Monday, 30 April 2012

Further Than The Furthest Thing

Dundee Rep
4 stars
There are explosions in Zinnie Harris's extraordinary play of communal 
displacement even before its strange, dreamily poetic exchanges between 
island folk forced from their isolated way of life take hold. In James 
Brining's lovingly nuanced revival, these come in the form of a 
stunning clash of sound and vision on stage filled with water that 
designer Neil Warmington, under the influence of visual artist and 
'water consultant' Elizabeth Ogilvie, has reflected via a live video 
feed onto a huge screen behind. As a man slips into the water under the 
beatific glow of Philip Gladwell's lighting design, John Harris' 
monumental choral score is a shattering cry from the deep.

If all this threatens to overwhelm the slow-burning quietude that 
follows, it also accentuates the physical and emotional dams waiting to 
burst open in an expansively symbolic production of a play loaded with 
significant portents of the tragedy that follows.

As Mill and Bill await the return of their prodigal nephew Francis from 
the big city, the eggs they drop are mirrored later by the still-born 
pregnancy of Francis' lost sweetheart, Rebecca, as an apparently 
dormant volcano erupts beneath them. With factory owner Hansen 
providing work and shelter, the sense of exile that follows leaves the 
islanders more isolated than ever before, each on their own urban 
island as long-hidden secrets gush forth.

Inspired by the real-life saga of Tristan da Cunha, the Atlantic island 
evacuated following a similar occurrence, a beautifully measured set of 
performances is led by Ann Louise Ross and as Mill as a heart-stopping 
portrait of a big society fractured by capitalism emerges from the deep.

The Herald, April 30th 2012


Lady M – His Fiend-Like Queen?

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars

Don’t be fooled by the brevity of Theatre Jezebel’s new version of
Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. Mary McCluskey’s adaptation may be an
hour long, but by putting the play’s most fascinating character at its
centre on Kenny Miller’s expansively handsome set of upended gold leaf
chairs topped by weather-beaten parasols in the mirrored gloom of a
leaf-strewn courtyard, it’s as panoramic as it’s ever been. With the
Weird Sisters top and tailing the play in black veils masking a
blood-red satanic pallor as they become both chorus and every other
character save the two leads, by the end it becomes clear too exactly
who is pulling the strings.

Before all that, Lesley Hart’s Lady M grows increasingly neurotic as
power seems to first fall into her lap before the rough and tumble of
fulfilling imagined prophecies becomes increasingly addictive. With
Michael Moreland’s Macbeth tugged every which way, both by his wife’s
newly discovered aspirations and the Sisters, McCluskey’s own
production becomes one of the most spectrally inclined Shakespeares in
recent years.

This effect is heightened even more by Ross Brown’s shimmeringly
atmospheric soundscape, which underscores proceedings like a BBC
Radiophonic Workshop interpretation of Stockhausen. The monochrome
slabs of Kate Bonney’s lighting design completes a picture of corrupted
glamour and other-worldly menace that suggest even more powerful forces
than fate are at work.

Once Lady M is out of the picture, that’s when things look set to get
really interesting, which the Sisters realigned ‘When will we three
meet again?’ exchange points to. When they peer through their veils
directly at the audience, you know they’ve a few more tricks up their
sleeves yet.

The Herald, April 30th 2012



The Hub, Pacific Quay, Glasgow
4 stars
There has probably never been a more relevant week to premiere a 
dramatic dissection of whatever’s left of the newspaper industry, and 
the National Theatre of Scotland’s eloquently realised cut-up of 
interviews with some forty-three main-stage players goes way beyond any 
fears of self-reflexive brow-beating. While it will never top last 
week’s events at the Leveson inquiry when both Rupert and James Murdoch 
were forced to account for both their own actions and the culture of 
newspapers they were in charge of, Enquirer nevertheless paints a 
thought-provoking and oddly poignant portrait of a bruised industry 
being dragged through its own mud.

As the audience enter the tellingly unused top-floor open-plan office 
of a real life media hub, the piles of unsold newspapers used as seats 
as we’re promenaded from desk to desk are even more telling about the 
state we’re in. From morning conference to putting the paper to bed, 
the story, as related by a fantastic cast of six playing composites of 
journalistic archetypes, is one of a high-pressure industry in 
free-fall, whose practitioners, as one subject says, are regarded by 
the public as “second-class citizens”.

Shaped by co-directors Vicky Featherstone and John Tiffany with 
co-editor Andrew O’Hagan from interviews conducted by veteran 
journalists Paul Flynn, Deborah Orr and Ruth Wishart, the 
meta-narrative of such a construction may be plain to see. The 
interviews depicted are vital, however, with John Bett’s study of Times 
editor Roger Alton a hilarious counterpoint to Billy Riddoch as former 
Scottish Sun editor Jack Irvine and Maureen Beattie’s heartbreaking 
study of war reporter Ros Wynne-Jones. This is documentary theatre at 
its devastatingly incisive best. And that’s on the record.

The Herald, April 30th 2012


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Demos - Playing David Cameron

I'm standing at a lectern on the stage of the Traverse Theatre in 
Edinburgh, declaiming in what I hear as an increasingly pompous voice 
the sort of right wing platitudes I usually abhor. With the entire 
audience braying so I have to speak over them, the man opposite is 
firing back retorts of equally schoolboyish one-upmanship. Sporting a 
suit I'd like to think gave me the air of a European arts mandarin but 
is probably more Jeremy Kyle, I find myself becoming the ultimate Tory 
boy. My God, I wonder, hearing my decidedly non-Etonian voice rise and 
fall, how did I get here?

I'm appearing in Demos, a new verbatim play by Tim Price and John 
Bywater, which takes as-it-happened accounts from two very different 
manifestations of democracy and turns them into mass participatory 
spectacle. The first, Sort Your S*** Out People, is taken from the 
minutes of the daily General Assembly of the Occupy Movement while 
camped outside St Paul's Cathedral in December 2011. The second, in 
which I'm somewhat bizarrely playing UK Prime Minister David Cameron, 
is taken from Hansard's record of Prime Minister's Question Time the 
day after the Occupy meeting.

Demos is the climax of Write Here, a week long festival of play 
readings, talks and workshops by writers old and new. The idea of Demos 
by Price, whose play, For Once, recently opened at the Traverse, is to 
explore what democracy means to different groups of people. The 
audience have been asked to bring along woolly hats and true blue ties 
in order to look the part, and are given copies of the script so they 
can play assorted Occupiers in the first play, and MPs in the second.

Part of the exploration of democracy is to mix up the casting. Which is 
how a theatre critic, usually on the other side of the fourth wall, has 
ended up being cast alongside professional actors James Mackenzie, who 
plays Labour leader Ed Miliband, and Kirstin Murray, who plays the 
Speaker of the House in the second play and lead Occupier Saskia in the 
first. I studied drama and was a spear carrier in the Scottish Theatre 
Company's famed production of Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaites, so it's 
no big deal, I reckon, and all those people who reckon theatre critics 
are just failed actors will now have to eat their words.

On the day of the performance itself, however, it's a bit more 
nerve-wracking than that. This hits home when I'm sitting in the 
Traverse bar having just met Hamish Pirie, the theatre's new associate 
director who's overseeing Demos. I'm feeling both guilty that I'm not 
chained to my computer banging out copy for the Herald as I usually 
would be on a Tuesday afternoon. Then I’m called for rehearsals, and I 
follow what appears to be the entire Traverse staff into the theatre. I 
wasn't expecting this. I thought it would just be me, Hamish, James and 
Kirstin, but these are people who I normally just request press tickets 
from. What are they doing here? They can't see me make a fool of myself.

As it is, the Traverse staff are standing in for the audience, and read 
in the lines of the Occupiers and MPs. We go through the second play, 
and, after initial hesitance, I begin to relish Cameron's lines, which 
in some ways are as subtle as Pinter or Mamet, turning on an emotional 
pin mid-sentence. One minute Cameron is giving sincere pre-Christmas 
sympathies to the families of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, the next 
he and Miliband are tearing yah-boo chunks out of each other in 
increasingly pathetic displays of playground antics.

