Tuesday, 28 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 exclusion zone in place since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Black-and-white yardsticks mark out swimming pools and libraries like bar-codes, which, as with the 1993 video, ‘8.30’, a ground-level surveillance of a shell-suited interloper, suggests secret agents are everywhere, watching always.

The List, February 2012
ends

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's just spent the best part of two years in New Zealand filming 
Peter Jackson's latest big-screen Tolkien adaptation, The Hobbit, 
McCoy's earliest screen appearance was on deaf children's educational 
show, Vision On, before graduating to Jigsaw and TISWAS. In the midst 
of all this, the artist formerly known as Percy James Patrick 
Kent-Smith was putting ferrets down his trousers alongside the likes of 
Bob Hoskins in anarchic 1970s fringe theatre troupe, The Ken Campbell 
Roadshow.

“Some people are maybe a bit surprised when they see me in something 
like this play,” he says. “In (TV sit-com) Still Game I played a rather 
sad character, who comes out after forty years of locking himself away 
in his tenement, sees the new Glasgow and decides he doesn't like it so 
goes back in and locks the door again. Then in Rab C Nesbitt I played 
Rab's lunatic brother who escapes from the asylum, and again that was 
quite a tragic character. Most of the other work I've done isn't like 
that. Not in England, anyway, where they don't seem to see me like 
that, but in Scotland it's different. I didn't get cast up here at all 
for a long time, and then I played a character on TV called Angus, and 
that's when people up here realised I was a Scot.”

At Edinburgh International Festival, McCoy actually played Scotland in 
John McGrath's late period spectacle, A Satire of the Four Estates. 
Also at EIF, he appeared in Jo Clifford's version of Calderon's Life is 
A Dream, and in The Hypochondriack at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre. 
More recently, McCoy appeared in post Still Game's cornershop-set BBC 
Radio 4 Sanjeev Kohli vehicle, Fags, Mags and Bags. Plume is something 
else again.

“It's a beautifully written play,” McCoy says, “about loss and sadness, 
and the change in a human being because of that loss. The man I play is 
a retired teacher, who's widowed, and  his son being blown up in a 
plane affects and changes him from being a lovable, nice, kind caring 
human being into an angry person.”

Told in a series of flashbacks depicting the man's relationship wityh 
his son, while the act of terrorism that so dramatically changes 
McCoy's character clearly derives from the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, it 
remains very much in the background.

“Lockerbie is there,” says McCoy, “but it's not principal to the story. 
It's not a political play in that way, but there's the final straw that 
releases all this anger in him. One of the reasons for me wanting to do 
it was that I've got sons, and when I was reading it, I thought, well, 
how would I feel if that happened to me. I was touched.”

Audiences may well have presumed McCoy to be touched in another way 
during his early days, when he flitted between risking life and limb in 
Roadshow outings such as the self-explanatory An Evening With Sylveste 
McCoy The Human Bomb while becoming a kids TV regular.

“TV was very insular in those days, “ McCoy remembers, “and they didn't 
know much about theatre. But I was very lucky, because we'd become a 
bit of a cult by then, and Clive Doig, who did Vision On and created 
Jigsaw, had heard about this crazy guy exploding bombs in the Royal 
Court, and came to see me.”

Fortunately for McCoy, Vision On was a mime artist down, and he got the 
the gig. His double act with the late David Rappaport on the Janet 
Ellis-fronted Jigsaw as The O-Men tapped into the same sense of ad hoc 
anarchy that fuelled his work with Campbell, and it's easy in 
retrospect to see the influences of Buster Keaton, Max Wall, Stan 
Laurel and Alec Guinness, all of whom McCoy describes as his “gods.” 
Having a foot in such seemingly different camps also goes some way to 
explaining the peculiar post-1960s relationship between children's TV 
and the equally childlike first wave of British alternative theatre 
that was quietly subverting young minds while mum and dad were looking 
the other way.

“I loved that schizophrenic existence,” he says.

If things had worked out differently, McCoy could have been expounding 
another god after growing up an orphan, a factor he considers a crucial 
influence on how things turned out.

“Children who are brought up by their parents get their love by right, 
whereas if you're an orphan, you feel like you've got to earn it, so 
you try and be noticed more.”

McCoy trained as a priest, “for a dare, and I loved every minute of it. 
I decided I wanted to be a Dominican monk, and really got into it. 
Method acting at it's best. But I was a year too young, so was sent to 
a mixed school, and instead of wearing a skirt, I started chasing it.”

McCoy got a job in the City, where found himself drawn to swinging 
London's burgeoning scene based around the counter-culture's unofficial 
HQ, The Roundhouse.

“They needed a hippy who could count,” McCoy says, “so I ended up 
working in the box office.”

McCoy was recommended to Campbell by actor Brian Murphy, who he'd 
improvise little scenes with around the box office. McCoy would run 
into Murphy again at the Theatre Royal Stratford a few years later, 
when legendary director Joan Littlewood hired him for a production of 
Brendan Behan's The Hostage after picking him up busking outside the 
theatre.

