Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Gerard Murphy - Krapp's Last Tape

Gerard Murphy is looking back. As the Irish actor returns to the 
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow for the first time in fourteen years to 
appear in Samuel Beckett's solo play, Krapp's Last Tape, it's an all 
too appropriate thing to be doing. Krapp, after all focuses on an old 
man rewinding his past via reels of tapes on which he's charted his 
hopes, ambitions and subsequent disappointments ever since he was a 
young man. Not that Murphy had  much in the way of failure during his 
time at the Citz, which began an intense three years in 1974, and 
continued intermittently until 1998, towards the end of what is now 
regarded as the theatre's golden era under the three-way artistic 
directorship of Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip 

With Krapp forming part of a double bill with another Beckett 
miniature, Footfalls, Murphy returns to the Citz at the end of incoming 
director Dominic Hill's first season, which has tempted other prodigals 
such as David Hayman and Cal MacAnninch back to the Gorbals. As he sits 
alone in the foyer of a building he virtually lived in at the start of 
his career, Murphy is understandably reflective.

“Coming back here, it feels like coming home,” he says, echoing both 
Hayman and MacAnninch's sentiments. “It is home to me in so many ways. 
It's where I started, and it's the most important theatre ever. Watchin 
g King Lear, it was like Dominic had sprinkled magic dust. It was like 
the best of the old times, but with new faces and young people 
alongside the old, in that wonderful mixture that I associate with 
here, and the tears came to my eyes.

“I just thought, how lucky am I to be back here. It's just a wonderful 
feeling to sit in this bar and think, my God, in a time when in England 
theatre is dying, theatre's very much alive here.”

Being alive is at the core of Krapp's Last Tape, which, by Murphy's own 
nervous admission, “ is one helluva things to attempt, and it's 
fantastic to be asked to try. I know it's just a man and a tape, but 
it's such a mix of humour, pain, anguish, loneliness and poetry. This 
man, he's profoundly alone. He's profoundly disillusioned. He's a randy 
old bugger, but he can't get it up anymore, and we hear him thirty 
years before, with all those hopes he had, of a great career and a 
great novel, and this is a weird thing. Because here he is now, and he 
still has constipation, he still hasn't written the great novel, and 
he's still recording these tapes of where he is at any particular time. 
He's a tough old nut, this one, and yet there are strands of undoubted 
beauty in it that are sheer sentiment.”

The last person to perform as Krapp in the Citizens, of course, was one 
of the men who first employed Murphy, Giles Havergal.

“Giles brought something very personal to it,” Murphy acknowledges, 
“but I'm a different kind of man, so I hope I can bring something of my 
own to it.”

Murphy grew up in Newry, County Down, in Northern Ireland, and was 
originally meant to become a musician. Although naturally shy, “I could 
see that if I went down that route I'd become more and more 
introverted, and I wanted to find a voice.”

Thinking acting was “a night job” which he could fit around his 
studies, he approached his local theatre, who explained to him it 
wasn't quite like that. Even though Murphy didn't hold what was then a 
compulsory Equity card, he got the job.

“What I didn't know was that they were looking for someone to play a 
mentally defective child, and this angelic-looking creature with long 
blonde hair, which I had then, walked through the door.”

When someone suggested he attended one of the Citz's open auditions, 
Murphy arrived in Scotland equally naïve, but again, was offered a job. 
The first show of what was originally a three-month contract was 
Coriolanus, which, coming in the thick of the Citz's heyday as the 
raciest show in town, was  “a fantastically exciting shock.”

Over the next three years, Murphy played in Brecht, Shakespeare, Wilde 
and de Sade. His Citizens swansong was supposed to be in Woyzeck, after 
which the company contracts should have been up. A tragic motorway 
accident involving a visiting company put paid to that, however, when a 
new play by MacDonald, Chinchilla, was rushed into production to fill 
the dark two weeks. An epic based around legendary impresario Diaghilev 
in which Murphy played the title role, Chinchilla was an epic if 
unlikely hit.

“It was just another play as far as I was concerned, and I had no idea 
how it might affect things.”

As a direct result of Chinchilla, Trevor Nunn, then in charge of the 
Royal Shakespeare Company, offered him the lead role in Juno and the 
Paycock opposite Judy Dench. While this didn't stop Murphy returning to 
the Citz to play Macbeth opposite David Hayman's Lady M as well as in a 
revival of Chinchilla, Murphy has retained an ongoing relationship with 
the RSC, where he is now an associate artist.

As well as bread-winning TV turns and cameos in big budget movies such 
as Batman Returns, Murphy gas directed and translated French plays, but 
remains modest about his output. It's the Citizens he really wants to 
talk about, in terms of how his days there have informed his entire 
career. Two things in particular stick out.

One night after a show, rather than go for a drink with the cast, 
Murphy left intending to go straight home. Instead, he decided to pop 
into a pub in the Gorbals he wasn't familiar with. On entering what 
became instantly apparent was something of a spit and sawdust 
rough-house, dressed as he was in some late 1970s punky attire, Murphy 
instantly regretted his decision. When a couple of heavy types 
sauntered over and asked him if he was an actor, he thought his number 
was up. Such anxiety was heightened when they informed him the play he 
was currently in wasn't up to much, or words to that effect. When they 
suggested that the theatre should do more plays by Seneca, however, it 
became clear that they were Citz regulars, and a lively evening 
discussing the merits of Seneca,Wilde and others ensued.

If such an incident highlights just how much theatre can mean to its 
audience, Murphy's second observation is equally as telling.

“It's the only theatre where show-time at 7.30 is the most important 
time of the day. Half the people who work in some other theatres don't 
even know what's on. Here it's different, where the cleaners and 
everyone in the office know what's going on. I was shocked when I left 
here to discover that other theatres weren't like that.”

Now he's back, however, Murphy can revel in such old loyalties. As for 
Krapp, unlike the man he's playing, Murphy is looking forward to it.

“I'm a big Beckett fan,” he says, “but it scares the life out of me, 
trying to get the accuracy of emotion. It's exactly like a piece of 
music, in that it's a sonata for one man and a tape recorder, but it's 
not good enough to just be technically accurate. You have to get the 
emotion right as well.”

