Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Six Go Mad in Reykjavik - Burns Night in Iceland 2013

In a rehearsal room in the Icelandic Academy of Arts, something is stirring. A posse of six Scottish musicians has just arrived to join forces with a similar number of their Icelandic contemporaries to prepare for The Great Scottish Icelandic Concert, a musical Burns Night celebration taking place in the bar of the uber-hip Kex hostel on the edge of Reykjavik.  A couple of Canadians have just arrived to prepare for their scheduled performances the next night, and they too will become part of one of the richest under-the-radar international exchanges that could only happen in Iceland.

These aren’t just any musicians either. From Scotland, maverick pianist and composer Bill Wells is here with his National Jazz Trio of Scotland, consisting of vocalists Lorna Gilfedder, Kate Sugden and Aby Vulliamy, the latter of whom doubles up on viola. Between them, the trio have a multitude of connections with some of Scotland’s more exploratory left-field combos.
Also in attendance is Alasdair Roberts, who over the last decade has reinvented the Scots folk tradition to make it sound both ancient and thrillingly contemporary in much the same way Nick Cave has done with the blues. Roberts’ just released album, A Wonder Working Stone, has been hailed as one of the first major recorded delights of the year. Finally, and tirelessly, maverick piper Barnaby Brown lends a classically trained gravitas to proceedings.

As the band file in with their host, Icelandic singer-songwriter and composer Benni Hemm Hemm, they’re unexpectedly greeted by an electric guitarist, bass player, two keyboardists and a trumpeter. Under Hemm Hemm’s loose direction and with Roberts on lead vocals, this newly formed big band thunder their way through Scots traditional song, the Blantyre Explosion and make Burns’ The Twa Corbies sound like Patti Smith’s Because The Night.
Brown takes charge of The Fairy Flag, Circassian Cirle and the Canadian Barn Dance, adding pipes and his own mouth music to a vigorous stomp-along. The band then rehearses two of Hemm Hemm’s songs, which sound even bigger. Canadian singers Clinton St John and Laura Leif eventually join in on backing vocals, making the band a 14-piece.

Roberts played a solo set the night before in Kex’s Gym and Tonic room, a kind of Viking banqueting hall decorated with punch-bags, vaulting horses and Mexican wrestling posters. Wells and the NJToS will do similar tonight. Gym and Tonic will also be the venue for a more traditional Burns Supper hosted by the Icelandic Edinburgh Society. Roberts, Wells and Vuliamy double up as the ceilidh band, while Brown leads the dancing.
As the rehearsals have already hinted at, however, it is the massed Scottish Icelandic collaboration in the bar that proves to be an unmissable, once in a lifetime spectacular.

The brains behind all this is Hemm Hemm, who was approached by Kex’s unlikely managerial cartel of former international football stars after hearing how Hemm Hemm had forged links with Scotland’s musical community after living in Edinburgh for two years. With a quiet January 2012 to look forward to in the newly opened establishment, a Scots member of Kex staff suggested a Burns night, and the Kex Scottish Festival Week was burn, its first year featuring Withered Hand and Wounded Knee in what was a comparatively small affair.
Earlier that day, Brown, Hemm Hemm and Roberts had hooked up with Icelandic novelist, Andri Snaer Magnason, at Toppstodia (Top Station), a former power station now used as offices and studios by an arts collective Magnason is part of. The interior of Toppstodia hasn’t been touched, and it’s retro knobs and dials and racing green paint-job resembles the sort of space-age sound-stage where the denouement of a James Bond movie might take place.

After comparing notes with Magnason on the common ground between ancient Scottish and Icelandic cultures, Brown plays the Sardinian triple pipe, then the bag-pipes, in the space, adapting to its acoustic as he marches around the iron floor. Later, Brown visits Icelandic composer, Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, who recites an ancient Icelandic epic poem. Brown returns dressed in full Highland regalia just as the band have finished a gloriously bombastic Blantyre Explosion, which sounds like Test Department as scored by Ennio Morricone.
There are at least three musicians on Kex’s tiny stage who weren’t at rehearsals earlier. The two drummers and flugel horn player are part of Hemm Hemm’s regular ensemble, and add a martial thunder to the other songs as well, despite never having heard them before. An analog synth adds apposite science-fiction textures to the roaring Scots outings, and by the closing performance of Hemm Hemm’s song, Retaliate, it’s clear something very special has just happened.

Not everyone got it, however. Given the wilfully misleading name Wells has gifted his band, more than one member of the audience was left wondering what happened to the jazz band, while a refreshed Danish sailor asked whether they were likely to play any Runrig numbers. While Kex’s mighty Scottish Icelandic alliance wasn’t forthcoming, if he’d stuck around for the Edinburgh Society Burns Supper the next night, the sound of Brown, Roberts, Vuliamy and Wells leading a mass sing-along of Loch Lomond might just have made his night.

The Herald, January 29th 2013


Julia Donaldson - Running on the Cracks

When Julia Donaldson was first approached by Tron Theatre director Andy Arnold with a view to him adapting her novel for teenagers, Running on the Cracks, it never crossed her mind that she should be the one to do it. This despite the fact that the Hampstead-born Bearsden resident is not only the current Children’s Laureate, but has been responsible for the words of some 184 books for children, many in tandem with illustrators. One of these, The Gruffalo, became a publishing and story-telling sensation, and has sold over ten million copies, been translated into some forty languages, been hailed as a modern classic and has been adapted both for stage and screen. Which, for an illustrated story about an imaginary monster, isn’t bad going.

One would think that all this high-profile activity would make Donaldson relish such an opportunity.
“If he’d said do it, I could have,” she says of Arnold. “I think I’m quite good at stripping things back. I’m the same with illustrated books. I had quite a lot of comments on the first draft, but the time comes when you have to step back and let them get on with it, and it’s a different thing now to the book. The dialogue is very true to the book, but obviously there’s a lot left out, and there’s characters that have been left out as well. I think as well it’s become a lot more adult. After all, half the books written for adults are about children and adolescents, anyway, and that crucial time when they come of age.”

This is where Running on the Cracks comes in. A hard-hitting tale of a runaway orphaned half Chinese girl’s flight to Glasgow in search of her grand-parents, it deals with issues of mental illness via some of the people the girl meets in a way that most teenage fiction wouldn’t engage with in such a serious and sensitive fashion. If this sounds like some street-wise issue-based plat, that was far from Donaldson’s intention.
“I set out to write a bit of a thriller about what would happen if this girl ran away to Glasgow, and was taken in by somebody,” she says. “That turned out to be by somebody who was a bit crazy, which is where the mental health side of things came in. I didn’t set out to put issues in. I just wanted to write a credible story, and they sort of crept in.”

If she sounds unsentimentally pragmatic about the play’s content, given that Donaldson has spent most of her adult life performing her songs and stories, both in theatrical and educational settings, when she talks about her early visits to the Tron rehearsal room she sounds positively star-struck.
“I had to pinch myself,” the 64 year-old says “Suddenly I was in the Tron talking with Andy Arnold about how he was adapting the script, and about set design. The shows I put on never have a set, and suddenly I had this flash-back to being a stage-struck teenager. That was really nice, because, and I’m not being blasé, but I don’t really get excited anymore if I see my name on a book.”

One suspects it hasn’t always been this way. Donaldson didn’t have her first book published until 1993, after she’d been approached by Methuen publishing house two years before. The publishers asked if A Squash and A Squeeze, a song written by Donaldson in the mid-1970s for children’s TV show, Play Board, could be made into a picture book, with illustrations by German artist, Axel Scheffler. Scheffler would go on to illustrate many of Donaldson’s works, including The Gruffalo.