“I didn't know there were rules,” McCoy says now. “I only knew our 
rules, which was to grab that audience and shake them up. I was coming 
 from a whole new energy and madness that was going on in fringe 
theatre, and at the time it freaked the others out. One of them even 
wrote to Equity to complain about me.”

He and Leonard Fenton later made up, and ended up playing Beckett 
together.

McCoy's turn as The Fool in King Lear captured both sides of the comic 
pathos he's so adept at. It's fitting too that Lear was played by Sir 
Ian McKellan, who played Gandalf in Lord of the Rings. This connection 
led to an invitation from Jackson on the New Zealand leg of the tour. 
Having narrowly missed out on Lord of the Rings, McCoy was succesful 
second time round, and after Plume returns to New Zealand to resume 
filming.

Beyond The Hobbit, McCoy expresses a desire to play Malvolio.

“He's funny,” McCoy says, “but he's only funny because people laugh at 
him and not with him. He's kind of tragic and tortured, and they're the 
parts I seem to do best.”

Plume, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, March 1-17
www.tron.co.uk

The Herald, February 28th 2012

ends

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 this is golden girl Shelby’s health issues, watched over by her 
mother M’Lynn and prayed for by trainee stylist Annelle.

This, then, is how the pre Sex and the City generation lived in an 
unashamedly sentimental if curiously libido-free affair that is an 
otherwise fully-rounded portrait of blue-collar sisterhood that goes 
beyond its gaudy girls-night-out trappings.

As Shelby, Natalie Wallace never overplays her doe-eyed charm, while 
there’s a worn-out pathos to Irene McDougall’s M’Lynn that’s undercut 
by some well-timed comic sparring.

At over two and a half hours, all this may be more mini-series than 
movie. While at times the play’s crafted sturdiness is itself is in 
need of a make-over, Harling’s touching confection remains more than 
skin deep.

The Herald, February 28th 2012

ends


Agent 160 Presents


The Arches, Glasgow
3 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 garden; Skin; Or How To 
Disappear Completely, by Morna Pearson, finds a long term benefit case 
and his assessor slipping through the cracks; and Ioanna Anderson’s How 
To Be A Pantomime Horse is a two-woman psychological disaster movie.

While rough and not always ready, hearing such a diverse array of 
voices is a joy. What is encouraging too is both how political all of 
the pieces are, and the urgency with which the work is delivered. With 
three directors overseeing six actors, there’s a tantalising richness 
to all plays. But it’s Pearson’s miniature masterpiece that shines her, 
as it subverts social realism in a damaged duologue akin to a Doric 
Tennessee Williams.

The Herald, February 27th 2012

ends



Sunday, 26 February 2012

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.

2

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 Drummond’s troupe of avant-provocateurs, who opened the show after winning that year’s Best British Group Award, an accolade shared that year with Simply Red.

As The K Foundation, Drummond and co would become notorious two years later when – a) - the same night as Rachel Whiteread won the 1994 Turner Prize, they offered 40,000 pounds cash prize – twice what the Turner awarded - to the worst artist of the year, which they also awarded to Whiteread; and b) subsequently filmed themselves burning a million pounds in a boathouse on the Scottish island of Jura.

At the 1992 Brits, at which the audience sported very un-punk, un-rock-and-roll and un-pop but very British dicky-bow and DJs – no, not that kind - The KLF’s piece of trippy euphoria was reinvented as a confrontational cacophony performed by thrash metal band Extreme Noise Terror.

Ever the Situationists, The KLF ended their performance with Drummond machine-gunning the audience of industry movers and shakers with blank bullets, before their publicist Scott Piering announced that ‘The KLF have left the music business.’

After a motorcycle courier was refused entry to the ceremony to pick up their award, The KLF later dumped a dead sheep on the steps of the Royal Albert Hall, where the event was being held.

I say again, the 2012 Brit Award for Best British Group went to Coldplay, while Adele gave the finger after her microphone cut out in order to allow a reconstituted Blur, veterans of the so-called Brit-Pop wars, to play their full eleven minute set.

Controversy?

Compared to The KLF, Chumbawamba throwing a bucket of water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 1996 and Jarvis Cocker waggling his arse at Michael Jackson the same year, Coldplay, Adele and co aren’t really in the same league.

But still, people – the man and woman in the street – like them.

3

When asked once on television what jazz was, the late scat singer, writer, critic, bon viveur, raconteur, suit-wearer, man about town, style guru and Surrealist George Melly replied something on the lines of “Well, I know what it’s not, and that’s respectable.”

Coldplay and Adele will never be jazz.

As an even more extreme assessment of the Brits, we could look to Sid Vicious, Punk iconoclasts The Sex Pistols doomed bass player, who, despite barely being able to play a note, joined the band early in 1977 following Glen Matlock’s sacking for allegedly liking ABBA.

