Monday, 30 June 2014

The Yellow on the Broom

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars
This week's announcement by T in the Park that as of next year it will
shift sites from Balado to Strathallan Castle may embed Scotland's
liveliest music festival even firmer on Perthshire soil, but it is far
from the first temporary tented village to plant roots there. This is
made vividly clear in Anne Downie's dramatisation of Betsy Whyte's 1979
autobiography, which has barely been seen on Scotland's stages since it
was first produced by the appropriately nomadic Winged Horse company in

On the one hand, Downie has penned a richly evocative first-person
rites of passage of Whyte's alter-ego, Bessie, the tobacco-guzzling
brightest spark of the Townsley clan, a family of Travellers winding
their way through 1930s rural Scotland. As Betsy, her father Sandy and
her mother Maggie are forced to move from place to place, however, they
run a gauntlet of class-room snobbery and institutionalised prejudice
that looks frighteningly contemporary.

Opening with a traditional Scots chorale performed in silhouette from
the back of the stage, Durnin's production taps into a rich if barely
seen culture that bustles with the noise of life on the road. There are
shades of John Steinbeck in the play's portrayal of recession-driven
migrants, while in Karen Fishwick's vibrant and gutsy performance that
forms the show's heart, Bessie is revealed as a literary soul-mate of
Arnold Wesker's Beattie Bryant in Roots.

If this is at times undermined by cartoonish portrayals of gallus
Glasgow besoms, eccentric toffs and dubious clergymen, Durnin, Downie
and company have presented a moving and timely portrait of a community
for whom home is forever a town away.

The Herald, June 30th 2014


Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Art School Dance Goes On Forever – Snapshots Of Masters Of The Multiverse

Intro – Snapshots – Deaf School


In 1980, the same year as the Manchester band, Magazine, released a 7
inch single called A Song From Under The Floorboards – a three verse
and chorus distillation of Dostoyevsky's novel, Notes From Underground
– an art school scandal occurred.

This scandal took place in Liverpool, and was based around a project
called the Furbelows, although it became better known in the Liverpool
Echo and other organs that reported it as the Woolly Nudes.

The Furbelows, or Woolly Nudes, were a group of artists who had come
out of Liverpool College of Art, who, dressed in grotesque woolly
costumes which featured knitted approximations of male and female
genitalia, made assorted public interventions around the city centre as
kind of living sculptures acting out assorted narratives.

The Furbelows project had been funded by what was then Merseyside Arts
Association, and, after the participants were arrested and taken to
court on obscenity charges after what were deemed to be public displays
of nudity – despite the fact that everyone involved in Furbelows was
fully clothed and all the approximations of genitalia were made of
wool, -  questions were asked, both by the press and the city fathers
who oversaw Merseyside Arts Association, about whether this was really
the sort of thing that public money should be spent on.


The Furbelows, or Woolly Nudes, and Magazine's non-hit single, A Song
From Under The Floorboards, were pretty much the first things I thought
of when I walked through the Masters of the Multiverse show, this
cartoon cornucopia of heroes and heroines, screaming or otherwise, hung
upside down on big screens and small or else on unoccupied stage sets
dressed with gold leaf or
kidnapped from Big Rock Candy Mountain, bound, but not gagged.

What's on show today at Masters of the Multiverse isn't a case of what
goes around, comes around, but more of a trickle-down continuum of
subliminal influences possibly caused by chaos theory and the butterfly

A prime example of this comes in the song I played just before I
started talking.

That song was called Snapshots, and was recorded in 1976 for 2nd
Honeymoon, the debut album by a band called Deaf School.

Deaf School formed at Liverpool College of Art in 1973 when guitarist
Clive Langer, who had been in a band with Julian Temple, who would go
on to become a close confidante of The Sex Pistols and, with Malcolm
McLaren, would direct The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, met vocalist
Steve Allen.

Recruiting a large ensemble of their art school contemporaries,
including lecturer John Wood on keyboards, Langer and Allen  changed
their names to the more evocative Cliff Hanger and Enrico Cadillac
Junior, with other members including Bette Bright and Mr Average.

John Wood became the Reverend Max Ripple.

The nascent Deaf School rehearsed either in the nearby building that
gave them their name, or in the art school cafeteria where former art
school student John Lennon had rehearsed with his band, The Beatles,
who then featured Edinburgh-born Stuart Sutcliffe in their ranks.

The same cafeteria was where artist Mal Dean, who did illustrations for
1960s counter-cultural bible, International Times, and  Michael
Moorcock's science-fiction magazine, New Worlds, as well as Moorcock's
Jerry Cornelius novels, would work on his illustration for the cover of
an album by poet and former Cream lyricist Pete Brown and his band

The album, released in 1970, was called Things May Come And Things May
Go But...The Art School Dance Goes On Forever.

This title could have been a manifesto for Deaf School, who made their
live debut at the Liverpool College of Art Christmas Party 1974, and
went on to produce a stylistic mish-mash of theatrical art-rock cabaret
on three albums worth of narrative vignettes.

Deaf School never became famous, as they were overtaken by Punk Rock,
but for several years after their demise, and in an all too fleeting
moment of taste, Deaf School's best known song, the sublime
suicide-ago-go of What A Way To End It All, used to be played at all of
Liverpool's coolest clubs as the last record of the night.

This is a tradition I'm keen to revive.


The full story of Deaf School can be found in Paul Du Noyer's book –
Deaf School – The Non-Stop Pop Art Punk Rock Party, which charts the
band's rise and fall, and how they affected bands like
Madness and Dexys Midnight Runners, who both cite Deaf School as major

That might have been the end of it, except that the guitar riff of
Snapshots, the Deaf School song I played earlier, and which was
recorded in 1976, sounds identical to a song called Bran Flakes, by a
contemporary band from Edinburgh called The Pineapple Chunks.

To the best of my knowledge, none of The Pineapple Chunks, who include
one of the artists from Masters of the Multiverse in their ranks, have
ever heard or indeed heard of Deaf School.

Maybe the guitar riff of Snapshots is a much used set of chords, which
The Pineapple Chunks carved out because they were as easy to play as
they are evocative of a certain strand of pop music.

