Friday, 28 June 2013

Edinburgh International Magic Festival - More Than Just An Illusion

When research scientist and PhD student Kevin McMahon took part in a TV reality show that gave members of the public a crash course in a field diametrically opposed to their own, he would never have dreamt that it would lead to him, not just switching careers, but to founding what was probably the world's first magic festival. As the fourth Edinburgh International Magic Festival begins this weekend, however, McMahon, now the festival's co-director and a full-time close-up magician himself for the last six years, it's an accidental dream come true.

It was when McMahon applied to take part in Faking It that the dream began. The producers whisked him off to America, where he studied magic for two weeks under globally successful double act, Penn and Teller. On his return, he performed to Paul Daniels, who presumed McMahon not to be an old hand at the magic game. McMahon himself was smitten, and has been performing professionally ever since.

EIMF was born from an idea McMahon had with his theatre producer partner and now wife, Svetlana McMahon, to showcase an artform that is too easily dismissed by highbrow types, but which has retained a mainstream appeal via the likes of Derren Brown and David Blaine.

“We were both looking for something to get our teeth into,” McMahon says of the festival's origins, “and it started out of something very personal for both of us. We ended up creating something that had never been done before. Magic's a unique artform, and it has its own particular quirks, but the more you get to know it, the easier it becomes to love that world.”

This year's EIMF brings together a wealth of contemporary and traditional magic acts from across the globe, who will perform in a variety of venues, including an opening gala night at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. A major draw for magic fans will be the appearance of veteran artist David Berglas, who is considered to be the biggest sole influence on Derren Brown. Berglas will appear in conversation in the Empire Room at the Festival Theatre, where he last appeared in 1953.

“he's one of the most intriguing magicians in the world,” according to McMahon. “He's invented so many effects that you can see in every one of Derren Brown's shows.”

As well as stalwarts such as Berglas, McMahon aims to push the boundaries via a new wave of twenty-first century acts.

“There is a bit of a revolution going on in the magic world,” McMahon observes. “A lot of that is coming from France, and is largely based around object manipulation.”

Edinburgh is an ideal home for a magic festival, with a rich magical history which is acknowledged by EIMF's founding of an award named after the great contemporary of Harry Houdini, The Great Lafayette. This was inspired by a celebration of the German-born magician at The Festival Theatre, where the artist previously known as Sigmund Neuberger gave his final performance in 1911 when the building then known as Empire Palace Theatre went up in flames. This was caused by a faulty lamp, which ignited while Lafayette was in the midst of his celebrated Lion's Bride routine.

Lafayette's much loved pet dog, Beauty, given to him as a puppy by Houdini, had died four days before, after which Edinburgh City Council agreed to break one of their own by-laws to allow Beauty to be buried in a cemetery plot normally the preserve of people only. They did this on the proviso that Neuberger agreed that he too would be buried there. A further twist in the tale occurred when it was discovered that Neuberger's body double had been buried by mistake. This was only realised when Neuberger's actual body was found, and the urn containing his ashes was paraded through Edinburgh before a reputed 250,000 onlookers being buried alongside Beauty at Piershill Cemetery, in the north-west of the city.

“Lafayette was an amazing magician,” says McMahon. “There are a lot of documents on hum in the Magic Circle, and looking back he was certainly on a par with Houdini.”

Given that Edinburgh is home too to all manner of entertainments both during and outwith the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, magic's relationship with other artforms isn't immediately apparent. This despite the likes of comedian Jerry Sadowitz, who, as well as being one of the most potty-mouthed and confrontational comedians, is also regarded as one of the best close-up magicians in the world.

“Magic suffers sometimes from its veil of secrecy,” McMahon admits, “which is fine in terms of maintaining intrigue, but also holds it back. It's difficult. I'm a member of the Magic Circle, and I've signed agreements not to reveal certain things, but at the same time, we should be reaching out and collaborating more instead of looking inwards.”

Two instances where magic has been integral to subsidise theatre came, first in Vox Motus' show, The Infamous Brothers Davenport, and more recently in Rob Drummond's solo deconstruction of the form, Bullet Catch. Like McMahon, Vox Motus director Jamie Harrison is a member of the Magic Circle, and worked as a magician for several years before forming the company. While currently providing illusions for the west end adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harrison brought his two passions together in a homage to the real life brothers who toured the world with their bag of tricks before being found out as a hoax. Drummond's piece went further in its dissection of magic, even going so far as to expose how one trick was done.

While McMahon is full of praise for Harrison, and praises Drummond's ability to handle an audience, he remains loyal to the Magic Circle's code of honour.

“When you buy a trick,” he says, “you buy the rights to perform it, but not to expose it.”

Beyond this year's EIMF, McMahon will revive The Colour Ham, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show he performs in alongside mind-reader Colin McLeod and comedian Gavin Oates. Despite such levity, McMahon takes his job as a magician very seriously indeed.

“It's a vocation,” he says. “I just want magic to be given the respect it deserves, and for people to come along and have fun.”

Edinburgh International Magic Festival, June 28th-July 5th, various venues.

Edinburgh International Magic Festival 2013 – The Highlights

Opening Night Gala – Royal Lyceum Theatre, June 28th, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. A first night compendium of some of the world's leading magicians, including the emotionally charged Ta Na Manga from Portugal, the dragon-suited Piff the Magic Dragon, Charlie Mag from Spain, and, from France, Jerome Helfenstein.

A Conversation With David Berglas – Festival Theatre, June 29th, 2pm. Magic's 'international man of mystery returns to the theatre where he made his Scottish debut in 1953 to discuss his towering influence on the magic community, including a debt acknowledged by Derren Brown.

Paul Wilson – Sleight of Hand – SKYbar, Point Hotel, July 3rd, 7pm, 8.30pm, 10pm. The star of BBC TV's The Real Hustle and one of the world's leading close-up magic performers gives a guided tour of his favourite miracles he's discovered 0over the last thirty years.

There will also be a series of free events, including workshops, street performances, family shows and a competition for would-be magicians, War of the Wizards.

The Herald, June 28th 2013


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Multiplex - Tron Skillshops Revisited

From the playground to the office block, pecking orders exist in all walks of life. This is made explicitly clear in the revival of Multiplex, Christopher William Hill's play written for the Tron Theatre, Glasgow's Tron Skillshops young people's theatre group that forms part of the theatre's outreach and community initiative, Tron Participation.

Hill's play looks at the twilight world of multiplex cinemas where a coterie of ushers jockey for position in the after-dark food chain they occupy. From the Plankton at the bottom of the pack, we move up a peg with the too cool for school Dudes before we meet the Buffs, for whom what goes on up there on the big-screen is a matter of life and death.

Whether such a chain of command exists in the assorted groups that make up Tron Skillshops and Tron Participation isn't on record, although it's interesting to note that many of the teenage performers taking part in Multiplex were members of the junior group when the play was first performed back in 2008.

“It really appeals to the age group who are doing it,” says Multiplex director and Tron Drama Officer Deborah McArthur, who works alongside the theatre's Education Officer Lisa Keenan on assorted Tron Participation and Tron Skillshops initiatives. “Part of that is because it speaks to them, and part of it is because there's some pretty strong language which they enjoy. But the play's about how someone new can come into a situation like the one that exists in Multiplex, and really shake things up.

