Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Morna Pearson - The Artist Woman's New Play

“It's like a children's story,” says Morna Pearson as she makes her way 
up the steep metal stairs of the Traverse Theatre's Leith-based 
rehearsal room after observing through a window as a group of actors 
throw themselves into a dance routine, “but with dirty bits.”

Pearson is talking about her new play, The Artist Man and the Mother 
Woman, which opens at the Traverse next week, and it's the most direct 
she's likely to be on the subject. Such reticence is peculiarly at odds 
with Pearson's dramatic voice if her 2006 debut play, Distracted, is 
anything to go by. Set in a Morayshire caravan park occupied by 
dysfunctional transients, Distracted served up a wild and vivid form of 
Doric-accented surrealism which suggested great things for Pearson.

Distracted went on to win the prestigious Meyer-Whitworth new 
playwriting award in 2007, which saw Pearson following in the footsteps 
of David Harrower, Henry Adam and Conor McPherson. Given such acclaim 
and the subsequent attention received by the then 27-year-old from 
Elgin from major theatre companies, one might have expected a steady 
stream of works to have taken the world by storm. As it is, while there 
have been occasional sightings of Pearson, after five years, The artist 
Man and the mother Woman is somewhat remarkably Pearson's first 
full-length main stage play.

It's not that there haven't been sightings of Pearson. By the time she 
won the Meyer-Whitworth Award, Pearson had already seen a new short 
play, Elf Analysis, performed as part of the Oran Mor based A Play, A 
Pie and A Pint season. In 2011,  an adaptation of a piece by South 
American writer Rodolofo Santana, which translated as The Company Will 
Overlook A Moment of Madness, also appeared at Oran Mor in a season 
co-produced with the National Theatre of Scotland. In 2011. Skin: Or 
How To Disappear, was one of the most accomplished pieces in a 
compendium of shorts presented by the women's writer based  Agent 160 
company last year. As well as two radio plays, Mcbeth's McPets and Side 
Effects, there were contributions too to Welcome To the Hotel 
Caledonia, the Traverse's multiple-authored election night 
entertainment.

While these were all tantalising glimpses into Pearson's fantastical 
mind, one wanted more. If The Artist Man and the Mother Woman proves as 
captivating as these, the first question that needs to be asked it what 
kept her so long. As it turns out, Pearson has been far from idle over 
the last decade. It's just that the rest of the world, one suspects, 
wasn't quite ready for her.

“It's gone quickly,” reflects Pearson in slightly dreamy tones. “I've 
done something pretty much every year, but I've always been down a lot 
of dead ends as well with commissions that never came to anything. If I 
had other skills I would've maybe have stopped writing, because when 
you get three commissions rejected in a row, it kind of makes you 
think. I've definitely learnt from that not to be commissioned on one 
sentence, but to write a first draft first. What might be a good idea 
might only end up being a ten minute play, so I wouldn't say yes to 
anything now unless I was confident I knew what the deal was.”

While she clearly lost confidence after such setbacks, Pearson 
maintains a quiet determination when she says of the rejected plays 
that “They're not in the bin. They've just been put aside for a while.”

Pearson's new play takes its title from a line in George Bernard Shaw's 
Man and Superman, which states that 'Of all human struggles there is 
none so treacherous and remorseless as the struggle between the artist 
man and the mother woman.' Pearson uses this notion as a springboard to 
see what happens when a molly-coddled art teacher attempts to extract 
himself from the maternal bosom after discovering he works in one of 
the top ten sexiest professions.

“I always start with a character suggesting things in my head,” Pearson 
said, “and I had this character who'd led a sheltered life, but who 
wanted to get into the dating scene. Then I quickly realised that his 
mother was very important to his life so I started to focus on their 
relationship.”

This hits on a notion that most men with artistic sensibilities have 
been indulged by their mothers from an early age.

“Boys are definitely treated differently,” Pearson observes, “and I 
think if my character here had been a woman then she definitely 
wouldn't still be living at home. But most of the characters I come up 
with are a bit unwise.”

An early draft of The Artist Man and the Mother Woman was one of the 
plays originally  commissioned by another company, who'd passed on 
taking it to full production. It was only when the Traverse's incoming 
artistic director Orla O'Loughlin arrived at the theatre that things 
began to move forward.

“She'd heard of it's existence and asked to read it,” says Pearson, 
“and then she thought it would be good to have a reading of it in 
April. Part of that was about getting my confidence back, but I had 
enough distance from it to go back to it. A few weeks later the 
Traverse commissioned me, and I redrafted and redrafted it, so it's 
quite a different play now to how it was originally, even though it's 
gone back more to how it was in the original draft.”

Whatever happens with The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, it's 
unlikely to be another five years before a new play by Pearson appears. 
Already ongoing is Ailie and the Alien, a commission fir the National 
Theatre's 2013 NT Connections series of plays performed by youth 
theatres. As for her current play, while ostensibly a comedy, Pearson 
admits there is a dark thread running throughout.

“Some of the subject matter could be taken further,” she admits, “but 
you don't want to alienate an audience, so I hope we've got the balance 
right.”

The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 
October 30th-November 17th
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, October 30th 2012


ends

Whisky Galore

Dundee Rep
4 stars
Paul Godfrey’s stage adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s famously filmed 
novel is as clever as Michael Frayn’s backstage farce, Noises Off.  
Framed as a 1950s BBC radio play, such a conceit not only allows for 
subtle hints of backstage shenanigans among its cast of three who 
appear alongside a tireless sound effects man. Sharing the original 
story’s multiple roles among the trio also makes for canny economic 
sense.

Godfrey’s version was last seen at the old Mull Little Theatre. Irene 
MacDougall’s new production, which tours community centres in the area 
this week, does much to capture the show’s essence, both in its 
stylistic dexterity and its deceptively subversive intent.

For those who don’t know it, Mackenzie’s World War Two-set yarn is set 
on two neighbouring islands whose whisky rationing is overcome via a 
fortuitous shipwreck’s offloaded cargo. As played here, an entire 
community is personified with a swiftly changed facial expression or 
accent. John Buick is leading man and narrator Sir Hoppy Caruthers, 
while Martin McBride’s dashing Dick Burns plays Hoppy’s assorted foils.

As regal diva Fanny Heywood-Haddock, Emily Winter plays all the women 
of the island, from battle-axes to belles, as well as several 
over-excited canines for good measure. There is the merest hint too of 
possible extra-curricular activities between the two fictional 
thespians that goes beyond professionalism. Unlike Frayn’s play, where 
one might expect things to fall apart, here they don’t.

