Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Freya Mavor and Jess Brittain - Shedding Old Skins

It's been quite a year for Freya Mavor. This time twelve months ago,
the Edinburgh teenager had just made her professional acting debut as
part of the third generation of Skins, E4's iconic yoof-TV drama about
a bunch of mad-for-it youngsters coming of age in an orgy of sex, drugs
and taking things too far. With the sixth and possibly final series of
Skins currently airing, Mavor returns to her role as Mini McGuinness,
the gang's queen bee bitch, whose good looks and motor-mouthed
put-downs are a brittle front for the frightened and not entirely
unpleasant little girl within.

Since sashaying onto the small screen, Mavor's public profile has
rocketed. Aside from Skins, in which she resumes her relationship with
a slutty mum played in a wonderful piece of casting against type by
Clare Grogan, Mavor has become something of a Scots style icon. Not
only did she become the face of Pringle Scotland for the company's
spring and summer 2011 campaign, Mavor was bestowed with the Fashion
Icon of the Year Award at the 2011 Scottish Fashion Awards.

“Oh, god, that was very weird!” she says. “Supposedly I'm Scotland's
fashion icon, which is very amusing. Modelling's never something I
really considered. I mean, I'm sitting here now eating this massive
bowl of spaghetti and a bar of chocolate, so I'm not that body
conscious at all.”

If Skins marked the start of Mavor's transformation from the giggly and
understandably excited schoolgirl she was when she appeared on these
pages a year ago, then the mature and ever so slightly louche-sounding
young lady taking a lunch-break on holiday in Paris following filming
the Skins finale suggests the metamorphosis to becoming a grown-up is
complete.

“It kind of felt like putting on an old jumper,” Mavor says of reviving
Mini, drawling lazily on her words. “You could go back and improve your
game. It felt very different going back. Last year everything was new,
but this time it was more about learning your craft and how to
manipulate your emotions and relive things. I was still finishing off
my last year of school when the series went out, so it was very weird
going in the day after Skins had been on and seeing how people reacted,
but I was very pleasantly surprised. I'd always been interested in
acting, which everybody knew about, so it didn't change things that
much. I've still got the same best friends and everything. Last year as
well, I had all these extremely hysterical moments onscreen, where
you're forced to down bottles of vodka – as you do. But this year if
anything, the new series is a lot darker. It's edgier, and a lot more
full-on.”

Two episodes in to the new series of Skins, and, after a fast-moving
series opener that found Mini and the gang causing mayhem on holiday in
Morocco, Mavor's words are more than a little close to the bone. This
may be even more the case when the two episodes that focus on Mini are
aired. Both of these were penned by first-time writer, Jess Brittain.
If the name sounds familiar to Skins aficionados, it should, as
Brittain is the twenty-three year old sister of Jamie Brittain, who
co-created Skins with the pair's father, Loanhead-born Bryan Elsley.

“I don't think it was an accident,” says Brittain of her tenure on
Skins. “Mini's always been written by young women previously, and I put
myself up for it, and was lucky to be accepted. But Mini's changed a
lot this series, and she's been put through a lot of things.”

Brittain was seventeen when Skins began, the same age as Mavor was when
she was cast.

“I was the same age group they were depicting,” Brittain recalls, “so
my dad and my brother would get me and a few of my mates in for
research, telling stories.”

Brittain originally wanted to write fiction, and already has one Skins
novel under her belt. Although she's under no illusions about how her
family connections have helped her budding career, she had to submit
ideas and scripts with all the other fledgling writers on the programme.

“It was always going to be a little bit weird,” she admits, “having
your dad as your boss and going to meetings with him, but it's all been
quite an intense few weeks while we've been filming.”

While Elsley cut his teeth writing and directing for major Scottish
theatre companies throughout the 1980s, Mavor comes from a theatrical
dynasty that dates back to her great-grand-father, Osborne Henry Mavor,
aka playwright James Bridie, who also founded the Citizens Theatre in
Glasgow. The combination of the Elsley/Brittains and the Mavors, then,
suggests a kind of youth theatre workshop on the telly that covers all
strands of the process.

“Dad's always been very clear about the collective process on Skins,”
Brittain points out. “None of us knew how to write when we came in, and
we all just played things by instinct.”

With Brittain already in talks for future script-writing jobs, Mavor
too has moved on. Having finished filming Skins a matter of weeks ago,
only now is she getting to grips with how her future might pan out.
Each generation of Skins has produced a breakout star, with Dev Patel
who played Anwar in the first two series starring in Danny Boyle's
multi-award winning Slumdog Millionaire after Boyle's daughter pointed
him towards Skins. Kaya Scodelario – Effie in series three and four -
has just played Cathy in Andrea Arnold's big-screen take on Wuthering
Heights.

Mavor is full of praise for Scodelario, and would love to see herself
cast in such high-profile roles. But, “At the moment I really want to
improve my languages and learn Spanish,” she admits. “I've only just
started having meetings and going to auditions, and I don't know how
any of that's going to pan out yet, but I have to stay realistic about
things. I realise how lucky I was getting Skins, but I know acting's
not the most secure job in the world, so I've got to try and balance
any acting jobs I get with other things.

“I think it's hard when you've got so many things you want to do,” she
says, wonderfully losing her cool a little. “I completely want to act,
but I'm still thinking of going to university, so maybe I'll
concentrate on a degree. But I really want to get some interesting
kinds of acting jobs. I'm involved with the National Youth Theatre, and
that's great for meeting people, and I'm really interested in
collaborations, so maybe I'll set up my own stuff.”

Now we're about to see the last of Mini McGuinness, and perhaps Skins
too for the forseeable future, how is Mavor coping with not having to
be nasty to everyone she meets?

“It's really strange,” she says. “The character I've been playing is
entirely fictional, but she's based on so many things. So coming to
terms with never playing Mini again or having her lifestyle, it's quite
a wrench. I never wear heels anymore, for one thing. I mean, I never
wear heels full-stop, but I always did as Mini, and now it's over, I
really miss the pains in my feet. But not much.”

