Friday, 31 January 2014

Leave Your Shoes At The Door - Jo Ronan and BloodWater Theatre

Once upon a time, fringe theatre was alternative in both form and 
content. Radical collectives brought together by one form of 
counter-cultural ideology or another attempted to change the world with 
non-hierarchical structures which they attempted to implement both in 
the rehearsal room and the office, if they had one. The rise of 
free-market economics and the allure of public funding forced such 
companies to professionalise in a way that may have allowed them to 
join the party, but which arguably neutered the whole notion of 
alternative and fringe theatre entirely.

Such notions of the contradictions inherent in the system interested 
theatre-maker Jo Ronan when she worked for various theatre companies in 
the 1990s, when, despite a seemingly radical agenda in terms of 
productions, the accepted hierarchies and pecking orders remained in 
place. Several years on, such ideas of what it means to make truly 
collaborative theatre are explored in Leave Your Shoes At The Door, a 
work which aims to challenge old-fashioned hierarchies in a number of 

“When I started my Ph.D.,” Ronan explains, “the bee in my bonnet was 
how the idea of collaboration in theatre is used very pervasively now. 
There was a time when some companies' work was all about being 
political, but the question that needs to be asked is how can you 
politicise the making of the work, so that the process of making 
theatre becomes synonymous with the end product? So let's forget about 
context. Let's try and make the work genuinely collaboratively, so the 
audiences see how and why we do it, and what pedagogies are required to 
make that shift, but do it in an entertaining fashion.”

The roots of Leave Your Shoes At The Door date back to 2010, when Ronan 
first began to look into collaborative practice in a way that took it 
beyond the academic to something that looked more outwards than some 
research projects. Ronan subsequently gathered around her a group of 
theatre artists interested in exploring such an approach. As BloodWater 
Theatre, the group presented Whose Story Is It Anyway?, a work in 
progress seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.

While the desire to work outwith the normal theatre infrastructure 
continued, there were also more pragmatic concerns. People in the group 
needed to earn money, while some of the company moved away from 
Glasgow. It is for such reasons that it has taken more than two years 
for Ronan and BlackWater to move things on to the second stage that 
Leave Your Shoes At The Door effectively forms.

“It's been very time consuming,” says Ronan, “but we really wanted to 
try and work differently from the models that exist, so we've made it 
in our own time and on our own terms, but hopefully in a way that 
interests the audience.”

The conceit of Leave Your Shoes At The Door finds Ronan and the 
performers from BloodWater playing a fictional theatre company who, 
like BloodWater, reconvene after some time apart to continue an 
exploratory way of working. While the show's mix of filmed and live 
action sounds self-referential, Ronan and co are actually proposing 
something that's little short of a revolutionary way of working. This 
includes the ticketing of the show, with the company asking the 
audience to pay what they can, from zero upwards.

“What we are trying to do is to make a piece of work that we all have a 
stake in,” Ronan explains, “and we hope that what we've come up with 
will interest an audience enough to make them think and feel about the 
relationship between process and product. Are audiences interested in 
the process of making a show, or is the end result enough?”

Where all this leads to in the long term remains to be seen. This is 
something again which will be decided collaboratively.

“Beyond this we have to ask our focus groups and our audience whether 
there is a point in pursuing all this as a company,” Ronan says. 
“That's a very difficult question to be answer, but the more important 
thing is to ask the people inn BloodWater what they want to do. Do 
BloodWater want to stay together and continue working in this way, or 
have we taken things as far as we can go?

Leave Your Shoes At The Door, CCA, Glasgow, January 31st, 3pm and 

The Herald, January 31st 2014



Kilmardinny Arts Centre, Bearsden
Four stars
Local heroes come in many guises. Most of them are in this brand new 
ceilidh play, ostensibly written and directed by Kieran Hurley, but, as 
is made clear from the off, with crucial artistic input from fellow 
performers Gav Prentice, Julia Taudevin and Drew Wright. The quartet 
are already mucking about as the audience enter designer Lisa 
Sangster's cosy replication of a Scotch sitting room, singing and 
playing folk songs old and new.

Once the four have set out their store, they introduce us to a set of 
individuals, each of whom in their own way in search of something or 
somewhere to belong to. On one level, the fact that both these brave 
new worlds might just be called Scotland is incidental. Yet such sense 
of place is also crucial to Howard the Braveheart-weaned American, 
Miriam the bus-riding immigrant, MacPherson the Methill drunk and all 
the others who map out a small nation on the verge of something or 

In the wrong hands such characters as the supermarket check-out girl 
set on reinventing Luddism and the boy leaving the island for the city 
might easily have ended up as cartoon stereotypes in a tartanised take 
on Little Britain. What emerges through story and song in Hurley's 
National Theatre of Scotland production that will tour the length and 
breadth of the country following its initial run at the Arches last 
year, is a dramatic collage of a fractured nation in flux. The stories 
are by turns funny, poignant and gloriously internationalist in tone, 
and when MacPherson finally finds his lost keys, it's an all too sober 
symbol of a world of possibilities waiting to be unlocked.

The Herald, January 31st 2013



Edinburgh Playhouse
Four stars
First ladies have been much in the news of late. Yet the contemporary 
soap opera allure of these sometime powers behind the thrones of male 
politicians is mere tittle-tattle compared to the dramatic life of Eva 
Peron. Lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber were clearly 
drawn to such interesting lives, as both Joseph and the Amazing 
Technicolour Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar had made clear. 
Almost forty years after the pair's final and greatest collaboration, 
Evita remains both of its time and profoundly prophetic in its 
depiction of one woman's unflinching ambition and her ascent to 

The brush-strokes may be broad in Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright's fine 
touring production, but is full of well-choreographed nuance as it 
flits through Argentina's volatile mid twentieth century history that 
so shaped Eva before it killed her. As played by a vibrant Madalena 
Alberto, Eva has a drive to escape her humble roots that's akin to 
Margaret Thatcher, yet who captures peoples hearts in a way that only 
the likes of Princess Diana has done since.

Making Che Guevara the show's narrator was always a stroke of genius. 
Like Eva, Che was an iconic pin-up, particularly to Lloyd Webber and 
Rice's generation, and having real life former pop star Marti Pellow 
don Che's beret as the conscience of the masses is equally inspired. 
While Rice's words can sound very much of their time, the ennui of 
songs such as Another Suitcase In Another Hall, High Flying Adored and 
Alberto's show-stopping take on Don't Cry For Me Argentina is in no way 
diminished in a show that's about glamour, power and how the pursuit of 
both inevitably corrupts.

The Herald, January 31st 2013


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Twelfth Night

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
When Shakespeare wrote the lines that opens his island-set rom-com 
about how “If music be the food of love, give me excess of it,” it's 
unlikely that he envisaged a free jazz cacophony to accompany Orsino's 
attempts to make order of the words he's just plucked from the air, all 
while sipping a cup of tea. Yet that's exactly how Sean Holmes' 
long-running production of Twelfth Night begins in an audacious 
sound-led production for the inventive Filter company.

What follows is a fast-moving ninety-minute romp that's more akin to 
1980s alternative cabaret or the sort of comic free-for-alls pioneered 
by the late Ken Campbell's Roadshow, but which somehow manages to keep 
the essence of its source intact.

So the storm is reported on the Shipping Forecast heard on a transistor 
radio, while clothes and hats are borrowed from the audience to allow 
Sarah Belcher's shipwrecked Viola to transform herself into Cesario. 
There's a contest of sorts as the audience attempt to lob bobbles onto 
Aguecheek's Velcroed-up head-gear, while the entire front row are led 
onstage in a conga prior to a pizza delivery and a tequila tasting. 
Fergus O'Donnell's lust-driven Malvolio, meanwhile, strips down to a 
pair of tight golden pants to accompany his yellow socks.

Originally commissioned for the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2006 
Complete Works season and re-directed for this latest tour by Filter's 
Oliver Dinsdale and Ferdy Roberts, the show is performed by a cast of 
six, who augment the live band that play Tom Haines and Ross Hughes' 
live score. This  is deconstruction at its most appealingly madcap, 
which ends with a quasi-swing finale that suggests the party has only 
just begun.

The Herald, January 30th 2013


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Kieran Hurley - Rantin

It's a cosy scene in the Glasgow-based Glue Factory complex, where 
Kieran Hurley is rehearsing Rantin',  the writer/performer's ambitious 
but still intimate look at the state of Scotland's assorted nations and 
the people who live in therm. There are lamps and tables on the rug of 
a living-room set-up lined with piles of books and records as assorted 
characters pass through, playing out their stories and looking for a 
place to call their own.