Maybe the fact that Deaf School's keyboardist, the Reverend Max Ripple,
aka John Wood, went on to become Emeritus Head of Design at Goldsmith's
College, might have something to do with it.

One of Wood's students at Goldsmith's, after all, went on to become the
Pineapple Chunks current bass player.

I'm sure the Pineapple Chunks aren't the first band to become the
beneficiaries of the Deaf School butterfly effect.


In January 1981, I went to a Furbelows benefit gig at the Everyman
Bistro in Liverpool, beneath the Everyman Theatre on Hope Street, just
over the road from the art college.

The headliners were a band called The Moderates, which had been formed
in 1978 by a bunch of art school students led by vocalists John Brady
and Heidi Kure, who wrote quirky songs about high-heeled shoes, suntans
and falling in love with girls on buses.

The Moderates also performed a jaunty white reggae version of Buffalo
Springfield's 1966 protest song, For What It's Worth, written after a
10pm curfew on rock clubs in Los Angeles prompted riots on Sunset Strip.

The eccentric, boy-girl vocal lines of The Moderates might well have
been influenced by Deaf School.

The fact that Deaf School vocalist Steve Allen's brother, Phil Allen,
played drums for them suggests there was certainly a connection.


Three years earlier, Deaf School's Clive Langer had suggested to a
young Scottish set designer who had dropped out of Liverpool College of
Art and travelled the world before returning to Liverpool, that they
form a punk band.

After he returned to Liverpool, the young Scottish set designer worked
at the Everyman Theatre, and later on maverick theatre director Ken
Campbell's  twelve-hour staging of Robert Shea and Robert Anton
Wilson's science-fiction epic of conspiracy, coincidence and
synchronicity, Illuminatus.

Langer went off on tour to America with Deaf School, but the set designer, whose name was
Bill Drummond, formed a band called Big in Japan, whose ranks included
future pop stars Holly Johnson and Ian Broudie, as well as original Moderates
drummer, Phil Allen.

Drummond would himself take on the pop world, first as manager of Echo
& the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes, then as performer and
avant-provocateur with the KLF.

The KLF would later morph into the Turner Prize baiting, million-quid
burning K Foundation.

Drummond, who is currently under investigation by the police for
allegedly vandalising a UKIP European election poster in Birmingham,
has just published a large and weighty catalogue to accompany his
exhibition, The 25 Paintings, which is currently running in Birmingham.

In the catalogue, Drummond writes about how 'Artists are flunkies', how
'Power wants what Art has', and how 'all big art was the art of
bullies, dictators or dominant cultures.'

Drummond then goes on to quote three lines from a song.

'Don't love my baby for her pouting lips
Don't love my baby for her curvy hips
I love my baby 'cause she does good sculptures, yeah!'

The song Drummond quotes from is (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures, and
was released in 1977 by Edinburgh group, The Rezillos.

The Rezillos were formed by students from Edinburgh College of Art in
1975 as a trashy cartoon styled band who, like Deaf School, took on
false names to accentuate their characters.

The Rezillos signed to a major record label, and had a hit with the
song, Top of the Pops, for which they duly appeared on the television
programme of the same name.

The manager of the Rezillos was another Edinburgh College of Art
graduate, Bob Last,

Like Bill Drummond, Last had worked as set designer, who also worked on
a science-fiction play, Tom McGrath’s The Android Circuit, at the
Traverse Theatre.

In 1978, Last and partner Hilary Morrison, another Edinburgh College of
Art graduate, released the first record on the new Fast Product imprint.

Inspired by the Buzzcocks EP, Spiral Scratch, released on the New Hormones label set up by Richard Boon, Fast Product was one of the first city-specific independent record labels to be founded on the
back of punk.

In Manchester there would be Factory, in Glasgow Postcard, and in Liverpool,
Zoo, co-founded by Drummond.

Fast Product, however, didn't just shop local, and released singles by
The Mekons, The Gang of Four and The Human League, as well as
Edinburgh's Scars.

Fast Product also licensed the first single by American band,  the Dead

Here, then, were templates for what would become known as Post Punk and
Electronica, all presented as part of a package that was as much about
a visual aesthetic as aural, with assorted inserts and cover art
effectively becoming several works of art wrapped around each other.

Later, Last would found Pop Aural records, which released records by
Edinburgh acts such as Fire Engines and Boots For Dancing.

Even later, with Fire Engines off-shoot, Win, Last would attempt a form
of pop entryism to take art-rock bands into the major label mainstream.

It never happened with Win, but, with ex Rezillos guitarist Jo Callis
conscripted into the Human League, for whom Callis wrote 1981 hit
single, Don't You Want Me, it worked, as it did for Heaven 17 and
Scritti Politti, who were also under Last's charge.

All of this developed out of ideas hatched in the institution where
Masters of the Multiverse is holding court in right now.

It may or may not be coincidence that a reformed version of The
Rezillos played an Edinburgh gig at the Liquid Rooms on May 24th, which
was also the opening night of Masters of the Multiverse.


While Edinburgh Colege of Art's  Wee Red Bar Bar became a crucial hub of art school musical
activity, off campus, the Edinburgh scene thrived in local pubs such as the Wig and Pen and the Tap O'Laurieston.

Later, there was the Cas Rock, which in the 1990s and early noughties
hosted a mini festival called Planet Pop, where the likes of The Fall
and the Nectarine No 9, formed by ex Fire Engine Davy Henderson, played.

The close proximity of these satellite venues to Edinburgh College of
Art was crucial to the activities that were fostered in both.

Now, however, while the University of Edinburgh, now in charge of
Edinburgh College of Art, keep an eye on the Wee Red Bar in light of
the amount of other student unions in the city, both the Tap
O'Laurieston and the Cas Rock are gone, bull-dozed away in the name of
hotels, flats and Edinburgh College of Art library.

Some might call it urban renewal.


It was perhaps with this sort of thing in mind that, in 2007, a DVD was
produced by Edinburgh College of Art and the Wee Red Bar, which
showcased performances by twenty Edinburgh bands at the Wee Red Bar,
filmed over a two day period.

The DVD, produced by Graham Dey and Jenny Hogarth, directed by Jez
Curnow, and with sleeve design by Tommy Grace, currently playing with
another ECA band, Django Django, was called The Art School Dance.

The full title of Pete Brown's album appeared on the DVD itself.