Skins airs on E4, Mondays at 10pm

http://www.e4.com/skins/

The Herald, January 31st 2012
ends

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Silver Apples - Oscillating Wildly

 Mono, Glasgow, February 26th 2012
When Simeon Coxe III took a 1940s vintage oscillator onstage with him to lively up the psych-rock band he fronted, sparks flew to the extent that half the band left, and, with only drummer Danny Taylor in tow, Silver Apples were born. With their name taken from a WB Yeats poem (science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury had somewhat appropriately already picked up the adjoining line for his 1953 short story collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun) , the two Silver Apples albums that appeared in 1968 and 1969 melded Simeon's primitive sci-fi zaps to Taylor's busy drum patterns, and set a template for Space Rock and the German Kosmische bands of the next decade.

If such groove-laden future sounds were alien to hippies high on the summer of love's false promises, it was nothing to what Pan Am airlines made of depictions of their hardware on the cover of the duo's second album, Contact. The subsequent law-suit grounded Silver Apples indefinitely. Only when a 1994 bootleg of the two albums appeared on a German label, followed by Enraptured Records' 1996 tribute album, Electronic Evocations, featuring key figures from a new wave of sonic explorers including Windy and Carl, Third Eye Foundation and Flowchart, with the likes of Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom citing Silver Apples as an influence, did Simeon start twisting those dials again.

"It's rewarding to me," says a Zenned-out sounding Simeon from his home in Alabama of the resurgence of interest in Silver Apples. “The best thing is I had nothing to do with it. It all happened of its own volition. When we were around the first time, rock and roll bands were terrified of even using the word 'electronics', as though this was a threat to real instruments. Now it's the other way round."

Silver Apples colourful history looks set to be captured in Silver Apples: Play Twice Before Listening, a new documentary originally scheduled to premiere at Glasgow Music and Film Festival. With the screening now cancelled for the time being, Simeon will nevertheless play a solo set featuring samples of the late Taylor, who played several dates with Simeon before a car crash seemingly put paid to Silver Apples a second time.

"It was almost like the day before yesterday, when we last played at Max's, Kansas City," Simeon says of his reunion with Taylor. “It was like he'd never forgotten any licks. There are lots of people sampling Danny's drums these days. They're so easily loopable, and transferable into virtually any musical language. That's one of the reasons why I don't work with another drummer. Danny would sit and practice for hours, so I have a huge bank of his samples which I use, even on new songs. I always played against him anyway. Danny dictated the pulse of the songs, and worked in layers and textures rather than straight rock and roll beats.

"I don't really play any conventional equipment, but was basically just a straight, stand-up singer. I wasn't against guitars I just wanted to add another thing, so we tried something out and found that it worked. Because I was playing the bass lines with my feet, they had to be kept simple out of necessity, so Danny developed this loopy sound, and that's how it evolved. We weren't trying to be different in any way. It just happened. But Danny was good friends with Jimi Hendrix. He was very interested in what we were doing, and didn't think it was at all that odd. If you listen to him play guitar, he was always striving for something new."

Taylor passed away in 2005, and it wasn't until 2007 that Simeon surfaced again, with solo dates including a spot at the Portishead-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival at the behest of the Bristol trip-hop experimentalists' Geoff Barrow. Then, Simeon sat at a table awash with vintage equipment in a manner that is now more commonplace among the retro-futurist elements of the Noise and post-Noise scenes.
"I still use some of the old stuff, and a lot of stuff you can replace," Simeon says of his analog kit. "You can still pick up forty or fifty year oscillators, but where you used to be able to pick them up for a dollar, just now they're two or three hundred dollars or more."

With this in mind, wouldn't it be simpler for Simeon to put everything through a laptop and become the, ahem, Silver Apple Macbook, if you will?

"Well, there's no need to carry around sixteen oscillators anymore," he says. "I have them sampled. But the method of performing is exactly the same, and the sound is exactly the same. The physical thinking of what we did, I still like to do that with Silver Apples. But when I'm playing with other people, I'll maybe do things differently. When I played with Hans-Joachim Roedelius (of German Kosmische acts Cluster and Harmonia), for instance, I didn't use any oscillators, but used two computers and a whole set of samples, working against what he does with layers and textures. But with Silver Apples, I'm hands-on, the way I've always been."

While the rest of the world appears to have caught up with Silver Apples, after "banging my head for twenty years against the political bullshit of the art world" as a painter, "not really happy, but just doing my thing," Simeon is philosophical about what might have been.

"If we had continued, I guess we would probably have succumbed to public pressure in order to keep our contract," he reflects. "It wasn't easy - and this is a confession - to walk into a room full of people and hear them constantly say things like 'Why can't you play in tune?' It eats into you, and just because we're human beings, we would never have kept that purity. So in a way I'm glad it didn't happen for us, because there's a cleanliness about it."

As for the future, "I'm in very good health," Simeon says. "Nobody can believe I'm seventy-three years old, but right now I'm doing exactly what I want to do, and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

A version of this appeared in The List, February 2012

ends




The Infamous Brothers Davenport

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
The audience are not only on their feet but are onstage inspecting the 
giant cabinet that dominates on entering this fiercely ambitious 
collaboration between Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison's Vox Motus 
company, playwright Peter Arnott and the Royal Lyceum. The conceit is a 
piece of Victorian hokum, in which the two Davenports of the title, Ira 
and Willie, conjure up spirits from within their cabinet under the 
half-lit scrutiny of a 'scientific spiritualist society'. Introduced by 
the grandiloquent Mr Fay under the watchful eye of the desperately 
seeking Lady Noyes-Woodhull, Willie, the younger of the two, is 
apparently possessed by his dead sister Katie as his spirit guide in a 
seance. When Willie goes off message, however, truth becomes far 
stranger than ghost stories.

As the spirit cabinet opens up, this reimagining of the real-life 
Davenports story lays bare the roots of their act in a damaged, 
bare-floorboards childhood, in which a hopped-up mother hallucinates 
heaven while a brutal father abuses Katie to death. The psycho-sexual 
scars are plain to see, particularly in Willie, as played by a 
whey-faced Scott Fletcher opposite his brother Ryan as a more 
practical, if perpetually perplexed Ira.