“When it was first done it was with a much smaller group, but now I've got a cast of twenty, some of whom remember it. We've worked really closely with the group, so everyone's had a chance to contribute to it, and I think there's a real sense of ownership of the play now. We've tried to bring it up to date with some of its references, but it's been really surprising with some of the things the group didn't want to change. They've all been saying, no, I’ve seen that film, leave it in.”

McArthur's new production of Multiplex is the latest in a series of revisitations of some of Tron Participation's greatest hits over the last ten years since it was founded in 2003. Then as now the aim was to open up the theatrical experience to all-comers, from Primary 1 age-group upwards.

“They can come along, have fun and meet friends,” McArthur observes, “but we also try to take things a step up, and teach them about theatre-making and being part of a group in a theatre building. That's why we bring in professionals from various different aspects of theatre-making.”

With this in mind, for Multiplex, the company has brought on board audio-visual artist Jamie Macdonald, who worked wonders on Random Accomplice's award-winning show, The Incredible Adventures of See-Thru Sam. Also working on Multiplex are costume designer Kirsty McCabe, who worked on Tron productions of Scenes Unseen and Stones in His Pockets, lighting designer Callum Smith and sound designer RJ McConnell. Beyond Multiplex, a forthcoming tenth anniversary project in October will see the groups working with writer/director, Martin O'Connor.

“With Jamie they're making short films and learning about story-boarding,” McArthur says, “while RJ McConnell will come in and play them new some new pieces of music, which they'll have the chance to contribute to. For some people in the groups it's just a hobby, and that's absolutely fine, but some others come in when they're very young, and as they stay with it they end up taking it quite seriously. One of the group has just been offered a place on at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland, which is great.”

Although working with young people is a key part of Tron Skillshops, Tron Participation goes beyond youth theatre to engage adult groups into the theatrical process.

“There are adult writing classes, set design classes and projects with Glasgow City Council,” McArthur points out. “When Tron participation started, it was just Lisa Keenan on her own, but now there are two of us we're able to do a lot more. We're making better connections with other companies, and we're trying to raise our profile, not just in youth theatre, but with adult participation as well. We've also started storytelling classes for children who are six months old and their parents. All of the classes are open access as well, so age and ability don't matter. We're also introducing a second level of the set design classes. With level one I think we've taken things as far as we can , and we really want to push people's skill-sets.”

Tron Participation and Tron Skillshops, then, are as inclusive as they can be.

“We just want to get people who might not normally come to the Tron,” says McArthur, “or any theatre for that matter, to come into the building and participate in what we do here rather than just be a member of the audience. We want to give them a different experience of somewhere they can come in and access the facilities we have here. Whether that's through taking part in writing workshops or set design, it's important to realise that there's a lot more to being in the arts than going onstage.

We also try to run projects that run parallel with whatever's going on on the main-stage. So with [Tron director Andy Arnold's adaptation of Julia Donaldson's novel for teenagers about a runaway girl] Running on the Cracks, we did a massive outreach project about the play's subject. It's things like that which really seem to matter. If Tron Participation and Tron Skillshops are about anything, they're about building relationships.”

Multiplex, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, June 27th-29th


2003 – Tron Participation set up as ‘Education & Outreach’, with ‘Children’s Workshops’ are re-launched as ‘Skillshops’.

2004 - Partnership work with Childline, including a performance at their annual general conference in Aberdeen.

2005 - The first Skillshops show Samurai forms part of Shell Connections theatre festival, and selected to represent Scotland at the National Theatre in London.

2006 - Writers’ workshop with Douglas Maxwell on Melody, while Skillshop present new adaptation of Jump for Your Life

2007 - Write Tron see their first rehearsed readings and performances on work on stage. Hosts first Arts in the City programme. Skillshops present Lords of Creation

2008 - New Adult performance group Tron Studio devise and perform their first production The Tenement. Skillshop present Theatre of War. Pre 5 Xmas show - Little Rudi

2009 - First Skillshops performance of Christopher William Hill’s Multiplex. Younger groups present new devised piece The Woolgathers.

2010 - Tron Young Company for 18-25s launched, with performance of Remind Me Who I Am Again.

2011 - Tron Young Company work with Artistic Director Andy Arnold to create From A City Balcony.

2012 - Tron Young Company Andrew McKie is Assistant Director to the main stage production of Ulysses. Skillshops present Gifted and Average Jo and Curse of Class 2B. Launch of new costume and set design course

2013 - Skillshops shows: Project Branded, The Woolgatherers, Multiplex.

The Herald, June 25th 2013


Monday, 24 June 2013

Nile Rodgers and Jean Pierre Muller

Summerhall, Edinburgh
4 stars
When a large wooden painting of Cab Calloway's face hung from the ceiling of Summerhall's dissection room came crashing down, narrowly missing the star of this unique art and music collaboration, it could have proved disastrous. Nile Rodgers, however, brushed away the incident with the same charm that has seen him through a forty-year musical adventure which began with Chic, and is currently riding high with Get Lucky, the song Rodgers wrote with Daft Punk that is currently the biggest selling record of the summer.

An Indigo Night in F is a new suite charting Harlem's rich sonic history that came out of 7x7, Belgian artist Jean Pierre Muller's installation presented at Summerhall in 2012, and which featured work by the likes of Robert Wyatt and Archie Shepp as well as Rodgers. Muller explained all this to a crowd of just 300 from a customised stage area which over the next two hours was gradually decked out with cut-out dioramas of Harlem stalwarts across the years, including the aforementioned Mr Calloway.

While Muller did live paintings on a platform above, Rodgers regaled us with yarns from his own back pages framed around the seven F's that have informed it, from family and friendship through to frustration, fate and fame. Each of these was punctuated with stripped-down bursts of Rodgers' finest riffs played on solo guitar as well as wicked impressions of a cast list that included Grace Jones and even Irvine Welsh. Though effectively a work-in-progress trailer for a much bigger multi-media project, Rodgers and Muller proved to be joyous company in one of the most life-affirming events of the year.

The Herald, June 24th 2013


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner

Tramway, Glasgow
4 stars
There are those who will swear they were there at all six episodes of 
the radical site-specific theatricalisation of James Hogg's nineteenth 
century novel at the fag end of the 1980s. For most of us, however, all 
we have are the meticulously detailed archive exhibited en route to the 
auditorium and actor George Anton's lovingly told if possibly 
unreliable memoir about one Paul Bright. According to Anton and the 
role-call of theatrical luminaries who appear paying homage on-screen, 
Bright was a counter-cultural iconoclastic savant, who blazed a brief 
and chaotic trail from the back rooms of pubs to Mayfest and the 
Edinburgh International Festival, before crashing and burning in the 
ultimate act of avant-garde self-destruction.

In Stewart Laing's production of Pamela Carter's script for this 
co-production between Laing's Untitled Projects, the National Theatre 
of Scotland and Tramway, Anton presents all this found material as a 
performed lecture that becomes a kind of personal purging. Of course, 
in a self-consciously meta-work of art imitating life like this, there 
are times when it resembles a grand theatrical in-joke which at times 
veers into Spinal Tap or I, An Actor territory.

