Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Beyond The Fringe - Edinburgh's Underground Theatre Scene

When Tightlaced Theatre and Sporadic Music's co-production of Susanna Mulvihill's new play, 1933: Eine Nacht Im Kabarett, opens in Edinburgh's Summerhall complex in a couple of weeks, it not only marks the opening of 2014's home-grown theatre season. The show also points to a fertile under-the-radar arts scene that exists in the capital via a network of young companies working in venues outwith traditional theatre spaces.

This has recently manifested itself, both in the In Your Face Theatre company's recent revival of the stage version of Irvine Welsh's novel, Trainspotting at Out of the Blue's converted drill hall home, and in the Village Pub Theatre's ongoing presentations of new work in the back room of the bar the company have adopted as home. Previously, the Siege Perilous company have produced work at the Malmaison Hotel on the Shore, while Creative Electric have been devising experimental work with young people in the bowels of the Bongo Club. Tightlaced, meanwhile, along with another company, Black Dingo, have opened Discover 21, a thirty-five seat venue housed in St Margaret's House, the former office block turned into studio spaces which previously operated as The Arts Complex.

While such activities puts paid to the myth that things only happen in Edinburgh in August, it hasn't always been this way, as artistic director of Tightlaced and co-founder of Discover 21, Jen McGregor, explains.

“When I started Tightlaced in 2008, there didn't seem to be any kind of grassroots theatre scene in Edinburgh,” she says, “and if I wanted to do something outwith the legitimate theatre venues, I had to go to Glasgow.”

While Summerhall has opened things out for companies like Tightlaced, the Village Pub Theatre, which was founded in 2012 by writer James Ley and others, effectively created a space for themselves.

“It was really to do something for the Leith Festival,” explains Ley, who is one of a core of professional playwrights at VPT, which also includes Morna Pearson, Catherine Grosvenor and Colin Bell. “We didn't think it would have a life, but there was a whole group of actors and directors keen to get involved.”

The result has been a series of co-operatively run themed seasons of short works performed script in hand. More recently, VPT has appointed Caitlin Skinner as its first artistic director.

“I think Edinburgh's got such fantastic artistic institutions,” says Skinner, a recent recipient of a Creative Scotland artist's bursary, “but up to now it's seemed to lack something grassroots and informal, but in a city full of institutions, I think people really respond to something that's a little underground and hidden away.”

That's certainly the case for In Your Face Theatre, co-founded by director Christopher Rybak and actor Greg Esplin after graduating from Performing Arts Studio Scotland, based at the city's Telford College.

“We were feeling pretty uninspired by a lot of the shows we'd been involved in,” says Rybak, “and just decided to do something ourselves.”

In Your Face's debut was a production of Tom McGrath's The Hard Man, co-written with Jimmy Boyle, whose prison experiences the play was drawn from. “Once that was over, we realised that we wanted to do something else, and that it was going to be a proper adventure.”

Rybak draws much inspiration from film, and stresses the immersive nature of In Your Face's aesthetic in a manner shared by Creative Electric.

Founded by director Heather Marshall in 2009 as a youth theatre, Creative Electric has developed into an experimentally inclined professional company that has performed in places ranging from the Bongo Club toilets to skate-parks, taking in an arts centre roof in Stockholm en route.

“A lot of our work is interactive,” Marshall points out, “and deliberately isn't performed in regular spaces. If you perform in spaces where young people go, they're more likely to become interested.”

Following the success of their 2013 piece, Auditory Hallucinations, Creative Electric have been developing their next production, based on a child's experiences after he chose to wear a space mask to hide a facial deformity.

“We started off small, but are now at the stage where we're funded, and ideally would like to tour Scotland and internationally.”

While Creative Electric have found their niche, part of the problem for many Edinburgh theatre companies is sustainability. In a city dominated by high rents and precious few spaces, only site-specific company, Grid Iron, along with Stellar Quines, have survived. The fact that Grid Iron are site-specific is itself telling.

That's not to say there isn't a rich history of independent theatre in Edinburgh, from the collectively-run Edinburgh Playwrights Workshop on the 1980s to the Gateway Exchange based Mandela Theatre, which sired the Boilerhouse company.

Such canny co-opting of spaces runs all the way back to the 1960s, when a young GI called Jim Haynes began hosting play readings in the world's first ever paperback bookshop he opened in a site where Edinburgh University's Informatics Centre now stands. Haynes' readings, of course, gave rise to the founding of the Traverse Theatre, itself now a world-renowned institution.

Bringing things full circle, the Traverse will shortly be hosting a Best of the Village Pub Theatre week. VPT are also recipients of the 2013 Tom McGrath Maverick Award, which allows the company to develop new ideas. Discover 21, meanwhile, will be hosting a series of events under the name, Collider, which aims to pair writers up with directors sympathetic to their work.

“Things are cyclical,” McGregor observes, “There are bursts of energy like the one that the Traverse came out of, but just now there's a lot happening, and it's a very exciting time to be working in Edinburgh. As far as Discover 21 is concerned, I'm hoping that, as word spreads, it becomes a place where people can try things out with minimum financial risk, and where artists and companies can pool resources. I want Discover 21 to become a hub for people working at a grassroots level, and I want people to be able to make experimental theatre in Edinburgh for as long as I can.”

1933: Eine Nacht Im Kabarett, Summerhall, Edinburgh, January 22nd-February 2nd 2014; Best of the Village Pub Theatre, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 31st-April 5th.
Beyond The Fringe - Edinburgh's underground theatre companies

Discover 21 - This newly opened 35-seat space is housed in a former office block, and has already played host to several productions that allow companies to experiment in a low-risk environment. Big aspirations and open access are its aims.

Tightlaced Theatre – Founded by writer/director Jen McGregor in 2008 as a new writing company, Tightlaced have produced several shows, with 1933: Eine Nacht Im Kabarett its most high-profile to date.

In Your Face Theatre – Formed by graduates of Telford College's Performing Arts Studio Scotland, In Your Face's productions of Tom McGrath's The Hard Man and the stage version of Irvine Welsh's novel, Trainspotting, puts the audience in the thick of the action in a provocatively immersive style.

Creative Electric – Originally founded as a youth theatre company, Creative Electric's physical-based style has already seen the company perform in Sweden. Drawing from real-life incidents, the company's aim is to produce a highly-charged interactive experience.

The Herald, December 31st 2013

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Friday, 27 December 2013

Scot:Lands - A World in A Day

When novelist Alasdair Gray suggested that we should 'Work as if you were in the early days of a better nation' on the frontispiece of his 1983 short-story collection, Unlikely Stories, Mostly, the landscape he imagined might have looked and sounded a little like Scot:Lands. The New Year's Day centrepiece of Edinburgh's Hogmanay programme, Scot:Lands presents a microcosm of Scottish music and performance that both looks to its cultural roots for inspiration while remaining utterly contemporary as it is performed in the throbbing heart of the capital city.

With nine unnamed but iconic venues in Edinburgh's Old Town hosting some imagined new 'Land', each features a rolling programme of international artists curated by venues and figureheads from a particular area. So where High:Land will be run by The Ceilidh House venue in Ullapool, Heid:Land will be curated by The Pathhead Music Collective from Fife. While the former will feature the likes of radical folk legend Dick Gaughan and Nancy Nicolson, the latter will host a bill that includes Karine Polwart and Sophie Bancroft. Lobster:Land, meanwhile, finds Fence Collective founder King Creosote recreating the East Neuk of Fife, with all the area's musical delights that helped put Fence on the map.

Theatrically speaking, while Wander:Land will feature Dundee-based contemporary dance company Smallpetitklein performing to a live Philip Glass soundtrack, Shadow:Land finds dynamic actor and director Cora Bissett presenting a miniature version of Whatever Gets You Through The Night, her music and theatre collaboration with playwright David Greig, electronic duo Swimmer One and a host of others. With the venue where each audience member promenades to decided I Ching-like by the pick of a card, Scot:Lands makes for a bespoke set of performances that are as far away from a normal gig as one can imagine, as Edinburgh's Hogmanay director and head of Unique Events, Pete Irvine, explains.

“Edinburgh's Hogmanay's not just a street party,” he says. “It's a festival where we promote the work of Scottish artists to an international audience. Every year we try and do something different, usually focusing on the Old Town. In the past we've had international street theatre quite a lot, and last year we did a thing called Your Lucky Day, where people threw a dice to go to one of eleven different venues to see a single artist doing a specific thing. That was sort of based on the New Year Games, which we'd done the year before in four venues, and which finished with a giant football game in the Grassmarket.