The first half-hour's box of vaudevillian tricks are but a 
curtain-raiser to what follows in a big, technically complex piece of 
Freudian expressionism, the very essence of which is about blind faith, 
hope and the power of suggestion. Accompanied by Phamie Gow and Jed 
Milroy's live piano and fiddle score, and with much emphasis on light 
and shade, Vox Motus have created a spine-tinglingly serious treatise 
on what the imagination might be capable of if we only let our demons 
out.

The Herald - January 26th 2012

ends 

Hamletmachine - Heiner Muller Manipulated



“My main interest when I write plays is to destroy things,” wrote 
German iconoclast Heiner Muller, as quoted in Theatremachine, Marc von 
Henning's English-language translation of Muller's most essential 
works. “For thirty years Hamlet for me was an obsession, so I wrote a 
short text, Hamletmachine, with which I tried to destroy Hamlet. German 
history was another obsession, and I tried to destroy this obsession, 
too, that whole complex. I think my strongest impulse is to reduce 
things down to their skeleton, to tear off their skin and their flesh. 
Then I'm finished with them.”

With this in mind, no wonder the two productions of Muller's 
post-modern rewiring of Shakespeare seemed to Max Legoube of French 
puppet theatre company Compangnie Sans Soucis so wrong-headedly 
violent. Legoube's take on things, which opens this year's Manipulate 
visual theatre festival at the Traverse in Edinburgh, aims to redress 
the balance with a ravishing multi-media approach that cuts through 
Muller's brooding dissections of Marxism and feminism to explore the 
frailty of existence in close-up.

“It surprised Max just how aggressive these productions were,” says 
Sans Soucis associate Deborah Lennie, who acts as translator for 
Legoube, who sits beside her as she acts as his mouthpiece. “So when he 
first saw these productions he hated the text. Then when he read the 
text himself, he found something heartbreaking in it, and there was 
something quite surprising about feelings, darkness and held-back 
anger. He found that was completely the opposite of what he'd seen, and 
that difference really intrigued him. That was why he wanted to do it, 
to defend the text, and to find out what was underneath.

“For Max, the text is both a psychological narrative and something 
approaching a dream state, so there is the idea of a changing of 
scales, where things that are little can become big and vice versa, so 
the interior side of the self can be confronted. There is this 
confrontation between the individual and the mass that provokes 
ruptures in the text. We do this using puppets, lighting, sound and 
video, all of which are very important in trying to call upon the 
subconsciousness of the spectator, and to make the spectator 
participate in the performance, to liberate the spectator, and, rather 
than present a conclusion, to open the mind.”

Written in 1977, the nine pages of dense monologues that make up 
Hamletmachine was first produced in France, although it became 
something of a cause celebre when American director Robert Wilson took 
a lavish hi-tech take on things in 1986. Famous for his stagings of 
cross-collaborative work by the likes of Philip Glass, Tom Waits and 
William Burroughs, and, more recently, Rufus Wainwright and Marina 
Abramovic, Wilson gave Muller's work a mythical, epic edge, which, 
three years before the Berlin Wall fell, was already suggesting, if not 
a post-political age, then certainly an era of less certainties. 
'Goodbye to didacticism', Muller wrote in the play's introduction.

Hamletmachine remains the most performed work of a writer born in 
Saxony in what was then East Germany, and whose youthful membership of 
the Socialist Unity Party and the German Writers Association quickly 
established him as a major writer while still in his twenties. By 1961, 
however, his plays were being censored or banned, while Muller was 
effectively expelled from the Writers Association. Paradoxically, 
Muller's work began to find popularity in the west. It was arguably 
this division that made his works increasingly less orthodox, predating 
and predicting society's increasingly fractured state as old ideologies 
collapsed in on themselves.

Hamletmachine itself premiered in Paris in 1979, while English 
translations of some of Muller's other works had trickled across the 
border for several years. If Wilson's production of Hamletmachine 
became iconic in a style that reflected Muller's own tendency to pick 
and mix other texts in a form of literary sampling more common in live 
art collage, Muller's own production several years later went further. 
More than seven hours in length, Hamletmachine itself was folded into 
Shakespeare's original as the play within a play that proves so crucial 
to the Danish Prince's subsequent downfall. Other productions have 
included a radio version by Einsturzende Neubaten, the German 
industrial band whose entire aesthetic, like Muller, was about smashing 
down old barriers. Where Muller did it through words, Einsturzende 
Neubaten, whose name translates as Collapsing New Buildings, went 
beyond metaphor towards something more physical. A 1981 concert at the 
Institute of Contemporary Arts ended in chaos when the band attempted 
to drill a hole in the floor.

Muller's work hasn't been seen much in Scotland. Outside of a 
production of the Dangerous Liaisons-appropriated Quartet by Stewart 
Laing in the Citizens Theatre's Circle Studio, the only other 
substantial sighting of Muller in a professional context was more than 
twenty years ago.

Off The Wall was a week-long series of rehearsed readings and 
workshop-style productions of new German work at the Royal Lyceum 
Theatre in Edinburgh under the auspices of playwright and Literary 
Director for Scotland, the late Tom McGrath and translator Ella 
Wildridge. Taking place in 1990, just a year after the Berlin Wall 
fell, Off The Wall brought together work by writers from both east and 
west. Given McGrath's own experiments with dramatic form, the focus was 
understandably on writers with a similarly radical outlook. One was 
Tankred Dorst, whose epic two-part version of Merlin was later staged 
at the Lyceum. The other was Muller.

The programme of Muller works included an excerpt from Quartet set to a 
soundtrack of one of the previous year's club hits. Somewhat 
presciently called The Power, it was performed by German Eurodance trio 
Snap!, who used (initially unauthorised) samples from Mantronix and 
Jocelyn Brown on a par with the way in which Muller, and indeed Wilson, 
used other sources. Performed in eighteenth century costume, this 
presentation was directed by Marc von Henning.

The presentation of Hamletmachine at Off The Wall proved even more 
irreverent, and not a little controversial after director Michael Batz 
asked his cast to perform naked apart from giant heads of Stalin and 
other Communist icons. In a typically Mulleresque spirit of defiance, 
the actors refused unless he did likewise. With Batz duly complying 
with their wishes, the performance went ahead, and Edinburgh discovered 
Hamletmachine for the first time.