Krapp's Last Tape and Footfalls, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, May 
30th-June 9th
The Herald, May 29th 2012



Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Love, death and everything inbetween fire this inspired double bill by 
director Ramin Gray's invigorated ATC company, who tour Sarah Kane's 
free-associative meditation on the painful highs and lows of an 
obsessive and possibly self-destructive amour to the theatre it was 
first seen in 1998. That was in a production by future National Theatre 
of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone.   Played fourteen years on in 
tandem with Cazimir Liske's translation of Russian writer Ivan 
Viripaev's equally serious dissection of how romance can be the 
greatest of deceivers, the plays are fascinatingly revealed as mutual 
flipsides of the same coin.

The same four actors line up side by side in each to lay bare things 
that are more often left unsaid. In Crave, they stand on a platform in 
pyjamas and nighties, as if what comes out of their mouths over the 
next forty minutes is some kind of bedtime nightmare.  In Illusions, 
they sit on chairs  to tell the story of two elderly couples who, after 
half a century of marriage, discover things aren't quite what they 
seem. While the narrative is seemingly lighter and more straightforward 
in Viripaev's piece, there's a playfulness to both, with Crave peppered 
with bleakly funny one-liners beyond it's more over-wrought leanings, 
that look both to Beckett and to R.D. Laing's poetry.

There's an unflinching intimacy to both works, which are delivered with 
few frills but bags of nuanced warmth and passion by a cast featuring 
Liske himself alongside Derbhle Crotty, Rona Morison and Jack Tarlton. 
It may not all be easy listening, but in terms of poetic insights into 
what makes our inner lives tick, it's profound, beautiful and 

The Herald, May 29th 2012


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Tim Hecker / Wounded Knee / Matthew Collings

Pilrig St Paul's Church, Edinburgh
Saturday May 19th 2012

Anyone au fait with Sacred Music, BBC 4's two-series trawl through the history of choral worship, from plainchant to polyphony and beyond, will be as versed in the integral relationship between music and church architecture as they are with presenter Simon Russell-Beale's penchant for gazing earnestly into the middle distance while sporting regulation arts mandarin baggy black suits or else peering longingly at Harry Christophers' media-friendly choir, The Sixteen, perform especially for him.

Leith Walk on an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup Final Day a couple of hours after Hibs are unceremoniously gubbed by Hearts might seem a somewhat apposite locale for such ruminations to be put into spectacular practice. As a curtain-raiser to what is Quebecois electronicist Tim Hecker's second ever Scots date, however, witnessing such radically different brethrens gathered on either side of the street looks like a form of cultural ecumenicism in action that later makes itself manifest at the gig itself.

Promoted by the bespoke from a stolen sea operation, the show takes place not in the civic confines of the venue hall a la previous incumbants Retreat!, LeithLate etc, but in the dramatic confines of the church itself, pews, organ, pulpit and all. There's the extra-added bonus of the event being amplified via the sort of all-encompassing Surround Sound the phrase 'sonic cathedral' was invented for.

Opener Matthew Collings is becoming an increasingly prolific figure on Edinburgh's avant-music scene, and tonight there's an urgency to his laptop and guitar-led soundscapes. This may have something to do with the delay to door and show times caused by Hecker's protracted and understandably precise soundcheck, but, forced to fine-tune his own noodlings on the hoof and in plain sight of a near capacity crowd, Collings' hit the ground running approach lends weight, purpose and propulsion to his still controlled display of mood-led widescreen sound-shards

At times the electronic stabs gallop along like a po-mo spaghetti western, at others, synthesised zithers and horns come on like a deconstructed noir as played by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Which, whether a conscious nod to Hecker's fellow countrymen and women (or indeed the Icelandic church where Hecker recorded his sublime 'Ravedeath, 1972' album) or not, isn't bad for a one-man band.

Drew Wright's version of a one-man man is similarly ever-changing, with his ongoing Wounded Knee project a discursive melting-pot exploration of multi-cultural arcana. After a period reinventing Scots folk ballads with a two-string electric guitar that makes them sound like the Velvet Underground, tonight Wright gets back to his own roots with an extended voice-loop piece that ends up very much on home turf.

Remaining in light if not always in view, Wright layers his already rich voice into a wordless chorale that starts off like the Hopi incantation from Philip Glass' soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi before mutating into a series of harmonies that take full advantage of St Pauls' high-ceilinged acoustics. Disappearing occasionally to presumably adjust the pedals facilitating such a display, Wright bobs back up into view to shuffle and shimmy out a little tribal jig. Eventually, the chant that is formed, - “Glory-Glory-To-The-Hibees” - both low-key and euphoric - “While-The-Chief / Sunshine-On-Leith” - is both a purging and an all too necessary affirmation of faith.

Where Collings and Wright prefer to keep the lights on, Hecker's people plunge the room into darkness prior to his set, with candle-light the only illumination once a seemingly unending procession of pilgrims finally make their way from the presumably ark-like propensities of the bar. Bar. As the headlight beams of passing buses and ambulances pass across the stained-glass windows from the main road outside, the sepulchral swathes that burst forth from Hecker's kit build from ice-cracked chimes to a swirling fuzz-based pulse seemingly bathed in celestial permafrost conjured up by some long-buried ghosts in the machine.

Whether the ritual is one of possession or exorcism, as the volume increases, it sounds increasingly like choirs of lysergically enhanced angels storming the gates of Heaven. As the final piano patterns peter out, the raging calm that follows casts light at every level onto one of the most beautifully immersive events of the year thus far.

The List, May 2012


Scott Myles – This Production

Dundee Contemporary Arts
April 7th-June 10th 2012
4 stars
It makes sense that the site of DCA used to be
Scott Myles’ playground. Back then he was a skater-boy and it was a
bricks-and-mortar garage reimagined as the sort of makeshift skate-park
for local heroes and future high-flyers which under the Scottish
Government’s recently imposed changes to public entertainment licensing
laws would today be illegal.