The writer of rave generation meditation, Beats, and the 2011 London 
riots based Chalk Farm is himself onstage alongside that play's 
co-writer, playwright/performer Julia Taudevin. Also on board are 
nouveau folk musicians and singer/song-writers Drew Wright, aka Wounded 
Knee, and Over The Wall's Gav Prentice, who tell other stories through 
songs that are integral to the assorted narratives that criss-cross 
their way.

Ranging from a drunk lying face down on the floor to a tartan-obsessed 
man on a plane, the stories the Rantin' quartet tell could be about 
anyone, anywhere, right now. Yet, as Hurley's show, originally seen as 
part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Auteurs season of works in 
progress at the Arches' Behaviour festival, begins a national tour of 
one night stands in some of the country's less sung towns, a sense of 
place is integral to the work.

“I'd noticed that I'd been using music a lot in my work,” Hurley says 
of the roots of Rantin'. “In my show, Hitch, there was originally a 
band. In Beats it was much more explicit, with a DJ onstage. So I was 
interested in how I might push that further, using live music in 
relation to story-telling, and in relation to creating a sense of 
community, though I didn't want to make a musical as such.”

Hurley started working first with Prentice, with whom he found much 
common ground.

“We noticed a lot of overlap between each other's work,” Hurley says. 
“Gav's got an album called The Invisible Hand, which is really about 
ideas to do with the loss of practices and communities of solidarity in 
working class post-industrial Scotland, which is the same stuff that 
Beats is about. When we started playing around with what became 
Rantin', because of a lot of what was on our minds in terms of making 
it an exploration of Scotland, 7:84's The Cheviot, The Stag and the
Black Black Oil became a reference point, and I started thinking of 
Rantin' as a kind of ceilidh play, and what a twenty-first century 
politicised ceilidh play look like.”

At this point, Tauvedin and Wright became involved in what gradually 
took shape as Rantin'.

“In many ways it's about Scottish identity,” Hurley says, “and about 
destabilising the idea that there could be one singular or central 
concept of any national identity. We're calling Scotland a mongrel
nation in the play, which the ceilidh play form fits in quite well 
with. There's lots of different fragments, which glance off each other 
in ways that are slightly conflicting. There's a destabilised sense of 
there being any singular narrative, and that works quite well for 
exploring plurality, which is a big theme in the show.

“But the show's also about the other lines that divide us that aren't 
necessarily lines of nationhood or border, nut are lines of class and 
economics. Despite the conceit of the show being about Scotland, and 
imagining a map of Scotland at the beginning of the show, those 
dividing lines of class and economics are probably more important. 
They're the lines that really divide people in the picture of Scotland 
that we attempt to draw. The word 'nationalism' sits difficult with a 
lot of us on the left, who intuitively aren't natural bedfellows with 

Beyond it's politics, Rantin' sounds like a neat sleight of hand, 
whereby something radical is presented in a form that is reassuringly 

“In many way ways it's just a variety show,” Hurley says. “ There's 
songs, there's stories, there's sketches, there's scenes. It's no more 
complicated than that. But the dramatic arc, if there is one, comes out 
of the stories that we keep returning to. There are three of them we 
return to more than once, as well as four more stand-alone set-piece. 
There are a lot of one-sentence stories in-between as well, that try 
and give a continual idea of multiplicity.

“The idea is that all these stories are playing out across Scotland in 
real time as we sit in this theatre, and which we zoom in and out of to 
say what is happening. It's an attempt to present a fragmented portrait 
of a nation, which is obviously impossible, to paint anything like a 
complete picture. That fragmented nature of it, the incompleteness of 
it and the fact that what it's dealing with is too big to put into a 
theatre show becomes part of what the show's about.”

One thing Rantin' most definitely isn't is a polemic. Nor, despite its 
appearance in 2014, is it a piece of propaganda for the forthcoming 
independence referendum in September. This is something Hurley can't 
stress strongly enough.

“All of us who've made the show feel really strongly that Rantin' is a 
piece that will have as much to say about Scotland in 2015 as it does 
now,” he says, “ regardless of which way the vote goes. We've all got 
our different personal voting intentions, but it's important that the 
show's not about the referendum, and that the show is about Scotland, 
but isn't framed by that question.

“However, it's also important to us that the show is happening around 
the time of the referendum, because even though the referendum is one 
binary question, I think it's a binary question that creates a rupture 
in the narrative of how we think about  ourselves, and which opens up a 
whole bunch of space to ask ourselves some questions that feel quite 
urgent. The amazing thing is, is that context is happening for everyone 
anyway, so we don't have to underline the questions that the referendum
is asking, because they're going to be so present in the room anyway.”

Beyond the referendum, then, Hurley recognises only too well how close 
Rantin' is thematically to his previous shows.

“They're all stories about atomised individuals who are structurally 
distant from each other and alienated from each other in an 
individualistic society,” he says, “and who have a binding need for
some sense of community and love. It's about trying to understand that 
you're part of something in a world where we feel increasingly atomised 
from each other.”

Rantin' tours this week to Cove Burgh Hall, tonight; Kilmardinny Arts 
Centre, Bearsden, tomorrow; Carmichael Hall, Eastwood, Friday; Beacon 
Arts Centre, Greenock, Saturday. For further tour dates see

Kieran Hurley – Reinventing radical theatre.

Kieran Hurley studied Theatre Studies at the University of Glasgow 
before writing and creating a series of shows which he also performed.

Forming a close attachment with the Arches in Glasgow, Hurley first 
came to prominence with Hitch, which recounted his experiences when he 
hitch-hiked to the G8 summit in L'Aquila.

Hitched also marked the beginning of Hurley's ongoing exploration of 
the relationship between the personal and the political, and the search 
for a sense of identity with both.

This theme continued with Beats, a piece of rave generation 
story-telling that in part charted a generation's politicisation in 
response to the Criminal Justice Bill, which was an attempt to outlaw a 
form of music the government saw as a threat.

Hurley performed Beats with a live DJ onstage, and the play went on to 
win the Critics Awards For Theatre in Scotland Best New Play award.

The starting point for Chalk Farm was the London  riots of 2011, and 
the play looks at a high-rise dwelling mother and son's response to 
such incendiary events.

Hurley is an associate artist with Forest Fringe, and is currently on a 
year-long attachment with the National Theatre of Scotland as recipient 
of the Pearson Playwrights’ Scheme bursary.

The Herald, January 28th 2014


Sunday, 26 January 2014

Louise Brealey - From Sherlock to Miss Julie

Two weeks ago, Louise Brealey was on a train coming up to Glasgow to begin rehearsals in the title role of Miss Julie at the city's Gorbals-based Citizens Theatre. Sitting opposite the quietly dynamic actress was a young woman who, without warning, asked her what it was like kissing Benedict Cumberbatch. The woman was referring to the now legendary scene in the first episode of the third series of Sherlock, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss' twenty-first century reboot of Arthur Conan Doyle's equally seminal detective stories.

In the programme, Brealey plays mousily put-upon pathologist Molly Hooper, whose massive crush on Sherlock, played by Cumberbatch as a dashingly dysfunctional socio-path, has slowly captured the viewers imaginations. With Sherlock apparently returning from the dead in this season, one of a myriad of possible explanations for his resurrection saw Cumberbatch crash heroically through the windows of Molly's St Bart's Hospital lab and fall into her arms for an almighty snog destined to become one of the programme's defining moments.

Brealey's response to her interrogator was blasé, before she “looked shifty”, as she put it on her Twitter feed, which at the time had some 64,000 followers. Once the final episode had aired, that figure had almost doubled to 125,000 plus.

Brealey is sat in the Citz foyer, on a break from rehearsals of Zinnie Harris' 1920s-set version of August Strindberg's iconic play. Dressed in a green shirt worn over a long-sleeved grey vest and jeans, and with her long brown hair tied back when she's not fidgeting with it, Brealey ponders the response to both the kiss and a scene in the final episode when Molly thumped Sherlock after he was found in a drug den.

“My Twitter basically broke,” Brealey laughs, “and I kept on having to reboot it, because I think in the end there was something like seven thousand people tweeting me asking about the slap that I delivered to Benedict's lovely face at the beginning of the episode.”

After the similar reaction to the kiss, Brealey should maybe have expected it.

“Obviously everyone adores Benedict,” she says, “and it was such a James Bondy moment, but I was standing on a crash-mat, so was slightly unstable. In one take I actually fell off the crash-mat. I slowly slid off like Del-Boy going through the bar.

“But you don't often get to do fantasy shots like that. In the script it was just a James Bond style clinch, but I really wanted it to be a proper snog and not a peck. In one take Benedict did the hair ruffle to get the glass out, and in the next take he didn't do it, and I was like, 'Put the ruffle back in. It's really hot!'