Top marks must go to Kevin Lennon, who, as studio manager Ivor Ash, 
conjures up an entire audio world the old-fashioned way in a show that 
lays bare the full liberating power of what’s found in the bottom of a 
glass.

The Herald, October 30th 2012

ends

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
The snow is falling throughout most of director Matthew Lenton's 
refreshing new look at Shakespeare's darkest of rom-coms. While this 
takes literally the bard's own scripted notions of how the seasons are 
out of whack, it opens with a sorry-looking Bottom tending to a 
terminally ill wife, his only distraction a TV talent show that might 
just help him and his fellow wannabes live the dream. Given his wife's 
blessing to chase his muse following a mercy call from Peter Quince, 
Bottom does exactly that, led on his way by a gaggle of blonde-wigged 
fairies who resemble peroxided Harpo Marxes.

This is accentuated even more when the mechanicals are conjured into 
similar apparel by Cath Whitefield's  wide-eyed Puck, who  sprinkles 
her star-dust with abandon. The quartet of confused lovers, meanwhile, 
are too wrapped-up in themselves and their colour-coded space-age 
winter warmers to connect, and Flavia Gusmao's lusty Titania is 
seriously on the prowl.

Taking place on Kai Fischer's huge lop-sided set, Lenton's Dream 
injects even more fun into the play as it stands. When Hermia and 
Helena bitch at each other while their prospective partners go 
bare-chested for a fight that's more cuddle than punch-up, Whitefield's 
Puck watches while munching on popcorn as if at a movie.

For the Mechanicals' final star turn, Jordan Young's hilariously 
deluded Bottom goes all Hollywood Method, and when his troupe win the 
competition, their eruption of orchestrated pleasure could be something 
straight out of  an X-Factor finale. It's only when Bottom returns to 
his ailing wife, however, that things hit home. When the dream fades, 
the image suggests, reality bites harder than ever.

The Herald, October 25th 2012

ends

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Sparks

HMV Picture House, Edinburgh
4 stars
Sparks may have come late to the concept album party with their 2009 
album, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, but theatricality has always 
been essential to Ron and Russell Mael's oeuvre, from composer and 
keyboardist Ron's deadpan demeanour to Russell's sprite-like enthusiasm 
onwards. This is more apparent than ever throughout the first of UK 
date of the siblings Two Hands, One Mouth tour. As the name suggests, 
the duo leave themselves unadorned either by band-mates or onstage 
scenery, occupying a simply-lit black box space instead. The pair have 
even penned a lasciviously-inclined theme song, which plays as looped 
pre-show music sounding like a choir of Oompa Loompas.

Ron Mael enters alone to tinkle out a teasing overture of snatches from 
Sparks' greatest hits before his brother finally comes on sporting a 
tweedy outfit suggesting a silent movie director turned gamekeeper. The 
piano-based sprawl across selected highlights from a forty-year 
back-catalogue that follows makes it plain that Sparks' raison_d’être 
is warped  show-tunes that mash-up Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward 
and Brecht and Weill with a wilfully wordy pop-art chutzpah.

While Ron remains seated for such a glorified lounge-bar cabaret, 
Russell swoops both physically and vocally across the stage. For 
excerpts from the Ingmar Bergman album, Ron dons a beret for a 
spoken-word routine as Bergman himself. This Town Ain't Big Enough For 
The Both of Us could be a template for The Associates' Party Fears Two, 
while an extended Beat the Clock sounds like Suicide playing a gay 
disco. The song's urgency even encourages Ron to leave his keyboard to 
indulge in a brief front-stage shuffle before they finale with their 
new song, Oompa Loompas to the last.

The Herald, October 22nd 2012

ends  

Glasgow Girls - Cora Bissett's Radical Musical

In the corner of the Citizens Theatre rehearsal room, seven young women
are gathered round a piano, at which is sat musical director Hilary
Brooks, who leads the ensemble through their scales. In their
dressed-down tracksuit bottoms and voice-protecting scarves, the women
might well be attending some common or garden open-call audition for
some big west end musical in search of fresh blood.

Such a notion seems to be confirmed a few minutes later when they’re
put through their paces on a metal building-site set in a cheesily
choreographed routine involving umbrellas that help punctuate a song
infused with unabashed peppiness. Such a bright mood has been salvaged
after a piercing electronic shriek shattered the scales into discordant
submission. Such an incident gives a hint that what’s being knocked
into shape is no ordinary musical, as well as highlighting the tensions
between old-school jazz hands routines and more modern fare.

Such creative tensions are at the heart of Glasgow Girls, one-woman
theatrical whirlwind Cora Bissett’s follow-up to the Olivier Award
winning close-up dissection of sex-trafficking, Roadkill. Like
Roadkill, Glasgow Girls looks to real-life incidents. In this case,
Bissett looked to the inspirational tale of the group of school-girl
refugees who took on a Scottish Government which had sanctioned dawn
raids and the detention and potential deportation of their friends, and
won.

Rather than present this as a gritty piece of issue-based drama, with a
slew of producers including Theatre Royal Stratford East and the
National Theatre of Scotland behind her, Bissett has opted to transform
the story into a large-scale commercial musical, subverting the form
even further by concocting a musical stew of contemporary urban styles
as well as influences from further afield. Grime, dub and hip-hop rub
up against middle eastern and east European rhythms by way of Scots
indie folk, and, yes, the aforementioned jazz hands number.

It's a musical,” Bissett gushes, “and we're not going to shy away from
that. It's not a play with songs. It's a musical. One of the things
that stood out in the original documentary about the real Glasgow girls
was that music was embedded in every fibre of the girls' being. You'd
see them dancing at home with their families in their flats. They all
gave this rhythm in their bones. You see them dancing to hip-hop, but
they've also got music from their own cultures in their blood.”

To capture this, Bissett drafted in three other composers to work
alongside herself, Brooks and sound designer Fergus O'Hare. All of the
composers have a diverse musical pedigree. John Kielty is one of three
Kielty brothers who wrote The Sundowe, the kitsch, zombie-referencing
winner of producer Cameron Mackintosh's TV-friendly search for a new
Scottish musical, The Highland Quest.

The Sundowe cast included Bissett, while Brooks provided some of the
musical backing. The bulk of the tunes were provided by The Martians,
Kielty's band who once included Fame Academy winner turned back-room
song-writer, David Sneddon. Kielty even co-wrote Sneddon's debut album
back in 2002.