Yet, as Anton himself observes from his apparent reminiscences, he is 
an actor whose job is to tell lies for a living to get to the truth of 
things, however painful. In this sense, the mirror images of Anton and 
Bright become the conscience and protectors of an artistic world that 
existed before market forces muscled it out of history. At it's heart, 
then, here is a play that reclaims a radical past  to give it voice 

The Herald, June 20th 2013


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Bard in the Botanics 2013 - Weathering The Storm

When Bard in the Botanics artistic director programmed The Tempest as his flagship production of his 2012 season of open-air Shakespeare plays, to call his choice unintentionally ironic is something of an understatement. 2012, remember, was the wettest summer for a hundred years, according to the Met Office. Not that Barr or anyone else connected with Bard in the Botanics needed such official confirmation of such a soggy climate. The fact that the company were forced to cancel some fifty per cent of performances because of rain stopping play spoke volumes, even if the temptation to have The Tempest's self-exiled magician Prospero cook up a dramatic storm for real must have been a method-acting friendly temptation for the company's tenth anniversary season.

This year, however, Barr and his team return to the fray unbowed with three new productions which are being rehearsed even as Barr keeps an optimistic eye on a weather map. What Barr gas dubbed the Edge of War season should hopefully open tomorrow night with Othello, one of Shakespeare's darkest tragedies, which Barr directs for Bard in the Botanics for the second time. Next month Barr will also revisit Much Ado About Nothing with a radical gay slant on the play, while Bard in the Botanics associate director Jennifer Dick will direct a four actor version of Julius Caesar in the relative safety of the Kibble Palace. Tackling the sole remnant of Shakespeare's canon not to have previously been produced by the company should prove to be something of a salve for Dick, who oversaw The Tempest last year, only to have to watch helplessly as her actors efforts were repeatedly drowned out.

“Without wishing to jinx anything,” opines Barr, “last year was exceptional, weather-wise. Losing so many performances impacted on us financially, and we were left with quite a deficit, but the board and myself knuckled down and embarked on some serious fund-raising, so most of that deficit is gone now. But it wasn't just about money. Losing as much as we did impacted on our actors and performers who wanted audiences to see their work, but had no control over that.”

One thing Barr does want control over is his opening production of Othello. To help this, Barr has retained the period setting of Shakespeare's grim tug of love and hate between Othello, Iago and Desdemona.

“The production sounds straightforward, because the play isn't,” Barr says. “I did it six years ago, but, with no disrespect to anyone involved in it, I never felt satisfied with it. I never got the play. I love doing Shakespeare in modern dress, but this time out, I think it's best not to put anything in its way in terms of concept, and to focus on the characters.”

If Barr is playing it straight with Othello, the opposite might be said for his new take on Much Ado About Nothing. Here, Shakespeare's rom-com about would-be lovers Benedick and Beatrice going round the houses before getting together becomes an extended game of kiss-chase between Benedick and a young man named Bertram.

“There's always a risk when you do something like this of changing something for change's sake,” Barr observes. “Yet, while, unlike with the last time I did Othello, I was very satisfied with my last Much Ado About Nothing, I knew that if I was going to do it again I needed to find a new angle. So went back to the text, and I knew these voices, both from myself and from friends of mine, and I thought the things Beatrice was saying sounded like a gay man, so why not make her one.”

With the recent gay marriage bill to the fore, the issues Barr's take on the play raises are as up to the minute as can be. Even so, homosexuality itself is never mentioned by anyone on stage, but is instead taken for granted.

“By not making an issue of it, that in itself is making a statement, “ says Barr. “Shakespeare was a great humanist, and here Bertram and Benedick have characters around them who are even more comfortable in their sexuality. Part of Benedick's reticence to get involved is because he comes from this macho world of soldiering, but the easiest way of changing things is to move to a point where they have changed and present them as normal.”

As for Julius Caesar, “We've never done it before,” says Barr, “and it doesn't get done much at all because it's such a big show, but by paring it down to four actors, that allows us to focus on the play's main relationships.”

Beyond this year's hopefully dry season, Barr has ambitions for Bard in the Botanics to expand, despite the fact that they currently receive no public funding from Creative Scotland. With Glasgow's Commonwealth games year looming in 2014, however, Barr suggest that “That might be our time. We're not quite big enough at the moment to find the right regular funding stream, so we've been learning to survive in lots of ways. Survival is the key.”

Having survived the storms of 2013, Bard in the Botanics will hopefully turn out brighter this year.

“We superstitiously think we might have been tempting fate by doing The Tempest last year,” Barr jokingly admits, “but this year we're doing one play set in Cyprus and another one set in Italy, so maybe the gods will shine on us.”

Othello opens tomorrow-July 6th; Much Ado About Nothing, July10th-27th; Julius Caesar, July 1th-27th, all at Botanic Gardens, Glasgow.

The Herald, June 18th 2013


The Gospel According To Sandy Nelson

Sandy Nelson never meant to be a comedian, even if he did spend fourteen years on the stand-up circuit. Nelson started out as an actor, working with David MacLennan's politically minded musical theatre troupe, Wildcat. Only when acting work dried up in what he wryly refers to as his “dish-washing years,” did Nelson throw his hat in the comedy ring.

Today, however, things have come full circle, and Nelson has finally quit stand-up to embark on a variety of theatre projects that has seen him back working with MacLennan as a regular at Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint season of lunchtime plays. Nelson's latest work as both writer and actor is an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which forms part of this summer's Classic Cuts season of pared down favourites. While Iain Robertson will play Petruchio, Nelson himself will play Baptista in Rosie Kellagher's production of Nelson's second stab at a Classic Cut.

“Last year I adapted Pygmalion,” Nelson says as he explains the process of getting full length plays down to just under an hour. “Most plays have several storylines running through them, and the trick is to pick one and stick to it. You look at the highs and lows of the arc of the story, and you try to knit all the pieces together, so it looks like a through story.

For The Taming of the Shrew, which is ostensibly a romantic comedy in which Petruchio attempts to court headstrong Katherina, Nelson found a few surprises that take things beyond surface laughter.

“One thing I discovered is exactly how dark it is,” he says. “At times it's really quite brutal, and is quite scary in parts.”

Nelson first collaborated with Kellagher on Lie Down Comic,an Oran Mor production that featured Nelson as a natural fir for the stand-up comedian the play revolved around. With the play originally set in London, the pair adapted the comedian's routines for a Glasgow demotic, and the pair have collaborated since.

Nelson began writing plays about five years ago after becoming disillusioned with the stand-up scene.

“I felt fraudulent,” he says, “but my experience working with Wildcat really informed a lot of what I do, and when I had my first play produced, I knew that was where I wanted to be.”

Beyond The Taming of the Shrew, Nelson is reviving Bite The Bullet, a play which also began its life at Oran Mor, or the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Written and performed with fellow actor/musician Keith Warwick, Bite The Bullet tells the story about two middle-aged musicians who reform their not entirely successful band two decades after scoring a hit in Japan.

“Keith and I realised we were both forty-something dads with a rock and roll history,” Nelson says, “so we came up with this great story about two musicians who almost made it, but didn't.”

Alan Chadwick on these pages described Bite the Bullet, which tours the Highlands after its Edinburgh run, as 'an entertaining cross between The Commitments and Tutti Frutti.'

Inbetween writing and performing, Nelson is also artistic director of The Purple Poncho Players, a mixed ability sketch troupe who form the theatrical wing of the Glasgow Disability Alliance. This is a pressure group, which, instead of campaigning at events with corporate-looking power point presentations, opted for something more creative.

“George Drennan, who's the musical director of the company, first approached me,” Nelson says, “They knew they wanted to bring some kind of element of performance to the campaign, so now we workshop and devise sketches which we present at hustings and conferences to make them a bit more interesting.”

