energy into that as Calum
MacLeod put into building his road, then Raasay would be a much happier
place.”

Calum's Road, North Edinburgh Arts Centre, September 24th, then tours
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

Supported by Bank of Scotland

The Herald, September 20th 2011

ends

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 come-down, is
required for full immersion in the experience. Yet the fact that a tent
full of naked strangers can feel safe enough to unburden themselves speaks
volumes of an untapped need for what is essentially a secular ritual of
purging and possible healing. Theatre at it's most primal, in other
words.

The Herald, September 23 2011

ends

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 each scene with a presence that accentuates the
blistering lyricism of Stewart's own words. So when John breaks down
and says that “All I've done wrong is to be born into poverty,” it's as
if he's mourning his entire generation's emasculation.

Even so, a simmering sexual frisson bubbles between Lorraine M
McIntosh's vivacious Maggie and Michael Nardone's charismatic John.
With all that love and anger blasting about their living room, its easy
to understand why they stay together. Boxed inside Colin Richmond's set
on which furniture is flung around and doors slammed, the full
claustrophobia of such a crowded household rings equally true. When
they explode into fits of violent rage, Maggie and John are simply
flexing their muscles, trying in vain to breathe in a stifling world.

The Herald, September 22 2011

ends

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, McKay's amplified speech
vies for attention with Glass' equally urgent score, played by a
nine-strong version of The Red Note Ensemble under the conductorship of
Jessica Cottis. With Judith Howarth's wordless soprano a sci-fi geek's
dream, the noises in 'M''s head are replicated in part on authentic
vintage keyboards to create a relentlessly insistent swirl.

Brining makes full use of the venue's expanse, from the opening tableau
of McKay standing in front of the hangar's open doors to reveal the
East Fortune landscape at dusk onwards. While much of the live video
feed that follows 'M' 's travails is barely noticeable, the torrent of
words and music are more than enough to jar the senses before coming in
to land as safe and sound as 'M''s own bumpy ride home.

The Herald, September 20th 2011

ends

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 of how a scrawny street urchin came to be
apprenticed to Manchester United, the action is split between a
trainspotter's guide to Best anecdotage and a wicked eye for comedy.
The perils of primitive TV reception are especially well-observed.

As Adian O Neill's Best hits the bottle, both JJ Gilmour and Pat
Gribben's 1960s working-mans club patented live score and an appearance
by a mop-topped Beatles show just how much Best was a product of his
time. By the time he's doing a self-destructive double-act with Alex
Higgins in a Singing Detective style death-bed song and dance routine,
any accusations of sentimental hagiography have transformed into a
magical-realist vaudeville take on a life that became a hubris-filled
farce.

The Herald, September 19th 2011

ends

Monday, 19 September 2011

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 lost boy haunted by his own feelings of
displacement, from a dark and seemingly satanic Glasgow, to a new town
full of false promises, to even bigger places where anyone can get lost.

But in an ensemble piece where each of the five other actors puts on
one of the pairs of shoes that are placed around the dancefloor before
they join in a kind of collective purging, The Missing is something
bigger again. As keywords, maps and photofit images are projected onto
a big screen at the back of the stage, a damningly pertinent portrait
emerges of a society so calculatedly splintered that swathes of
'killable' men and and women can slip through the cracks. The
spinetingling massed chorale that ends an already elegiac masterpiece
honours every one of them.

A version of this was published in The Herald, September 19th 2011

ends

Sunday, 18 September 2011

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 subtlest of satires. In
light of the ongoing phone-hacking scandal, however, it now looks like
prophecy.

This image is one of Deller's contributions to The Writing On your
Wall, a new exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers which aims to reclaim
the radical roots of print as a medium. As well as the Murdoch poster,
the show will feature new commissions from Deller, Alasdair Gray, Art &
Language, Ruth Ewan and Joanne Tatham and Tom O'Sullivan. These will
sit alongside historical works, from the seventeenth century broadsides
of James Gillray and political pamphlets produced in the early
twentieth century, through to poster-poems by Christopher Logue and
works by 1960s British Situationist provocateurs, King Mob.

Deller's new piece is a screen-printed photograph taken from a local
newspaper. The picture shows four people, either with walking sticks,
crutches or in wheelchairs, standing in front of their soon to be
closed day centre. Such an image is an all too familiar piece of
community activist iconography, in which aggrieved citizens look glumly
into the camera as the physical manifestations of their doomed
lifelines loom large behind them. This is especially the case in the
current economic climate, when public spending cuts are wiping out day
centres and other services. The piece also continues Deller's
fascination with reclaiming social totems and disseminating their
message in brand new contexts.

As well as The Battle of Orgreave, Deller's projects have included Acid
Brass, in which a northern English brass band played arrangements of
first generation club tunes. More recently Deller constituted a civic
parade through Manchester city centre which put some of the city's more
contemporary iconography to the fore, including Joy Division songs
played by a steel band.