MC Soom T is a Glasgow-based Scots-Asian rapper, who Bissett first saw
playing an anti-racist benefit. Something of a star in India, MC Soom
T, aka Sumati Bhardwaj, wrote the show's theme song, We Are The Glasgow
Girls, with Brooks. The song has just been released as a single to
trail the show.

If Kielty’s semi-comic songs are the light relief in Glasgow Girls and
MC Soom T its furious conscience, then Patricia Panther provides the
play’s dark heart. Bissett previously worked with Panther on Detainee
A, a community-based show with Ankur Productions which also looked at
the plight of asylum seekers in Glasgow. Hearing that Panther had
started making her own Grime music, Bissett drafted her in to provide a
downbeat urban noir for the scenes where law and order swoops. Panther
now also appears in the show.

To oversee all this, Brooks’ experience as musical director on shows
including Dundee Rep's Proclaimers-based musical, Sunshine on Leith as
well as work with Terry Neason and Dorothy Paul, is a major asset. As
indeed is the presence of Brook’ singer sibling, Lorna Brooks, who is
singing coach on the show.

There are links here too with Bissett’s previous work. Kielty acted in 
Whatever Gets You Through The Night alongside actress Frances Thorburn, 
who plays one of the Glasgow Girls. Kielty also performed songs in the 
show penned by an array of Scots musical talent who appeared in the 
show. Thorburn too has a music background, as a rising singer/songwriter 
who already has a solo album, The Needle is the Haystack, under her belt.

It's just a great big mash-up,” is how Bissett sees it. “It's got to
reflect the myriad of cultures of the girls. No one person could
capture that clash of styles."

Prior to a move into acting and directing, Bissett herself started out
playing in bands, Darlingheart and Swelling Meg. An early move into
left-field music theatre found her channelling Patti Smith in Horses
Horses Coming In In All Directions, directed by Grid Iron’s Ben
Harrison at The Arches. Bissett remains one half of the cast in the
smash hit lo-fi rom-com for the stage, Midsummer, a collaboration
between song-writer Gordon McIntyre of Edinburgh indie outfit, Ballboy,
and playwright David Greig, who has written the book for Glasgow Girls.
Midsummer continues to tour the world.

More recently, Bissett devised and directed Whatever Gets You Through
The Night, another lo-fi venture, which mixed and matched some of the
country’s more interesting songwriters with the cream of a young
literati to create a dramatic stew of stories and songs exploring
Glasgow after-hours.

Glasgow Girls is working on exactly the same ethos of all of this
things,” says Bissett. “It's just on a bigger scale. I think we've all
accidentally discovered a love for musical theatre, but we've been
making up the rules as we go along.”

Back in the rehearsal room, the Glasgow Girls are back on the floor,
but this time it’s definitely not jazz hands they’re doing. Rather, the
shapes they’re throwing and the music they’re making is a
multi-cultural melting pot of sound and vision, a whirling microcosm of
a global village in motion.

It’s a musical, and, like it’s subjects,  it’s loud and proud about
what it is. Listen closer, however, and it might just be the most
radical thing you hear on a stage this year.

Glasgow Girls, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, October 31st-November 17th;
Theatre Royal Stratford East, February 8th-March 2nd 2013.
www.citz.co.uk
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com

The Herald, October 23rd 2012

ends


When Worlds Collide - Matthew Lenton's Dream

Matthew Lenton has never directed Shakespeare before. At first glance, 
Lenton's visually rich magical-realist imaginings with his 
Glasgow-based, internationally acclaimed Vanishing Point company don't 
really fit with the bard's poetically dense flights of fancy. Peel back 
the layers, however, and the two worlds that collide in his new 
production of one of Shakespeare's most revisited rom-coms may have 
more in common with Lenton's world than you might think.

It's the Shakespeare play which as a kid I always found the most 
accessible,” Lenton says of the Dream. “I've always been interested in 
the magic and the darkness and the beauty of it, and it's nice to be 
able to spend time in such a different place. I've always had a 
difficult relationship with Shakespeare. It was certainly not something 
I loved as a kid, and not something I found easy. It's still not 
something I find easy to watch on a stage, and not something I find 
easy to understand on a stage. So I think for those reasons I found it 
a challenge for me to see what I could do with a Shakespeare, but also 
to learn about it as well.”

A Midsummer Night's Dream can be many things, embracing a 
discombobulating spectrum of light and shade at the whim of whoever is 
tossing their individual brand of fairy dust on the play. For every 
1960s inspired lysergic trip into the underground, there is the frothy, 
strawberries and cream approach redolent of the lushly mown landscapes 
that cut off English country piles from the twenty-first century 
mechanicals beyond.

Without giving too much away, it's safe to say that Lenton's take on 
the play will be as instinctively individualistic as all his work thus 
far. The fact that he's setting it in a blizzard-strewn winter speaks 
volumes. TV talent shows, glamour-chasing Mechanicals and celebrity 
swimming pools are also mentioned. Lenton isn't being wilfully voguish 
here. Rather, he's applying a Vanishing Point aesthetic to a play which 
perhaps more than any other invites reinvention.

I think I've got a good idea and a good feeling for the kind of 
production I want it to be,” Lenton says. “One of the things is trying 
to find an additional human connection with it. When I knew I was going 
to be directing it, I just read the play a lot, trying not to think 
about it analytically, but just letting it wash over me and make an 
impression on me. It just kept coming to me, this thing that Bottom 
should be the centre of it, and that there's an emotional resonance 
about how he's not just this fool, but is someone who is trying to 
survive.

People maybe don't necessarily associate my work or Vanishing Point's 
work with social issues, but for me there is always something social at 
the absolute centre of it. What I like to do is leave that root under 
the ground, then let the foliage come on top of it. The audience may 
not necessarily see it explicitly, but for me it's all in there. People 
who are prepared to read things as metaphor or in a non-linear, non 
literal way will find things that they won't if they are just waiting 
to be given argument or message. So there's this root than I've 
planted, but you've got to delve around in the foliage to find what's 
there.”

The last time Lenton's work was seen at the Royal Lyceum was this 
August past with Wonderland. This major co-production between Vanishing 
Point, Fondazione Campania dei Festival, Napoli Teatro Festival Italia 
and Tramway, Glasgow in association with Eden Court in Inverness, was 
Vanishing Point's first ever appearance at Edinburgh International 
Festival. Taking its cue from Lewis Carroll, Wonderland took an 
unflinchingly dark leap down the rabbit-hole of internet porn, where 
performer, maker and user become complicit in seeing how far they can 
go.