“There were all the usual anxieties about what I've been eating, so I was getting chewing gum off the crew and everything, but it looks good, though, doesn't it?”

Brealey isn't showing off when she says this. Rather, her tone is one of utter fan-girl glee, albeit a fan-girl who got to do what most of the show's female populace would like to do. Several times at that.

“Within I think a minute of a half of that kiss I had something like six thousand new followers on Twitter,” she says, “and I had thousands of tweets that night. That's the great thing about Twitter. It sort of turns telly into theatre for an actor, because it's this feedback loop without any filter, and people can say something's brilliant or shit instantaneously.

“One of the reasons Molly works is that women who love or fancy Benedict can quite easily imagine themselves as her, so, of course, when he snogged her, they all just...” she pauses, “lost their shit. It was such a collective...” she squeaks to illustrate, “because no-one was expecting it.”

While Brealey seems both bemused and quietly amused about the attention that has winged her way since she started playing Molly, she takes a certain amount of responsibility for both her and Molly's fan-base to the extent of defending them when they're called geeks.

“I don't think of fans as geeks,” she says, “and also I don't think of being a geek as a negative, because I'm a geek, but this groundswell of what they call fandom I think is brilliant, because it means there's this international fanbase which works in the same way as Dr Who, who are still talking about the show after two years, and are keeping the ball in the air. Their enthusiasm, writing stuff and sending pictures, their passion and creativity I find genuinely inspiring.

“It's interesting on Twitter, because I've got quite a lot of young women following me, and it's great to be able to have a dialogue with them. I'm a feminist, so it's great to be able to prattle on about feminist things. Bizarrely I find myself suddenly a role model for some of these girls. At first it was hilarious, thinking how can I be a role model, which sounded like a terrifying prospect for them, rather than me. They ask all sorts of things, and occasionally ask something to do with sexual politics, and I can say, you know, you don't have to shave your hair off if you don't want to. You don't have to do anything you don't want to. Just be your own woman.

“All that stuff about thigh gaps, and all that stupid shit like that that's emblematic of the pressures young women are under even more than when I was young. I can say fuck the thigh gap, and people go, oh, maybe that is okay, then. Even just to have one contrary voice in that sea of voices telling them to be thinner, or they've got to have perfect flawless skin and have no body-hair or no-one will date them... I wasted so much time when I was younger worrying about fat legs. Fuck it. It's bollocks.

“It's funny that's happened, and I don't want to come over all po-faced, because ultimately Sherlock is just entertainment, but if I can, I want to try and set a good example.”

Brealey hunches into herself as she talks, keeping her arms wrapped in tight. Navigating her way through an idea, she scrunches her face up, her voice dropping to an almost inaudible level, only to whirl around and offset everything with a dirty giggle that's almost a yelp.

This mix of a shy but steely intelligence punctured by extrovert flashes may have something to do with Brealey's training. She studied both at the Lee Strasberg Institute, the spiritual home of method acting in New York, as well as with master French clown, Philippe Gaulier. This followed a history degree at Cambridge, where she studiously avoided the university drama set.

“I played football and drank,” she says. “I went for one audition and panicked in the queue, and literally crawled out of the church they were auditioning in. I crouched sown and walked out of the room like a strange frog. Also, it was quite cliquey, all that, and I didn't have the confidence to feel like I could be part of it.”

Brealey became an arts journalist, interviewing the likes of Liv Tyler and the Pet Shop Boys and for publications such as Total Film, The Face and Wonderland, where she was deputy editor.

“I think people quite a lot get into careers right next to the one they really want to do,” she says. “That happens a lot in the creative industries, and it happened to me without me really realising it. I'd always wanted to act, but I'd been too afraid to try it and really stick my neck out and risk failing or whatever. Then I decided I didn't want to end up being forty and wishing I'd done it.”

Brealey's first professional job was playing a gobby fourteen year old schoolgirl in Judy Upton's play, Sliding With Suzanne, directed by Max Stafford-Clark. A couple of years in Casualty followed, after which she toured America and Russia in Dennis Kelly's play, After The End, played Sonya in Peter Hall's production of Uncle Vanya, and appeared at the Traverse in Edinburgh in Simon Stephens' post 7/7 play, Pornography. She was the Mayor's sex-mad daughter in The Government Inspector, and in 2012 performed naked as Helen of Troy in The Trojan Women.

Brealey isn't sure where she got the initial impetus to act from. It wasn't from her family in Northamptonshire, although “I think I must have got some love and attention as a small person by doing some acting at some point, and it just lodged itself in my subconscious.

“When I was a little girl, about eight, I auditioned for the school play. They were doing Snow White, and I auditioned for the Wicked Witch, and then the teacher came up to me and asked if I'd like to play Snow White, and I asked who was playing Prince Charming.”

Such precociousness has clearly held Brealey in good stead for Sherlock.

“Molly's funny,” she says, sounding like a supportive sister, “but I think it's perfectly possible for someone to be so in love with someone that they make a massive twat of themselves, while being intelligent, loyal, full of dignity and capable of standing up for themselves. It's absolutely wonderful gazing longingly at Benedict for a couple of scenes, but you have to go somewhere with it, otherwise it's just, oh, there's Molly pulling her longing face again. Which I can happily do, but it's nice to do other stuff too.”

Recent accusations by a tabloid newspaper of Sherlock having 'left-wing bias' passed Brealey by. Once informed about them, however, she makes her views plain.

“Good,” she says. “I'm a socialist, so I'm quite happy if it does, especially when you've got rampant Tory propaganda like Benefits Street going on. But honestly,” she laughs, “I don't know where they could have spotted that. It wasn't something I spotted, but that would be marvellous. I would be proud to be involved in a left-wing drama.”

Miss Julie may not quite be that, but Strindberg's sexual cat and mouse game between an aristocratic young woman and the servant she grew up with is certainly getting there.

“It’s one of the great parts written for a woman,” she says. “Zinnie's focused on the sexual politics of the play, and we're looking at what happens when boundaries are transgressed, and the things that hold society together are broken for a moment. It's about these two people who have this thing between them, and negotiating what that is. Once Julie's allowed something to happen with this sexual attraction, what does that mean, and can you go back to where you were before? If you're friends with someone and have sex with them, can it ever be the same again?

“Zinnie's moved the play forty years into the future from when it was originally set, and I think just that tiny shift and hopping over into the 1900 mark makes it more contemporary, and makes the whole thing for me resonate more as a story. It's set on midsummer as well, which is difficult to imagine in the middle of January, so there's that whole sense of opening a shirt, and your hair's all damp at the nape of your neck, and there's this atmosphere at the beginning of the play, so I'll be wearing a lot of thermals under my costume to give my little body the impression of warmth.”

Beyond such hidden layers, Brealey is still finding her way into Julie.

“She's unconventional is the short answer,” Brealey says. “I really haven't worked out who she is yet because we're effectively on day one of rehearsals, and I don't like to put too much down beforehand because otherwise you end up closing down possibilities, but she's a very unconventional woman. Strindberg is a great contradictionist in the literary world, in that some of the things he says about women makes him misogynist, and yet he's written this extraordinary woman.

“I'm a feminist, and it's interesting reading Strindberg's preface to the play, where he talks about Julie as a half-woman, a man-hater and a degenerate as a type that can't survive in the real world, because they will always come up against failure when it comes to trying to be equal. But you have to remember just how shocking the play was for its time. These people in the play are talking about sex. They have sex.

“It's quite interesting when he talks about this love or whatever it is that flares between them. He talks about a hyacinth, and how it has to grow its roots in darkness, because I'd forgotten when I put this hyacinth I'd bought in the cupboard at home with a vase of water. It has to grow in the dark, and then it blooms really quickly, and I think that's a really lovely way of looking at what happens between them. It grows in secret, flashes up, and is gone or not gone.”

A friend recently told Brealey about the steamy South African take on Miss Julie that dazzled Edinburgh audiences a couple of years back.

“They told me it was completely filthy,” she laughs, “and I just said mine won't be anything like that. Obviously she'll be wildly sexy,” she deadpans, followed by a self-mocking “Hmm. That's not going to come over in print, is it? I'm going to sound like a twat.”

Brealey doesn't take anything for granted as an actor. Despite the Sherlock factor, she's aware of the fickleness of her profession from first-hand experience. Out of work after the first series of Sherlock, she ended up as a researcher for TV documentaries, and created The Charles Dickens Show, a mock chat-show in which Dickens' characters appeared on the sofa.

“It suited my magpie brain,” she says, “but acting is my first love, and it's a jealous lover at that. You can't just leave it. I've been incredibly lucky, but you have to be incredibly careful about thinking that acting makes you happy, because acting doesn't make you happy. Nothing makes you happy, actually. You've got to try and make yourself happy. Now I've learnt that ,it makes it easier. When the phone doesn't ring, if you let that make you feel unwanted, then you're on a hiding to nowhere.