“It's the sort of image you see in newspapers a lot,” says Deller of
his new print. “In a way it's about the clichĂ©s of local newspapers,
but it's very important as well in terms of how images like this are
depicting a changing society. It is a kind of community that's under
threat, and that's something that really interests me, and I'd really
like to do a whole series of pieces like this one.”

If he does, it will form part of a major retrospective Deller is
working on for the Hayward Gallery in London, where his ongoing inquiry
into hidden histories will be brought out into the open more than ever
before. The Battle of Orgreave will sit alongside a recent film about
1970s British wrestler Adrian Street, whose flamboyantly camp persona
was a million miles away from the Welsh mines he was destined for. The
film was inspired by a photograph of Street dressed in full finery
alongside his coal-miner father sporting his very different working
clothes down the pit.

“He's led a fairytale life,” Deller says of Street, who now resides in
Florida where he designs wrestling outfits, including those seen in the
Mickey Rourke film, The Wrestler. “But it was a very tough one. The
film's a social history, but it's also a very personal history, about
how Adrian Street reinvented himself.”

Where once his approach might have once been ghettoised as community
art in its most patronising sense, Deller sees nothing unusual in what
is essentially a curiosity about social groupings.

“I'd like to think most people are interested in these sorts of
things,” he says. “For me it's a natural thing to be interested in
them, because we're all part of the world.”

While all the artists in The Writing on Your Wall each come armed with
their own individual approach, they have in common an oppositionist
stance rooted in pop culture. Alasdair Gray's literary and visual work
has long been lionised by the establishment his work critiques. Former
Turner nominees Art & Language have propagated an ongoing dialectical
debate, often in collaboration with Texan-born alt.rock legend Mayo
Thompson's band vehicle, The Red Krayola, for whom they have
contributed lyrics since the 1970s.

Edinburgh College of Art graduate Ruth Ewan's interest in radical
histories and social heritage is self-evident in Brank and Heckle, her
debut solo show currently at Dundee Contemporary Arts. The titles of
Tatham and O'Sullivan's The Indirect Exchange of Uncertain Value and
their 2010 CCA show, Direct Action Is Therefore Necessary, may sound as
polemical as some of Art & Language's provocations hint at, but in
reality both are far more playful.

Of these live and kicking artists forbears, King Mob were a group of
Notting Hill-based mischief-makers who took their name from graffiti
daubed on the walls of Newgate Prison following the Gordon Gin riots of
1780. They had loose connections to Malcolm McLaren and Jamie Reid,
with Reid's Suburban Press putting the tradition of political
pamphleteering into a grassroots twentieth century context. In 1974
Reid became involved in the design and layout of Leaving The Twentieth
Century, the first ever English language publication of Situationist
writings. These translations were by King Mob member Chris Gray, whose
idea of an anti-music group was made flesh when, depending on who you
believe, McLaren and Reid either got together with The Sex Pistols or
else created them as a concept.

“All the artists in this show definitely work in similar ways,” Deller
concedes. “I suppose they're all...trouble-makers.”

One thing neither Deller's or any of the other work on show in The
Writing on Your Wall can be described as, however, is protest art.

“It takes a position, protest art,” Deller observes, “which probably
looks good on demonstrations, but I much prefer to leave a bit of space
in the work for people to think.”

This is something The Writing on Your Wall curator Rob Tufnell concurs
with.

“Jeremy doers quite subtle things,” he says, “but they can also be big
gestures. So getting a colliery band to play acid house, which remains
the only form of music for which a law was brought in to outlaw it in
the shape of the Criminal Justice Bill, is subversive enough. Then to
get Acid Brass to play the opening of Tate Modern in front of the Queen
is a huge political act.”

As too, one suspects, will Deller's Hayward show just as much as The
Writing on Your Wall.

“It's funny looking back,” says Deller, “because some things I was a
bit embarrassed by at the time actually seem quite nice now. It's a big
deal going over all the things that make up your life, but it all stems
from being interested in the world around me in its widest sense.”

The Writing On Your Wall, Edinburgh Printmakers, Edinburgh, September
17-October 25
www.edinburgh-printmakers.co.uk

The Herald, September 16th 2011

ends

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 book's most important character,
however, is a little boy from an Ayrshire new town called Sandy
Davidson who disappeared.

Then, this incident kept the young O'Hagan awake at night. More or less
the same age as the missing boy and living in the same post-war
modernist encampment, O'Hagan recognised for the first time how easily
things could go wrong.