“When something works, there's a temptation to repeat it, but we always want to try something different. The idea for Scot:Lands came from the band Lau, who next year are going to be doing a thing called Lau:Land. That idea of lands seemed to mirror this whole idea of 2014 being Scotland's big year, so Lau became part of this world they've imagined and interpreted as theirs. We wanted to imagine lands that relate geographically and metaphorically, so the idea became about place, and how a place inspires you or nurtures you or introduces you. We then decided we wanted to work with existing arts centres, and to have a range of things across nine venues that would allow curators to put on something special.”

As well as those already mentioned, these will range from a recreation of a Shetland folk session to Edinburgh art collective FOUND hosting an in-the-round candle-lit musical performance. For Cora Bissett, Shadow:Land may be a very different world to the Arches in Glasgow where Whatever Gets You Through The Night was first performed, but it's something she can use to her advantage.

“The show's always been fluid,” she explains, “with different songwriters coming in at different points when they're available. The whole thing's like a bit of a jigsaw that you can move about and do it in a boutique fashion if you need to.”

While a variation of Alasdair Gray's epigraph – 'Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation' - is engraved on a wall of the Scottish parliament in Holyrood, it's no coincidence that Scot:Lands is taking place on the first day of the year when Scotland decides its future via the forthcoming independence referendum. Yet neither is Scot:Lands an exercise in box-ticking acquiescence to its masters. Rather, as is so often the case in Edinburgh's Hogmanay's performance programme, it is a quietly subversive sleight-of-hand, in which left-field or avant-garde art is put in the context of a high-profile civic event, where it finds a huge mainstream audience beyond the clubs, concert halls and studio theatres it is more often seen in.

This has perhaps more often been the case when European street art specialists Plasticiens Volants transformed the city itself into a spectacle, or when live artists Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich performed a faux ritual in the National Museum of Scotland. This was the case too when artist Spotov created an audience-operated Battleships-like game involving bizarrely costumed figures, and when Lothian-based electronic artist Michael Begg and Nurse With Wound collaborator Colin Potter presented Fragile Pitches, a three-hour sound installation drawn from recordings of the local landscape, inside St Giles Cathedral.

While there might not be anything on such a grand scale this year, the sheer diversity of Scot:Lands suggests a parallel universe of multiple possibilities.

“Everyone's been involved in creating their own world,” Irvine points out. “People can spend half an hour in one world, then go on to somewhere completely different, where they'll be introduced to something brand new, and which is a total one-off. A lot of these shows could run for three weeks in the Fringe, but these are totally unique, they're free, and if you miss this one performance, it will never happen again. The quality of the work will make people realise that there are really special things going on in Scotland, and that they're a rare privilege to witness.”

Scot:Lands begins at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh on January 1st 2014 from noon, with events at nine different locations in Edinburgh's Old Town running until 4.30pm. All events are free.
www.edinburghshogmanay.com

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Scot:Lands – A World In A Day

Home:Land – It all starts here at the National Museum of Scotland, where audiences will pick up a Landing Card before a postcard will provide details of their first destination on a journey around Scot:Land's artistic riches.

High:Land – Ullapool's famed Ceilidh Place venue will host a rolling programme of tradititional artists, including Dick Gaughan, Nancy Nicolson, Nigel Clark, The Cast and the Joseph Peach Trio.

Wander:Land – Dundee-based contemporary dance company Smallpetitklein take over one of Edinburgh's landmark buildings, where they will perform work based on Tolstoy and Ralph Waldo Emerson to a live Philip Glass soundtrack.

Heid:Land The Pathhead Music Collective recreate a snapshot of musical life in a small ex mining village in Fife, featuring the likes of Karine Polwart, Sophie Bancroft, Corina Hewat, Amy Geddes, Tom Bancroft and others.

Lau:Land – Edinburgh-sired nouveau folk trio Lau create their own world with a little help from their musical friends, Fraser Fifield, Graeme Stephen, Donald Hay and others.

Shet: Land – Shetland Arts bring the spirit of Lerwick-based arts centre, Mareek, to town with the likes of harpist Catriona Mackay, fiddler Chris Stout and a host of others.

Shadow:Land – Mercurial actor and director reimagines her hit stage collaboration with a host of writers and musicians via a series of miniatures exploring various responses to surviving the wee small hours. Actors Frances Thorburn and John Kielty reunite with Bissett, musician Wounded Knee and others for a bite-size version of the show.

Lobster:Land – Kenny Anderson, aka Fence Collective pioneer King Creosote, aka King Crabsote takes a fishy look at the Collective's East Neuk pond with Withered Hand, aka Withered Claw and others from the, ahem, Fence Krillective.

New:Found:Land – Edinburgh-based art collective FOUND draft in some musical associates, including Scottish Album of the Year winner RM Hubbert, Emily Scott and others to perform a candle-lit meditation which treats sound and silence as equals.

Nether: Land – The Scottish Storytelling Festival allow Bob Pegg, The Prestonpans Mummers and guests to introduce audiences to a world of ancient rites via the Galoshins Folk Tales.

The Herald, December 27th 2013

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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Singles, Downloads and Other Misfits - The Sexual Objects, Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band, The Fall, Sandford

The Sexual Objects – Feels With Me (Eyelids in the Rain)
Five stars
For seekers who know, Davy Henderson is the greatest rock poet on the planet, and has been ever since he exploded into Edinburgh's post-punk art/pop scene with the short-lived but fast-burning Fire Engines. High-concept pop entryism followed with Win before the guitar shards of The Nectarine No.9 got things back to basics.

Henderson's latest vehicle is an altogether warmer affair, and this first recorded sighting since 2011 debut vinyl long-player, 'Cucumber', retains its loose-knit appeal. A download-only parallel universe smash hit, it opens with Simon Smeeton's acoustic guitar intro before ooh-oohing its way into a gorgeous harmony-kissed instant classic that warns against false prophets before bursting into raptures of its own making.

There are shades here of '22 Blue', an early lament by The Nectarines, which Henderson, Smeeton, drummer Iain Holford and bass player Douglas McIntyre are all veterans of. Here, however, the melody is given a kick ass-wards and turned sunny side up by a three guitar line-up completed by Post's Graham Wann, and sprinkled with celestial keyboards that makes for a wondrous construction of Brill Building bubblegum with a post-modern sheen and low-slung pop for groovetastic hipsters to swoon to.


Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band – Artorius Revisited (Violette)
Five stars
'This Man is Our Greatest Songwriter, Recognise Him?' ran the front cover headline of the NME in 1999 alongside a picture of Scouse troubadour Michael Head, whose band Shack, formed from the ashes of 1980s shoulda-beens The Pale Fountains, appeared to be on the verge of a second coming? Or was it still their first?

Either way, and despite five shimmeringly wonderful albums that conjoined Head and his brother John's Arthur Lee influenced West Coast wide-screen pop sensibilities with kitchen-sink, Play For Today styled lyrical vignettes, Shack remain criminally ignored. Which is why this first studio release by Head since Shack's 2006 album, 'The Corner of Miles and Gil', is so special.

Lovingly-packaged on limited edition 12” vinyl, the four new songs top and tailed by a couple of instrumental sketches are the sounds and shades of a song-writer at his mid-life peak. The tinny techno of the opening 'PJ' gives no clue of what's about to follow with 'Cadiz,' a gorgeous trumpet-led paean to escaping to some sun-kissed promised land where true love and freedom reign.

The idyll continues on 'Lucinda Byre', a rose-tinted trip up Bold Street in Liverpool city centre, where a world of cafe society hang-outs, record shops and buskers becomes a beautiful romance fired by the legendary 1960s boutique that gives the song its title. It's Nick Drake and Bert Jansch if they'd grown up on a Liverpool 6 council estate.

This sense of place pervades throughout, with flipside opener, 'Newby Street', a jaunty strum-along which, like much of Head's back catalogue, owes much to Love's 'Forever Changes' album, but which, through all its sudden key changes, is shot-through with Head's own redemptive worldview. The title track is a two-verse legend of outlaws on the run that gallops into the sunset before the closing piano patterns of 'Daytime Nighttime' suggest the most solitary of exits.

This, however, is the sole downbeat moment of a sublime suite of songs, the template for which can be heard way back, on the Pale Fountains pre major label 1982 John Peel recordings, as well as Head's yearningly strung-out 1998 'solo' album, 'The Magical World of The Strands'.