Many of the bands who appeared on The Art School Dance played at a club
that existed at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh several years ago.

The club was called Fast, or Fast Punk Club, and took its logo from the
one originally used by Fast Product Records.

Meanwhile, beyond a series of live art events instigated by former
students Hogarth and Kim Coleman several years ago, the continuum which
Masters of the Multiverse was formed out of goes on.

Several weeks ago, the Sculpture Court hosted a film, video and
performance-based event called Bring Your Own Beamer.

One of the bands playing was called Naked, whose members were
previously in an act called Edinburgh School For The Deaf.

Edinburgh School For The Deaf sounded nothing like Deaf School, but,
like the Pineapple Chunks, you get the sense that something has
unconsciously left its mark, just as the Furbelows, the Woolly Nudes
did before them, and just as Masters of the Multiverse will do now.

As Pete Brown wrote -  'Things May Come And Things May Go...But The Art
School Dance Goes On Forever.

Outro – What A Way To End It All – Deaf School

Originally commissioned by Edinburgh College of Art, the above was
presented as part of Masters of the Multiverse: An Evening of Responses
on May 28th 2014, alongside contributions from Richard Baxstrom, Maria
Fusco and Dave Sherry.

ends – Magazine – A Song From
Under The Floorboards – Deaf School – Taxl / What
A Way To End It All – Pete Brown and Piblokto –
Things May Come And Things May Go But...The Art School Dance Goes On
Forever – The Moderates – For What
It's Worth /Nightlife / Housewife For Life / Emile – Big in Japan – Cindy and
the Barbie Dolls – Big in Japan – Suicide A
Go Go / Taxi – The Rezillos – (My Baby
Does) Good Sculptures – The Rezillos – Top of the
Pops – The Human League – The
Dignity of Labour Parts 1-4 – Fire Engines – Meat
Whiplash – The Human League – Rock
and Roll – Fire Engines – We Don't
Need This Fascist Groove Thing – Heaven 17 – We Don't Need
This Fascist
GrooveThing – The Human League – Don't
You Want Me – Win – You've Got The Power – Win – Super Popoid Groove – ECA Revel 1985 – The KLF – The White Room

UPLAND – War and Peace in Camp 21


Good afternoon, and welcome to UPLAND, a unique site-specific group
exhibition presented by staff and students from Edinburgh College of
Art's Intermedia course here at Camp 21, the former Prisoner of War
camp, Cultybraggan.

My name is Neil Cooper, and I’m a writer and critic about theatre,
music and art for various publications.

Before I introduce the panel, I just want to go through the procedures
of the afternoon and introduce a few ideas and connections about it
that have been thrown up in my mind since I came on board.

Once I’ve introduced the panel, each of them will talk for a few
minutes, introducing their ideas about things relating to Upland, which
may open things up for discussion later.

I’ll then ask each of the panel some questions before we open things
out to the floor.

After that, who knows, but we’ll be aiming to finish  at about 5 O
clock, but before we do I’ll ask each of the panel to try and sum up,
and if anyone wants to we can continue the discussion in a more
informal manner.

To introduce each of the panellists –

Neil Bromwich is one half of Walker and Bromwich, and is an artist and
lecturer in Fine Art at Newcastle University.

David McCall is Chair of Comrie Development Trust, knows Cultybraggan
backwards, and very graciously opened the site up to us today.

Johnny Rodger is a writer, critic and Reader in Urban Literature at
Glasgow School of Art.

Calum Britane is one of the artists from Edinburgh College of
Art's Intermedia course taking part in UPLAND, as is Jenny Salmean

Also taking part in the discussion will be Susan Mowatt from Edinburgh
College of Art's Intermedia Department, and Zoe Walker, the artist and
other half of Walker and Bromwich.


Before I hand over to the panellists, by way of introduction I’d just
like to offer some of my own responses, which may or may not be

Last year, I broke the rule of a lifetime, and slept under canvas at an
open-air music festival.

Previously, I've always vowed that unless there's a roof over my head
and hot and cold running water, I wasn't interested.

As a result, prior to last year, the only music festivals I'd been to
were All Tomorrow's Parties, the left-field festivals curated by a
particular artist, who selected all of the supporting acts in a series
of weekend events.

These took place originally in Pontin's holiday camp in Camber Sands in
East Sussex, and latterly at Butlin's bigger and slightly less basic
holiday camp in Minehead in Somerset.

At ATP, as it came to be known after the first event, which the
curators Belle and Sebastian called the Bowlie Weekender, I was lucky
enough to attend events curated by Mogwai, Shellac, Tortoise, Autechre,
Thurston Moore, Portishead and Godspeed You Black Emperor, the latter
of whom had first appeared at the Bowlie Weekender back in 1999.

Being somewhat older than many of the attendees, myself and my friends
made the effort to see pretty much everything on offer, only falling
prey to the allure of late night bars once the bands had finished.

For some of the younger people in attendance at ATP, however, it didn't
seem to matter whether they saw many – or indeed any – of the bands or

It was being there that counted.

This is probably much the same as how it was at Woodstock and the Isle
of Wight as much as it is at Knebworth, Glastonbury or any of the other
open-air events that have become a summer fixture as the ongoing
festivilsation of culture has become ever more mainstream.

It was the same for me last year at Wickerman.

Unlike ATP, however, where many happy campers were having their first
holiday away from their parents as a kind of mini gap year rites of
passage, much of the Wickerman audience was made up of middle-aged
weekend ravers who could take their kids along so they could try and
recapture a similar state of being and remember the first time.

The summer music festival, it seems, like week-long raves in Ibiza, or
the school camping trip before it, is the done thing these days for kids of all

In the art world, students and seasoned artists alike 'do' Venice just
as they might have once 'done' and maybe still 'do' a Club 18-30
holiday with their mates.

There's something about getting away from your regular environment, be
it for work, pleasure or both, that sharpens the senses, raises the
antennae and brings you out of yourself a bit.

There's a Peanuts cartoon with Peppermint Patty and Marcie skipping
merrily through the grass with the slogan above them saying 'HAPPINESS

Such a notion isn't that different from the 1960s hippie generation's
idea of 'Getting Their Heads Together In The Country', or Jesus going
out into the Wilderness for forty days and forty nights.

