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Showing posts from October, 2013

Maxine Peake - The Pendle Witches and The 1612 Underture

Maxine Peake had always been aware of the Pendle witch trials when she was growing up in Bolton. The actress and star of television dramas such as Silk and Shameless never expected, however, to be spending Halloween performing a politically charged spoken-word reclamation of the seventeenth century trials of nine women and one man from the north of England who were executed for apparently murdering ten people using unspecified powers of witchcraft.
Yet that's exactly what Peake will be doing tonight at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. As part of the gallery's latest after-hours event, Halloween: By Night, Peake fronts experimental electronic pop collective, The Eccentronic Research Council to perform Pendle-based spoken-word suite, 1612 Underture.
“The Pendle witches had always been part of the folklore when I was growing up,” Peake says. “No one had ever explained to me their story properly, so I just deducted there was a hill not too far away where witches on brooms…

To Sir, With Love

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars At first glance, the well-choreographed burst of jumping, jiving life from the young cast of this new stage version of E.R. Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about his experiences as a black teacher in a run-down east end London school looks like a piece of all-singing, all-dancing youth theatre. For all their brash bravura, there's something initially one-dimensional about the larger than life cockney urchins that doesn't always ring true in Mark Babych's production of Ayub Khan Din's new adaptation of Braithwaite's book for this Touring Consortium and Royal and Derngate Northampton co-production. If this rubs off on the grown-ups in the play, the over-riding lightness gradually matures into something with depth as well as warmth.
Ansu Kabia plays Ricky, an ambitious and educated Guyanese ex-pat who takes up teaching as a last resort in a post Second World War London riddled with prejudice. The school he ends up in…

Promises Promises

Menzieshill Community Centre, Dundee Four stars When mercurial school-teacher Maggie Brodie click-clacks her way into the room in her bright red shoes and attitude to match, she can't fail to make an impression, not least of all on anyone who dares to cross her. There are plenty who do in Douglas Maxwell's troubling solo play, first seen in 2010, and revived here by Dundee Rep for a tour of community venues before a stint in the Highlands care of producing partner, Eden Court, Inverness. With Maggie taking up a temporary post following a chequered past, also new to the school is a six year old Somalian girl called Rosie, who refuses to speak, and who her religious leaders say is possessed by the devil. With demons of her own to deal with, Maggie finds an affinity with Rosie, challenging what she sees as superstitious mumbo-jumbo before she discovers just how much damage a warped belief system can cause. By having Maggie recognise so much of herself in Rosie, Maxw…

Johnny McKnight - Blithe Spirit

When Johnny McKnight was a teenager, he would regularly attend the local spiritualist church with his aunties. By that time McKnight had already seen David Lean's big-screen version of Noel Coward's play, Blithe Spirit, in which Margaret Rutherford’s eccentric medium Madame Arcati inadvertently conjures up the ghost of Rex Harrison's novelist Charles Condomine's dead first wife, Elvira.
“My first live experience was going to watch psychics with my aunties at the spiritualist church,” McKnight says. “I think that's what got me into theatre. There were times when you just thought the psychic was a fraud. But there were others who were so on the money that you wonder how it could possibly be faked. There were times it was heartbreaking. Every week there'd be the same two rows of people, who'd clearly had a bad loss. It was two rows of desperate sadness looking for peace.”
McKnight's formative experiences at the spiritualist church nevertheless filtered in…

Ashley Jensen Returns to The Tron

It's more than twenty years since Ashley Jensen was last on the stage of the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Then, the Emmy nominated Annan born star of Extras and Ugly Betty was a young drama school graduate appearing in a series of new plays by the likes of Peter Arnott and and Anne Downie. Last Thursday night, however, Jensen returned to the theatre where she began her career as the figurehead of a new scheme to promote and ensure the future of Tron Participation, the theatre's multi-faceted outreach and education strand, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
In front of an invited audience, Jensen explained the importance of Tron Participation in enabling people of all ages to discover all aspects of theatre for the first time in what can often be a life-changing experience. As Tron Participation's new Archangel, Jensen also announced the Tron Angel scheme, in which supporters of the initiative can pledge donations to ensure its survival. The Tron Angels scheme a…