Here Head is bolstered by jazz-trained Cast and Shack bassist Pete Wilkinson, drummer Sam Christie and producer Steve Powell's electric lead guitar flourishes. Head's acoustic guitar led inner-city street-corner coffee-bar baroque is gloriously fleshed out further by the two trumpets of Martin Smith and former Pale Fountain and current James sideman Andy Diagram.

Vicky Mutch's cello and Simon James' flute smatterings are also to the fore in a series of exquisite arrangements wrapped around songs forged in every generation of Merseybeat since the ferries started running, and which are peopled by a cast of characters who seem to have stepped out of a kitchen-sink Brit-flick. This is Michael Head reborn. You might not recognise him, but listen to him at all costs.


The Fall – The Remainderer (Cherry Red)
Four stars
The last time The Fall released a six-track 10” vinyl EP was in 1981, with the still seminal 'Slates,' which remains one of Mark E Smith's most urgent states of address. Thirty-two years on and much mucky water pissed under several burnt-down bridges, Smith's nasal whine has matured into a ravaged gurgle, and, on this stop-gap between this year's 'Re-mit' album and next year's forthcoming full-length opus, the words are by turns sparer and more abstract than the cut-up narratives of yore.

The template is set from the martial bounce and synth fizz of the opening title track, which has the group eke out a primal garage-band groove while Smith declaims over like a soothsayer at Speakers Corner. This continues on 'Amorator!', which finds an insistent electronic burble and off-kilter guitar and drum skitters form the backdrop to Smith's cracked whisper,which here possesses free-form shades of former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki, who Smith paid homage to many moons ago. “Never forget,” Smith incants with epiphany-inducing intent, “your brain is a bubble of water.”

'Mister Rode' scratches itself into life as a propulsively opaque no-fi dirge that careers around the room with an insistence that's like a dancing dog with a bone before giving way to the intense slow-burning melodrama of 'Rememberance 'R'. As Smith appears to wander off while another member of the band finishes the vocal, this is closer to spoken-word live art than rock and roll. The latter is saved for the following 'Say Mamba/Race With The Devil', a chugging rockabilly double bill captured live. The closing 'Touchy Pad' is a sentimentally inclined call and response two-hander which, for all it's brevity, is never throwaway, and resembles some imagined unheard out-take from Kevin Coyne and Dagmar Krause's 1970s underground musical, 'Babble.'

Rather than 'Slates,' this sextet of dense gothic epics is more akin to the skewed bombast of what came later on 'Room To Live' and 'Perverted By Language,' but stripped back to a production-free rawness delivered without fuss and shot through with a sprightly joie de vive that proves there's
life in the old dog yet.


Sandford – Indiscretion (Creeping Bent)
Three stars
A collaboration between choirboy-voiced chanteuse Katy Lironi and studio boffin Marshall Craigmyle, this melancholy electro-pop ditty is, despite its title, a beguilingly discreet affair. Ushered in by a primitive 1970s drum machine, the synthesised melodies that follow seem to creep in from the shadows of some illicit Cold War alliance before Lironi makes her presence known with an ice-cool sing-song vocal that keeps the atmosphere low-lit.

Lironi has pedigree rewinding all the way back to C 86 combo, Fizzbombs, through The Secret Goldfish and her Fake Eyelashes project, while Craigmyle conjures up sonic alchemy in the Strathaven-based Old Mile studio. Teamed up for what sounds like a trailer for a full-length feature, this high-concept affair inspired by a disparate set of clues from a Broadcast gig to Luke Rhinehart's 1971 novel, 'The Dice Man' is a propulsive slice of late night driving music to help keep the rain out.

The List, December 2013

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Friday, 20 December 2013

Trainspotting

Out of the Blue, Edinburgh
Four stars
It's like stepping into a time-warp even before the young and tellingly named In Your Face Theatre company's revival of Harry Gibson's stage version of Irvine Welsh's seminal debut novel properly begins. The early 1990s techno that plays prior to the show in a venue dark and expansive enough to fool the audience into thinking they've stumbled on some dilapidated warehouse in the middle of nowhere has something to do with it. So too do the studiedly observed re-creations of the poster images from Danny Boyle's 1996 film version on the programme of Christopher Rybak and Craig Boyle's promenade production, which arrives just a few months shy of the play's twentieth anniversary.

There, however, similarities end, as Rybak and Boyle's chorus of glow-stick wielding hoodied-up grim reapers lead us through a ghost train vision of Mark Renton and his assorted drug buddies in what is essentially a series of cut-up routines taken off the page and injected with rude, noisy life. As Renton, Begbie, Tommy and Sick Boy flit from cartoon wasters to a more tragic downward spiral in an instant, there's a glorious DIY roughness at play designed to mess up the senses.

Where two decades ago the play was of the moment, it remains as urgent as ever despite being a period piece. The female characters seem stronger, while it's easier in hindsight to recognise how a generation thrown onto the scrap-heap were just coming alive again, re-energised and politicised by repetitive beats. Given the current climate, this is a vital restaging that suggests that a brand new generation might just be en route to finding their voice.

The Herald, December 20th 2013

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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Jimmy Chisholm - Directing Aladdin

When Jimmy Chisholm was asked to direct Aladdin, this year's top of the range pantomime at the King's Theatre, Glasgow, it was a marriage made in back-stage heaven. Chisholm, after all, is an actor who, over some forty years experience, has done pretty much every Christmas show going. Not only has he written and directed his own pantomimes in Stirling and, with Ian Grieve, in Perth, but he has played dame on the stage of the King's itself.

The King's is the big one, after all, with great expectations from all involved. As such a seasoned performer, Chisholm will understand only too well what his starry cast have to deal with in their efforts to make Aladdin the biggest and brightest show in town. It will have helped too that an actors short-hand will already exist between him and the likes of TV favourites Karen Dunbar, who plays the Genie of the Ring, Still Game's Gavin Mitchell, as the evil Abanazar, and Widow Twankey herself, played by Gordon Cooper.

Cooper's appearance marks a return to the traditional panto dame at the King's, a festive stalwart that hasn't been seen onstage there since 2006, when Aladdin's writer, Eric Potts, played dame. This year will also be the first production of Aladdin at the Kings since the late Gerard Kelly – the undisputed king of King's pantos for two decades – appeared in it in the 2009/10 season. If these are big boots to fill, Chisholm has the pedigree to try them on for size more than most.

“This is the first time I've directed one that I haven't been in,” says the man who played dame as Sarah the Cook opposite Christoper Biggins' Idle Jack in Dick Whittington, and Baron Hardup opposite Elaine C Smith in Mother Goose. “By being an actor, I've seen pretty much every problem that comes up, so there's not much in that way that's a surprise. I suppose I've also worked as an actor with all sorts of different styles of directors, so I think I probably understand what the quickest route might be to get to where you want a scene to be. After that, it's about confidence. Once the actors are confident in what they're doing, they can have fun with it, which is great for me, because I get to sit back and watch.”

One suspects Chisholm contributes a whole lot more to a show, whichever side of the auditorium he's on. In Stirling, Chisholm wrote and directed his own takes on Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, while at Perth Theatre he worked with Ian Grieve on Sinbad, as well as versions of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. This time last year, Chisholm was appearing at the Pavilion, just down the road from the King's, in a Glasgow take on The Wizard of Oz, reimagined as The Wizard of Never Woz. Chisholm played one of the henchmen of the Wicked Witch of the West, played by Joyce Falconer. At Oran Mor, Chisholm directed A Play, A Pie and A Pint's even more irreverent summer show, Alice in Pantoland.

Anyone who has seen Chisholm onstage this year alone will recognise a virtuosity that has seen him capture the pathos of a past his best debt collector in Mike Cullen's play, The Collection, as well as revelling in being able to play the fool in an epic outdoor version of The Thrie Estaites. Such a range has been honed over many years, ever since he first became a familiar face as Jimmy Blair in STV soap, Take The High Road, right through to playing opposite Mel Gibson in Braveheart and beyond.

Yet, for all his natural comedic flair, Inverness-born Chisholm had never even seen a pantomime until he moved to Edinburgh to study drama at what was then Queen Margaret College, now Queen Margaret University. Despite this, he arrived in the capital with experience of the greats of Scottish comedy performers that was particularly close to home.

“I remember being in a pantomime as a child,” Chisholm says of his early days doing amateur dramatics with his parents, “but in Inverness at the time there wasn't a theatre like there is now. Yet I knew all the old Variety performers, Andy Stewart, Russell Hunter, all these people stayed at my mum and dad's place, and variety was really important for panto. Then things moved away from Variety, which means you simply don't have that style of performers anymore.”