On the night itself, suited and booted and with a hundred audience 
members playing MPs, the adrenalin kicks in even more, and I hear 
myself sounding even more pompous than I did in the read-through.  And, 
oh, the power! When I raise my voice, the unscripted booing stops. I 
could make a panto villain yet, I think, as I revel in every piece of 
Tory clap-trap I'm spouting. As a lifelong wet liberal lefty with 
occasional flashes  of revolutionary zeal, this is rather worrying.

But Demos has clearly tapped into something, and it isn't alone in its 
exploration of big ideas. This week, the Traverse hosts the Arches 
Platform 18 double bill of Thatcher's Children and BEATS, while the 
first of Oran Mor's Arab Spring season of plays, Could you Please Look 
At The Camera, has also just transferred here. A few weeks ago in 
Glasgow there was a four hour unedited reading of transcripts from the 
Guantanamo inquiry presented by Arika at the CCA. Arika also presented 
a new Brechtian learning play. On May Day, the National Theatre of 
Scotland's Five Minute Theatre season is based on the theme of protest. 
Suddenly politics is everywhere in the theatre.

There's clearly something happening here that's not just about power, 
but about people power. By playing David Cameron, I've just had a taste 
of just how appealing and addictive that power can be.  “I'd vote for 
you,” someone tells me in the bar afterwards. I wouldn't.

The Herald, April 26th 2012


King Lear

Citizens Theatre
4 stars
There’s a glorious circularity to David Hayman’s return to the Citz 
after a twenty year absence in Dominic Hill’s mighty production of 
Lear. Where Hayman began his career on the same stage four decades ago 
with a unique take on Shakespeare’s mad Danish prince, here he appears 
equally unhinged as the elder statesman whose estrangement from his 
favourite daughter lurches him into a mid-life crisis that leaves him 
with nothing.

It begins with a Hogarthian chorus resembling Occupy protesters 
breaking into the palace where the party is in full decadent swing. In 
this sense, the economic and class divide of the story is laid-out from 
the start, with the chorus punctuating every psychological body-blow 
with Paddy Cunneen’s live score played on splintered piano strings and 
other bomb-site detritus. Edmund is a initially a hoodied-up student in 
search of a cause to legitimise him while his swotty brother Edgar 
sprawls himself across the sofa.

If that is a family feud waiting to happen, once Lear’s beloved 
Cordelia breaks ties, Lear surrounds himself with parasitic party 
people, indulging his wild years with excess before ending up on the 
scrap-heap. The image at the end of the first half of him ripping to 
shreds bin-bag effigies of his daughters is spine-chilling.

While Lynn Kennedy’s Cordelia becomes penniless and pregnant, Kathryn 
Howden’s Goneril and Shauna Macdonald’s Regan are vicious, fur-clad 
vultures, with Regan’s sexed-up greed even causing her to stab 
Gloucester’s eye out with the heel of her stiletto. If watching Hayman 
in tatty long-johns go demented before a crowd of white-coated doctors 
is like gazing on the ghost of Citizens past, the final display of 
people power looks bravely towards the future.

The Herald, April 26th 2012


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Jeremy Deller – Sacrilege

Glasgow Green
Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art
April 20th-May 7th
5 stars
If you’re feeling down in the dumps, there are few things more 
rejuvenating than jumping up and down like an idiot for a few minutes. 
If you can do so without bursting out laughing like an even bigger 
loon, chances are you’re dead.

As a child of the Rave age, Jeremy Deller is in a perfect position to 
tap into such variations on a natural high, repetitive beats and all. 
By reimagining Stonehenge as a bouncy castle type structure that will 
later be inflated in London during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic 
Games, Deller is also making an explicitly political point, both about 
the right to assemble and how religious and artistic totems have become 

With the real Stonehenge once a Mecca of the free festival movement and 
now cordoned off to all but the hardiest of revellers, to witness big 
daft kids of all ages hurling themselves around and about the 
structures with touchy-feely abandon on a sunny Sunday afternoon is a 
subversive delight. Taking your shoes off and joining in is even better 
in a work that might well be descended from theatre director Joan 
Littlewood’s original idea to create a fun palace on London’s South 
Bank where Deller’s magnificent retrospective, ‘Joy in People’, is 
currently in residence at the Hayward Gallery.

Just as rave culture democratised the dance-floor, Sacrilege is a 
spectacle of people power in action that has the mass appeal of Billy 
Smart’s Circus and the political and conceptual sophistication of 
Bakunin. Ultimately, Deller is both enabling and revelling in the 
creative power of play, and that, rather than fear or stifle that that 
power as authoritarian regimes tend to do, it should be celebrated in 
excelsis. If such a living monument was in permanent residence, 
similarly-minded children of the stones in the park could be jumping for joy 

The List magazine, April 2012


Folkert De Jong – The Immortals

Mackintosh Museum, Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art
April 12th-May 12th
4 stars
A gaudily attired couple sit astride some scaffolding watching the 
debris-ridden legacy the best minds of their generation inspired. Or at 
least that’s the sense you get of Dutch artist Folkert De Jong’s 
site-specific sculptural intervention, which looks to the gallery’s 
namesake and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret 
MacDonald Mackintosh, for inspiration.

Looking for all the world like paint-spattered dayglo-punk charity-shop 
dandies, it’s as if the pair are occupying some building-site royal box 
while a cheap seat variety show plays out below. The effect is 
heightened by the figure of a woman sporting a hat which from a 
distance looks straight out of Cabaret holding on tight to two male 
figures, while beside the scaffolding a male figure holds on to a 
battered approximation of a wooden acoustic guitar. 

A solitary female figure stands astride a trestle table in the midst of some carefully 
choreographed dance of death. Positioned in the midst of more regularly 
classical statues, this is theatre as still life, captured for 
posterity and ready for their close-up. 

The List magazine, April 2012


Teresa Margolles

Glasgow Sculpture Studios
Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art
April 20th-June 12th 2012
4 stars
Life’s a riot in Teresa Margolles’ new work for Glasgow Sculpture 
Studios’ new space in Glasgow’s old Whiskey Bond building, which 
sources a photographic archive in the now decaying Mexican border town 
of Ciudad Juarez alongside a new piece mined from frontline Croydon 
during the 2011 London riots.

In the small Project Gallery, three projectors quick-fire off more than 
6000 images by Luis Alvarado that charts a historical landscape from 
the 1960s to the 1980s peopled by heroic masked wrestlers, politicians, 
wedding parties and street corner night owls, all captured in the 
throes of a thousand social rituals.

In the main room, the phrase ‘A DIAMOND FOR THE CROWN’ is carved across 
the back wall like an epitaph. On another wall in a glass box sits the 
tiniest and loveliest of diamonds sourced from burnt wood and carbon 
 from the riots and painstakingly buffed into beautiful life by 
Margolles. That something so sparklingly serene was born of a 
disenfranchised energy feels how a revolution is meant to turn out. 

The List magazine, April 2012


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

James Brining - From Dundee to Leeds

Home is on James Brining's mind a lot just now. As Dundee Rep's 
artistic director for the last nine years prepares to up sticks back to 
his Leeds birthplace to take up the equivalent post at West Yorkshire 
Playhouse, he's also in the thick of rehearsals for his swansong 
production at Dundee of a play that itself sounds closer to home than 
even he perhaps realised.

“What an amazing play,” Brining says of Further Than The Furthest 
Thing, Zinnie Harris' breakthrough work about an island community 
forced out by the eruption of a volcano. “It's extraordinary, but it 
isn't that well known. It's got such richness and scope in its themes. 
It's about religion, capitalism, displacement, refugees, deceit, truth, 
lies. It's about epic themes and domestic themes. The more you mine it, 
the more you find in it.

“My wife's from Orkney, and being Leeds born and bred, I'm not really a 
country person. But when I got to know Orkney, I started to, not 
understand the island mentality, but to have a sense of what it's like 
to be on an island, and to be physically surrounded by that much water, 
and with a sky so huge and with the horizon so present. It does do 
something to the dynamics of life. I became interested in that just as 
a geographical environment, and the isolation that can bring, but also 
the sense of community it engenders, both good and bad. So there's all 
these personal reasons for doing this play, which I think can be 
emotionally devastating.”

