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Showing posts from December, 2012

2012 - The Best Theatre of The Year

Internationalism and collaboration on scales both great and small were 
very much on the agenda for a year in Scotland's theatre scene that rode the recessionary wave with some consistently ambitious programming that wasn't afraid to mix up classical and popular forms. The tone was set right at the start of the year when Vox Motus presented their biggest show to date, The Infamous Brothers Davenport. As scripted by Peter Arnott and conceived by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, the play dissected the alleged supernatural powers of a pair of vaudevillian siblings with a box of tricks all of their own. Vox Motus' look at artifice and belief was oddly book-ended at the end of the year with a set of similar themes from Peepolykus' The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society at the Traverse. Both were bested, however, by Rob Drummond's Bullet Catch, a close-up solo dissection of the same terrain that created real magic out of similarly styled hokum. Also …

A Festival of the Extraordinary - Edinburgh's Hogmanay at The Tron

Time was when the main event for Hogmanay in Edinburgh saw revellers gather en masse outside the Tron Kirk on the corner of the High Street where the bells would be seen in with inebriated abandon. This pilgrimage to the seventeenth century landmark built at the behest of Charles 1 continued long after the Tron closed as a church in 1952, and only since the rise of large-scale Hogmanay events in the last twenty years did the tradition go into decline as the focus moved to Princes Street.
This year sees an attempt to revive the spirit of old Tron Kirk gatherings in the form of something styled as A Festival of the Extraordinary. Initiated and backed by the Drambuie drinks company, this three day event runs from the night before to the morning after Hogmanay, and aims to bridge elements of the new year's tradition both old and new. This is done with a mixture of film screenings and performances in the daytime under the banner of The Drambuie Surreal Sessions, while the evenings are…

National Jazz Trio of Scotland – The National Jazz Trio of Scotland's Christmas Album (Karaoke Kalk)

As with the season they're generally cashing in on, Christmas albums somewhat mercifully only come round once a year. While much festive fare is as depressingly jolly as it is unbearably ubiquitous – see Top of the Pops 2's annual Xmas special, plus department stores' endless looping of the Now That's What I Call Christmas compilation – there have been some genuinely inventive reimaginings of the season of goodwill in pop form.
Both Motown and Phil Spector released superb Christmas compilations, while The Beach Boys and James Brown filled a whole album apiece to their very singular takes on festive fare. On a more leftfield front, both ZE Records and Factory-connected Belgian label Les Disques du Crepescule released Christmas albums. While the former gifted the world The Waitresses joyous Christmas Wrapping on ZE's dryly named A Christmas Album in 1981, the latter's Ghosts of Christmas Past collection found the likes of The Durutti Column, Cabaret Voltaire an…

Your Lucky Day - Edinburgh's Hogmanay 2012

At first glance, this year's Edinburgh's Hogmanay festival which kicks off this weekend is as civic-mindedly populist as it comes. Or at least that's the case as presented in its brochure with a big number '13' emblazoned on the cover in neon-styled lettering with the words 'BE LUCKY' beneath. The annual torchlight procession is in there, as is the candle-lit concert at St Giles and the Concert in the Gardens this year headlined by the stadium pomp of Simple Minds. The Loony Dook is a must, and even the sled dog races have made a return this year.

Look beyond all this, however, and there is a very subtle subversion in the programme that takes the avant-garde out of the art-house and unleashes it on the streets and in some of Edinburgh's most august institutions. Most of this is to be found in Your Lucky Day, a New Year's Day construction which invites revellers to throw a dice which, depending on how they land, will take them to one of twelve unknow…

Various – Some Songs Side By Side (Stereo/Watts of Goodwill/RE:PEATER)

4 stars
So-called 'regional' album compilations were crucial statements of independence during the post-punk fall-out that briefly shook up the bone-idle London-centric record company hegemony. Snapshot documents of blink-and-you'll-miss-em scenes in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Brighton and other cities proliferated on shoestring DIY labels, which, politically, were as much about self-determination as music. By collecting and selecting new material from eight Glasgow-based acts, this new collaboration between three of the city's micro-labels (including the debut release by venue Stereo) does something similar in capturing the here-and-nowness of a fecund and forever-changing independent musical landscape. Tut Vu Vu, Palms, Organs of Love, Gummy Stumps, Sacred Paws, The Rosy Crucifixion, Muscles of Joy, Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers all present new work in an elaborate box set made up of two 12” vinyl LPs, a CD and a booklet featuring a…

Snide Rhythms – Snide Rhythms (The Bonjour Branch)