In contrast to Muller's seven-hour approach, Sans Soucis' production 
lasts a mere fifty-five minutes.  Legoube laughs at the difference, 
which goes some way to illustrate his notions of scale in his very 
personal approach to Hamletmachine itself.

“There is a political element in the play,” Lennie translates, “that is 
about the confrontation between communism and capitalism, but it's not 
the sort of theatre that is there to give the spectators a lesson, or 
tell them what is good and bad, like Brechtian, didactic theatre. What 
interests Max is the whole story apart from the political thing. His 
approach looks more towards imagery concerning the fragility of 
humanity, what it has become, and is still becoming today.

Max thinks it is very important today for the public to let itself be 
surprised, and that they don't  have to understand everything. Each 
person can go away with their own point of view that goes beyond 
ideological and literary conflicts. In this way, it is the openness of 
Hamletmachine that makes it so important today.”


Hamletmachine, Manipulate, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, January 30th
www.manipulatefestival.org
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, January 24th 2012

ends


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Arika 12 - Episode 1 of A New Festival of Experimental Film and Music

In December 2001, a brand new experimental music festival appeared in Glasgow. It was called Instal, and took place over one day at The Arches, bringing together various shades of the international avant-garde, from Japanese noise artist Koji Asano and junkshop record sampler Philip Jeck, to works by Scots composers David Fennessy and William Sweeney played by The Paragon Ensemble. Such events weren't unprecedented, with the equally eclectic Le Weekend festival in Stirling similarly ongoing. A regular left-field music infrastructure or scene in Scotland, however, was absent.

 A decade on, it's hard not to trip over a network of events great and small which claim to be in some way to be experimental or avant-garde. Over the years Instal itself grew to become a two-day, then three-day affair. Barry Esson, who originally instigated Instal with Tiernan Kelly, now of Film City, formed Arika Industries with his co-conspirator Bryony McIntyre as Arika. As well as Instal, Arika have also been responsible for the film-based Kill Your Timid Notion series at Dundee Contemporary Arts, a festival at the Sage in Gateshead, and the site-specific Resonant Spaces and Shadowed Spaces tours.

 As the landscape has changed, so has Arika, with their most recent events eschewing star names in favour of a more philosophical and political line of enquiry that questions both the form and function of what an experimental music festival can be. The latest result of this is a series of three 'episodes' of something simply called Arika 12. The first of these, titled A Film Is A Statement, will present four days of screenings, discussions and lectures at the CCA, culminating in a showing of Brecht-inspired song-spiels by Russian provocateurs, Chto Delat?

 “When we started out, the impetus was to probably provide a platform for certain types of artforms that there didn't seem to be a lot of in Scotland,” Esson explains. “Over time that's developed, so that as well as wanting to see this kind of work, you want audiences to engage with it beyond the standard expectations of what a festival is supposed to look like. We've constantly tried to explore that in different ways, and we've changed the formats to the extent that at the last Instal, we effectively broke it. I feel very emboldened by a lot of the other stuff that's going on in Scotland, and that not only encourages you, but obliges you to take things further.”

 With this in mind, Episode 2 of Arika 12, A Special Form of Darkness, will look at ideas of nihilism in music, while Episode 3, Copying Without Copying, will present unedited transcripts from sources including Guantanamo Bay and the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Also on Arika's agenda is an invitation from the Whitney Biennial, the major international showcase of North American contemporary art in New York. As the Biennial's first non-American curators in its near forty year history, Arika will be adopting a similarly serious approach.

 “It would have been easy just to repeat something we'd already done with Instal,” McIntyre points out, “but we need to ask questions about what it actually means for us to be doing something at the Whitney, and look at the same ideas of engagement and participation. What Arika 12 is about is engaging with complex aesthetics and ideas, and applying them to real life, because they have social or ethical use.”

 To illustrate this point, Esson points to a recent YouTube video of veteran minimalist composer Philip Glass with the Occupy Wall Street protesters outside the Lincoln Centre, where his opera, Satyagraha, has just been playing. In the thick of the crowd, Glass reads the final lines of Satyagraha, taken from the Bhagavad Gita; 'When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.' After each line, the 'human microphone' of the crowd repeat Glass' words like a mantra.

 “It's the best thing he's done in years,” asserts Esson. “It's minimal, it's experimental, it's political, and there are hundreds of people participating in a performance of what is actually a composition. It has a purpose, and it shows the power of what experimental music can do.”

 Arika 12, Episode 1: A Film is a Statement, CCA, Glasgow, January 19-22; Episode 2: A Special Form of Darkness, Tramway, Glasgow, February 24-26; Episode 3: Copying Without Copying, Tramway, Glasgow, March 23-25. www.arika.org.uk www.cca-glasgow.com www.tramway.org

 The Herald, January 19th 2012

 ends

Orla O'Loughlin - The Traverse Theatre's New Artistic Director

There's a sense of wonder about Orla O'Loughlin when she talks. As the newly appointed artistic director of Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre winds her way deep into the bowels of Scotland's new writing theatre in search of a dressing room, it's as if she's applying the same geographical unfamiliarity to her brand new role in arguably the best theatre job in town. Everything, it seems, is an adventure. As well it might be. Unlike most of her predecessors, O'Loughlin has no track record working in Scotland's theatre scene, and, since her appointment in August 2011, has kept out of public view as she surveys the lay of the land before her.

 “It did feel like I was being kept under wraps,” she says almost five months on after picking up the mantle left behind by the departure of Dominic Hill after four years to take over the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, “and I was allowed to walk freely in the streets, which was great.” Since then, while O'Loughlin has been overseeing practical and domestic arrangements for the move, she's also been “starting to contemplate living and working in Edinburgh, moving to a different country, and really beginning to study the form, really, of the Traverse and of the Scottish theatre community, because I'm brand new to both. So I suppose I was trying to be a good student, and trying to get a sense of the context and the history, and the politics with a small p, so that I would arrive with some fuel in my tank, I suppose, so I'm not beginning as a total newbie, but have some sense of context to inform the decisions I'll be making and the direction I'll be taking things in.”