Chisholm blames television for this.

“TV killed it,” he says. “These guys used to have their own routines they could taker round the country with them for years, but once everyone saw them do it on TV, it was gone.”

Despite this, the stars of Aladdin represent a newer generation of panto performers, who, while immersed in contemporary pop culture, are also influenced by the same comic heroes that Chisholm grew up with. In this way, Aladdin both respects and refreshes the tradition it was sired in.

“Panto is important in everyone's psyche,” says Chisholm. “It's probably the one time of year that an entire family will go to the theatre together, and if they have a good time, chances are they might come back, so it's my job to make their experience the best it can be.

“What I believe I've brought to this is keeping the integrity of the story. Sometimes you see things where the story comes second, and you forget which fairytale you're watching. Obviously people come to Aladdin to see their favourites, whether it's Karen, Gavin, Steve McNicoll or one of the others, but everyone is loyal to the story, and nothing is compromised for the sake of a song or something. This is the King's, and every bit of glitter and tinsel in panto-land gets thrown at this show, and for me, watching that cast do what they do with all that is an absolute joy.”

Aladdin, King's Theatre, Glasgow, until January 12th 2014

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Jimmy Chisholm – A Life Onstage

Jimmy Chisholm was born in Inverness, where he appeared in amateur dramatics with his parents, who knew many of the great Scottish variety performers.

Inspired by 7:84's legendary Highland tour of The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black Black Oil, Chisholm decided to take up acting professionally, and studied drama in Edinburgh.

Chisholm first came to prominence during a five year stint on STV soap, Take The High Road. Since then he has worked with every major theatre company in Scotland, as well as appearing opposite Mel Gibson in Braveheart and in numerous film and TV dramas.

This year Chisholm appeared in a five hour open-air staging of Sir David Lyndsey's sixteenth century play, A Satyre of the Thrie Estaites, returning to a play he first appeared in in 1986 with the Scottish Theatre Company.

Aladdin marks Chisholm's directorial debut at the King's Theatre, Glasgow, where he previously appeared in Dick Whittington and Mother Goose.

The Herald, December 17th 2013

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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Naomi Wilkinson obituary

Naomi Wilkinson – Theatre designer

Born, August 16th 1963; died November 18th 2013

Naomi Wilkinson, who has been found dead at her home in Islington, 
North London, was a singular stage designer with a vision and flair 
that was a natural fit for large-scale shows, but which could also be 
applied to smaller studio pieces. In the former, there were few bigger 
than Dominic Hill's epic production of Peer Gynt, which began its life 
at Dundee Rep during Hill's tenure there as co-artistic director. In 
the latter, a box that was part kennel, part museum exhibit was enough 
to bring atmosphere to an already chilling play such as Hattie Naylor's 
play about a young boy living wild on the streets of Moscow, Ivan and 
the Dogs, which toured to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

Gifted with a strong visual aesthetic from an early age, Wilkinson 
initially studied fine art in Bristol before being increasingly drawn 
to stage design, going on to study it on the Motley Theatre Design 
course. It was while she was at Motley that Wilkinson met artist 
Charles Mason, who was studying at Slade. The pair fell in love, were 
married in 1991, and for twenty-five years  were inseparable. 
Charles and Naomi's love story was etched with tragedy  when Mason took 
his own life earlier this year.

In the years inbetween, Wilkinson developed a reputation as a designer 
of integrity and vision across theatre, dance and opera. She worked in 
experimental spaces including Battersea Arts Centre, and designed the 
likes of Happy Birthday, Mr Deka D, which saw another one of her tilted 
floors tour to the Traverse. She worked with The Gate and Soho Theatre, 
and, with Told by An Idiot, had actors slide out of walls and dangle 
 from chairs in I'm A Fool To Want You. Dreamthinkspeak's production of 
Don't Look Back, performed in General Register House in Edinburgh where 
her designs were crucial, won the company a Total Theatre Award.

In dance, Wilkinson worked with Lloyd Newson's DV8 Company, Bern Ballet 
and Scottish Dance Theatre. Her working relationship with Dominic Hill 
began on his Dundee Rep production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, where 
her expansively dark and elementally-inspired tilted-floored set 
captured the play's full imaginative potential. It duly won her the 
first of two Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland's Best Design 
awards. The second award would come with Peer Gynt, in which Wilkinson 
utilised every inch of Dundee Rep's stage to present a gloriously messy 
vision of a version of Ibsen's epic that looked and felt utterly 
contemporary.

Wilkinson designed all three plays in the National Theatre of 
Scotland's Traverse Debuts season, including Cockroach, written by Sam 
Holcroft and directed by Vicky Featherstone. Wilkinson designed 
Dundee's production of Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children, 
directed by Gerry Mulgrew, who had played the older incarnation of Peer 
Gynt. Wilkinson designed Hill's Edinburgh International Festival 
production of Rona Munro's play, The Last Witch, and, most recently, 
Hill's Christmas show at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Sleeping 
Beauty.

Wilkinson developed a body of work at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, 
including a nomination for Best Set Design for Alice in Funderland. In 
2011, Wilkinson's work was selected to represent the UK at the Prague 
Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space, which was later seen at 
the V&A Museum in London.

Despite all this acclaim, and while regarded as a brilliant talent by 
her peers, Wilkinson remained modest, never seeking out praise, but 
preferring to work quietly and diligently to create what was inevitably 
a vital component of whatever production she was working on. Wilkinson 
was known too for a dry wit, which she applied to her darkly cartoonish 
designs for Sleeping Beauty.

“As a designer,” Hill recalls, “she had a sensibility that I always 
felt was poetic, never prosaic, influenced by sculpture, photography, 
contemporary art and dance, often looking to Europe for influences and 
inspiration. I used to love going to her studio, it was sparse, and 
white and beautiful, often with a piece of sculpture in the corner that 
had been made by her husband, Charles. She was absolutely her own 
person. She would only work on projects that she wanted to, or which 
inspired her. She was quiet, intelligent and funny. A true artist.”

Wilkinson is survived by her brothers, Anthony and Patrick.

The Herald, December 11th 2013

ends

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Traverse 50 - An End of Term Report

This time last year, the artistic team at the Traverse Theatre in 
Edinburgh were preparing celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary 
celebrations of Scotland's new writing hub. While a certain amount of 
looking back over a colourful history since its beginnings in a former 
High Street tenement brothel turned 1960s bohemian hub was necessary, 
it was the future that concerned artistic director Orla O'Loughlin and 
associate director Hamish Pirie the most.

With this in mind, the Traverse 50 was launched. This initiative 
initially saw some 630 writers with no more than two professionally 
produced plays under their belts respond to an open call for 500-word 
micro-plays inspired by Edinburgh's capital city. From these, some 
fifty writers were selected to take part in a year-long programme of 
events. This was kicked off by Plays For Edinburgh, a performed reading 
of all fifty selected plays by a professional cast that took place over 
one long but exhilarating evening in January. The event sold out, and a 
second evening was added to accommodate demand.

“That was a kind of validation for the writers,” O'Loughlin says. “For 
any writer to have their work performed in Traverse 1 is something to 
tick off their list of things to achieve, and for the Traverse 50, I 
think it gave many of them the confidence to realise they were writers. 
It's something to aspire to, so to have that at the start of the year 
rather than the end of it showed the level of talent as well as the 
level of our commitment and belief in the writers.”

Over the last twelve months, the fifty writers have taken part in a 
flurry of workshops and master-classes with theatre industry 
professionals ranging from writers, directors and producers of theatre, 
radio and television. There have been scratch nights, where new short 
pieces were performed script in hand, and speed dating events, at which 
the writers pitched ideas to assorted industry movers and shakers.

In October, three new twenty minute pieces were selected to form the 
centrepiece of the Traverse's Write Here festival of new writing, while 
another ten pieces received rehearsed readings that formed a series of 
lunchtime double bills. The Traverse Fifty Takeover saw another thirty 
four plays available to hear on headphones or else on assorted sites  
around the building. These included toilet walls, while diners can read 
one such bite-size masterpiece on the side of a salt cellar in a booth 
located in the Traverse bar restaurant where O'Loughlin is sat as she 
talks.

On the walls around the Traverse bar are portraits of each of the 
Traverse 50, who were each paired with a photographer who responded to 
their plays to create an image. While a final master-class with leading 
playwrights David Greig and David Harrower is pending during the 
current run of Harrower's solo play for Blythe Duff, Ciara, the work 
really starts with what happens next.