Another influence on Brining's choice was an exhibition by artist 
Elizabeth Ogilvie at Dundee Contemporary Arts, just across the road 
 from the Rep, which showed work that utilised water and light. With 
Ogilvie drafted in to advise, Neil Warmington's set for Further Than 
The Furthest Thing will see the Rep stage flooded with 29,000 litres of 

Such scale and ambition have been a feature of Brining's tenure in 
Dundee ever since he became Chief Executive and joint Artistic Director 
of the theatre with Dominic Hill in 2003. Dundee Rep had already been 
transformed by the creation of a permanent acting ensemble by previous 
artistic director Hamish Glen, and when Brining and Hill came in as a 
package, it broke the mould again. Over the next few years, while Hill 
concentrated on reinventing the Rep space with productions of Howard 
Barker's Scenes from An Execution and a rollicking new version of 
Ibsen's Peer Gynt, Brining seemed to look to more popular fare.

Musicals in particular have become a Dundee staple, with Brining 
directing the little known Flora The Red Menace as well as Gypsy and 
Sweeney Todd. It was his production of Stephen Greenhorn's Sunshine on 
Leith, however, that has been one of the Rep's biggest hits to date. 
Ostensibly a Proclaimers juke-box musical that was clearly a winner 
 from the start, Greenhorn's play had a credibility to it that went 
beyond the one-dimensional plotlines of similar vehicles. In a bold 
move, Sunshine on Leith took on two commercial tours

“We learnt a massive amount doing that,” Brining says. “People think 
that commercial theatre is all about spending massive amounts of money, 
when in actual fact you're fighting over every penny.”

When Hill left Dundee to run the Traverse in Edinburgh and now the 
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Brining stayed in Dundee, combining 
productions of Christmas shows such as Cinderella and A Christmas Carol 
with meatier fare including Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind and Edward 
Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

If the incorporation of Ogilvie's ideas into Further than The Furthest 
Thing show off some of the synergies that now exist between the Rep, 
DCA and other organisations as part of Dundee's ongoing cultural 
renaissance, it also hints at Brining's skills as a diplomat, 
politician and producer which have come into play just as much as in 
the rehearsal room.

“I don't think every director either can do it or necessarily wants to 
do it,” Brining says. “You have to end up balancing different parts of 
your brain and different responsibilities. I wouldn't be interested, 
and have been, in just being a freelance director who directs plays. 
That's not enough for me. I want to have some kind of control over the 
environment and the circumstances in which the work is being made, and 
also the bigger point of why we're doing the work that we do. What is 
the point of having a theatre in Dundee? What sort of work do we want 
to do, and what sort of relationships do we want to have, not just with 
the people who come and see plays here, but with everyone in the city.

“But things go in cycles. I'm really proud of some of the work we've 
created, especially latterly. We've done big shows, ambutious things, 
but the ebb and flow of that is that as an artistic director you have 
to have a level of patience, and think for the next nine months I'm 
going to be concentrating on a particular thing for the organisation, 
or you do a particular show in order for something else to happen. It's 
the bigger picture that interests me, but there's also a necessity to 
go into that rehearsal room, close the door behind me and to lose 
myself in play, I guess, just to remind myself what it's about. The two 
things for me provide a healthy and necessary equilibrium.

“There's a broader point here as well about who should be running 
theatres, and if it should be a practicing artist or not. For me, if 
the person leading the organisation is going into a rehearsal room and 
engaging with the technical staff and everyone else, that kind of keeps 
you honest. I am on the line when we're doing a show along with 
everyone else, and if I mess up then I'll carry the can for that. If I 
was just talking about policy and everything else, you can talk about 
that forever, but if people see you sweating because you care about a 
production so much, that's important, because it's a reminder that, 
actually, what matters is what happens onstage.”

Brining hadn't planned Further Than The Furthest Thing to be his final 
production in Dundee. When he was offered the job, he was some way in 
to planning projects for next season, including She Town, a new play 
based around female mill workers in Dundee. Brining was also set to 
direct J.B Priestley's Time and the Conways in a co-production with 
Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre. Both of these will now be picked up 
by the Rep's associate director Jemima Levick, who must be considered a 
strong candidate to take over from Brining in Dundee.

“Nine years in one place is quite a long time,” he admits. “I have to 
say as well that there are a thimbleful of jobs I would've been 
interested in, and there are very few places I want to live in apart 
 from here. I hadn't planned to leave Scotland, but the job in Leeds 
just came up.

“I have a sense of the importance of West Yorkshire Playhouse to the 
city. When I was growing up there was Leeds Playhouse, which was part 
of the old poly. I remember going there as a kid, but when I left Leeds 
to go to university, that's when West Yorkshire Playhouse was being 
built. Then it opened when I'd mentally left Leeds, but I'd always 
watched its impact on the city, even though I'd never worked there.

“There's a certain point in your head when you're not interested in 
other jobs, because you've not been there long enough, or you feel like 
you've not completed enough but after eight years I was definitely 
getting a sense that it was probably time to start thinking about a new 
challenge for myself. I think also it's good for the theatre to have a 
new set of co-ordinates around itself. If I'd still been here after 
ten, twelve, fifteen years, you'd be able to see it in people's faces 
wondering why I was still here and thinking I'd be here forever.”

Brining arrived in Scotland in 1997 to run TAG, a post previously held, 
incidentally, by outgoing West Yorkshire Playhouse director, Ian Brown. 
Brining's career as a theatre director began at Cambridge University 
before he decamped to Newcastle to run a company on the Enterprise 
Allowance Scheme. Brining worked at the Orange Tree in  Richmond, where 
he first met Hill, and later ran Proteus theatre company in Basingstoke.

“There was something about Scottish theatre that suited me,” Brining 
says of the move north. “Theatre of all the artforms explores identity 
the best, and Scottish identity is always up for grabs.”

Such an attitude sees Brining leave Dundee Rep in pretty good shape. 
Not only is there an ongoing confidence in the work onstage, but as an 
organisation the Rep appears to be a tightly run ship. As evidence of 
this, at time of writing Dundee Rep is the only arts organisation in 
the country previously funded by the Scottish Arts Council as a 
three-year Foundation funded body to be given a guarantee of a similar 
status by Creative Scotland over the next three years.

“The way my time in Dundee has flown by is scary,” Brining reflects. 
“Nine years have felt like three years, which is ridiculous. The same 
ideas are still in place as were here when I arrived in Dundee, but the 
goalposts are always shifting, and that's not just about my own work. 
It's everyone involved in Dundee Rep who make it a success, and I 
really believe that a theatre has to contribute something to the local 
community. The challenge for whoever takes over here is to make sure it 
keeps evolving”

Further Than The Furthest Thing, Dundee Rep, April 24th-May 5th

Six of The Best – James Brining Chooses His Most Memorable Dundee 

Flora the Red Menace – John Kander and Fred Ebb - 2004

Kander and Ebb's little-known musical about starving artists, communism 
and love in low places.

“This was the first show I did in Dundee, but no-one had heard of it.”

A Lie of the Mind - Sam Shepard – 2004

Scottish premiere of Shepard's study of two American families in crisis.

“An amazing piece of writing, but not many rep theatres would do a play 
like that.”

Dr Korczak's Example – David Greig – 2006

Originally directed by Brining when he ran TAG, Greig's play looked at 
a real life paediatrician working in war-torn Warsaw in the 1940s.

“That's the show I'm maybe most proud of. It's this beautiful, delicate 
little show, but it's about these huge things.”

Sunshine on Leith – Stephen Greenhorn – 2007

Greenhorn's Proclaimers soundtracked show based around two squaddies 
readjusting to civvie street was much grittier than most jukebox 
musicals. It's most recent revival in 2010 featured Lord of the Rings 
star Billy Boyd in a leading role.

“This was hugely entertaining, but it also said something very serious 
about some things going on in the world today.”