 While at time of writing, she's only been in the building for just over a week, O'Loughlin's four month reconnaissance has at last given way to getting her feet under the table. “It feels like I'm ready to be here,” she says, “and that the building is ready for me. I feel very at home already, but I've a very long list of people to meet. For me it's a series of encounters, this first couple of weeks, at least, getting to know our writers under commission, writers who we might be thinking about commissioning, our audience and our supporters, as well as getting to know the organisation itself.”

 O'Loughlin comes to the Traverse from Pentabus, the Ludlow, Shropshire-based company she ran for five years, and who will provide her calling card when her production of Tim Price's already acclaimed play, For Once, ends its UK tour at the Traverse in April. Prior to this, O'Loughlin was an International Associate at the Royal Court, following on from a stint as a staff director at the Royal National Theatre that was preceded by a year as resident assistant director at the Donmar. With such a track record, and with Pentabus' increasing profile as a company touring areas of Britain which rarely hit the headlines, the appeal of moving into a major producing house is a bit of a no-brainer.

 “Early on in my career I spent a lot of time working in buildings with national significance, working with some very prestigious writers and artists” O'Loughlin observes, “and then I went off to run my own company. But I always hankered in the long term to be part of a gang, to have a home, and to be a host, I suppose. I knew I wanted to run a building at some point, and the Traverse just feels like such a natural fit. I've spent the majority of my career working with writers, trying to create the conditions for writers to make work that is provocative, resonant, contemporary, political, whatever it is that they want to do, and there's something about the chameleon as a symbol of this theatre that very much felt like a mirror of how I operate, because I don't have a house style as a director. Everything I've done has been completely different, because it's all been writer-led, and writers are all different. So there's something about the eclecticness of this theatre that felt right for me.”

 O'Loughlin's use of words such as 'gang' and 'host' points to an approach more social in its outlook than merely being just about the work.

 “I think we're involved in a very human pursuit,” she says. “I think we're in a position to look at what it means to be alive in these times, and if you're inviting people into your home, you have a responsibility to them, to push them as well as welcome them. You want to ask the big questions of writers, and push them beyond their comfort zone. I'm really wanting to reach out to a new generation of writers, as well as our more esteemed ones. I also want to learn as much as I can contribute. But there are no secrets. I'm brand new, which could be quite useful, because I'm pretty much new to everyone I meet, so there's no baggage.”

 Of Irish parentage, O'Loughlin grew up in London, and initially trained as a singer. After studying drama academally, she trained a teacher, and ran a drama course in a boys school before friends gave her the confidence to study directing. O'Loughlin then founded sob Theatre, who presented work at Battersea Arts Centre prior to winning her director's bursary at the Donmar. During that time she worked in the West End with the likes of Michael Grandage, Sam Mendes and Gwyneth Paltrow, simultaneously doing what she calls “dirty messy work at BAC.”

 Being able to straddle both worlds is something O'Loughlin sees as essential for her new role, and she points to Midsummer as the perfect example of this. David Greig and Gordon MacIntyre's lo-fi musical began life at the end of in Traverse 2's hundred-seater space in a production that made a virtue of its minisculr budget. Three years on, the Edinburgh-set musical rom-com has paid dividends several times over, and this month embarks on a three-month tour of Australia as a fully-fledged commercial phenomenon.

 Clearly thrilled to be in post, O'Loughlin struggles for a word to sum up her perceptions of her new home from the outside. “The Traverse is very cool,” she says eventually. “It feels kind of legendary, and one of my jobs is to try and bottle that spirit and fill the place with it throughout the year.”

 At the moment O'Loughlin can't say much about her concrete plans for the immediate future. She has her first Edinburgh Festival Fringe season to plan, and has yet to decide what the first play she will direct for the theatre will be. There's also the small matter of the Traverse's fiftieth anniversary in 2013. How things pan out remain to be seen, but O'Loughlin's varied experience will undoubtedly influence her tenure.

 “A play can be many things,” she says, “and it can be staged in many ways in many places. I think you have to have a real strong connection and sense of responsibility to your immediate locale and where you're from. The connection between people and place is really important for me. I'm a city girl, but after being with Pentabus I also bring this sense of a call of the wild with me as well. With that I hope also comes a spirit of adventure. When I say anything is possible, I really believe it.”

 www.traverse.co.uk The Herald, January 17th 2012

 ends

Moving in Houses

Tramway, Glasgow
3 stars
 Four wooden structures occupy each corner of Tramway 5’s bijou space. Each box-like structure forms the skeletal frame of some half-built des-res that might change every day on a gap-site turned building-site and soon-come housing estate. While an installation by day, by night each one finds people curled up in the dark, living together or alone in a room of their own while the traffic roars and the birds sing outside.

 This is the landscape mapped out in Theatre Arts Group’s devised exploration of a place that’s sometimes called home, a life in the day of a community isolated from each other both physically and existentially. As an audience of twenty navigate their way around, the seven performers drag their respective homes behind them, connecting them up as they greet the day, only occasionally engaging with each other.

 A great deal of thought has clearly gone into Rachel Clive and Kirsty Stansfield’s production, which attempts the sort of behind-closed-doors observations of human behaviour that Vanishing Point achieved so beautifully in the far grander Interiors. The wordless poetry of Moving in Houses, however, has a more informal, documentary feel, in which, beyond choreographed notions of everyday social intercourse, not that much actually happens.

 Even so, as the living results of the million and one botched experiments in urban regeneration and social engineering are hinted at, the performance is almost a form of very quiet activism. The most accomplished and complete part of Theatre Arts Group’s ruminations comes via Mark Vernon’s soundscape, a beguiling concoction of chimes, electronic melodies and environmental noises off. For this alone, Moving in Houses is worth stepping outside for.

 The Herald, January 16th 2012

 ends

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Moving in Houses - Space Is The Place

How other people live is fascinating, and there are few better insights
into what makes them tick than getting a look inside their homes. Where
some might live in a four-walled fortress, others might prefer an
open-plan outlook on the big bad world outside. Such notions of
personal space formed one of the starting points for Moving in Houses,
a new cross-artform piece of work devised and created by the
experimentally inclined Theatre Arts Group, which plays for three
nights in Tramway this week alongside an installation. Using sound,
light, movement and above all else a sculptural form of architecture,
Moving in Houses aims to explore the very notion of how we both define
and interact with the immediate space around us.