Cured

The Arches, Glasgow Three stars How do you get over being gay? That's not the question posed in Stef Smith's new play about one woman's coming to terms with her sexuality. It is, however, the driving force behind the people who run the sort of clinic the woman attends in the hope of 'curing' her homosexuality and getting her some apparently well-earned credit in the straight world. As Julie Hale's Susan flits between the clinic, her home life caring for her ageing mother and a burgeoning romance with a more experienced woman in Ros Philips' fluid production, beyond her initial state of denial she is forced to square up to old episodes of American sit-com The Golden Girls, the trials and tribulations of the dating game and the secrets of something the clinic calls 'heterosexual holding.' All this and a fortieth birthday to deal with too. While all this is told in a broadly comic sweep that makes such cranky institutions as the one depict…

To Sir, With Love - E.R. Braithwaite Looks Back

E.R. Braithwaite never wanted to be a school-teacher, let alone working in a run-down institution in the East End of London with what in the post Second World War environment might be described as juvenile delinquents. As a Guyanese immigrant and an ethnic minority in London, despite Braithwaite's succession of degrees from universities in Guyana, New York and Cambridge, where he gained a doctorate in physics, it was the only work he could get.

Despite initial hostilities, Braithwaite's new job became a life-changer, marking out a new path for him as a social worker and author of note. It also gave rise to Braithwaite penning one of the most enduring literary works of its era. Now, following a swinging sixties cinema treatment as well as a more recent radio adaptation of Braithwaite's auto-biographical novel, To Sir, With Love comes to the stage in an adaptation penned by Ayub Khan Din, who made waves with the big-screen adaptation of his own semi-autobiographical play, E…

Hecuba

Dundee Rep Four stars In a bombed-out wasteland, the body laid out among the rubble looks set to live on as the clamour of warfare sounds out inbetween the voices of contemporary apologists for war. It's the dead that speak first, however, as the slain Polydorus comes crawling from the wreckage in Amanda Gaughan's up close and personal production of Frank McGuinness' pared down version of Euripides' post Trojan War anti-conflict classic. It's the image of the dead that stand out overall, in fact, as Irene Macdougall's electrifying Hecuba rises up against those who sacrificed her daughter Polyxena and murdered her son in a tit for tat revenge killing that will either provoke further reprisals or else end all wars forever. While history has shown how things have actually worked out in that respect time and again, Gaughan goes for the jugular, with the actors unleashed onto Leila Kalbassi's broken breeze-block styled set like a battered nation in…

Translunar Paradise

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars William and Rose were lovers for life. When both are in the dotage, Rose dies, leaving William alone with only the ticking clock, a painful absence and a house full of memories to help get him through his own final days. Death, however, is not the end in Theatre Ad Finitum's wordless meditation on love, loss and lives lived and shared with others. Using masks, choreography and a live accordion score to provide its heartbeat, George Mann's production takes the treasured emotional totems of that life – a tea cup, a letter, a pearl necklace and a summer dress – and transports William to his youth, when every moment of his romance with Rose was a great big adventure. This is touchingly played by Mann as William alongside fellow performers and devisers, Deborah Pugh, who plays Rose, and Kim Heron who provides the score to a show first seen on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2011, and which now forms part of this year's Lumin…

Couldn't Care Less

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars In a cluttered room, a young woman called Lilly takes stock of her and her mother Elspeth's lives in this new collaboration between the young Strange Theatre company and the slightly more seasoned Plutot La Vie troupe. Where Elspeth's life was once perfectly choreographed, first as a dancer, then running a dance school, as she gets older and her mental faculties fade, she becomes ever more dependent on Lilly to look after her. High-flying career girl Lilly's own life collapses into chaos as she is forced to care for her mother full-time before Elspeth's inevitable demise. As Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt of all people suggests that care for the elderly in the UK is a '”national shame”, Alzheimer's-based plays are at a premium. This latest effort, scripted by Morna Pearson with the company and currently touring as part of the Luminate festival of creative ageing possesses a certain quirky charm in its tell…

