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Showing posts from February, 2012

Jane and Louise Wilson

Dundee Contemporary Arts
Until March 25th 2012
4 stars


Jane and Louise Wilson are no strangers to going behind closed doors. In ‘Face Scripting – What Did the Building See?’, a major new film installation that forms the centrepiece of this body of
surveillance-related work, they cast themselves as undercover operatives moving behind enemy lines.

As a monitor plays out a forensically assembled CCTV narrative showing the mundane comings and goings leading up to the murder in a Dubai hotel room of Hamas agent Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, the Wilsons own surreptitious after-hours footage pans through the same hotel corridors. Aided by an impressionistic voiceover, a true-life detective story is lent a poetic weight heightened by the sixteen large-scale mug-shots of the disguised sisters that form ‘false positives and false negatives’.

The seven large-scale photographic prints that make up ‘Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum)’, bear similar witness, this time of deserted interiors within the 30km exclusio…

Sylvester McCoy - Plume

Sylvester McCoy is perched beside the Tron Theatre bar at the end of the day's rehearsals for J.C. Marshall's new play, Plume, in which he plays a man grieving for his son killed in a terrorist attack twenty years before. As McCoy sips on a gin, fellow cast member Finn Den Hertog is expounding on something which appears small from the outside, but once inside is infinitely more expansive. “Now, where have I heard that before?” deadpans McCoy before picking up his gin and his walking stick en route to the theatre's boardroom, which for some reason has had it's full-length table removed. The effect, while no TARDIS, makes its space too seem far larger than it actually is. McCoy's wry little in-joke may refer to how a certain generation of science-fiction geeks know him best for his 1980s stint as Dr Who, but as his role in Plume proves, there's been a working life since playing the iconic Timelord, and there was certainly one before it. While he&…

Steel Magnolias

Dundee Rep
3 stars In the corner of Dundee Rep’s upstairs bar, a nail emporium has opened up shop to buff up the digits of any passing ladies in need of sharpening their claws. Such an indulgence is the perfect pre-cursor to Robert Harling’s so feel-good it hurts 1980s play set in blonde bombshell Truvee Jones’ shocking pink beauty parlour in America’s Deep South. Not that Harling’s best-known work following its adaptation into a hit big-screen tear-jerker starring Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton comes out fighting in any way in Jemima Levick’s faithful, funny and at moments quietly moving production. Quite the opposite, in fact, in what at one time might have been referred to as ‘a woman’s play’. from Ouiser’s back-woods coarseness to Clairee’s stateswoman-like demeanour and all points in-between, the pan-generational sorority that flit around Truvee’s place find comfort from each other beyond the hair-do’s and healing treatments they’re ostensibly there for. Central to t…

Agent 160 Presents

The Arches, Glasgow3 stars Agent 160 don’t do things by halves. Or at least that’s the impression from this inaugural project from this newly constituted UK-wide women’s writer led company. Over two nights, twelve new playlets by the same number of writers were presented on the final dates of a three-leg mini-tour. If the quality and verve of the scripts on the first night came even close to Part Two, then artistic director Lisa Parry and dramaturg Louise Stephens Alexander have tapped into something special. In the first half, Branwen Davies’ Genki? is a Welsh bi-lingual study of one woman finding herself abroad, The Red Shoes is Sarah Grochala’s estuarised fantasia concerning a teenage mum finding consumer comfort of a fantastical kind, and A Modest Proposal by Lindsay Rodden looks to Animal Farm in a warzone. The second half opens with Parry’s own piece, Nancy, in which a middle England grand dame squares up to the recession as well as the rabbits in what’s left of her…

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly - I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like

1

Two nights ago, Facebook was alive with responses to this year’s Brit Awards, that great barometer of mass musical appeal, cultural relativism, and - above all - units shifted - which has turned that very marketable concept of British pop into an establishment-based respectable spectacle.
The winners – Coldplay, Adele and co – came as no surprise. 