“We're working with four structures,” Theatre Arts Group
writer/director Rachel Clive explains, “and the performers are relating
to each of these structures, which represent different types of
housing. One represents a terraced house, another a semi-detached,
another a detached villa, and so on. We're looking at how we interact
with each of them, and how they influence our behaviour in different
ways. We're also looking at how light controls our environments, at
changing structures within society, and how that society works.

“The piece is really about change, and how these different structures
influence change. It's about trying to find some kind of ideal way of
living together, and in many ways is very relevant to how we live now.
The group is made up of people both with and without learning
disabilities, and we're very aware of moves over the last few years
towards people living independently. But because of changes in
benefits, people are becoming increasingly more isolated. That's had a
huge influence on the piece.”

To bring all this to impressionistic life, Clive and her co-conspirator
in Theatre Arts Group, visual and sound artist Kirsty Stansfield, have
enlisted a team of dancer/choreographer Krista Vuori, sound artist Mark
Vernon, architect Ewan Imrie and lighting designer Alexander Ridgers.
All come with an impressive pedigree. Vuori has worked with the
physical-based Frantic Assembly, while Vernon is an internationally
renowned sound artist. Imrie's work with Collective Architecture has
pursued ideas of participation in spaces that are crucial to Moving in
Houses, while Ridgers is making his mark at the Royal Conservatoire.
Under Clive and Stansfield's guidance, all four have worked closely
with the company's core team of performers to create a set of
loose-knit narratives which have challenged everybody's working
practices, Clive included.

“As a writer it's really taken me out of my comfort zone,” she says.
“Because there's no story as such, it's been quite difficult at times
to deal with all the other influences in the piece, but it's also been
a joy to see everyone working together in this way. There are points of
conflict in the piece as well, which are to do with how spaces are
controlled, and what happens when people in the same space want
different things. Some structures aren't conducive to living
communally, and some are. There are arguments there too about the
differences between private housing and council housing.”

Moving in Space is Theatre Arts Group's fourth full show since coming
together in 2009 out of a Tramway Participation programme. With support
from Tramway, Creative Scotland and kindred spirits such as the
community-based Kinning Park Complex in Glasgow, previous works have
invited guest artists from various practices into the creative process.
These have included poets, digital-based practitioners, musicians and
sculptors. While the emphasis of the company's work is on the social
and on being inclusive in the nest possible sense of the word, Clive is
careful to stress that the work is in no way polemical. In the
company's attempt to work towards new ways of living, however, a very
human politics clearly fires all of the company's work.

“It's quite unique in terms of what we're doing,” Clive points out,
citing the likes of young people's theatre company Junction 25 and
dancer Claire Cunningham as fellow travellers in terms of spirit and
approach. “They're similar to us in some ways, in that they're trying
to find different ways of working, and are constantly exploring that.
Moving in Houses is very much about a journey, and I hope everyone
watching it gets something different from it.”

Theatre Arts Group, then are trying to break down walls in terms of
form, structure and content. As with Moving in Houses, though, the
structures set up by Clive, Stansfield and the company may themselves
be breaking their own self-imposed barriers.

“We've probably come to a point where we have to move on,” Clive
explains. “We've had a core group for three years now, and we now need
to find out where we want to go. Do we keep on exploring theatre as we
have been leaning more towards lately, or do we continue to work with
cross-artforms and explore things that way?”

Moving in Houses, Tramway, Glasgow, January 12th-14th
www.tramway.org
www.theatreartsgroup.org

The Herald, January 10th 2012

ends

The Infamous Brothers Davenport - Vox Motus Raise The Dead

There's a strange kind of magic happening at the Royal Lyceum Theatre
in Edinburgh. While not directly related to The Infamous Brothers
Davenport, the biggest show to date from Jamie Harrison and Candice
Edmunds' visually inventive Vox Motus company, the two incidents of
unintentional jiggery-pokery are by-products worthy of Derren Brown.

First of all, an old-school dictaphone resolutely refuses to record an
interview with Harrison and Edmunds. Even when when fresh batteries are
hastily located, the admittedly ancient micro-cassettes fail to whirr
into action. The moment the interview, recorded ad hoc on a mobile
phone, is over, the dictaphone starts working again, original batteries
and all. This is apparently the second such incident to happen over the
previous week as the company pull together a technically audacious
concoction of old-time Victorian hokum and sibling rivalry scripted by
Peter Arnott.

Earlier at rehearsals, something infinitely less spooky but just as
telling about how Vox Motus operate occurred. Real-life acting brothers
Ryan and Scott Fletcher, who play the Davenport double-act who so
spectacularly conned audiences in need of salvation by seemingly
conjuring up dead spirits, are going through their paces in a scene
depicting something which these days might well end up on one of the
numerous haunted house style shows that populate multi-channel TV.

Scott Fletcher is playing Willie Davenport, as in real life the younger
of the brothers. Sporting period tail-coat, he is seated at a round
table, while his brother Ira, as played by Ryan Fletcher, watches over
him. Seemingly possessed by spirits unknown, Willie seemingly acquires
the soft-spoken demeanour of a southern belle, only to deviate from the
Davenport's script, taunting Ira like a ventriloquist's dummy who's
gone off-message.

As Edmunds and Harrison stop and start the action, fine-tuning it as
they go, there's a split-second pause when something happens that only
Ryan and Scott can see, but which shifts the whole mood of the moment.
It's thersort of unspoken alchemy that only those with a chemistry born
of long-term intimacy can acquire. If they wanted to, as with the
Davenports the Fletchers could probably pull the wool over everybody's
eyes. As it is, all crack up laughing as Ryan tells Scott to stop
whatever mischief he was signalling.

“It's like the way your mum looks at you,” says Ryan, “and she doesn't
need to say anything, but you know you're in for a hiding. When you're
onstage as well, your senses are heightened, so you do see things going
on with someone that nobody else can see.”

Scott points out that “Because we're playing brothers as well, you can
have fun with that sort of thing in rehearsals, although you should
probably keep it to your downtime. Working together, you're much more
settled straight away, because we know each other so well already.
There's a confidence and an understanding there before you've even
started.”