After the Sex Pistols messy demise, Vicious would go on to die of a heroin overdose aged twenty-one after being released on police bail following the suspected murder of his American girlfriend Nancy Spungeon.

At some point before all this, Vicious was asked by journalists Fred and Judy Vermoral whether he made music for the man in the street.

I’ve met the man in the street,” sneered the artist formerly known as John Ritchie, “and he’s a cunt.”

4

Eton-educated UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently pronounced his views on the British film industry, and how it should look to be more commercial.

Whether this was in light of the international success of Margaret Thatcher bio-pic The Iron Lady isn’t on record, but Cameron’s sentiments recall those of screen-writer Colin Welland’s at the dawn of the real life Thatcher years at yet another respectable spectacle.

As likeably bluff northerner Welland picked up his Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1981 for the Vangelis-scored, Olympic-inspired triumphalist romance, Chariots of Fire, he held his trophy aloft.

The British are coming,” declaimed Welland, part Olivier-style rallying-cry, part would-be prophecy, even as he appropriated the phrase from eighteenth century American revolutionary Paul Revere.

For the next decade, works by Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman, Bill Douglas, Terence Davies and others put British cinema on the international map.

Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Jarman’s The Last of England, Comrades by Bill Douglas and Distant Voices: Still Lives by Terence Davies were all somewhat remarkably released during the Thatcher years.

And there were others – Withnail and I, My Beautiful Laundrette, Another Country, A Private Function, The Shooting Party, Brazil – that were less art-house, more conventional, and yet which – helped by a nascent Channel 4 that still valued art over commerce - retained an integrity that is brutally absent in the post Lock Stock straight-to-DVD marketplace.

Commercial?

Yes, no and by degrees.

What all the films mentioned have in common – Lock Stock aside – is that they are masterpieces, filmed – and in some cases looking very painterly indeed – by great artists.

In 2000, Tony Blair’s New Labour government, - possibly with Colin Welland’s words still echoing in their triumphalist heads, - and possibly with one eye on the sort of commercialism David Cameron dreams of, constituted the UK Film Council to develop new work.

In the last decade, while Channel 4 has become the home of reality TV freakshows, in 2010, the UK Film Council was scrapped.

5

Of course, making self-consciously commercial art can be done.

Andy Warhol did it.

And it was that man Bill Drummond again who, after his own adventures in the pop world, both as artist and record company apparatchik, co-wrote a book titled The Manual: How to Have a Number One Hit The Easy Way.

As for Cameron, who has such a little grasp of how popular culture works that one wonders – or not - how he ever became a successful PR man for the TV industry, one can only shake one’s head with despair at how he so spectacularly and damagingly confuses commercialism with the lowest common denominator, and think, ‘All that expensive education, wasted.’.

One thing David Cameron will never be is the man in the street.

Although,- perhaps by Sid Vicious’ reckoning - maybe he already is.

6

When first generation punk band The Clash released their third album, London Calling, in 1979, it caused a sensation on many levels.

The record’s radical mix of styles demonstrated that things had moved on considerably from the punk scene’s original one chord wonder posturing.

Dub reggae was now heavily in the mix, as was a radical professionalism that had already cracked the crucial American market.

The fact that London Calling was released as a double album as well seemed very un-punk, harking back to previous generations.

But London Calling was something more again.

The photograph on the cover of bass player Paul Simonon by Penny Smith captured the man generally regarded as the coolest member of The Clash in full flight as he smashed his Fender guitar against the stage during a show at the New York Palladium.

Smith originally didn’t want the picture used, claiming it was too out of focus.

In 2002, her photograph was named by middle-aged music magazine Q as the best rock and roll photograph of all time.

The design of the London Calling cover was by Ray Lowry, whose cartoons moved from counter-culture bible International Times to satirical institution Private Eye to music paper NME at its peak.

Well-versed in rock and roll history and recognising an icon when he saw one, the typography Lowry placed around Smith’s image of Simonon referenced the green and pink lettering of Elvis Presley’s eponymous debut album.

In 2001, Q named the cover of London Calling as having the ninth best album art of all time.

In 2010, the Royal Mail issued a set of stamps depicting now classic album cover art, one of which was London Calling.

So even before you arrived at the music, you already had two works of art wrapped around the two slabs of black vinyl that provided the main event.

7

Several years I go I interviewed Paul Simonon about an exhibition of paintings he had on in London.

Ostensibly, we were there to talk about these paintings, large-scale West London views of the Thames.

Yes, Simonon still lived by the river depicted in London Calling’s title track and lead single.

Yet, sitting there on the sofa in the foyer of a London radio station, listening to him talk about these images he’d made of a place that meant so much to him, all I could think of as I looked at him while I let my Dictaphone do the listening was – somewhat pathetically - ‘You’re Paul Simonon, and you were in The Clash...’

The paintings? 


Outside of the image that was reproduced beside the text of my article, I never saw them.