For his first major UK solo show, the Dundee born and trained artist
has reclaimed the building’s interior with an even more playful
flourish in DCA’s latest world-turned-upside-down subversions of
everyday  work, rest and play. Mass production consumables are
reinvented for some half-remembered dreamscape as retro Habitat
reproductions are painted black and stuck to the first gallery wall,
while a swivel-seat skeleton on a chat show platform has a giant prism
where its seat should be.

STABILA (Black and Blue)' is a series of twenty-four screen-printed
images taken from courtroom evidence of the injuries incurred when one
workie attacked another with a spirit level on a Glasgow building site,
turning tools you can trust into weapons of another trade beyond the
flesh wounds and hard knocks of Auf Wiedersehn Pet style manual labour.

The trail bridges into the second gallery, where the sort of imagined
red-brick wall that did for John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos is split
into a full-size 3D jigsaw. The word BOY posted up in orange
letters on 1980s hoarding conjures up the clatter of baseball-capped,
baggy-panted hip-hop. It’s a gang mentality that’s reflected too on the
two bus shelters painted perfect silver, one on top of the other to
loiter with intent beside. Emotional debris of a different kind can be 
seen in the oversize 
folders customised with splash-paint splurges that see Myles’
filed-away ideas spilling over into a stoner’s paradise. That’s livin’, 

The Herald, May 2012


Paul Thek – If you don’t like this book you don’t like me

The Modern Institute, April 20th-June 2nd 2012
3 stars
‘I will now call to mind our past foulness and the carnal corruptions 
of my soul’ goes one missive culled from the now opened pages of almost 
a hundred  notebooks left behind by the Brooklyn-born painter and 
sculptor, which came to light following his death in 1988. Given the 
sculptures and installations that formed the body of much of his work 
 from the 1960s Technological Reliquaries series onwards, where one 
might expect blueprints for the environments shown at this year’s Thek
retrospective at the Whitney in New York, one is hit instead with 
something infinitely more personal.

Such a panoply of ripped-up autobiographical scraps and pencilled-in 
dreamscapes lays bare a candid close-up into one man's self-reflexive, 
self-absorbed but self-aware quest towards a higher state of being. 
Thek's ruminations on art, sex and spirituality are Me-Generation 
pre-cursors to a similarly confessional Zine and blog culture that 
followed. The works beyond this are big-bang stream-of consciousness 
splodges of colour, finished products borne of a self-analysis 
subsequently captured in the notebooks for precious posterity.

The List, May 2012


John Peel's Shed

When legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel died suddenly in 2004, it left a 
musical and cultural void that has never quite been filled. As several 
generations of indie-kids weaned on groundbreaking obscurities ranging 
 from DIY post-punk to dub reggae, techno and experimental noise went 
into, mourning, it became increasingly apparent just how much Peel 
changed the landscape of popular culture forever.

One of those who knew this already was writer and some-time performance 
poet John Osborne, whose very personal one man homage, John Peel's 
Shed, was one of the most heartfelt mini hits of last year's Edinburgh 
Festival Fringe. Inspired in part by Osborne's book, Radio Head: Up and 
Down the Dial of British Radio, which charted his experience listening 
to a different radio station every day, John Peel's Shed was an 
appropriately lo-fi geek's-eye view of a record-buying subculture which 
has since gone viral.

It's only fitting, then, that Osborne's current tour of John Peel's 
Shed arrives in Scotland for a quartet of one-night stands mere weeks 
after the launch of The John Peel Archive. This  major interactive 
website will in time enable browsers to rifle through Peel's record 
collection one letter at a time, opening up future generations to a 
pandora's box of eclectica beyond the X-Factor mainstream. Such an 
archive is vital on an emotional level as much as a historical one, as 
Osborne explains.

“People remember John Peel with such affection,” he says, “and 
something like this is kind of intriguing and fascinating for John Peel 
fans. But I suppose there's been lots of things that have happened 
since his death, like the John Peel Centre for the Arts in Lowestoft 
and things like that. John Peel really has tapped into something. His 
death seemed to affect everyone. I don't think there's a death that's 
affected so many people. People can really pinpoint where they were 
when they heard what happened, and I think a lot of people realised 
just how important he was, whereas before I think we probably took him 
for granted. But this site goes some way to making amends for that, and 
I think it's in the right hands.”

If Osborne hadn't won a box of Peel's own records in a competition back 
in 2002, it's unlikely that his ongoing adventure in radio would have 
borne such fruit. This is the nub of a show that sees an initially 
nervy-looking Osborne appear to grow in stature as he goes deeper and 
deeper into his sonic adventure, spinning tunes and providing facts and 
figures as he goes. This has been the case too, it seems, for the 
production itself as it has developed.

“After the book came out, the first incarnation of the show was on my 
local community radio station,” Osborne says, “and that all came 
together really naturally after I'd started thinking how I'd do 
something similar to the book differently if I did it live. The best 
album ideas all come together really quickly, and it was the same with 
this, but I never expected it to become as big as it has done. I've 
done poetry gigs for the last five years, so Edinburgh wasn't unknown 
to me, but I'm not an actor or a natural performer, and I'd never 
written a full length show. It's also really personal, about my 
relationship with John Peel and this box of records, so I needed 
someone to look at it objectively in a way that I couldn't, because I 
didn't really know what I was doing.”

Osborne emailed his early scripts to Joe Dunthorne, author of the 
novel, Submarine, and a friend from Homework, a spoken-word night at 
Bethnal Green Workingmen's Club, where both are resident performers. 
Together the pair gave John Peel's Shed dramatic shape.

“There's a record played in it every ten minutes,” Osborne points out, 
“so it feels like you're writing five ten-minute pieces. In a way it's 
a double-act, with me and this record player doing the show together. 
So overall it's become a lot better, because I'm more confident now as 
a performer. The passionate bits are more passionate, and the funny 
bits are funnier. It's different to when I did it in Edinburgh. I'm 
more comfortable and relaxed onstage now, so in a way the hard bit's 

Like Dunthorne and the other Homework residents, Osborne is one of an 
increasing number of performers whose work comes from a hybrid of live 
art, spoken-word and what in punk days of yore was called alternative 
cabaret rather than a formal theatrical root. Just the sort of thing, 
then, that might have ended up on Peel's programme alongside the likes 
of John Cooper-Clarke, Ted Chippington and American monologist Eric 

Osborne cites the likes of Edinburgh Comedy Award Winner Tim Key, Ross 
Sutherland of live poetry collective Aisle16, and ubiquitous left-field 
stand-up Josie Long as his peers and fellow travellers. All three, like 
Osborne, sit between several stools, genre-wise, and you get the 
impression from him that this is a quirky but comfortable place to be.