While many of the Traverse 50 graduates have professional projects 
ongoing with external organisations, The Traverse itself has 
commissioned seven of them to write full-length plays.

While names such as Tim Primrose, who has written for Lyceum Youth 
Theatre and the Strange Town company, and Sylvia Dow, who has had work 
staged during the Luminate festival, will be familiar, others will be 
less so. These include Australian writer Lachlan Philpott, Alison Carr, 
who has worked extensively at Live Theatre, Newcastle and on radio, and 
Armagh-born John McCann, who has had work produced by the Belfast-based 
Tinderbox company as well as several readings of work in Scotland.

Also under commission are Molly Innes and Martin McCormick, both 
well-known to Traverse audiences as actors, but who can now channel 
their theatrical experience into writing. The commissioned plays will 
form the Traverse's breakfast slot during the 2014 Edinburgh Festival 
Fringe. This slot has previously seen formative works tried out before 
going on to full production.

“All of the writers we've commissioned are in the long term quite right 
for our stages,” O'Loughlin points out. “Our stages have particular 
personalities and put particular demands on writers, and I suppose 
we've got a sense of what our house style is, and what works on those 
stages. All of the writers understand that they're writing for theatre, 
and there's a celebration of the form inherent in their writing. 
There's also a sense of mischief, and a lot of them are deeply 
political.”

The relatively speed in which the new plays will go from page to stage 
reflects the process of Quiz Show, Rob Drummond's acclaimed play, which 
was produced by the Traverse a mere six months after being commissioned.

“We commission writers because we want to put their work on,” says 
O'Loughlin. “We're not that interested in endless development and 
workshops and readings for the sake of it. We want to get it on as soon 
as it's ready. The National Theatre in London have a git rate of one in 
twelve commissioned plays making it to the stage, and that drives 
writers mad. That's not what the Traverse is about.”

Of the Traverse 50 experience overall, O'Loughlin believes that “the 
year has exceeded our expectations, because we didn't quite know what 
we were getting into. We knew we had ambition, and we knew we wanted to 
invest a lot of time in an emerging culture, and I think we've achieved 
that. The brilliant thing is that we've still got fifty writers who are 
very much with us and part of the story. They're all still Traverse 
writers, and we'll stay in touch with all of them. All we can hope is 
that we've inspired, equipped and provoked them to become better 
writers.”

www.traverse.co.uk

The Traverse 7 – The next generation of Traverse Theatre writers

Alison Carr  has had work produced by Live Theatre, Newcastle, nabokov, 
Old Vic New Voices, Paines Plough, BBC Radio 3 and 4, while her play, 
Patricia Quinn Saved My Life, was seen at the Edinburgh Festival 
Fringe.

Sylvia Dow trained as an actress before becoming Head of Education at 
the Scottish Arts Council, and made her playwriting debut aged 73 with 
A Beginning, A Middle and An End, a co-production between Greyscale and 
Stellar Quines.

Molly Innes has appeared as an actress in numerous productions at the 
Traverse, including The Artist Man and the Mother Woman by Morna 
Pearson, and dating back to Tom McGrath and Ella Wildridge's English 
language version of Quebecois writer Daniel Danis' play, Stones and 
Ashes.

John McCann is from County Armagh in Ireland, but now lives in 
Scotland, where he has worked with Stellar Quines, and was one of four 
writers who were part of a mentoring scheme set up by Playwrights 
Studio Scotland. He has also had work produced by Tinderbox Theatre 
Company in Belfast.

Martin McCormick's career as an actor began at Dundee rep, where he 
appeared in Dominic Hill's production of Peer Gynt, and with Grid Iron 
in their show, Yarn. He has since appeared at the Tron, and has 
performed with Vanishing Point, and in the 2010 revival of Douglas 
Maxwell's swing-park set play for Grid Iron, Decky Does A Bronco.

Lachlan Philpott is based in Sydney, Australia. His first play, Bison, 
played in Adelaide, Belfast, London, Melbourne and Sydney. Since then, 
his plays have won numerous awards, and he is Chair of the Australian 
Writer's Guild Playwrights Committee.

Tim Primrose began writing while a member of the Lyceum Youth Theatre, 
who produced several of his plays. Since then, he has written numerous 
works for the Edinburgh-based Strange Town Theatre Company.

The Herald, December 10th 2013

ends

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Jungle Book

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Five stars
A dread-locked and camouflage-trousered boy wanders through the 
auditorium and onto the stage at the opening of Nikolai Foster's epic 
take on Stuart Paterson's dramatisation of Rudyard Kipling's novel. 
When the boy takes off his headphones, stops checking his smart-phone, 
sniffs the air and howls to the heavens, it sets the tone for a hip and 
street-wise spectacle that's as far away from the Disneyfication of 
Kipling's story as you can get.

The dread-locked boy is Mowgli, the original feral kid, who, stolen by 
ruthless tiger Shere Khan, is rescued by wolves and shown the ways of 
his new world by bear Baloo and panther Bagheera. Except here, Jack 
Lord's ageing pack leader Akela wields an electric guitar, Lanre 
Malaolu's Shere Khan is a blinged-up, fur-coated gangsta and Jorrell 
Coiffic-Kamall's Bagheera a be-shaded body-popping rapper. Elexi 
Walker's slinky Kaa the snake, meanwhile, brings to mind Bat-villainess 
Poison Ivy with the gymnastic flair of a WWE Diva, especially when she 
climbs amongst the audience in search of prey.

Played out on designer Takis' huge wooden-platformed set draped in 
day-glo strips, and with tribal-sounding songs by BB Cooper and Barb 
Jungr sung and played by a nine-strong cast led by Jake Davies as 
Mowgli, this is a high-flying, metal-bashing and stylistically sexy 
rites of passage. In its highly physicalised and utterly serious 
delivery it more resembles a radical punk rock take on Shakespeare than 
a regular Christmas show, and is all the more captivating for it. With 
Justin Wilson's junk-yard puppets including a full-size mechanical 
bull, this is a dazzling experience that borders on world class. Get 
those jungle drums beating now.

The Herald, December 9th 2013

ends

The Snow Queen

Cumbernauld Theatre
Four stars
It's worth wrapping up warm for the fun-sized wintry adventure enticing 
wand-waving young audiences to Cumbernauld this year. The wooly-hatted 
and winter jumpered cast of five are already onstage to greet them at 
the opening of director Ed Robson's new take on Hans Christian 
Andsersen's beloved tale. As the cheery quintet set the scene of young 
Gerda's quest to free her best friend Kai from the clutches of the 
dreaded Queen, each peels off to become a multitude of larger than life 
characters Gerda meets en route.

With Samantha Foley playing Gerda with wide-eyed gusto, one minute the 
others are operating a puppet of Jerry The Ferry Frog as Gerda attempts 
to cross the lake, the next they've become a pair of wax moustached 
Welsh guards. Nicky Elliot becomes Gerda's faithful on the road 
sidekick Dug the daft dog, Heather Pascal makes for an ethereal 
Princess of Dreams, while Julie Brown doubles up as a Flower Lady who 
plants singing flowers around her cottage before playing The Snow Queen 
herself with ice-cold demeanour and a heart to match.

Gerda almost falls into the clutches of a dysfunctional and flatulent 
family of oversize insect-like creatures before introducing the joy of 
both reading and star-gazing to its youngest member, then whooshes off 
on a magic bogie to see the Northern Lights and rescue Colin McGowan's 
Kai with the aid of a single red rose that almost melts the Snow 
Queen's heart. With some fine video work from Craig Kirk accentuating 
the magic, Robson and co have navigated a very special journey that 
shows just how vital it is to stay in touch with the child within.

The Herald, December 9th 2013

ends

Friday, 6 December 2013

'Jerry's Map'

Summerhall, Edinburgh, December 7th-January 24th 2014

When Keith Waterhouse's fictional fantasist Billy Liar wanted to escape from the horrors of the real world, he would retreat to a place inside his head called Ambrosia. The Situationists, meanwhile, charted psychogeographic maps of European cities, navigating places by mood rather than geography. There is much of the spirit of both in Jerry Gretzinger's ever-expanding map of an imaginary world, which the American artist has been painting for more than fifty years, and which currently numbers some 3011 sheets of A4 paper.

“It goes way back to my childhood,” 79-tar old Gretzinger explains on the eve of his parallel universe's first appearance outside the U.S.A.. “I was fascinated with maps, and would imagine these places, because we didn't travel much. Then at some point I started making my own. That grew out of playing with my brother on this little plot of land we lived on. We created this little model village out of dirt, and then I started translating that onto paper. For me it's a form of escapism, I guess.”