8

Last year in Edinburgh, John Squire, the then former guitarist with The Stone Roses, whose initial record cover designs by Squire at the dawn of what came to be known as Madchester looked to Jackson Pollock for its reinvented Mod-Baggy Action Art.

Twenty years on, Squire’s Edinburgh show was jazz-influenced, the catalogue said.

The best that could actually be said them, however, is that John Squire is a very good guitarist.

A year later, The Stone Roses have reformed.

Just because you have been in The Clash or The Stone Roses, it seems, doesn’t necessarily make you a great painter.

9

In a couple of week’s time, I will be visiting London’s Hayward Gallery to see an event that forms part of Jeremy Deller’s current retrospective.

I first became aware of Deller when he produced Acid Brass, a performance in which a colliery brass band played arrangements of Acid House classics.

Later, Deller arranged and filmed a reconstruction of the Battle of Orgreave, one of the pivotal moments of the 1984 miners’ strike, when a real life English Civil War broke out, choreographed by Margaret Thatcher and miners’ union leader Arthur Scargill.

One of the pieces in the Deller retrospective is another film.

So Many Ways To Hurt You – The Life and Times of Adrian Street, is a study of flamboyant British wrestler Adrian Street, who, throughout the 1970s, cultivated a high camp image by wearing make-up, dyeing his hair blonde and wearing feather boas and designer robes.

Beyond the image, the Welsh-born former body-builder was a vicious wrestler and an expert showman, who, as I saw many times at Liverpool Stadium as part of the now demolished venue’s many Friday night wrestling bills, was capable of whipping a crowd packed into what was a essentially a spit n’ sawdust concrete amphitheatre lined with ass-splintering wooden seats, into a cathartic frenzy.

In 1998, England Made Me, the debut album by Luke Haines’ band, Black Box Recorder, featured a photograph of Street in full peacock regalia standing alongside his father, who’d just done a shift down the mineshaft both men were stood beside.

A year earlier, journalist Simon Garfield published The Wrestling, an oral history of this most ridiculed form of end of the pier white trash Greek tragedy, which featured the same image of Street and his father - grafters both - alongside interviews with Street.

Also featured in the book – although not interviewed, because he never talks – was British masked wrestler Kendo Nagasaki, whose mysterious image featured on the cover of the book.

A few years earlier, pop artist Peter Blake, who’d designed the cover of The Beatles Sergeant Pepper album did a portrait of Nagasaki, which became the focus of a prime time BBC TV documentary.

At the end of last year, a now solo Luke Haines released an album called Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early '80s, which features songs about Street and Nagasaki.

On March 30th, as part of an exhibition by a Turner Prize winning artist in one of the UKs most prestigious art institutions, Deller will host a live satellite link up with Street – now a seventy-something resident of Florida – who will be interviewed by Simon Garfield.

This will be followed by a performance by Luke Haines, who will play songs from his Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early '80 album.

10

For the last decade, I have watched as the likes of Garfield, Haines and Deller have taken the icons of mine – and their – childhood – and imbued it with a hitherto unrewarded status that goes beyond any accusations of fetishisation of cultural slumming to give it legitimacy - if not quite a respectability it doesn’t need.

But, one wonders, as with Coldplay and Adele, is it any good?

Well, yes, as far as I’m concerned, it’s brilliant.

But is it art?

Well, that’s another story.

There are worlds beyond the glossy bullshit that surrounds Venice, The Brits, Frieze Art Fair, The Turner Prize and all the other Art Star Sensations.

Just ask the man and woman in the street.

Neil Cooper
February 23rd 2012

This was a paper given on February 23rd 2012 during the University of Edinburgh's History of Art department's Innovative Learning week 2012, as part of a panel titled A Critique of Judgement, Or, How Do we Decide What's Good and What's Bad in Emerging Visual Practice. Other panelists were Tamara Trodd (lecturer, Modern and Contemporary Art, University of Edinburgh), Craig Coulthard (artist, Cultural Olympiad grant recipient) and Pat Fisher (curator, Talbot Rice Gallery, University of Edinburgh). The panel was chaired by Luke Healey.

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 TV sketch, all this would be fine, but over a full show, 
what is essentially an overblown theatre industry in-joke can’t really sustain 
the nonsense, even with Sally Reid dry-humping her way through Britt Ekland’s 
butt-slapping routine. While there’s a few choice one-liners amid the comic 
business, Reid and a cracking cast including Jimmy Chisholm, Rosalind Sydney and 
Hemphill himself seem at half-speed. As with its inspiration, if they’re going 
to kill their prey, they need to be as ruthless as they are when they murder 
Paul Giovanni’s original psych-folk songs. These are by far the best part of a 
show that tours to the Theatre Royal in Glasgow.

The Herald, February 23rd 2012

ends

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

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,”  MacAninch admits about the 
first Citizens production to be directed by its new artistic director 
Dominic Hill. “One of the things is the precision of the language. It's 
a lot more poetic than one would think it is, so you can't really 
paraphrase your way out of trouble. It's very important that the words 
and the pauses are exactly right.”