“I just like things that you can't really explain what they are or 
categorise them in any way,” he says. “They just do their own thing.”

Even as Osborne gears up for this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe 
dates, as with many bands played by Peel who hit the big time, Osborne 
is gearing up for his equivalent of the difficult second album.

“It's slightly scary,” Osborne admits, “but there are some difficult 
second albums that work. I'm writing another book and another show at 
the moment, and I just want to try and make enough time and have enough 
energy to do something really good. I've got a lot of good people 
around me who I can try things out with and talk to about stuff, so I'm 
really lucky in that respect, but I don't want to rush into things 

As for John Peel's Shed, “I think it's something I'll always perform, 
but this year's Edinburgh dates are definitely going to be the last for 
some time. I imagine I'll do it for special occasions, and I know I 
really owe a lot to John Peel's Shed, but for the time being I think 
it's right to put it to bed for a while and move on to something else.”

As for the great man himself, his legacy is everywhere to see and hear. 
This isn't just in the ongoing archive and numerous websites 
documenting the sessions and other arcana that made Peel's programme so 
unique. It's apparent in a culture that in some ways seems more 
prepared to look beyond the mainstream, even as sounds Peel revealed to 
the world three decades ago trickle down to inspire younger generations 
of sonic explorers.

“The gap left by John Peel's not been filled by an individual 
presenter,” Osborne points out, “but by an entire station. That's what 
6Music is about and that's what it's for. It doesn't matter whether 
it's Lauren Laverne or Marc Riley or Gideon Coe presenting. You can 
hear the spirit of John Peel in every show.”

John Peel's Shed, Lemon Tree, Aberdeen May 22; Perth Theatre, May 23; 
Paisley Arts Centre, May 25; Tron Theatre, Glasgow, May 26; Underbelly, 
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Aug 7 to 12.

The Herald, May 22nd 2012


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Fight Night

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
The Tron’s socially-minded Mayfesto season may have been scaled down 
for this year’s incarnation, but it has continued to throw out an array 
of theatrical fire-crackers regardless. Many of these have been brand 
new Irish works by writers and companies little-known or seen in 
Scotland. So it goes with Gavin Kostick’s blistering little solo piece 
about an on-the-ropes young boxer who finally squares up to his entire 
family to prove he can go the distance.

Michael Sheehan plays Dan Coyle, a one-time middleweight contender who 
blew it aged twenty-two. After six years of flabby living, however, 
he’s match-fit once more, whatever his estranged old man might think. 
Over the course of a week-long work-out before he steps back into the 
ring, we’re let into Dan’s world, a high-octane mix of back-street 
macho pride, hand-me-down defiance and a rediscovering of his mojo via 
a steadyish relationship and the kid who came with it. If Dan has been 
shadow-boxing for half a decade, as the play opens he’s the comeback 
kid, prepared to take on the world.

Bryan Burroughs’ production puts Sheehan seriously through his paces 
over the course of a relentless fifty-five minutes that sees him 
swagger, skip and shuffle his way through things with an astonishingly 
well-honed physical dexterity that allows him to flit between 
characters in an instant. One minute his hands are on his hips as his 
judgmental Da’, the next they’re clasped in front of him as his 
reconciling partner, Michelle. Through all of this Sheehan somehow 
manages to deliver every nuance of Kostick’s words with clarity, wit 
and a lightness of touch that suggests, as with Dan, he’s punching well 
above his weight.

The Herald, May 16th 2012


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Molly Taylor - Love Letters To The Public Transport System

When Molly Taylor performed Love Letters To The Public Transport System 
just over a year ago as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's 
Reveal season, it was advertised as a work in progress. While such a 
safety net covered everybody's back in case things went wrong, what 
audiences got instead was a lovingly crafted semi-autobiographical 
monologue performed simply and beautifully by Taylor in one of the most 
fully-rounded productions of the entire Reveal season.

Taylor's real life quest to track down the drivers of buses and trains 
who led the Liverpool-born performer to significant moments, and indeed 
significant others, returns for a short run of schools and public shows 
prior to a full Edinburgh Festival Fringe run as part of this year's 
Made in Scotland programme. Any fears that such a bespoke success story 
has been transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular are 
mercifully unfounded.

“It feels like Love Letters is about to take off on its own little 
adventure,” Taylor explains, “and I'm really keen to get it out there. 
A year and as half after this little show began, I've taken a kind of 
running leap at it and am getting a proper run at it, which is dead 
exciting, but pretty nerve-wracking as well. I've actually only 
performed it six times, and it's been sort of lying dormant since then, 
so I haven't reworked it in any way, and to be honest I don't know how 
much it's going to change or not change. I knew from last time round 
that it didn't need puppets or pyrotechnics or anything like that, but 
I'm in a place now where I want to renew it, but I don't want to overdo 
it either.”

With this in mind, director Graham Maley, who's worked at Liverpool's 
Unity Theatre as well as on monologues by Ronan O'Donnell and with the 
late Susannah York on the Shakespeare's women series, has been drafted 
onto the production as an outside eye. This should provide Taylor with 
a more objective aide to what is a deeply instinctive show.

“Because Love Letters is so personal,” she says, “I've never really 
approached it as a text. I've just wanted to get the words in the right 
place. There's always a danger that something you've done with 
absolutely no expectations, that the spirit of the piece is lost 
somehow. I know Love Letters has to have a bit of a polish, but I don't 
want to polish it so much that it loses that spirit. It's good to know 
as well that storytelling like this still has a role in theatre. It's 
great that you can do things on a grand scale, but there's still a 
place for little people like me.”

Love Letters To The Public Transport System was born out of a crucial 
period in the life of a woman who, even after the acclaim Love Letters 
received, sees herself as neither an actor or a writer.