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Edward Albee - 2009

Albee's lacerating study of a middle-aged couple at war over one long 
booze-soaked night.

“What a brilliant play that is. We had a set of brilliant performances, 
and you could see the audience at the end feeling like they'd just been 
in the room with these people.”

Sweeney Todd – Stephen Sondheim – 2010

The demon barber of Fleet Street with show-tunes scooped several awards 
for an epic production.

“I'd wanted to do this for ages. I saw Declan Donnellan's production, 
and was absolutely gobsmacked. Ten years later I tried to do it, but we 
never got the money for it. Then another ten years go by, and I finally 
get to do it. It's a fascinating play. It makes your heartbeat change. 
I could sing you every note of that show if you wanted.”

The Herald, April 24th 2012


The Lieutenant of Inishmore

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
The dead, decapitated cat that is the big reveal at the opening of 
Martin McDonagh's scabrous black comedy sets the tone on one of the 
bloodiest and most outrageous plays to make it to the main stage for 
years. Set in one of McDonagh's trademark rural Irish backwaters, the 
seemingly accidental cat killing opens the door to an increasingly 
absurd world of rubbish terrorists whose scatter-gun approach to things 
looks ever more futile, and all the more hilarious for it.

When Irish National Liberation Army loose cannon Padraic is interrupted 
 from his self-appointed duties torturing drug dealers and bombing chip 
shops with the news that his pet pussy is at best unwell, we see the 
full sentimental face behind the fanaticism he espouses. With his 
former comrades laying in wait, as well as a girl with an air rifle who 
still believes in heroes back at home, the dramatic explosion that 
follows is a deranged mix of Beckettian mundanity and Sam Shepard-like 
baroque as rebooted by Quentin Tarantino.

It's a credit to director Mark Thomson that he's putting such essential 
work into the Lyceum repertoire where other theatres might fear to 
tread, and his production captures the full ridiculousness of 
McDonagh's vision. All of the performances are beautifully nuanced, 
delivering McDonagh's vicious one-liners like bullets, with Peter 
Campion's Padraic forming a crazed Bonnie and Clyde style alliance with 
Rose O'Loughlin's Mairead as the body-count escalates.

It's telling, however, that after all the mayhem, it's the domestic 
ordinariness of the world that survives along with an all too brief but 
show-stealing turn from a moggy with considerably more than nine lives 
to play with.

The Herald, April 23rd 2012


The Making of Us

Tramway, Glasgow
3 stars
When film and theatre director Lindsay Anderson  allowed his own
cameras to be seen filming the action of Alan Bennett’s 1979 TV play,
The Old Crowd, it caused a tabloid outcry. Anderson had used a similar
device in his film, O! Lucky Man, which ended with actor Malcolm
McDowell seemingly auditioning for Anderson’s previous feature, If…

One is reminded of this stepping into the latest collaboration between
Suspect Culture director Graham Eatough and visual artist Graham Fagen, 
with a major contribution here from film director Michael McDonough.
Commissioned by Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and
co-presented by the National Theatre of Scotland, The Making of Us
opens by having the audience sign a disclaimer that allows them to be
filmed, before we’re ushered into a room that is part film set, part
installation akin to Eatough and Fagen’s Killing Time project at Dundee
Contemporary Arts.

With the cameras rolling, bar-maid Helen encourages punter Jonathan,
played by Ali Craig, to take part in a film being directed by Michael.
Shunted from bar to hotel room to anonymous offices before ending
beside a solitary Beckettian tree, Jonathan appears to have given his
entire life to an all-consuming project we’re all complicit in. With
Eatough and Fagen onstage themselves shifting scenery or else directing
a film crew that is both fictional and actual, on one level this is an
extravagant close up on the tedious glamour of a film set.

More significantly, perhaps, as Lucianne McEvoy’s Helen and Keith
Fleming’s Michael conspire to manipulate Jonathan’s narrative for their
own ends, everything is on show in a series of infinite, Russian doll
style meta-narratives that flag up the endless possibilities of
artifice and truth in a reality TV age.

The Herald, April 23rd 2012


Friday, 20 April 2012


Eastgate Theatre, Peebles
3 stars
Robert Louis Stevenson probably wasn’t the first to rewrite Scottish 
history as a Boy’s Own style adventure, and he certainly wasn’t the 
last. On the one hand, Kidnapped’s eighteenth century orphan Davie 
Balfour’s on the run rites of passage over land and sea en route to 
reclaiming his stolen birthright is a heroic yarn of discovery and 
derring-do. On the other, it’s a state of the nation dot-to-dot through 
history that throws Davie together with real-life figures in the 
ferment of some of the most crucial moments that followed the Jacobite 

Cumbernauld Theatre’s Ed Robson takes advantage of this in his 
pocket-sized three-person touring production which utilises live and 
recorded back-projections, puppets and story-telling techniques in a 
quick-fire romp through the landscape.

If the TV news report is an idea pioneered in Peter Watkins’ seminal 
film, Culloden, the projections of puppet gladiators on the battlefield 
looks straight off YouTube. Some of the more scenic projections that 
accompany Scott Hoatson’s Davie galloping through the glens with Peter 
Callaghan’s Alan Breck Stewart to Bal Cooke’s rollicking score, 
meanwhile, look like airbrushed offcuts from a Visit Scotland ad in 
what at times looks something akin to the sort of TV drama that marks a 
political epoch with a telly blaring out real-life news footage at the 
edge of the human narrative centre-stage.

With Alan Steele doubling up as assorted wicked uncles, sea Captains 
and redcoats, beyond al this, Cumbernauld’s Kidnapped cuts to the heart 
of what matters to both accidental wanderers in very different ways. 
While Davie is learning to be a man, like his comrade and adversary, 
exile has taught him to believe in something  beyond home.

The Herald, April 20th 2012


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Oh Lord! Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Minding My Language in 12 Snapshots In and Out of Time


Picture this. A lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh a couple of decades back. I'm looking at a painting I can only remember as something busy with a multi-coloured, all-angles splurge, zinging off every which way so it grabs the attention, pop-eyed, and so wonkily off-kilter and sketch-book play-pen alive I can almost hear a prat-falling absurdist soundtrack to go with it.

“It's like the opening credits to a Mr Magoo cartoon,” I say to the person I'm with. “But that's not the sort of thing you can say about abstract art.”

“Why not?” she says back. “If the opening credits of a Mr Magoo cartoon are what a painting reminds you of, and if that's what you feel about it, then it's as valid as anything else. And besides, whoever the artists were drawing Mr Magoo, they would have known what was going on elsewhere in art movements, so of course they'd be bringing that to the table. They were artists too, after all. ”

Even though I can never remember the name of a painting which has become one of my favourites in the whole Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, that comment remains the wisest, single-most important piece of advice about interpreting modern art, or any art for that matter, I have ever received.


A girl I like arrives at a house party wearing a Bauhaus t-shirt.

It's some time in the early 1980s, and, in-between trying and failing to get off with each other, we're all finding out what we're about, making statements, finding a tribe to pledge our teenage allegiance to.

Mine was long overcoats, hand-me-down Penguin Modern Classics existentialism, severe hair, austerity chic.

The t-shirt the girl is wearing as I remember it is black with white lettering, or maybe the other way round, with the band's name in the trademark lower-case font that defines their logo. The band-name sits either above or beneath a vintage image from some horror movie flick to accompany the first Bauhaus record, Bela Lugosi's Dead. Possibly.

I knew nothing of the original Bauhaus art movement that gave the band their name, but the band's image and output – all pasty-faced cheekbones and Rocky Horror theatrics without the laughs – was pure Batcave Goth.

I never liked all that stuff ever since I saw Bauhaus the band support the equally theatrical but far cleverer Magazine on the Correct Use of Soap tour, and hated them on sight for their shape-throwing light-show as much as the faux melodrama of the music.

It just didn't ring true, somehow.

The Birthday Party were far better at it, as I'd seen watching Nick Cave rolling round the orchestra pit of Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre one night.

Judging by the manic, shrieking state of Nick Cave, The Birthday Party clearly weren't playing at it.