Gretzinger will update his increasingly multi-dimensional map while in Edinburgh and beyond.

“It frustrates me,” he says, “because there are a couple of new dimensions I want to bring in, but they take time, and although I probably won't be around to finish them, I want to keep doing it as long as I can.“

The List, December 2013

ends

It's A Wonderful Life

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars
The programme for Pitlochry's latest festive outing may claim Thomas M. 
Sharkey's stage adaptation of Frank Capra's seminal 1946 film inspired 
by Philip Van Doren Stern's short story, The Greatest Gift of All, to 
be 'A New Musical!', but the show is actually some twenty years old. 
While there may be good reasons why it's taken so long for Sharkey's 
take on things to receive its Scottish premiere, after last year's 
success with White Christmas, it is nevertheless a bold move for 
director John Durnin to programme something so rarely seen onstage, 
however iconic its source.

Much of the story remains unchanged, as small-town everyman George 
Bailey attempts to throw himself off a bridge before an angel called 
Clarence steps in with what these days would be deemed an intervention. 
The first half has Clarence watch over George as a celestial narrator 
to see how he got to such a state, while in the second, Clarence shows 
George how the picket-fence town of Bedford Falls would have descended 
into a fleshpot akin to Twin Peaks without him.

In what is effectively an American take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas 
Carol for the post Wall Street Crash era, such cosmological shifts are 
as serious as anything by Arthur Miller, feelgood ending 
notwithstanding. While played brightly enough by a cast led by John 
Jack as George and Robin Harvey Edwards as Clarence, stylistically 
things fall between two stools. In tone and aesthetic it feels like a 
fringe show, yet has clear aspirations to be a far bigger 
Broadway-bound affair, which Sharkey's pleasantly delivered if 
unremarkably generic musical numbers simply aren't up to. An 
intriguingly flawed curio.

The Herald, December 6th 2013

ends

Thursday, 5 December 2013

White Christmas – The Musical

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars
The stage adaptation of the Irving Berlin scored 1954 feelgood movie 
has been on the circuit for almost a decade now. Going by this latest 
outing for David Ives and  Paul Blake's version, it hasn't lost any of 
its sparkle. For anyone who's been stranded in a remote ski lodge, the 
story revolves around successful showbiz duo Bob Wallace and Phil 
Davis, who learnt their song and dance chops when in the army during 
World War Two.

Womanising Phil cons straight-laced Bob into boarding a train to wintry 
Vermont with singing sisters Betty and Judy Haynes. The hotel they're 
staying at turns out to be run – badly - by Bob and Phil's much-loved 
former General, who inspires his former charges to stage a benefit show 
in his barn, while love between the two double acts blossoms out of 
season.

It's  a heart-warmingly sentimental romance that must have had a 
significant resonance when first seen so soon after the war. Almost 
sixty years on, David Morgan's big, bright production goes beyond 
nostalgia to capture the full show-stopping razzamatazz in the flesh. 
As the couples, Stephen Houghton and Paul Robinson as Bob and Phil and 
Rachel Stanley and Jayde Westaby as Betty and Judy do Berlin's numbers 
more than justice in a breathless set of routines supported by a full 
ensemble choreographed by Randy Skinner and accompanied by a live band 
led by Andrew Corcoran.

Songs like Sisters, Happy Holiday and the title theme may be the main 
attraction here, but ultimately this is a show about community, and 
about how, if that community pulls together, it can conquer any 
adversity, whatever the weather.

The Herald, December 5th 2013

ends

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rachel O'Riordan - Leaving Perth Theatre

It's somehow fitting that Rachel O'Riordan's swansong as artistic head of Perth Theatre is Cinderella. Here, after all, is an age-old tale of how a young woman went to the ball as a stranger before leaving all about her dazzled before she disappears. So it has been with O'Riordan's three-year tenure in Perth, which has seen the Cork-born director arrive in Scotland as an unknown quantity and pretty much revitalise one of the country's oldest producing houses with some bold programming and even bolder results that have increased audiences, drawn critical praise and won awards.

For her final production, O'Riordan persuaded playwright Alan McHugh to re-jig his original script so that the action now takes place in a theatre rather than the stately home of his original. Coming on the eve of the theatre going dark for two years as it commences a fourteen million pound redevelopment, this is O'Riordan's way of saying goodbye to the theatre she's called home for the last three years.

“I'm quite deliberately referencing the fact that the theatre's closing,” O'Riordan says, taking a breather from panto-land in the theatre's restaurant. “Not overtly, but it's just a little nod to how fond I am of Perth Theatre, and of theatre in general and all the people who work in it. It's a little piece of self-referencing meta-theatre to go out with. I didn't know I was leaving when we decided to do that. It was more about the theatre closing, and trying to remind the audience how important this theatre is.”

The announcement of O'Riordan's imminent departure from Perth to take the helm of the Sherman Cymru theatre in Cardiff in February 2014 may have been good news for Wales, but, on the eve of the theatre's closure, for Perth it looked like the fairytale was over. This was especially the case when it was announced just a week later that Jacqueline McKay, chief executive of Horsecross Arts, the body in charge of both Perth Theatre and Perth Concert Hall, had suddenly stepped down from her post for reasons which have yet to be made clear. Anyone of a superstitious persuasion might suspect that the curse of Macbeth, which O'Riordan had just directed, had fated such a turn of events. As O'Riordan points out, however, the the two announcements were unconnected, and their close proximity was an unfortunate coincidence.

“Genuinely,” she says, “the two announcements weren't connected in any way. I was approached for the Sherman job. I wasn't looking, and had no desire to leave, but the Sherman approached me a while ago. The process of these things takes so long, so it wasn't as if it happened overnight.

“I had it in my head when I arrived here that I would be in Perth for five years, and saw it very much being a step on a journey. While Perth Theatre being closed is a very exciting time, I do need some kind of stage to do my work, and when the Sherman approached me, it felt like the right thing to do.

“Leaving Scotland now, however, is a tough one for me, because I felt I'd just found my groove. I love it here, and I've had three of the best years of my theatrical life here. I feel like I've made friends and connections with people in Scottish theatre who I want to work with in Wales. The first co-production I did here was doing [Conor McPherson's play] The Seafarer with the Lyric in Belfast, so that was me bringing all my Northern Irish connections to Scotland, and now I'm taking those with me to Wales along with all my Scottish connections, and hopefully do co-productions between the nations that way. I like the vibe here. There's a real sense of socialism about the way people work, and we showed with The Seafarer that you can co-produce with theatres from different countries involved.”

If there is a restlessness at play in O'Riordan's dynamic artistic sensibility, while leaving Perth will be a wrench, the prospect of taking over the biggest producing house in Wales is one she clearly relishes.

“I'm cursed with ambition,” she says.

This has shown in her work at Perth, from her opening production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in 2011 through to a look at Frank McGuinness' play, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, her award-winning production of The Seafarer and this year's mystical and very male take on Macbeth. Ask what she's most proud of during her time in Perth, however, and, rather than single out any particular show, O'Riordan answers “My team. They are by far and away the best team I've ever worked with. The reason I've made good work here is because I've had that kind of support. And that's hard to leave, even though I hope I'm leaving on a high.”

O'Riordan is full of praise too for Jane Spiers, the then chief executive of Horsecross who took a chance on hiring someone outwith the immediate Scottish scene. Any advertisements for O'Riordan's replacement won't be placed until a new chief executive for Horsecross is in place. While she is clearly a tough act to follow, one only hopes whoever makes the new appointment will apply the same sense of vision as Spiers did when appointing O'Riordan.

O'Riordan seems genuinely sad to be leaving Perth, and her conversation is tinged with emotion. One suspects, however, that this won't be the last that Scotland's theatre scene sees of her work. She was due to direct something at the Tron, who co-produced Macbeth with Perth, but the move to Cardiff has put the kibosh on that. She also has a big project in the pipeline, which she can't talk about, not even to say whether it's taking place in Scotland or not.

Whatever happens next, both for Perth and O'Riordan, it is clear that she has left her mark as a crucial player in Scotland's theatrical landscape.

“I've worked very hard,” O'Riordan says. “For the last three years this theatre has been my life. If I have achieved any kind of legacy here, that's for other people to decide. The way I work is all or nothing, which makes it sound like it was all about labour, but there was an awful lot of love as well. I hope I've brought a bit of rock and roll to Perth, and I hope whoever the next director of theatre is here can bring something new to the table, and make Perth Theatre even more special than it already is.”