And it was exactly the same for me at Wickerman and All Tomorrow's
Parties at Pontin's and Butlin's as much as it was at youth club
weekends in North Wales or at Iona Youth Camp or a summer performance
course in Fife.

And I would wager it's pretty much the same for the artists who've made
work here for UPLAND at Cultybraggan.

A community of some kind is created.

Things happen.

Things change.

And then you go home.

But, as shocking as it is to have to wake up to the real world again
after what has usually been a very insular experience, you come back
different in some way.

This is the essence of summer camp, to transcend yourself in some way,
to become something other.

But if the experience at Cultybraggan, Wickerman or wherever has 
changed you, how has the summer camp you left behind now it's getting a
new influx of visitors without you been changed by you?

What have you left behind?


Places, like people, aren't fixed, permanent things.

They're always changing, and can be many things at one and the same

So it is with the site of Cultybraggan, which had a history before it
became Camp 21, but which has since been defined by its experience as a
Prisoner of War camp.

In many ways, UPLAND is an attempt to redefine Cultybraggan in the way
that the local, community-run Comrie Development Trust has done over
the last few years, and it's a badge of honour to the people running
the Comrie Development Trust that they're forward thinking enough to
recognise the potential for art to change a landscape in the way that
its done today.

But, as the booklet produced by Comrie Development Trust outlining Camp
21's history makes clear, UPLAND isn't the first art to be housed here.

The booklet highlights the experience of German musician Howard Tell,
who fled Nazi Germany, and ended up helping to build Cultybraggan.

Tell would give piano recitals, and the booklet features a poster for

The booklet also has an image of a programme for an evening of operatic
excerpts performed by German prisoners.

There's something of these incidents that made me think of Playing For
Time, the 1980 Arthur Miller scripted film which starred Vanessa
Redgrave as Fania Fenelon, a real life Jewish singer and pianist who,
confined in Auschwitz, becomes part of the camp's Women's Orchestra.

Not that Auschwitz and Cultybraggan can be compared in any way.

It just made me think again of the power of art to transcend the
surroundings that it's sired in and become something else, a weapon of
happiness if you will.


Weapons of Happiness was a phrase that came to mind the first time I
came into contact with the work of Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich.

It was a phrase I nicked from the title of Howard Brenton's 1976  play
about a strike in a London crisp factory, and which also featured
characters that included Joseph Stalin and the Czech cabinet minister,
Josef Frank, who in the play has hallucinations of life in Stalinist

For some reason that plot seems more relevant in this context than it
did then, even though it has nothing to do with Zoe and Neil's work.

Zoe and Neil's film, Dancing Borders, which was based on a performance
of theirs I first saw in Berwick, drew on some of the battles that had
taken place there, and translated them into a piece of impressionistic
contemporary dance that transcended its source to become something
pinker and infinitely more peaceful.

In its sense of choreographed spectacle, Dancing Borders seemed to have
its roots in a 1960s counter-culture, and some of the grass-roots and
community-based art that came out of that.

This included Albert Hunt's Bradford Theatre Group, formed at Bradford
College of Art and immortalised in Hunt's tellingly titled memoir,
Hopes For Great Happenings.

Then there was Jeff Nuttall's adventures in performance art with The
People Show, and there was John Fox's Welfare State International

There was also Centre 42, an arts lab founded in North London in 1964
by playwright Arnold Wesker.

Centre 42 later morphed into the Roundhouse, the counter-cultural Mecca
that played host to hippie Happenings, including the launch of
underground newspaper, International Times, featuring performances by
Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, as well as the Middle Earth club.

With this in mind, it's interesting to note that, as part of UPLAND,
one of the artists huts has been dubbed Games Centre 42.

All of these initiatives in different ways created spectacles in places
and spaces both indoors and outdoors that became subverted, disrupted
or changed in some way.

A much sung example of this happened in 1970, when Joseph Beuys and
Richard Demarco set out on their walk across Rannoch Moor, not long
before Beuys' response to the walk – Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) The
Scottish Symphony - was seen in the Strategy Get Arts exhibition at
Edinburgh College of Art.

In the 1980s, the band Test Department took the social and physical
environment of industrial decay and transformed it into a thrilling
martial spectacle set up in abandoned factories and warehouses that
would later house a fledgling rave and free party movement.

Using pounding percussion, found metal objects and heroic iconography,
Test Department looked militaristic, but remained fiercely oppositional
in intent.

Later, Test Department's Angus Farquhar, who would go on to produce
environmental spectaculars with his company, NVA, would make the cranes
on the River Clyde dance and reimagine the landscape of Glen Lyon.

With Test Department, he would reconstitute the Beltane Fire on Calton
Hill, an event which became synonymous with protests against the
Criminal Justice Bill, the legislation brought in to outlaw gatherings
involving repetitive beats.

All of these, in different ways, were weapons of happiness, just as
Dancing Borders was, and just as some of the works on show in UPLAND
here today at Cultybraggan might be too.

But Dancing Borders was also a kind of re-enactment of battles won or
lost, which, by way of assorted anniversaries, seems this year to be
very pertinent indeed.


This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War One, the 800th
anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and the thirtieth anniversary
of the Miners Strike.

The response by artists to World War One as it happened helped spew up
the Dada movement, a noisy, destructive form of anti-art that exploded
into the moment before morphing into Surrealism.

And now?

Every time I walk past Harburn Hobbies, the model railway and Airfix
kit shop on Leith Walk in Edinburgh just now, I'm struck by their
latest window display.

This consists of an artfully arranged display of boxes, each of which
contains a regiment of model soldiers – World War One British Infantry,
World War One British Cavalry, World War One American Infantry, World
War One German Infantry – with the box featuring a painting of an
action scene involving the relevant troops contained inside.

Behind these boxes stands a much larger box, again with an action scene
painted on involving a cumbersome-looking tank – a model of which can
also be bought separately.

As its lettering indicates, inside the larger box is a kit that allows
the serious modeller to build everything required to stage their
version of the Battle of the Somme on a scaled-down diorama, presumably
with the boxes of model soldiers in front also involved in the toy-town

This re-enactment in miniature contained in the window display in
Harburn Hobbies made me think briefly of Hell, the sculpture by Jake
and Dinos Chapman – who, incidentally, in 2004 curated the Nightmare
Before Christmas December strand of the All Tomorrows Parties music
festival at Camber Sands -   which artfully arranged miniature model
Nazi soldiers in the shape of a Swastika.