The Gates

Summerhall, Edinburgh Three stars If a fire alarm such as the one that briefly delayed the first night of the ConFAB company's new musical theatre collaboration with Dance HQ had affected the show's subject, one suspects all involved would have merely shrugged and got on with it. Because writer/director Rachel Jury and composer Andrew Cruikshank's homage to London's legendary lesbian nightclub, The Gateways, reveals a clandestine world where standing proud and defiant was everything. In the 1950s, before gay bars and discos broke cover, the King's Road basement club was the only fun in town, be it for sharp-suited women, Chelsea bohemians or the assorted movie stars who frequented its smoky interior.
Utilising a mammoth twenty-five strong cast that includes singer/song-writer Lorna Brooks and politician Rosie Kane, plus a four-piece band led by Cruikshank on double bass, Jury and co have attempted to capture the speak-easy hedonism of The Gates via a loose-knit na…

Handel's Cross

CCA, Glasgow Three stars A man sits onstage at a candle-lit table adorned with wine goblets and other dinner party accoutrements. Dressed up in eighteenth century finery, the man could be some kind of role-playing maitre d if it weren't for the leather trousers and shades that give him more the air of the Marquis de Sade. As it turns out, both are true in Martin Lewton's new piece for Theatre North that forms part of Glasgay!'s twentieth anniversary programme. Newton comes on dressed in suit and tie in what turns out to be an approximation of a fetish dungeon in Andrew McKinnon's production, though over the next fifty minutes he will deliver his unflinchingly intimate monologue almost naked while chained to a wooden St Andrew's Cross as McKinnon himself takes on the role of the de Sade like gate-keeper. As Lewton unveils his fantasy of the man he calls Fat Handel and his imagined lust for a boy castrato, McKinnon administers assorted physical aides to…

Mounira al Solh / Sarah Forrest - CCA, Glasgow

September 28th-November 9th Thinking local and acting globally is increasingly becoming the CCA's raison d'etre. No more is this evident than in these twin solo shows by two very different artists working in film. Glasgow-based Forrest looks to Jean Paul Sartre's novel, 'Nausea' to question notions of narrative between film and text she first explored after being awarded the Margaret Tait Residency in 2012, which resulted in Forrest's film homage to Tait, that now. Al Solh, meanwhile, follows on from Dinosaurs, an investigation of independent American film-maker John Cassavetes, with an exploration of the recent Syrian immigration to Beirut following the civil war in a work that couldn't be more current.
With both artists questioning the very notion of how such big ideas can be represented on film, and with a sense of place at the heart of their work, a programme of older film-works by both artists will also be screened alongside the two new commissions.…

Dublin Theatre Festival 2013 - The Edinburgh Connection

Just like the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Dublin Theatre Festival forms part of a burgeoning festival season in Dublin, and the two-way traffic between Edinburgh and Dublin seems to be increasing every year.
While The Wooster Group's Hamlet formed part of EIF's programme this year following a stint at DTF in 2012, singer and performer Camille O'Sullivan brought her Herald Angel winning solo take on Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece for a run at Dublin's O'Reilly Theatre following its Edinburgh premiere the previous year. This was a major turning point for O'Sullivan, whose career began on the Fringe, and it's significant that two shows from this year's Edinburgh Fringe appeared at DTF. Actors Touring Company's production of David Greig's play, The Events, which opened at the Traverse, appeared at the Peacock, while Australian company CIRCA's Wunderkammer, which also picked up a Herald Angel during it&…

Amanda Gaughan Directs Hecuba in Dundee

When theatre director Amanda Gaughan looked at her TV screen recently, the news agenda was dominated by global warfare. This seemed to have been a permanent fixture, Gaughan observed, even before two hi-jacked aeroplanes flew into the World Trade Centre's twin towers in New York more than a decade ago, changing the world forever. All the more reason, then, to revive Hecuba, Euripides' classic fourth century BC anti-war play. Set after the Trojan War but before the Greeks have left Troy, Hecuba charts how the play's eponymous former queen of the now fallen city exacts a terrible revenge following the death of her daughter, Polyxena, and the murder of her son, Polydoros. “We're living in a world today where a lot of terrible crimes against humanity are taking place,” Gaughan observes, “particularly in the Middle East. That was the case as well with the Greeks, so they used myths to illustrate this and to comment on what was going on in society.” With this …