“I think I've realised just how much more deeply personal the book was
than I even thought it was at the time,” he says. “Obviously it was
personal in terms of looking at how families like mine were decanted to
these new towns, but I've discovered that it's personal in a much
deeper way. These towns presented a whole new vision of life, where
there was no violence or danger, and where you weren't harmable in the
same way as you apparently were in the big cities. As a child I went on
this journey of thinking that we were in this suburban heaven, to
realising that children could disappear, and that there was no
guarantee of safety, and that haunted me.”

It's been a long time coming, this production of The Missing. O'Hagan
was first approached by Tiffany with a view to putting it onstage more
than a decade ago. At that time, Tiffany was Literary Director of
Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, while O'Hagan, although already
acclaimed, was still a young author with no theatrical experience
whatsoever. The NTS, meanwhile, was still a pipe-dream. Since then,
Tiffany has pretty much raised the bar for theatre-making in Scotland
with his production of Black Watch, an international sensation during
the first year of the NTS. O'Hagan has been similarly feted, with his
fiction picking up numerous awards. Tiffany and O'Hagan finally worked
together on Ian McDiarmid's adaptation of O'Hagan's 2006 novel, Be Near
Me, which made the long list of the Booker Prize. Only after fifteen
years distance, then, did O'Hagan feel ready to return to his most
personal work.

“I wrote the book with a certain naivete,” O'Hagan happily admits, “and
a certain amount of beginners luck was involved. I tried to write a
book about the subject unlike a book that I had read. But it was a
modest proposal from my point of view. It was a way of setting out my
stall and finding my voice as a writer, trying to combine elements of
memoir and reportage and things that had mattered to me and still
matter to me, but to find a new technique for a book like this, that
got inside the mystery of missing persons. We all have a notion that we
know what that phrase means, but what is it actually like to live with
these cases of people going missing?

“The response to the book overwhelmed me, because people seemed to pick
up on it in such a way that blew me sideways. I was of course
fantastically excited by that, but it took me a few years to recover
from that, especially the reaction abroad mixed with the reaction here.
It was the way that people felt the book was about a contemporary
atmosphere in the nineties in Britain, and I hadn't really set out as
ambitiously as that, but that was the way the book seemed to exist out
there. I needed a period to recover from that, and to find my feet and
my focus on that text again. I needed to grow up a bit, and see what it
was that actually propelled me to writing that book, and what had
sustained me through the research, because this was dark material.

“I was a young guy. I was only twenty-four when I started writing it,
so now, as someone in my early forties, this play is also about what
that young man thought he was doing, what propelled him, and what
personal demons and ambitions made him spend a long time with the
families of missing children and murder victims and try to give an
account of society that hadn't existed in that form.”

Since The Missing was first published, the names of Madeleine McCann
and Peter Tobin have become totemic of the sorts of things O'Hagan was
dealing with in his book. While they won't be shoe-horned into The
Missing, which O'Hagan regards as a period piece, both will make an
appearance of sorts in Missing, a newly commissioned two-screen film
installation by artist Graham Fagen commissioned by the Scottish
national portrait gallery in partnership with the NTS, and which acts
as a companion piece to the play. While one screen moves from Ayrshire
to Glasgow, past the Barrowland ballroom to eventually wind up in
London, the other shows people watching Tobin on TV, or else reading
Kate McCann's book about her missing daughter, all in the safety of
their own living rooms.

“There's a journey through public places on one screen,” says Fagen,
another Ayrshire new town boy, who grew up with O'Hagan, “and private
places on the other. So there's that thing of escaping to the city, and
thinking you might have more of a chance, but getting into situations
where your vulnerability is played on.”

When The Missing was first published, O'Hagan was asked by a journalist
what the book was actually about. At the time, he couldn't answer. He
was too young, he reckons, too close to it still to be able to
articulate what he was doing, or maybe he just didn't know. Almost two
decades on from beginning the book, now he's finally squared up to it
again, it seems pertinent to ask O'Hagan, still squeezed behind the
trestle table, the same question.

“I now realise it's about a little boy who grew up in a Scottish new
town with an incredible in-born sense of idealism,” he says, “and how
that idealism was challenged and in some sense made complicated by what
happened in that town. So The Missing is a meditation on what it is to
belong in a place, and to fear disappearing from it. That's an answer I
couldn't give all those years ago. It was completely personal. I was
the little boy who couldn't sleep because Sandy Davidson went missing.
The sheer terror of that was so profound that it worked its way into my
imagination, and ended up having this future life.”

The Missing, Tramway, Glasgow, September 15-October 1; Missing by
Graham Fagen, Tramway, September 13-October 2.
www.tramway.org
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

Supported by Bank of Scotland

The Herald, september 13th 2011

ends

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 which more or less
reinvented modern Scottish drama as we know it. Anyone who saw the
television version of the show, filmed on location for the BBC's Monday
night Play For Today strand in 1974 while touring Highland village
halls, will recognise Ross as a charismatic, red-bearded figure, whose
playing was emotive and expressive, both during the play's incidental
music, and when leading the dance band, The Force Ten Gaels, who played
after every performance.