Neither Hell nor Harburn Hobbies window display, it seems, can be said
to be weapons of happiness.


As part of this year's much vaunted Homecoming celebrations in June,
the Battle of Bannockburn – which in real life lasted some 48 hours –
will be re-enacted in a series of three performances a day to entertain
the tourists in an event called Bannockburn Live, described on its
website as 'A Feast of Food, Music and History'.

In the re-enactments, more than 300 participants from re-enactment
societies across Europe, and described as 'living historians', will be
choreographed by Clanranald, the company who choreographed the action
scenes in the films, Gladiator and Thor 2.

Meanwhile, over on the music stages, Dougie MacLean, the writer of the
song Caledonia, and Julie Fowlis, who sang on the soundtrack to the
Disney Pixar animated feature film, Brave, will perform their own
weapons of happiness.


As for the Miner's Strike, Jeremy Deller already immortalised this late
twentieth century civil war when he and some of the conflict's
survivors – miners and policemen both – staged a re-enactment of  the
Battle of Orgreave.

One of the Miners Strike's bitterest conflicts, the Battle of Orgreave,
saw some 5-6000 picketing miners at loggerheads with up to 8000 police
in Yorkshire in 1984.

It was an event which eventually saw South Yorkshire police pay out
half a million pounds in compensation to striking miners they had

Film-maker Mike Figgis, - who had once been part of The People Show
with Jeff Nuttall - filmed Deller's re-enactment of the Battle of
Orgreave for a Channel 4 documentary.

As well as using local people in the project, Deller drafted in three
re-enactment societies to choreograph something that was still fresh in
people's minds, and went some way to highlighting the battle's
significance as well as being a form of healing for the local community.


Deller's use of weapons of happiness was partly in keeping with
Culloden, the 1964 film made by Peter Watkins, who used documentary
techniques to dramatise the 1746 Battle of Culloden that resulted in
the British Army's destruction of the Jacobite rising.

Using a non-professional cast, Watkins staged Culloden as a piece of
contemporary reportage, with key players on both sides of the battle
being interviewed on camera as if being shown on a news broadcast.

To the best of my knowledge, neither Bannockburn, Culloden or Orgreave
are available in Airfix model kit miniature reconstructions, although
the Battle of the Somme and other key battles in World Wars One and Two

Perhaps these too are a form of creative play that reimagine
environments in the way that Zoe and Neil's weapons of happiness do,
and which the artists contributing to UPLAND today have done.


But what happens next?

Is it all about personal change within this environment, or will it
amount to something greater than that?

That remains to be seen, but as an example of  how environments can be
changed in the long term, one should perhaps look to Rannoch Moor.

Since Joseph Beuys and Richard Demarco first went there in 1970, the
place has become notable for other interventions.

Long before Brave, Disney situated Castle McDuck, the ancestral home of
Walt Disney's cartoon millionaire amphibian, Scrooge McDuck, on Rannoch

Rannoch Moor was also the location for a scene in Danny Boyle's 1996
big-screen adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel, Trainspotting.

It is the spire built there by George Wylie in 1986 in honour of Beuys
and Demarco, however, that is probably a more lasting legacy of their


Even more pertinent, this weekend, Test Department have reconvened for
the first time since 1997 to present a new sonic, cinematic and
lighting intervention at Dunston Staiths on the banks of the River Tyne.

Dunston Staiths was built in 1893, and was reputed to be Europe’s
largest wooden structure to ship coal from the local Durham coalfields
to the world.

The event will form part of the AV Festival of sound-based art in what
should prove to be one of the most spectacular commemorations of the
Miners Strike.

What happens next at Camp 21, Cultybraggan beyond Upland  remains to be

Perhaps there will be more art.

Perhaps there will be some kind of music festival.

Whatever happens, a brief conversation I had earlier with a lady who
was navigating the site as she perused the art in Upland saw her
capture what the power of a space, and the power for that space to
change, can mean.

She put it succinctly.

“In a way,” she said, “we should be grateful to the army.”

Given as an introduction to a panel discussion presented as part of
UPLAND at Camp 21, Cultybraggan by staff and students of Edinburgh
College of art's Intermedia course on Saturday March 30th.

References: -

Peter Watkins – Culloden (1964) -

Mike Figgis / Jeremy Deller – The Battle of Orgreave -

I was planning to end my introduction with a reading of a text from
theatre director Max Stafford Clark's book, Taking Stock (Nick Hern
Books, 2007), but decided it wasn't quite appropriate. You may see why
below. It comes from page 15 of the book, at the end of the first
section, when Stafford-Clark was artistic director of the Traverse
Theatre, Edinburgh, from 1966-72.

'In 1971, Stafford-Clark and the Company went to a conference of
experimental theatre companies.

Letter to Philip Roberts, 15 May 2002
The International Theatre Institute festival was outside Paris in an
up-market holiday camp. Experimental and radical theatre companies came
from several countries. We represented Scotland. Each company occupied
a cluster of chalets. We began with an interminable discussion about
why we were there, and, more pertinently, how we were going to work
together over the week-long conference. The opening session dragged on
all afternoon in the September heat but was kicked into life by the
Swiss group who launched into an immediate and surreal improvisation in
the middle of the conference. One of the group, Roderic Leigh, was
later in Joint Stock's first production, The Speakers. Robert Wilson
did a still life which featured a dead rabbit. The Polish group, led by
Kantor, were sombre and impressive. The Italian group from Turin had a
charismatic and autocratic director and his largely female company were
students, shop assistants and waitresses who had run away from home
telling their mothers they were at an academic conference. Their show
wasn't up to much, but they gave the best parties and got drunk with
vigour and determination. The Swedish group announced they would hold
an open-air performance outside their chalet, which was at the top of a
small incline. As I approached I could see a large and breathless
crowd. In the centre of the clearing a young man with long blonde hair
was very slowly fucking the group's volatile leading lady. There was
also a Marxist French group who declined to mix with the rest of us and
who everybody resented. They staged a protest against our bourgeois
inertia by arriving in the dining room swathed head to foot in
bandages, where they sat in silent protest at each table while we ate.
I was impressed. We played the role of court jesters and staged scenes
from John Spurling's In the Heart of the British Museum in the garden.
Part of the Traverse Workshop Company were an accomplished band, Bread,
Love and Dreams, who had their own following in Scotland. In retrospect
I can see that they gave the company much of the light and airy feeling
that we had at our best. As for the serious political idea, it would
have died of loneliness...we were interested in exploring ourselves.'