So successful have The Purple Poncho Players proved that their next gig will be in August playing to the Commonwealth Committee who will oversee activities throughout Glasgow's Commonwealth games year.

With all this central belt activity, it's perhaps a surprise to discover that Glasgow-born Nelson lives in Moray, where he recently moved from Shetland. While this necessitates a great deal of travel, this is something Nelson is used to from his cross-country tours of the stand-up circuit. When he is home, Nelson is part of a fertile artistic community which exists in spite of Moray Council's recent one hundred per cent cut in arts funding.

Nelson's most recent outing was a one-off performance of a new play, The Gospel Inquiry, at the Spectrum Theatre in Inverness. Inspired by both the Leveson Inquiry and the Bible, Nelson put Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the dock to explain the inconsistencies and inventions in each of their conflicting accounts of Jesus.

“I was really surprised nobody complained about it,” says Nelson. “Each of the four explain what they made up in the Bible and why they did it, but Jesus is defended throughout.”

In this way, The Gospel Inquiry is categorically not an anti religion play.

“When I was younger I used to argue with Christians,” Nelson recalls, “but now I can see that a lot of the more militant and outspoken atheists are as annoying and as blinkered as some of the Christians they attack. Although atheism isn't a belief system, it has become a movement, and a lot of them have the same hectoring tone as the sort of people who tried to tell me to be a good Christian when I was younger.”

Living among what he describes as “a small but perfectly formed artistic community” with his silversmith wife, Nelson is nothing if not prolific. While hoping to restage The Gospel Inquiry, he is currently at work on what he calls “a proper bona fide post austerity musical, in which a teacher, a nurse and a soldier join forces for a big crime caper. I'm also writing a sex comedy about performance poets. So there's always something. My big joke that I say to myself is that I'm just writing a Wildcat show.”

The Taming of The Shrew, Oran Mor, Glasgow, June 24th-29th; Bite The Bullet, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, August 16th-25th.

Sandy Nelson – Beyond Laughter

Sandy Nelson's career began as an actor, appearing with Wildcat in the early 1990s.

In 1997, Nelson began doing stand-up, with his love of music leading him to satirise the era's music scene and the pop stars behind them. He took two shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Bedroom Popstar and Stand Up – The Musical.

On television, Nelson appeared in Still game, Rab C Nesbitt, The Book Group, Velvet Soup and Live Floor Show.

On film, Nelson also appeared in Braveheart, as John Wallace, and as William Burke in Burke and Hare – The Musical

Nelson's first stage play, Metrosexual, was produced in 2007, followed by The Glimmering Nymph in 2008.

This year, Nelson's latest works, The Gospel Inquiry and Bite The Bullet appear.

The Herald, June 18th 2013


Monday, 17 June 2013

Poetry, Punk and Primal Scream - Jim Lambie Makes It Happen

Primal Scream have just been introduced onstage as the best rock and roll band in the world. When the five-piece led by a check-shirted Bobby Gillespie troop on and launch into a forty-five minute, nine-song set drawn largely from their just released More Light album, any suspicions that they are studio-bound alchemists only are instantly dispelled by one of the most glorious live performances of the year.

Under dim red lights, the band open, not with new material, but with the slow-burning noir of Out of the Void from 1997's dark come-down album, Vanishing Point. After that, things crank up for the insistent urgency of More Light's first single, 2013. It may be without the post-punk saxophone of the record, but, in its raw state, with a sax sample low in the mix, it still sounds like a manifesto, a soundtrack to an Occupy riot and a devotional hymn to rock and roll all at the same time.

It's back to Vanishing Point for Burning Wheel, before some wag in the crowd urges them to hurry up as they have to catch the last train.

“Get a helicopter,” Gillespie deadpans without missing a beat before introducing the equally downbeat River of Pain from More Light with a nod to American Beat poet John Giorno's Just Say No To Family Values. The bleakness of Gillespie's whispered narrative is offset by the most quietly threatening funk imaginable played by drummer Darrin Mooney and bassist Simone Butler.

As keyboardist Martin Duffy ushers in samples of Sun Ra's Arkestra, who play on the record, a melancholy cacophony underscores the groove, while Gillespie grips the mic, head bowed, and guitarist Andrew Innes sculpts scary guitar patterns into the ether. If Tenement Kid is similarly downbeat, Turn Each Other Inside Out is a calculatedly skewed art-punk collage that puts together elements of the last forty years, including more poetry by way of cut-up and rearranged lyrics by key San Francisco Beat poet David Meltzer.

On record, recent single It's Alright, It's Okay sounds like the sort of gospel-infused rock bubblegum you suspect Gillespie and co could knock out in their sleep. Live, and enabled by a crystal clear sound mix that captures every texture, it becomes an anthem for self-determination and self-liberation without ever sounding overblown. Gillespie holds his microphone out to the audience, who duly join in on the 'ooh-la-la' refrain. As the poundingly basic Hit Void gives way to the closing Rocks, Primal Scream transcend themselves to become the ultimate rock and roll bar band.

Because this isn't a description of the band's opening slot for the Stone Roses in front of a crowd of more than 50,000 gathered at Glasgow Green on Saturday. Rather, the above took place the night before, with the band playing to less than a hundred people gathered in a converted Glasgow railway arch run by Turner Prize nominated artist Jim Lambie as The Poetry Club. This isn't just any club, however. As overseen by Lambie, what was once a dirt-ingrained empty shell is now a two-room arts lab, with Lambie designed fried egg painted table-tops and a miniature locomotive train attached to the wall puffing out dry ice through its chimney.

The event is Neu Reekie!, the radical performance event which for the last two years has been the best night in Edinburgh, and which for several months now has hosted a parallel monthly slot in Glasgow care of The Poetry Club. Friday opened all too appropriately with a recording of William S Burroughs reading his work while a Charlie Chaplin film was shown. This was followed by former Zoey Van Goey multi-instrumentalist Kim Moore and fellow musician Gareth Griffiths who performed a new strings and electronics based live soundtrack to unsung artist Helen Biggar and the better known Norman McLaren's 1936 anti-war film, Hell Unlimited. Neu Reekie! co-founder Kevin Williamson came on on like a Caledonian Mark E Smith with his performance of Robert Burns' Tam O'Shanter with a live fiddle and acoustic guitar backing before advertised headliners Sparrow and the Workshop's female-fronted Pixies-styled indie-rock.

It was the surprise guests, however, who that made the night even more special. The first of these was the man who Bobby Gillespie would later name-check, poet John Giorno. Now aged 76, Giorno was a key figure in the New York underground scene, ever since he met Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and key Beat figures including William S Burroughs. Giorno founded Giorno Poetry Systems, which pit out recordings by the likes of Burroughs, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Philip Glass and others.

At The Poetry Club, Giorno performed three works, beginning with observations of Burroughs' death, and ended with notes on his own mortality in Thanks For Nothing. These rolled off his tongue with a wide-eyed humanity and a wit that captivated with its visions of wisdom and experience that charted a full half century. Once Primal Scream took the stage, it was clear this was a once in a lifetime experience.

Standing outside Lambie's tellingly named Voidoid Archive that's doubling up as a dressing room a few arches along from The Poetry Club after sound-checking, Bobby Gillespie explained why a band that could pack out stadiums is playing such an intimate speak-easy environment with what he describes as “a psychedelic set, more psyched out and trippy than what we'll be doing when we play with The Stone Roses.