They were possessed with something scary that went beyond words, but was something altogether more primal.

The Birthday Party were first up on a triple bill that saw them followed by an out of place Vic Godard and the Subway Sect.

Vic and a band that would go on to have hit singles with the far less interesting but just as studiedly vintage JoBoxers were going through a Swing stage, all lounge-suit crooning and immaculately retro styling.

They were both a couple of decades too early and too late, which was maybe why one of the lacquered-up, black-clad hordes in the audience impatient for the headline act threw a bottle at Vic, which hit it's target, face-on.

We didn't stay to see the headliners, because New Order were on the telly at half ten, which, in the just-about pre-video age, counted.

Besides which, we'd already decided they were faking-it a couple of years before, and how Bauhaus had ever got to concert hall headlining status was anybody's guess.

I tell all this to the girl I like after commenting on her t-shirt and asking her if she liked the band she appeared to be supporting.

We got on quite well, and I'd never had her down for the Bauhaus type, whatever that was.

She's never heard any music by Bauhaus, she tells me. And she's really not that interested. She just liked the picture is all.

I don't get it, and puzzle awhile on this unexpected answer, the same as I would puzzle a few years later when someone said they were going to a party in a warehouse, where they'd play records, take their own drink, and, no, there weren't any bands playing.

Like Vic and the bottle, I just didn't see it coming.


In Paris a decade back on my first ever international press trip, with no French, no guide-book, no map and no sense of scale of the city. With an afternoon to kill after my interview with Romanian theatre director Silviu Purcarete, a man of few words who I will meet again a decade later when he brings his visually epic production of Faust to Edinburgh, I jump on the Metro, caught up in the adventure. With no idea where I am, and with only the image of old Godard films and the spirit of '68 to guide me, I jump off at La Republique, because it seems to fit. This isn't just a station, I figure. It's a revolutionary gesture.

Outside, I strike gold. There's a demo in full swing, attacking the government with megaphone-led chants, slogans, whistles and what, in French, looks like the urgent exchange of Gauloises-led ideas. 'Don't Be Realistic!' went the Situationist legend. 'Demand The Impossible!' Fired up with barricade-jumping, vanguard-raising fervour, I follow the march around the city, hanging on every word I didn't understand.

It's getting dark by the time the march disperses. Alone on a high-speed suburban thoroughfare that looks nothing like the Paris of my film-fired imagination, as the truth of the situation dawns on me, it turns out I'm being even slightly realistic, and am certainly demanding the impossible. I not only haven't a clue where I am, but the march has actually been a right-wing anti-immigration rally. After three exhausting hours tramping unfamiliar streets in search of my hotel, I stop a man who initially at least appears friendly, and offer up the only French I had.

“Scusez-moi,” I splutter pitifully, gesturing towards myself. “Anglaise.”

The man's formerly friendly face contorts into a sneer.

“Francais!” he shrugs, with what seems like a very French mix of indifference and contempt, and off he goes, on his way again.

Vive La Revolution...


Editing an English translation of a Polish short story. Set in contemporary Warsaw, it's an initially bleak little yarn about an ageing stoner type seemingly oblivious to ties or commitments who loses all sense of who he is and what or why anything matters as he careers his way through the city.

It's a good story, and in the main the translation reads well. Only a few of the words need changed or unpicked from literal colloquialisms which, in English, don't mean anything. Which, after several email exchanges with the translator, a Pole with exceptional English, is easily sorted.

My main concern is that all of the paragraphs seem to go on forever, as do some of the sentences, which stress their point again and again, insistently descriptive lists broken up by semi-colons. I've seen this before in other translations of Polish (and Czech) fiction, and wonder whether this is down to a particular tic of the original syntax. Either way, it makes for a dense and overly busy page.

Marta the Polish translator explains that this is just something they do. I suggest breaking the long sentences up into several small ones, and doing away with the semi-colons altogether. Marta's fine with this, and in my mind it makes things cleaner and clearer. We make a thing of the wannabe hip coffee chain that nobody will have heard of outside Poland trying too hard to be like Starbucks, turn a cat from a thug into a monster, and are pretty much sorted.

Taking such licenses makes me think of Raymond Carver, and how this most revered of twentieth century American writer's trademark short-sentence meat-and-two-veg minimalism was recently revealed by Carver's widow Tess Gallagher to have largely been down to his editor, Gordon Lish. In 2009, Gallagher published Beginners, a collection of Carver's original versions of the stories published in his 1981 collection, what We Talk About When We Talk About Love, before Lish. And I think about the generation of would-be Dirty Realists Carver – or was it Lish? - had such a profound staccato influence on.

Maybe we're doing the same to this Polish writer who's written this bleak but ultimately optimistic little story about a man finding himself just in the nick of time as Lish did to Carver. Maybe, if they know English, they'll hate what Marta and I have done to their story, and in twenty years time when they're famous, dead or both, will publish their original, unedited and untampered with creation.

And I think what a big responsibility this all is, getting things right.


Reservoir Dogs was released in 1992. Quentin Tarantino's debut feature film was shot through with a million nerd-u-like movie references peppering Tarantino's already baroque, bucket-mouthed and street-smart dialogue. Mouthed by a sharp-dressed and be-shaded cast of hip Hollywood outsiders inbetween indulging in bouts of choreographed violence set to a cool retro soundtrack, the film's post-modern sense of its own self made it iconic. Would be tough guys loved it, from the four-letter poetry of the critique of Madonna's Like A Virgin, to Michael Madsen dancing to Stealers Wheel's Stuck in the Middle With You while slicing off someone's ear.

The following year, Irvine Welsh's first novel, Trainspotting, was published. Written in Edinburgh-accented Scots, the book is actually a loose-knit collection of short stories that follow a group of young men's travails through the 1980s, when mass unemployment and cheap heroin blighted a generation of working-class men and women living under Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in Britain.

Giving voice to a guttural, back-street demotic more polite literary types even now turn their nose up at, Trainspotting's arrival was the tipping point of a contemporary Scots lit-scene that had grown via James Kelman and others over the previous decade. It also marked the dawn of a new hedonism, as old punks, worn-out politicos and ex football casuals got all loved-up to become the Rave Generation, repetitive beats and all.

By the time it was adapted, first into a play, then into a film, Trainspotting too had become iconic. 'Choose life' went the trailer to its Iggy Pop soundtrack, like a Katherine Hamnett slogan t-shirt come to life in all its unambiguous Summer of '84 glory.

In 1994, the appearance of Loaded magazine tapped into what would become known as New Laddism, a beery, boorish, soft-porn slap n' tickle cartoon version of machismo, 'For men who should know better', as the magazine's slogan immortalised it. Initially, at least, it was a witty, if over-excited riposte, both to the drippy New Man stereotype and the rise of seemingly ball-breaking feminism that had so castrated him, and to the old-school soft-focus 'tastefulness' of Playboy, Penthouse and other middlebrow coffee table men's magazines beginning with P.

As its name filched from Primal Scream's indie-dance anthem so rudely suggested, Loaded looked to the speed-addled Gonzo journalism of Hunter S Thompson as its guide by way of a glossy Carry-On style romp. Gary Oldman graced the cover of the first issue, which also featured Rod Stewart, Paul Weller, Withnail and I and Eric Cantona. The first edition also featured two small black-and-white shots of a knicker-clad and then unknown Elizabeth Hurley, whose most private areas had clearly not been airbrushed.

Drug dealers, gangsters and bad boys became Loaded's stock-in-trade. Rock n' Roll excess was where it was at, and a self-parodic image of unreconstructed geezerdom was its calling card. Loaded lived fast, but, despite being half the mag it used to be as the irony and the good writers gave way to full-on tits n' ass tabloidese, is very much still with us. National Treasure status awaits.

And then came Oasis, the ultimate bad lad gang, who took on, not just the music scene, but the world, in 2004 with their first album, Definitely Maybe, a distillation of every English white-boy guitar band with attitude ever, from The Beatles to The Who to The Sex Pistols. What became knows as Brit-Pop burst open in a wave of stadium-sized euphoria as indie went mainstream.