A Squash and A Squeeze opened the flood-gates for Donaldson, who found a home for many other songs in illustrated book form. This gave her the confidence to write original works, including The Gruffalo and Running on the Cracks.
Donaldson started her career as a song-writer for children’s TV and radio programmes after a lively childhood of her own, during which time she understudied the fairies at the Old Vic theatre. While at university, she and some fellow students busked their way around France, and, with future husband Malcolm Donaldson, at rag week shows and functions. Once their education was complete, Donaldson worked in publishing in-between co-devising touring shows around council estates in deprived areas.

In the 1970s, Donaldson wrote songs for what can now be regarded as a golden age of children’s television, which embraced creative learning on seminal shows such as Play Away and Play School. It is from this period that A Squash and A Squeeze dates from. Donaldson wrote musicals for children and ran workshops, and, while she dabbled with work for adults, it was always the child within that flourished.
“Some people shed skins, and lose touch with everything they’ve done before,” she says, “but I’ve never been like that. I’ve never lost touch with the various parts of my life.”

The Donaldsons move to Glasgow more or less coincided with her move into the book world.
“A Squash and A Squeeze was much more of a landmark book for me than The Gruffalo,” she says. “It was very well timed.”

As Children’s Laureate since 2011, the same year she was awarded an MBE for services to literature, Donaldson has been active in protesting against library cuts, and this year publishes collections of thirty-six plays for early readers by various writers. This will be followed by another twenty-four for older primary school children, and a collection of poems to be performed.
All of which suggests that children’s literature is in prolifically rude health. Not, according to Donaldson, so you’d notice.

“We’ve all been children,” she says, “and given that so many people have an interest in children’s books, they still only receive a very small amount of coverage and space in newspapers. It’s only when something comes out about whether children are reading enough that there’s any coverage at all. So maybe children’ literature is being taken seriously, but I’d still like to see it taken a lot more seriously.”
Running on the Cracks, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, February 6th-16th

The Herald, January 29th 2013





















Saturday, 26 January 2013

Games Without Frontiers – It’s A Knockout with Ortonandon

The family that plays together, stays together. Gameswomanship is certainly on the cards for the three-headed hydra that is Ortonandon, featuring the triple whammy of sisters Katie, Sophie and Anna Orton, who exist collectively and separately, skirting the boundaries of performance and experience as they go.

Previous Ortonandon outings have included Ortonandon: Get Set, at Intermedia Gallery, Glasgow, in 2010, Net Working, Shuttle Cocking, in which people were invited to play badminton in a mate’s back garden as part of the Back Garden Bienale, and They Made A Three Headed Monster, a billboard for Glasgow International Festival of Visual art 2012. This took a school photograph of all three Orton sisters writ large.
There was a four minute film, Like Affects Like A Pickle, a collective contribution to art-zine, Zug, and, for the 2012 Edinburgh Annuale, Come On Live In Ortonandon. Here attendees were invited to observe and take part in a life in the day of the Ortons over twenty-four hours, effectively becoming lodgers in a way that was part sit-com, part show-and-tell and part fly-on-the-wall reality show.

And mother made four for this, with Mrs Orton’s contribution – it was in her house – joining the umbilical dots even more, while her three little girls cast themselves as party hostesses, sending out the invites, doing the catering and making sure everything went swingingly well.
In this respect, Ortonandon aren’t just about making things happen. They’re about allowing others to do their thing, shake a tail-feather and get down and get with it as well.

For the 2013 Embassy Members Show in Edinburgh, Ortonandon have created an installation inspired by a game of Twister. With red, blue, green and yellow vinyl spots covering the entire floor and wall areas of the gallery space, the ever so slightly trippy construction can’t help but morph into an immersive wraparound environment for the other Embassy artists to show their own work in.

What the other artists will make of Ortonandon’s all-encompassing intervention is anybody’s guess. Their work will be set against, next to and on the spots, and runs the risk of being over-shadowed and upstaged by this design for life. But then, inclusivity is everything to Ortonandon, even as they frequently fly the nest.

As with Chekhov’s Three Sisters, while Ortonandon remain a unit, with all the hand-me-down short-hand reference points invisible to those outside the loop, each sibling has separate aspirations too. Sure, there’s no doubt some kind of sibling rivalry, because it’s not all sugar and spice out there in the doll-house, but this is family. Capice?

The social aspect of Ortonandon is crucial here.
If they’re all in the same town, and it doesn’t happen often these days, Katie, Sophie and Anna are a striking feature in bars and at gigs and openings. Here, they’re murder on the dance-floor, throwing shapes in their own image which they seem to have just pulled from some parallel universe dressing-up box of the mind.

As with their gallery work, going out and hanging out too are forms of play that represent an increasingly common desire to connect by making one’s own entertainment beyond the commercial, and to have fun and games through the self-determination of the DIY, the pop-up and the ad hoc.
So it goes at the Embassy, where, while some of the reference points are obvious – Hirst, Lichtenstein, Riley, etc  - by covering the walls and floors with multi-coloured dots ad nauseum, Ortonandon have created a little op-art environment that is part play-pen,  part retro-chic nite-spot, part Factory-style space-age studio, which are all pretty much the same thing anyway, where anything might, and probably will happen.

Knowing Ortonandon, revellers could be climbing the walls for the giant game of Twister implied, or else a massed Pass The Parcel may ensue, featuring DJs from the similarly groovy Go-Go night providing the sounds. Or how about a foam party, or a re-enactment of scenes from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blow Up, which managed to capture the decadent essence of swinging sixties London with a sense of ennui a la Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita six years earlier?

Blow Up’s dissection of the scene was done in a thriller context, only to be upstaged by a mimed tennis match performed by white-faced clowns in stripy tops.

Ortonandon might want to think too, of enlisting the aid of the merry pranksters behind It’s Funtime!, the most-modern live game-show which became a larger than life feature at Edinburgh’s Bongo Club, where robots ran amok and out-size games of Ker-Plunk! were all the rage in the ultimate good night out. Maybe a giant game of human Pong – the grand-daddy of seaside town amusement arcade computer games – could be arranged?

Or how about Top Trumps, or else spend three hours setting up Mousetrap, only for the experience of getting everything in place so traumatising that nobody feels like playing anymore?

But what about Twister?

Twister itself is the ultimate ice-breaking party game for consenting adults. By turns, and depending on how much alcohol has been consumed and what substances have been taken, Twister can be silly, sexy, stupid and surprisingly seductive. It looks like a love-in, and can be liberating, arousing, provocative and naughty but nice. Twister can be impossible and troublesome as much as it can be space-invading, inappropriate, marriage-breaking, home-wrecking and downright bloody dangerous.
Ortonandon, then, are about more than just fooling around.

The games people play are a serious business. That’s how social intercourse works, how networks and communities are formed and how one night of fun can turn into a life-time of joy. Just ask Mrs Orton and the three twisted sisters she raised.

Pop star and thinker Pat Kane wrote a huge book on what he called The Play Ethic, but theatre director Peter Brook summed it up much simpler in the closing paragraph of his seminal 1968 tome, The Empty Space.