“I came up in January to talk to Jim about ideas for the cover of More Light,” says Gillespie, “and we came up to The Poetry Club at night. I thought it was a really cool place, and I thought it was great there were poetry readings in Glasgow. I really love what Jim's doing here, taken it out of nowhere and made it happen, customising it using his own frame of reference, with cool images and stuff. I thought it would be a great place to play a gig, and here we are.”

Gillespie and Lambie have known each other since their days on the nascent Glasgow music scene centred around a Sunday night club called Splash 1, which, as well as hosting the first ever Scottish gig by Sonic Youth, put on early shows by the likes of The Jesus and Mary Chain, Felt and Primal Scream. Lambie would film, not just the bands, but stripey-topped dancers getting down to 1960s psychedelia and Sex Pistols records. After playing in The Boy Hairdressers with Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, who would morph into Teenage Fanclub, and Joe McAlinden, who would front Superstar, Lambie would go on to provide live visuals for Screamadelica era Primal Scream, as well as album cover designs, including one for More Light.

The day before the gig, Lambie, John Giorno and Neu Reekie! founders Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson are gathered on sofas in the Voidoid in a meeting of like minds that goes down the generations as Lambie explains the roots of The Poetry Club. All of which, it seems, go back to Richard Hell, the iconoclast of New York's original punk scene who Lambie has frequently referenced in his work. Voidoid itself is named after Hell's early band, The Voidoids.

“He got in contact with my gallery in London a few years ago,” says Lambie, "and said, who is this guy using all my titles and referencing me and so on. He said he wasn't looking for money, but that he liked the work and he'd maybe like to speak to me. So we ended up corresponding by email for quite a while, and I met him a couple of times in New York. Then I was asked to present a film at Monorail Film Club, and I thought it would be good to try and get Richard over, because he'd said he'd always wanted to come back to Glasgow, ever since he'd supported The Clash. So he agreed to come over and present the film, and I thought it would be good to try and get him to do a reading.”

Shopping around assorted bars and clubs for a venue, people running art-space SWG3 told Lambie about the railway arch that sat adjacent to their much larger building. That was six weeks before Hell was due in Glasgow.

“I thought about it for about twenty minutes,” Lambie says, “and we put the place together in four and a half weeks. Then Richard and I put together a collaborative show to go with it, which we put together in two or three days. The night itself was electric, and I wasn't sure how long I could run it for, but the whole thing gathered momentum, certainly in my head. Then I met up with the Neu Reekie! guys, and the stuff they were doing seemed to correspond with what I was thinking about anyway. We're very fortunate as well, because we're based in an arts centre, we don't have the usual economic worries that you'd have if you were in a bar or a club. We can put things on as and when we wish, because we're not strangled by rent and rates and all these things, so it's a pretty good position to be in.”

The Neu Reekie! Connection came about after Pedersen contacted Lambie's right hand man Jason Macphail to see if they could use one of Lambie's images for the cover of a record by Jesus Baby, the super-group of Pedersen, ex Fire Engine Davy Henderson, Teen Canteen chanteuse Carla Easton, Roy Moller and Marco Rea. The connections between the two entities were, according to Pederson, “alchemaic.”

Other events outwith Neu Reekie! include an all day event with Lawrence, the eccentric singer whose anti-career began with Felt, through to Denim and Go-Kart Mozart. As well as a performance, The Poetry Club hosted a screening of Lawrence of Belgravia, Paul Kelly's documentary film study of one of music's great characters. There have been other club nights and parties too, but, The Poetry Club's doors will only open if there is a good idea behind it.

“I've got a thing about bands, especially bigger bands,” says Lambie, “and how wouldn't it be great if they could play small places. One of the things I always remember about the 80s was when The Clash played The Rock Garden,” Lambie says, referring to the bar on Queen Street in Glasgow. “They were massive at the time, and they just went down and did a set, and there's something amazing about hearing a big band like that. They're doing it for the music, in a real way, where it doesn't take a massive amount of organisation behind it. The Primals would be here anyway, so they've come up a day early to play this really small gig. It's more like an art event than anything.

“The way I do the club, it's an artwork, and the way the idea came together in my head was that it would be a bit of social sculpture. Everything's being documented, recorded and filmed, transcripted, all the artwork and posters, everything that goes into what this club has been for the last year and hopefully will be in the future is going into a larger archive, which is basically another piece of sculpture for me. The archive will be a piece of work in itself, and the great thing about that was that we could start archiving from day one, when we first got into the space and started planning things. We've documented photographs from that point on to where we are now.”

Lambie's notion of social sculpture dates back to Joseph Beuys' ideas of human activities changing society, an ethos that was arguably one of the sources of a DIY aesthetic that grew out of punk, and which has been embraced by Glasgow's fertile art and music scenes in particular. Giorno too is a key figure in this way of thinking.

“I have this theory that the last fifty or sixty years has been a golden age of poetry that never existed before in the history of the world,” Giorno says. “clubs like The Poetry Club are really important, because they're nor supported by the City or any academic organisation, which aren't bad things, but which means that they're free to do what they want on their own terms. In the 50s and 60s, if you didn't do it yourself, it didn't get done. The academy weren't going to let you in. then in the 70s and 80s, Warner Brothers signed Laurie Anderson, but they weren't going to sign anyone else.”

That free-spirited approach of Giorno's generation has clearly fed into Williamson's approach to making things happen, as well as more recent creative catalysts.

“All of what was going on in the 50s and 60s are such an inspiration, and we've drawn on various elements of that for what we do, “ he says. “But on my kitchen wall I've got the cover of Spiral Scratch by the Buzzcocks on New Hormones records. That's always followed me around, because it was the birth of DIY punk on independent labels. There was also Mark Perry's fanzine, Sniffing Glue. Those two things changed my life. I couldn't sing or play an instrument, but when I saw Sniffing Glue, I knew that's what I wanted to do. You didn't wait for someone to tell you what to do, you just did it.”

Lambie concurs.

“If you've not got the resources, you just do it anyway,” he says. “If you've only got a tin of blue paint, then do some blue paintings.”

In this respect, the Splash 1 club was an influence on Lambie.

“At that time there were a lot of bands who were trying to get signed for big money deals,” he says, “and there was this whole X Factor approach, but the people who produced Splash 1, Bobby being one of them, blew all that away. With them it was about the art and about making music, and not trying to tick boxes for certain people's ears and eyes. They were just going to do it. Alan McGee is a classic example of that. Creation Records and the Mary Chain just blew away all that crap, and there's an element of that with everything that's going on today. There's that whole X Factor approach again, but it doesn't have to be like that, you know. When did music stop being art? Let's fucking get back to making art, and let all those other fucking money men worry about how they get on with their business.

Around the time of Splash 1, Lambie made his own first foray into promoting along with fellow Boy Hairdresser Norman Blake.

“We only did three events or something,” Lambie recalls, “but one of them was The Vaseline first gig. There wasn't anywhere to go to listen to the type of music you wanted to listen to, so you had to do it yourself, and it's a bit like that now. Maybe it's always been like that.”

In a way Giorno is the perfect guest for The Poetry Club. He was one of the first artists to make explicit the links between music, poetry and art, and his work with Giorno Poetry Systems was a clear inspiration, not just for Lambie, but for Williamson's work with his Rebel Inc lit-zine in the 1990s, which mixed up spoken-word with punk-inspired club culture. This in turn has inspired Pedersen, the youngest person in the room, to join forces on Neu Reekie!