“The piece came out of a very happy period in my life,” Taylor 
explains, “which followed a fairly low period, when I was being 
trampled on by a relationship in my life, I was jobless, and there was 
just nothingness. Then my life changed dramatically, just from making a 
couple of journeys from Liverpool to London. I got thinking in the 
shower, as you do, that it would make a great speech for a wedding 
day, to talk about how, if it wasn't for these train drivers getting 
people to places on time, some things in my life would never have 
happened. I'd sort of had this lovely year-long love affair with public 
transport, and I just wanted to thank them.”

With no wedding forthcoming to make such a speech, this germ of an idea 
turned into the basis of the show that exists now. Having been on the 
Theatre Studies programme at Glasgow University, Taylor had joined the 
National Theatre of Scotland's Associate programme in the company's 
Learn department, so already had connection enough to approach NTS 
Artistic Development Producer Caroline Newall, who gave Taylor the 
resources for six months of research. The result of the umpteen 
meetings that followed was a series of real life love stories that 
criss-crossed with Taylor's own experiences as a railway track might 
build up an interconnecting network.

“For me it felt like a really energising and incredibly urgent thing to 
do,” Taylor says of the experience. “The totally exciting thing about 
it was that I didn’t know what it was going to be until just before the 
end. I wrote large sections of it on trains, because I don't have a 
car, and the whole thing was born out of love, really, when I was 
stupidly in love with this person, and, instead of a faith or a belief 
system, I put faith into that. But you do have to be careful when 
you're doing something so personal, because it treads a very fine line 
that can easily slip into indulgence.”

The response to Love Letters, however, has left Taylor feeling bowled 

“I got loads of lovely letters ,” she says. “I even got a letter from 
the traffic commissioner of Scotland, who said it was her job to make 
buses safe for people. There's so many more stories you can find, and I 
don't know if I've got one of those faces, but people talk to me all 
the time about the most intimate details of their lives. I know I'm not 
a dramatist, and I think telling stories about my life isn't as 
creative as what playwrights do, so I keep things simple.”

As with so many performers, Taylor discovered drama as a way of coping 
with her shyness. As a child, Taylor's sister was three years younger 
than her, and became “a guaranteed audience of one. Whenever she 
played, I would turn into a piece of character-based drama. I can't 
remember what the turning point was, but I must've put myself up for a 
play at school, and that changed everything. Drama was instructive, but 
it wasn't trying, it was just doing.”

Taylor likens this epiphany to taking drugs for the first time.

“You realise why people do it,” she says, “because it's so much fun.”

Taylor's school didn't do drama A Level, but her teacher, having 
spotted her potential, endeavoured on a course of individual tuition, 
during which “We spent a year talking about Brecht.”

In Glasgow, Taylor's relationship with the NTS began on their 
production of The Wolves in the Wolves, and has continued since Love 
Letters as one of the recipients of the Bank of Scotland Emerge 
programme for developing theatre-makers. Taylor also performed at Oran 
Mor in a piece by Gary McNair in which she ran on a treadmill 
throughout the entire show.

To describe Taylor as irrepressibly chirpy is both an understatement 
and a potential Scouse cliché. Yet, in a free-wheeling if somewhat 
breathlessly one-sided conversation that lasts longer than her show, 
her enthusiasm is irresistibly infectious.

“I should've charged you a tenner!” Taylor says once she's stopped 
laughing after this is pointed out to her. Everyone's a story-teller in 
Liverpool. It's the same in the west coast of Scotland. We just like to 

Love Letters To The Public Transport System, Dornie Hall, June 26th, 
Macphail Centre, Ullapool, June 28th, Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, 
July 5th, then at The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh as part of Made in 
Scotland, August 2-26.

The Herald, May 15th 2012


Friday, 11 May 2012

Minute After Midday

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
The spectre of the 1998 Omagh bombing casts a long shadow over the 
Irish Troubles last bloody gasp, even as it ripped a community asunder 
forever. The collective sense of shell-shocked grief that followed is 
unlikely to be captured better than in Ross Duggan’s perfectly pitched 
elegy told through the words of three survivors of this all too 
pointless atrocity.

First seen on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2011, Duggan’s trio of 
criss-crossing monologues relate the events of what became a weekend 
off to remember for all the wrong reasons. First there is Lizzy, the 
little girl for whom a trip to the shops will never be the same again. 
Next comes Mari, whose husband Brian went out for a thirtieth wedding 
anniversary present and ended up saving Lizzy’s life at the expense of 
his own. Finally, there is Conor, the young lad caught up in the 
romance of a cause he didn’t really understand, and ended up a bomber.

With actors Claire Hughes, Eimear O’Riordan and Jude Greer sitting side 
by side and bathed in a near holy glow against the blackness, each 
person’s story is told simply and without judgement in Emily Reilly and 
Duggan’s stark and elegant production for the 15th Oak company in 
association with the Gilded Balloon. As the tragedy forces the three 
lives together just as their words inter-connect, it’s as if they’ve 
come blinking into some celestial light moving slowly but surely 
towards reconciliation. If the healing really has begun in a still 
volatile Ireland, for anyone still not convinced by the waste of 
innocent lives, Duggan’s play should be required viewing.

The Herald, May 11th 2012


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Anne Boleyn

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
Thank God for writers like Howard Brenton. Because, as English Touring 
Theatre’s revival of Brenton’s mighty history play for Shakespeare’s 
Globe testifies to, there are few artists who could combine political 
intrigue, religion, tragedy and high comedy to make a twenty-first 
century epic to die for. The audacious sweep of John Dove’s production 
helps, from the moment the period-frocked actors wander into the 
auditorium to engage with an audience perhaps expecting a heritage 
industry view of Henry VIII’s second and seemingly most heroic, not to 
say epoch-changing, spouse.

From Anne’s double-bluffing opening address, however, things couldn’t 
be more different, as the action dovetails between timelines framed 
around James I’s private investigations into Anne’s rise and fall en 
route to authorising a new bible. As Anne navigates her way through the 
uneasy coalition between church and state, she not only wraps David 
Sturzaker’s Henry around her little finger, but becomes a pin-up girl 
for the spies who send her to her death.