‘In everyday life,’ Brook wrote, ‘“if” is a fiction. In the theatre “if” is an experiment. In everyday life, “if” is an evasion, in the theatre “if” is the truth. When we are persuaded to believe in this truth then the theatre and life are one. This is a high aim. It sounds like hard work. To play needs much work. But when we experience the work as play, then it is not work anymore. A play is play.’
Game, set and match, then, to Ortonandon.

Commissioned for Embassy Gallery, Edinburgh, Members Show, which opened on January 25th 2013



Friday, 25 January 2013

Randan Discotheque – Sonderweg – (Bonjour Branch)

4 stars
Fuck miracles. The art/pop diaspora of the last few years transverses
regions, as this first non-CDr release from Forest Pitch imagineur
Craig Coulthard's revolving musical troupe proves in spades. With a
title taken from a nineteenth century German theory of the country's
'special path,' Sonderweg opens with some very wise spoken words before
Coulthard and cohorts take their own special path through a terrain of
bad-ass guitar garage, deep-fried saloon-bar twang, space-jazz chorales
and a hint of ceilidhism to flesh out Coulthard's erudite epic

With synthesised burbles and operatic warbles lending jauntiness
throughout, Where Did You Come From? is weirdly infectious enough to
sound like a Caledonian take on Bob Dorough's Three is A Magic Number,
while Heather The Weather is a novelty smash hit in waiting. Think of a
po-mo Proclaimers corrupted by swathes of Zappaesque dryness, and
you're still only halfway to paradise.

The List, January 2013


Zoe Beloff: A History of Dreams Remains to be Written

Talbot Rice, Gallery, Edinburgh, until February 16th
5 stars
Libido and revolution are not so strange bedfellows in New York-based
Edinburgh ex-pat Beloff's first solo show in Scotland, in which
imaginary worlds collide in two complimentary takes on utopia. In
Dreamland, Beloff mines the archive of the Coney Island Psychoanalytic
Society and Its Circle, reimagining its founder Albert Grass'
extravagant vision of a Freud-inspired theme-park for the mind that the
Brooklyn-based fun palace could have become if its own pleasure
principle had been unleashed. Beyond comic books and assorted ephemera,
films of the Society's members dreams are shown, while a model of
Grass' proposed design incorporating a giant figure of a young girl as
Libido is at its centre.

Upstairs, The Days of the Commune finds Beloff putting Days of the Commune, Bertolt Brecht's
1948 play about the Paris Commune on the streets and in the moment via
a series of filmed stagings involving a non-professional public that
included supporters of the Wall Street Occupy movement. Both sections
are glorious flipsides of a counter-cultural dream-state Shangri-la
that both reclaims hidden histories and looks to brighter possible
futures in what really is another world.

The List, January 2013


Slovakian Master Printers

Edinburgh Printmakers until March 2nd
3 stars
There’s a muscular gloss to much of the work on show in this showcase
of four Slovakian print-makers that forms part of an ongoing
international exchange initiated by the Scottish Society of Artists.
Much of this is to do with the mezzotint techniques by two of the
artists, which lends their extravagant images the air of 1970s fantasy
graphics, which captures some of the wilder imaginings of the decade
all four came of age.

This is most apparent in Karol Felix’s gold-tinged apparitions, in
which parallel worlds reflect back on each other with an ornate totemic
sheen. There are intimations of ancient alchemy too in Igor Benca’s
more technologically inclined work.

  Both Robert Jancovic and Marian Komacek’s contributions are even more
beguilingly opaque. Komacek’s pieces veer between a brooding
seductiveness and, on ‘Crosses’, a near Beuysian sense of
post-industrial detritus. Jancovic’s work is most interesting of all,
occupying a terrain where Icarus seems to swoop from the womb, while
elsewhere blades abound in impressions of Swiss army knives and
axe-heads that are more forensic dissection than bloody execution.

The List, January 2013


A Taste of Honey

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
From the opening bars of Over The Rainbow played on a lone trumpet,
it’s clear we’re in Coronation Street country in Tony Cownie’s revival
of Shelagh Delaney’s neglected back-street classic. History has lumped
Delaney’s boisterous yarn concerning clever clogs teenage school-girl
Jo and her extended dysfunctional family in with the kitchen-sink
social-realist set by way of Tony Richardson’s big-screen version. In
truth, it is more playful than that, both in its writing and playing

If anything, the straight-to-audience asides need accentuated more on
Janet Bird’s revolving boarding house set, as if the characters are
doing a turn in the local social club. Delaney’s writing is peppered
throughout with enough acerbic bon mots and witheringly dry put-downs
to resemble a series of heightened routines played to the max by
Rebecca Ryan’s stern-faced Jo and Lucy Black as her bottled-blonde
mother, Helen.

Helen is a terminal survivor living on her faded looks with a
succession of cash-flashing fancy-men, the latest of which comes in the
form of Keith Fleming’s eye-patched big-mouth, Peter. Jo’s escape comes
through a street-smart precociousness and a blossoming artistic
temperament nipped cruelly in the bud when she falls pregnant by Adrian
Decosta’s black sailor, and sets up a home of sorts with Charlie Ryan’s
gay art student, Geoffrey.

It’s hard to convey just how shocking all this was back in 1958, and
the play is crying out for a radical reinvention. This isn’t it, but
through a winning set of performances, it remains a loving depiction of
a play that paved the cobbled way for a grittier, wittier form of play
for today.

The Herald, January 24th 2013


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sonic Cineplex

Glasgow Film Festival

The Arches, Glasgow, February 16th, 3-11pm
Science-fiction and electronic music have long co-existed in parallel universes, the assorted experimental visionaries behind them predicting the future. Detroit techno pioneer and long-term sci-fi obsessive Jeff Mills in particular has made such a symbiosis a dimension-expanding virtue. These two worlds finally collide beneath Caledonian skies when Mills beams down his live soundtrack to Viennese-born expressionist auteur Fritz Lang’s 1929 film, ‘Woman in the Moon’, as part of an all-day space invasion known as Sonic Cineplex.

This meeting of minds between Mills and Lang originally came via the Cinematechque of France, who first recognised what such a space-age collaboration could contribute to a Lang retrospective.
“I was aware of Lang’s other films,” Mills explains, “but ‘Woman in the Moon’ had really escaped. It was Lang’s only bona-fide science-fiction film, and was produced in two distinct parts. It’s a melodrama, with the first part introducing the characters on Earth preparing to go to the Moon, then they’re on the Moon itself. That allowed me to compose in two parts, and it’s two very different soundtracks, really. The first part is more suspense-driven and dramatic, then composing for the moon sequences, I had to bear in mind that when the film came out that this was the first time a lot of people had seen that sort of representation of the Moon. That gave things more depth and mystery, and allowed me to play with hiss and white noise, counter sounds, really.”

All of which ties in with Mills’ first realisation that space was the place.
“Growing up in America during the sixties, with the activities of NASA, and all the discussions dominating the news, it was inescapable,” he remembers. “During the launch of every Apollo mission, we’d be pulled out of class to watch it on TV in the school auditorium, so the idea of space science and imagining things beyond the earth was always there. It was the same with music. Both of these things were about leaving the walls of the century.”

Sonic Cineplex’s series of explorations in sound and vision forms part of Glasgow Film Festival, and looks set to take over The Arches inside a T.A.R.D.I.S.-like galaxy of rooms not quite of this earth. As well as Mills, among others, a bumper-sized programme will feature post-dub-step industrialists, Raime, who will apply images to their recently released ‘Quarter Turns Over A Living Line’ album. Optimo leading light JD Twitch, meanwhile will provide a live cinemix to Baraka’s adventure in dialogue-free, actor-absent plotlessness. Adam Stafford will improvise a new score to Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent horror, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, while Dieter Moebius of German kosmische icons, Kluster, presents his soundtrack to Lang’s better-known future fantasy, ‘Metropolis’.
Mills is particularly delighted to hear about the latter. Not only is he and Moebius long-term fellow-travellers, but Mills scored his own take on ‘Metropolis’ prior to ‘The Woman in the Moon’.  