As for Robert, MacAninch's own brooding intensity, which comes across 
in the seriousness with which he talks about his craft, sounds ideal.

“He finds out there's been a great Betrayal in his life,” MacAninch 
says of Robert, “and he makes a very particular decision about that, 
which is very unexpected. That impacts on everyone around him for the 
rest of his life. So it's about trying to understand why he does that, 
and that's very much Pinter territory, because it's about finding out 
that someone's got power over you and how you deal with that, and 
figuring out how you can have power over them. Robert chooses a very 
clever but quite destructive way of dealing with it, I think.”

Such onstage shenanigans are a far cry from Downton Abbey.

“I absolutely loved it,” he says, “right from the audition onwards. I'd 
never seen the programme, but I'd worked with the producer about twenty 
years ago, and straight away it felt great. Then I watched the 
programme, not expecting very much. I just thought it'd be another 
Sunday night drama, which doesn't fill me with very much enthusiasm, 
but I watched the whole series over two nights, and I thought, this is 
quite good.”

Considering just how much Downton has tapped into the public 
consciousness, this is something of an understatement.

“I don't know what it's captured in terms of the psyche of the nation,” 
he says, “but I certainly know that it's a beautifully shot piece of 
work, in which the acting is pretty good. It's very character-driven, 
and they kept throwing surprises in, like making the footman gay. One 
minute you think you're in this cosy little thing, and then it becomes 
something completely different.”

One could argue the same about Betrayal.

“Some people say it's a 1970s play,” MacAninch observes, “but I think 
it's more personal than that. It's timeless.”

MacAninch's stint in Betrayal will see the now Edinburgh-based actor 
return to the theatre where his career began as an extra on a 
production of Schiller's Mary Stuart. That was in 1985 when he was a 
student at Glasgow University, getting a distinction in Philosophy 
while failing English and French in his first year. When a friendly 
lecturer suggested he try drama because it was easy to make up academic 
points from the subject, MacAninch felt something light up inside him.

“When I first went onstage I was given a form of expression that I'd 
never had before, he says now. “And I still feel that whenever I go 
onstage.”

After graduating, MacAninch briefly attended Bristol Old Vic drama 
school, but hated it. He wrote a letter to director and designer 
Phillip Prowse, one of the Citz's legendary triumvirate who ran the 
theatre with Giles Havergal and the late Robert David MacDonald for the 
best part of thirty years. The letter was  a request to audition for 
that year's season, and he was duly cast in small roles in Tis Pity 
She's A Whore and Frankenstein. After that he appeared in A Tale of Two 
Cities, Prowse's production of Enrico 4, and Oedipus Rex.

MacAninch moved to London, where he spent a year doing tele-sales jobs 
inbetween auditions, and was eventually cast in Edinburgh-set legal 
drama, The Advocates. More high profile TV and film work followed, 
including the Howard Schumann-scripted Nervous Energy, in which 
MacAninch played a young man with AIDS. After watching it, Prowse asked 
his former extra to come back to the Citz to play Hamlet. He was the 
last actor to do so under the triumvirate. The first had been David 
Hayman, who also returns to the Citz this year playing the title role 
in Hill's forthcoming production of King Lear.

“That was a great homecoming,” MacAninch says of Hamlet. “I didn't have 
many ambitions at the time. One was to work at the Citz, because it was 
a place I loved. The other was to play Hamlet, but I never dreamed I 
would achieve both. Phillip Prowse was and still is a theatrical 
genius, so it was a great platform for me.”

The last time MacAninch appeared at the Citz was in Roxana Silbert's 
production of Tom Murphy's play, A Whistle in the Dark. More recently 
he appeared with Alan Cumming in the National Theatre of Scotland's 
production of The Bacchae, as well as the NTS production of Peter Pan. 
He even appeared at Oran Mor in Paddy Cunneen's play, Wee Andy.

“I did three films and two TV shows in the last year,”  MacAninch says, 
“but I could barely pay the bills. So if that's going to be the case, 
then I would rather do theatre. I would still go to America if I got 
the call. Not out of ambition, but just for the adventure. Otherwise, 
I'm quite happy being in Portobello with my family, who are the most 
important thing in my life.”

Despite what he says, MacAninch sounds totally driven about what he 
does. Dominic Hill told him
during rehearsals for Betrayal that it was watching him in a production 
of Anna Karenina directed by Nancy Meckler for Shared Experience that 
made him want to become a director. As well as being a neat squaring of 
circles, Hill's observation catches a sense of how that drive 
translates onstage. Ask where it comes from, and MacAninch leaves a 
lengthy and suitably Pinteresque pause.