Cut-Up For Tzara – A Re-Enactment Of Sorts

In the 1920's
at a Surrealist rally
Dadaist  poet Tristan Tzara
created a poem
on the spot
by pulling words
out of a hat.
There was a riot,
and the theatre
was wrecked.
Andre Breton expelled
Tristan Tzara
from the movement
and grounded the
cut ups
on the Freudian couch.
I originally thought
Tzara did this
in 1916
at the
Cabaret Voltaire
nightclub in Zurich,
but I was wrong.
In 1959,
painter and writer
Brion Gysin
cut newspaper articles
and rearranged
the sections at random.
Gysin introduced
the cut-up technique
William Burroughs.
Burroughs published
The Naked Lunch
the same year.
The Naked Lunch
revolutionised literature
and made Bill famous.
That was Bill
you heard just now.
Bill once said that
is a virus
from outer space.”
He may
have been right.
were later used
by the band
Cabaret Voltaire.
That's them
you can hear
just now.
Musically speaking,
soon became known
as samples.
changed dance music
Just ask
Grandmaster Flash
the KLF.
It's funny that
there's a club called
Cabaret Voltaire
down the road.
It used to be
quite good,
but has gone
a bit rubbish now.
This place
is better.
Like Tristan Tzara said,
“Not the old,
not the new,
but the necessary.”
“Art needs
an operation”
“Thought is made
in the mouth.”
“The summit sings
what is being spoken
in the depths.”
“Always destroy
what is in you.”
to put it
another way,
Rip It Up
And Start

Cut-Up For Tzara – A Re-Enactment Of Sorts was first performed as part
of Corpo Volta, which took place at The Drippy Cave, 39 Niddry Street,
Edinburgh, on Saturday December 14th 2013.

As a live recording of William S Burroughs reading Twilight's Last
Gleaming was played, the above text was presented to the audience, with
the words hand-written in black marker pen on a series of paper sheets
taken from three large sketch-pads.

This continued as the Burroughs recording moved into The Voice of
America/Damage Is Done by Cabaret Voltaire, which played on a loop.

After the full text had been presented, the sheets of paper were ripped
up and stuffed into a top hat placed on the floor, or else handed out
to the audience, who were encouraged to do likewise until the
performance ended.

The recording of Twilight's Last Gleaming was taken from Les Disques du
Crepescule's 1981 double LP compilation, The Fruits of the Original Sin.

The recording of The Voice of America/Damage Is Done was taken from The
Voice of America by Cabaret Voltaire, released on Rough Trade records
in 1980.

Corpo Volta was curated by Sophie Orton and Ortonandon, and was 'A
stupendous evening inspired by Dada and the Cabaret Voltaire of
astonishing, startling and nonsensical acts--- / ART / DANCE / MUSIC /

Featuring: Debi Banerjee and Dan Brown and Mairi Lafferty - Susie Green
– Neil Cooper - Greg Sinclair - Andrew Gannon - Sian Robinson Davies -
Jake Watts and Dave Young - Madame Argon - Andrew Blair - Alexa Hare
and Francesca Nobilucci's Yokollection - Julias' Daughters (Ellen Munro
and Emily Fogarty) - Pester and Rossi - Ortonandon - Fergus Connor and
The Late Great Orlando Leno – Usurper.

Special guest compère: I AM DADA

Extraordinary music/sounds by:
Thomas Aitchison
Casey Miller
Dj Lutto Lento


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Four stars
'No Pseudo Indy Debate' bore the legend scrawled onto a small
blackboard slammed on the upstairs bar of Glasgow's best-connected West
End hostelry as a pair of punters bordered on the verge of a square go
last night. While such an accessory may prove essential for all pub
landlords between now and September, the blackboard was actually
displaying one of a series of punchlines that made up writer Kevin P
Gilday's contribution to the National Theatre of Scotland's marathon
twenty-four hour online extravaganza of bite-size works inspired by the
forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence.

Downstairs, some twelve other playlets were performed live to camera
and broadcast globally as part of a programme of more than 180 works
selected by playwright David Greig and theatrical maestro David
MacLennan, who sadly passed away last week. Oran Mor's selection opened
with Victoria Bianchi's touching letter to her unborn child, while
George Drennan performed MacLennan's waggish poem on whether
independence would really change anything. Greig's response, penned
since MacLennan's death, was a moving tribute. Inbetween came mini
interviews with some of the major figures who helped forge the nation's
vibrant theatre scene alongside MacLennan.

What was most thrilling about watching this, be it live or virtually,
was witnessing several generations of Scotland's finest theatre makers
coming together with schools and community groups for a demonstration
of artistic solidarity possessing an energy, generosity and spirit of
inclusivity that proved truly inspiring. Whatever the result in
September, it is events like this that will have defined what is
possible. If you're reading this before 5pm, you can watch the world
changing online right now.

The Herald, June 24th 2014


Monday, 23 June 2014

In My Father's Words

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
When the increasingly senile old man at the heart of Justin Young's
moving, Toronto-set new play declares to his estranged son in Gaelic
that “We will go fishing,” the initial reaction is one of
incomprehension. By the end of Philip Howard's elegiac production for
Dundee Rep, however, Don has built a bridge, not just with his classics
lecturer son, Louis, who he hasn't seen for fifteen years, but with
Flora, the Gaelic-speaking carer Don hires so he can get on with his
self-absorbed and  long overdue translation of Homer.

Inspired by an Iain Crichton Smith's poem and set in a pre-laptop,
pre-Google early 1990s, what at first looks like a quiet play about
fathers, sons, and everyday dysfunction opens itself out to grander
themes of odyssey, exile and the gulf that can open up among families
when separated by war. Such  classical allusions never lose sight of
the basic human cost of this absence. With Lewis Howden's Louis the
epitome of world-weary resentment, Don's own pains become tellingly
clear through Angus Peter Campbell's vivid and understated portrayal.
It is Flora's disruptive appearance, played with gusto by Muireann
Kelly, that opens up both men enough to confront their troubled pasts.

