Friday, 29 March 2013

Anna Weiss

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
3 stars
When Mike Cullen's play about a hypnotherapist, the young woman she 
treats and the young woman's father appeared in 1997, it was 
devastatingly timely. Sexual abuse of children by their families was 
being exposed in a way it never had been before, but so was False 
Memory Syndrome, whereby seemingly long-buried traumas were 'revealed.' 
Almost sixteen years on, and Cullen's play is no less breath-taking in 
Rekindle Theatre's intense and up close and personal revival.

It begins with Anna and her live-in patient Lynn surrounded by boxes 
all neatly packed with forgotten memories in a limbo between the past, 
present and a brand new future. As Lynn frantically rummages around for 
a long lost photograph, the pair spar with the brutality only 
co-dependents can muster. Lynn has invited her father who may or may 
not have abused her to visit in order to confront him. Anna doesn't 
approve, even less so when David appears.

For seventy-five emotionally relentless minutes, a troubling portrait 
of fractured lives is laid out in the rawest of fashions. Cullen's 
lines are like knives, stabbing out accusingly in little staccato 
assaults until one or other character crumbles. Such meticulously 
constructed barbs require subtlety rather than hysteria, and while 
Janette Foggo's production isn't quite the revival the play deserves, 
Kirstin McLean's Anna is as manipulative as she is brittle, while 
Joanne Thomson's Lynn is equally fragile.

The play's ambiguity remains, however, and it's perhaps for that very 
reason it's been neglected for so long. With everything that's happened 
since it was first seen, the psychological scars it picks at have 
become even more real than they did before.

The Herald, March 29th 2013

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Government Inspector


Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
When Communicado Theatre Company toured Adrian Mitchell's adaptation of Gogol's satire of small-town corruption in 2011, it's tale of back-handers, bungs and out and out bribes in high places looked all too timely. Two years on, and Gerry Mulgrew's scaled up revival, a co-production between Communicado and Aberystwyth Arts Centre, looks more pertinent than ever. This is the case even as Mulgrew's knockabout ensemble put style above polemic, making the self-serving clique who get wind that their antics are under investigation by a mysterious inspector appear even more ridiculous.

Equally ridiculous is Khlestakov, the penniless cad who the long, the short and the tall of the town presume to be the inspector, simply because he has the upper-crust swagger of the St Petersburg set, albeit without the cash to back it up. As played here by Oliver Lavery, Khlestakov is a feckless fop, whose own pomp woos the town-folk into catering for his every whim, so dazzled are they by his perceived power.

Mulgrew's use of a mixed Scots/Welsh cast for his fresh look at the play lends a pleasing musicality to Mitchell's text, while the sense of physical scale accentuates its absurdity on designer Jessica Brettle's semi-circular network of revolving doors. If the first half needs cranking up a tad if it's to truly catch comedic fire on a big stage, the second half succeeds in spades as all line up in turn to pay homage to Khlestakov. There's some fine-tuned comic interplay between Lavery and Kate Quinnell as the governor’s twitty daughter before Khlestakov does a runner, leaving the town even more financially and morally bankrupt than it was before.

The Herald, March 28th 2013

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The Full Monty

Edinburgh Festival Theatre
4 stars
When it comes, the climax of Simon Beaufoy's stage adaptation of his 1997 film about a group of unemployed Sheffield steel-workers who find emancipation by becoming strippers is as hen night-tastic as you expect it to be. The wolf whistles began some two and a half hours earlier, from the moment Kenny Doughty stepped onstage as Gaz, the laddish everyman who breaks into the deserted factory where he and his mate Dave used to work to nick girders to flog for scrap. Also left behind is a blue crane named Margaret, after the woman who effectively put a nation of heavy industry workers on the dole.

Meanwhile, sisters are doing it for themselves watching The Chippendales, which inspires Gaz to enlist a troupe of his own to make a few bob. What Gaz, Dave and their motley crew of ne'er do wells actually achieve isn't just a rediscovery of their own personal mojos, but a reawakening of a collective spirit through the power of dance, brilliantly choreographed here by Frantic Assembly's Steven Hoggett.

On one level, Daniel Evans' high-spirited production is as one-dimensional as a piece of John Godber populism, and one wishes some of the cast would stop trying so hard to be funny, but beyond this there is pathos and politics too. Here are men whose very identity has been crushed, and who have become emasculated to breaking point, but who find the sort of solidarity that's so desperately needed again today. Ultimately, it's the money shot that counts here, but this is a brash fanfare for the common man that's deep as well as macho.

The Herald, March 28th 2013

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Ulrich Schnauss

Electric Circus, Edinburgh
Sunday March 17th 2013
4 stars
The first time Ulrich Schnauss appeared in Edinburgh, back on Easter Sunday 2008 at the Voodoo Rooms, there wasn't a still body in the room, such was the infectiousness of Schnauss' laptop-generated electronica that has since defined a mashed-up hybrid of dancefloor indie some might call Shoe-Rave. Since then, Schnauss seems to have found his time, as assorted nouveau sonic cathedralists appear to have caught up with him.

Schnauss' latest visit tied in with the release of his long-awaited fourth album under his own name, A Long Way To Fall, a deliciously warm concoction which humanises electronica in a way other laptop-based artists fear to tread. This is so even as Schnauss stands over his kit with total concentration, while a a female sidekick stands opposite him, equally rapt over her laptop.

The result of all this, with impressionistic films beamed out on the venue's multi-screen set-up behind the performers, is as panoramic and emotionally driven as anything by the guitar-driven Durutti Column, whose output Schnauss' oeuvre resembles more than any of his knob-twiddling peers.

But this is no dinner-party background chill-out routine. The volume is refreshingly pulverising, so there's a real physical whoosh to the already propulsive soundscape. It may not have the room in motion quite as much as four Easters ago – although one lone groover at the front of the stage is clearly caught in the moment's flow – but the same synapse-twanging euphoria is very much in evidence.

The List, March 2013

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Eileen Walsh - Quiz Show

It will be something of a homecoming for actress Eileen Walsh takes to the stage in Rob Drummond's new play, Quiz Show, at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre this coming weekend. It was in that very theatre, after all, that a teenage Walsh first appeared alongside an equally youthful Cillian Murphy in Disco Pigs, Enda Walsh's blistering and poetic coming of age tale that was an Edinburgh Festival Fringe sensation in 1997. Quiz Show also marks the Cork-born actress's return to the city she actually does call home, after originally moving there shortly after Disco Pigs before decamping to London for several years.

Quiz Show is Drummond's latest dissection of popular culture that follows on from Bullet Catch and Wrestling. Unlike those two works, which were solo pieces performed by himself, Quiz Show is a fully-fledged play without any onstage appearance by Drummond. Instead, the play looks at today's celebrity obsessed world via a TV game show that doesn't quite go as planned. Walsh plays Sandra, the show's main contestant chasing the ultimate prize.

“She's searching for truth, I guess,” Walsh says, “but all is not what it seems. Sandra is someone who is good fun, and a bit of a live wire who doesn't really stick to the rules, and then has a huge change. The journey she goes on in the play is basically the length of her life. She's someone you both laugh at and with, and then hopefully by the end you understand her.”

Walsh has divided her time between London, Edinburgh and Dublin for some years now. At one stage, she was appearing in the Dublin Theatre Festival in Franz Xaver Kroetz's bleak solo study of a woman alone, Request Programme, while somehow managing to commute to rehearsals for Ian Rickson's production of Hamlet at the Young Vic. Walsh played a female Rosencrantz opposite Michael Sheen in the play's title role. The intensity of both plays in some ways sum up a career which has seen Walsh push herself to dark places from the get go.

“I guess people know some of your stuff,” she reflects, “so when it comes to casting, it's inevitable I'll be cast in something heavy or emotionally draining, so it's nice doing Quiz Show, which has a nice balance. There are moments of darkness, but there are lighter moments as well, which lets the audience in a lot more.”

The youngest of six children, Walsh followed in her elder sister's footsteps by becoming an actress aged just seventeen when she auditioned for Dublin-based theatre company, Rough Magic. She was spotted by Enda Walsh, and performed in the first run of Disco Pigs during her summer holidays after her first year at university in Dublin. The runaway success of Disco Pigs changed everything, not just for Walsh, but for the entire company.

“We all met our partners here,” Walsh remembers. “We all have kids the same age. We all got married the same time. It was a real hot summer of amazingness that you look back on so fondly. When I was in London, I lived round the corner from Cillian, and from Enda, and we all had the same baby-sitters, and that was lovely.”

As well as such personal epiphanies, Disco Pigs also opened the door on a set of brilliant careers. The most obvious of these has been Murphy, who embarked on a film career which has seen him appear in 28 Days Later, Batman Begins and The Wind That shakes The Barley. Enda Walsh's plays have been seen all over the world, with his musical, Once, running on Broadway, where it scooped a Tony award. He also wrote the screenplay for Steve McQueen's study of Bobby Sands, Hunger.