With every florid speech undercut by some contemporary-sounding comic 
punchline, Brenton, Dove and their cast of nineteen actors and three 
musicians have made something that’s both hugely topical and deadly 
serious, yet also remains great fun. Where Jo Herbert’s Anne is a 
thoroughly modern woman, intelligent, independent and a natural rebel, 
James Garnon’s James is an outrageous figure, cross-dressing like a 
Scots Eddie Izzard doing The Rocky Horror Show with Tourette’s. Beyond 
such frolics, Anne’s real tragedy here is that, for all her 
revolutionary zeal, it was misogyny and the fact that she didn’t sire a 
male heir that did for her in the end in this major work for difficult 

The Herald, May 10th 2012


Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Howard Brenton - Writing Anne Boleyn

History's a funny thing for Howard Brenton. As The Globe's touring 
revival of of Anne Boleyn, the veteran playwright's most recent 
original work arrives in Edinburgh this week, Brenton's depiction of 
Henry VIII's second and most misunderstood wife is a deeply serious 
study of a woman whose apparent flirtation with then outlawed 
Protestantism suggested a steely revolutionary zeal. By juxtaposing 
Anne's story with that of a wilfully outrageous James V1, himself in 
the throes of political intrigue even as he investigates Anne's legacy, 
the portrait that emerges of this most turbulent period of English and 
Scottish history is more audacious than most.

I'd wanted to write something about the Tudors for years,” says 
Brenton on a break from work on his next play, “but I couldn't find a 
way in. I had a mad idea to do something called Tudor Rose, and have 
one actress play all the monarchs, but I couldn't make it work. Then 
the Globe asked me to write something about the King James bible, and I 
had this idea about James going off on a kind of ghost hunt to find out 
about Anne's past achievements, and something clicked. Plays come out 
of the woods in that way, where you try to get to the light.

But the Tudors has become like a foundation story of England now. 
They're like an ancient Greece to us. All the stories of Bloody Mary 
and all the rest have become very potent and very powerful. On one 
level they're all about the founding of modern England, or they may go 
deeper than that. Anne Boleyn, for instance, has as huge fan-base among 
young women. People tend to see her as a sexual predator, and she may 
well have been that, but she was so much more. To become a secret 
Protestant was a very brave thing to do, and I began to see her as 
someone who was very courageous, and that surprised me.”

The presence of James VI is particularly interesting for the play's 
only Scottish dates, and in many ways Brenton's play is as much his as 
it is Anne's. His portrayal, as an out-to-shock cross-dresser who at 
one point pulls on Anne's left-behind frock, looks more Rocky Horror 
than historical romp.

James came from a very dangerous world,” according to Brenton. “It was 
known that he had a very strange way of speaking, and he said some 
outrageous things that really shocked people. Some of the lines in the 
play are things that he actually said. He used this strange way of 
speaking to mask himself from others, but he was a very brilliant man. 
He was gay, and he was a modern man, and he realised that he must have 
a settlement, which later failed, of course, but there was something 
really disruptive about him, which is probably why I began to like him 
so much.”

As one of the post 1968 cadre of English playwrights whose 
politically-based works went beyond fringe theatre to storm the 
barricades of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, 
Brenton has come a long way since making his professional stage debut 
at the Royal Court in 1966 with It's My Criminal. In 1968 Brenton 
joined the Brighton Combination collective as a writer and actor, then 
joined Portable Theatre, co-founded by David Hare, a year later.
It was  throughout the 1970s when Brenton really found his stride, 
when, alongside peers including Hare, David Edgar, Trevor Griffiths, 
Snoo Wilson and others, he attempted to write epic state of the nation 
plays from a leftist historical standpoint. 

The first of these, Magnificence, appeared in 1973, and told a still pertinent tale of 
squat-dwelling terrorists and a Conservative MP. Brassneck, co-written 
with Hare, appeared the same year. The Churchill Play and Weapons of 
Happiness followed, while Epsom Downs was penned for Max Stafford 
Clark's Joint Stock company.
In 1980, The Romans in Britain appeared at the National Theatre. The 
play contrasted Julius Caesar's invasion of Celtic Britain with both 
the Saxon invasion of Roman-Celtic Britain and the then current British 
presence in Northern Ireland. It caused a storm when a scene of anal 
rape provoked a private prosecution by moral decency campaigner Mary 
Whitehouse. While the action failed, The Romans in Britain didn't 
receive a second production until 2006, while Brenton wasn't 
commissioned by the National Theatre again until 2005.

Inbetween, Brenton collaborated with Hare again on the newspaper-based 
Pravda, co-wrote several pieces with another 1968 veteran, Tariq Ali, 
and, as with many of his fellow writers, found his leftist stance 
usurped in the 1990s. Politically, the triumphalism of a post Berlin 
Wall age made the enemy harder to spot, while, theatrically, the 
so-called in-yer-face generation of writers captured the Zeitgeist of 

I suppose you went in phases,” Brenton says, curiously looking at 
himself in the second person. “In the 70s you were an attack dog during 
a time when you really felt there could've been a revolution in France, 
but didn't happen. The far left failed, and everything congealed, so 
this dream of open living was lost in a druggy nightmare. Then I became 
a more mainstream writer, when, while not an attack dog,you could still 
write these state of the nation plays. That went bust in 1989 and 1990, 
and then I went to Moscow, which was awful.”

The 1990s, Brenton admits, “were very difficult. I went really out of 
fashion as this other bunch came along, and I only found my feet again 
about ten years ago, but on a broader plane, trying to understand the 

In the early noughties, Brenton wrote thirteen episodes of Spooks, the 
spy-based TV drama with a quietly subversive up-to-the-minute agenda. 
Then came Paul, about Paul the Apostle, and, for the Globe, In 
Extremis, a twelfth century epic that explored ideas of religion 
perhaps sired in Brenton's Methodist upbringing by his minister father. 
Never So Good explored the life of post World War Two Conservative 
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, while a translation of Buchner's 
Danton's Death and an adaptation of Robert Tressell's The 
Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists appeared the same year as Anne Boleyn.
For all Brenton seems revitalised, any suggestion that today's climate 
of recession, a right wing government and the resulting wave of protest 
are a case of things moving full circle to something akin to the spirit 
of '68, this isn't something Brenton agrees with.