They’re what most people – the man and woman on the street, presumably – like to hear.
But are they any good?
There’s nothing wrong with being popular, after all.
Shakespeare, Picasso and The Bible have all taken complex works of art chock-full of difficult ideas into the mainstream, and have retained an integrity beyond the heritage industry that hi-jacked them.
But this is Coldplay and Adele we’re talking about, remember.
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One of the most telling Facebook observations of the 2012 Brit Awards came via a posting of some film footage taken at the 1992 Awards.
It was ostensibly a performance of 3AM Eternal, the pop rave anthem by The KLF, Bill D…

An Appointment With The Wicker Man

His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen As sacred cows of Scottish pop culture go, Robin Hardie’s 1970s post counter-culture big-screen pagan romp The Wicker Man has become an icon of weird Caledonia. Greg Hemphill and Donald McLeary’s approach to the film’s legacy is to take screenwriter Anthony Shaffer’s original yarn about a virgin copper who uncovers a ritualistic conspiracy while investigating a young girl’s disappearance on a remote island, and turn it into a very camp piece of music hall absurdism. The conceit in Vicky Featherstone’s National Theatre of Scotland production is to focus on a rubbish fictional am-dram group’s own ludicrous attempt to put The Wicker Man onstage, with all the cack-handed egomania one might expect from such a ruse. The result, as Sean Biggerstaff’s too cool for school TV actor Rory is hired to give the show some kudos, is a curious mish-mash of drug-induced Noises Off style backstage shenanigans and Singalonga Wicker Man. As a half-hour extended…

Cal MacAninch - Betrayal

Cal MacAninch has played both upstairs and downstairs in the last year. On the one hand, the former star of Holby Blue and Wild at Heart has just been seen playing a troubled footman in the second series of Sunday night posh frock sensation, Downton Abbey. On the other, the Glasgow-born actor is currently in rehearsals at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, where he's playing an Oxford educated publisher in Betrayal, Harold Pinter's1978 play about a love triangle amongst three close friends who flit around literary society. If this sounds like some common or garden bourgeois adultery yarn, think again. Because Pinter adds spice to a story that looked to his own extra-marital affair with writer and broadcaster Joan Bakewell for inspiration by having the action move backwards in time. This dramatic device lets the audience in on a complex web of secrets and lies told in Pinter's elliptical pared-back style. “It's a lot harder than I thought it'd be,” MacAn…

Of Mice and Men

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars

Everyone's on the make in John Steinbeck's recession era novella that doubles up as a play, revived here in his latest look at American classics by director John Dove. Migrant workers George and
Lennie may only want to earn an honest buck when they land on a Californian ranch to work the land, but the crop of malcontents they fall in with occupy what is essentially a microcosm of assorted
American dreams that have been warped by capitalism. The solidarity and brotherhood that George and Lennie represent is considered suspicious by the rest of the workers, a menagerie of lost souls trying to protect the little they have. Candy is marking time until he's put out to grass, racism is legitimised, while Curley's wife is a wannabe starlet who, in Melody Grove's portrayal, sashays her way
to her doom. Such, then, is the state of play during a recession.

All of this beautifully realised on Colin Richmond's wood-lined shack of a set, wi…

The End

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars Isolation may be the crux of Samuel Beckett's literary and dramatic canon, yet such is his waggishly profound understanding of the human condition that it connects in a way that mere navel-gazing never could. So it goes in the Cork-based Gare St Lazare company's latest dissection of Beckett-world, a solo rendition by Conor Lovett of a short story first published in 1955. A monologue from the point of view of a man discharged from some form of institution forced to make his way in the world alone, what starts out as a kind of picaresque rake's progress becomes a slow decline into self-negation, until Lovett literally vanishes. With only two wooden benches onstage, Lovett may be clad in charcoal suit and tacketty boots, but, as directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett, his is a more understatedly casual approach to Beckett than mere clowning around. Instead, Lovett relates his yarn of seeking refuge in a near roofless, dilapidated shed…