Prior to this, in 2009,Vanishing Point and the Lyceum joined forces for 
a radical reimagining of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Rather than 
apply eighteenth century bawdiness to this tale of two cities literally 
existing on top of each other, Lenton put Glasgow avant-indie group A 
Band Called Quinn at the heart of a strip-cartoon cyber-punk landscape 
writ large.

Before and between the two came Interiors and Saturday Night, two near 
wordless peeks into private worlds performed with bi-lingual casts from 
Italy, Portugal, Belgium, France, Croatia and Scotland behind big glass 
windows. Even earlier than this, ever since he co-founded Vanishing 
Point at Glasgow University in 1999, Lenton has explored a succession 
of inner landscapes. This has been the case from the company's Maurice 
Maeterlinck adaptation, The Sightless, which was performed in total 
darkness, through to the junk-shop nightmare scenario of Vanishing 
Point's breakthrough show, Lost Ones, taking in Jan Svankmajer's Little 
Otik and Subway's vision of a dystopian Leith pulsed by a Kosovan band 
before arriving in Wonderland.

If all that sounds like quite a trip, Lenton has taken a coterie of 
regular collaborators along with him for the ride. Many of them have 
joined him for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Costume designer Becky Minto, 
composer Mark Melville and designer Kai Fischer are all crucial to 
Lenton's work as a director. In the cast, Flávia Gusmão, who plays 
Titania and Hippolyta, has become part of what is effectively a 
Vanishing Point international ensemble since the company forged links 
with companies and festivals in Italy and Portugal. Miles Yekinni, who 
plays Demetrius, worked with Lenton at the Unicorn Theatre in London on 
children's show, the Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth, while Cath 
Whitefield, who plays Puck, dates all the way back to Lost Ones. With 
such parallel universes seemingly co-existing at all levels of Lenton's 
work, the duality contained in A Midsummer Night's Dream looks very 
much like a logically ordained next step.

I guess I'm just interested in getting below the surface of things,” 
he says. “I always like what David Lynch says about film-making, and 
that it's like catching fish. He says you can sit there fishing, and on 
the surface, there are lots of fish, and you see them swarming about. 
They're very small fish, and you can catch them quite easily and take 
them out of the water and make those fish into something really 
interesting. But, right down at the very bottom of the lake, lurching 
slowly through the mud, there are much bigger fish, but they're much 
harder to recognise. you can't see them, and it's hard to know actually 
what they are. Sometimes they're feelings and intuitions which are 
something more than the small fish, which are ideas, and I really 
relate to that.

I'm interested in things lurking in all of us that aren't rational or 
intellectual, but which are something you have to trust your intuition 
on. I'm interested in what this world would be like if it wasn't this 
world, what it would be like if we went through a little portal into a 
parallel world. Probably at the bottom of all that is an interest in 
fantasy, and being told those kind of stories as a child by my dad and 
imagining there are other worlds out there.

I've always been interested in mysterious places and strange places 
rather than the things that are physically around us on the surface; 
what we don't understand, the things we don't know are in us, what we 
don't understand is in us. For me they're just what it's all about, and 
if I can't find that in a play then I tend to be less interested in it. 
I'd find it really hard to direct a play based solely on an 
intellectual idea. It's good to have ideas, of course, but I'm much 
more interested in what comes out from beneath.”

Commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh as programme notes 
for the company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which ran 
October 19th-November 17th 2012. Written October 2012.

ends

Monday, 22 October 2012

Bat For Lashes

HMV Picture House, Edinburgh
4 stars
Don't be fooled by the vaguely Stonehenge-like set dressing which 
adorns the stage for Natasha Khan's current tour to promote her recent 
third album in her Bat For Lashes guise, The Haunted Man. Khan's hippy 
sensibilities may still be intact, but the school-assembly whimsy of 
yore has been ditched in favour of a more muscular synthesiser-led 
euphoria that adds a more grown-up sense of drama to her vocal 
gymnastics.

Sporting a full-length  blue-grey backless robe slit at the sides, Khan 
is all smiles for album opener, Lillies. With microphone in one hand, 
drumstick in  the other, she whacks the accompanying drum-pads with a 
relish gloriously at odds with her visual elegance. When she sings the 
words 'Thank God I'm alive' with arms outstretched, it sums up the 
sense of release that pulses throughout the new material.

With a lone cellist tucked behind the stage set, much of the songs' 
dense textures are provided by the two synth players and drummer who 
remain similarly discreet. Khan skips along to the jauntier, 
glitch-driven fare, wiggling her shoulders with her back to the 
microphone. For sublime ballad, Laura, she sits at the piano for a song 
that sounds very much like this term's halls of residence lullaby. Any 
accusations of Khan's canon leaning towards coffee-table blandness are 
undercut by the sheer volume of a delivery that still manages to 
capture each arrangement's nuances.

For the album's title track, Khan holds a vintage radio to the 
microphone, then above her head as the ghosts in the machine let rip a 
torrent of martial mediaevalism. For the encore Khan taps into her 
inner electro-pop disco diva, her demons purged  at last.

The Herald, October 22nd 2012

ends

Saturday, 20 October 2012

3D Printshow London 2012


                                              The Shock of the Old – A History
1

It's no coincidence that some of the earliest sightings of 3D in mass mainstream culture came via science-fiction B-movies of the 1950s. Here, after all, was the ultimate immersive future-shock, in living colour and walking in, about and among us, albeit in a utilitarian, grim-faced Cold War climate.

3D movies were, of course, a gimmick, designed by and for geeks to sex up an ailing post-war film industry high on alien-invasion induced paranoia. As gimmicks come and go, it worked. For a while.


2

On November 26th 1952, Life magazine photographer J.R. Eyerman took a series of photographs of the audience attending the premiere of the first ever full-length colour 3D movie at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California. Arch Oboler's Bwana Devil was based on a real-life story in which a big-game hunter in Africa squared up to man-eating lions after his predecessors fell prey to the hungry kings of the jungle.

Exciting stuff, for sure, though that's hard to tell from the image that adorned the front cover of the 1973 film of Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle, published in 1967. Mirroring Debord's analysis of a consumerist culture in love with the object rather than being that became the situationist bible, Eyerman's photograph showed an audience uniform in their apparent state of hypnosis, the 3D glasses worn collectively giving each an air of alien, Stepford Wife-like supplication.