As with Trainspotting and Reservoir Dogs, both championed on the pages of Loaded, Oasis, led by the hungry, studiedly snarling Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, tapped into a collective need to let off steam after the austerity-led 1980s had thrown them on the dole. They too were going to have a good time and live forever. By the second album, What's The Story Morning Glory?, Oasis' mission was accomplished, and Tony Blair's New Labour triumphalists were ready to pick up the slack.

Somewhere in the thick of all this, one night in 1993 eighteen year old Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a racist gang at a bus stop in South London. It took eighteen years two bring two of five main suspects to justice. It was an ugly incident, made even uglier by the countenance of the young men accused of the crime.

In 1998, all five of the suspects attended a public inquiry. They had already refused to answer questions at an inquest the previous year, while three had been acquitted at a 1996 trial.

All five suspects were filmed leaving the 1998 inquiry, swaggering, spitting and blowing kisses before squaring up to the angry mob of protesters who greeted them by pelting them with eggs. One picture in particular sums the day up, as art critic Jonathan Jones recently identified in the Guardian newspaper following the belated and this time successful prosecution of two of the suspects.

The picture in question appears to show a well-drilled gang under siege, their white shirts and black trousers spattered by missiles. One wears shades, pulling back his arm at the crowd gladitorially, as if rebelling all borders on a battlefield. It is a shocking image of collective thuggery, made even more so by the life sentences two of the men received at the recent trial.

'Is evil real?' Jones asked. 'Can it be caught on camera?'

Perhaps it's simpler than that.

Image and context are everything in this photograph. Here are a bunch of lads, New Lads maybe, wannabe tough guys who've never had it so good, and should but maybe really don’t know better. You get the impression they think they've stepped onto the set of a Guy Ritchie film, or else some straight-to-DVD, low-rent gangland porn. They're kings of their manor, untouchable, invincible, as if they really could live forever. And yet, like all of the above, they too are products of their time.

Where Reservoir Dogs, Trainspotting, Oasis and even Loaded turned all that chippy, white working-class wide-boy anger into art, the picture of the Stephen Lawrence suspects shows what can happen if you take on the style of something without trying to understand it. Fetishising violence is dangerous. These boys didn't choose life. They took it away.


Samuel Beckett

Comment Dire

pour Joe Chaikin

Folie —
folie que de —
que de —
comment dire —
folie que de ce —
depuis —
folie depuis ce —
donné —
folie donné ce que de —
vu —

folie vu ce —
ce —
comment dire —
ceci —
ce ceci —
ceci-ci —
tout ce ceci-ci —
folie donné tout ce —
vu —
folie vu tout ce ceci-ci que de —
que de —
comment dire —
voir —
entrevoir —
croire entrevoir —
vouloir croire entrevoir —
folie que de vouloir croire entrevoir quoi —
quoi —
comment dire —
et où —
que de vouloir croire entrevoir quoi où —
où —
comment dire —
là —
là-bas —
loin —
loin là là-bas —
à peine —
loin là là-bas à peine quoi —
quoi —
comment dire —
vu tout ceci —
tout ce ceci-ci —
folie que de voir quoi —
entrevoir —
croire entrevoir —
vouloir croire entrevoir —
loin là là-bas à peine quoi —
folie que d’y vouloir croire entrevoir quoi —
quoi —
comment dire —
comment dire'

Summer 2002. I'm on the phone, talking to a legend. Or rather, I'm listening, hanging onto every softly-spoken word I hear from the other side of the world, my eyes welling up as we go. I'm feeling more and more humbled every second, each sound a little epiphany of how lucky I am to be doing what I do, listening to this Zen-like affirmation of life.

The legend's name is Joseph Chaikin, although most friends and acolytes call him Joe. Always Joe. Joe is a theatre director who came through the American counter-culture, first with Julian Beck and Judith Malina's taboo-busting Living Theatre, then from 1963-73 with Joe's own Open Theatre, and beyond. The Open Theatre worked with sound and movement, developing work through improvisation in a laboratory-like environment.

The Open Theatre's first full ensemble piece, The Serpent, was a polyphonic collage that knitted together the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy alongside more biblical fare. An erotic depiction of the Garden of Eden and Cain's murder of Abel climaxed in a final roll call of the Old Testament choreographed into an umbilical orgy in which the begetting went on forever.

In sharp contrast, the company's next major work, Terminal, looked at death. Its audacious fusion of sound and vision influenced composer Lucio Berio's piece, Opera, and his very notion of music theatre. In 1966, Joe was invited to work with Peter Brook on US, a radicalised Royal Shakespeare Company's anti-Vietnam spectacle.

In 1969, Joe played Hamm in Endgame by Samuel Beckett, whose work Joe would perform and direct for the rest of his life. The same year, members of the Open Theatre simulated an orgy in Death Valley for Michaelangelo Antonioni's piece of wide-screen existential psychedelia, Zabriskie Point. The film, released in 1970, was scripted by playwright Sam Shepard.

Joe disbanded The Open Theatre in 1973 for fear of the company going mainstream and becoming part of the establishment. He formed The Winter Project, and, with Shepard, wrote and performed two plays in 1974, Tongues and Savage/Love, that experimented with the use of the voice and poetic narrative. In 1984, Chaikin and Shepard collaborated on The War in Heaven, a monologue about an angel who dies the day he was born.

The same year, Joe, who had a weak heart ever since he was a little boy, suffered a stroke during a second bout of open-heart surgery. This left him with partial aphasia, a language impairment which meant he was unable to communicate fully with words. Nuance may have been a struggle, but, Joe kept working, with Shepard incorporating Chaikin's stop-start aphasic syntax into a revised version of The War in Heaven.

Joe performed and directed worldwide, and visited Edinburgh in 1996 with Beckett's texts For Nothing. In 2002, his collaboration with Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company, a wild dreamscape called Shut Eye, was booked into Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre for its Festival Fringe season. Which is how I ended up being on the phone to a legend called Joe.

I'd been warned by Shut Eye co-director and Pig Iron artistic director Dan Rothenberg that the interview wasn't going to be easy, that Joe might not be able to say the words he wanted to, that it would take time. It could have been agony. In the end, it was a joy.

I don't remember much about our conversation, other than that there were lots of gaps as Dan had suggested there would be, and that Joe's brain was both as sharp and as filled with a child-like wonder as it had ever been. Most of all I remember Joe's sense of pride, not so much at what he'd achieved, but more about the connections he'd made through all the free-wheeling madness.

Beckett...My friend....,” he'd say eventually, but with a gleeful force behind it that almost beamed down the phone line. “Sam Shepard...My friend...”

Then we'd both pause, me to see if he'd finished yet, Joe because he had no choice.

I'd ask something else, something broad, about his past, and maybe Joe would laugh a little, indulging me.

“Beckett...My friend,” he'd say again, as if on a loop, stressing just how much it mattered to his still amazed self. “Sam Shepard...My friend....”

It was Joe's mantra, and could easily have been his epitaph.

A year later I'm writing Joe's obituary after his weak heart finally gave out. I'm writing about how, following his stroke, he spent a year learning how to say 'yes', and much the same again acquiring the word 'no'.

I'm writing about how Beckett wrote what turned out to be his last poem for Joe before his own death in 1989. Beckett had fallen over a year before, and he too suffered from aphasia, albeit temporarily. His last gift to Joe was written in French. Comment Dire, which translates as What Is The Word, has been dubbed by some as 'Aphasic Modernism.'. Whatever, the poem is a painstakingly two-steps-forward, one-step-back struggle to articulate...something, and which captures the essence of his and Joe's condition, paring language down to its very core.