Eileen Walsh's profile may not have been quite so high, but she has still notched up major screen roles playing the title role in quirky comedy, Janice Beard, as well as in Peter Mullan's film, The Magdalene Sisters.

“People sometimes seem to feel sorry for me and think I've not done as well as Cillian,” Walsh laughs, “and obviously his career has gone stratospheric, but I'm doing alright, I think.”

Walsh has continued to work with Disco Pigs director Pat Kiernan and his Cork-based Corcadorca company, and played Portia in Kiernan's production of The Merchant of Venice. It's a trend that Walsh has kept up with in her theatre career, having worked frequently with outgoing National Theatre of Scotland director Vicky Featherstone, as well as at the Abbey and the Peacock in Dublin with Jimmy Fay.

For Featherstone, Walsh appeared in Abi Morgan's debut play, Splendour, and Gary Owen's The Drowned World, both of which played at the Traverse, while Walsh also appeared in Featherstone's NTS production of Mary Stuart, and, at the Royal Court, a revival of Sarah Kane's play, Crave. For Fay, Walsh appeared in The Playboy of the Western World and a major revival of Edward Bond's seminal play, Saved. Walsh also appeared in Mark O'Rowe's play, Terminus, which toured to New York.

For Corcadorca's twentieth anniversary, Pat Kiernan asked Walsh to perform Request Programme. The production toured to the Galway Festival, where Disco Pigs had played prior to its Traverse run. As fate would have it, Murphy and Enda Walsh were also in town, performing Walsh's play, Misterman.

“It was gorgeous,” Walsh says. “We're all still very close. Sometimes we don't hear from each other for a while, but then things slowly creep back together again. I know Enda and Cillian are talking about doing something else together again, and I'd love to do more with them. Cillian and I have been talking about maybe doing something as well. So we still hop off each other a lot, but it's different. We met an awful lot of influential people off the back of Disco Pigs, and both Cillian and I got our first feature films from it, and you don't realise rare that is. At the time, we were just doing it, and thinking we were brilliant and that's what happens, but now, looking back on it, you realise how few and far between plays like that come along, and that when they do come along, you have to grab them with both hands.”

Quiz Show, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 29-April 20

The Herald, March 26th 2013

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Friday, 22 March 2013

Simon Beaufoy - The Full Monty


When the film of The Full Monty was released in 1997, there was a delicious irony that it did so a mere week after Tony Blair was elected UK Prime Minister with a landslide victory that saw his New Labour project end eighteen years of Conservative rule. Here, after all, was a commercial feature film about a group of former steel-workers turned strippers in Sheffield who had been thrown on the scrap-heap which Margaret Thatcher's destruction of heap by industries had reduced the steel industry to.

Fifteen years on, and with a Conservative/Lib-Dem alliance in Westminster, Simon Beaufoy's original screenplay of The Full Monty has been adapted for the stage. As with the film, Beaufoy's first stage play has proved a feel-good hit even as it deals with some very dark things, about masculinity and the by-products of losing one's livelihood during an era of mass unemployment.

“It's a recession comedy,” Beaufoy says. “It was a really grim time, and it was visibly grim. The '80s marked the end of heavy industry, so you'd literally see factories being flattened, and entire communities left out of work. There's something about that backdrop of an entire town being laid off that works for the play, and which wouldn't work if we updated it.

“This recession doesn't work as well dramatically, because its more isolated, and feels like its hidden and more isolated. We're no longer remnants of the Victorian age, and instead, everyone's in their bedroom on the internet, applying for jobs and feeling miserable.

“I remember seeing the poster for the film saying it was a feelgood film, and I'd never thought of it like that, to be honest. It deals with suicide attempts, impotence, divorce, so there's very dark things going on, but the humour is a very northern way of dealing with things, and everyone comes pout on a big high. No-one's really doing anything risque, but there's a wave of excitement when they get there kit off that's not about titillation. It's about these men who've been so low being brave enough to do this thing.”

The Full Monty was born from an original idea Beaufoy had about making a documentary film about a group of men painting electricity pylons across the Yorkshire moors. Somehow this eventually morphed into a script about unemployed male strippers that tapped into a renewed sense of optimism following the Thatcher years which were similarly challenged in films such as Billy Elliot and Brassed Off.

The runaway success of The Full Monty effectively kick-started Beaufoy's career, and has seen him pull off a similar feat of serious populism with his screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire. Beaufoy won an Oscar for the film, and went on to work with director Danny Boyle again with 127 Hours. With Beaufoy currently at work on a film that looks at the rivalry between runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the run up to the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games, one detects a theme of sorts running through Beaufoy's work.

“It's about hope,” Beaufoy says of The Full Monty. “We believe in the characters, because they're real. They're the absolute opposite of men with beautiful bodies, and that's what makes them so courageous. Over the years I've realised that it's the end response when people come out of a cinema or a theatre that matters, and the more complex parts can be thought about later. With The Full Monty, that final image, it's about the triumph of the human spirit when these men are at their lowest ebb, that's what people respond to.”

The Full Monty, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, until Saturday. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Monday March 25th-Saturday March 30th

The Herald, March 22nd 2013

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Jutta Koether – Seasons and Sacraments


Dundee Contemporary Arts until April 21st 2013
4 stars
The back catalogue of seventeenth century painter Nicolas Poussin isn't the most obvious frame of reference for German iconoclast Jutta Koether, but when she was taken to see his The Seven Sacraments at the Scottish National Gallery, something clicked. The end result for Koether's first major show in Scotland following an appearance at the DCA as part of the Altered States of Paint group show in 2008 is this large-scale, hopelessly devoted homage/reimagining of Poussin, rebranded and rewired for a post-modern twenty-first century pop age. The fact that Koether's versions of Seasons, four paintings first shown at the Whitney Biennial in New York in 2012, and the more sculptural The Seven Sacraments, created in situ, feature bit part players such as philosopher Jacques Derrida, German racing driver and walking product placement Sebastian Vettel and the Queen adds a playful wit to the pop classicist sheen.

There's something Blakeian about The Seasons, hung in mid-air and in the round on sheets of glass in such a way that the viewer moves anti-clockwise from Winter onwards, with Vettel's appearance alluding to seasons that are about more than just the weather. Vettel is there too in The Seven Sacraments, which are all too personal interpretations of Poussin, involving pearl necklaces and the keys of Koether's own life and work as we move from 'Baptism' to 'Eucharist'. Such totems that adorn the three large sheets of glass actually more resembles tributes left after a crucifixion than the 'Confirmation' it represents. Inbetween the galleries, though only accessible from one, is 'Extreme Unction', a construction laid out in the shape of a number seven, and again laden with pop reference points. Rather than overloaded with scattershot free-associative detritus, Koether has meticulously plundered her sources to make a series of epic statements for a secular age. 

The List, March 2013

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Flickering Lights


Summerhall, Edinburgh, until May 18th
4 stars
Up in the Lower Church Gallery end of Summerhall, three very different video works are in motion as part of the best arts space in Edinburgh's latest huge exhibition programme. David Bellingham's 'An Object Revolving Around A Day / An Object Revolving Round Events' is a four-minute animated burl round a yellow sun and a blur moon that recalls a wonkier take on the opening credits of 1970s eco-friendly sit-com, The Good Life. '2013.01.27 – 11.52' is self-christened artistic family collective, Maris,' film of their daily drive from their country home to their studio filmed through their car wind-screen. Best of all is 'Lolcatz', Rachel Maclean's epic day-glo digital mash-up involving Egyptian cat worship, the Tower of Babel, Starbucks and internet meme subtitles.

While the cyclic inevitability of Bellingham's piece is as appealingly hypnotic as the accompanying flick-book produced for the show, and the mundane ritual of Maris' lays bare a pilgrimage of sorts, it is McLean's cartoon pop-vid bravura that stands out. The cos-playing nouveau Warhollian Wonderland her characters occupy may appear kitty-kat cute, but, as with the little guy who became the Wizard of Oz, there's something darker at play in a piece of very serious fun. 

The List, March 2013

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April in Paris

Perth Theatre
4 stars
The irresistible rise of budget airlines has made international travel 
accessible across the social scale. This wasn't the case when John 
Godber's brittle study of a middle-aged working class couple's 
broadening horizons first appeared in 1992, when the world seemed a lot 
bigger to Bet and Al and the generation they represent.

Their sense of claustrophobia is accentuated even more in Kenny 
Miller's striking new co-production between Perth and the Tron in 
Glasgow by stylising their living room as a white cube which more 
resembles a prison cell or a hospital ward than a home. With the pair 
either perched on chairs or else prowling the room looking for an 
escape route, Bet and Al's mono-syllabic exchanges point up the 
domestic torpor of what their relationship has become.