The image used by Eyerman himself for a Life brochure designed to define the decade that ran from the mid-1940s to the mod-1950s, told a different story. Instead of being passive consumers, the Bwana Devil audience were caught in a state of hilarity, active participants in some un-defined moment caused, presumably, by the 3D world they were immersed in rather than merely watching.


3

In 1953, the Jack Arnold directed It Came From Outer Space had a race of benign aliens crash-land on Earth, where they briefly take over the bodies of some Arizona locals before repairing their ship and moving on to another galaxy. The fact that that the aliens weren't hostile invaders, but intelligent and peaceful beings, spoke volumes about the man behind It Came From Outer Space's original screen treatment.

Right up until his death in June 2012 aged 91, Ray Bradbury was the most humanist of science-fiction writers, whose huge body of work amounted to some twenty-seven novels and more than six hundred short stories, with The Martian Chronicles and Farenheit 451 among them.


4

Other classics of the short-lived golden era of 3D were Herk Harvey's cheapo 1962 horror flick, Carnival of Souls, and, in 1963, Roger Corman's sci-fi horror, The Man With X-Ray Eyes.

3D vision and X-Ray spex were the stuff of comic book small ads of the 1960s and 1970s alongside grow your own sea monkey kits and Charles Atlas' strip-cartoon guides for 90 pound weaklings to bulk out and kick sand in the faces of buff beach bum bullies.


5

Three years before It Came From Outer Space, in 1950, Bradbury published a short story, The Veldt, in the September edition of the Saturday Evening Post. The Veldt was set among a family living in something called The HappyLife Home. This was a space where machines did all the work, from cooking, to rocking the children, tellingly named Peter and Wendy, to sleep at night.

Peter and Wendy spend their days in the nursery, a virtual room with which they are able to communicate with telepathically to recreate any place they imagine. In an echo of the sensations perhaps experienced by the audience watching the 3D premiere of Bwana Devil, the nursery becomes stuck on an African jungle setting, where lions in the distance feast on a dead carcass. In an attempt to break Peter and Wendy from their addiction, their parents propose a move to the real countryside, but not before thy give in to Peter and Wendy's pleas for one last visit to the nursery. Only when the parents are locked inside the room do the virtual and real worlds collide in a seemingly far-flung but all too familiar awfully big adventure.

The Veldt was republished a year later in The Illustrated Man, Bradbury's compendium of eighteen stories using the framing device of a tattooed vagrant whose tattoos become animated as they bring each story to life. The Veldt was later dramatised for mid-1950s science-fiction radio show, X Minus 1, and also formed a segment of the 1969 feature film adaptation of The Illustrated Man. More significantly, in The Veldt, and in Peter and Wendy's addiction to the nursery in particular, Bradbury had predicted the sort of 3D virtual reality experience that is common-place today, albeit one without parent-eating lions.


6

Bradbury was a friend of Ray Harryhausen, the seminal master of stop-motion animation, who made great ape Mighty Joe Young a cuddlier King Kong – a beast brought to life aloft the Empire State building in 1933 by Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien -, had Jason duel with eight skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, and put giant dinosaurs in the same prehistoric space as a bikini-clad Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC.

Stop-motion animation was a painstaking process of manipulating and filming filming every tiny gesture of a model in order to give the illusion of movement. It too was a form of virtual reality imagined by Harryhausen. Things have moved on a bit since then, mind.


7

As with all gimmicks, however, the novelty of 3D wore off, and the Cold War gave way to the counter-culture, which begat movie brats with names like Spielberg, Coppola and Lucas, alongside an ecologically inclined back-to-nature techno-fear.

At some point in the 1970s, breakfast cereals of all things picked up the slack, first with free 3D collectors cards, of wild animals, cartoon characters and sci-fi icons depending on which particular flavour of the month franchise was spending its marketing and merchandise budget.

Next came cut out 3D dioramas on the back of the pack, which could be cut and pasted into model theatres where scenes from Dr Who or Disney's Robin Hood could be played out using the no longer 3D but still free cardboard figures contained within the cereal box in packs of three. But this was basic stuff, designed for the pre-digital age such cardboard constructions could never live up to. Sometimes, it seemed, the future looked pretty cheap.


8

In the last decade or so, there has been something of a revival of interest in 3D movies. The American avant-rock band Pere Ubu in particular have seized on the potential to reinvigorate what now looks like kitsch period pieces predicting futures that never came by playing live underscores to key films of the 3D era. It Came From Outer Space and The Man With X-Ray Eyes have both received such a treatment, while Pere Ubu frontman David Thomas and his Two Pale Boys duo have provided something similar for Carnival of Souls.

Beyond such vintage reappropriations, a new wave of 3D took hold, and by the time we get to Avatar, or the even more recent Marvel Comics franchise, Avengers Assemble, the future predicted in all the original 3D movies appears to have arrived. In actual fact, that future has been with us all along. It's just the technology that got better.


9

And so it goes with 3D Printshow, a myriad of possible worlds, parallel universes, infinite exchanges and designs for future living.

Seen individually, the array of wares on offer are by turns sculptural, performative, flamboyantly decorative and at times oddly functional.

Seen collectively, 3D Printshow appears to occupy an access-all-eras-and-areas science-fiction film-set where worlds collide and yesterday's tomorrows meet in today's most magic of moments.

It is dystopian, utopian, retro-future chic for lubricated living rooms.

Futopian, even.

As with Arch Obela's Bwana Devil, Ray Bradbury's Veldt and Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion monsters, it may be a jungle sometimes, but it remains the best of all (im)possible worlds.

The Future starts here, so print the Legend.

Commissioned to coincide with the 3D Printshow London 2012 exhibition, which took place at The Brewery, London, on October 19th-21st 2012

ends




Thursday, 18 October 2012

Sonica - A Gift of Sound and Vision

From Kill Your Timid Notion to GI, sound and vision have become 
increasingly promiscuous bed-fellows over the last decade. Throw in an 
increased sense of theatricality to sound-based art, and all the 
elements are in place for Sonica, a brand-new feast for the senses that 
forms the latest addition to an ever-expanding Glasgow-based left-field 
arts diaspora.