Snookered

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 4 stars There's lads anthems aplenty played throughout Ishy Din's, in which four working class northern English wide-boys reunite over a pool table in their local on the anniversary of the first of their gang to die, by his own hand or otherwise. Billy's been down south, Kamy's trying too hard to be one of the boys, Shaf is talking big and hustling hard, and Mo is on the way up. Over the course of the night, old scores simmer under the surface of an overload of drink-fuelled testosterone that eventually spills over. So far so in-yer-face, you might think in first time writer Din's savage little microcosm of back-street culture in close-up. The difference here is that the track-suited, smart but casual young men in question are British Muslims of Asian descent, and that the near-silent bar-man is white. The difference again is that none of this is an issue, but is merely incidental to the quartet's collective plight, not…

Double Nugget

Tron Theatre, Glasgow 3 stars “Married?” says one character in the first of two darker-than-you-think plays by Johnny McKnight for his and Julie Brown’s Random Accomplice company. “It’s not ideal, but neither is being single.” It’s such bittersweet truisms that fuel Mary Massacre, in which two very different women hitch a ride on an emotional rollercoaster to become unwitting adversaries turned allies. In the second half, Seven Year Itch takes office politics to the extreme in a world where the voice of God sounds like Dolly Parton, and top secret memos aren’t the only things that get shredded. Both pieces start off with McKnight’s trademark high-camp accentuated by Lisa Sangster’s inventively lush sets. The sparkly letters that spell out the word ‘FAIR’ in Mary Massacre might easily be appended by a question mark, as married lush Jenny and single girl Leyla dovetail monologues that sound straight off Jeremy Kyle but end up more a Roald Dahl style tale of the unexpected. …

Luke Fowler (with Toshiya Tsunoda and John Haynes)

Inverleith House, Edinburgh12 February – 29 April 2012“We are actors in a play...whose plot we don't know...and whose end I dare not imagine.” These words delivered by iconoclastic Glasgow-born 'anti-psychiatrist' R.D. Laing not only form the opening gambit of 'All Our Divided Selves', Luke Fowler's latest feature length video that cuts up rarely seen archive film of Laing with new footage. As soundtracked by Alasdair Roberts, such grandiose epithets also go some way to summing up the entirety of this at times demandingly overwhelming but most deeply personal of Fowler's collections to date. The ninety-three minute film is the (un)holy grail at the end of a show which begins with 'Ridges on a Horizontal Plane', an installation made in collaboration with sound artist Toshiya Tsunoda, who also fills a room with his own sonic sculpture, 'Composition for Maguchi Bay.' At all points inbetween, the walls are lined with a series of spli…

Mwana

Tron Theatre, Glasgow3 starsMwana is a Zimbabwean young man exiled to Glasgow to study medicine, but carrying the weight of his family’s expectations to a land of material temptations. Mwana’s return home for his brother’s wedding should be heroic. As it is, the initial flash of his limited edition trainers and a white Glaswegian girlfriend soon pales beside a letter from his university confirming the worst. Somewhere inbetween, cultural suspicions are flipped on their head in a drought-ridden society torn between old superstitions and the promise of a strictly scientific future where rain promises salvation rather than an ongoing head-cold. So it goes in Tawona Sithole’s debut play, a co-production between the multi-cultural based Ankur and The Tron. Opening with an out-front declaration from Denver Isaac’s Mwana, Shabina Aslam’s production mixes forms and styles in a busy display to allow Sithole to make his point. Pulsed along by Mark Melville’s African-fused sound des…