Emasculated since being made redundant, Al seeks solace by painting 
lifeless pictures in the garden shed, while Bet buries herself in 
magazine competitions, trying to win herself a life, a prize which 
eventually comes through a trip to Paris. As the play follows their 
journey, from cruise ship to Paris itself, Bet and Al's emotional 
impasse cools, and a series of little epiphanies open out their 
world-view to something more panoramic.

Despite Godber's tendency for mawkishness, the clipped mundanity of Bet 
and Al's barbs more resemble 1970s German minimalist writers. Miller's 
production plays with this quality by investing it with an  
impressionistic sense of style that largely avoids sentimentalism. As 
Bet and Al, Emma Gregory and Andrew Westfield capture all the 
fish-out-of-water social awkwardness of a class with low expectations 
and even lower aspirations, but whose lives have just been changed 
forever.

The Herald, March 19th 2013

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Monday, 18 March 2013

BUZZCUT 2013


Buzzcut is a festival of live art and performance founded in Glasgow by 
Nick Anderson and Rosana Cade, who explain about the most youthful 
addition to the city's experimental arts scene and its second year.

What's the thinking behind this year's Buzzcut, and how has it 
developed since the last one?

Hello from //BUZZCUT// This year is very community driven. We're having 
food events each day, hosted by different artists and we've also made 
sure all the events are fully accessible to everyone. This means the 
whole festival is 'pay what you can' and all spaces have entrances 
either on the ground floor or are fully accessible. We're really keen 
for as many people to be engaging with all the work!

You've moved into Mono this year. How has that changed things?

We're really excited to be in the Mono/Trongate area as there are so 
many great things happening around there! Also it's quite a visual art 
area, so to be bringing performance work into the community feels like 
a positive step for dialogue and sharing of practice. Mono is also a 
great independent venue which we'll be so happy to be inviting people 
to.

What events are you particularly looking forward to?

This year we have done something we've always wanted to do, which is 
lease an empty shop and turn it into a performance space. This is a new 
challenge and it will also be really exciting to see lots of 
performance work in a space that has never had any in it before!

There seems to be a huge appetite for experimental live art and 
performance, both from people making it, and audiences for the likes of 
Forest Fringe, Behaviour, and the much missed National Review of Live 
Art. Why do you think that is?

We certainly hope that there is a huge appetite, and programmes like 
ours, Forest's and Behaviour's are definitely supporting experimental 
practice in Scotland. There could be even more support though! We'd 
really love to see more investment and advocacy for experimental 
practice across the levels of support that artists may need, whether 
they've just started their careers or have been practicing for more 
years.
 
What's next for Buzzcut?

Plenty of exciting things ahead, including an event at The Basement in 
Brighton and a really brilliant collaboration with other artists at the 
Edinburgh Fringe. Watch this space!

Buzzcut, March 27th-31st

The List, March 2013

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Scenes Unseen

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars

There are hidden depths to this eight play compendium of unperformed
miniatures by established writers alongside new works by younger voices.
This is something to do with the way director Andy Arnold's
co-production between the Tron and New Inck Theatre weaves the plays
together into a fluid whole which actors Keith Fleming, Gavin Wright,
Brian Pettifer and Natalie Toyne navigate their way through on Kirsty
McCabe's multi-layered junkyard set.

It opens with Nimrod, Lynsey Murdoch's blackly comic look at two
astronomers waiting for miracles in the frozen north. This is followed
by Athol Fugard's A Conversation, in which a man and his daughter
attempt to understand each other while out bird-spotting. Lighten Up by
Andrew Stott focuses on a young couple attempting to rekindle their

relationship on a Sunday night in front of the TV. This is followed by
Ron and Julie, in which Alan Ayckbourn puts plenty of light, sound and
action into a typically playful love story between theatre technicians,
who act out their roles with gusto as their story is narrated
side-stage.

The second half begins with The Interview, JP Donleavy's Mad Men-era
portrait of a young man on the make, and ends with Patrick Marber's
Casting, a throwaway skit on effete TV producers attempting to cast the
greatest story ever told. In between comes Sand into Glass, Stef
Smith's poetic meditation told in three voices. Either side of that are
the two parts of Julie Tsang's The Sorry Story of the Angel and the
Bear, two linked monologues that reveal a litany of loss, pain,
domestic abuse and, in the male half of the play, tragic self-delusion
in a fascinating and thought-provoking evening.

The Herald, March 14th 2013

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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Mark Thomas - Bravo Figaro Again

When Mark Thomas premiered his new show, Bravo Figaro, at the Traverse Theatre as part of the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it came as something of a surprise. Not just because this gobbiest of left-wing stand-ups had seemingly body-swerved the grassroots venues he normally plays to do something more theatrically formal. The content of the piece too was something of a curve-ball.

Where Thomas' previous visit to Edinburgh had been with Extreme Rambling – Walking The Wall, an account of Thomas' journey to the Middle East to walk the entire length of the Israeli Separation Border, Bravo Figaro was an all too personal story of Thomas' relationship with his opera-loving father. The show was framed around Thomas' reaction to his father contacting degenerative illness, progressive supranuclear palsy, when he persuaded the Royal Opera House company to perform in his parents bungalow in Bournemouth.

Bravo Figaro was funny, honest, moving and surprisingly unsentimental, and was duly awarded a Bank of Scotland Herald Angel award from this newspaper. With the presentation taking place at the Bank of Scotland HQ on the Mound in Edinburgh, Thomas himself observed that it was a rare appearance for him in a bank where he wasn't being thrown out for asking difficult questions.

For one night only, Thomas brings Bravo Figaro to Glasgow as part of this year's Glasgow International Comedy Festival. The same night, Thomas will follow his performance at Oran Mor with Manifesto Warm Ups, a pre-cursor to his latest series of Manifesto on Radio 4, in which Thomas riffs with the audience on setting radical new agendas. Previous make-believe policies have included banning anyone who supports ID cards from having curtains, and a legislation making it illegal for politicians to knowingly lie, dubbed Archer's Law.

While the two shows are completely different, Thomas sees the personal and political elements of both as two sides of the same coin. It also stops him slipping into increasingly predictable routines, as he explains.

“I like to surprise audiences,” he says. “It's fun to do that, because as a performer, and somebody who's creative, I don't just want to do the same old stuff. For me, the idea of becoming one of these comedians traipsing round the same old circuit, doing the same old material, with the chill wind of your career's decline nipping at your heels, that would be my idea of utter hell. But it's good to surprise people.

“It's like in the old days, doing stand-up at the Comedy Store, if you had a really beery, lairy audience, I'd talk about the Mexican debt crisis. Whereas, if there was a twee, middle-class audience in, I'd talk about fisting or something. I think I've changed how I think about things since then. I'm always fascinated by politics, but this idea that it's something that labels me is ever so slightly irksome. It's like whenever I hear myself labelled as a political comedian and activist. I think to be an activist, you have to be active, and I've had my feet up for the last year.

“I think there is politics in Bravo Figaro, anyway. It's about class, and it's about my dad's expectations, and what was expected of him. The idea of working class improvement is a beautiful thing, and used to go hand in hand with trade unionism, with this real emphasis on widening your sphere of knowledge. So the two things go together. It's like that George Orwell quote. Every laugh is a little revolution. I love that.”

In truth, it's difficult to separate Thomas' life from his work, and this is something he has begun to exploit.

“When I was doing Walking The Wall, during the interval, we'd have a Klezmer band come on and play some songs, then five minutes before the second half we'd show footage of the West Bank, so you'd see these things I'd been talking about in the first half, and you'd see the audiences faces thinking, Oh, God, that's true, and that's a fascinating thing.

“It's the same with Bravo Figaro. You gear my Dad's voice, and my brother's voice in the show, and there's this thing of trying to work out how you get all these other voices onstage that's kind of become an obsession.”

Given the intimate nature of Bravo Figaro, what, one wonders, did Thomas' family make of it?

“My mum was really happy that the show was taking place.,” Thomas says. “She always felt the illness was under-reported. My dad was diagnosed fairly quickly, but early on it was still a struggle for us, so my mum was very much a zealot that I should go out and talk about it, even though she doesn't feel she wants to see the show herself, because my dad's illness is something that's completely changed her life.

“My brother came to see it, mob-handed. It was likre the whole of Essex came to the Royal Opera House. My sister and my nephew came, and they sat behind my tech operator. So my sister gets my nephew to sit on one side of her, gets a box of tissues out, and plonks it on her lap, ready to bawl. My Uncle came, and he's not very well, and afterwards he came up to me, and he sais, I tell you what, boy, I wish my boys would do something like that. He thought, warts and all, it's about love, which it is.”

As Thomas makes clear too, his family are no strangers to being used as material for his shows.

“They're kind of used to me doing stuff about them,” he says, “and my sister's a vicar, so as you can imagine there's a lot of scope for material there. She was coming to see the show, and both my wife and my mum said to me, are you going to do all that stuff about her, and they basically talked me into not doing it. Then the day after the show, my sister rang me, and said, you didn't do any material about me. Why not? So you can't win. That's families for you.”