While played primarily in English, Iain Finlay Macleod's Gaelic
translations projected onto screens on a twin-tiered wood-lined set
become key to the play's over-riding lyricism. Jon Beales' languid
score adds to the mood of poignancy and warmth. As Louis comes back to
life even as his father fades, their accidental quest for mutual
understanding reveals a shared history that is both intimate and epic
in its reach for roots and reconciliation.

The Herald, June 23rd 2014


Sunday, 22 June 2014

John Byrne – Sitting Ducks

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, June 14-October 19

It was a chance meeting with an Edinburgh councillor on Leith Walk that
eventually led to Sitting Ducks, painter and playwright John Byrne's
show of rarely seen work that opens at the Scottish National Portrait
Gallery this month before touring to Inverness. Having suggested to
Byrne that it was about time he had a major show in the capital, the
councillor wrote to the National Galleries of Scotland, who agreed, and
the wheels were duly set in motion for the exhibition of some fifty-odd
works drawn mainly from private collections dating as far back as the
1960s, many of which have never been seen publicly before.

“It was just stuff I remembered that people had bought,” Byrne muses,
“so I made a list. A lot of it is stuff I've not seen since I did it,
drawings of my children, things like that.”

There are self-portraits too, including one from the early 1970s “which
can be dated from the fact that I'm wearing bell-bottomed jeans.”

Not everything on show will be complete, however, including an
eight-foot diptych of Billy Connolly, which has been on loan “in
perpuity” to the People's Palace in Glasgow, where only one half of the
painting could be found. Such a loss sits with the recent rediscovery
of sketches  for a mural Byrne painted on a gable end in Partick in the
1970s, which were found in a skip next to the old Third Eye Centre.

“I think they'll be a bit more careful at the National Gallery,” Byrne

A new publication will accompany Sitting Ducks, along with assorted
merchandise. Byrne twinkles at the prospect.

“They put your face on a plate or a tie or something,” he chuckles.
“Which I'm not averse to at all.”

The List, June 2014

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

David Greig - The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show

The sad passing last week of David MacLennan robbed the theatre world of one of its true gentlemen and artistic pioneers of several decades standing. It also meant that the founder of the A Play, A Pie and A Pint lunchtime theatre phenomenon, founder of Wildcat and co-founder of 7:84 would not be able to witness what has turned out to be his final project. The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show was conceived and curated by MacLennan with playwright David Greig as a theatrical look at the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. With Greig a Yes supporter and MacLennan having come out for a No vote, it wasn't the most natural of alliances. As the two most diplomatic advocates of their respective causes in the arts, however, mutual respect has been the key to the end result.

As the title suggests, Greig and MacLennan's collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland follows the NTS' previous Five Minute Theatre shows, in which the public at large were invited to submit original scripts. If selected, the chosen submissions were then performed on camera and streamed live or as live on the internet to a worldwide audience. With more than 180 submissions set to be performed across a twenty-four hour period, The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show will also feature new revue-style sketches performed in Oran Mor which will tap into the sort of political satire which MacLennan cut his theatrical teeth on in the 1970s with 7:84 and Wildcat, which he led for twenty years.

Essentially David and I have both done work around different elections,” explains Greig, “and as soon as the referendum was on the horizon it was clear that someone should do something. David had come out as being quite on the No side at that point, and I was Yes, so that seemed quite interesting to both of us. We talked to the NTS, and agreed that whatever we did, it should be some kind of political revue show. We thought about various things and went down assorted blind alleys, but then it suddenly became really obvious that it should be a Five Minute Theatre show.

Rather than do something that was about a troupe of actors in the central belt going round the country, it made more sense to throw it out to the public. The whole referendum is about democracy, so with Five Minute Theatre, someone can perform a song in Stornoway which can be seen by audiences in Jedburgh in a way that totally demonstrates that experience of democracy.”

There is a perception in some quarters that much of the artistic community will be voting Yes. While this belief is down to a welter of activity from grassroots groups such as National Collective, the public support for the No campaign by novelist JK Rowling last week has changed attitudes in some quarters. Even before Rowling's statement, however, Greig took “the idea that artists are mainly for Yes with a pinch of salt anyway. There are artists who are No, but for various reasons are not inclined to put on big shows or sit on panels because they don't need to. On the other hand, artists who support Yes are going to be out at night at various events for totally laudable reasons.

We aren't suggesting we can make people change their minds with this show. The whole thing about theatre is dialogue, and you can't have that without trying to understand both sides of that dialogue. David and I have had a lot of interesting discussions, but they've never had an influence on the work that we've chosen for this show, because I tell you what, theatre trumps everything. You can have an interesting piece of theatre that leans towards No, and by the same token you can have a Yes play that is total propaganda, and vice versa. In the end, we decided things on what makes the best theatre.”

With passions on both sides of the argument undoubtedly running high, The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show looks set to rise above some of the more simplistic and at times intolerant and abusive notions being put forward by the more extreme wings of each camp. Again, respect has been at a premium in the works submitted to the show.

Despite their full-on inclinations,” says Greig, “nobody has come out and said directly that this is why you should vote Yes or No. People seem to have come at it from all sorts of different angles, so if there were any surprises for me as I sat in a hotel bar in Fort William and read these 250 submissions over three hours, and this is going to sound trite, it was how good they were. With the sheer accretion of ideas from all these different places and different groups, it felt like I'd read an amazing play.

When you read a submission, you're perhaps looking for certain signals, and you see that things divide roughly on the lines that the polls suggest, with probably slightly more on the No side, but that's not really the approach they took. There's an overwhelming feeling of people considering the question with a real sense of generosity. You can feel people who lean towards Yes but writing about No in order to try and find out what it's about. There was this feeling of a country talking about itself, and that was really quite moving.”

The final words on The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show, however, must go to MacLennan. Before he passed away, he wrote about howthis imaginative and exciting show has provoked such a huge and enthusiastic response. The submissions reflect every possible view in the referendum debate and put together they are going to make a thoughtful, passionate, provocative and highly entertaining variety show; theatre of the people, by the people, for the people."