Beyond ‘Woman in the Moon’, Mills plans to tackle ‘Things To Come’ the 1936 celluloid version of H.G. Wells’ future-history novel published three years earlier, ‘The Shape of Things To Come’. For the present, Lang is opening up an increasingly brave new world for Mills.
“The more I look at his films,” he says, “the more I can relate to them as a musician. The way he tells stories, he’s like Stanley Kubrick, in that they both left an enormous amount of space in the way they shot their films to emphasise different types of spliced scenes, but which were always symmetrical, only displaying the most important part of each scene. ‘Woman in the Moon’ is perfect for that. It’s all about possibilities, but by the time they take off, the soundtrack kind of disappears.”  

The List, January 2013


The Beacon - Greenock's New Arts Centre

There’s a seal which has been bobbing about the Greenock waterfront for the last year or so, according to the builders working on the construction of The Beacon, Inverclyde’s brand new twenty-first century arts centre, which is finally open for business. Beacon artistic director Julie Ellen spotted it the other day as well, and the diners in the building’s bistro and restaurant are also in with a chance, given the wide-screen view the façade provides.

One wonders how much too the seal has been watching the landscape change in equally dramatic fashion, as The Beacon Arts Centre gradually took shape. Set alongside a series of more traditional sandstone buildings next to Customhouse Quay and overlooking the River Clyde estuary, The Beacon more resembles a development in somewhere like Reykjavik than a town like Greenock.

The Beacon is an initiative which has been a long time coming, ever since it became clear a decade or so ago that the old Greenock Arts Guild Theatre was no longer fit for purpose. The Arts Guild had been converted from a nineteenth century swimming pool in 1949 to accommodate a thriving amateur dramatics scene, and did so for 65 years. While the building had served its community well, there were major access issues in what had become an increasingly moribund facility.
The then management of the Arts Guild looked at upgrading the existing space, but realised it would be more economically viable to create something brand new. In partnership with Creative Scotland, Inverclyde Council and local regeneration agency, Riverside Inverclyde, as well as Clyde Port, the idea for The Beacon was born. Alex Liddell of LDN Architects, who were responsible for the design for the Usher Hall’s space-age bar and box office in Edinburgh, provided the radical vision.

The Beacon was due to open in August 2012, with an in-house pantomime pencilled in for the centre’s first major production in December. As it was, building delays meant Ellen and her team didn’t get the keys until December 22nd.
For Ellen, who took up her post at The Beacon eighteen months ago after seven years in charge of Playwrights Studio Scotland, it has been something of a labour of love.

“I always knew there’d be a year before we were in the new building,” Ellen says, “but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite that long. I seemed to spend all my time talking about this thing that we were going to move into called The Beacon, so it’s really brilliant now to be at the stage where we’re in the building and we can really start our new journey.”
The inside of The Beacon is as striking as its exterior, not least because of a large portrait of the Queen which hangs at the top of the stairs. The portrait was previously housed in the old Greenock Arts Guild space, and is a historical nod to the continuum of the two very different buildings. There are two auditoria, a 500 seat main space, and a 128 seat studio theatre. The main stage is one of the largest in the country, and has a fly tower to accommodate the big-scale ambitions of the sort of community companies Ellen talks about. The same logic applies to the size of the dressing rooms.

Beyond the two performance spaces, there are three large rehearsal rooms in which youth and community groups can hold workshops. These can be extended into a function room which can accommodate up to 170 guests, while meeting rooms will also be available. All of which provides a sense of inclusivity that goes beyond The Beacon’s primary function.  This is exactly how Ellen likes it.
“Part of me has always had a deep affection for my time working as an actor at the Byre Theatre in St Andrews,” she says. “I went there for the summer season shortly after leaving college, went back the next year, and ended up living there for five years. During that time, I fell in love with that relationship with a building as a thing that facilitated a relationship between art and the community, and I really enjoyed that sense of people owning this thing that was theirs, and which became the real heart of a community. That’s what I want The Beacon to be, and I think The Beacon is right for a move to join the national framework of middle-scale touring theatre.”

With this in mind, the first production to grace the Beacon will be In An Alien Landscape, a new play by Danny Start presented by Birds of Paradise who open their tour in Greenock. The play is directed by Ellen in an accidental piece of scheduling which nevertheless makes a pertinent statement about how she intends to proceed with her tenure.
Beyond its opening night, The Beacon’s diverse inaugural season will host companies such as Vox Motus and Communicado, Nicola Benedetti will play a concert in March, as will the Salvation Army Choir, while for four days in February the Scottish Community Drama Association Festival will take up residence. Even taking building delays into account, this is no mean feat.

“We really have to use our ambitions for The Beacon to help grow the ambitions of the people from Greenock Arts Guild who have long been there, so they can believe that The Beacon is somewhere special that is for them. People in the area are used to having things taken away from them rather than having things given to them, and I think there was a lot of scepticism about whether it would actually happen, even though it was already happening.
“Then when we got the keys, I wanted to get people in here as quickly as possible, so we had an open day on the 5th of January. It was arranged at really short notice, but we stopped counting after 1200 people had come through the door, and I think it would be reasonable to say that about two thousand were there overall. As soon as I heard the word ‘wow’ being said, I knew things had moved on, so now there’s a real will out there for The Beacon to succeed. The people really want it.”

The seals too, it seems.
In An Alien Landscape, The Beacon, Greenock, February 1st. For full programme, see www.beaconartscentre.co.uk

The Herald, January 22nd 2013


Monday, 21 January 2013

The Maids

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

4 stars

When director and designer Stewart Laing comes onstage two thirds of the way through his production of Jean Genet’s elegantly brutal power play to take questions from the audience during the set change, it sums up every deconstructed moment that preceded it. Laing may have obeyed Genet’s gender-bending maxim that all parts in his flight of fancy about two maids who role-play their mistress’s decadence be played by young male actors, but he takes things much further.

The noises of war open the show, as the stage curtain is painstakingly raised, lowered and moved backwards and forwards in an extravagantly choreographed performance of its own. Three seated young men rehearse a Metallica song on electric guitars, before performing it before projected footage from Vietnam. Later, against a perfect reproduction of the stage’s actual back wall, Scott Reid, Ross Mann and Samuel Keefe play songs by the Velvet Underground and David Bowie before tearing emotional chunks out of each other as sisters Solange and Claire and their Mistress. Their self-destructive, sado-masochistic nihilism resembles a 1990s in-yer-face play.
One scene replicates a rehearsal room read-through. Genet himself makes an appearance by way of an infamous 1985 TV interview when he turned the tables on the crew and subverted the artificial construction of the situation.

All of which questions the nature of performance itself in Martin Crimp’s razor-sharp contemporary translation. Notions of reality and artifice are pushed to the limit in a pop-art hybrid that is part gig, part multi-media happening, part installation. It’s relentlessly and radically sustained, right down to the final, wonderfully unexpected musical interlude, and no, it’s not The Jean Genie.
The Herald, January 21st 2013


Friday, 18 January 2013


Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow
4 stars
The buckets of blood the Witches pour into a dustbin are the shape of
things to come at the opening of Ali de Souza’s unexpurgated take on
Shakespeare’s play of corrupted ambition. As the body-count gets
higher, the supernatural trio are there in the background at every
crucial moment, striking a pose like a goth dance troupe on Halloween.