“Also, there's no point of arrival in acting. You don't get somewhere and that's it. I remember being quite wide-eyed, and interviewing Minnie Driver, and I asked her what was it like in Hollywood, and she said, well, I'm losing parts to Gwyneth Paltrow, who used to lose them to Tara Fitzgerald. You don't get rewarded for being good. It's all about luck. There are so many good actors who don't work, and there are so few good parts for women, so you have to do it for yourself, or learn to do it for yourself, and that's what's changed for me, not letting whether the phone rings or not make me feel like I'm a good person, or make me feel like I'm happy.

“Sometimes when you're thinking about where a particular job can get you career-wise, you can end up missing the actual job you're doing. I was certainly like that when I started out, but I'm not anymore. I'm happy to work with nice people. Of course you want to work with people who make your mind light up, and who push and challenge and make your work better. That's a given. But I don't want to work with brilliant wankers. Life's too short.”

Last year Brealey wrote a play, Pope Joan, for the National Youth Theatre, about the legend of the ninth century female pontiff.

“I'm so glad I did it,” she says, “but it cost me a lot. It was very exposing, and there wasn't enough time to write it, but I learnt a very valuable lesson.”

Taking her clothes off as Helen was even more exposing.

“It was amazing to do that,” she says, “because I don't run round in the nuddy as a rule, and it was quite hard to do in a room as small as the Gate, which only holds seventy people. You're only six or seven feet from the nearest person, and you're going, look at me, I'm beautiful, and you've got your bum out.”

If Brealey seems to thrive on pushing herself in this way, playing Sonya was another learning curve.

“I would play her again in a heartbeat,” she says. “I think that part really made me a stage actress. I learnt so much from that job, but in a way, in terms of unrequited love, Molly is sort a mini TV Sonya.”

Ah, Molly again.

“Molly's opened up all sorts of doors for me, but I've been offered about ten secretaries who are in love with their boss, and I've turned stuff down. After Molly I need to play someone who's a complete gun-toting megalomaniac.

“It's funny, isn't it,” she says, “about ambition, because it's a dirty word, especially for women, but I just want to learn. The thing about acting, and it's hard to say without sounding like a twat, but with the best jobs, you learn to be a better person as well as a better actor.”

Miss Julie, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, February 6-15

A version of this article appeared in The Herald, January 25th 2014


Amiri Baraka

Poet, playwright, political activist, critic

Born October 7 1934; died January 9 2014

When Amiri Baraka, who has died aged 79 following a month in hospital, 
came to Glasgow in 2013 to speak and perform at the Freedom Is A 
Constant Struggle event, organised by left-field arts promoters, Arika, 
he brought with him a spirit of radicalism which a younger generation 
of artists and activists was hungry for. Sharing a platform with fellow 
poets Fred Moten and Sonia Sanchez and jazz musicians Henry Grimes and 
Wadada Leo Smith, here was a rare opportunity to witness a living 
embodiment of the links between black-powered art-forms and 
revolutionary politics that the event explored.

Baraka had been at the frontline of this all of his life, be it as a 
young poet and magazine editor in Beat era Greenwich Village when he 
was still known as LeRoi Jones, as an acclaimed playwright whose play, 
Dutchman, won an Obie award in 1964, or as a figurehead of the Black 
Arts Movement calling for 'poems that kill'. In later years, Baraka 
served as Poet Laureate of New Jersey, until his poem, Somebody Blew Up 
America, which questioned who knew in advance about the 9/11 attack on 
the World Trade Centre ten months before, caused the post to be 
abolished. Even that, however, wouldn't silence Baraka, and he 
published and spoke out unabated until the end.

Baraka was born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey, where he 
attended Barringer High School before winning a scholarship to Rutgers 
University. Already feeling displaced by the dominant culture, Jones 
transferred to Howard University, but, as with the other academic 
institutions that followed, never graduated.

In 1954, Jones joined the US Air Force, but was dishonourably 
discharged after Soviet writings were discovered in his possession 
following an anonymous letter sent to his superiors that accused him of 
being a communist. Jones found a more accommodating habitat in 
Greenwich Village, where he discovered jazz and the Beat generation, 
and with his first wife, Hettie Cohen, published work by the Beat 
greats in their literary magazine, Yugen. Jones wrote for and edited 
Kulchu! with poet Diane di Prima, with whom Jones co-founded the New 
York Poets Theatre.

Jones' first poetry collection, Preface To A Twenty Volume Suicide 
Note, was published in 1961. This was followed in 1962 by Blues People: 
Negro Music in White America, while his play, Dutchman, in which a 
white woman accosts a black man on the subway, appeared in 1964. It was 
filmed three years later.

The assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 saw Jones move to Harlem and 
become immersed in the volatile politics of the era via the Black Arts 
Movement that saw poetry as a weapon against white oppression. In his 
poem, Black Art, Jones advocated ‘poems that kill. /Assassin poems, 
Poems that shoot /guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys /and take 
their weapons leaving them dead /with tongues pulled out and sent to 

In 1966, Jones married his second wife, Sylvia Robinson, and lectured 
at San Francisco State University. A book of jazz criticism, Black 
Music, was the last published under his original name, after becoming 
captivated by the philosophy of Kawaida. Under its influence, Jones 
first became Imamu Amear Baraka, modifying it to Amira Baraka.

Baraka later separated from the Black Arts Movement, became a Marxist 
and lectured extensively inbetween writing and supporting third-world 
liberation movements. While some of Baraka's early works had left him 
open to accusations of misogyny, homophobia and anti-Semitism, the 
1980s saw him share a platform with Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison at a 
commemoration ceremony for James Baldwin. Perhaps Baraka's greatest 
controversy came with Somebody Blew Up America, which he denied was 
anti-Semitic. In defiant response to the abolishment of the state poet 
laureate post, Baraka was appointed poet laureate of Newark Public 
Schools at the end of December 2002. This was one of numerous literary honours bestowed upon him.

Over the course of his life, Baraka penned twelve volumes of poetry, 
several collections of plays and thirteen prose works, three fiction, 
ten non-fiction. Both Baraka's writing and his activism were fired by a 
passion and an anger that grew from an early age and were defined by 
the times he lived through. Baraka may have tempered some of his views 
over the years, but he never lost sight of  the power of words as 
weapons to change the world.

"That's the point," Baraka said in an interview with the Herald prior 
to his 2013 Glasgow appearance.  "You have to try and make it that way. 
Poetry and music have to shape it. That's what the Black Arts Movement 
tried to do with it, to try and make poetry and music relevant to 
social struggle. That's what the bourgeoisie does with their ideas, 
they pump it out at people, so you have to pump it right back at them."

The Herald, January 24th 2014


Usurper – What Time Is It? 1000 Bux (Blackest Rainbow)

Four stars
Thrrp! is a 1987 comic book by Leo Baxendale, who created Minnie The Minx, The Bash Street Kids and a million other pop-eyed cartoon urchins. Published by the tellingly named Knockabout Comics, Thrrp! spins a near wordless yarn concerning twin brothers Spotty and Snotty Dick, who rid a town of 'a mysterious plague of Snotties and Bogies' by leading them out, Pied Piper fashion. With the book's title referring to the noise made by the towns-folk as they let rip en masse with particularly soggy follow-through farts, Thrrp! was hailed twenty years after its publication on Now Read This!, a blog by former chair of the Comic Creators Guild, Wim Wiacek's, as a 'gloriously gross, pantomomic splurt-fest' and 'the most lunatic slapstick to grace the music hall or comic page'.

There is something of this in Usurper, the Edinburgh-based duo of Ali Robertson and Malcy Duff, who, for a decade now since disbanding their sludge-doom-racket combo, Giant Tank, have worked with 'disabled instruments' across a plethora of Cdrs, cassettes and increasingly theatrical performances. These exercises in absurdist vaudeville have turned the pair into the Vladimir and Estragon of the Noise set, their table-top ticklings of assorted bric a brac resembling Michael Bentine's Potty Time if scripted by Reeves and Mortimer by way of sound poet Bob Cobbing and veteran vocal gymnast Phil Minton.

The two extended untitled pieces on this limited edition vinyl are more akin to self-reflexive radio pieces, as Robertson and Duff slurp, gurgle, cough and splutter their way into a series of feral routines that sound like an army of chain-ganged trolls playing pitch n' toss down the salt-mines. Rhythmic squeaks come on like out-takes from some 1970s sex farce as the vicar casts his appalled eyes ceiling-wards to where the noise is making a tit-shaped chandelier jiggle while the corners of the cucumber sandwiches wilt in unison. If there are hints of more serious punchlines beyond the things-to-make-and-do soundscape, Robertson and Duff remain spotty and snotty enough to amuse and entertain. Thrrp! to that.