Mark Thomas in Bravo Figaro and Manifesto Warm-Ups, Oran Mor, March 19th as part of Glasgow International Comedy Festival

The Herald, March 12th 2013

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Sunday, 10 March 2013

My Brilliant 'Career' - An interview with All Media Scotland


NEIL Cooper is theatre critic for The Herald, and a freelance writer.
When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?
From a very early age, I guess, but I had absolutely no idea how you went about it. I was a print junkie, first with Marvel comics and science fiction fanzines, then later with the music papers, which were at their post-punk peak when I was a teenager. The NME was my 'bible', and I started picking up music fanzines from Probe, which was the hip record shop in Liverpool.
My favourite was one from Manchester, called City Fun, which was a deeply pretentious scene gossip-sheet with live reviews and record reviews. It was extremely opinionated and dripped sarcasm from every page. At the time, I didn't realise it was probably produced by a bunch of pseudy students. But I still didn't have a clue about seizing the means of production for oneself.
I was also influenced by Tony Wilson on Granada Reports. One minute he'd be reading the news, the next he'd be introducing Joy Division or Blondie, and this was while you were having your tea. He had people like John Cooper Clarke and a poet and puppeteer called Ted Milton, who plays in a band called Blurt, doing all this crazy stuff.
I always had secret plans to become a performance poet and publish radical collage-based 'zines full of cut-up type gubbins in very serious black and white. But the only photocopier I knew of was in a shop down the road, and charged 10p a sheet.
So I accidentally joined the civil service, instead.
What was your first ‘media job’?
Oh, that'll be the paper round I did for Ted Houghton's paper shop in Anfield, delivering the Liverpool Echo.
On Saturday afternoons, while we were waiting for the Pink post-match edition to come in, if there'd been a Liverpool game on down the road, the TV sports commentator, Gerald Sinstadt, used to sometimes come in and buy a cigar. So I suppose that was exposure to the media world in a sort of star-struck, 'you're famous' kind of way.
I'd always written in some form, and still have screeds of the stuff. The first thing I ever remember writing that might be said to aspire to 'journalism' was after a kid's film programme called Clapperboard, which had a Christmas special on comic book characters which had been adapted for film, like the 1960s Batman movie.
I was still obsessed with all that stuff at the time, and must've been about 11. We had to rush for a train straight after the programme, and I spent the entire train journey writing in a school exercise book what I suppose was my first 'review' of Clapperboard.
Then when I was old enough to go to gigs, I would come home afterwards and stay up all night writing reviews of them in long-hand.
I eventually started sending stuff off to 'zines, and had a few reviews published. There was one called Breakout, and another called All That Thinks and Moves. Then, in 1984, a guy called Dom Phillips and I got together to produce a 'zine which he called The Subterranean, after the Kerouac novel, but which I tried to model on City Fun. As well putting music stuff in and some terrible poetry, Dom wrote something about living in a squat in Camden (he was 19, and had lived a bit more than me!), and I wrote up an interview with a model I met on a train (!) that had broke down.
I was working as a clerical assistant in the Print Unit of the Health and Safety Executive in Bootle, and had 'access' to fancy paper and photocopiers. The boss had chopped his fingers off in an accident with one of the machines and was off work, so an entire industry of business cards, gig posters and The Subterranean was put into motion when nobody was looking.
We printed a couple of hundred, and sold them at gigs. We only did one issue, which was pretty rubbish, to be honest, but then the boss came back to work and we didn't have any money to do another one, which I've still got the proofs of, all laid out with Letraset and Spraymount. We didn't have a clue, but Dom went on to edit Mixmag and I ended up doing what I'm doing now, so we must've been doing something right.
When I moved to Scotland, I started sending gig reviews to a free magazine called Rocket 88. Again, I wrote them free-hand, and sent them off, and then I'd get a copy of the mag in the post a few weeks later. I had no idea about the commissioning process or arranging guest lists, and completely missed out on what I now know was this big 1980's 'bunfight' full of indulgence and excess.
I'd also become interested in theatre, and started doing reviews for the Tollcross Times, which was a community paper based at Tollcross Community Centre. That wasn't paid, but suddenly I was getting into places and in print. That was fun, but I started studying drama full-time, and left all that stuff behind.
It was only much later, when I'd finished college and was on the dole that I thought about doing it again.
There was an ad in The List magazine for a deputy theatre editor, which my then flat-mate suggested I apply for. I sent off a sample review, and waited for what seemed like weeks, until eventually Robin Hodge, the publisher, invited me up on a Saturday morning.
The first thing he said was that there wasn't actually a job, but that they were just seeing who was out there, partly because Mark Fisher, who was then theatre editor, was about to become The Herald's theatre critic, which is weird, because that's the job I do now.
I ended up picking up everybody's review scraps for the 1994 Edinburgh Festival, and did everything I was offered. Eddie Gibb, who I was on nodding terms with at college, where he'd done the communications course, was a deputy editor, and I got most of my work off him and Mark.
They kept on using me afterwards, and I'd get a couple of reviews and previews an issue. After a decade or so of arsing about, I'd finally got my first paid gig in the media since my paper round.
Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.
I was lucky right from the start of doing this professionally. I started late, but 'new doors' seemed to open every day in a way that they don't now. I started at The List at the time a lot of London-based papers were starting to get interested in Scotland in the way they're not now. After a year of doing stuff for The List, while still signing on, I was shocked one day when I got a phone call from the features editor of the Scottish Daily Mail. They were wanting to start running theatre reviews from Scotland, and would I be interested?
Politically, it wasn't exactly 'a marriage made in heaven', to put it mildly, but I went through to meet the editor and features editor. It was explained to me that they needed 450 words by 11pm, straight after each show, which terrified me, but then they said how much they'd pay and I said yes, immediately.
I remember my first review for them was Trainspotting at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, and I remember going to The Scotia bar, down the road afterwards, writing the review freehand, and reading it down the line to copy-takers on the pub pay-phone. And I don't think I've sweated as much before or since.
I got used to that, though the next year was a real learning curve, just learning to write in a sort of Daily Mail style. I finally came off the dole, and it was fine for a while. But then things ended abruptly with a phone call from the features editor, who somewhat sheepishly intimated that the editor didn't want theatre reviews anymore.
As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because I'd got to know a few people by then. I was still doing The List, but I also started doing second string stuff for The Herald. Then The Independent got in touch as their Scottish theatre reviewer had moved on. Then, Aaron Hicklin at Scotland on Sunday got in touch, and I started doing stuff for them. He was followed by Benedict Nightingale at The Times and Colin Somerville at the Edinburgh Evening News.
I'd also started writing bits of music stuff by then, which I'd avoided, even though that's what I'd started doing first as a kid. I'd been nervous of doing it, as I didn't think I could anymore, and was out of touch with what was going on. I'd like to think I've made up for it since, though I'm still pretty niche about what I do.
When the Sunday Herald started, I went on contract with them for a year, doing theatre stuff. I'd started doing features as well as reviews - for The Herald, SoS and sometimes The Times - so was learning how to do that as well. Looking back at stuff from then, I clearly didn't have a clue what I was doing, and how some of it was published I don't know.
I was contacted by Keith Bruce, arts editor at The Herald, who was looking for a new theatre critic, as Mark Fisher was about to become new editor of The List. That meant quitting The Times, but I wanted to do more features, and the contract offered some small salve of financial security.
I've been doing that ever since, and that's my 'bread and butter', although it's more than that. I work alongside a wonderful team of arts writers who it's a privilege to be part of, and I genuinely believe that, despite budget cuts left, right and centre, The Herald has the best arts page in the country. That's down to Keith, who captains 'the ship' somewhat heroically.
Over the last few years, I've started writing for art mags like MAP and Line, as well as music mags like Plan B.
I also do the odd piece for online music mag, The Quietus, which is a bit like a fanzine and a bit like the NME, so you can do longer-form stuff than a broadsheet can take, and be a bit more 'left field'.
So, in a way, things have come full circle, and that kid staying up all night scribbling lengthy reviews has finally broken through.
Any particularly big breaks along the way?
Being dropped by the Scottish Daily Mail.
Who would you like to thank more than most?
All of the above, but Mark Fisher and Robin Hodge for giving me my first break. All editors at wherever I've worked and currently Keith Bruce, who's put up with some of my funny ways for years now, and frankly has the patience of a saint.
What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?
I wish I'd understood the industry more, and realised earlier that it wasn't just other people who could earn a living out of this daft thing we do, but that I could do it too. If I'd realised that, I might have started earlier, and enjoyed all that 1980s excess I keep hearing about. Of course, I might not have been here, as a result, to tell the tale. Live slow, die old.