Produced by Cryptic, the music-theatre company who have bridged 
art-forms and worked internationally for almost twenty years, Sonica's 
inaugural ten-day city-wide programme of 'sonic art for the visually 
minded' brings together already existing works by the likes of Janek 
Schaefer, whose turntable-based work featured several years ago in a 
major show at the CCA, alongside new commissions from home and abroad. 
These include Remember Me, an opera by Claudia Molitor's opera 
performed inside a desk in Scotland Street School Museum. Elsewhere, 
Turner Prize nominee Luke Fowler will collaborate with Jean-Luc 
Guionnet based on their relationship with electronic music.

“There's a real demand for this sort of work,” according to Cryptic 
director Cathie Boyd, who instigated the Cryptic Nights showcases of 
sound-based work at CCA. “As well as the major international work, 
Cryptic has always been about showing off some of the more significant 
developing artists coming up, and we're keen to do both of those things 
here.”

Co-curated with former CCA director and current head of Huddersfield 
Contemporary Music Festival, Graham McKenzie, and former producer of 
Almeida Opera an currently in charge of Norwich Festival, Patrick 
Dickie, Sonica will be a shape-shifting enterprise, promoting one-offs 
rather than fixing themselves to one format.

“It's important as well that some of the works get another life,” says 
McKenzie, “because some of them have only ever been seen once.”

As far as the ongoing renaissance of interest  in cross-art 
adventurousness,“Intellectually and emotionally,” Dickie explains, 
“both artists and audiences want to explore all five of their senses. 
That's the journey they're prepared to make.”

Sonica, various venues, Glasgow, November 8th-18th
http://sonic-a.co.uk/2012/

The List, October 2012

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice


Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
Despite all appearances to the contrary, Jim Cartwright's 1992 play, 
written for actress Jane Horrocks, is not a showbiz spectacular. Nor 
was it ever meant to be, not even with a cast drawn from cabaret, 
comedy and popular TV and theatre circuits as they are in Cartwright's 
own touring revival. Rather, this close-up of a shy young girl finding 
salvation through song is more of a feel-good flip-side to Road, 
Cartwright's debut, which arrived six years earlier like a template for 
Shameless.in the thick of Thatcherism

Little Voice may be set among the same northern English housing estate 
underclass, but where Road was unflinchingly brutal, Little Voice is a 
Viz comic picture post-card with a drunken punchline at the end of 
every scene. Nowhere is this best encapsulated than in the figure of 
Mari, LV's brittle good-time girl mother who falls in with would-be 
agent Ray Say before watching her shaky life go up in flames. Meanwhile 
upstairs, LV loses herself in her dad's old records, terrified of  the 
spotlight.

While the scene is set by a faux cabaret led by compere Duggie Brown 
and an interval game of bingo for the audience, there's something 
uneven in Cartwright's production that's nothing to do with understudy 
Philip Andrew taking over from an indisposed Joe McGann as Ray. It 
seems more to do with a company playing for laughs almost too much, 
 from Jess Robinson's star turn as LV downwards. The singing may be 
electric, but the only time the pathos of Cartwright's baroque speech 
patterns are captured fully is in Beverley Callard's big monologue as 
she sits in the burnt-out shell she used to call home.

The Herald, October 18th 2012

ends

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Ulysses

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
It’s taken almost twenty years for Dermot Bolger’s free dramatisation
of James Joyce’s life in a day tale of Leopold Bloom’s travails through
Dublin’s underbelly to have life breathed in it via a full production.
For director Andy Arnold too, one gets the heady sense that his
exquisitely realised production is the climax of a love affair with
Irish letters which began in his early years of running The Arches.
Because, as we follow Bloom into the slow-burning languor of a red
light district of the mind, this looks like one of the best things
Arnold has done.

Charlotte Lane’s big wooden set on which the floorboards slowly wind
into themselves like a serpent suggests Bloom might just be walking
round in circles. As drink gets the better of him, Stephen Dedalus and
the thrusting Blazes Boylan, the day takes a turn into a woozy,
libido-driven dream-state. In this way, Bolger’s adaptation both
grounds Joyce’s wilder excesses in the everyday, yet also allows the
situations to take a walk on the wild side. This is done via a form of
ensemble narration that allows Jean-Paul Van Cauwelaert’s Bloom full
vent to his At the heart of all this, sprawled on an iron-bed full of
post-coital promise, is Bloom’s vivacious spouse Molly, played with
gusto to the last by Muireann Kelly.

The best thing about this is the time Arnold and co take to do it. For
sure there’s a prat-falling physicality to Alan Greig’s fine
choreography that’s so integral here, but, rather than run away with
itself, is allowed to linger in a city which comes panting and yearning
into full-blooded life. Oh, yes, indeed.

The Herald, October 17th 2012

ends

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Matthew Lenton - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Matthew Lenton is looking decidedly chilled. Sitting in the Royal
Lyceum Theatre rehearsal room in Edinburgh, as Lenton explains his
thinking behind his forthcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at the Lyceum, Lenton’s demeanour is as far removed from the last time
he spoke on these pages as he can get. Then, Lenton and his acclaimed
Vanishing Point company were about to premiere Wonderland, a major new
commission at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

After more than two years development spent exploring the dark
underbelly of internet pornography, Wonderland was an understandably
intense experience for everybody involved. While Lenton’s dramatic
curiosity remained unbowed, he looked exhausted, and not a little
haunted. Lenton was also in the thick of the ongoing fire-storm over
national arts funding agency, Creative Scotland.

Lenton was one of the first high-profile artists to speak out publicly
against Creative Scotland’s scrapping of the organisation’s two-year
flexible funding stream in favour of project funding. This has
effectively put the future of forty-nine arts organisations, including
Vanishing Point, in jeopardy.

Since then, as has been reported extensively on these pages, Creative
Scotland’s credibility has been questioned further, while Culture
Secretary Fiona Hyslop encouraged Creative Scotland to be more
transparent in its dealings with artists. Last week, a letter signed by
one hundred leading Scottish artists was sent to Sir Sandy Crombie,
Chair of Creative Scotland’s board, expressing their dismay at the
government quango.

Lenton, may have just a few weeks rather than a couple of years to get
his Dream onstage, but while he’s clearly feeling militant regarding
the Creative Scotland debacle, he’s also feeling decidedly chipper.

“It's a very pleasant relief after Wonderland,” Lenton says of his
tenure at the Lyceum on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It's the
Shakespeare play which as a kid I always found the most accessible.
I've always been interested in the magic and the darkness and the
beauty of it, and it's nice to be able to spend time in such a
different place. I've always had a difficult relationship with
Shakespeare. It was certainly not something I loved as a kid, and not
something I found easy, so I think for those reasons I found it a
challenge for me to see what I could do with a Shakespeare, but also to
learn about it as well.