“Things keep popping up that don't do any good,” he says eventually, 
wrestling with a set of acting truisms before hitting on the phrase, 
“To lose my sense of myself. I think when you're present to the story, 
you lose that sense of yourself and are totally in it, and I love that 
feeling. It's very powerful. I feel very powerful, as a man and as an 
actor, because it makes you present to life. Like when I was climbing 
when I was making a TV show called Rockface, I was so present to life. 
It's a great ambition, to be present. It's the most fulfilling thing.”

Betrayal, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, March 2nd-24th. Special 50P 
tickets for Betrayal go on sale on February 25th at 10am.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, February 21st 2012

ends

Monday, 20 February 2012

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, with William Ash's George and Steve Jackson's Lennie a perfectly pitched double act that never over-sentimentalises Lennie's slow-wittedness. Dove's cast navigate their way instead through a set of collective dysfunctions of little people looking for a way out and finding only scapegoats, as Lennie clings to anything soft or shiny for comfort, holding on too hard and never knowing when to let go.

If some of this at times looks slight compared to Steinbeck's masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, a
pathos prevails throughout. This is especially so at the play's close, when George is forced to make the
ultimate mercy killing, as Lennie's promised land awaits.

The Herald, February 20th 2012
ends



 
 

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 and the pure private joy of scratching an 
itch with a sense of intimacy that charms and amuses without ever 
feeling self-consciously peculiar.

Over eighty-five delicious minutes, Lovett captures the depth behind 
every hesitant nuance of Beckett's wordplay as he did in his previous 
three-hour rendition of his muse's early trilogy of novels. It might be 
argued too that, in the pre care-in-the-community society Beckett 
depicts, there is a quietly political point to the story of such a 
displaced figure. If so, it never forces the issue, as somehow out of 
the mire it becomes clear that there is a profound difference between 
being lonely and just being alone in this most solitary of pleasures.

The Herald, February 20th 2012

ends

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 
just to get on, but to get out, be it through a tequila haze, a big bag 
of money or worse.

Atmosphere is everything in Iqbal Khan's spit and sawdust production 
for Tamasha in association with Oldham Coliseum Theatre and The Bush, 
played out on Ciaran Bagnall's authentic-looking snooker hall set. The 
performances are relentless, with Din's potty-mouthed dialogue 
ricocheting  between the quartet with pummeling volleys if scrappy 
spleen. As the quartet's sparring grows increasingly intense, on one 
level this all looks deeply old-fashioned. Yet, as it exposes the more 
hidden corners of multi-cultural Britain, Snookered becomes an 
unflinching impressionistic portrait  of a community where old and new 
loyalties are as messed up as anywhere else.

The Herald, February 20th 2012

ends



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.

The lime-green open-plan office suite that hosts Seven Year Itch 
becomes the backdrop to a multi-layered forensic investigation of an 
everyday murder dressed up by its narrators to map out a life and death 
less ordinary. What is already a post-modern sit-com takes a 
psycho-sexual turn to resemble some of Dennis Cooper’s more grisly true 
life yarns.

Brown’s production plays on the polarities of each of McKnight’s 
troubled souls in what is effectively a pair of contemporary revenge 
comedies. There’s an over-riding archness in all the performances, with 
Julie Wilson-Nimmo and Mary Gapinski in Mary Massacre and Brown herself 
alongside Martin McCormick in Seven Year Itch pointing up the 
double-bluffing grotesquery of a candy-floss world turned bad.

The Herald, February 20th 2012

ends

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Luke Fowler (with Toshiya Tsunoda and John Haynes)


Inverleith House, Edinburgh
12 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 split-screen 
colour photographs that juxtapose elements of Fowler's world's eye view 
at work, rest and play. It's a world of book-shelves, parties, 
performances and protest, a place where the old counter-culture is 
picked up, absorbed and, to use a Laingian word, rebirthed, for modern 
times.

If Fowler seems to be mapping out facets of his own life via such 
dualities, it's Laing who dominates, be it splitting focus and 
personalities on film in a manner both infuriating and compelling, or 
else in the accompanying basement display of portraits by theatre 
photographer John Haynes. In both Laing is by turns self-consciously 
beatific, demonic, shamanic, flower-shirted, polo-necked, bare-footed, 
cross-legged , bombastic or else a little fragile. On film, in his 
fabulously grainy study of Glasgow for the 'Cities' series of 
psycho-geographic documentaries, Laing stands in a bombed-out slum, 
fires burning behind him as he posits expectations of his own past he 
should never have lived up to. “Culture?” he says scornfully, crazy 
talking to the end. 
The List, February 2012

ends

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Mwana


Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
Mwana 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 design, and with 
Kim Beveridge’s brooding video backdrop to punctuate the play’s darker 
moments beyond the open mike ridiculousness of the wedding DJ, at times 
all this feels too much for what is essentially a cross-cultural rites 
of passage.

If the play’s construction is compromised, Sithole nevertheless 
possesses considerable fire as a writer, with plenty of poetic colour 
in his language that overshadows the play’s more naturalistic exchanges 
in a story that is told from a rarely seen perspective.