All Media Scotland, March 2013

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Derek Riddell - Playing J.M. Barrie


Derek Riddell is probably too tall to be playing JM Barrie, the 
troubled author of Peter Pan. At five foot three, Barrie's stature is 
considerably shorter than the 5'11 and a half Glasgow-born actor 
familiar from his TV turn in American hit, Ugly Betty. As Riddell 
prepares to play Barrie in Peter and Alice, a new play by  John Logan 
directed by Michael Grandage, the power of imagination will clearly 
come into play on more than just its subject. Given too that other 
portrayals of Barrie have been by the likes of the even more unlikely 
Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, Riddell shouldn't have too much of a 
problem.

“He was described by most people as this strange little creature,” 
Riddell explains, “and he had this really strange voice, but we don't 
want to be too weird about it. He was a very complex character. One 
minute he could be witty and charming and captivating to the boys, the 
next he could go into these black silences, and there's a real darkness 
about him. It's a very short time in the play to try and capture all 
that complexity. There are obvious comparisons there as well with Lewis 
Carroll and both men's obsession with childhood, but I don't think 
Carroll had as much of a troubled childhood himself as Barrie did.”

Peter and Alice is based on a meeting between Peter Llewelyn Davies and 
Alice Liddell Hargreaves, who were the inspirations for Barrie's Peter 
Pan and Lewis Carroll's Alice, arguably the most captivating of 
children's characters ever written. Logan spotted a line in a biography 
of Barrie that suggested the pair met. In the course of the play, set 
at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, both authors make 
an appearance.

The Tony award winning writer's play forms part of a season by the 
Michael Grandage Company, and sees Riddell acting alongside Judi Dench 
and Ben Whishaw in the play's title roles, with younger actors playing 
their fictional alter egos.

“It was a no-brainer doing this,” Riddell says. “Just because of the 
people involved apart from anything. Michael Grandage is an 
inspiration. He just puts you totally at ease.”

Riddell first came to prominence in Annie Griffin's comic drama series, 
The Book Group. This led to being cast as hospital lothario Jamie 
Patterson in No Angels, which focused on the messy love lives of four 
nurses who broke the Florence Nightingale stereotype with abandon.

Riddell still stays in touch with his former No Angels colleagues, and 
last week was at a birthday party, attended by Kaye Wragg, Louise 
Delamere, Sunetra Sarker and Jo Joyner. In keeping with the programme, 
it was a typically wild affair, with current East Enders star Joyner 
using her wiles to access the Queen Vic Suite in the St Pancras Hotel 
for after-hours revelry.

Riddell, alas, was unable to indulge as much as he'd like.

“I had filming in Bristol in the morning,” he says, “so I just left 
them to it.”

A year after No Angels, Riddell was cast in the American 
therapist-based drama, State of Mind, which led to a semi-regular role 
in Ugly Betty, playing the love interest of another Scottish emigre, 
Ashley Jensen.

“That was probably the first time we'd worked together since we did The 
Big Picnic,” Riddell says of Bill Bryden's First World War spectacular, 
which was performed in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Govan in 1994.”

That was at the start of a stage career that has seen Riddell appear in 
Aileen Ritchie's The Juju Girl at the Traverse, and The Cosmonaut's 
Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union, by 
David Greig, at the Tron. Riddell also appeared in another David Greig 
play, Victoria, with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and David 
Harrower's Knives In Hens at the Royal Exchange, Manchester. With such 
a pedigree, it's perhaps surprising that Peter and Alice will be 
Riddell's first appearance onstage in seven years.

“It was time to do theatre again,” he says, “or else I'd never do it 
again, because it would become too scary. So it's a real novelty for me 
again after so long out of it.”

Riddell has just been inspired too by going to see Glasgow Girls, Cora 
Bissett's asylum seeker based musical, during its London run.

“It made me feel very old watching it,” he says, “but the energy of it 
was incredible.”

While happily domiciled in London again following two years in America, 
with such high-profile Scottish drama as Glasgow Girls making waves, 
one wonders how long it's likely to be before audiences see Riddell 
back on a Scottish stage again.

“It's difficult,” he admits, “because I've got family now, which is 
part of the reason why I've not done theatre for so long. The thought 
of being away from them isn't appealing. But because I trained down 
here in London, I've never really been part of that Scottish theatre 
scene, but I'd certainly be interested in working there if a part or a 
play that I loved came up.”

Casting directors should take note of the sort of thing which might 
tempt Riddell back across the border.

“I love doing plays by American writers,” he says. “There's something 
about them which really gels with the Scottish psyche, something about 
the passion. Years ago I played Tom in The Glass Menagerie, which I 
absolutely loved. As far as Shakespeare goes, I'd really like to play 
Richard 111. Again, it's the intensity of it that appeals.”

In the meantime, Riddell's portrayal of J.M. Barrie might act as some 
kind of calling card, even if he does seem a little star-struck by the 
company he's keeping.

“If we get it right, it could be quite magical,” he says. “It's worth 
the ticket price for Judi and Ben alone. I'm completely in awe of them.”

Peter and Alice, Noel Coward Theatre, London, March 9th-June 1st.
www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/mgc
www.michaelgrandagecompany.com
The Herald, March 7th 2013

ends


Driving Miss Daisy


King's Theatre, Edinburgh
4 stars
When Alfred Uhry's quietly political play first appeared in 1987, the idea of America voting in a black President at all, let alone for a second term, was a long way off. A quarter of a century on, Uhry's intimate story of the increasingly co-dependent relationship between an elderly Georgian matriarch and her chauffeur during the civil rights years is a necessary reminder of how far things have come. More importantly, perhaps, than the back projections of Martin Luther King and other protesters from the era in director David Esbjornson's touring production, Uhry has sketched a warm and human story about friendship, ageing and mortality.

It opens in 1948, with banker Boolie Werthan attempting to hire a chauffeur for his mother, the cantankerous seventy-two year old of the play's title, who has just crashed her own car for the final time. At first resistant to her new employee, Miss Daisy's initial suspicions and in-grained prejudices eventually give way to the wily charms of Hoke Coleburn. The world is changing, and Daisy even teaches Hoke to read.

At just ninety minutes long without an interval, Uhry has constructed what at first appears to be a sliver of a play. Yet there is so much heart and understated warmth knitted throughout that it's depths eventually shine through. Much of this is down to the playing, and here audiences are blessed with an exquisite pairing of Gwen Taylor as Miss Daisy and Don Warrington as Hoke, with Ian Porter lending support as Boolie. The final image of Hoke spoon-feeding Miss Daisy in a care home in 1972 suggests the pair are growing old gracefully, equals at last.

The Herald, March 7th 2013

ends


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Don Warrington - Driving Miss Daisy

There's something quietly inscrutable and really rather regal about Don Warrington. This is as apparent in conversation with the actor whose long television career began in iconic 1970s TV sit-com, Rising Damp as it is onstage in the touring production of Driving Miss Daisy, which arrives in Edinburgh this week. It's something to do with the perfectly enunciated and ever so slightly plummy drawl of his voice, but there's a presence there too and a sense of containment that suggests a stillness and an air of authority.

Such characteristics make Warrington perfect, then, to play Hoke Colburn, the chauffeur to Daisy Werthan, the deep south matriarch who gives Alfred Uhry's 1987 Broadway hit, filmed by Bruce Beresford two years later, its title. Charting the pair's relationship between 1948 and 1973, Uhry's play sees them move through a changing America, as in-built racism gives way to the civil rights movement while Daisy and Hoke's master-servant status gradually becomes an alliance of equals.

This is made explicit in David Esbjornson's production via a series of sepia-tinged documentary illustrations of Martin Luther King and other icons of the era's black liberation movement. In a play regarded largely as elegiac, this gives a perhaps surprising political undercurrent to the action.

“I think the politics in the play affects people,” Warrington says. “Some people will say it's not political enough, but it's not a polemic. That's not what the writer was setting out to do. It's a very human story. It's so human and unusual, and that's its drama.”

Hoke was originally played by Morgan Freeman, who recreated his role onscreen opposite veteran British actress, Jessica Tandy. As with Freeman and other noted Hokes, including James Earl Jones, Warrington brings a sense of gravitas and sensitivity to the role.

“He's a decent guy,” says Warrington, “but he's a man who has to make a living any way he can, so he's an instinctive survivor. That's based on his sense of hope, and how, come what may, he believes he will survive. He also has this great sense of morality about him. He knows what is right. He's sort of a moral politician, really. He believes that, no matter how unfriendly to him the system is, fate will find a way.”

As the son of Trinidadian politician Basil Kydd, such moral fibre is something Warrington might have witnessed first hand. Rather than following in his father's footsteps, however, Warrington knew he wanted to be an actor from an early age.

“It was just something I wanted to do,” he says now. “I don't know why. When we were still living in the West Indies I saw an Asian film, and I knew straight away that I wanted to do what the actors in the film were doing. All these people singing and dancing, it looked wonderful.”