This is all too fitting in a production performed by second year acting
students in a brick-bare Chandler Studio theatre. Such set-pieces
emphasise the play’s darkness, while keeping every scene intact
clarifies much of its meaning. Other moments are at times a tad too
over-loaded, such as the John Coltrane sound-tracked dinner party at
which Brian Vernel’s Macbeth loses the plot, but even here, Vernel,
Tarjei Westby as Banquo and Rebecca King as Lady Macbeth sustain a
steely intensity.

As Macduff and Duncan’s upper-crust son Malcolm plot out their
strategies on the king, the St George’s Cross flag pinned up on the
wall suggests that the reinstatement of colonial rule drives the battle
as much as revenge. Comic relief comes via a cheeky but neatly realised
gender-switch, when Meghan Tyler, who doubles up as the First Witch,
plays a particularly provocative Porter.

What really sets this production apart is the electric presence of
Vernel. Black shirted, squaddie-haired and flint-eyed with fury, his
Macbeth is a very young man seriously out of his depth, and whose new
power makes him increasingly psychotic. It’s a dangerously confident
turn, full of muscle, guts and contemporary swagger. If this is what
Vernel is capable of as a second year, the world should watch out,
there’s a storm coming your way.

The Herald, January 18th 2013


Hafter Medboe and Anneke Kampman - Places and Spaces (Fabrikant)

4 stars
At first listen, Conquering Animal Sound chanteuse Anneke Kampman's
first sojourn into off-piste collaboration sounds like the straightest
thing she's done. Here she is, singing proper words and everything
alongside seasoned jazz guitarist Medboe and his band who here include
saxophonist Konrad Wisniewski on a suite of songs that seeks to capture
an environmental essence complete with twittering noises off between
songs. Listen harder, and there's a spectral oddity at play throughout
Kampman's coos and Medboe's dexterous and atmospheric picking that
lulls one into a false sense of security before exploding into little
light-and-shade storms. Recalling Trish Keenan in Broadcast or Alison
Statton's post Young Marble Giants trio, Weekend, Medboe keeps the
melody intact while Kampman's rich, glacial voice swoops without fear,
punching out each phrase with a calculated off-kilter precision that
makes for a scarifying pastoral delight in this refreshingly strange

The List, January 2013


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Rebecca Ryan - A Taste of Honey

Rebecca Ryan is pregnant again. At just twenty-one years old, the
former star of council estate comedy drama Shameless has had more buns
in the oven than most. The last time was during a two year stint on TV
in Waterloo Road, in which Ryan's character, schoolgirl Vicky McDonald,
became pregnant. Before that Ryan played a pregnant runaway in Laurence
Wilson's stage play, Lost Monsters. Now it's the big one, as Ryan
prepares to play Jo, the lippy Salford teenager in Shelagh Delaney's
iconic 1958 play, A Taste of Honey, in the Royal Lyceum Theatre,
Edinburgh's new production of this iconic but somewhat neglected play.

Ryan struts around the rehearsal room as Jo, tearing verbal chunks out
of Lucy Black, who plays Jo's slatternly mother, Helen, her cardigan
stretched by the pillow-like appendage stuffed under it. Watching Ryan,
it could be an older version of Debbie Gallagher, the youngest of
Shameless's tempestuous Gallagher clan brought vividly to life by
writer Paul Abbot. Ryan played Debbie for  six years, being cast in the
programme when she was just eleven. Once rehearsals are over, Ryan
couldn't be more different to the troubled adolescents she's become so
adept at playing.

“Jo's learnt to take care of herself, and is very independent,” Ryan
says. “She'd have to be with a mother like Helen. She's brought herself
up, basically, and has gone weeks without Helen even being there. They
have a very fiery relationship, but as much as she says in the play
that she hates Helen and doesn't want to end up like her, she is
becoming her, because it's all she knows. She doesn't know any other
way, so as much as she detests how Helen lives, she ends up becoming
exactly the same.”

There was an example of this earlier, when Jo's gay best friend
Geoffrey, played by Ryan's brother Charlie, tried to break up Jo and
Helen's slanging match, only for the pair to gang up on him.

“That's how they cope,” says Ryan. “In a way it's like in families,
when I can call my brother something, but no-one else can. That's Helen
and Jo's relationship, and that's how they fight. They're at each
other's throat one minute, then the next one of them is asking what's
for tea.”

Delaney, who died in 2011 aged 73,  famously wrote A Taste of Honey
after watching Terence Rattigan's Variations On A Theme at Manchester
Opera House. Delaney was so appalled at what she saw as Rattigan's
insensitive treatment of homosexuals that she wrote A Taste of Honey in
a precocious ten days. The play was accepted by Joan Littlewood's
Theatre Workshop company, and became a taboo-busting hit, with race,
class, sexuality and gender all coming into play. A more naturalistic
film version directed by Tony Richardson appeared in 1961. This proved
to be hugely influential, not least on Salford-born Smiths singer,
Morrissey, who lifted many of his early lyrics from Delaney's play. The
Smiths song, This Has Opened My Eyes, presented Delaney's narrative in

Delaney's follow-up to A Taste of Honey, The Lion in Love, received a
lukewarm response, and Delaney wrote fiction and screenplays, fading
from view until her death. While neglected, A Taste of Honey paved the
way for other working class female writers, including Andrea Dunbar,
who wrote her first play, The Arbor, aged fifteen before penning Rota,
Sue and Bob Too. It's easy too to see a lineage that stretches to Jim
Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice. It's even arguable that
Shameless couldn't have existed without A Taste of Honey.

Given her age, Ryan was unsurprisingly only vaguely aware of the play
before she signed up for Tony Cownie's Royal Lyceum production, but she
recognised its backdrop from the off.

“It's really hard-hitting, and grabs you straight away,” she says.”It's
quite an  intense piece, which is great to get your teeth into. It
must've been quite hard-hitting and shocking at the time it came out,
but I think it still is even now. You know a lot more about the things
that happen in the play now, but the relationships between them onstage
are just as shocking. I think the things that happen in the play are
just as bad as when they were written, so it really stands the test of

Ryan was born in Prestwich, a Manchester suburb a stone's throw from
the Salford back-streets where A Taste of Honey is set. While by no
means part of a showbiz family, Ryan's mother had been a world champion
Irish dancer, and Ryan looked set to continue the tradition. Charlie
had become interested in drama at school, and had worked on television
as a child actor from an early age.

When she was six, Ryan accompanied her brother for an audition for The
Who's rock opera, Tommy, at the same venue where Delaney had seen
Rattigan's play. she ended up being given the part of the young Tommy.
Despite enjoying the experience, Ryan drifted back to her dancing until
Charlie got a part in Paul Abbott's prescient political thriller, State
of Play, playing the son of David Morrissey's character. The producers
had yet to find anyone to play the younger sister of Charlie's
character, and Charlie let slip that he had an actual little sister who
might fit the bill. The pair auditioned together, and Ryan got the
part. This led directly to Abbot asking her to audition for Shameless,
which changed everything.