Samuel Beckett

What Is The Word

for Joe Chaikin

'folly -
folly for to -
for to -
what is the word -
folly from this -
all this -
folly from all this -
given -
folly given all this -
seeing -
folly seeing all this -
this -
what is the word -
this this -
this this here -
all this this here -
folly given all this -
seeing -
folly seeing all this this here -
for to -
what is the word -
see -
glimpse -
seem to glimpse -
need to seem to glimpse -
folly for to need to seem to glimpse -
what -
what is the word -
and where -
folly for to need to seem to glimpse what where -
where -
what is the word -
there -
over there -
away over there -
afar -
afar away over there -
afaint -
afaint afar away over there what -
what -
what is the word -
seeing all this -
all this this -
all this this here -
folly for to see what -
glimpse -
seem to glimpse -
need to seem to glimpse -
afaint afar away over there what -
folly for to need to seem to glimpse afaint afar away over there what -
what -
what is the word -

what is the word'

Joe performed What Is the Word himself. Hearing the poem said out loud – incantatory, hypnotic, playful and questing – one can imagine Joe doing a duet with Glasgow-based artist Sue Tompkins, whose own voice-based performances become abstract little call-and-response symphonies.

“Yes!” you can imagine Joe beaming. “Yes!”


Listen to this.

Words and music mean everything. And nothing.

Joy Division's 1979 debut album, Unknown Pleasures, still sounds like nothing on earth. It's opening song, Disorder, which possesses such brittle, edgy urgency it sounds like the band's lives depended on it, and in one case it probably did, gets played in clubs nowadays. Heard loud in this context, it's easy to make out the opening line.

'I've been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand', Ian Curtis sings into himself with studied Ballardian intensity. But what if it was something different, and perhaps even more startling? What if he was actually singing 'I've been waiting for A GUY to come and take me by the hand'?

And what if, a year later, the chorus of Because You're Frightened, the opening track of Magazine's The Correct Use of Soap album, wasn't demanding the listener to 'Look what fear's done to my body', but was rather asking them to observe the far lairier 'Look what BEER's done to my body'.

For some, both these misnomers will forever be true.

And if it's hard enough to hear the words, what if the meaning behind the moaning has an equally different slant on things?

Was the early 90s club euphoria of One Dove's still magnificent White Love on the Dot Allison-led trio's sole album, 1993's Morning Dove White, for instance, really about spiritual purity? Or was it simply pure, pilled-up bliss?

And was the yearning of Kate Bush's This Woman's Work, on her erotically inclined 1989 album, The Sensual World, really about the near mystical status of the female orgasm and the bittersweet agony of getting there?

Given that Bush wrote the song from a man's point of view for a quite specific crisis scene in John Hughes' tellingly name film, She's Having A Baby, probably not.

But without being told otherwise, or learning to listen harder, some of us will never ever know any better.


On the phone again, this time interviewing a maker of cross-artform performance-based installation type work. She's explaining her new work, a performed installation involving sound, light and space.

She talks of how the process of making the work was like a journey for everyone involved, of how architecture changes everything, and how the different languages of each artist's practice has been an eye-opener.

I ask if she can tell me something more concrete about the work, but she's reluctant to as she doesn't want to give anything away for if and when I see it. All she can talk about is practice, process and the journey.

Finally, I ask her what it's about.

She can't tell me.

Words fail me.


A friend who works in marketing messages me.

She's giving a workshop to small-scale arts organisations, and asks what one piece of advice would I give them for writing press releases.

It's a no-brainer.

Tell them not to tie themselves up in knots with over-florid nonsense, I message her. Words like 'bold', 'radical', or 'innovative' mean nothing anymore.

Neither does box-ticking corporate funding-body speak. 'Cross-artform inclusivity with open-access policy and high-level accessibility for stakeholders'. That sort of thing.

They're two shades of the same bullshit, I tell her.

And never, not ever, use the word 'practice'.

I'm not sure where it comes from, but I blame the schools.

And the teachers.

And the funders.

Today, art is reduced to something that's somewhere between an essay and an application form.


On the phone, interviewing Max Legoube, a French theatre-maker, who's directing a puppet-based version of Hamletmachine, German playwright Heiner Muller's nine-page deconstruction of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Max can't speak English, and my French remains as non-existent as it was when I got over-excited and completely lost in Paris all those years ago. Because of that, I emailed my questions over earlier, and we're conducting the interview via an Australian lady called Deborah Lennie, who provides the female voices for the English language version of the show. I ask Deborah the questions she already has typed out in front of her, and she asks Max for answers he's presumably already thought about.

After I ask each question in an unintentionally exaggerated and over-loud voice – because Max and Deborah are in France, because they're 'foreign', and because Max at least can't understand me – like some hick from the sticks in a 1970s sit-com bog-deep in cultural stereotypes, I hear Deborah asking Max the question, only in French. I have no idea what they're saying. It could be anything.

Hamletmachine was made famous after a production by American director Robert Wilson applied multi-media aesthetics to it in 1986. Wilson and Muller recognised a way of working that mixed and matched ancient and modern in a cut-up, hi-tech, visual based form of total theatre. German industrial group, Einsturzende Neubaten, who once drilled a hole in the floor of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London during an incendiary 1981 performance, performed a radio play version. Blixa Bargeld played Hamlet, with Gudrun Gut as Ophelia.

Muller himself did a seven hour version, with his Hamletmachine folded-in to Shakespeare's original as a play within a play. Max's version, which features recorded voices speaking in English, or whatever language is appropriate for the country they're performing in, lasts fifty-five minutes.

The only time I've ever seen Hamletmachine was in Edinburgh, the same summer I first saw the Mr Magoo painting at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art. It was being performed as part of a week-long season at the Royal Lyceum Theatre hosted and curated by playwright Tom McGrath, who, like Joe Chaikin, had come through the 1960s counter-culture, as a poet performing alongside Allen Ginsberg at the Royal Albert Hall, and editing International Times in London, before running Glasgow's first alternative arts lab, The Third Eye Centre, on the site of what is now the Centre for Contemporary Arts.

The week was called Off The Wall, and showcased performed readings of work by Muller, Tankred Dorst and McGrath's fellow Scots Beat, Alexander Trocchi, with McGrath putting them all under the banner of something called 'The Deviant Tradition'. There was a version of Muller's play Quartet, which is based on Dangerous Liaisons and was here presented by a London-based company who did a wordless version set to a soundtrack of The Power, an electronic machine-age club anthem by German Eurodance trio, Snap!

The Power, which originally featured unlicensed samples by Jocelyn Brown and Mantronix, was a number 1 hit in the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK. Brown's recording of Love's Gonna Get You provided the song's repeated hook-line, 'I've got the power', edited and looped in such a way so it hammers home its point like a martial mantra. As every dictator knows, repetition counts.

A version of Hamletmachine presented as part of 'The Deviant Tradition' at Off The Wall caused no little controversy, primarily because the director asked the cast to perform naked apart from wearing giant-sized heads of Stalin and other world leaders. I don't remember who, but, given the times, I expect Thatcher and Reagan were both in there. The cast refused to get their kits off unless the director did likewise. He agreed, and the performance went ahead.

Somehow, Max, Deborah and I make it through the interview, each of us adding our own little untranslatable slant on things. Form-wise, the three-way conversation is a microcosm of Hamletmachine itself, open to interpretation.

Later, Max's people emails Manipulate, the puppet and animation festival Max's company, Compagnie Sans Soucis, are going to be part of, to say how much they'd enjoyed the interview. This never happens. Not ever.

Simon who runs Manipulate emails me, and asks me if I'll record one of the speeches for the English version of Max's production of Hamletmachine. It seems he and Deborah liked my voice, and thought it would fit.

The timing's out, alas. The only time we can record the speeches is a day I'll be out of the country. So let's be clear. The voice in the English-language translation of Sans Soucis' Hamletmachine, it isn't mine.

In 1995, English writer and poet Marc von Henning, who directed the Edinburgh production of Quartet, published a collection of his English translations of Muller's work, including Hamletmachine. In his introduction he wrote the following.

'Translating is experience, not explanation. Apparent understanding of the content very quickly ceases to be of help, and it is the rhythms, caesuras, metre, shapes, sounds and images that take over, both as friend and enemy. Therefore, the aim cannot be to explain, but to create, to confront, not to circumvent. The translation cannot be assessed by the degree of its obedience to the original, but by the quality of its departure from it. Translation is more primitive conflict than sophisticated definition, it has much more in common with a wrestling bout than with a university seminar.'