In the 70s and 80s I did this huge amount of stuff in what I suppose 
was my heyday,” Brenton says, “and back then the world felt clearer. It 
was going very much to the bad, Thatcher was in power, and I felt very 
much like an oppositional writer. What's happening now is that the 
capitalist system seems to be collapsing in Europe, but I don't know 
how serious it is. Is it over? Or is it just going to be this dreadful 
drizzly politics?”

Either way, Brenton observes that “People are getting back to attack 
dog writing,” even if he won't necessarily joining in. “Your 
perspective changes,” he insists, “but your opinions don't. I've worked 
out religion, now, I think. In my late 60s, after writing five plays on 
the trot set in the past,  I've finally come to terms with the 
religious background that I left, so it's probably time to get back to 
writing about now. I'm almost 70, I have arthritis, and the NHS is 
falling to bits. I know a lot about that, so maybe I'll write about 
that next.”

Anne Boleyn, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, May 8th-12th

The Herald, May 8th 2012


Monday, 7 May 2012

No Time For Art 0+1

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
When a microphone is passed out to the audience in the second half of 
Egyptian playwright and director Laila Soloman’s all too personal set 
of testimonies from the frontline of her homeland’s revolution, the 
effect is both moving and powerful. As each reads from a sheet of paper 
demanding justice for named ‘martyrs of the revolution’ killed by one 
form of state oppression or another, the communal litany that gradually 
forms is a very quiet form of solidarity that challenges the oppressors 
even as it bears witness.

The first half that precedes it finds three Egyptian actors – one man, 
two women - sitting on chairs recounting their own knitted together 
experiences without fuss or anger in their native language as English 
subtitles flash up on a screen behind them. An everyday tale of Molotov 
cocktails, incarceration, military brutality and bombs made of tea, 
there is little need for dramatic embellishment in Soliman’s compendium 
of first-hand testimonies from three lives captured beyond the heroic 
newsreel footage flickering behind. This is real enough, as is the fact 
that company composer Mustafa Said was unable to take part in the 
production after being refused a visa.

It is a stark and unflinching form of documentary theatre Soliman 
utilises in this Mayfesto companion piece to A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s 
One Day in Spring season of work by young writers from Arab countries. 
As the title suggests, these first two pieces in an ongoing series 
strip things back to a rough and ready pop-up staging that has little 
truck with flashy artifice, preferring instead to focus on the 
chillingly necessary evocation of the here and now.

The Herald, May 7th 2012


Roman Bridge

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
There’s something of the Wild West in Martin Travers’ brutally intense 
play that is the flagship production of the National Theatre of 
Scotland’s Reveal 2012 season of new work. It’s not just the long 
leather coats and customised bowler hats that give Amanda Gaughan’s 
production the sort of rough-shod stylistic trappings that Sam Pekinpah 
would be proud of. As the play’s quartet of transients seek sanctuary 
in the gloom beneath a crossing they’re seemingly destined not to make, 
it’s the sense of a frontier lost to things not of their own making 
that gives it such a widescreen feel.

All the more remarkable, then, that Travers has set his brooding tale 
of bargains made and secrets spilled in rural Lanarkshire in what he 
calls ‘another Scotland’. It’s a place where the brave new world that 
was promised presumably never happened, and where Ryan Fletcher’s 
ruthless Robert John and John Kielty’s more humane Andrew live off 
scraps in-between burning the corpses of the plague victims that 
surround them.

The bridge may be their fortress, but it’s a natural beacon too for 
Helen Mallon’s whey-faced Catherine and her guardian, Craw, played with 
raggedy guile by Myra McFadyen. When both Craw and Catherine’s baby are 
afflicted, it forces Catherine into actions that may help her survive 
into near domestic bliss, but which will have long-term consequences 
for all.

It’s a dense and claustrophobic landscape Travers and Gaughan have 
mapped out. The language is an arcane melding of flamboyant richness 
with something unflinchingly coarse. As the actors relish in the grit 
of the rarely-heard demotic that punctuates the play’s near Hardeyesque 
scenario, a major new voice might just have been heard.

The Herald, May 7th 2012


Sunday, 6 May 2012

Five Minute Theatre 2012 - The NTS Doth Protest

Mayday and protest are natural bedfellows however some governments may 
attempt to re-brand it. This was something clearly recognised in the 
early days of Mayfest, Glasgow's now defunct trade union backed arts 
festival. It's something that is clear too in Mayfesto, The Tron 
Theatre's now annual month of politically inclined theatre, which 
acknowledges its obvious debt to Mayfest. While Mayfesto 2012 has 
scaled back its activities prior to a larger, city-wide event set to 
take place in 2013, the radical slack has been picked up by the 
National Theatre of Scotland, whose second Five Minute Theatre event 
takes protest as it's very pertinent theme.

Following on from the inaugural Five Minute Theatre, which, over 
twenty-four hours, streamed more than two hundred new miniature plays 
which were selected from more than twice that number live over the 
internet, this year the NTS, in a very logical association with STV, 
have opted for a leaner model. Rather than an all-day affair,  the 
company has opted to truncate things to a 6pm to midnight running time, 
with a mere seventy-two works being broadcast from a solitary hub at 
The Tron timed to coincide with the launch of Mayfesto itself. If such 
relative brevity of this year's event sounds like the NTS might be 
slacking, NTS audience development manager and co-ordinator of Five 
Minute Theatre begs to differ.

“It's been mental,” Maxwell says, still in the thick of pulling 
together a set of events taking place, not just across Scotland and the 
UK, but which has input from all over the world. “I'm just about to 
face the running order problem.”

This week's protest-based Five Minute Theatre looks set to be the first 
of five similarly styled events set to happen throughout the year. With 
each one picking up a different theme, the central hub will also be 
beamed from a different geographical location.