“I was just going into high school,” Ryan remembers, “so because I was
so young it was just what I did and I got on with it and everyone I
knew just accepted it. Everybody loved the programme, so that helped,
and it was such a family unit there, that was when I realised I how
much I loved it, and couldn't imagine doing anything else. I wouldn't
be here now doing this if it wasn't for Shameless. It opened every door
it possibly could, and everything that's happened to me since is
because of it. I loved every second of it.”

While working alongside David Threlfall, Maxine Peake, James McAvoy and
Anne-Marie Duff was all the acting education she needed, Ryan left
Shameless shortly before her eighteenth birthday. She made her stage
debut at the Royal Court in London in Fiona Evans' Edinburgh Festival
Fringe hit, Scarborough. Beyond A Taste of Honey, Ryan would like to
diversify beyond playing council estate mums.

“I'd love to get into Downton Abbey,” she gushes. “My other favourite
thing is Smash, but I'd have to play a non-singing part as I can't
sing. I'd just like to show people a different side to me.”

A Taste of Honey, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, January
18th-February 9th
The Herald, January 15th 2013


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Hanna Tuulikki - Air falbh leis na h-eòin / Away with the birds

The word that keeps coming back to me is connectivity,” says Hanna Tuulikki, the Glasgow-based sound artist and illustrator who puts her own voice at the centre of her practice. Tuulikki is talking about Air falbh leis na h-eòin, or Away With The Birds, an ambitious ongoing project based around Gaelic song and the vocal mimesis of the birds that circulate around the island of Canna, in the Inner Hebrides, where she has just returned from an intense development week working alongside the local community.

At the new work’s heart is a new vocal composition which has already been performed by Tuulikki in a three-voice version shared with Nerea Bello and Lucy Duncombe at assorted work-in-progress events. With the long-term aim of performing Air falbh leis na h-eòin / Away with the birds in a nine-voice site-specific extravaganza on Canna itself, as well as Tuulikki, Bello and Duncombe, the piece already involves sound recordist Geoff Sample, film-maker Daniel Warren, choreographer Rosalind Masson, textile artist Deirdre Nelson, environmental psychologist Eleanor Ratcliffe, anthropologist Andrew Whitehouse and Gaelic singer Mary Smith. All of which is overseen by Suzy Glass of left-field producers, Trigger.

“I’ve been interested in using mimesis to interact with the environment,” Tuulikki explains. “I’ve become immersed in folk music from around the world, specifically looking at mimesis as a root of music, particularly in environments dependent on land.”

Tuulikki cites Tuvan throat singing and Scots mouth music as examples of influences on a project that is a culmination of sorts of a long-standing interest in replicating bird-song and other natural sounds since the Anglo-Finnish artist graduated from Glasgow School of Art’s Environmental Art course.

In Call and Response (Polly Vaughan) (2005), Tuulikki interacted musically with wildfowl at a wetland sanctuary in Sussex. In Salutation to the Sun (Replica) (2006), Tuulikki reproduced field recordings of some thirty different bird sounds. In Alas, Alas, This Woeful Fate, Tuulikki sang to seals while on a boat trip. Airs of the Sea: 100 Breaths, 100 Waves recorded one hundred voices imitating the sound of the sea while Tuulikki was resident in Cromarty.

As an illustrator, Tuulikki has concentrated on images of wild birds, while as vocalist on three albums with spectral trio, Nalle (Finnish for ‘little bear’) and now with psych-folk quintet Two Wings, Tuulikki’s song-based work has looked to global folk traditions, channelling influences as seemingly diverse as Meredith Monk and Kate Bush.

In 2013, the development of Air falbh leis na h-eòin / Away with the birds will continue with further development with Bello and Duncombe, a screening of a film by Warren, and a performance as part of an exhibition at the RSA in Edinburgh.

“It’s about weaving something together,” Tuulikki says. “I suppose I’m exploring different forms of meaning and experience, and this is the space between. I don’t want to specialise. I like to connect other people’s specialisms to each other. I learn so much more from experiencing a diverse array of things. I’m pro-non-specialisation.”


Scottish Art News, January 2013



Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Maids - Stewart Laing Directs Jean Genet

It's taken a while for Stewart Laing to get Jean Genet's play, The Maids, onstage. Given that the director, Tony award winning designer and founder of Untitled Projects has made what might be dubbed the Penguin Modern Classics canon of French authors something of a specialism over the past few years, this comes as quite a surprise. At last, Laing's vision of Genet's power-play between two servants who act out their fantasy of killing their mistress is brought to the Citizens Theatre's main stage where Genet's work hasn't been seen since the 1980s. That was when Philip Prowse directed and designed Robert David Macdonald's translations of three Genet plays, The Balcony, The Blacks and The Screens.

The Maids itself hasn't appeared in the Gorbals since Lindsay Kemp directed Tim Curry in the play back in 1971. Kemp was a long time admirer of Genet, and also produced Flowers, a seminal dance-theatre interpretation of Genet's novel, Our Lady of the Flowers. The only recent sighting of The Maids at all in Scotland was a mini production by Pauline Goldsmith at the Tron's Changing House space in 2011. So given his extensive back catalogue, both at the Citz and with French work, what kept Laing so long in bringing The Maids back to what might just be its spiritual home?

“I've wanted to do it for years,” he admits, “but when Giles, David and Philip were running the Citz, Philip wouldn't let me do it, because he said it was a play that too many students did. He said it had had too much exposure.”

Genet drew The Maids from a real life murder case involving two sisters who bludgeoned their mistress and her daughter to death before being found in bed with a blood-soaked hammer. The case scandalised 1930s France, and captured the headlines even more when intellectuals including Simone de Beauvoir claimed that the sisters were victims of a bourgeoisie who treated their servants with contempt.

In some respects this echoed how Genet himself had been championed by the likes of Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre when he was threatened with a life sentence in prison following numerous convictions for petty thievery. All of which cemented Genet's status and reputation as the ultimate literary outsider.

This was no more evident than in a famous BBC TV interview recorded in 1985, a year before Genet's death. The hour-long programme was led by playwright Nigel Williams, who would go on to adapt Genet's play, Deathwatch, for the stage. What followed saw an initially monosyllabic Genet turn the tables on Williams and his crew, questioning the false constructs of such a set-up in what turned out to be a final, wilfully singular performance.

“I've been watching it a lot recently, and I'm tempted to use it in some way,” Laing muses. “I think there's something about Jean Genet that he sees a metaphor for the world in any situation. He saw that interview as a metaphor for the whole of society, and so started to say 'I don't understand why I have to sit here and you have to sit there, why don't we swap places?', and that was his entire take on society. The person in prison is as interesting, if not more interesting, than the person in government living the ideal of a middle class life.

In keeping with Genet's provocative instructions for the play, Laing has cast three very young male actors in all three female roles.

“In the 1940s the divisions between genders was much more clearly proscribed,” Laing points out, “ whereas now, I can see it in nineteen and twenty year olds that gender is a much more fluid thing in terms of how they behave. So it's a particularly interesting moment to go back and look at that, and to look at what drag, for want of a better word, is actually about, and what it means now in a trans-gender world to do drag. There's a political way of doing the play, which some people see as a kind of revolutionary emancipation of the maids, but for me it's more about gender and how reality and fantasy blurs between these three people onstage. The theatricality of that situation is really interesting.”