Music wasn't Ross' only contribution to this seminal work. He built the
famous pop-up book set painted by John Byrne, and even drove the
company transit van, that quintessential symbol of small-scale touring
theatre in the 1970s. Like many of the Cheviot cast, including John
Bett and Bill Paterson, Ross had appeared in The Great Northern Welly
Boot Show, a similarly styled piece of grassroots popular theatre that
retained a radical edge, and which made Billy Connolly a star.

Be it as a performer, designer or builder, Ross' presence in both shows
marked a career that would see him transverse several generations of
theatre and spectacle that mixed the popular and the radical, from work
with David MacLennan's 7:84 breakaway pop music theatre company,
Wildcat, through to Communicado's Gerry Mulgrew and Angus Farquhar's
pre NVA percussive provocateurs Test Department. Ross also built the
first set of swings for site-specific experts Grid Iron's original
production of their adventure playground set hit, Decky Does A Bronco.

While born in London, Ross was of Ayrshire descent, and his mother was
a violin virtuoso who exposed her two sons to Celtic folk music from an
early age. Ross studied at Central School of Art before setting up an
interior design business. Moving to Scotland in the early 1970s in
search of his roots, Ross quickly became involved with 7:84, and the
adventure began.

Beyond more formal theatre, Ross built the Viking longboats that led
Edinburgh's Hogmanay procession to Calton Hill, where they were burnt.
The elemental nature of the event appealed to Ross, who so much
resembled an actual Viking he could have been captain of all those
boats. Which, in a way, he was. Ross also built the giant clock-tower
for Libera Me, Gerry Mulgrew's outdoor spectacular that saw in the new
millennium on the capital's George Street with a feat of human
engineering that saw the clock operated by a troupe of aerialists.

One of Ross' most recent projects was a gypsy caravan, which he built
from scratch using the chassis' of two cars he found in a scrapyard.
This wasn't done for anything specific, but purely for fun and to
exercise the full extent of his inventiveness and craftsmanship, which,
as with everything he touched, he put his heart and soul into.

Beyond his work, family was at the heart of Ross' life. Two daughters,
Emily and Aeola, and a son, Barney, from his first marriage to Paddy
Graham, survive him, as do five grand-children, his brother, Jim, and
his step-son Oli. Ross' second marriage, to film producer Penny
Thomson, ended after thirty years when she died in 2007. In 2008 Ross
met Sally Freedman, who he married in 2009 in what was to be a brief
but blissfully happy union.

Ross' art and family came together in what turned out to be his final
performance when he played alongside Freedland at the 3 Harbours Arts
Festival at Cockenzie House, Cockenzie, in June of this year. Extending
his legacy even further, Ross worked closely with Oli making this
year's collection of Herald Angels, passing the baton to a younger
generation of makers, who can be eternally inspired by Ross' celestial
creations.


A memorial service for Allan Ross will be held at 4pm today at
Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh, and afterwards at Victoria Park House
Hotel, 221 Ferry Road, Edinburgh.

The Herald, September 12th 2011

ends

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
much more equal in its depiction of thirty-something singletons on the
verge of finally growing up. The result, as Jackson's initial barrage
of baroque one-liners, internal monologues and inappropriate touching
moves onto second base, is a far subtler evocation of the dating and
mating game than Jackson's original template.

As Garry Collins' Tom and Jessica Tomchak's Amy share their thoughts
with the audience, aided by Katrina Bryan's hippy chick Sasha, My
Romantic History most resembles the sort of soft-centred sex comedy the
swinging sixties were flooded with. As Tom and Amy come to terms with
the consequences of getting in what used to be known as the family way,
such an old-fashioned moral tale is a refreshingly rare experience.

The Herald, September 15th 2011

ends

Sunday, 11 September 2011

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 Stewart's play had a significance way beyond its immediate
locale, the National Theatre of Scotland's brand new touring production
should give it even greater weight.

Why, though, has it taken so long for a play that falls somewhere
between Sean O'Casey and Arthur Miller in its all too human portrait of
social ills, to be recognised at last? Did it slip through the net
following its initial success in its original production by the
left-leaning Glasgow Unity company because of its warts and all
portrayal of its subject? Was the play's neglect a by-product of an
ongoing rivalry between Glasgow Unity and the better-resourced Citizens
Theatre? Or was it simply that the play's writer was a woman? The truth
is that all of these factors contributed to the silencing of a unique
voice that was never fully allowed to flourish in its own lifetime. But
there were other, more fundamental reasons too.

“I think at that time Scotland had a tendency to celebrate the new,”
writer and broadcaster Kenneth Roy points out. “Then something else
comes along that's new, so everything that went before gets spit out,
and people tended to be forgotten quite quickly.”