Agent 160 - Feminism By Stealth

Margaret Thatcher might not approve of Agent 160, the new theatre company set up by playwright Lisa Parry and dramaturg Louise Stephens Alexander, even if this UK-wide venture is named after one of the nom de plumes (Astrea was another) of a government spy in the employ of Charles 11. The fact that Agent 160, aka Astrea, was in fact Aphra Behn, who was not only one of the earliest recorded female playwrights in history, but was also savvy enough to make money from it, might suggest a kind of feminist separatism by stealth to the once iron lady. As those behind Agent 160 are keen to stress, however, their idea of promoting work solely by female playwrights is more about addressing a serious imbalance which Parry discovered while attending a conference in the National Theatre's Olivier space in 2010. During the day, it was revealed that of all the plays produced in the UK, only seventeen per cent are written by women. “If you flip that figure around, you're saying …

The Trial

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh 3 stars We've all had days like Joseph K. As Franz Kafka's troubled everyman is shunted from pillar to post in a bureaucracy gone mad on his thirtieth birthday, it's easy to identify with his nightmare. Blackeyed Theatre's new production of Steven Berkoff's adaptation sticks pretty close to its dramatic template, as five actors in black suits and white shirts with scarlet collar and cuffs move through a series of white painted door-frames and hollow boxes that map out K's road to nowhere. The result in Ella Vale's production is a well-studied facsimile of Berkoff's oeuvre that delivers a kind of street-wise mime that's clearly not to be messed with. As Simon Wegrzyn's K fights to clear his name regarding an un-named crime he's not aware of having committed, an entire society based on sexual repression and corruption in high places is laid bare. Gradually, though, as K moves in ever-decreasing circles…

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me

Perth Theatre4 starsTwenty years on from Frank McGuinness' imagined study of daily life as a political hostage inspired by the real life experiences of Brian Keenan, and the pains of confinement McGuinness depicts look more pertinent than ever. By placing an American, an Irishman and and an Englishman in chains in an airless cell in Beirut, the survival strategies they cling to go beyond initial sparring about colonialism, invasion and all the other indignities caused by organised religion to get to some sense of solidarity by default. As with most of McGuinness' work, it's pretty much unbreakable, and Rachel O'Riordan's new production simply lets it speak for itself, as Adam, Edward and Michael move from fantasy Desert Island Discs to the 1977 Wimbledon Ladies Final to get them through their plight. The blacked-out stage curtain slams down to punctuate each scene on Gary McCann's tilted set, suggesting that any glimpse at other worlds is shut o…

Barflies

The Barony Bar, Edinburgh
4 stars
Site-specific maestros Grid Iron scored a major hit when they knitted together three booze and sex soaked short stories by Charles Bukowski in the company's local in 2009. Ben Harrison's equally pie-eyed revival returns to the show's original venue before embarking on a nationwide pub crawl of one-night stands. With Keith Fleming returning as narrator and Bukowski's alter-ego Henry Chinaski and composer David Paul Jones bashing out some woozy piano numbers in a customised Barony, this remains a vivid and a sad-eyed evocation of life lived through the bottom of a glass that's frequently smashed, spilt or both. While Fleming replays his stumblebum routine from last time round with aplomb, as with all of the Bukowski canon, it's the women who matter most. Stepping into Gail Watson's tottery heels, Charlene Boyd adds a more youthful frisson to proceedings, be it as self-destructive loose-cannon Cass, the snarlingly …

Raydale Dower - (….....)

Cryptic Nights@CCA, Glasgow
Thursday February 2nd 2012
The title of Raydale Dower's new 'spatial sound composition' speaks volumes about the former Uncle John & Whitelock bassist and current Tut Vu Vu clarinettist and sonic architect's methodology. Hard on the heels of his film installation, Piano Drop, which did exactly what it says on the tin, this commission for twenty-first century music-theatre company Cryptic's series of experimental one-night-stands, Cryptic Nights, plays with sound and space in a far more formal arrangement, as the fixed rows of seats surrounded by speakers and amplifiers great and small suggests. It begins in darkness, before a light is discreetly beamed onto a lone speaker, from which emanates snatches of double bass, cello and bass clarinet as played by Dower with Catherine Robb and David Munn and overlaid with low-key electronics and found sound. With the instruments criss-crossing both each other and whichever speaker th…