“I think sometimes when you watch Shakespeare onstage, the danger is
you have these jaggly-jawed actors speaking language. What we're trying
to do is find the action in everything that's happening, so I think
I've got a good idea and a good feeling for the kind of production I
want it to be.”

With this in mind, Lenton’s Dream will be set in winter during a
recession. Here a group of starving artists are forced to enter a
Britain’s Got Talent-style TV show in order to attempt to compete for
success. How much of this is art imitating life remains to be seen.
Either way, with Creative Scotland’s ongoing crisis unlikely to go
away.  Lenton is unabashed about taking a stand.

  “I thought it was time for one of the companies to speak out,” Lenton
says of his statements to the Herald several weeks ago. “The system
that exists with Creative Scotland isn’t good.”

Since saying this, inquiries into Creative Scotland’s internal
operations are pending following last week’s public letter. Meanwhile,
Vanishing Point have secured Creative Scotland project funding to
develop two pieces, one a collaboration with the National Theatre of
Scotland, the other with Brighton Festival and LIFT.

With Interiors about to tour to Moscow and Wonderland set for a second
international life, all of this is some kind of vindication for
Lenton’s very singular vision which looks set to be applied to
Shakespeare. All of which, as Lenton sees it, is about gaining the
confidence to stick to his guns.

“It's about following my impulses,” he says, “and realising that what
I've got in my head is what I want to see onstage.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October
19th-November 17
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, October 16th 2012

ends






American Idiot - Green Day Take on the World

It’s teatime in Southampton, and outside the city’s Mayflower Theatre,
a small huddle of teenagers are hanging round. Blue-haired girls and
black-clad boys skulk warily on the steps or else lean up against the
theatre wall. In the park opposite, little pockets of similarly clad
teens make their way towards the Mayflower in a slow-moving pilgrimage
of disaffected suburban youth.


In the pub next door, middle-aged men in Ramones t-shirts, greying
oasis hair-cuts and khaki jackets are grabbing one last pint before
they too make their way to the Mayflower. All of which speaks volumes
about the mass pan-generational appeal of the show that’s just about to
open there.

But no-one’s come out to watch a gig by some reformed rock revivalists
or the latest TV talent show sensation. Rather, the Mayflower is
hosting the opening UK dates for a piece of prime time musical theatre
called American Idiot, and the Green Day hordes are out in force.

Once upon a time, Green Day were cartoon punk pretenders formed in 1987
by a pair of Californian teenagers, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike
Dirnt.  By the mid-1990s, Green Day were one of the biggest bands in
the world. When they released American Idiot as an album in 2004, the
Armstrong-penned rock opera debuted at number one in the album charts
and won a Grammy for Best Rock Album the following years. One reviewer
had already compared Armstrong’s writing on Green Day’s previous album,
Warning, to the music theatre works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

American Idiot’s narrative of a suburban boy who flees to the city took
Armstrong’s dramatic sensibilities even further. It also caught the
imagination of Tony Award-winning writer/director Michael Mayer, whose
Broadway hits include directing the musical of Spring Awakening.
“It sort of haunted me,” says Mayer of the original American Idiot
album. “I was a big fan, and listening to the album, it very quickly
became apparent that what Billie Joe was writing was very powerfully
connected with what was going on in America politically and socially.
What also struck me was that the narrative was very simple. It’s about
a kid from the suburbs trying to find life somewhere else. It’s a
coming of age story. So I thought, Jesus Christ, this is a musical.
There could be a life for this, but I didn’t think Green Day would ever
go for it.”

It was only when asked in an interview with showbiz bible, Variety,
about Spring Awakening, what else he thought might work as a musical
that he threw American Idiot out there. Mayer’s friend, actor turned
producer Tom Hulse, picked up on this. Hulse had produced Spring
Awakening, and offered to do the same with American Idiot.
“I said, oh, sure, knock yourself out. I’m sure Green Day want to do
theatre.”

They did, and, given license to develop the original story by
Armstrong, Mayer expanded it to follow three teenagers rather than one,
as Johnny, Will and Tunny take on a world that included drugs,
pregnancy, America at war and other things that move the show way
beyond any notions of jukebox musical status. The result of this
previewed at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2009, before transferring to
Broadway, where Armstrong himself played the lead role for a while
before the show won two Tony awards.

American Idiot’s UK tour has drafted in a brand new American cast, led
by Alex Nee as Johnny, Thomas Hettrick as Tunny and Casey O’Farrell as
Will, plus Trent Saunders as St Jimmy, the iconic figure who leads them
into temptation. On opening night they and the other sixteen performers
onstage more than rise to the occasion in a high-octane impressionistic
and somewhat cynical twenty-first century take on the American dream.

With a live band on a stage that looks like the ultimate boys den,
despite the banks of TV monitors that punctuates action with
contemporary projections alongside furiously well-drilled choreography
by Frantic Assembly and Black Watch mainstay Steven Hoggett, American
Idiot is a reassuringly old-fashioned piece of Americana. The runaway
slackers trying to find themselves could be straight out of a Jack
Kerouac novel, while the reconciliation that comes before an
unexpectedly downbeat ending suggests The Deerhunter. The grit of the
songs, meanwhile, comes alive with a potency many modern musicals could
learn from.

At the after-show party, the American Idiot cast are unrecognisably
glamorous in their skinny-tied suits and prom night style dresses that
still allow for a certain sassiness. Only when the girls somewhat
sweetly start to hand out first night cards to each other does it
register exactly how young these guys are.

In the morning, the rain-sodden park beside the Mayflower is again a
meeting point for dressed-down youth. Look beyond the hoodies, jeans
and trainers, though, and it’s clear that the little groupings aren’t
the same pilgrims from yesterday. The American Idiot cast have shaken
off their hang-overs and glad-rags, and have work to do.

In the corner of the room, Hoggett is sat down in-between Hettrick and
Saunders, giving notes. In the opposite corner, Mayer is impishly
holding court. Sitting with his co-stars, Nee may still be a student,
but he understands more than most how much American Idiot might mean to
his generation.