“I just started to write, he says, “and started coming into contact with people who'd done things before, and wanted to harness that. All that went before was so admirable and formidable, so to be part of that current channel is an energy.”

Next up for Neu Reekie! and The Poetry Club is a visit by Momus, aka Nick Currie, and Lambie has plans for more special shows by musical artists he admires. He expresses a particular fondness for The Durutti Column, aka guitarist Vini Reilly, whose singular musical oeuvre was a crucial part of the Factory Records story.

“I guess, really, I just want to get people who gave me my dreams,” Lambie says. “People I admire. I mean, with Richard Hell, he gave most of us our dreams, and is probably the reason why most of us are sitting here. John gave Richard his dreams, and I think that's the way it goes.”

Momus appears at the Poetry Club, Glasgow, June 22, and at Neu! Reekie, Summerhall, Edinburgh, June 28.

Jim Lambie – Art Life

Jim Lambie was born in Glasgow in 1964, and graduated from Glasgow School of Art's Environmental Art course in 1994.

In the 1980s, Lambie played in The Boy Hairdressers, who, without Lambie, would morph into Teenage Fanclub.

Lambie met Primal Scream vocalist Bobby Gillespie when both were regulars at Splash 1, a seminal Glasgow club night modelled on Andy Warhol's Factory, and which hosted early shows by Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream and others. With an early video camera, Lambie would film, not just the bands, but people dancing to psychedelic and punk classics.

One of Lambie's first solo shows, Voidoid, was shown at Transmission, Glasgow, in 1999.

Other music referencing solo shows by Lambie include Boy Hairdresser, Blank Generation, Paradise Garage, My Boyfriend's Back, Unknown Pleasures, Eight Miles High, Rowche Rumble and Forever Changes.

Lambie was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 2005 for his installation, Mental Oyster.


The Herald, June 17th 2013

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Life in a Scotch Sitting Room – The Noise and Smoky Breath of The Third Eye Centre


When the Tom McGrath Trust held a fund-raising event at the Centre of Contemporary Arts in Glasgow on March 1st this year, its melee of jazz, performance and poetry captured the polymathic chaos of the late playwright, poet and pianist in all its inclusive glory. It was, said someone, ;like spending a night inside McGrath's head. With the CCA housed on the site of the old Third Eye Centre, the event also marked something of a spiritual home-coming.

It was McGrath, after all, who was the Third Eye Centre's first artistic director when the hippified arts lab opened its doors in 1974 to become Glasgow's first multiple artform space. Theatre, music, exhibitions, readings and out and out happenings could all be housed under the same roof, with the best book shop on the planet and one of the city's first vegetarian cafes thrown in to plot, scheme, dream or just hang out in. With his own artistic roots at the centre of the 1960s London underground, be it editing counter-cultural bibles Peace News and International Times, arguing the toss with fellow Scottish travellers, novelist Alexander Trocchi and radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing, or reading his poetry at the Royal Albert Hall alongside Allen Ginsberg, McGrath oversaw all this like some avuncular Glasgow Buddha, calling on connections and making new ones to present a major platform for the avant-garde which Glasgow had never seen or heard before.

Much of the Third Eye's wayward counter-cultural spirit was captured on video by McGrath on primitive equipment he learnt how to use as he went along. When the fruits of McGrath's curiosity were re-discovered in box-loads of VHS tapes in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, it revealed a treasure trove of unedited footage documenting a a crucial era, when Glasgow's multifarious art scenes were finding their feet and paving the way for Tramway, The Arches and other cross-artform venues.

More than a hundred of these excavated tapes could be seen in What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do, an exhibition hosted at the CCA between August and September 2012, which brought the Third Eye archive into the open, and allowed a new generation to see that the current swathes of artistic activity in Glasgow didn't come from some year zero 'miracle' as some commentators have mythologised, but was umbilically linked to a past which looks even more radical today.

On screen and in performance, Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Mitchell, Jimmy Boyle, Morton Feldman, Keith Tippett, The Brotherhood of Breath, John Byrne, Derek Bailey; poets, performance artists, folk musicians, thinkers and philosophers all rubbed shoulders in a way which in many other cities prefer to keep separate, be it in theatres, galleries or book shops.

What we Have Done, What We Are About To Do was the first public sighting of a long-term project instigated by Glasgow School of Art's Arts and Humanities Research Council in partnership with the CCA. With the centre's current director Francis McKee at the forefront of the project, what it does is reveal an almost lost world that existed long before the 'centres of excellence' approach to arts venues that arrived on the back of Thatcherism in the 1980s, when the arts were in many ways respectalised. The CCA itself was originally a product of this, and it's telling that it's ditched the gloss to reclaim its roots via speak-easy, Liberty Hall vibe. There's a book shop, a vegetarian café and an enlightened attitude to use of the premises which has given a platform to a new generation of left-field artists.


Arriving in Glasgow in the mid-1980s, I was alerted to the Third Eye by as theatre director friend. McGrath had moved on, with Chris Carrell now in charge, but the Third Eye had developed its own publishing wing. One of the first books I discovered by the imprint was Noise and Smoky Breath, a wonderful compendium of Scottish poetry that was essential at the time, but is now long out of print.

I was aware that Ivor Cutler had recorded his Life in a Scotch Sitting Room album at the Third Eye in 1977, and would rummage through the book-shop, which seemed to be the only place on the planet that stocked William Burroughs novels. The New Image Glasgow exhibition introduced the world to a generation of major painters, all graduates of Glasgow School of Art a stone's throw away. Steven Campbell, Adrian Wiszniewski, Stephen Conroy, Peter Howson and Ken Currie would go on to world acclaim.

I saw Polish theatre troupe, Theatre of the 8th Day, in the upstairs performance space, at a time when a radical, oppositional form of avant-garde drama was venturing out into the world beyond its own borders. There was no Arches or Tramway then to showcase the international avant-garde alongside an increasingly fecund local scene.

Without the Third Eye, it's unlikely that the circumstances for either of these places would have existed, or that these initiatives in turn would put Glasgow on the international map in all artforms. It's significant that both tramway and the Arches opened their doors in 1990, when Glasgow was European Capital of Culture. The Third Eye Centre had known its home town was a capital of culture for years.

Now things have come full circle. No-one has much money, but Glasgow is bursting with ad-hoc, pop-up life, which again owes much to the Third Eye spirit. This isn't anything to do with careless talk of miracles, as if the sense of expansiveness and ambition that pulses through the arts in Glasgow had been beamed down from space. It's to do largely with the myriad of things that happened at the Third Eye and the enabling spirit Tom McGrath fostered. What We Have Done, What We Are About To Do and the ongoing archiving of the Third Eye Centre is a vital part of Glasgow's cultural history that lives and breathes that spirit.

Line magazine, June 2013


Friday, 14 June 2013

Some Other Mother

MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling
3 stars
Take a child away from home for long enough and put them in an insecure 
situation, and chances are they'll create their own world just to 
protect themselves with the power of their imaginations alone. So it is 
with Star, the ten year old north African asylum seeker who lives with 
her mother in a damp and run-down Glasgow high-rise. With the constant 
threat of deportation coming via a knock on the door at dawn, Star 
finds comfort in mythical tales from home and Dog Man, a Calvin and 
Hobbes style imaginary friend with a nice line in sweary words that 
help keep the nightmares away.