Warrington's family moved to Newcastle when he was five, where he had another epiphany watching a very different kind of film.

“I remember seeing On The Waterfront,” he says. “it had these huge themes of damnation and redemption, and watching Marlon Brando, he had that elusive quality, but with these incredible depths of emotion, and I just knew again that this was what I wanted to do.

“It was my sort of secret, which I didn't really share with anyone until I was old enough to do something about it. Then when I was sixteen I went to the local theatre, told them my ambitions, and they gave me a job.”

Warrington later trained at the Drama Centre, which, as he notes, in the thick of London's burgeoning counter-culture, was “a pretty revolutionary school at the time. It was a big leap for me, going from Newcastle to this house of creativity, which didn't prepare you for the real world in any way.”

Warrington's first real job as a professional actor on graduating was in a play called The Banana Box. Eric Chappell's comedy, which was first produced in 1971, and transferred to the Apollo Theatre in London's west end two years later, was set in a seedy boarding house, which Warrington's character moves into, claiming to be the son of an African chief. This not only pricks the prejudices of his landlord, but also inflames the passions of a female tenant.

When The Banana Box was turned into a TV sit-com in 1974, the stage play's three principal actors may have been retained, though its original title was ditched in favour of the more evocative Rising Damp. With Leonard Rossiter as landlord Rigsby and Frances de la Tour as the frustrated Miss Jones joining the programme alongside Warrington and new recruit Richard Beckinsale as long-haired student Alan, Rising Damp ran for four series over four years, and in 1980 was adapted into a film version. In 2004 the TV show came first in a BBC poll to name the top one hundred sit-coms.

“It was very well-written,” Warrington reflects, “and the characters were very real. The casting was perfect for it, and even though it was a sit-com, Leonard, Frances, Richard and I, we all wanted to make it as real as we could, which I'm not sure would necessarily happen today.”

While the success of Rising Damp undoubtedly opened doors for him, and helped transform Rossiter in particular into a household name, Warrington maintains that “There was nothing to change, because I didn't have a career at the time. It was a very different time then, and its very hard to say what doors doing Rising damp opened. My interest wasn't in fame, it was in doing what my contemporaries were doing. At the time, there were a lot of offers that seemed to come from my doing the programme, but my interests lay elsewhere.”

Warrington's interests took him to the Royal Shakespeare company and the National Theatre, where he appeared as part of Bill Bryden's seminal Cottesloe company in the Scots director's epic promenade take on The Mystery plays, as reimagined by poet Tony Harrison..

“The first day we opened we only had a dog and a drunk watching,” Warrington recalls of the production, “but by the end you couldn't get a ticket.”

More recently, Warrington has been playing a police commissioner in Caribbean-set cop show, Death in Paradise, gas directed several plays, was awarded an OBE for services to drama, and even notched a stint on Strictly Come Dancing on his belt. Whatever Warrington tackles, it seems, he always applied the same seriousness to each role.

“I've always looked to parts which set me a challenge,” he says. “It's about trying to make something real.”

Driving Miss Daisy, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, March 5th-9th

The Herald, March 5th 2013

ends

Dark Matter

Ferry Road, Edinburgh
4 stars
In a secret urban garden in the north of the city by night, the earth is 
about to erupt into explosive life. The audience for this latest site 
sensitive work by the Vision Mechanics company have already been 
promenaded down the quiet street beyond from a local hotel, and are sat 
around the moodily-lit shrubbery while what sounds like the low rumble 
of cracking earth churns from the headphones each is given as they pass 
through the gate.

In the crepescular glow, a folk lament is sung as smoke billows, until 
the singing morphs into an unseen woman's voice calling to her lost 
love. When the young woman finally enters, great-coated and alive with 
possibility, it's as if she's risen from the ground itself, so at one 
with the birds and bees twittering and buzzing in our ears does she 
seem. For her, sex and love are something primal, obsessive and 
unfettered, and only when her passions are thwarted and the life that 
drives her is ripped out of her do things spill over into anger.

There's something mythic-sounding about Chris Lee's richly poetic text, 
performed with an intense sense of abandon by Emma Anderson in Symon 
Macintyre's production. The outdoor setting, given light and shade by 
designer Charlie Macintyre, and Tam Treanor's seismic soundscape, 
breathes life into the piece's dark eroticism. It's Anderson, however, 
who gives the forty-minute monologue it's heart. As her character 
lashes out, the full self-destructive fury of a woman scorned is laid 
bare as she becomes a force of nature destined to haunt her garden of 
earthly delights forever.
The Herald, March 5th 2013

ends

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sonica – The Spaces Between Sound and Vision

1.
If seeing is believing, what, then, is hearing?

Are those sounds – things that go bump in the night, which cut through
the air, either of their own volition, or else manipulated and
fine-tuned into a shape that some might call music – figments of the
imagination?

As for watching and listening, those more concentrated, more focused
applications of the visual and sonic senses, how do they work?

Are perceptions of what we watch or listen to not identical?

If so, how can one be moved to tears by a particular sight or sound,
while another is left cold by the same experience?

On a train that no longer chugs or click-clacks like they used to, but
which propels itself with a low rumble, I think of a trip to North
Berwick made with David Attenburgh’s favourite sound recordist and
former member of Cabaret Voltaire, Chris Watson.

Watson was doing a residency at Edinburgh University, and was taking a
group of would-be sound recordists on a field-trip to North Berwick.

I was writing a piece on Watson to tie in with this and the
accompanying performance set to take place at the end of the residency.

Rather than do a formal interview, I decided to make it more
observational, watching and listening, waiting for something to happen.

On the beach later, Watson would tell anecdotes from his Cabaret
Voltaire days in-between demonstrating how the best microphones work
when immersed in rock pools and the sea as the tide lapped against it.

Watson would tell these stories in his bluff but never gruff Yorkshire
accent which, after thirty-odd years working in sound, still rang with
a sense of wonder at the sonic possibilities of the natural world.

Scattered at points along the beach, serious-looking young men and
women sported headphones as they wielded assorted pieces of kit about
the landscape.

On the train, Watson listened hard to the sounds of the train in
motion, the little tics and creaks of the carriages, thee almost
in-discernible squeaks of the wheels, the squeals of the brakes.

This inspired Watson’s adopted brood to get out their microphones and
stick them on the walls and doors of the railway carriage to see what
they might hear.

On the train and on the beach, this little gaggle of sound recordists
looked like train-spotters or treasure hunters.

In a way, they were both.


2.
In a silver – not black – Glasgow taxi just after Friday night
rush-hour.

The weekend starts here, and the taxi is so shiny and sleek that its
rear window has windscreen wipers, which click and whirr into action
sporadically in an attempt to fend off the November drizzle.

It's the first weekend of Sonica, the new festival of 'sonic art for
the visually minded' as the programme puts it in wilfully inscrutable
lower-case.

Sonica – or sonica – is the brainchild of Cathie Boyd, artistic
director of Cryptic, formerly Theatre Cryptic, the Glasgow-based
international music theatre (but not musical theatre) production
company.

For sonica, Boyd and Cryptic have teamed up with Graham McKenzie,
artistic director of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and
formerly of the CCA in Glasgow.

Also on board for sonica is Patrick Dickie, a leading contemporary
music producer at the Almeida, English National Opera and elsewhere.

As its by-line suggests, sonica aims to tap into the increasingly world
of what, for the sake of box-ticking, we must call cross-artform
exchanges, in this case, between the gifts of sound and vision.



3.
When did Glasgow’s sonic landscape change?

Was it when the late writer and musician Tom McGrath brought Duke
Ellington, Miles Davis and others to the city when he was director of
the Third Eye Centre, on the Sauchiehall Street site of what is now the
CCA?

Or was it when Alex Harvey appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test
singing Jacques Brel's Next, looking demonic in white face and clown
stripes?

Or when Maggie Bell sang No Mean City over the opening credits of
Taggart?

Or when Simple Minds went global with Don't You Forget About Me, a song
they never wrote, but which seemed to define the city's mid-1980s sense
of chrome-lined aspiration.

Was it before that, when Alan Horne started Postcard Records in 1980,
introducing
the world to Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera and the Sound of Young
Scotland, plus, from Australia, fellow travellers The Go-Betweens?

That Horne did all this with the wit and the cheek of what the late
John Peel described him as ‘a truculent youth’ youth is one thing.

The fact that he did it from the wardrobe of his West Princes Street
flat that became scene central to post-punk Glasgow, is even better.

More latterly, maybe it was the rise of the experimental music festival
that happened a decade ago with Instal.

Instal was – or so it seemed – like nothing that had ever happened
before.

Over ten years, its organisers, who at some point branded themselves as
Arika Industries, introduced Glasgow yo major figures from the world of
left-field music and sound.

Phill Niblock, Henri Chopin, Philip Jeck, Fennesz, Icebreaker
International and a myriad of others played Instal during its early
years at the Arches, opening the ears and minds of seekers in search of
something other than whatever music had become.