4 stars
With art school credentials to spare, Colvin Cruikshank's trio of Edinburgh scene-setters mash up a grab-bag of left-field post-punk conceptualists to make something that seems to channel the ghosts of every act who ever made the Wee Red Bar such a crucial hot-bed of musical and artistic eclectica while still sounding oh so very now. There's even a glam rock styled tribute to the bands alma mater on 'E.C.A'. Musically jaunty and lyrically wry, Snide Rhythms are possessed with an off-kilter quirkiness bordering on brilliance that more than justifies the band's name. On 'Yah Versus Schemie', they even manage to dissect the sociological roots of class war in one minute and fifteen seconds with a wit that withers even as it puts two fingers up to both parties before running away snickering. 
The List, December 2012
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Gormley to Gaga - A Design For Life At Summerhall

When Lady Gaga embarked on the early stages of her Monster Ball tour in 2009, it not only marked the provocative pop princess' crossover into the major league with a spectacular show described by some as the first ever pop electro opera. In it's look, Monster Ball also unwittingly formed a bridge between a pub theatre in Shepherd's Bush, art-punk band Wire, the Royal Opera House, lingerie label Agent Provocateur and the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. All of these, including Monster Ball, featured the work of theatre designer Es Devlin. Fans can get a taste of Devlin's work for Monster Ball in Transformation and Revelation: Gormley to Gaga – Designing For Performance, an exhibition of some thirty-three major British designers which opened at Summerhall in Edinburgh this weekend. “It was a very interesting point in her trajectory,” says Devlin. “For Monster Ball we were given an initial budget, then almost every day it went higher. It was desig…

National Jazz Trio of Scotland – The National Jazz Trio of Scotland's Christmas Album (Karaoke Kalk)

4 stars
Forget Bowie and Bing. As winter warmers go, Bill Wells' reinvention of twelve festive favourites featuring vocalists Lorna Gilfedder (Golden Grrrls), Kate Sugden (Johnny and the Entries), Aby Vulliamy (The One Ensemble) and Gerard Black (Francois and the Atlas Mountains) is an exquisite slowed-down treat. With each of the singers offering more reflective and at times mournful renderings of normally celebratory sing-alongs, from Sugden's opening take on Oh Xmas Tree, through to the finale of We Three Kings, more depth is given to each song that belie any notions of Nouvelle Vague style kitsch. Wells' textured keyboard arrangements lend even more weight to a collection that puts meaning back into a season where comfort matters as much as joy.
The List, December 2012
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Harland Miller: Overcoming Optimism

Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh until January 26th 20134 starsIf the Obscene Publications Squad are on the case of this first solo exhibition in Scotland by a York-born painter possessing a name like a pulp fiction hack, rest easy. Ellison’s monumental depictions of dog-eared Penguin book designs down the decades may look like the sort of behind-the-counter smut peddled under plain cover, but it’s the titles themselves that show off the real art of fiction.On the one hand, epic tomes such as the punk-inspired ‘Fuck Art, Let’s Dance’, the scientifically inclined ‘Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore’ and the possible Off-Broadway smash, ‘Born to Get it in the Tits Every Single Day Though’ are masterpieces of cock-snooking fantasy-wish-fulfilment obscenity a la Joe Orton’s adventures in Islington library.Beyond pop savvy fun and games and the Rude Kid style relish with which sweary-words are employed to flirt with the forbidden (as with old-school porn emporiums, the rudest title here…

Iceage

The Third Door, Edinburgh
Saturday November 24th 2012 4 stars “Can we borrow the support bands' guitars?” asks Iceage vocalist Elias Ronnenfelt with the sort of sleepy-eyed mix of boredom, shyness and self-belief that doesn't expect any answer other than action. Three songs in, and the baby-faced Danish neo-hardcore quartet's own guitars are fucked, a mess of snapped-string fury that's the only thing that's made them pause for breath on this fourth date of their European tour.
With a name that recalls a song by Joy Division in their early, proto-punk Warsaw incarnation, Iceage's 2011debut album, New Brigade, announced to the world a primitive outburst of teenage frustration that was both a throwback to a million spirit-of-'76 one chord wonders and an urgent rebirth of the same crash-and-burn attitude. With New Brigade's follow-up on Matador Records imminent, Iceage are currently between moments, holding on to both for dear life so tightly that broken …

Saint Etienne/Scritti Politti

Liquid Room, Edinburgh 4 stars Questions may be asked about who the real head-liners were in this glorious double bill, though in the end it was the songs that mattered. Seeing Green Gartside's revitalised Scritti Politti live at all is a thrill, even if a bottle of cough medicine is on standby to help Gartside's honeyed tones. Opening with the slow skank of The 'Sweetest' Girl's deconstruction of the love song set the bar high, but, coming so soon after providing the live soundtrack to dancer/choreographer Michael Clarke's latest work, Gartside's four-piece band were happy to go through the Scritti back-catalogue without too much analysis.
Technology has made it easier to play shiny 1980s hits like The Word Girl and Wood Beez, which sit seamlessly alongside more recent wonders like The Boom Boom Bap. There's one new number, which apparently references Kant's response to cultural relativism, and only Gartside can think his eponymous countrified h…