“There are so many people in the audience like the people we play,” he
implores. “So for me, this show is a lot about failure in a way that’s
never talked about. It’s a reality-check to say that it’s okay to mess
up sometimes, and that we need to connect with each other more to deal
with that. I think the show acknowledges that we’re really trying. It’s
tough to grow up, and it’s tough to be a person, but Green Day have
always tapped into that, and with American Idiot, it’s saying it’s okay
to mess up a little bit. It’s okay to be different.”

American Idiot, Edinburgh Playhouse, October 22-27; Clyde Auditorium,
Glasgow, October 29-November 3
www.americanidiotthemusical.com

The Herald, October 16th 2012

ends

Friday, 12 October 2012

Michael Clark Company – New Work 2012


Tramway, Glasgow
October 4th 2012

When a crop-haired female dancer is lowered from the heavens onto the 
vast expanse of the stage of one of the most significant 
performance/art spaces in Europe, it magnificently sums up the 
audacious spirit of Michael Clark. Especially as the trio that make up 
Green Gartside’s twenty-first century version of one-time squat rockers 
turned glossy 1980 chart stars Scritti Politti are playing The Boom 
Boom Bap, the lead single from Gartside’s 2006 ‘comeback’ album, White 
Bread Black Beer, tucked into the side of the stage beside the action 
the band are under-scoring.

Royal Ballet rebel Clarke fled the tutus and tights set to form his own 
company in 1984, performing to soundtracks dominated in early works by 
the relentless repetitions of The Fall, who he first referenced in his 
1984 piece, New Puritans. It says much for the relative conservatism of 
the contemporary dance world that for more than thirty years, now, 
Clarke has been regarded as a mould-breaking enfant-terrible, part 
punk, part Puck, part Peter Pan.

Now aged 50, and rarely seen onstage these days, Clarke’s 
well-documented wild years have now given way to a kind of 
pan-generational elder-statesman status akin to some of the 
first-generation post-punk bands who’ve reformed to show the 
skinny-jeaned new wave of pretenders how it’s done.

Unlike those acts, rehab permitting, Clark has rarely been away, and 
has done much of his growing up in public. The relationship between his 
choreography and the music that provides its pulse-beat, too, has been 
a constant, seemingly providing increasingly intimate elements of 
personal salvation beyond the frissons of bum-baring outrage.

It’s almost a quarter of a century now since Clark and The Fall’s Mark 
E Smith masterminded I Am Kurious Orange, a larger than life main-stage 
spectacle that turned English history into an Old Firm football match 
and had Smith’s then spouse and Fall guitarist Brix Smith enter perched 
astride a giant hamburger. Somewhere among all this, the band, onstage 
throughout, played a version of William Blake’s Jerusalem amidst a 
welter of new material. As a major Edinburgh International Festival 
commission, to suggest I Am Kurious Orange shook up the city’s culture 
vultures is something of an understatement.

More recently, in something of a prodigal’s return to EIF in 2009, 
Clarke had his troupe perform to a set of 1970s proto-punk classics, by 
Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and David Bowie. This included a routine accompanied 
by the distractingly iconic video of a post-Berlin David Bowie 
performing Heroes. Only a few weeks ago, Clark choreographed a 
large-scale community project at Glasgow’s Barrowlands, the legendary 
dance-hall turned even more legendary music venue.

For this new programme, opening in Glasgow before transferring to The 
Barbican, Clarke shows he's not lost his edge with two very different 
halves, set first to the analog techno squelch of Jarvis Cocker and 
Jason Buckle’s Relaxed Muscle project, who performed live with Clark's 
company in March and will do so again when New Work 2012 transfers to 
the Barbican later this month, followed by the honeyed melancholy skank 
of the aforementioned Scritti Politti. Seen back to back, the wildness 
and fragility that follows showcases both sides of Clark's creative 
psyche.

Once the curtains open to quell the palpable sense of collective 
anticipation that pervades the room, however, things begin with Pulp's 
Brit-Pop era F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. Here, Cocker's slice of 
obsession turned to triumph is illustrated by the Company's eight 
dancers moving in superhero style orange/red costumes like 
science-fiction automatons trying to connect. Words from the song's 
breathily delivered lyrics are projected onto the huge screen behind, 
the typography throwing shapes as much as those onstage. Two new 
tracks, Joyce and Jimmy, strip things back to a state of dirty-assed 
primitivism that's reflected in the choreography, a series of 
minimalist routines which criss-cross each other without ever touching.

By the time the music moves into The Heavy, 3-Way Accumulator and 
Beastmaster, three tracks from Relaxed Muscle's tellingly titled 2003 
debut album, A Heavy Night With... the dancers are dressed like op-art 
ancient Egyptians dancing with mirror-topped stools that dazzle as 
they're whirled close to the dancers bodies. For the bump and grind of 
Beastmaster, dancers crawl the stage or else ride astride each other as 
they give way to their fill animal magnetism.

If the first half is about desire at its most basic, the second, 
Scritti-accompanied half is an altogether quieter, more tender affair, 
and it’s telling that the six songs the band play from White Bread 
Black Beer are some of the most reflective on the album. The cheers 
that greet Gartside, keyboardist Rhodri Marsden and drummer Nick 
Roberts descend into hush once they begin The Boom Boom Bap as the 
dancer is lowered onto terra firma. As the other seven move slowly 
onstage in turn, dressed in androgynous shorts, kilts or dresses, the 
moves they make are more fluid, sweeping across the stage in a 
bitter-sweet dreamscape of unfulfilled yearning.

It's desire again, but more intimate and personal somehow, both in 
Gartside's lyrics and Clark's choreography. Together against a backdrop 
of a huge blue-projected screen that recalls the late Derek Jarman’s 
minimalist celluloid masterpiece, Blue, they form an impressionistic 
narrative that beguiles. While No Fine Lines, Cooking and After Six 
lend a jauntiness to the dancers inter-weaving, by the time that Clark 
himself joins the company onstage for a show-stealing turn in shorts 
sand vest, the finale of Petrococadollar and Window Wide Open may be 
downbeat, but it's also tinged with hope.

Gartside looks a tad off his stride when the seated audience don't clap 
between songs as they would at a regular gig, and when the dancers grab 
him by the hand to take a bow, he appears charmingly bewildered by the 
formality of the occasion. Either that, or the fact that the capacity 
crowd has finally been allowed to give vent to a noisy homage, to 
Scritti and the dancers for sure, but mainly to the twenty-first 
century renaissance man that is Michael Clark.

Michael Clark Company – New Work 2012, Barbican, London, October 
17th-27

The Quietus, October 2012

ends