Roy was a friend and long-time champion of Lamont Stewart, and wrote
the programme notes for the 2010 London production of Men Should Weep.

“I met Ena in the early 1970s,” Roy remembers. “I was working at the
BBC, and we were both living in Prestwick. I literally bumped into her
one night, so I knew her as a friend before I ever read the play. At
that point Ena was very neglected as a playwright, which was a source
of great pain to her. She hadn't been recognised much since the Glasgow
Unity years, and she struggled to make a living.”

Lamont Stewart augmented her salary working as a librarian by
contributing features to the woman’s page of The Herald.

“She used to talk about two of her plays she was particularly fond of.
One was Men Should Weep, and the other was an earlier play called
Starched Aprons, which was really about nursing and hospitals, and came
from a time when Ena worked in a hospital. She didn't think Men Should
Weep was a better play, but she did think Starched Aprons was as good.
Of course, Starched Aprons is never done, and Men Should Weep is done
all the time.”

Like Men Should Weep, Starched Aprons was born of both compassion and
anger at the world Lamont Stewart saw around her. Where, though, did
that anger itself come from? And what caused her to be so infuriated by
one rejection that she went home and tore up every copy of her play
that she had?

The daughter of a Glasgow minister who served one of the city's poorest
districts, Lamont Stewart grew up in a musical household that may have
influenced the discordant symphonies of criss-crossing speeches in her
plays as much as her powerful first-hand observations. It was her work
as a receptionist at the the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in
Glasgow that exposed Lamont Stewart to the devastating effects of
malnutrition, and which subsequently influenced Starched Aprons.

Lamont Stewart married actor Jack Stewart, and became involved with
Glasgow Unity Theatre, then a firebrand operation in direct opposition
to the middle-class drawing-room dramas patronised by well-to-do
society types. Lamont Stewart claimed the characters of her plays
possessed her as she went about her domestic chores until she had no
choice but to set their voices down on paper. After the success of
Starched Aprons, in which Roddy McMillan was cast over Jack Stewart,
Men Should Weep was written in what must have been a manic weekend. By
this time, Lamont Stewart's marriage was in freefall, and the prospect
of being a single parent was looming.

Whether accidental or not, Men Should Weep's themes of weak,
emasculated men and strong matriarchs keeping body, soul and family
together were as personal as they were universal. By the time of Giles
Havergal's 1982 production at a time of mass unemployment under
Thatcherite rule, with women-run support groups for striking miners
only two years away, Men Should Weep looked like prophecy.

“I think the play does have some sort of contemporary relevance,” Roy
agrees. “It's a very human play, and human plays tend to last, but I
think any kind of documentary reading of things, and there's an honesty
to that in the way there is with Arthur Miller. But also I think you
could overplay certain parallels. The sort of poverty depicted in the
play, for instance, is seemingly awful compared to the level of poverty
now, so the lengths you can make parallels are limited.”

Whatever comparisons that might be made between then and now, between
the 1947 and 1982 productions, both Men Should Weep and its author were
ignored. This was in part due to the collapse of Glasgow Unity, as a
post World War Two Socialist idealism drifted into financial
mismanagement. The main obstacle to seeing Lamont Stewart's work
onstage, however, was Osborne Henry Mavor, aka playwright James Bridie.

Mavor had co-founded the Citizens Theatre in 1943, and one would have
thought it the logical home for Lamont Stewart and the Glasgow Unity
generation. Mavor told Lamont Stewart to her face, however, that under
no circumstances would her work be seen on the Citizens stage.

“She couldn't get her foot in the door,” says Lamont Stewart's son,
Bill Stewart. “She felt that she was kept out of it because she was a
girl, and she was an unattached girl. After that she wrote a lot of
stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor, as it were, and there
were another couple of plays that made her feel better about herself,
but by the time she was hailed a success she was far too gone with
Alzheimer's to bask in any kind of glory. But she was someone who saw
things as they were, and managed to put that on paper in a direct and
witty way.”

Stewart was only three when his mother penned Men Should Weep, but over
the years has seen numerous productions. While he expresses
reservations about former Citz director Giles Havergal's expressionist
1998 revival of the play, Stewart hails the 2010 Lyttleton Theatre
production as “fantastic. I'd never seen such a well-filled theatre.
The actors were top drawer, and there was clearly no penny-pinching
going on. As a play I think it's still pertinent, and I only hope this
new production stays true to its intentions.”

As Men Should Weep's accidental unofficial guardian, Roy too is acutely
aware of preserving Lamont Stewart's belated legacy.