The same might well be said of the characters the Fletchers are
playing. The Infamous Brothers Davenport is inspired by the real-life
yarn of two American siblings who somehow connived their way into
taking the world by storm. The sons of a New York policeman who later
became their manager, Ira and William Davenport clung onto the
coat-tails of the Spiritualist movement which had become all the rage
in the mid nineteenth century.

Using only the power of suggestion and a bag of theatrical tricks that
conjured up the apparent image of dark forces from the spirit world,
the Davenports became a sensation. They travelled the country for a
decade with their trademark 'spirit box', and later travelled to
England before being exposed as frauds. Even legendary showman P.T.
Barnum took notice, going so far as to include them in his 1865 book,
Humbugs of the World.

While such jiggery-pokery forms a major part of The Infamous Brothers
Davenport, the truths or otherwise of the Davenports routines aren't
the play's driving force.

“We've been interested in doing something on the séance for some time,”
says Harrison, “so we started looking at spiritualist churches which
still exist today. Out of my own experience as a magician, we started
looking at the Davenport Brothers and, and found out that they started
doing tricks from a very young age, and eventually their father
realised they could make money out of it. They grew up in this really
tough frontier town, and had a very hard life.”

“They were violent and naughty and mischievous,” Edmunds continues.
“We thought at the beginning that the spirit cabinet was going to be
the main part of the show, but once we realised how interesting the
Davenports lives were, that became our angle, and it actually moves
away from that pretty quickly.”

Vox Motus have come a long way since Edmunds and Harrison formed the
company while students at what is now the Royal Conservatoire of
Scotland in Glasgow. Their 2007 debut, How To steal A Diamond, gave
little hints of the technical complexities that would become
increasingly ambitious in the broad comedy of Slick, the darkness of
Bright Black and the musical audacity of 2010's The Not So Fatal Death
of Grandpa Fredo.

One novel aspect of the company's biggest show to date is bringing
members of the audience onstage to sit alongside the Davenports as they
conduct their séance just as might happen at such an occasion in real
life. As Edmunds and Harrison acknowledge, such close-up involvement
has the potential to disrupt things unintentionally.

“An interesting thing as directors is trying to foresee every possible
reaction these members of the audience might have,” Harrison observes.
“Everyone will have a slightly different response, so we have to bed
the performers down, so they can continue the narrative arc no matter
what the people who come up onstage might do. The look of horror on the
actors faces when we unveiled these plans was a picture, but the thing
to emphasise is that they're not random members of the audience who do
this. It's a choice they make.”

This choice is made in the foyer as the audience enter into a mock-up
of a Victorian world in which they go as willingly as real-life
believers in the spirit world.

“It's been fascinating to look back at the start of spiritualism,”
says Edmunds, “which dates back to the Fox sisters, who just predated
the Davenports. People just wouldn't believe that these two children
were lying.”

Suspension of disbelief, then, is everything in The Infamous Brothers
Davenport.

“At the top of the show we want people to experience all the things
they associate with seances,” Edmunds explains, “but we also want to
take it further so people have an emotional investment in the narrative
and so it's not just all about tricks.”

As Harrison puts it, “The thing we've been holding dear all through the
creative process is the power of the human imagination, and the dark
places the imagination can take you. This belief in things like
spiritualism, I think it's directly proportional with what's going on
in in terms of a decline in belief in organised religion. The less that
people engage with organised religion, the more of a void there is, and
the more we try to fill it. That can be through scientific rational
beliefs, or it can be through something like spiritualism. I've put my
foot in it a few times talking about this show in presuming that
everybody has the same beliefs, and finding out that they really don't.
As theatre makers it's difficult to get a balance, because we don't
believe in anything beyond death as human beings, but we don't want to
criticise anyone's belief system in anyway, because for a lot of people
it provides hope.”

The Infamous Brothers Davenport, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh,
January 19th-February 11th, then tours.
www.voxmotus.co.uk
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, January 10th 2012

ends

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Martin McCardie - The Tinsel Town Writer Visits Sanna Bay

When Martin McCardie visited Sanna Bay in Ardnamurchan, sex, drugs and
rock roll weren't on the agenda. That unholy trinity were the subject
matters requested after McCardie asked a young group of film makers
what they wanted their work to be about. McCardie's experience of the
most westerly point in mainland Britain made what became The Corkscrew
Road something very different for Shooters, the community-based
film-making wing of Spirit Aid, the humanitarian charity set up by
actor/director David Hayman a decade ago.

McCardie had come on board to advise on the nuts and bolts of
film-making alongside Raindog director Stuart Davids, and what Shooters
got instead was a poetic evocation of a lost childhood. With a
soundtrack currently being scored by Edwyn Collins and former Superstar
frontman Joe McAlinden (an old school-friend of the McCardies), and
chip-off-the-old-block Davie Hayman Junior directing, The Corkscrew
Road is the first of three McCardie-scripted collaborations aiming to
move Shooters beyond gritty realism.

“I told them to read Dylan Thomas' poetry,” says McCardie, “to look at
John Ford films and David Lean films, and to help them realise that if
you've got that amazing landscape in Sanna Bay as a backdrop, then you
need to use it. There's no point in just doing extreme close-ups all
the time. What was really impressive was that they started off not
having a clue what was going on in the script, but by the end of
filming were telling me things about it that I hadn't seen.”

As a veteran of River City and the Raindog-produced Tinsel Town whose
writing and acting career began with the Wiseguise company, McCardie's
connection with Shooters is on one level a rediscovery of his own
grassroots.

“It wasn't a conscious thing,” he says, “but both me and Stuart
realised that's what we were doing. Writing episodes for television has
been good to me, but there are times you self-edit so as to fit in with
everything else that's going on. With Wiseguise and Raindog, we just
did what we believed in.”

Next up for McCardie and Shooters is Markheim, a modern-day version of
a Robert Louis Stevenson short story. This will be followed by The
Anniversary, featuring Peter Mullan. There will also be a sitcom pilot
which will more than likely be put out first online. Again, such
seizing of the means of production harks back to McCardie's early days.