The List, January 2014


1933: Eine Nacht im Kabbaret

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Three stars
It's telling that a climate of austerity has fostered a thriving alternative cabaret scene that recalls the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the same era's politics of prejudice and greed have also made a comeback. Both trends have inspired a rash of independent shoe-string theatre companies to embrace such a loose-knit aesthetic and apply it to work that is instinctively dissenting in tone.

Edinburgh's Tightlaced Theatre have done exactly that in Susanna Mulvihill's production of her own all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that looks to Berlin's Weimar era for inspiration, but which at times sounds chillingly of the moment. The setting is Anke's club on the day that Adolf Hitler has seized power. With Anke and her staff who double up as the night's acts serving drinks to the audience sat at round wooden tables, what follows feels like eavesdropping on assorted intrigues while the all night party goes on.

While hostess Simone introduces a series of subtly satirical routines performed by her 'Ratlings', who include Anke's wannabe starlet daughter, Marieke, American newshound William soaks up the scene at a table shared with his latest flame Birgit. When Anke's Nazi-smitten son Dieter shows up with his superior to survey the decadence with Captain Voehner, it marks the last gasp for a microcosm of what will follow in the world at large.

While the ghost of Cabaret looms large, Mulvihill's play remains a boisterous and acerbic look at how how hard times can cause people to look for scapegoats as they fall for extremist ideologies. Only the distraction of running several scenes concurrently mars an otherwise highly-charged political burlesque which at times feels dangerously close to home.

The Herald, January 25th 2014


Long Day's Journey Into Night

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
Light and shade are everything in Tony Cownie's new production of Eugene O'Neill's mighty quasi-autobiographical epic. This is the case from the way the house lights are kept up on the audience during the bright first act of what initially looks like an everyday family breakfast among the Tyrone clan led by the patriarchal James, to the way James' penny-pinching dimming of the living room bulbs reflects the day's ever darkening mood.

“I've never missed a performance yet,” says James at one point, and this is the case both onstage and off for an old ham whose acting career slid into mediocrity years before. James and his two sons, the feckless James Jr and the smart but consumptive Edmund are always 'on', especially when their hopped-up mother Mary is around. Mary's own mask of prim self-consciousness that hides a lifetime of disappointment slips after every hit. Years of gathered baggage has left several elephants in the room, and it's telling that the only honest things that comes out of anybody's mouth is when their inner ugliness is left exposed by booze-soaked exchanges where even the whisky is watered down.

Paul Shelley's James is a more avuncular and less brooding figure than how he's often played, even though in the end he proves as brittle and as defeated as Diana Kent's increasingly wraith-like Mary. As James Jr and Edmund, Adam Best and Timothy N. Evers respectively capture the various shades of pathetic self-loathing in the sons' inability to neither live up to their old man's expectations nor break away from them in a family affair to die for.

The Herald, January 24th 2014


The Pop Group / The Sexual Objects

02 ABC, Glasgow
Celtic Connections
Saturday January 18th
Four stars
It may have been thirty-three years since Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager's gang of punk-funk avant-provocateurs last played Glasgow, but it was more than worth the wait at this unlikely but inspired Celtic Connections show that laid bare the roots of Bristol's influential post-punk melting pot of free jazz, funk and dub.

The night also formed part of the twentieth anniversary of the similarly maverick Creeping Bent record label, hence the appearance of The Sexual Objects, the band formed by ex Fire Engine Davy Henderson following on from his previous band, The Nectarine No 9, with whom Pop Group guitarist Sager played and recorded with.

While all bar one of The Sexual Objects are time-served Nectarines, the SOBs opening gambit goes back even further, to Henderson and guitarist Simon Smeeton's post Fire Engines project, Win, with a cover of that band's heroic 'You've Got The Power'. Stripped of 1980s studio gloss, here the song more resembles the Velvet Underground on 'Live '69' breathing extra edge into a song that matches bassist and Creeping Bent supremo Douglas MacIntyre's Warhol-striped and be-shaded ensemble to boot.

This is followed by recent single, 'Feels Like Me' and a groovetastically louche preview of material from the SOBs' long-awaited second album. Songs like 'CC Blooms' casts Auld Reekie as its own self-mythologised Big Apple, while a prog-tastic instrumental wig-out reveals the SOBs as rock and roll animals at their glam-tastic peak.

With the opening squall of a synthesiser played by Sager with libertine abandon, The Pop Group launch into the opening 'We Are All Prostitutes' with the sort of deranged commitment that would scare most younger groups to death. Clutching his lyric sheets to his chest, Stewart looms righteously as he shrieks a form of warped Brechtian agit-prop into the microphone. Sager's slash and burn guitar-work and electronically treated clarinet playing are equally incendiary, no more so than on the band's still dangerous debut single, She Is Beyond Good and Evil.

For all the fervent soothsaying there's a warmth there too, which musically comes through the skewed fourth world rhythms of drummer Smith and bassist Dan Catsis, while a young second guitarist puts further flesh on the bones of necessary dissent. Stewart pays tribute to fellow travellers The Slits, whose late singer Ari Up's own last Glasgow appearance was on the same ABC 2 stage, and dedicates Colour Blind to Joy Division vocalist Ian Curtis, another fallen contemporary.

Sager shows off some neat foot as well as fretwork on the warped Chicisms of 'Where There's A Will', while the closing 'We Are Time' possesses the urgency of a 1960s cop show theme before veering off somewhere darker to close a set designed to inspire a very visible form of insurrection. 

The List, January 2014


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Glasgow Short Film Festival 2014 - Pulse

The Arches, February 13th
in the city there are eight million stories. One of these is 'Pulse', a collaboration between film-maker Ruth Paxton and Grammy nominated composer Dobrinka Tabakova. The world premiere of this thirteen-minute impressionistic noir opens this year's Glasgow Short Film Festival accompanied by
a live rendition of Tabakova's Gamelan-based score.

We started off talking about the idea of the city,” says Paxton of an idea which developed after the Royal Philharmonic Society, who had commissioned Paxton's earlier film, 'Rockhaven', suggested the collaboration. “There was the idea too of this basic human need to connect, and we talked about someone sending a distress signal.”

'Pulse' eventually won the RPS a PRS for Music Foundation commission.

With the film's Glasgow screening preceded by a selection of short works by Tabakova, music and image are as inseparable as they were in Paxton's film, 'Nevada', which was shown at GSFF 2013 with a live score played by nouveau-folk trio, Lau.

The fact that Dobrinka and I developed it together will make it a richer thing to watch,” says Paxton, “and hearing the music played live will definitely enrich the experience.”


CCA, February 14th, 11am
Three sessions on the relationship between sound and image opens with makers of 'Pulse', Ruth Paxton and Dobrinka Tabakova. Former Y'All Is Fantasy Island vocalist Adam Stafford follows alongside sound designer Marcin Knyziak and composer Daniel Padden, who worked on Stafford's second film, No Hope For Men Below. Sam Firth and composer Fraya Thomsen end with a look at Stay The Same, in which Firth filmed herself in the same spot every day for a year.

Fleming House Car Park, Renfrew Street, February 14th, 10.30pm
Artist and performer Michelle Hannah's live art multi-media nightclub inspired by The Walker Brothers 1978 swansong, Nite Flights, moves into a disused underground car park, where a dozen artists, including Douglas Morland and Linder Sterling, making her first visit to Glasgow since performing her thirteen-hour epic, 'The Darktown Cakewalk, at GI 2010, explore the gifts of sound and vision anew.

The Art School, February 15th, 7pm
Percussionist and musical polymath Alex Neilson provides live accompaniment to a trio of films with three very disparate troupes. While saxophone/drums duo, Death Shanties, accompany Lucy Stein and Shana Moulton's film, Polventon, vocal harmony ensemble The Crying Lion and artist Oliver Mezger revisit Orkney-born film-maker Margaret Tait's 1966 short, The Big Sheep. The grand finale comes with Trembling Bells suitably raucous accompaniment to Rory Stewart's portrait of legendary boozer, the Port O'Leith.

The Art School, February 15th, 10.30pm
It's more than a decade since Newcastle-sired veteran electronic duo Zoviet France appeared at Tramway to perform 'The Decriminalisation of Country Music'. Now in their fourth decade of existence, these contemporaries of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle blow the dust off their home-made kit for a bill that also features film, video and analog synth auteur, Konx-om-Pax, aka Tom Scholefield, as well as a DJ set from Mark Maxwell of Glasgow's long-standing purveyors of electronic sounds, Rubadub. At time of writing, attendance by Optimo's JD Twitch has still to be confirmed.