“It was such a male chauvinist society then,” Roy bemoans, “and it was
very difficult for any women writers to make an impression. Ena kept on
writing, and would send scripts off which wouldn't even be acknowledged
or returned. For any creative person it would be difficult to maintain
confidence in your own ability after that, but she was a tremendous
character. She was always thought of as as Communist, but she was
actually just a great critic and observer. Some of her abilities were
actually journalistic. She observed the society around her, and had
this uncanny ability of scraping up language and turning it into these
great works of art.”

Men Should Weep, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 16-October 8,
then tours.
Supported by Bank of Scotland
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

The Herald, September 10th 2011

ends

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 Pakistani and an Iraqi in the same room sounds like the
sickest of jokes, what emerges is a work of quiet elegance that lends a
power to its subject mere hectoring could not.

With little more to play with onstage than a metal table, actors
Roderick Cowie, Asif Dewan and Tonderai Munyevu allow their characters
to slip in and out of each others stories as if relaying some umbilical
solidarity. Why this hauntingly evocative seventy-five minute miniature
wasn't programmed as part of the forthcoming Glasgay festival, let
alone last summer's Scottish Refugee Festival, is a mystery, although
one suspects the mundanities of scheduling dictated both decisions. As
it is, as with its subjects, it's a play that might find a home yet.

The Herald, September 9th 2011

ends

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 script, adapted by joint directors Jimmy Chisholm and Paul Morrow
from Brian McGeachan and Gerard McDade's original, is simplistic and
unavoidably sentimental.. Yet, however much it tugs the partisan
heart-strings, there's an emotional honesty and attention to detail at
play, both in the play's staging and in James MacKenzie's guileless
depiction of Johnny. Only the closing Oasis soundtrack remains witless.

From existential novelist and Algerian national player Albert Camus to
Austrian playwright Peter Handke's script for Wim Wenders' film, The
Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, there's always been a romantic allure
about goalies. By focusing on a real life legend, however, The Prince
is just about saved.

The Herald, September 7th 2011

ends

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 with a split
personality in order to cope with the production's shoestring budget
while attempting to stimulate some real drama for the cameras with old
flames Portia and Emma. Sprinkled throughout with gags about everything
from Monarch of the Glen to Jimmy Boyle The Musical, McCardie's play
allows full vent for Gray, Juliet Cadzow and Kate Donnelly to parody
their profession with at times hilarious aplomb.

As back-stage sit-coms go, McCardie and Gray's own production hints at
statements on what we now must call the creative industries, although
the reality is only so much green room gossip and is all the better for
it. One thing, though. Given that Tartuffe actually did open
twenty-five years ago, what actually (+italics)did(-italics) go on?

The Herald, September 6th 2011

ends

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 they all do things they don't
want to do,” says Macdonald. “They say things and then do something
different, so it's like playing one of the great Shakespearian roles
like Lady Macbeth or someone. My Mary is very Frenchified. The play
follows the course of Mary coming to Edinburgh, to Leith, right up
until the day before she gets killed, so that spans a good twenty
years. I change through that, and I have experiences throughout that. I
get married for the second time and have a child, but before I have a
child my secretary’s killed by my husband. Then I decide that possibly
my husband's not right for me, so I arrange to have him killed, and so
on.

“So Mary is someone who follows her heart rather than her head, whereas
Elizabeth always followed her head. She's very much a woman who wants
love and a family, and tries to have it all. But can you actually have
it all and survive? Probably not. She's full of love, she loves life,
but is very trapped and repressed in Scotland. She's desperate at the
start of the play and desperate at the end. There's a glimmer of
happiness in the middle, but it doesn't last very long. If you're going
to try and rule your country with your heart, that's never going to
work.”

First seen in a production by Communicado Theatre Company in 1987,
Lochhead's play has become a modern classic, and was most recently seen
in 2009 in a production by the National Theatre of Scotland. Tony
Cownie's new take on the play, the first fruits of a partnership
between the Lyceum and Dundee Rep, promises to rewrite the rule book
even more by setting it in a contemporary junkyard where a group of
players utilise the assorted debris to tell their story.

This new production is something of a homecoming, too, both for the
play and the actress playing it's tortured queen. While Communicado
first staged Mary Queen of Scots at the now demolished Lyceum Studio,
as a member of the Lyceum Youth Theatre, Macdonald made what she
considers to be her professional stage debut as a teenager in another
historical play, Victory, by Howard Barker.

“I think I was seventeen then,” says Macdonald, “so coming back as a
grown-up with thirteen years life experience and work experience does
feel like coming home. Being from Edinburgh as well make it even more
exciting.”

It was as a shy child growing up in Portobello that Macdonald was first
exposed to drama via a junior choir group who put on musical theatre,
which her mother made her and her sister attend as a confidence
booster. Not being what she calls “a natural jazz hands type person,”
Macdonald found herself consistently cast as periphery fairies or a
more abstract colour of the rainbow. Only when her lines were cut after
being cast as what was described in the script of The Dragon of Tangly
Mountain as 'a disabled peasant' did she decide enough was enough.