Oedipussy

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars When Oedipus poked his eyes out in one of the defining moments of classical drama, it wasn't because he got a bad review. Yet laying bare excerpts from a genuine critique of their previous show, the really rather splendid Moby Dick, is exactly how the Spymonkey company precede their self-reflexive knockabout take on Greek tragedy. Looking to retro-chic kitsch for pointers towards tackling the most dysfunctional family in theatrical history, Emma Rice's production, scripted by Carl Grose with the company, puts on the shimmery gold spandex and togas for a thrusting romp of a show that falls somewhere between Horrible Histories and Carry On Up The Thebans.
Jocasta comes on like a Barbarella out-take made flesh, the Sphinx is an afro-sporting jive-talking mamma, and assorted James Bond themes creep in and out like a sniper. All of which should make for the sort of madcap caper that the late Ken Campbell would surely approve of if it only ha…

Jazzateers – Rough 46 (Creeping Bent)

4 stars
When the decidedly non-jazz based Jazzateers reformed to play a double bill with Vic Godard reviving his 1980s swing-based set at Glasgow International (yes) Jazz Festival earlier this year, it shed some light on one of the great missing links of the original Sound of Young Scotland based around Alan Horne's Postcard Records. This re-release of the band's eponymous 1983 album, which originally appeared on what was becoming an increasingly pop-based Rough Trade about to unleash the Smiths into the world, is even more overdue.
The line-up that appears here features guitarist Ian Burgoyne, bassist Keith Band and drummer Colin Auld, who founded the band in 1980 with vocalist Alison Gourley, before future Bourgie Bourgie crooner Paul Quinn took over. Main singer here, however, in the band's third incarnation, is Grahame Skinner, who would go on to front glossy white soul combo, Hipsway at a time when every designer lager TV ad under the sun was being sound-tracked by S…

Roman Ondak – Some Thing

The Common Guild, Glasgow, October 12th-December 14th
If things go in cycles, Slovakian artist Roman Ondak isn't shy about encouraging and manipulating such dizzying turns of events. Where previously he has had museum-goers mark their height on the gallery walls and broken down national barriers at the Venice Biennale by having grow through the Slovak pavilion, for his first show in Scotland thinks look a lot more personal.
Ondak will present a series of still lifes he painted when a teenager, placing them beside the original object the work was taken from. While on one level this smacks of middle-aged show and tell, there are, according to Common Guild curator Kitty Anderson, more discreetly political and philosophical intentions behind the display.
“I like the idea of exposing parts of the past which are not normally seen,” she says, “but there's also this idea about loops and cycles that keep on filtering into Ondak's work, endlessly returning to the same place.”
To co…

Dragon - Oliver Emanuel on A Beast of A Play

When playwright Oliver Emanuel was approached by artistic directors of Vox Motus theatre company Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison with a proposal for a new play, Emanuel jumped at the idea. The Glasgow-based writer of works that have included The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish and Titus and the pair behind The Infamous Brothers Davenport, The Not-So Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo and Slick had wanted to work with each other for some time, and this new idea seemed a golden opportunity for them all. For Emanuel, Edmunds and Harrison's brief sounded particularly enticing.
“They said, we want to do something about a twelve-year old boy who's grieving for his mother,” Emanuel says of that initial conversation. “Oh, they said, and we want there to be a dragon. Oh, and we want it to be done without words.”
Three years on, the end result of that conversation is Dragon, a collaboration between Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Chinese company, the Tianjin People&#…

In Time O' Strife

Pathhead Halls, Kirkcaldy
Five stars
The bar is open, the tables are out and the band are playing like
dervishes at a living-room hoolie as the audience file into the
community hall where Joe Corrie's grim realist play about the effects
of the seven month miner's strike that followed the 1926 General Strike
had on the Fife pit-head community. A framed picture of Corrie hangs
above the serving hatch and there's a speak-easy vibe to proceedings.
When a little girl stands at the microphone after fiddler Jennifer
Reeve has introduced Corrie's play and starts singing sweetly about
hanging black-legs before the seven-strong cast of this thrilling new
take on the play dance in vigorous unison to a thunderous indie-folk
arrangement of one of Corrie's songs, you know it's as vitally
contemporary and as far removed from old-time melodrama as is possible.