Instal too looked at the sound and vision thing, in a festival called
Kill Your Timid Notion, which took place at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Then, eventually, after a few years, the art crowd, who had never been
at Instal before, latched on, and other things started happening.

Some were interesting, some not so, but they were happening.


4
At Tramway, the first Sonica event I see is Sandglasses, and not
Soundglasses, as I originally misread/heard.

Sandglasses is composed by Lithuanian composer Juste Janulyte, in
collaboration with video artist, Luca Scarzella and four cellists from
the Gaida Ensemble.

The cellists play in a series of cooling tower hour-glass cocoons that
is sublime and hypnotic, as if played by ghosts.


5
In the bar inbetween shows, the talk – ear-wigging in on it – is of who
the audience is for this sort of thing.

I came alone, and know no-one here until I bump into my classical music
critic colleague, Kate, and her actor friend, Carrie.

In a room full of Glasgow cool kids who like the sound of their own
voices as much as anything else at sonica, I'm glad they're here.

In our own chit-chat about who this sort of thing is for, it becomes
more a case of what this sort of thing actually is.

I tell Kate and Carrie about two things I’d seen in Edinburgh earlier
in the week.

The first was One Pig, a composition by Matthew Herbert taken from
sounds recorded during the life and death of a pig.

These sounds were then cut up, mashed up and turned into a performance
piece by Herbert and three other performers dressed in white coats
inside a boxing ring-cum-pig-pen.

Herbert has done something similar with recording cooking live, turning
an intricately layered affair into a form of novelty cabaret which at
times resembled the breakfast time choreography of Morecambe and Wise's
kitchen sketch.

The other thing I saw earlier in the week was Entartet.

Entartet was devised by theatre designer Kai Fischer, and was part
installation, part performance, based on the text of the brochure for
the Nazis famous exhibition of degenerate art.

The texts are read by recorded voices in a series of plinths activated
by the listener walking close to the speaker.

If timed correctly, the overlapping voices form a terrifyingly banal
cacophony of ignorance.

Both One Pig and Entartet dealt with reconstituting sound in very
different but equally provocative fashions.

Yet no-one, apart from myself, as far as I could see, attended both.

Neither are either audience in evidence at Sonica.

This is something that's always puzzled me.

Of course, it's the nature of my job as a critic to have as wide a
palette of artistic experience as possible, be it through theatre, art
or music.

In music, I'll happily attend jazz, contemporary classical, noise,
sound art or out and out pop events.

You can hear something of each in all of these, I reckon, though the
audiences of each are so niche to each particular flavour that never
the twain shall meet.

The only time I've ever seen all of the audiences for the 57 varieties
that make up 'experimental' music scenes in the same room was in summer
2012, at an event hosted by Dialogues, the University of
Edinburgh-based initiative led by composer Martin Parker.

Led by veteran saxophonist, improviser and long-term collaborator of
the late Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, the idea was to put a group of
improvisers from different disciplines on the same stage and see what
happened.

It had already been tried in Dublin, and the Edinburgh show drafted in
jazz, noise, electronic and contemporary classical musicians for a gig
at Edinburgh College of Art's Wee Red Bar, which, for such a rarefied
show, was uncharacteristically packed.

Trouble was, for all Parker's open-minded gravitas and sense of
enablement to the younger musicians, it didn't work.

Everyone onstage did their shtick, be it free jazz blowing, cello
scraping or knob twiddling, and that was that.

Nothing – to my ears, at least – ever connected.

This, of course, is the risk of any improvisation, and audiences take
their chances.

You pays your money, and you gets what you gets.

In this case, for all the sense of critical mass, I, for one, was glad
when it was over so everyone could go back to their own corner and do
what they do without irritating interruptions.


6
A while later, I ended up having an argument with someone about all
this at a house party / gig.

I'd never met the person before, and was introduced to him on account
that he'd apparently gone to see gigs put on by the House of Dubois in
the late 1990s and early 2000s, which I'd also gone to.

The House of Dubois put on left-field gigs in Edinburgh before anyone,
but were largely hopeless at getting anyone to go along to them.

I'd stumbled on them when they put Godspeed You! Black Emperor on in
Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street.

Stills is tiny, and the even tinier speakers blew before Godspeed could
accelerate to full apocalyptic pelt on what was their second UK gig
ever.

For years I thought it was their first, but there'd been one in Leeds
or somewhere the night before.

And maybe the speakers didn't blow.

Maybe the plug was pulled after complaints from the upstairs
neighbours.

Anyway, the House of Dubois put weird gigs on in Edinburgh before
anyone.

As well as Godspeed, they put on Kid Loco, Matmos, Labradford, the
Durutti Column, Pole, Genesis P Orridge, Royal Trux, John Fahey,
Fridge, Kid 606 and loads more.

On one level, House of Dubois were ahead of the curve, and a couple of
years later after All Tomorrow's Parties and Instal and all that,
they'd have been packing places out.

As it was, the shows were never that busy, which is why I was surprised
I'd never met this person at the house party noise gig I ended up
having an argument with.

He was a musician or a composer, and we got talking about the House of
Dubois, which somehow led me at least on to how different audiences go
to some things but not others, which led me onto the Evan Parker improv
show where they all seemed to be in the same room.

He seemed to think I was saying that it was the audience who dictated
what was played.

I said no, what I was saying was actually not that, but that the gig
didn't work because....

And he said, yes, but there are elaborate constructions in place in
what Evan Parker did, and wasn't it the audience who.....

And I said, no, that's not what I'm saying, what I'm saying, what I'm
actually saying is....

And on it went, the two of us both so desperate for our points to be
made that we weren't even listening to each other, and if we thought we
were, we just heard something to disagree with, so we ended up talking
at cross-purposes about two completely different things entirely, not
communicating in any way, shape or form.

It was stupid, and I was a dick.

But.

As much as it was infuriating drunken rubbish, as a verbal illustration
of why the Evan Parker multi-disciplinary improv show failed, it was
spot on.


7
Imagine a club where nobody came.

Or one where the revellers became spectators, watching the spectacle
from the edge of the deserted
dance-floor, restrained by the formality of their seats but their
hearts skipping a beat with every new pulse-beat and piece of
choreographed machinery.

Robbie Thomson seems to have done with Ecstatic Arc his brand new sound
and motion installation for Sonica, which necessitates ear-plugs being
handed out at the door of Tramway 4's smaller space as they would be at
a My Bloody Valentine or Merzbow gig.

Unless you were standing right up close to the speakers at both those
shows, however, like I did when I went to see Joy Division at a
Saturday matinee show at Eric's in Liverpool in 1979 when I was fifteen
and didn't know any better because it was the first gig I went to, you
didn't really need them.

Especially as my left ear's never been right since that Saturday
afternoon in 1979, anyway.

Even so, the club-land aesthetic being conjured up by a Prospero-like
Thomson from his place before a laptop at the front of the seating bank
is spot-on, from the slivers of dry ice being pumped in to the full-on
techno mash-up that his industrial collage morphs into later.

Using Tesla coils and electro-magnetic fields as his source, Thomson
manipulates space and time in the form of kinetic sculptures and
light-fields that zap about the room as if mapping the trail of
invisible pin-balls.

As the lights flick on and off, there are tantalising glimpses of a
cage seemingly frozen in mid-air, which, as with Samuel Beckett's
Breath, is both theatrical and sculptural at the same time.

With Thomson's hands guiding his box of tricks, it's also a playful
paradise of science-fiction style hi-tech wizardry in an adventure
playground where big-time sensuality is accelerated to the max.

Resembling a miniature diorama of the sort of light-shows neon-lit
1980s fun palaces used to stop the music for, some of what's on offer
is also a very knowing tease.

How can there be poles, for instance, without pole-dancers?

Best leave that one to the imagination in a post-modern son-et-lumiere
show that would leave the ageing rave generation pop-eyed with envy and
raring to get on the floor.


8
In another taxi – black this time – back across the city, which is full
of late-night neon-lit life now, and the driver spends the entire
journey on the phone, presumably to a pal.

With the intercom switched off, the driver's Glasgow burr drifts in and
out of hearing, his in-line patter by turns throwaway and intense as he
flits between chit-chat and conspiracy.



9
Bluebeard is an audio-visual creation by Dutch trio, the 331/3
collective, based on Bartok's Bluebeard Castle.

The castle here is a revolving cube bathed in animations which play out
nightmarish dystoptian visions of war-spattered cities as a woman tries
to navigate her way through the maze.

At times all this is unengagingly flat, at others over-whelming,
something which I find out later probably has to do with music
publishers Boosey and Hawks, who hold the copyright for Bartok, at the
very last minute refusing permission for Bluebeard's Cast;le to be
used, let alone messed about with by new-fangled concepts.