Sithole’s worldview is punctuated even further by an epilogue/finale by 
Justin Philmore Brown, who won Ankur’s Storytelling Slam competition to 
write and perform a new song. Philmore Brown croons with the honeyed 
tones of Jimmy Cliff. He and Sithole should get together.

The Herald, February 16th 2012

ends

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

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 that 83 per cent of 
plays being commissioned are by men,” Parry observes. “Now, I don't 
have a problem with male playwrights, but I saw three David Hare plays 
last year, and I just wonder why it is that I'm not seeing more women 
writers onstage. There are obvious things to do with child care issues, 
but there must be more than that as well.  I'm not sure how I feel 
about having quotas, but we have to ask why women writers are being 
discriminated against in this way, and why gender doesn't seem to be an 
issue anymore.”

With this in mind, Parry and Stephens Alexander approached all of the 
female writers they liked with a view to getting involved with Agent 
160. The first fruits of this new initiative will be Agent 160 
Presents, which will see twelve new plays presented over two nights 
at the Arches in Glasgow following dates in Cardiff and London. With 
writers pulled in from all four nations of the UK, five of the plays 
have been rehearsed in Scotland, five in Wales and four in London. Two 
of the cast are from Scotland, three from Wales and two from London, 
while the four directors will include Kate Nelson of the 
Edinburgh-based Nutshell Theatre.

Scottish writers involved include Ioanna Anderson, whose play Six Acts 
of Love was seen at the Tron a couple of years ago, Abigail Docherty, 
whose Sea and Land and Sky won the inaugural Open Stage  competition, 
also at the Tron, Clare Duffy, co-author of Stellar Quines' forthcoming 
bi-lingual play, ANA, and Morna Pearson, whose play, Distracted, won 
the Meyer-Whitworth playwriting award.

Of the nationwide focus of Agent 160, Stephens Alexander says that “I 
can't imagine how you would have done this twenty, or even ten years 
ago. The internet's changed everything, and even the writers I've not 
met yet, I feel I know fairly well. The lovely thing about writing for 
theatre is that it is a collaborative art, and I think writers just 
find it useful to talk to someone who's actually read their play and 
think seriously about it. Dramaturgically that's really useful to do 
before the writers meet their director who's going to put their work on 
in a couple of weeks.”

Despite Agent 160's motivation, things do seem to be different in 
Scotland. As with David Hare, it's been possible to see three plays by 
Liz Lochhead in the last year, while work by Rona Munro has appeared on 
both Scottish and London stages. Then there is Zinnie Harris, Linda 
McLean, Sue Glover, Nicola McCartney, Sam Holcroft, Molly Taylor and 
others who have all had new work produced in Scotland over the last 
year. On top of this, the female-led Stellar Quines Theatre Company has 
worked with women artists of all disciplines, and over the last decade 
has focused largely on women writers at an international level. There 
is also The MsFits, founded by Rona Munro and actress Fiona Knowles to 
produce a series of monologues performed by Knowles.

Elsewhere, Abi Morgan appears equally prolific, both for the National 
Theatre of Scotland with 27, and with Frantic Assembly's recent tour of 
Lovesong, which stopped off at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Indeed, 
Morgan's name is especially notable here, as she also penned the 
screenplay for The Iron Lady, lthe BAFTA-winning film largely seen as 
being a sympathetic portrait of Britain's first female Prime Minister. 
Far from championing women's rights, however, Thatcher took on 
all-comers, including the female-led protests at Greenham Common.

The parallel rise of both feminism and Thatcherism in the 1970s also 
gave rise to single issue theatre companies that included the Monstrous 
Regiment company, who took their name from a tract by John Knox, and 
who scored an early success with Vinegar Tom by Caryl Churchill. 
Churchill's cache rose throughout the 1980s with the likes of Top 
Girls, which looked at the very notion of Thatcherism through imagined 
meetings between strong women throughout history.

If Monstrous Regiment and others had an explicit political agenda, 
Agent 160's is less overt, with the emphasis more on presenting work 
that is both intelligent and entertaining.

“We're presenting a platform for women writers rather than women’s 
rights,” is how Parry sees it, “but we recognise as well that we 
probably only exist off the back of the groundwork that the likes of 
Monstrous Regiment did before us. We obviously exist for a political 
reason, yet neither are we going to be overtly political about it. None 
of us want to become niche. I'm female but I'm also a writer. Being 
female doesn't enter my head, because I just am, whereas being a writer 
enters my head all the time.

“We want people to come along and enjoy the plays for what they are, 
and not care about the gender of the writer, or worry that it's by a 
token female writer. It's like when Rebecca Lenkiewicz had her play, 
Her Naked Skin on in 2008, and everybody made a big deal of the fact 
that she was the first female writer to have something on at the 
Olivier. It shouldn't matter, nut it's taken that long that of course 
it does.”

As Parry observes, there are very obvious practical reasons that might 
prevent women playwrights  sustaining a career, and which Agent 160 
would like to address.