Birds of Paradise - A New Team

When Birds of Paradise announced their new artistic team in October of this year, it came after a heady year for disability and mixed ability initiatives. The London Paralympics had caught the nation's imagination over the summer more than ever before, while Birds of Paradise's appointment of a three-way team of two joint artistic directors and a creative producer suggested that team-work was even more important in what looks like a major leap forward for the company. The fact that Shona Rattray, Robert Softley Gale and Garry Robson already had a significant track record on projects with Bird of Paradise, as well as the disability arts sector, also meant that they'd effectively come through the company boot room, and were already au fait with what it's about.
“One of the nice things is that we already do know each other,” say Rattray, “so we can talk about ideas we've got straight away.”
“We worked out last night that it was ten years ago this week that the thre…

The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars There's a moment in Peepolykus' new show when a medium calling on the creator of Sherlock Holmes attempts to enter the room through the window. As the supposed arbiter of the spirit world clambers through the opening, he slips on the ledge, almost coming a cropper on the street below. The fact that the performer playing the spiritual con-man is clearly on his knees hanging on to a window at ground level doesn't prevent at least one first night audience member from gasping audibly at his apparent near miss with gravity. This incident speaks volumes about this comic meditation on truth and artifice in which suspension of disbelief is subject as much as form. It's framed around a faux lecture by PhD candidate Jennifer McGeary, who, along with a couple of actors she's hired to illustrate her spiel, takes a step back in time to meet Dr Doyle himself. The fact that her hired help bear a suspicious resemblance to Peepolykus…

White Christmas

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
4 starsIn terms of scene-setting, the snow-dappled Perthshire hills beyond the theatre already gave director John Durnin a head start for his production of the classic Irving Berlin-scored musical. While It’s remarkable that David Ives and Paul Blake’s stage version of Michael Curtiz’ 1954 big-screen vehicle for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye has only been around since 2004, it’s a gift to see a show normally reserved for the commercial circuit in such refreshingly close-up form. Beyond the uber-slick song and dance routines from a twenty-strong cast plus an exuberant ten-piece band, it’s also a fascinatingly telling period piece.Ex GIs turned big-time double act Bob and Phil wind up in an unseasonally sunny Vermont for Christmas with sisters Betty and Judy. With their former general’s hotel in hock, Bob and Phil conspire to put on a benefit gig for the old boy, doing the decent thing with the girls en route.As Bob and Phil, Grant Neal and Simon Coulthard are mat…

Soul Sister

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars Before the irresistible rise of the juke-box musical, the rock and roll tribute show was king. Queen too if this warts and all Tina Turner homage is anything to go by, as devisers Pete Brooks and John Miller reclaim the form's simple but effective attributes in Brooks' co-production with Bob Eaton. Eaton is a safe pair of hands, having defined the rock and roll musical while running Liverpool's Everyman Theatre. It is significant there is no writer's credit in what amounts to a strip cartoon summation of church-going teenager Anna Mae Bullock's rise, fall and subsequent reinvention in what's now regarded as Turner's 1980s heyday.
This was initially down to Bullock meeting one Ike Turner, a driven musical genius smart enough to see the potential in Bullock's voice enough to put her centre stage. As the pair become entwined personally as well as professionally, Turner's ambition turns to rage, misogyny, drug addict…

The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society - Peepolykus Get Elemental

How do you go about staging the complete works of Sherlock Holmes? It's a question even Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional pipe-smoking detective hero himself might have trouble with. It's nevertheless one which comically inclined theatre troupe Peepolykus asked themselves when they decided to make a new show. Audiences may or may well find out some kind of answer in The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society, a new piece scripted by Peepolykus founders Steven Canny and John Nicholson, which opens this week at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, whose artistic director, Orla O'Loughlin, directs.

“We knew that we wanted to write something about Arthur Conan Doyle, and we thought it might be an interesting idea to try and fit every Sherlock Holmes story into one thing,” says Nicholson, who, alongside Peepolykus regular, Javier Marzan and Scottish actress Gabriel Quigley, will be performing in the new show. “We came up with an idea for that, which felt like quite good fun, but…

Macbeth

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 starsThe guy sitting at the table in the Tron’s Victorian Bar is on his mobile speaking to the wife. He’s on a promise, he reckons, and is about to hit the big time. She’s telling him to go for it, but if he’s on to something, she wants a piece of the action too. So the guy goes back up to the bar, which is when things get really weird for Macbeth.Or that’s the impression you get from Ian Macdonald’s half-hour Gaelic translation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play commissioned by Glasgow Life/Glasch Beo. At the moment, Liz Carruthers’ work-in-progress production (although not advertised as such) is a one-man affair, with Daibhidh Walker playing Macbeth as a leather-jacketed bar-room big man who suddenly finds he’s a contender enough to take on all-comers.While some of the original text’s subtleties may be lost to non-Gaelic speakers, it’s not hard to get the broader gist of things as Walker’s straight out of Shameless Macbeth downs another drink. Was that Banquo si…