The List, January 2014

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Sean Holmes - Filter's Twelfth Night

Think of rock and roll Shakespeare, and likely as not the commercial kitsch of Return To The Forbidden Planet, based on a 1950s science-fiction film inspired by The Tempest, will come to mind. When the energetic Filter company decided to tackle Twelfth Night, however, a far more eclectic musical mix came out in the stripped-down ninety-minute version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy that visits the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow next week.

Like The Tempest, Twelfth Night opens with a ship-wreck. Unlike The Tempest, Twelfth Night veers off into a madcap sequence of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and thwarted love affairs before the inevitable happy ending as Viola and Duke Orsino get hitched. Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company for its Complete Works Festival in 2006, Filter's thoroughly post-modern take on the play has proved to be a sensation in Edinburgh, London, Holland, Germany and Spain, hence this latest tour.

“It's the show that never dies,” jokes Twelfth Night director Sean Holmes about the production's longevity. “Which, considering how it came about I think is pretty remarkable. We were at the curious end of the Complete Works, alongside a lot of experimental companies playing in a temporary space on the main stage that ended up being the equivalent of a studio theatre. We had two weeks to do it, and we decided we wanted to do something that was really stripped down, that had the energy of a gig and was led by the music. After a few days we realised we were still looking at it like a play, with different lighting states and everything, so we stopped all that and decided just to go for it.”

Filter's Twelfth Night initially ran for three nights before becoming an Edinburgh Fringe hit hat marked something of a turning point for Holmes as a director.

“At that point I'd done quite a lot of work at the RSC,” he says, “and was frustrated with myself at not being able to make what I actually wanted to make. That was my fault, nobody else's. I had all these massive resources available, but things never seemed to work out how I wanted them to.

“I think Twelfth Night was a response to that, to throw away all these barriers, bounce all these ideas around and make something in two weeks flat with this creative collective. Going back to it again now is really interesting, because we never really had time to think about why we were doing something, so at this point we can ask ourselves, well, why did we actually do that?”

As Holmes intimates, while the production stays faithful to the spirit of Shakespeare's original, the music is the show's central component.

“The music is integral,” Holmes says. “It's also more sophisticated than anything we might think of as rock and roll Shakespeare. One song will be experimental jazz, another will be thrash metal or folky, and another will be this strange kind of trip hop reggae. Each one marks the tone and atmosphere of a scene, and helps create this world with just six actors. I suppose it's a bit like watching a radio production in a way, in that it relies on the audience's imagination to help conjure up this world.”

Holmes' attitude fits in perfectly with Filter, who, since forming in 2003, have endeavoured to break theatrical boundaries, both with new and classical-based work. The fact that Filter has three artistic directors – Oliver Dimsdale, Tim Phillips and Ferdy Roberts – itself speaks volumes about the company's collaborative aesthetic. While Phillips composes the shows musical scores, Dimsdale and Roberts have performed in all of Filter's productions, ever since their debut show, Faster, was described in these pages as 'a blink-and-you'll-miss-it perfect fringe experience'.

Since the original production of Twelfth Night, Holmes has become artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith, which in 2011 won an Olivier award for 'Outstanding achievement in an affiliate theatre' for Holmes' production of Sarah Kane's iconic play, Blasted. The same year Holmes made waves even further when he staged the first London production of Edward Bond's equally iconoclastic play, Saved, in twenty-seven years. With the Lyric currently in the throes of a major redevelopment programme, rather than let the theatre to go dark, and with various parts of the building not always accessible, over the last year Holmes has instigated a season dubbed Secret Theatre.

For this off-kilter venture, Holmes and Secret Theatre's resident dramatist, Simon Stephens, whose fragmented post 7/7 play, Pornography, Holmes directed at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, have put together a company of ten actors alongside a mix of ten writers, designers and directors to challenge assumptions of what theatre can be. Audiences will book the eight shows by number rather than name, and may end up seeing a deconstructed classic or else something brand new and uncategorisable.

While such a provocation follows on from a speech Holmes gave in June 2013 in which he pointed out that, among other things, a lot of theatre was boring, its roots can also be seen in Twelfth Night.

“The idea,” Holmes says, “is to try and make a European style ensemble, but which also has traditional British theatrical virtues. A lot of that sort of thinking was influenced by doing Twelfth Night in the way that we did it, and to leave everything wide open in terms of what theatre can be.”

Holmes has collaborated with Filter on another Shakespeare comedy in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. When he and the company next work together, in keeping with the philosophy of Secret Theatre, Holmes wants to push things even further.

“We should probably do a tragedy next,” he muses. “The Filter style lends itself to the anarchy of the comedies, but now maybe Macbeth or King Lear is the next summit to climb.”

Twelfth Night, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, January 28-February 1.

Filter – Ten Years of breaking the rules.

Filter were formed in 2003 by actors Oliver Dimsdale and Ferdy Roberts and composer Tim Phillips, and produced their debut show, Faster, the same year.

Other original works by Filter include Silence, with the Lyric Hammersmith's then director David Farr in 2007, and Water, again with Farr at the RSC.

Filter's production of Twelfth Night first appeared in 2006 as part of the Royal Shakespeare company's Complete Works festival.

As well as Twelfth Night, Filter have collaborated with Sean Holmes on versions of other classic plays, including Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2010, Chekhov's Three Sisters, produced in the same venue the same year, and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Herald, January 20th 2014


Bertille Bak – Faire le mur

Collective Gallery, 
Edinburgh – January 18-March 2 2014

When it was announced that French artist Bertille Bak's home town of Barlin, city No.5 in the Pas-de-Calais in northern France, was to be renovated as part of a programme of urban regeneration, the authorities promised much for the former mining parish. This included vastly increased rents for a tight-knit community who were effectively being priced out of living in what is now described on Barlin's Wikipedia page as being 'a modern and dynamic place that offers its residents numerous amenities...'

Bak's response was 'Faire le mur', her 2008 film which in part charts the residents of Barlin's resistance to the proposed changes, yet does it in a way that goes beyond documentary to create a magical-realist meta-narrative that blurs the boundaries of fact and fiction. Rather than the poverty porn of Channel 4's latest underclass-baiting obscenity, 'Benefits Street', Bak has looked at her own community and transformed their protest into something heroic.

“There's a real sense of playfulness about what Bertille does,” says Collective director Kate Gray, who has brought an updated version of 'Faire le mur; (it translates as 'To the wall'), to Edinburgh as part of Factish Field, a year-long collaboration with moving image based arts organisation LUX that looks at the relationship between artists' film-based work and anthropology.

This manifests itself in a series of self-organised meetings which, as the community move from house to house with a series of tapestries based on paintings by Poussin, Goya and Girodet, become theatrical pageants of revolutionary intent, with all the romance that implies.

“There's a real tension there between what you might expect a documentary to be in terms of not trying to influence what goes on,” says Gray. “Bertille is trying to find a way to change and alter that community while working with them.” 

The List, January 2014


Alan Reid – An Absent Monument

Mary Mary, Glasgow
January 25-March 15

There's something missing from Alan Reid's second show of paintings at 
Mary Mary. Anyone familiar with the already hazy façades of the 
Texan-born artist's work will recall how much it has been dominated by 
the figure of a woman, aloof, enigmatic and as studiedly bored as a 
1970s 'Jackie' magazine mannequin, soft-focused, dappled pink and 
insipid. As the title of this new show points to, the lady has vanished 
 from the scene, leaving a trail of clues that suggests that she might 
in fact just be hiding.

“It’s an exhibition designed to convey an absent character,” Reid 
explains. “ A show without a subject. My previous shows used images of 
women extensively, so I thought it would be interesting to hint at her 
presence, without showing. Something like all those cinematic clichés 
of lipstick on glass, or a newspaper left on a park bench, or a bra 
thrown over a lampshade…The paintings are basically non-functioning 
clocks. A model’s face replaced by a clock’s face.”
Centrepiece of the show is 'La Notte (1961)', a three wall mural 
depicting the debris of things left behind; a moustache, a pair of 
glasses, a mask. These are hidden further when set against columns of 
giraffe spot patterns in a piece named after Italian auteur 
Michelangelo Antonioni's 1961 film about a disintegrating marriage.
Is the missing woman, then, the other woman, and where has she gone?
“The thing you have to understand,” Reid says, “what I’m involved with 
is both philosophy and a soap opera. I hope she hasn’t vanished 
completely. She’ll reappear. I’m dependent on the emotional potential 
of those images; they both educate me and loosen some calcified 
feeling. But making that work is a bear.