Aged twelve, Macdonald joined the Brunton Youth Theatre in Musselburgh,
and was so impressed she also travelled to Paisley every Sunday, where
the youth theatre was run by the people who ran the Brunton. Here her
peers included a young James McAvoy, while in Musselburgh Macdonald was
cast in Oh What A Lovely War opposite future Fame Academy star David
Sneddon. After that she was cast in a lead role in a piece called Earth
Crack. It was then things started getting serious.

“I realised aged thirteen that what I was doing felt right,” Macdonald
reflects. “Your teenage years are so mixed up, and suddenly you find
yourself with a group of people pretending to be other things and
exploring different emotions, and for me it just felt right. This was
the sort of circle of friends I wanted to be part of, and it was like a
light going off.”

By the time she went to drama school in Glasgow, Macdonald had an agent
in the shape of Anne Coulter, who took her on after Macdonald had
worked as a cleaner for her brother. This led to her screen debut in
playwright Anthony Neilson's feature film, The Debt Collector. Still
only sixteen, Macdonald suddenly found herself acting opposite Billy
Connelly. While at college she took a lead role in The Rocket Post,
which should have made Macdonald a star but instead took five years to
be released, by which time the film's director Stephen Whittaker had
died.

Macdonald was picked up instead for Spooks, the British secret agent
series with a political bent. While effectively her apprenticeship in
television acting techniques, after three series she felt her character
wasn't developing, so left to jump straight into a lead role for horror
film, The Descent. After filming Irvine Welsh's TV film, Wedding
Belles, Macdonald took time out to have children with her partner,
actor Cal MacAninch, and somewhat remarkably regards Mary Queen of
Scots as a comeback.

“I'm hugely ambitious,” she says. “I wanted an Oscar by the time I was
thirty. I've got three months. Part of doing this play is to remind
people I'm still here. People have incredibly short memories in this
business, and I think some people maybe think I've gone to America or
something when I'm actually in Portobello.”

Somewhat ironically, Macdonald was meant to play Mary at the end of
2008 in a devised piece based on Schiller's Maria Stuart. What was
meant to be a major international collaboration between Edinburgh's
Traverse Theatre and Linz European Capital of Culture stalled at an
early stage. This time out, however, Macdonald looks set to go all the
way to the gallows with Mary.

“I've played lots of intense characters,” Macdonald says, “and I'm not
really sure where that comes from, but now I'm back I'm kind of at an
inbetween stage. I'm too young to play Anna Karenina but too old for
Juliet.”

Like Mary, you get the impression Macdonald has followed her heart both
in terms of her career and private life.

“I think some people think I could have done things differently,” she
laughs, “but I don't care what people think.”

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, Royal Lyceum Theatre,
Edinburgh, September 16-October 15; Dundee Rep, October 19-November 5.
www.lyceum.org.uk
www.dundeerep.co.uk

The Herald, September 6th 2011

ends

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 thrilling. As is too Oh Yeah!, the
sentimental force of which is noticeable among ladies and gents of a
certain age who raced to the front before Ferry uttered a note. In
contrast, the three guitar frontline of Chris Spedding, Neil Hubbard
and Ollie Thompson come into their own on Neil Young's Like A
Hurricane, reconstructing the song without losing its abrasive edge.

The second half again switches time periods and tempos, finishing with
a magnificent trilogy of Love is The Drug, Editions of You and Let's
Stick Together. Here Ferry cuts loose, throwing a shape here, playing a
harmonica solo or giving a regal wave there. If Jealous Guy is
inevitable, the rip-roaring finale of Hold On I'm Coming brings things
full circle at the point where soul and art-rock finally jump into bed.

The Herald, September 5th 2011

ends

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 vocal in
her support for the schemes. In the current climate of economic
uncertainty, the resources provided by BOS have perhaps somewhat
surprisingly allowed NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone to go
some way to fulfilling one of her primary goals since taking up her
post.

“When I started at the NTS I was already aware that the development of
artists was one of the most valuable things,” she says, “but because
that sort of development isn't product-based, you need a real cultural
shift to have that sort of investment in the future. I immediately
wanted to try and put money into that, and what was extraordinary to me
when we first started speaking to the Bank of Scotland, was that they
didn't want to just support one particular show, but were more
interested in the more long-term development of artists that we were
thinking of. So while the artists we're working with get to be part of
the NTS as an organisation, the important thing is that they get the
space to develop and explore their own work.”

This is something Rice enthusiastically concurs with.