AJ Taudevin's play is produced in association with the Scottish Refugee 
Council and the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, where it plays for two nights 
this weekend to open Scottish Refugee Week. It may initially look like 
a piece of up to the minute kitchen-sink social realism, with 
neighbours hanging out on the balconies of Clare Halleran's set and 
social workers at the door, but Catrin Evans' production soon takes 
things into stranger waters. Not all of this works, it must be said, 
and at times during the play's seventy-five minutes things become very 
confusing indeed.

Shvorne Marks as Star nevertheless captures how a child's displacement 
can transform wide-eyed wonder to a fear so great that she won't allow 
herself to unpack her suitcase in case she's forced to leave. There's 
fine support too from Joy Elias-Rilwan as Mama, Billy Mack and Pauline 
Knowles in a play which, despite its self-conscious and largely 
unnecessary oddness, highlights the continuing shame of an inhumane 

The Herald, June 14th 2013


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner - The Real Thing?

Most regular arts page readers will have heard of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner, James Hogg's seminal nineteenth century Scottish novel. This will be the case despite the fact that the book was initially published anonymously, and was hugely neglected during Hogg's lifetime. Only in the twentieth century was Hogg's finest work pretty much rediscovered and given the classic status it so richly deserves.

The same excavation of unknown brilliance looks set to happen to Paul Bright, who, according to director Stewart Laing and writer Pamela Carter, was an avant-garde director who in 1987 staged dramatised extracts of Hogg's novel in a set of site-specific performances at locations that included Arthur's Seat. Now, along with actor George Anton and a coterie of artists and film-makers, Laing's Untitled Projects company in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and Tramway will look at Bright's all too brief moment in the spotlight before he disappeared from view forever. Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner may take the form of a simple performance lecture, but it raises serious questions about art, authenticity and archiving.

In a rehearsal room, Anton is talking us through some grainy Super 8 film footage of one of the performances in which a group of men in period costume are playing tennis. There is no soundtrack, and as some kind of argument breaks out, it isn't clear what it's about. Whatever it is, there's a guerilla style feel to both the performance and the footage that resembles some of the early work of Derek Jarman. At one point, the main protagonist stares straight at the camera, full of grim determination to make his point. This is the Paul Bright Laing and Carter want to capture.

“We've been talking about adapting Justified Sinner for years,” says Carter, “and I met George Anton by chance in a pub in London. He spotted that I was reading Confessions of A Justified Sinner at the time, and started talking to me about it. He was the one who connected us to Paul Bright.”

Laing had been half aware that some radical site-specific work was being made during his own time directing at the Citizens theatre, which coincided with Anton's time at the Citz.

“There was something about the Citz in the late 80s that was like a ring-fenced community,” Laing remembers. “We were all sitting down in the Gorbals thinking that we were the only thing in Scottish theatre, and it was only when George started talking about this production that I realised that I wasn't at the centre of the world in the late 80s, and that the centre of the world was somewhere else.”

Laing, Carter and Anton pursued various forms of research, which, given that their subject was around in a pre-digital age, wasn't easy. This raised issues of how theatre is archived compared to the visual art world.

“I have a real interest in the issue of archiving live performance,” says Laing. “I spent some time looking through The Wooster Group's archive, and (Wooster group artistic director) Liz LeCompte is obsessed with archiving, because I think she has a sense of herself as a great American artist, and I would agree with her on that. But it's about how you maintain that once you're gone. Andy Warhol is a great American artist, and there is this body of work, so I think that Liz is very deliberately creating a legacy. When they did Brace Up, they recorded every single rehearsal. There are three shelves of tapes recorded on a camcorder, so if you're interested, you can go in and watch, from the first day they sat down and talked about it, to every single performance they ever did.”

There is no such archive for Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, nor any of Bright's work. According to Laing, Bright dropped out of view shortly after the production, and as far as he is aware, never made theatre again.

Laing and Carter's piece is not just a homage to Bright. Their subject becomes a symbol of how easy it is for radical artists unwilling or unable to play industry games to drop out of view. Laing cites Buzz Goodbody, the female theatre director who blazed a trail through the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1970s, but is now barely known. Instrumental in developing the RSC's The Other Place studio theatre, Goodbody committed suicide in 1975 aged twenty-eight.

“Apparently, she did this amazing version of Hamlet that just blew the play apart,” says Laing, “but she was a heroin addict, and she died a few months after she'd done it. For me, Buzz Goodbody is as interesting a part of British theatre history as Stephen Daldry. Lindsay Kemp is someone else who people tend not to have heard of. Some people vaguely know him as a choreographer, and people tend to say, oh, is he still alive? Actually, he is, and is living in Italy, and a lot of people don't know that he started off as a theatre director, and did all this amazing work.”

Carter goes even further, and points to a far bigger cultural shift.

In terms of British theatre in the mid to late 1980s,” she says, “there were all this experimental performance work that seems to have drifted out of our general consciousness. There were groups like Impact and Pip Simmons, that were part of my theatre history, but don't seem to be part of a younger generation of theatre makers. So this show is very much a part of trying to reclaim some of that and remind people why it was important.”

Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, Tramway, Glasgow, June 14th-29th

Untitled Projects – A history

Founded by Stewart Laing in 1998, Untitled Projects aimed from the start to channel Laing's very personal theatrical vision with an assortment of collaborators.

1998-2000 – Myths of the Near Future – Adaptations of three short stories by JG Ballard performed in locations ranging from a suburban house to a disused swimming pool.

2006 – Slope – Laing's fascination with French literature resulted in this look at poets Verlaine and Rimbaud via a script by Pamela Carter and played in a sunken performance space with the audience looking down on the action.

2009 – An Argument About Sex – A response to Marivaux's play, La Dispute, Pamela Carter again scripted this work about a scientific experiment in which teenagers are isolated in an attempt to highlight the inherent differences between the sexes.

2012 – The Salon Project – This recreation of a nineteenth century salon had the audience wearing full period costume while they were regaled by the finest minds of their generation.

The Herald, June 13th 2013


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Citizens Theatre 2013/14 Season

You could be forgiven for thinking that Citizens Theatre artistic director Dominic Hill is taking a breather. As the Herald exclusively announces Hill's plans for the Gorbalas-based theatre's autumn season right through to 2014 as tickets go on sale today, Hill is characteristically laid-back. This despite having just directed his current season's final show, a double bill of Far Away and Seagulls, a double bill of short plays by veteran iconoclast, Caryl Churchill.

In fact, despite appearances to the contrary, Hill is anything but in repose. The afternoon we meet, Hill is in and out of meetings working on a major refurbishment dor the Citz's auditorium, set to take place this summer. He's also working on long-term projects, including developing new musicals which may see the light of day at some point. For the moment, however, before looking forward, Hill allows himself a brief moment of reflection.

“It seems a long time since the beginning of the season,” he says, “when we did The Maids, which was exactly the sort of work I think we should be doing here. It made me feel like we were doing something different from anywhere else in Scotland, and to have that reason for existing felt good.”

Hill capitalised on Stewart Laing's radical take on French writer Jean Genet's rarely performed play with his own production of Doctor Faustus, a co-production with West Yorkshire Playhouse that inserted two freshly written acts into Christopher Marlowe's already mighty look at good and evil. To follow this, where other theatres might fall prey to the temptation for light relief, the Churchill double bill demonstrated Hill's ambition for the Citz even more.

His new season looks set to go even further, opening as it does with a new stage adaptation by Chris Hannan of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic novel, Crime and Punishment. This already announced co-production with the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, will be Hill's first collaboration since Hill was in charge of Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre and directed Hannan's reimagining of The Three Musketeers.