In the interval, prior to the post-show discussion, I'm chatting with
theatre producer, Susie Armitage, when we're interrupted by an
explosion of amplified noise that sounds like World war 3 has begun.

After some initial alarm, I realise my new iphone has somehow been
jolted into its game mode, and, as I can see onscreen, it actually is
imagining something on a par with such an event.

I eventually figure out how to switch it off.

Even so, after Bluebeard, it was all an oddly perfect display of sturm
und drang in miniature.


10
To the CCA, running late and racing along Sauchiehall Street in full
Friday night melee.

A black busker with a guitar poses for pictures.

On the next block, a bearded, long-haired gut plays sax like his life
depended on it.

In their own way, both buskers are re-wiring the notion of popular
entertainment, and connecting on their own terms.

Inside the upstairs auditorium of the CCA, which looks like a
wood-lined padded cell, the seats are set out in a kind of oval wrapped
around a large table full of analog kit; wires, knobs, pedals, that
sort of thing, so it resembles a Heath Robinson style sci-fi
installation.

Luke Fowler and Jean-Luc Guionnet, who previously collaborated on
Fowler's Turner nominated show at Inverleith House in Edinburgh is a
wilfully old-school reappropriation of BBC Radiophonic Workshop style
deconstruction, that seems to strip electronic dance music down to its
component parts.

It's a beguiling line of inquiry that makers it easy to spot certain
codas in their skeletal state.

Knowing how it can be put back together is an even more thrilling
prospect, albeit one here that's left tantalisingly to the imagination.


11
En route to the Mackintosh-designed Scotland Street School for Remember
Me, a miniature opera by Claudia Molitor that takes place in a school
desk.

I've already been to the CCA, to see Janek Schaefer's Extended Play
installation, Found and Aidan Moffat's Unravel, and Luke Fowler's
extended cut-up of Cornelius Cardew archive footage, Pilgrimage From
Scattered Points.

I've seen and heard all of these before, though encountering them in
the same building, it becomes like a little sonic fun palace.

Unravel is a series of recorded narratives by Moffat of 1980s
encounters played out in a juke-box type construction that attaches all
his warts and all love stories with a patina of nostalgia.

Extended Play finds a trio of Dansette record players on the floor of a
red-lit room playing out mournful melodies on 78” vinyl records on
cello, piano and violin respectively.

With each played intermittently, they create a series of new scores
based on the Polish folk song used by the BBC World Service to send
secret messages to the Polish Underground.

It's a moving experience, and carries more gravitas than anything else
in Sonica.

As for Cardew and his highly politicised Scratch Orchestra, well,
chance moves in mysterious ways, as is proven later when I’m riding the
Glasgow underground a lazy two
stops, Buchanan Street to Bridge Street, to avoid the rain.

  I flick through that day’s copy of the Guardian, and my eye catches
something about a democratic orchestra.

Like an old 78”, things do come around.

Meanwhile, I'm reading a review of the new Godspeed You Black Emperor!
album in the new Wire magazine.

The first time I saw Godspeed was in the Stills Gallery by way of the
house of Dubois in 1998 as already noted.

The most recent was at All Tomorrow's parties in Minehead at the end of
a very snowy 2010.

Aside from the blown speakers and/or plug-pulling, the aesthetic, and
the evocation of impending doom in a collapsing urban hell-hole of our
own design, awash with sub Arvo Part weeping strings and martial frum
explosions was pretty much intact.

The review talks of how the aesthetics and iconography of revolution
and apocalypse have become entertainment, as sentimental and
predictable in some ways as a pop song (I'm paraphrasing here).

I'm reminded of being taught Brecht at college, and the whole idea of
his so-called alienation effect.

Along with Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler, Brecht wrote ugly-sounding songs
to illustrate his plays.

Much of his aesthetic has been taken on by junkyard auteurs a la Tom
Waits and co, but with some back-room strip-lit razzle-dazzle instead
of political didacticism.

Our lecturer at college contrasted what Brecht was trying to do with
Suzanne Vega’s hit single, Luka.

Luka was the lead single off Vega's second album, Solitude Standing,
which, having been released in the mid 1980s, was a glossily produced
take on on the sort of coffee-house boho chic Vega had defined with her
first hit, Marlene on the Wall.

Luka was a first-person narrative told from the point of view of a
small child beaten by his/her parents.

While the lyrics were a sentimentalised form of social-realism, the
music it was wrapped up in was bland in its catchy inoffensiveness, so
you could sing along or tap a tow without ever realising what it was
about.

The Godspeed review also reminded me of Psykick Dancehall, a song by
The Fall that opened this most bloody-minded of bands second album,
Dragnet, in 1979.

Dragnet was recorded in a day, and it shows.

Like the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat, its production
revels in its muffled, no-fi splendour.

While Psykick Dancehall suggests some kind of other-worldy disco where
'they have no records', it is other words in  the song that go some way
to sum up the entire antagonistic raison d'etre of vocalist and writer
Mark E Smith, who, after thirty-five years, still leads his
ever-changing version of The Fall to places other bands fear to tread.

'They say music should be like a story of love,' Smith sneers, 'but I
wanna read a horror story.'

As with Brecht, it sounds like a manifesto, albeit one that Suzanne
Vega never read.

Remember Me is a portable rewiring of the Dido and Eurydice myths by
way of Gluck and Purcell.

Molitor looks like Cinderella en route to the ball as she operates her
Michael Bentine's Potty-Time type construction.

Cut-out shapes, pop-up books and assorted pieces of stationary play out
the epic inside the desk as manipulated by Molotor's goddess-like
presence.

At the end, Molitor whispers in each of the audience's ear as they
vacate the class-room one by one.

“Remember me when you leave,” she says.

And we do.


12
I'm sitting aside a Penny Farthing, pedalling steadily as instructed by
the voice in my head as I peer into some imaginary middle distance
which my pedal power is keeping lit.

A couple of hours ago I was on a speeding train, then a big city taxi,
racing against time, against traffic, but being caught by every rush
hour red light, in town, or at least that's how it felt.

Was all that imaginary too?

If so, how did I get here?

And why did it take so long?

Was it all down to that lost raffle ticket?

Or were they deliberately trying to keep me out?

These are the questions raised in Tales of Magical Realism: Part 2,
artist, film-maker and orchestrator of other-worldly events, Sven
Werner, whose ensemble may look like an old-time steam-punk outfit from
the impression given by the publicity shots, but whose collected
intentions are far deadlier.

Fifteen of us are led into a dark room that looks like a stable at the
back of Tramway.

We're handed a raffle ticker by a woman at the door, who checks our
respective heights as we enter.

My ticket is 131.

At the centre of the room, a ballerina dances, her centre of gravity
kept in place by the weight on the wall she's attached to.

In the far corner, a formally-dressed but dishevelled-looking band eke
out a low-slung soundtrack to the ballerina's seemingly free-form
stretchings.

In the corner opposite the band, a row of implements designed to
measure out heads is laid out on tables.

After several minutes, the double doors at the far end of the room
open, and a man and two women, again dressed formally, appear.

While the women sing some European anthem, the man calls out three
numbers, and those of us with corresponding numbers move forward, are
measured, and are led out of the room.

The sequence begins again, as the ballerina dances in her own world
while the band strike up in a different style.

After a few minutes the door opens, the man and two women enter, and
the process is repeated.

After more than  half an hour of this, there are only three of us left,
until another fifteen people enter, are measured, given raffle tickets,
and stand about.

The final two numbers of my group are called, and they go off.

I am the last remaining member of my group.

I have a train to catch shortly, and need to get away.

Three more numbers are called, all from the next group.

What is going on?

I approach the tall man who welcomed us who's now sitting on the
ground, and explain that my number has been missed.

For a moment I suspect it's deliberate, but he goes off to presumably
deal with the situation.

The ballerina and the band appear to have finished their circuit too as
well, and the band are now playing the same tune that they were when my
group of fifteen arrived.

At last, 131 is called, and myself and two others from the next group
are led through the double doors, along a corridor and into a big room
that seems to whirr with industrial motion.

Each of us are handed headphones, from which we receive instructions
from a voice that guides us through the adventure that follows which
just might be of our own making.

This, then, is the start of the show, and the last hour an elaborate
scene-setting, planting seeds and associations both visual and aural
which, in the a free-flowing hard-boiled noir-styled dream-scape that's
forever in a motion I'm propelling, makes as much sense as it ever will.

As the after-hours yarn morphs from one stopping off point to the next,
there are as many shades of Freud as there are of David Lynch in an
elaborate immersive experience that draws you further and further in.

Until, for me at least, I end up astride a Penny Farthing, pedalling
steadily as instructed by the voice in my head, with all the light and
shade that's implied.

At the end of all this, if it really is the end, I step down
unsteadily, and step out into the real night air.

With only my own internal soundtrack to call my own, I hail a taxi,
pray for green lights and a late train, and I'm gone.


A version of this essay appeared in MAP, February 2013
ends