The List, January 2014


Monday, 20 January 2014

The Pop Group/The Sexual Objects

02 ABC, Glasgow
Four stars
Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager's reformed crew of original punk-funk provocateurs aren't an obvious choice for Celtic Connections. Then again, anyone who can mix up a multi-cultural stew of free jazz, dub and anti-capitalist agit-prop is more connected than most, as the Pop Group prove in their first Glasgow show for thirty-three years.

Tonight is also about celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the similarly eclectic Creeping Bent record label, and the evening begins with a set from The Sexual Objects, former Fire Engine Davy Henderson's latest groove-laden vehicle. Selections from their forthcoming second album are preceded by a magnificently audacious cover of You've Got The Power by Henderson's former band Win. Stripped of its 1980s production gloss, tonight it more resembles the Velvet Underground's What Goes On.

The Pop Group go one better with their opening clarion call of We Are All Prostitutes, as Stewart shrieks out his proclamations, towering over the crowd like a sniper, clutching his lyric sheets to his chest. Sager stabs out piercing guitar shards that take no prisoners, or else blows a strangled clarinet on the equally damning Thief of Fire. The sound is fleshed out by a youthful recruit on second guitar, with drummer Bruce Smith and bassist Dan Catsis providing the funk.

Stewart's prophecies of doom are nowhere better encapsulated than on the band's defining statement, She Is Beyond Good and Evil, which still sounds like the most dangerous song ever written. With Sager shimmying his way through a closing Where There's A Will and We Are Time, the end result is an incendiary call to arms and a soundtrack to a revolution you can dance to.

The Herald, January 20th 2014



Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
Four stars
There's something irresistibly invigorating about Robert Louis 
Stevenson's historical  romp, first  published in 1886. Dressing it up 
as a Boys Own style adventure was a master-stroke, and by putting young 
David Balfour in the thick of a plot that involves political intrigue, 
Jacobite rebellion and considerable macho swagger, Stevenson created 
something akin to a Look and Learn of its day that has captured the 
imaginations of would-be Davie's ever since.

The ambitious Sell A Door company take the book's spirit and run with 
it in Anna Fox's big, bold production of Ivan Wilkinson's new stage 
version, which opened its extensive tour last week. There's already 
something of a commotion onstage as the audience enter to the cast 
belting out a song on fiddle, guitar and pounding percussion as if they 
were a punk-folk ceilidh combo in full pelt. This is just a 
curtain-raiser, however, to allows the older Davie to spin a yarn about 
his colourful past to entertain his guests.

As Stewart McCheyne's young Davie sets off on what turns out to be the 
ultimate rites of passage, the rest of the multi-tasking cast of five 
unveil a world which,no matter how far Davie roams, is forever defined 
by the giant  map of Scotland that hangs in a frame at the back of the 
stage. It's a fast-moving ride, with puppetry, music and stylised 
movement played out on a set where walls become a ship in an instant. 
Balfour and Simon Weir's Alan Breck, who struts the stage as cocksure 
as a young Iain Cuthbertson, form a swashbuckling dynamic duo in a 
complex tale of loyalties that go beyond politics to something deeper.

The Herald, January 20th 2014


Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Paul Shelley - Long Day's Journey Into Night

It would be easy for Paul Shelly to put his feet up and stay indoors watching the sort of daytime TV which he sometimes appears in. Now aged 71, and after more than four decades working with the likes of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre onstage, as well as with film directors such as Roman Polanski and Richard Attenburgh, and on the small screen in such classic serials as Secret Army, you wouldn't blame the veteran actor for taking it easy.

As it is, Shelley is about to tackle one of the biggest stage roles for actors of a certain age outside of Shakespeare's King Lear. Yet, as he prepares to play tormented theatrical patriarch James Tyrone in the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh's new production of Eugene O'Neill's semi-autobiographical epic, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Shelley may be gimlet-eyed in his dissection of the play, but he appears positively laid-back at the prospect.

“It's an incredible journey, this play,” he says. “You can do it on the surface, and it's so beautifully written it probably works. Or you can start to get into the emotional murk, and that's where we are just now. The closer we get to opening, we'll have to come up for air, but at the moment, we're finding out all the things that don't work before we find the thing that is right. It's like life,” he laughs.

Given Shelley's elder statesman status, one is tempted to draw parallels between him and Tyrone. For all his levity, it's a notion that's clearly passed through his mind.

“Listen, there are things I say in there,” he says, making a clanging noise that implies an epiphany of recognition. “There are bound to be. He's an older man, I'm an older man. He's an actor, I'm an actor. He's made some terrible mistakes in his life, I've made some terrible mistakes, so there's bound to be. He's a miser, and there are reasons for that, and I hope I'm not a miser, but I husband my resources, so you use that.”

For all his talk of journeys, Shelley is more than aware that he hasn't given himself an easy ride, even if director Tony Cownie has been working with Shelley and the rest of the cast on cutting O'Neill's mighty text to a manageable length, “or we'd all still be here at midnight,” as Shelley observes. “But who are we to say that it's over-written. It all just tumbled out of him, and he couldn't stop.”

O'Neill based Tyrone on his own father, writing himself as the youngest son in a family plagued by dysfunction, failure, addiction and loss that was so near the knuckle that he left instructions to his publisher that the play wasn't to be published until some twenty-five years after his death. With his widow transferring the rights of the play to Yale University, Long Day's Journey appeared in 1956, three years after O'Neill's death.

The Royal Lyceum's new production marks something of a coming home for the play. While Long Day's Journey premiered in Sweden, followed by a Broadway run, the play's first UK production was in Edinburgh. That came during the 1958 Edinburgh International Festival, when Jose Quintero, who had been in charge of the Broadway production, directed Anthony Quayle as James. Also in the cast were Ian Bannen and Alan Bates as the brothers.

The last time the play was seen in Scotland was a touring production in which David Suchet played Tyrone. If these are big shoes to fill, Shelley is only too aware of the scale of the task he's facing.

“When I was offered it I wondered whether I could learn it all,” he says. “You get to a point where actors have to face themselves. I've seen it happen in other productions when I've been younger, and older actors have terrible trouble with the lines. How does he know when is the time to stop is quite a question, but the reason I accepted this, once you've read the play, if you're still an actor, you accept.

“If I had said no, it cannot be because of the play. It cannot be because of the part, never mind the money. This is rep. It could only be fear, and fear is something actors face from their youth. But being an older actor, one of the things is just being able to hold the lines and keep it going. I had to challenge myself is what I'm saying. A couple of lines in a film, that's fine, but if you're offered something like this, you don't say no. You're only offered a handful of parts like this in an entire lifetime.”

For a couple of years, Shelley was most familiar from what he calls a semi-regular role on lunchtime medical soap, Doctors. Shelley discovered that show's mass appeal while on tour with Mike Bartlett's contemporary version of Greek tragedy, Medea, which visited the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in 2012, when the stage door was besieged by autograph hunters.

There is the matter too of the YouTube collage of tender scenes between Shelley's character, Jed, and his onscreen daughter, Zara, played by Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, which a fan has posted and set to a schmaltzy soundtrack.

This is all a far cry from Shelley's roots in Leeds, where he resisted becoming an actor until long after his elder brother had, and he ended up at RADA. After seasons in rep, Shelley wound up being cast opposite Sir Ralph Richardson on the West End, and appeared in Richard Attenburgh's film of Joan Littlewood's Oh! What A Lovely War. Shelley went on to appear as Donalbain in Roman Polanski's 1971 film of Macbeth, dividing his time between stage and screen in a way that few actors of his generation manage.

Shelley played the title role in Julius Caesar at Shakespeare's Globe, and after performing in Tom Stoppard's play, Arcadia, on the West End, was visited backstage by Hollywood couple, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Shelley has had a long relationship with the Orange Tree in Richmond, and has worked at the Donmar Warehouse and with a younger generation of directors such as Rupert Goold. Unlike James in Long Day's Journey Into Night, Shelley has kept moving, with little or no chance of falling into a rut.

“Some things I've done well,” he says, “and some I've done not so well, but what else am I going to do? I'm fit enough, mentally and physically, to keep going, but that'll go soon enough. At the moment it's the challenge of doing great parts like this. That's what keeps me going.”

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, January 17-February 8


Paul Shelley - An Actor's Life

Paul Shelley was born in Leeds, and became interested in acting while at university before training at RADA and following his brother, Francis Matthews, into the business.

He worked in rep before appearing in Richard Attenburgh's film of stage hit, Oh! What A Lovely War, and as Donalbain in Roman Polanski's film of Macbeth.

Shelley appeared extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal National Theatre, while appearing in numerous television roles, including Secret Army, Doctor Who and Paradise Postponed. Between 2010 and 2012 Shelley appeared regularly in TV soap, Doctors.