“Chris suggested I should read the novel,” Hill says, “and became excited about creating a big piece of storytelling. What's great about the novel is the characters are, not larger than life, because that implies that they're caricatures, but they announce themselves in the way that characters in Chekhov do. I knew that would lend itself to a certain kind of theatricality that Chris and I enjoy, and his version is brilliant. His version is very much about Raskalnikov as a man who has removed himself from society, and then re-engages with the world through his love for Sonya. It's a very moving piece of work.”

Crime and Punishment will be followed on the Citz's main stage by a new production of True West, American playwright Sam Shepard's blistering study of two brothers. In director Philip Breen's first visit to the Citz since his production of Peter Nichols' play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, one of the brothers will be played by former East Enders star, Alex Ferns, last seen onstage in a major revival of Tom McGrath's The Hardman.

“True West is such a good play, and Sam Shepard is such an amazing playwright,” Hill observes. “He manages to be really theatrical, but in really domestic situations. It's good writing, and Shepard has such a sense of theatre, even though True West is set largely in a kitchen. His characters have a real mania to them, and there's this scene full of toasters, and they keep on popping up.”

Inbetween these two main-house shows, Vox Motus co-director Jamie Harrison will return from working on the west end production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to open his and fellow Vox Motus director Candice Edmunds' long-awaited tour of their new show at the Citz. Dragon, written by Oliver Emanuel, is a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin Children's Arts Theatre, and tells the story of a boy and a dragon living in Glasgow.

“Vox Motus are based in the building,” says Hill, “so it's nice to have them opening here, and I think visually Dragon will be amazing.”

Stuart Paterson's take on The Jungle Book will brighten up the festive season in a production directed by Nikolai Foster, whose production of James and the Giant peach is currently on a major UK tour.

“Christmas is always difficult,” hill says, “in that there are five pantos on in Glasgow, and we need to do something different. The jungle book is a real chance to do something that has huge multi-cultural influences. It's also nice to go back to doing something by Stuart Paterson.”

While their will be no outright Citz productions in the new year, January will see cutting edge company Filter visit Glasgow with their radical version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

“I suppose I have a vague connection with this,” hill reveals, “in that Sean Holmes the director and I were assistants together at the Orange Tree in Richmond. So I know him, and I know Filter's work, and this is a riotous, joyful mash-up of the play that's got great heart.”

Holmes' production will be followed by Scottish Opera's revival of Hill's production of Macbeth, which continues to highlight Hill's skill at navigating his way through large-scale work, as well as contributing to a continuum of Citizens directors who've dipped their toes into operatic waters in a way that few other directors in Scotland have.

“It just seemed like a nice thing to do,” Hill says of the revival.

For the first time since his arrival at the Gorbals almost two years ago, Hill has opened up the theatre's Circle Studio space for a significant programme of complimentary events to the main programme. Another Dostoyevsky adaptation, Notes From underground, will run alongside Crime and punishment, while a Gaelic language version of Macbeth, Macbheatha, will appear. Ankur Arts and the Citizens Young Company will also present work in the Circle Studio.

“I want the Circle Studio to be about opportunities and development rather than just getting visiting companies in,” says Hill.

Beyond this, Hill is currently mulling over plays for 2014.

“I think next year there will definitely be one, if not two, Glasgow plays,” he says.Then in 2015 it's our birthday, so we'll be doing something big for that. Ideally I'd like to get an ensemble together, so there's still lots to do.”

Tickets for the new Citizens Theatre season are on sale now.

The Citz 2013/14 Season – A Primer

Crime and Punishment – Fydor Dostoyevsky's classic novel about ex student's Raskalnikov's murder of a pawnbroker was originally serialised in twelve parts. Chris Hannan;s new stage version should tapm into the story's epic sensibilities.

True West – Sam Shepard's play about two brothers is a fine vehicle for charismatic actors. Alex Ferns follows in the footsteps of the likes of John Malkovitch, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bruce Willis.

Twelfth Night - Filter Theatre's version of Shakespeare's play was originally commissioned by former Tron Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company director Michael Boyd, and in Lyric, Hammersmith director Sean Holmes' production, condenses things to a ninety minute tour de force.

The Herald, June 11th 2013



Oran Mor, Glasgow
3 stars
The raison d'etre of Jacobean comedies is for their characters to romp 
around the houses in lengthy perambulations of duplicitous intent en 
route to love, money or both. So it is with Ben Johnson's yarn about a 
Venetian gentleman who tricks three of his peers after his fortune into 
believing him to be on his death-bed. In the original play there are 
further complications, but what adaptor and director Andy Clark has 
done to mark his directorial debut with the first of this summer's 
lunchtime season of Classic Cuts is to strip the play down to its bare 
essentials in a way that does it plenty of favours.

It opens with Clark's white-faced cast of four serenading the audience 
with some gentle guitar strums before Edward Kingham's Volpone and his 
conniving servant Mosca hold court to Voltore, Corvino and Corbaccio. 
These come bearing gifts to curry favour with Volpone, who disguises 
himself in order to woo Corvino's wife Celia while Corbaccio 
disinherits his son Bonario.

Containing such a labyrinthine plot in just under an hour's length is 
quite a feat in itself, and one which requires some doubling up by the 
actors. All manage this with aplomb, with Kirstin McLean in particular 
making a nimble leap from from wide-boy Mosca to twinkly-eyed Celia. 
Stephen Clyde too makes Voltore and Corvino very different entities, 
while the family likeness in Corbaccio and Bonario is plain to see in 
Harry Ward's performance.

If some of the comedy needs heightened more, and if things reach a 
conclusion rather suddenly, it's nevertheless a promising debut from 
Clark, who has made a bold choice in getting to grips with some 
difficult material.

The Herald, June 11th 2013



Let The Right One In

Dundee Rep
5 stars
When a bullied boy meets the strangest of girls in the woods at night, 
they are instantly drawn to each other. Yet, in Jack Thorne's stage 
adaptation of Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel and feature 
film, things are even more peculiar than mere adolescent awkwardness. 
While Oskar comes from a broken home where his mother gets by with a 
glass in her hand, his new neighbour Eli has her own dysfunctional 
relationship with an apparent father figure who brings her fresh blood. 
With a serial killer on the loose, Oskar and Eli eke out a quiet form 
of co-dependence while all about them is turmoil.

Fans of Lindqvist's work will already know the outcome of Oskar and 
Eli's story, but  John Tiffany's exquisitely realised production for 
the National Theatre of Scotland in association with Dundee Rep 
transcends its source to become a rich and beautiful theatrical 
experience that is by turns gripping and tender.

The forest has long been a symbol of dark and dangerous awakenings, and 
is stunningly realised on Christine Jones' set that gives it the air of 
other-worldly fairytales. This is accentuated, both by Chahine 
Yavroyen's moody lighting and Olafur Arnalds' gorgeous music.  
Associate Director Steven Hoggett's impressionistic choreography too 
becomes as vital as some spell-binding technical wizardry.

At the play's heart, however, is Tiffany's heroic cast of nine, led by 
a pair of heart-rending central performances by Martin Quinn and 
Rebecca Benson as Oskar and Eli. As Tiffany's final production for the 
NTS at least for the time being, this moving and haunting piece of work 
is the loveliest going away present he could have given.

The Herald, June 10th 2013