Laing's interest in the French canon was evident from when he directed live artist and some-time Michael Clark foil, Leigh Bowery, in Copi's The Homosexual at Tramway. At Dundee Rep Laing directed Jean Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles, while with Untitled, An Argument About Sex was Laing and writer Pamela Carter's response to Marivaux's La Dispute. An earlier collaboration between Laing and Carter, Slope, looked at the messy lives of poets Verlaine and Rimbaud, while the soon to be revived The Salon Project, in which Laing dressed the entire audience in period costume for an intellectual exchange of their own making, was loosely derived from Marcel Proust.

“I've done so many French plays,” Laing muses. “I sat down the other day and made a list of everything I'd directed, and about half of it is to do with French culture. It's something that I don't quite understand, because I don't speak French, and I don't spend a lot of time there, but it's something that I keep on coming back to, and that confuses me. It's maybe something to do with me growing up in East Kilbride, and my first experience of theatre being coming to the Citz with the school. I think there was something about that which opened my eyes to the fact that there was a bigger world out there. It expanded your parameters.”

Genet, and The Maids in particular, it seems, has always trickled into popular culture. Peter Zadek, who directed the first UK production in French at the ICA in London, enlisted sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi as set designer. It was Lindsay Kemp, of course, who taught mime to the then fledgling pop singer David Bowie, whose 1972 single, The Jean Genie, drew a portrait of a Warhollian character he christened with what he admitted was a clumsy pun on Genet's name. As with The Maids, Bowie made gender-bending a creative stock in trade.

More recently, while Katie Mitchell took a naturalistic approach at the Young Vic, Neil Bartlett directed a production in a Brighton hotel, in which the performers would toss a coin each day to decide who which part they'd play. This year will see a major production of The Maids in Sydney, starring Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert.

“I find that reassuring,” Laing says. “Genet's plays aren't on the shelves in Waterstones, so he's getting lost. I think he's become quite unfashionable, so for me, that's as good a reason as any to be doing his plays.”

The Maids, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, January 17th-February 2nd

The Herald, January 8th 2013


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Pat Lovett

Theatrical agent, choreographer, dancer
Born August 16th 1945; died December 24th 2012

Without Pat Lovett, who has died aged 67 after a long battle with emphysema, theatre, film and television in Scotland would be a much duller place. As the boss of Scotland's longest-standing acting agency, Lovett was a larger than life figure whose social flamboyance sat alongside a straight-talking steeliness when doing business. It was a skill she honed while working as a dancer on Ken Russell's 1971 feature film, The Boy Friend. As Equity rep, she was forced to square up to Russell after he'd perched his ensemble on a perilously high set of aeroplane wings. Lovett won the battle, as well as danger money for the company. It would hold her in good stead as the dynamic agent she became.

Patricia Diane Lovett was born in Woolwich and grew up in Blackheath in South-East London, the youngest of three sisters to Fred and Irene, a seamstress. Fred, who flitted between stints as an engineer, inventor and owner of a driving school, was hoping for a boy, and named his newly-born Pat in the hope that she'd turn out to be a tomboy. As it was, the convent educated Lovett started ballet classes at the Royal Academy of Dance from a young age, and appeared as a child dancer at the Royal Festival Hall.

Lovett went on to train further in dance at an Arts Educational stage school in London, and on graduating moved straight into the West End and the London Palladium. On television, Lovett danced in a plethora of prime-time light-entertainment shows alongside the likes of Cliff Richard and Bruce Forsyth with the Young Generation and Pan's People. She was even sacked from pop show, Ready Steady Go! for being too old. She was twenty-one.

Lovett arrived in London just as it started to swing, and for a time she hung out with The Beatles. She told the story of how, somewhat refreshed at John Lennon's twenty-fourth birthday party, she was escorted to a taxi by Lennon himself. Another time, George Harrison's then girlfriend Patti Boyd asked Lovett if she danced merely as a hobby.

On film, as well as The Boy Friend, Lovett appeared in Half A Sixpence and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, before being asked to choreograph some TV shows filmed in Scotland. She asked one of the cameramen, Stuart Logan, where she could buy French cigarettes, and the pair argued over which was best, Gauloises or Gitanes. Lovett fell in love with both Logan and Scotland, and the couple married in 1974.

Lovett choreographed pantomimes and shows with Billy Connolly, and moved into straight theatre via 7:84, the Young Lyceum company, Borderline and the Traverse. Lovett became publicity manager for the latter theatre following the birth of her daughter Dolina in 1976, using the then Grassmarket bar as a kind of creche, while passing actors became unpaid babysitters as she put up posters.

In 1981, Lovett took over the Esel Agency, which she developed into PLA (Pat Lovett Associates), and then Lovett Logan Associates as it is today. In its thirty-year existence, there isn't a film, theatre or TV company who hasn't come into contact with Lovett, while her numerous clients have included Kevin McKidd and Iain Glen.

In 1990, Dolina joined the agency, eventually taking the lead as the business expanded to London and Lovett became ill. Lovett and Logan divorced in 1981, but they remained friends until the end. A second marriage, to writer Raymond Ross, didn't last. For the past two years since her illness worsened, Lovett was looked after daily by Tam Jamieson, her devoted friend who she met in the early 1990s, and who provided a kind of sanctuary beyond the theatre world.

Lovett took delight in nurturing young actors, and, whether as agent, friend or life-long socialist, cared deeply about their welfare. Her gregarious sense of mischief also made her a presence at any first night party, her throaty laughter punctuating any sense of seriousness with a bohemian largesse that would see her face light up at the prospect of gossip. Lovett's own stories were legion, and she was a fountain of fabulous indiscretion. Only later would you notice her talking earnestly in a corner with her clients, dissecting the good and bad points of their performance and the show it had contributed to with a gimlet-eyed precision that retained a compassionate generosity of spirit at all times. Lovett was a force of nature who became both a theatrical institution and a legend. In an industry founded on make-believe, Lovett was a rare and real thing.

Lovett is survived by Jamieson, her daughter Dolina and partner Kevin, her grand-daughter Natasha, and her sisters, Sandra and Rita. A humanist funeral will take place at Warrieston Crematorium, Edinburgh, on January 7th.

The Herald, January 3rd, 2013


Your Lucky Day/Big Bang

Various venues
4 stars
Fortune smiled on New Year’s Day events in Edinburgh this year, from an 
opening quasi-mystical invitational ritual that opened proceedings to 
the epic street theatre invocation of the dawn of time itself that 
closed it. Your Lucky Day was a smorgasbord of thirteen individual 
events that took place in assorted Old Town venues, but which was given 
a sense of cohesion by having the audience roll a dice to see where 
chance took them.

Many of the events were drawn from twenty-first century renderings of 
folk and roots culture, with bite-size turns from Rachel Sermanni at 
the Tron Kirk, Shane Connolly and Alasdair Roberts’ take on eighteenth 
century mummers play, Galoshins, at the Scottish Storytelling Centre 
and country swing from Stretch Dawson and the Mending Hearts at the 

Best of all was a sneak peek of Crows’ Bones, a luminous musical 
collaboration between Lau accordionist Martin Green, nykelharpist 
Niklas Roswall and the haunting voices of Inge Thomson and Becky 
Unthank. Their programme of spectral songs from northern lands was 
given an extra sense of drama by being performed in St Giles Cathedral. 
Commissioned by Opera North, Crows’ Bones is a must for this month’s 
Celtic Connections festival.