At Shakespeare's Globe, Shelley played the title role in Julius Caesar, and Antony to Mark Rylance's Cleopatra.

Shelley played Duncan in Rupert Goold's production of Macbeth, which opened at Chichester Festival Theatre before transferring to the West End and later to Broadway.

Shelley has a long relationship with the Orange Tree in Richmond, where he last appeared in The Conquering Hero. Shelley toured in Mike Bartlett's contemporary version of Medea, and in 2013 appeared in King Lear at the Theatre Royal, Bath.

The Herald, January 14th 2013


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Suspect Culture - Still Timeless After All These Years

I'd been waiting for Suspect Culture to happen for a very long time. By the time I walked down Leith Walk in Edinburgh on August 27th 1997 to spend my thirty-third birthday watching the company's Edinburgh International Festival contribution, Timeless, at the now derelict Gateway Theatre, it already felt like we shared the same world. By the time I walked back up the Walk, towards town and late night celebrations, that world had been rocked forever.

As inarticulate as I felt in my immediate responses to the play, it was clear from this treatise on friendship, loss and the pains of shared experience that the company weren't just talking about my generation, even though they were a few crucial years younger than me. Graham Eatough, David Greig, Nick Powell, Ian Scott, their cast of four and the quartet of musicians that soundtracked Timeless weren't even just in tune with contemporary mores. Rather, to a greater or lesser degree, they were attempting to navigate their way through – live through, if you like – those increasingly confusing times just as we all were.

But my God, how did we get here?

Anyone who came of age in Britain during the Thatcher years will understand how fucked up it was. The Tory iron lady may have walked to stubborn victory on the back of the Falklands War, the Miners Strike, the IRA hunger strikes, the Yuppie invasion and the denial of society, but there remained, against all odds, a cogently ideological sense of resistance. Sired on the intellectual if not actual barricades of 1968, that resistance understood its own history, and, for many a young shaver, provided a practical education that turned protest into spectacle by way of marches and, in Brixton, Toxteth and elsewhere in 1981, full-on riots that provoked the first ever use of CS gas in mainland Britain.

Culturally, while the post-punk music scene was righteously tense, alternative cabaret flourished on the cheap. The arrival of Channel Four in 1982 opened up already crazy mixed-up kids to the avant-garde of Fassbinder and Godard, not to mention the puerile delight of nudity and swearing. On John Peel's late night Radio 1 show, serious young men exiled under the bed-clothes are listening to the Gramsci-inspired Scritti Politti's Green Gartside sing jaunty Country and gospel-tinged paeans to philosopher Jacques Derrida or else getting even more post-modern on our asses by deconstructing the love song in a honeyed concoction called ‘The “Sweetest Girl”’ - ironic inverted commas Gartside's – which concluded its opaquely bittersweet conspiracy with the didactic proclamation how 'politics is prior to the vagaries of science,' and how the presumed ‘Girl‘ of the title 'left because she understood the value of defiance'. With gender studies high on the agenda, the personal had become political, and vice versa.

Essentially, all of this was about ideas. Which is where Suspect Culture came in. Although, to be honest, at that time, or certainly a few years later, they were probably hanging about the drama sections of sixth form libraries. Probably among the Bs; Barker, Beckett, Bond, Brenton, poets all.

As the Berlin Wall came down, we found ourselves floating uncertainly in a state of ontological flux. Art became more scattershot, less focused. Theatre became physical, and sometimes liked to throw itself around the room to a techno soundtrack for no apparent reason. In England, something called the in-yer-face generation turned up, which actually turned out to be more poetic than the initial outrage that greeted Sarah Kane's Blasted and Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking suggested. In Scotland things were quieter. David Harrower's Knives in Hens and David Greig's Europe were just as fractured in their search for meaning and identity among the madness, but their ideas – them again – were more meditative in approach.

And now, as if by magic, here we were in 1997, a world of Brit-pop optimism in which friends had become the new family and in which a perma-smiling Tony Blair had convinced us by way of an electro-pop anthem that things could only get better. If the 90s were just the 60s turned upside down, as some wag – possibly Edwyn Collins – suggested - the glossy iconography looked naggingly familiar.

Suspect Culture had already made an impact in a small way with their first two professional shows since forming at Bristol University. One Way Street was a solo piece based on the life of German-Jewish intellectual Walter Benjamin. Airport was about arrivals and departures. Both, in different ways, were about lives criss-crossing in urban spaces.

Timeless was something else again. The fact that such a young company as Suspect Culture were in the Edinburgh International Festival spoke volumes about how much they'd come of age. Here was a late twentieth century fin-de-siècle epic about friendship and all the littler epiphanies that bind people. Unlike other plays that looked at disaffected twentysomethings, it spoke eloquently and moved fluidly and, in a deceptively domestic scenario, didn't smash the furniture around. If it had been a novel, it would have been Gordon Legge's The Shoe or Geoff Dyer's The Colour of Memory, both of which looked at the unspoken ties that bind, love, estrange and sometimes, just sometimes, break hearts.

Best of all, Timeless was soundtracked by a live string quartet, who underscored the action with Nick Powell's poignant compositions. That's right. A string quartet. This wasn't some live-fast-die-young-leave-a-beautiful-corpse tale of rock and roll rebellion. Neither was it some nihilistic punk future fantasy. Timeless wore its heart on its sleeve with the most plaintively emotional musical instruments in a way that Estonian composer Arvo Pärt might. All these elements were knitted together to make a beautifully sad meditation on love and life, which, if it happened be your thirty-third birthday, was bound to hit a nerve.

Of course, all of the above is culled from memory, and may or may not have happened.

Suspect Culture may not have been rock and roll, but they were honest-to-goodness indie-kids at heart, the geeks who, like Belle and Sebastian, would inherit at least some of the earth.

Nick had played with Strangelove and The Blue Aeroplanes, two very hip left-field troupes who will eventually be hailed as post-punk auteurs par excellence. Graham would go on to work with Stephen Pastel and Japanese toy-shop savants Maher Shalal Hash Baz and David, in Midsummer, got to work with Edinburgh's ultimate John Peel band, Ballboy.

Best of all was the string section, because in these increasingly baroque musical times, string sections are always in demand. Violinist Lucy Wilkins' name in particular was scattered about my credits of my CD collection. She played on The Magical World of the Strands, and toured with Tindersticks when they were at their full orchestral glory. I saw them at the Royal Albert Hall, and one side of the stage was occupied by what appeared to be an army of stringed-instrument wielding blonde women dressed in black. Lucy would go on to play live with Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music, with Ferry even going so far as to rearrange his tour dates to accommodate Lucy playing in Suspect Culture's Candide 2000. And how cool was that?

On the Sunday after Timeless rocked my world, my gushing review of the show appeared. It suggested, in its suitably over-the-top way, that everyone who saw Timeless should immediately turn to the friend next to them and squeeze their hand in some silently undemonstrative display of emotional solidarity. If anyone did or not isn't on record, but it's doubtful. I certainly didn't. In retrospect, it's doubtful whether anyone even read the review. Because the same day's paper carried a hastily put together supplement following breaking news in the middle of the night, when I and most Edinburgh Festival-philes were probably just making it home, dead-drunk and dead to the world. Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed had been killed in a high-speed car crash on the run from the paparazzi. Things would never be the same again, public displays of emotion in particular.

So what happened next?

Suspect Culture followed Timeless with Mainstream, which was about two strangers making connections in the limbo of a cheap hotel. Other shows followed, some of which were better than others, but all of which used a particularly personal aesthetic to engage with ideas great and small.

I wrote an essay for a booklet that accompanied Suspect Culture's tenth anniversary. I called it Ten Years In Open-Necked Shirts, after the John Cooper-Clarke poem. In style and syntax it was wilfully idiosyncratic. In tone it was confessional, attempting to capture how Suspect Culture summed up my and their generation in a way that hoped to match the spirit of their work. It didn't and never could do, but it was then and remains the most honest thing I've ever written.
In 1997 I would never have described Timeless as political. Today, as we huddle together for comfort in the face of socio-economic adversity, it feels like the most personally political play in the world.

The core group behind Suspect Culture are ploughing other furrows, their part-debating-society, part-gang mentality having given way to more individual lines of creative inquiries. It's not that we might never see them work together again – all the best bands eventually reform, after all – it's more that they've grown up, moved on and have other things going on in their lives.

In this way, what were once new kids on the block have become elder statesmen. So what happened in-between? That would be telling. That would be Timeless.

Originally commissioned in 2011 by Graham Eatough, this essay appeared in The Suspect Culture Book, edited by Graham Eatough and Dan Rebellato, and published by Oberon in August 2013.