“We wanted to make it shorter and sharper,” Maxwell explains, “and to 
make Five Minute Theatre happen in more concentrated bursts. The impact 
the first one had on us last year as a company was immense. It was such 
a great way to celebrate the NTS' fifth birthday, and we knew we wanted 
to do it again, but we also knew we wanted to make it different in some 
way. Once the dust settled after the first one we raised various ideas 
at development and planning meetings, and this idea of doing five came 
up, and this sounded an interesting way of seeing what would happen. 
We'd talked about the possibility of theming last year's event as well, 
but part of the glory of Five Minute Theatre last year was that 
anything and everything might happen.”

The idea of taking protest as a theme came about while Maxwell was 
talking to playwright David Greig and David MacLennan, the brains 
behind Oran Mor's lunchtime theatre phenomenon, A Play, A Pie and A 
Pint. Both men were in the throes of pulling together Oran Mor's One 
Day in Spring season of plays by writers from Arab companies, which, in 
co-production with the NTS, is currently ongoing, both at Oran Mor and 
the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Given the nature of the One Day in 
Spring season, as well as a slew of politically motivated works that 
are around, the connections seemed obvious. In the end, it was NTS 
artistic director Vicky Featherstone who picked up on the idea of 
protest, because, as Maxwell observes, “a play can be about protesting 
about anything.”

With this in mind, works range from both seasoned theatre professionals 
as well as schools groups and individuals with little or no theatre 
experience. So while actor Tam Dean takes a unique look at Robert 
Burns, singer Karine Polwart will broadcast an instrumental and 
vocal-based piece about a woman's enforced eviction from a living room 
in Midlothian and David MacLennan and his Oran Mor team perform 
excerpts from their Jacques Rousseau Show, in Aberdeen a group of eight 
year olds will perform a piece protesting about two sisters protesting 
about their parents splitting up.

In Edinburgh, the Traverse Young Writers Group will present a piece on 
conflict between pandas and penguins in Edinburgh Zoo, while at Out of 
the Blue, a group of aerialists will present a piece focusing on the 
rise of youth protesters today, and performance poet Michael Pederson 
presents a two-person piece about a bolshie bank customer who becomes 
embroiled in an amorous encounter in a call centre.

Also in Edinburgh, the staff of the Bongo Club in Edinburgh, currently 
under threat of eviction from its Edinburgh University landlords, will 
make their feelings on the situation regarding one of the capital's 
most vital independent spaces clear, while playwright Kris Haddow will 
present a critique of the current debacle regarding the Scottish 
Government's recent changes to Public Entertainment License 
legislation. Other interpretations of protest aren't quite so explicit.

“There are hard-line looks at global issues,” Maxwell says, “but there 
are lots of people protesting about relationships as well, which I was 
a bit surprised about. We could have had a whole relationship hour if 
we'd wanted to. There's  a lot that came in about the First World War 
and conscientious objectors as well, particularly from schools.”

In Glasgow, among the twenty-nine pieces on offer, there will be 
flash-mobs in George Square  and broadcasts from an army recruiting 
office and a tenement bedroom, while a myriad of works will come from 
as far afield as Renfrewshire, Dumbarton, Ayrshire, Dundee, Bo'ness and 

While some contributions will be pre-recorded, in the main each play 
will be performed live, broadcast via two roving camera crews in 
Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as a live feed from Orkney. As each play 
streams over the event's sex-hour period, there will also be the 
opportunity for audiences to comment via a live chat feed. Beyond the 
work itself, the latter was one of the 2011 event's big success stories.

“The thing we've learnt from last year is that people really want to 
talk about theatre,” Maxwell explains. “That came across from having 
the live online chat facility. People could just blether, and that was 
a brilliant thing to see.”

In all respects, then, and if last year is anything to go by, Five 
Minute Theatre is an exercise in mass participation in artistic 
endeavour that ticks all the boxes in terms of social inclusion without 
ever feeling forced. With the next Five Minute Theatre scheduled for 
the summer, Maxwell is confident the concept has legs.

“We now have the kit to do something like this,” she says. “We also 
have the experience to do it, and the more often our crews do Five 
Minute Theatre, the more expert they'll become at it.”

Given the amount of protest-based work that exists in its broadest form 
beyond Five Minute Theatre, the NTS have clearly tapped into a 
resurgence of people power that all if the event's contributors have 
grasped onto with a vigour that politicians should probably take very 
seriously indeed.

“I think we've reached a tipping point,” Maxwell acknowledges. “It's 
really interesting what's going on just now and the artistic responses 
to that. But it's not just theatre-makers who want to protest. It's 

Five Minute Theatre is streamed live online today, 6pm-midnight. A live 
hub is based at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow.

The Herald, May 1st 2012


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Five Minute Theatre 2012

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
The technical hitches that opened the 2012 version of the National 
Theatre of Scotland’s compendium of bite-size performances beamed live 
across the internet may have resembled the early days of Channel Four, 
but the creative anarchy that followed was worth the wait. Run over six 
hours, and with seventy-two plays on offer , this year’s protest-based 
theme concentrated things even further, even if the sole screen in the 
Tron’s noisy restaurant was less than ideal for anyone wanting to 
witness the event beyond the works performed live in the venue’s 
Victorian Bar.

For those with laptops, the first hour alone included Craigowl Primary 
School’s study of Grandpa Broon, Amy Conway’s meditation on fallen war 
reporter Marie Colvin and the CurvebALL Collective’s physical theatre 
flash-mob in George Square. It was here Tam Dean Burn’s punk Robert 
Burns outfit The Bumclocks performed an anti-war mash-up of Burns, 
Pinter and Gunter Grass.

Under the Scottish Governments increasingly silly-looking Public 
Entertainment License laws, the last two events are potentially 
illegal, as Alexandra Patience made clear in DIY, a story-telling piece 
performed outdoors in Portskerra. Edinburgh University’s proposed 
closure of the Bongo Club was highlighted by the venue’s staff, Theatre 
Create presented a pertinent satire of radical chic, while Howie 
Reeve’s Grub’s Up served up a simple but effective mouthful.

But it was Emma Callendar’s dramatic intervention for one person, 
Kettle, which captured the evening’s spirit. A recording of one man’s 
experience of being kettled by police is heard as the camera opens out 
on the city, where a group of masked interlopers slowly surround the 
play’s sole audience member. In its simplicity, it sums up how protest 
can lead to real creative action.

 The Herald, May 2nd 2012