Back at the house party, where most girls and boys are wearing uniform straight-leg Top Shop jeans, sweat-shirt and trainers, I don't know what to say to this girl in the Bauhaus t-shirt I really like, even though, if you take away the musical/Goth associations, it's actually a really nice t-shirt, and makes her look sexy and arty at the same time.

We sort-of have an almost-kind-of thing at a bus-stop late one night, and life goes on.

I still have a picture she drew of me, all skinny-malink lollop, Hovis-boy shaved hair, specs and grandad shirt, and a lit cigarette between each finger, like some grotesque caricature of a dole queue wannabe desperate to be taken seriously.

She wrapped it in some pages of the Record Mirror and gave it to me in an envelope marked 'Leaving Certificates'.

Turns out she just got lucky with a drummer sometime either before or after all this.

Many years later, long after Top Shop have started selling copies of vintage punk t-shirts where it's the image alone that counts, I discover the girl I liked in the Bauhaus t-shirt all those years ago is now a fairly successful artist, photographer and curator, albeit one who shares the same name as a celebrity female impressionist.

One of her recent photographic projects, I discover, is a series of stylised black-and-white portraits of women based on and inspired by a series by a pioneering nineteenth century female photographer, who cast her subjects as classical heroines.

These new images look studiedly expressionistic, only with the pale, interesting and oh-so-serious young women depicted betraying tell-tale 21st century tics that in a few years time will define a vintage all their own, the same as happens in any decade.

The word 'ghost' in the title of this series of sepulchral-looking images is all too appropriate on every level.

The pictures wouldn't look out of place on the cover of an album by a band of serious young men in the early 1980s, whose merch stands would be filled with similarly gloomy images laid out like corpses on overpriced t-shirts.

Eventually they would be worn by ice-cool young women with artistic intentions, for whom it's not just about the music.

They just like the picture is all.



Another sunny Sunday Edinburgh afternoon. Except, more than twenty years on, it's winter this time, and, rather than take a trip to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, I'm indoors in front of a computer screen, trawling its website, listening to Radio 3 as I go. Because, in part, that's how it's done these days, an online archive at your fingertips, with no-one there beside you to listen to your half-absorbed observations about . Only your own curiosity to keep you clicking.

I'm trying to track down the painting I likened to a Mr Magoo cartoon this way because the entire two floors of the gallery have been given over to The Sculpture Show exhibition until summer 2012, so all the regular exhibits will have been tidied away. If I want to find cartoon needles in giant haystacks, I first of all have to start raking through the right barn.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art archive is listed alphabetically by artist, and is banded together with all the other Scottish National Galleries, which necessitates me going through a couple of thousand names from A to Z, from Marina Abramovic's 1994 Star (from the portfolio 'Dear Stieglitz'), a photograph of a five-pointed star Abramovic carved on her own belly, to Two Infant Angels on Clouds Bearing A Cross [after Titian]. Somewhere inbetween, I stumble on a slew of favourites alongside some images I've never seen before, never quite sure what I'm looking for.

Was it Jared Adler's Homage to Naum Gobo, or David Bomberg's Vigilante? Pierre Nonnard's in there, as are Braque, Breton and Edward Burra. Alexander Calder's The Spider sticks out, as does William Crosbie's Heart Knife and Robert Colquhoun's Masked Figures and Horse, but none of them are quite right. Other paintings don’t even come close, but stand out anyway, like pat Douthwaite's Death of Amy Johnson, while Jean Dubuffet's Villa by The Road has all the familiar hallmarks, but no. Max Ernst is too science-fiction.

Sir William Gillies' The Harbour comes close. A portrait of Anstruther inspired by Klee, it's nearly, but not quite. Terry Frost's Pink Quay and Black and White Movement on Blue and Green II bubble under and bounce around, alongside Adrian Heath's Climbing Composition Green and Blue and Anthony Hill's Composition.

Clicking through each letter of the alphabet like this gets me thinking about Adrian Henri, the poet who, alongside Roger McGough and Brian Patten, was one of the 'Liverpool Poets', whose shared volume, The Mersey Sound, fused pop, art and poetry in an easy to trip off the page kind of way that was as swinging sixties as it came. When I first came across the book, I enjoyed Patten's angsty melancholia about terminal adolescence the best, then getting to grips with what appeared to be an after-hours lifetime of beautifully sad one-night stands by McGough. Henri I didn't take to at first. I didn't initially get all his references, like 'GO TO WORK ON A BRAQUE!, and stuff about 'Pere Ubu walking across Lime St' and 'Marcel Proust in the Kardomah eating Madeleine butties dipped in tea', all of which are in Henri's Liverpool Poems.

The one I really didn't get was a longer piece, just called Me. It was just a list, I reckoned, hip pop-cultural name-dropping to impress your friends with. How wrong could I be.


if you weren't you, who would you like to be?

Paul McCartney Gustav Mahler
Alfred Jarry John Coltrane
Charlie Mingus Claude Debussy
Wordsworth Monet Bach and Blake

Charlie Parker Pierre Bonnard
Leonardo Bessie Smith
Fidel Castro Jackson Pollock
Gaudi Milton Munch and Berg

Belà Bartók Henri Rousseau
Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns
Lukas Cranach Shostakovich
Kropotkin Ringo George and John

William Burroughs Francis Bacon
Dylan Thomas Luther King
H. P. Lovecraft T. S. Eliot
D. H. Lawrence Roland Kirk

Salvatore Giuliano
Andy Warhol Paul Uzanne
Kafka Camus Ensor Rothko
Jacques Prévert and Manfred Mann

Marx Dostoevsky
Bakunin Ray Bradbury
Miles Davis Trotsky
Stravinsky and Poe

Danilo Dolci Napoleon Solo
St John of the Cross and
The Marquis de Sade

Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Rimbaud Claes Oldenburg
Adrian Mitchell and Marcel Duchamp

James Joyce and Hemingway
Hitchcock and Bunuel
Donald McKinlay Thelonius Monk

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Matthias Grunewald
Philip Jones Grifths and Roger McGough

Guillaume Apollinaire
Cannonball Adderley
René Magritte
Hieronymus Bosch

Stéphane Mallarmé and Alfred de Vigny
Ernst Mayakovsky and Nicolas de Stael
Hindemith Mick Jagger Durer and Schwitters
Garcia Lorca
last of all

For years I'd find myself going back to Me – nothing to do with Motown Records' one hit wonder Charlene's 1977/1982 sleeper hit, Never Been To Me, incidentally - and each time I did, it made a little more sense. The names would be that bit more familiar, until I started joining the dots between them and developed something resembling a context. Sure, some of Me is of its time – shut up, Charlene - , but as a mixed-up, shook-up cut-up primer of how art and artists criss-cross each other or else rub up against each other like the messiest parallel universe nightclub happening in the world, whatever their field, it's to die for. Best thing is, we're all invited too.

Back in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art online archive, meanwhile, I've struck gold. I'm onto M by now, and I've just clicked on John Maxwell. Bingo!

Harbour With Three Boats dates from 1934, and, like Sir William Gillies' The Harbour, is a painting of a Fife harbour and is inspired by Paul Klee. No surprise there, though, as, according to the biographical detail on the site, Gillies and Maxwell went on painting trips together. 'A disregard for perspective,' it says, 'and a selective approach to detail.' And it's true, the tiny houses and far bigger boats lined up in brown and yellow hues set against a murky blue is all over the show, never settling for a minute, playing tricks with the eye so things zoom in and out of focus, just like, well, just like a Mr Magoo cartoon.

Really? No, really, though? It does, doesn't it? Or is it just me?

Nah, you're right. Nothing like it.

Memory may play tricks, but seeing is believing. Discuss.

A version of this appeared in Line Magazine issue 6 - Translation, April 2012

Quotes from: -

Comment Dire / What Is The Word - Samuel Beckett - 1988 - Selected poems 1930-1989 - Faber and Faber 2010

Theatremachine - Heiner Muller, translated and edited by Marc von Henning - Faber and Faber 1995

Me - Adrian Henri - The Mersey Sound - Penguin Modern Poets No 10 - 1967 /