“We've got an ambition in terms of helping with childcare and 
maternity,” she says, “which other companies may or may not do, but we 
also give the playwright the power over the process, which I think 
women find an empowering thing. If there are barriers to women getting 
work on, you can't separate them from the other issues, where people 
might be expected to work for free, or where areas outside the big 
cities might not have venues or any kind of theatrical infra-structure.”

By 2012, of course, the first wave of 1970s feminism should have made 
companies such as Agent 160 unnecessary. While today's reactionary 
climate has given Parry and Stephens Alexander's arguments a 
revitalised currency, things are looking up.

“There are people trying to address things in terms of commissioning,” 
Parry admits, “but if you're commissioned by a big established company, 
it takes a long time for those plays to come through. One of the good 
things about being a smaller company is that you can be slightly more 
responsive and flexible. I'm sure there are a lot of great commissions 
by women sitting in a drawer which I'm sure we'll be seeing soon.”

Agent 160 presents Agent 160, The Arches, Glasgow, February 22-23
www.agent160theatre.co.uk
www.thearches.co.uk

The Herald, February 15th 2012

ends

Monday, 13 February 2012

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 
getting nowhere fast, the endless round of clandestine encounters with 
troubled grotesques who distract him from his bank clerk's desk begin 
to resemble some crazy magical-realist dream, like Lindsay Anderson's O 
Lucky Man! as engineered by The Numbskulls.

At time there's an inherent musicality to proceedings, as the wordless 
chorales that illustrate and add atmosphere become dissonant little 
symphonies of big city chaos. If some of the other stylistic moves look 
dated, they nevertheless retain an anti-authoritarian edge that came 
out of a sense of an east European iconoclasm that sought real 
alternatives. There are real personalities too in Blackeyed's ensemble, 
 from Wegrzyn's suitably blank portrayal of K to Derek Ellwood's 
incontinent lawyer and Nadia Morgan's array of damaged damsels. Turning 
thirty has rarely looked such hard work.

The Herald, February 13th 2012
ends

Someone Who'll Watch Over Me


Perth Theatre
4 stars
Twenty 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 out come night time. When awake, there's a kind of madness 
inherent in the things the men cook up, which, as the trio question 
their own manhood, lean more to the homo-erotic fantasia of Kiss of the 
Spiderwoman than the angry hysteria of Midnight Express.

The interplay between Joseph Chance's laid-back Adam, Stephen Kennedy's 
bluff Edward and Robert Morgan's academic Michael borders on absurdly 
comic routines, as if they were merely finding common ground in some 
post-pub piece of male bonding. Yet when Edward is released, leaving 
Michael to survive alone, despite the sun that shines through the now 
open door and the sentiments expressed, this is no end of summer camp, 
but an experience that will mark them forever.

The Herald, February 13th 2012

ends

Friday, 10 February 2012

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 ferocious Vicki, or Vivienne, the 
posh girl epitome of literary groupiedom who gets a piece of one of the 
old myth-maker's more magical-realist, if gynaecologically-inclined 
yarns.

Meat is everywhere in Harrison's production, be it the ripped-out liver 
Henry lays down before his true love, the discarded bag of chickens 
 from his off-the-rails tryst with Margy and her fox fur, or the flesh 
on flesh as Hank and Cass hold onto each other with increasing 
desperation for life itself. Harrison's Scots-accented adaptation works 
better with the pair's sparring than in the monologues, when the 
original street-smart American rhythms can't help but take over. If 
there are moments bordering on knockabout parody, they veer just the 
right side of Bukowskian largesse in a rip-roaring study of wisdom 
through excess.

The Herald, February 10th 2012

ends

Thursday, 9 February 2012

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 they're channelled 
through, and with lights raised and lowered by degrees, playful little 
cacophonies are pulsed along like a robot baroque heartbeat.

Where one might normally expect such an affair to be relayed in an 
empty room, allowing spectators to drift between speakers or else 
choose their favoured vantage point while sprawled in repose flat out 
on the floor, the seating arrangements and in-the-round presentation 
suggests something requiring more discipline. This is Stockhausen meets 
Samuel Beckett, possibly uptown, for a fifty minute narrative that 
comes on like an extended remix of Beckett's wordless life and death 
miniature, Breath, by way of Stockhausen's Kontakte, which has been 
'performed' in a similar fashion, both by the grand-daddy of electronic 
music, and his followers.

Dower is no stranger to either artist. Beckett was all over On Memory & 
Chance, his 2011 show at the Changing Room gallery in Stirling, while 
his pop-up speakeasy for Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 
in 2010 was an artistic and social hub for left-field sonic exploring 
without any of that particular oeuvre’s more usually po-faced 
trappings. With a published record of Le Drapeau Noir forthcoming, it's 
legacy can already be found in the permanent venue on its site it 
inspired. With Dower as much social engineer as sonic architect, then, 
(….....) would fit in well there. 

The List, February 2012

ends