Ushering all this in at the National Museum of Scotland was Lady Luck – 
The Cult of Fortuna, a participatory ritual set beneath a huge 
inflatable altar, where temptresses sporting robes that looked lifted 
 from a 1970s feminist science-fiction film invited onlookers to purge 
the old year and embrace the new,

All this faux-paganism in live art duo Walker and Bromwich’s latest 
exploration of public ritual was as quietly subversive as Your Lucky 
Day’s main body of events. As was too Big Bang, the latest street-art 
spectacle by Toulouse-based Plasticiens Volants. Using a set of 
ever-expanding psychedelic inflatables and comic strip projections 
flashing up a set of epochal events, Big Bang rewound history to tell 
the story of the universe as we know it. As evolution went backwards, a 
giant theatre in the sky rolled back the centuries with a sense of 
immersive grandeur.

With roots in hippy and rave culture, this large-scale meditation on 
life, the universe and everything had mass crossover appeal without any 
kind of compromise in artistic integrity. All of which left audiences 
hungry for the possibility of change very lucky indeed.

The Herald, January 3rd 2013


Concert in the Gardens 2012

Ross Bandstand, Edinburgh
4 stars
Some bands really do have all the luck, as the line-up to see in 2013 in Edinburgh proved with an anthemic flourish this year. Local wannabes Bwani Junction kicked things off with a brand of intelligent and infectious African-tinged power-pop that was puppy-dog eager to please, but which in the end sounded more Big Country than Fela Kuti. The View too kept things straightforward, sounding somewhere between The Kinks if they'd sang about the Tay rather than the Thames, and 1960s novelty-jocks, Lord Rockingham's X1.

It was left to a rejuvinated Simple Minds, though, to capture a full sense of triumphalism. Entering to their synthesiser dominated instrumental, Theme For Great Cities, original members Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill set the tone with a rapid-fire pre-bells triple whammy of Waterfront, Love Song and Celebrate. With Kerr basking in the shape-throwing beatific greatness of it all, it was a fabulous opening salvo for a widescreen greatest hits set that recaptured a lost of era of neon and chrome-lined aspiration.

I Travel opened the new year with a form of electronic motorik metal that still sounds like the future, while Don't You Forget About Me remains the band's defining moment they never wrote. Kerr gets the crowd to sing along, scatting and extending things like the sort of 1980s twelve-inch remix they simply don't make anymore. Designer lager ads too are recalled on the closing Alive and Kicking, a song overblown with false optimism, but which, like the dad dancing Kerr indulges in to Brian Ferry's Let's Stick Together before he leaves the stage, for the moment, is perfect.

The Herald, January 2nd 2012


Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Traverse 50 - 50 Plays For Edinburgh

Golden jubilees don't come around often for artistic institutions, so it's somewhat edifying to see that Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre bursts into late middle age with little let-up in terms of developing new playwriting. Following new artistic director Orla O'Loughlin's inaugural season, the celebrations begin early in 2013 with 50 Plays For Edinburgh, an evening of 500-word long micro-plays inspired by the capital. The programme is the result of an open call for submissions from writers with no more than two professional stage productions to try and capture the essence of the city in as small a time as possible.

Out of 630 entries, the fifty that were eventually chosen will receive a performance under the guidance of O'Loughlin and Traverse associate director Hamish Pirie, who initiated the idea and whose baby the project remains. Rather than simply providing a one-off showcase developed from a novel idea, however, 50 Plays For Edinburgh has more long-term aims in mind, as Pirie explains.

“There'll be a day in the start of January when all fifty writers will get together with a group of senior writers to do workshops. We want to make sure that it's not just about telling people how to write, because different people are at different stages, and we want to stimulate them and inspire them to carry on writing. I'm a bit nervous of the phrase, but we want to inspire them to inspire us.”

In practical terms, the year will begin with all fifty writers attending an all-day series of workshops with senior playwrights and directors. Similar events will follow the performance, with a series of monthly salons working with other artists experienced in working with new writing. There will be networking events and other initiatives, with each writer developing work for a Scratch night overseen by young directors.

At some point, a space will be given over to a group for them to use as they see fit.

“They might just want to put on their plays,” says Pirie, but they might want to put on a punk gig or a light show. Anything so they're learning about being producers in a way that they can feel this is their building.”

The 500 word pieces will be developed into twenty minute pieces, with three of them selected as the focal point of a new writing festival set to take place at the end of the year.

“When we thought about what should be the centre-piece of the Traverse's fiftieth anniversary celebrations,” Pirie says, “we knew there'd be a certain amount of looking back to everything the theatre has achieved, but we also thought that it was quite right that we should be looking forward as well. So we knew we wanted to do something about Edinburgh, where the Traverse is based, and I quite liked the idea of getting something that's for Edinburgh rather than just about the place. One of the biggest plays that's come out of the Traverse in the last few years is Midsummer, which has been described as a love letter to Edinburgh, and we wanted to explore what that might be for other people.”

In terms of content, the response has been mixed.

“Some people have written stories that are about or are set in Edinburgh,” Pirie says, “but others seem to be telling stories about the world that happen to relate to Edinburgh. In the early stages there were a lot of plays set during the Edinburgh festival or on Arthur's Seat. There were a lot of history plays as well, and I think a lot of Googling went on by people who didn't know where Edinburgh is.

“There's a real challenge with 500 words, and even if they might not get something down perfect, there's maybe a brilliant central image that can be developed. So the most exciting thing about the format for me is that it's allowed different people's different skills to come through.

“There was a lot of theatricality, and a lot of people telling stories in different ways. There was quite a representation of writing that borders on the cusp of performance poetry, and which lives in a very different rhythmic land. There was some stuff that imagines how Edinburgh will be in the future. The ones that were really thrilling were the ones that looked at real human stories, and they were the ones that really sang out.”

While some thirty-one of the writers are Scotland-based, with a predominance from the central belt, contributions from further afield include writers from Dublin, Cardiff, Newcastle, London, Paris, Sydney and Zagreb. Names familiar to regular theatre-goers include young voices such as James Ley, whose work has appeared at Glasgay! and Oran Mor; Tim Primrose, who began writing while a member of Lyceum Youth Theatre, and has continued with Strange Town Theatre Co in Edinburgh; Sylvia Dow, whose first play was produced by the Greyscale company early in 2012 when she was aged seventy-three; and Kris Haddow, who has written and performed his own pieces for the National Theatre of Scotland's Five Minute Theatre initiative.

Some of the fifty are familiar too from other roles in the theatre world. These include actress Molly Innes, who has appeared in a stream of new plays at the Traverse, and Martin McCormick, who has appeared at the Tron and Citizens theatres, as well as with companies including Grid Iron and Vox Motus. Many of the Traverse 50, however, remain unknown quantities.

The project is very much in keeping with O'Loughlin's policy of getting as much new work onstage as possible. This was made flesh in Impossible Plays For Breakfast (Scenes From A play I'll Never Write), the series of early morning readings that took place at the Traverse throughout the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That season has already borne fruit via a mini production of Andrew Greig's dramatised poem, Found At Sea , in February.

“Often when you speak to writers who've been through writers groups, they say the thing they've gained most is being part of the group, because sometimes writing can be a really lonely thing,” Pirie observes. “So many covering letters from writers who are just starting out that will say that they really want to be part of a group. Then you get the people who've maybe had a couple on already, and that can be equally lonely, because while there are lots of groups for writers just starting out, that's not always the case for people who've had something on. Having all these people at different levels in the same group, I think it'll be really interesting to see how the dynamics develop. Again, it's about inspiring people. As soon as you put your play in an envelope and send it away somewhere, you've already done more than ninety per cent of people, and you're already a writer.”

50 Plays For Edinburgh, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, January26th.

The Herald, January 1st 2012