Cinderella, Perth Theatre, December 6th-January 4th 2014.

ends


Rachel O'Riordan – A life onstage

Rachel O'Riordan was born in Cork, Eire, and trained as a ballet dancer before studying English and theatre. She then did a PhD entitled Shakespeare's Physical Texts.

O'Riordan worked as a choreographer and movement director, before co-founding the Belfast-based Ransom theatre company in 2002 to direct Richard Dormer's play, Hurricane, in which Dormer played snooker legend, Alex Higgins. The play was a hit in Edinburgh, London and New York, and led to O'Riordan directing a season for the Peter Hall Company, with whom she directed productions of Miss Julie and Animal Farm.

With Ransom, O'Riordan commissioned assorted new plays, and, working closely with Paines Plough and Soho Theatre, ran Writers on the Edge, a three year programme to develop women writers in Northern Ireland.

In her first season as Horsecross' director of theatre at Perth Theatre in 2011, O'Riordan directed Twelfth Night, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me and Ron Hutchinson's Hollywood romp, Moonlight and Magnolias.

In her 2012/2013 season, O'Riordan directed the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd couple, Mother Goose and Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, the latter a co-production with the Lyric, Belfast which won two Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland.

This season saw O'Riordan direct Macbeth in co-production with the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, ending her tenure with Cinderella, which opens this week.

In February 2014 O'Riordan will take up her post as artistic director of the Sherman Cymru in Cardiff.

The Herald, December 3rd 2013


ends

Daniel Padden - Composing For Ciara

When Daniel Padden went to the first read-through of David Harrower's 
play, Ciara, he didn't think it required any music to accompany it. 
Given that the Glasgow-based composer and musician had just been 
commissioned to write a score for the play, this looked like it was 
going to be a problem. As it turned out, while the play was led by 
Blythe Duff's solo turn as a Glaswegian art gallery owner and daughter 
of a recently deceased gangster, Padden framed the play with a 
soundtrack that helped to accentuate the mood of the piece even more.

“Finding music to put into the play was a real challenge,” says Padden 
of Harrower's Herald Angel winning Fringe hit, which returns to the 
Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh this week. “In physical terms, it's just 
one woman onstage telling a story, with no action or set-pieces that 
offer a composer the opportunity to do something, so just finding a 
space for music was a challenge. In David Harrower's writing, every 
word matters, and the thing that came out of the script for Ciara is 
that, although on one level it's about Glasgow and the everyday, 
there's something much bigger going on there that's epic. In the way it 
looks at how things are passed down generations, it's almost Greek in 
its construction.

“I was trying to hint at the grandeur of that, but without being 
explicit. I don't like theatre music that tells you what to think. 
Music can represent a character or a location, or it can be a more 
conventional soundtrack, but there's an ambiguity in Ciara I tried to 
reflect. I wanted to create something that on the surface is quite 
conventional, with elements of 'classiness', but is punctuated with 
physical/ugly moments, and has an odd insistency. I still don't know 
what time signature its in.”

As a performer in his own right, both solo and in his bands, Volcano 
The Bear and The One Ensemble over the last couple of decades, Padden's 
sense of theatricality has increased since his move into composing for 
theatre several years ago. This came about following the 
Manchester-born musician's move to Glasgow at the turn of the century. 
Padden provided music for three shows for Visible Fictions -  Jason & 
The Argonauts, The Hunted and Curse Of The Demeter – and worked with 
Nic Green on her show, Motherland. There has also been work with Ankur 
on their Jukebox project, and with the National Youth Theatre.

“Visible Fictions were very important to me,” Padden explains. “I'd 
done a couple of short films, and started sending the music out, and I 
ended up doing my first real score for theatre with them. I'd never 
made action music before - and Jason & The Argonauts still tours around 
the world over 5 years after we made it!  The reason you make music for 
theatre is very different to doing a gig, and you learn very quickly 
that one note might be all that's required rather than doing something 
more. Rather than trying to make the best piece of music you can, you 
are trying to make the best piece of music for that moment, on that 
stage, with these actors doing these things, and that's a very 
different remit.”

Padden first came to music when he bought his first guitar aged sixteen 
before going on to study philosophy and psychology. An interest in 
experimental and non-western music continues to be explored with 
Volcano the Bear, who haver released a multitude of work. There have 
been several albums too with The One Ensemble, who recently performed 
their latest work, Saint Seven, as part of this year's Made in Scotland 
programme.

This year too has seen Padden co-direct The Complaints Choir of 
Edinburgh for Edinburgh Art festival, as well as work with artist Sarah 
Kenchington on her Wind Pipes For Edinburgh project.

Ciara is the second of David Harrower's plays Padden has scored, 
following on from A Slow Air in 2011. The pair met at a bonfire party 
several years ago, where they bonded over their similar tastes in 
music. The commission for A Slow Air followed shortly after, adding to 
an already eclectic back catalogue.

“I suppose I'm never quite satisfied with anything I've done,” Padden 
says. “I've got about eighteen guitars, not because I'm particularly 
interested in playing the guitar, but each one sounds a bit different, 
and I want to explore all those different sounds and what you can do 
with them. There's something mysterious about what you can convey 
through sound and what you might call noise. It has an effect on us 
that you don't quite get from anywhere else.

“I've come to where I am from quite a sideways path, and I wonder if I 
feel I need to keep doing it, to keep making work, different work, so 
that I can justify my impostor status. And people keep asking me, and I 
keep saying Yes. But I try to see them all as chances to learn. I am 
pretty restless though. My life would be a lot simpler if I just stuck 
to one instrument.”

Ciara, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, December 3-21; Citizens Theatre, 
Glasgow, January 21-25 2014
www.traverse.co.uk
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, December 3rd 2013

ends

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Christmas Carol

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
There are few better symbols of the early twenty-first century's ongoing era of recession and austerity culture than Charles Dickens' nineteenth century meanie, Ebeneeza Scrooge. Neil Duffield's stage adaptation of Dickens' novel is brought to life in Andrew Panton's production in a way that emphasises the error of Scrooge's greedy ways without ever losing sight of the story's power as family entertainment.

With the narrative spread out between an eight-strong ensemble cast, who play assorted musical instruments to accompany their singing of traditional carols, Scrooge's Christmas Eve epiphany is conveyed in an impressionistic fashion by a magnificently pop-eyed Christopher Fairbank. As he humbugs his way through the streets, Fairbank's Scrooge resembles the sort of mean-spirited and compassion-free politician who believe poor people are penniless by choice, and that beggars are little more than scroungers on the make. It takes the ghosts of past, present and future to remind Scrooge of where his pain comes from and where it will lead if he doesn't let love in.

For these scenes, Fairbank is wheeled around Alex Lowde's expansive set on his four-poster bed as he observes his younger self as well as the greater gifts bestowed on his much put-upon clerk Bob Cratchit and his young family and his nephew Fred. It is here that Fairbank's portrayal of Scrooge goes beyond the merely grotesque to reveal the full pathos of a man who has shut out happiness from his life with no more than a sad-eyed look.

While Anthony Bowers' Ghost of Christmas Past could have stepped out of a Mighty Boosh sketch, Lewis Howden's Ghost of Christmas Present is a more genial, Santa Claus-like incarnation. It is the Ghost of Christmas Future, however, a damningly silent projection of a little girl's face, that really brings home the horrors of poverty. If such an image sounds dark, it's never overplayed, and when Scrooge opens his heart to the world at last, it ushers in a musical finale that's worthy of an old-time variety show, and resembles a Christmas card brought joyously to life.

The Herald, December 2nd 2013

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The BFG

Dundee Rep
Four stars
A birthday party to beat them all is the result when a children's 
entertainer fails to turn up in David Wood's stage adaptation of Roald 
Dahl's classic story about a little girl called Sophie's unlikely 
friendship with the Big Friendly Giant, who whisks her away from the 
orphanage she lives in. By framing the story with another girl called 
Sophie's party, as she and her pals hit the dressing up box to tell 
Dahl's story, it takes an imaginative leap into a world of creative 
play which the young audience can draw inspiration from in Joe Douglas' 
bright and bold production. The appearance of Sophie and The BFG in 
both human and puppet form lends proceedings an even more fantastical 
essence.