“The Bank of Scotland Pioneering Partnership is the first time that
both organisations have worked together,” she says, “and it also
represents a new approach to sponsorship, with Bank of Scotland
supporting not just one production or strand, but a large part of the
National Theatre of Scotland’s wide reaching programme over the next
two years. Our joint aim is to encourage and support the next
generation of theatrical talent, from actors to set designers,
directors to writers, reinforcing Bank of Scotland’s wider sponsorship
strategy of supporting emerging talent in Scotland and providing
opportunities for our customers and colleagues."

All of the artists selected from almost two hundred applicants for the
schemes have some kind of track record. The New Directors Placement
Programme may sound more straightforward than the Emerging Artists
Attachment Programme, but between them the chosen trio show off a
diverse array of talent.

Amanda Gaughan is a graduate of RSAMD and has worked at both the Tron
Theatre and The Arches. She has just completed a year-long trainee
directorship at the Citizens Theatre, which culminated in her own
studio production of Dennis Kelly's intense post-apocalyptic
two-hander, After The End. Gaughan is already hard at work on NTS
associate director??? John Tiffany's forthcoming production of Andrew
O'Hagan's The Missing.

“It's been really great watching the new writing process happening in
front of me,” Gaughan says.

Ross Mackay is one of the founders of young company, Tortoise in a
Nutshell, whose work with puppets and animation on shows such as The
Last Miner saw them acclaimed at this year's Manipulate Festival at
Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. Prior to this, Mackay trained at Queen
Margaret University in Edinburgh, and, in-between working as a
puppeteer and magician, undertook an apprenticeship with legendary
American company, The Bread and Puppet Theatre. All of Mackay's talents
should be brought to bear when he joins the team on Graham McLaren’s
production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in December of this
year.

Jenna Watt's diverse CV includes work with Lung Ha's, at the National
Review of Live Art and at children and young people's theatre festival,
Imaginate. This should set her up perfectly for working alongside
Featherstone on Abi Morgan's forthcoming play, 27.

“This is a major step in my career,” Watt admits, “and it will really
help me as a director. At the moment I direct my own projects, and I
also have my live art practice, so this will really help me decide what
to do next.”

The recipients of the Emerging Artists Attachment Programme are an even
more eclectic bunch.
Alan Bissett, for instance, may be best known as a novelist for
Boyracers and the just published Pack Men, but his recent adventures in
theatre have included several pieces for Oran's Mor's lunchtime seasons
of new work, A Play, A Pie and A Pint. Bissett has also toured playing
the title role in his self-styled 'one-woman show', The Moira
Monologues.

“Trying to write when you're juggling all these different projects is
really hard,” Bissett says, “so time is a really precious commodity
which you can use for research.”

Amanda Monfrooe arrived in Scotland from Chicago having already worked
as an actor, director and designer with several new writing companies.
Following a masters degree in dramaturgy here, she directed The
YellowWing, a piece for the Scottish Mental Health Art and Film
Festival inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman's nineteenth century
tale of ordinary madness, The Yellow Wallpaper. Since then, Monfrooe
has founded her own Pony Pie company, worked with Puppet Animation
Scotland, and presented work at irregular live art night, Love Club.
With the NTS, Monfrooe hopes to concentrate on puppeteering.

“I have no real skills in that just now,” she says, “so I really want
to learn about what I'm doing.”

Stef Smith is best known for scripting the smash hit of the 2010
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Roadkill, directed by Cora Bissett. Prior to
this, Smith worked extensively as an assistant director on assorted
projects by David Leddy, while more recently she penned off-kilter
duologue, Falling/Flying. Earlier this year playwrights Studio Scotland
chose Smith as the winner of a New Playwright Award for her forthcoming
work, Jamais Vu, set to be given a rehearsed reading at The Arches
later this year.

“It will be great to have feedback from the literary department,” smith
says, “because as an emerging artist you don't always get that.”

Finally, Molly Taylor has already worked with the NTS on Love Letters
to the Public Transport System, a beautiful solo piece performed by
herself. The piece may have been billed as a work in progress as part
of the NTS' Reveal season of showcases at the Traverse and Citizens
theatres, but its tale of chasing the people whom unwittingly
transported her to her destiny was already perfectly formed.

“My natural way of doing things is story-telling,” Taylor says, “but
hopefully this will push me to explore different ways of doing things.”

Whatever comes of these brand new initiatives, there are no promises by
the NTS of taking anything to full-scale commissions. Allowed the
comfort to develop ideas via self-determination, however, all involved
can use this to their advantage.

“All of the directors and artists we're supporting in these schemes are
just at that point where they're wondering what is the next stage for
them,” Featherstone points out, “and if we can give them something,
time, even, to think about that and develop their ideas, then I think
that's really quite important. Scotland is a really good place in terms
of artists development just now. There's been a real sea-change over
the last ten years, and I think that's really going to change the sort
of work that's produced in the future.”

www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

The Herald, September 3rd 2011

ends