Director and adaptor Graham McLaren has put music and dance at the
play's heart, with a live soundtrack, composed and…

Fiddler on the Roof

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars When Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein's Russia-set musical first appeared in 1964, the world, and America in particular, was waking up to a tidal wave of dissent. Women were being liberated, revolution was in the air and young people were speaking their minds, especially to their parents. All of this is reflected in the narrative about small-town milkman Tevye's travails in marrying his daughters off at the turn of the century fag-end of the Czarist regime, if not always in Craig Revel Horwood's new production for the Music & Lyrics company in association with the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.
The first half especially feels particularly cartoonish, as a largely young cast try too hard to be funny where subtlety and depth are required to make the humour really work. Things are on much surer ground with the song and dance routines, which are delivered by a cast who play instruments onstage, an inventive and effectiv…

Live_Transmission – Joy Division Reworked

Usher Hall, Edinburgh Four stars For those who actually saw Joy Division, the Mancunian post-punk quartet who were still on the margins at the time of lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide in 1980, which put an abrupt end to the band's brief four year existence, the industry that has grown up around them and their record label Factory has been bewildering to watch. Books, films, cover versions and increasingly ludicrous merchandise abound, while Joy Division bassist Peter Hook and his band The Light have performed both the band's albums in full. This epic electro-orchestral deconstruction of Joy Division's austere and urgent canon, however, might well have been something the band's late producer Martin Hannett dreamt up.
Electronic auteur Scanner, the thirty-strong Heritage Orchestra plus drummer Adam Betts and guitarist Matt Calvert from post-rock instrumentalists Three Trapped Tigers and Ghostpoet bassist John Calvert perform an eighty-minute suite that takes Joy Divi…

In Time O' Strife - Graham McLaren on Joe Corrie's Lost Classic

If history had worked out differently, Joe Corrie's 1926 play, In Time O' Strife, would be a staple of the international dramatic repertoire, spoken of with the same sense of reverence as early twentieth century peers such as J.M. Synge and Sean O'Casey. As it is, both Corrie and his gritty study of a Fife mining family's hardships during the General Strike that took place the year the play was written have all but been airbrushed out of that history. The last major revival of In Time O' Strife was in 1982, when John McGrath's 7:84 company rescued it from obscurity and presented it at the Citizens Theatre as part of the company's Clydebuilt season of plays. It was a season that also included included Ena Lamont Stewart's equally neglected working class epic, Men Should Weep.
This week, however, director Graham McLaren takes Joe Corrie home to Fife in a brand new take on In Time O' Strife for the National Theatre of Scotland. Rather than stick to th…

Paul Michael Glaser - Fiddler on the Roof

Things have come full circle for Paul Michael Glaser. As a young actor in the 1960s Glaser was appearing in a play in a New York theatre next door to where Fiddler on the Roof was playing. Glaser happened to be dating one of the Fiddler on the Roof cast, and each night once his show finished would race next door and watch the last five minutes of her show.
A few years later, Glaser's first film role came in Norman Jewison's 1971 big-screen adaptation of Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein's Russian-set musical, which saw Chaim Topol recreate the lead role of Tevye the milkman, which he first played in the 1967 West End production following Zero Mostel's turn on Broadway. Glaser played Perchik, the Bolshevik revolutionary who falls for one of Tevye's five daughters. Now forty-two years on, Glaser is stepping into Topol's shoes to tackle the role of Tevye in a new touring revival which arrives in Edinburgh this week.
“He's a wonderful character t…