“The reason why Tinsel Town was commissioned was because we made the
pilot ourselves, otherwise I doubt it would've got off the ground,” he
maintains. “It's about having that belief in what you do.”

The Herald, January 3rd 2012

ends

Theatre in 2012 - Looking Forward To A New Season

If the future of theatre in the cash-strapped times we’re living
through is to find imaginative ways of working that won’t bust the
bank, such an attitude needn’t stifle ambition. This should be evident
in 2012 care of the two most anticipated home-grown Shakespeare
productions for some time.

As announced exclusively on these pages several weeks ago, Dominic
Hill’s first season at the Citizens Theatre looks set to raise the bar
high. As well as main-stage productions of Harold Pinter’s mid-period
knee-trembler, Betrayal and a double bill of Beckett miniatures, Hill
lets rip with a production of King Lear. The sheer scale of
Shakespeare’s epic is a gift to Hill, whose facility with big stages is
presumably what got him the gig. Throw in the casting of David Hayman
in the title role, and you have a fully-fledged event.

Hayman, of course, was the mercurial break-out star the 1970s golden
era Citz, courting controversy as a career-defining Hamlet and Lady
Macbeth before embarking on a film and TV career.

Someone who did something similar a generation on was Alan Cumming, who
cut his teeth in camp comedy before showing Hollywood what he was made
of. The last time Cumming appeared on home soil was as an outrageously
irreverent Greek god in Euripides’ The Bacchae, reinvented for the
National Theatre of Scotland’s Edinburgh International Festival
production by David Greig and director John Tiffany as a gold lame-clad
pop spectacle. This time out, Cumming and Tiffany combine for a solo
Macbeth in which Cumming looks set to get his hands very dirty indeed.

Also set to be an event is a look at another piece of Scots
iconography, when Greg Hemphill and Donald McLeary bring The Wicker Man
to the stage with the NTS. For those who don’t know the legend, Robin
Hardy’s 1973 film about a pagan community getting back to nature with
the ultimate sacrifice was all but buried when first released. How the
film’s provocative mix of counter-cultural morality and Scots folk airs
can be captured in An Appointment With The Wicker Man remains to be
seen, although given this reinvention is being described as a ‘skewed
musical comedy’, Hemphill and McLeary might wish to tap into the
fertile alt.folk scene on their doorstep for starters.

While Dominic Hill gets his feet squarely under the table at the Citz
after a decade of making his mark at Dundee Rep and the Traverse,
incoming Traverse director Orla O’Loughlin remains an unknown quantity
in Scotland. All that should change with the arrival at the theatre of
For Once, Tim Price’s highly acclaimed play presented, not by the
Traverse, but by the Shropshire-based Pentabus company, which
O’Loughlin helmed prior to taking up her new post. As a calling card,
Price’s peek at family life in a picture postcard town promises much.

Given the potential – some might say certainty – of an arts funding
crisis in 2012, one might expect younger companies to be tightening
their belts. Then along come Vox Motus to take up what is fast becoming
the most exciting slot on Scotland’s theatre calendar. After Stellar Quines magnificent feminist fantasia, Age of Arousal, in 2011, Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum opens the year
with The Infamous Brothers Davenport. Devised by Candice Edmunds and
Jamie Harrison and with a script by Peter Arnott, Vox Motus’ biggest
show to date opens up the company’s box of tricks by way of a pair of
fantastical siblings played by real life brothers Ryan and Scott
Fletcher.

Stellar Quines, meanwhile, follow the triumph of Age of Arousal with
another Quebecois collaboration. Developed over five years, Ana pulses
its way through one woman’s many lives in a bi-lingual piece written
and performed by a mixed ensemble of Scots and Quebecois artists in a
co-production with the Montreal-based Imago company. All of this is
overseen by Quebecois director Serge Denencourt, who will return to
Scotland later in the year to direct The Guid Sisters.

This Scots translation of a play by another Quebecois writer, Michel
Tremblay, took both countries by storm almost twenty years ago in a
production directed by then boss of the Tron Theatre Michael Boyd, and
which featured Stellar Quines guiding light Muriel Romanes in the cast.
That began Romanes’ great adventure with Quebecois theatre that
continues with Ana, a play which maps out one woman’s many lives in a
genuinely bi-lingual creation. As Romanes made clear in these pages
prior to the play’s Montreal premiere in November, Ana was made on the
company’s terms. In what looks set to be a challenging year, this is
how it should be.

The Herald, January 2nd 2012

ends

Concert in the Gardens 2011/12

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh
4 stars
There was a sense of past meeting present at Edinburgh’s 2011/12
Concert in the Gardens. If local band competition winners Mike Norris
and the Moon play around with the sort of polite folksy stylings that
are oddly de rigeur just now, the abrasive urgency and sparring
male/female vocals of Sons and Daughters could easily be mistaken for
early 1980s post-punk provocateurs The Au Pairs. Bombay Bicycle Club
vocalist Jack Steadman, meanwhile, has the pitch of the late New York
ambient classicist Arthur Russell if he’d formed an indie band.

It’s left to Primal Scream to really kick-start proceedings, with
scarlet-shirted frontman Bobby Gillespie launching into the southern
soul of Movin’ On Up, the opening track of Primal Scream’s era-defining
1991 album, Screamadelica, with the mad-eyed self-possession of a
Glasgow street brawler by way of a punk/rave John The Baptist. While
they don’t play the full album as advertised, the selected highlights
sound as relentlessly fresh as its magpie sentiments set out to be
twenty years ago.

For Slip Inside This House, the projected backdrop is all Jackson
Pollock action art splurges. Strung-out ballad Damaged is brought
forward, presumably so as not to see in the New Year on a complete
downer. Screamadelica is body-swerved entirely for a hundred miles an
hour take on Accelerator and the motorik mayhem of Shoot Speed/ Kill
Light, both from 2000’s manic Xterminator album. As post-bells euphoria
goes, there are few better ways to see in the year than with ultimate
indie/rave, anthem, Loaded and an extended Come Together. After this
its rock and roll fantasy-wish-fulfilment all the way, until a final
Rocks suggests a gloriously hedonistic future ahead.

The Herald, January 2nd 2012

ends