Ali Craig's BFG is a wide-eyed vegetarian hippy type who collects 
dreams before planting them in the minds of sleeping children. Isolated 
 from his flesh-eating contemporaries for simply being too nice, and 
with a unique line in word-inventing patter, The BFG wiles away his 
days munching on gut-wrenching oversize vegetables and necking 
flatulence-inducing fizzy drinks. Both help save the day when the other 
giants attempt to munch their way around the globe.

As played out on Jean Chan's topsy-turvy set, Douglas' production 
captures the story's sense of wonder, with both Craig and Stephanie 
McGregor as Sophie operating their puppet selves with considerable 
charm. The magical atmosphere is accentuated even more by Michael John 
McCarthy's jaunty musical score, and there is fun to be had from Emily 
Winter's cut-glass impression of the Queen. It's when we finally see 
The BFG stretch to his full height, however, that the show becomes 
truly massive.

The Herald, December 2nd 2013

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Friday, 29 November 2013

Limbo

St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh
Four stars
When alternative cabaret came in out of the cold and went glossy a couple of decades ago, the mainstream it moved into saw audiences lap up its hybrid form. So it is with Scott Maidment's latest compendium of new circus novelty, which follows on from 2012 hit, Cantina, and which has just played a five month season on London's South Bank. Brought to Edinburgh by Underbelly Productions, and housed in a Spiegeltent as part of their Edinburgh's Christmas programme, Limbo is a sexy mix of gymnastic set-pieces performed by a nine-strong troupe, who include a live band led by New York multi-instrumentalist, Sxip Shirey.

It is a white-suited and wild-haired Shirey who acts as ringmaster of what is effectively an international supergroup, who perform on a tiny stage at the centre of the Spiegeltent. Shirey uses human beat-box magic to draw from the aisles the rubber-limbed Jonathan Nosan, a man who can lick his own boots with his leg wrapped round his neck, and will later appear to impale himself.

There is some incredible hand-balancing from Danik Abishev, male pole-dancing from Mikael Bres and a breath-taking ensemble sway pole sequence that delights and terrifies in equal measure. Don't be fooled into thinking that female performers Heather Holliday and Eveyne Allard are mere decoration, despite their titillating presence in a couple of one-line sketches. Holliday transforms fire eating and sword swallowing into an erotic art, while Allard's aerial routine is a dizzying show of physical strength as much as grace.

The Herald, November 29th 2013


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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Christopher Fairbank - A Christmas Carol

When Susan Boyle told Christopher Fairbank that he could sing, it was unexpected praise for the actor still most recognised for his role as fire-raising Scouse builder Moxey in Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais' builders abroad comedy drama, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. In the midst of rehearsing Scrooge for a festive production of A Christmas Carol at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fairbank had arrived early one Saturday morning to find director Andrew Panton standing outside. As a silver Mercedes pulled up beside them, who should step out of the passenger seat but Ms Boyle herself.

Fairbank followed the pair up to the rehearsal room, and offered them a cup of tea. When he took the hot beverage to them, Panton was playing the piano to accompany Boyle going through her scales. Panton, who is Boyle's musical director on her forthcoming Christmas album, sang a thank you to Fairbank, who sang back his own thanks.

“You can certainly hold a note,” joked SuBo.

“Yes,” Fairbank quipped back, “but I think it's just the one.”

Sprawled on a sofa sporting anorak and trainers and with a West Ham United woolly hat beside him, Fairbank is full of stories like this. These stretch back over fifty years, to his first ever stage performance, when he appeared in a primary school production of Paddington Bear. Then, Fairbank saved the day after a fellow pupil dried and he improvised a line that would get both of them offstage. Fairbank continued acting while a teenager at boarding school, where, on declaring his desire to act professionally, he was informed by a master that 'the profession is riddled with drug addicts, alcoholics and homosexuals.' “Two out of three ain't bad,” was Fairbank's response. By mutual agreement between the school's headmaster and his parents, Fairbank was eventually asked to leave.

A teenage conviction for possession of marijuana saw Fairbank put on probation for two years, when he opted to stay in a Liverpool hostel. Still only seventeen, he became involved with the city's Unity Theatre, where he performed in John McGrath's play, Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun and John Arden's Live Like Pigs. A post drama school stint in weekly rep left Fairbank disillusioned, and, after nine months at sea, Fairbank drifted towards counter-cultural Mecca, The Roundhouse. It was here that comedian and Fairbank's occasional busking partner Chris Lynam pointed out maverick director, Ken Campbell. Campbell was putting together his epic nine hour staging of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's epic science-fiction conspiracy trilogy, Illuminatus!

“Ken told me to read the books and tell him what part I wanted to play,” Fairbank remembers.

The experience of performing Illuminatus! in a converted warehouse turned hippy cafe/arts lab known as the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun with the company Campbell styled as the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool changed Fairbank's life, and almost certainly enabled him to tackle such an iconic role as Scrooge.

“He's an awesome character,” says Fairbank of Charles Dickens' quintessential miser. “The challenge is finding the line between really going down to the depths of what Scrooge has become, and remembering that it's a Christmas show.

“You have to base all that in truth, and I think what do have going for me is my age. I cracked sixty last month, and, given all the things that Scrooge is faced with, without being absolutely literal about it, I think it's fair to say I've had my fair share of ups and downs, and been round the block more than once, so I haven't got to act anything beyond my experience.”

That experience arguably began with Illuminatus!, which reinvented the rules of theatre, and became a smash hit sensation that featured the likes of Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy in the cast. Illuminatus! went on to open the Cottesloe in the then newly built National Theatre on London's South Bank.

“I've never experienced anything like it before or since,” says Fairbank. “Ken was the answer to a prayer, and opened me up to so many things. My ideas about being an actor and the sort of work I wanted to do, it all came together during that time. That year I spent with Ken, I look back on it as the greatest year professionally that I've ever had.”

In the years following Illuminatus!, Fairbank fell out with Campbell after accepting a TV role in a Sunday afternoon Dickens adaptation, and was sacked by the Royal Shakespeare Company shortly before being cast in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. The latter stabilised a career that has seen Fairbank become a familiar face on film and in television.

A Christmas Carol marks Fairbank's third stint at the Lyceum, following on from the theatre's 2009 production of Sam Shepard's Curse of the Starving Class, as well as a turn in The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh in 2012. It's interesting to note that animals featured in both shows, with a live sheep onstage in the former, and a (fake) dead cat in the latter. These tie in with another show in Fairbank's early days, when he took part in Campbell's post Illuminatus! play, The End is Nigh, and shared the stage with a pair of pigs.

“I think that was the beginning of Ken's obsession with ventriloquism,” says Fairbank, “which went on to give Nina Conti such a glittering career. You had all these great long speeches, and Ken would be shouting, 'I don't wanna see anyone's lips move!'.”

Fairbank's face contorts as he launches into an ear-piercingly accurate impression of Campbell. His uncanny skill for mimicry goes some way to explaining his frequent voice-overs for assorted animations and computer games.

Fairbank's last saw Campbell when the pair performed a marathon week-long live reading of the entire three books of The Illuminatus trilogy on web-based radio station, Resonance FM. With Campbell narrating, Fairbank played several hundred characters, each with a different voice.

While only one voice will be required for Scrooge, Fairbank remains conscious of not taking things too far.

“Kids love a villain,” he says, “just as long as they know they're safe, but the minute I hear crying, seats flipping up and parents taking their children away because they might be traumatised for life, that's when I'll know we need to lighten up a bit.”

A Christmas Carol, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, November 28th-January 4th 2014

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Christopher Fairbank – A Life in the Spotlight

Christopher Fairbank was born in 1953, and grew up in the Essex village of Clavering, where celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also hails from.

After appearing at Liverpool's Unity Theatre, Fairbank went to RADA, which he left after two years to work briefly in weekly rep before going to sea.

After meeting Ken Campbell at the Roundhouse, Fairbank joined the cast of Illuminatus!, which became a sensation in Liverpool and London.

Fairbank continued to work with Campbell in Psychosis unclassified, which played in New York.

After being sacked by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Fairbank was cast as Moxey in Auf
Wiederesehen, Pet, appearing in all four series, plus a 2004 two-part special.

Since then, Fairbank has appeared in numerous television dramas, including Law and Order, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Ashes To Ashes.

On film, Fairbank has appeared in Tim Burton's Batman, Zeffirelli's take on Hamlet, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

On stage, Fairbank has worked with directors such as Max Stafford-Clark and John Dove, as well as with Terry Johnson, playing the late Sid James in Johnson's Carry-On based play, Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick.

Fairbank's voice-over work includes Wallace and Gromit and numerous computer games.

The Herald, November 28th 2013


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