The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show will be performed at various locations across the world, and will stream live over twenty-four hours on June 23rd from 5pm.


The Great Yes, No, Don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show

Presented by the National Theatre of Scotland and co-curated by David Greig and David MacLennan, The Great Yes, No, don't Know, Five Minute Theatre Show will broadcast 180 five minute theatre pieces performed by over 840 participants across eight countries.

As well as being broadcast live online over twenty-four hours, audiences can watch local performances at live performance hubs in Scotland. These include Òran Mór, Glasgow; Electric Theatre Workshop, Dumfries; Aberdeen Performing Arts and Arts Centre and Theatre, Aberdeen and Eden Court Theatre, Inverness.

Audiences will also be able to watch The Great Yes, No, Don’t Know, Five Minute Theatre Show from hand- held devices as well as desk top computers. Participants will also be able to self-broadcast from a hand-held phone or tablet, on any platform.

The Herald, June 17th 2014


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Avenue Q

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
It doesn't matter how wilfully potty-mouthed it gets, there's something
delightfully and reassuringly old-fashioned about Robert Lopez, Jeff
Marx and Jeff Whitty's scurrilous Sesame Street inspired hit puppet
musical. This is despite a set of furry characters who not only swear,
but have one-night stands, screw each other over and mess up their
lives in a manner that would make Kermit The Frog blush.

As wide-eyed but unemployed English graduate Princeton moves into the
down-at-heel but colourful multi-cultural boulevard of broken dreams
that gives the show its title, the monsters that occupy it are either
porn-crazed sociopaths, in-the-closet queens, slutty night-club singers
or, like Princeton's neighbour Kate, a love-lorn school-teacher. The
people aren't much better, not even down on his luck real life child
star of kids TV favourite Diff'rent Strokes Gary Coleman, here played
by a woman.

Cressida Carre's touring revival for the team behind the increasingly
enterprising Sell A Door company doesn't mess with this formula in a
production that puts eleven people, including four puppeteers, onstage
with an entire community of pastel-coloured creations. With a set of
1970s TV sit-com style show-tunes dominating, where Sesame Street –
whose creators don't have anything to do with Avenue Q in any way – was
borne of an inner-city counter-cultural melting pot, Lopez, Marx and
Whitty's  show is part austerity culture slacker comedy, part seemingly
politically incorrect post South Park cartoon giving the world the
finger.  In the end, with the puppeteers doubling up as a chorus line
as everything comes good for Princeton, Kate and the gang, both come
from the same sentimental and gloriously harmonious place.

The Herald, June 12th 2014


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Nectarine No 9

Rutherglen Town Hall
Five stars
By opting to reconvene after a decade to perform their 1995 Saint Jack
album in full, Davy Henderson's Edinburgh-sired guitar auteurs The
Nectarine No 9 proved themselves as maverick as the End Social
programme that hosted them to remind the kids where their new pop idols
learnt their chops. With the final Nectarines line-up having morphed
into the still utterly essential The Sexual Objects, it wasn't that
hard to round up the troops to recreate Saint Jack's poundingly dark
mix of skewed rock and roll eclectica. Ever the conceptualists,
however, Henderson and co don't do things by rote.

With the opening screening of silent movie, Death of the Kelly Family,
mutating into a Stan Brakhage style abstraction, Douglas MacIntyre
strikes up a garage-band bass-line before drummer Ian Holford comes on
sporting raincoat and boxer shorts. Holford remains standing to take
lead vocals on the magnificently named Couldn't Phone Potatoes as
Henderson and guitarists Simon Smeeton and Graham Wann wander on.

Unlike similar work-outs by more lauded acts, what follows accentuates
the album's multitude of subtleties or else reinvents the songs
entirely. Can't Scratch Out, an insistent jab of a song on record, is
helmed in by a complex and restrained arrangement and a whispered vocal
more resembling something by Sam Prekop. The emotional purging of
Unloaded For You becomes an appositely jaunty number recalling
swing-era Subway Sect.

Poet Jock Scott's contributions are heard from the ether, while the
instrumentals sound like twitchily inventive pre-cursors to what we now
know as post-rock in a thrilling reminder of why The Nectarine No 9
were and still are one of the most important bands alive.

The Herald, June 9th 2014


Kenny Miller - Perth Theatre's Cross Country Stories

During Rachel O'Riordan's all too brief three-year tenure in charge of
Perth Theatre before she departed the city's Horsecross Arts
organisation to run Sherman Cymru in Cardiff, she enlivened a theatre
previously seen as a solid but safe producing house with a series of
hard-hitting productions that could compete alongside any other stage
in Scotland. As the theatre prepared to close for major refurbishment,
O'Riordan also set plans in motion to keep Perth Theatre in the public
eye with several off-site initiatives.

The first fruits of this is Cross Country Stories, which consists of
two forty-five minute solo plays which will tour hotel bars in the
region in a pair of up close and personal productions overseen by Kenny
Miller. Face, written by by Peter Arnott and performed by Janette
Foggo, opens tonight at the Kinross Hotel with its female protagonist
opening up to strangers in a way she's not used to Alan Bissett's
piece, Jacquoranda, performed by Louise McCarthy, visits the same venue
next Tuesday as its eponymous heroine sets up a group therapy session
with a difference.

“It's very informal,” says Miller, who   and has been drafted in my
Horsecross Arts as associate director for theatre. “Both plays have
been written completely around the idea of them being done in bars.
They're very low-spun and really in your face. Face is about a woman
whose mother has died, and who has a twin sister, who's completely
alienated herself from her while she's cared for her mother, and the
play is really about this woman's battle with herself. Jacquoranda is a
therapy session, really, about a man who comes up to this woman in the
pub, sees she's a lost soul, and gets her to give up drink, cigarettes,
drugs and everything that gets her through the day.”

While Cross Country Stories is something of a radical departure for
Perth Theatre and Horsecross Arts, a template of sorts was set up with
Tips, a short piece by Mary Gapinski which the writer, actress and some
time collaborator of Miller  performed in Perth Theatre's Redrooms
space, where the National Theatre of Scotland's The Strange Undoing of
Prudentia Hart was also presented. As the nearest venue to the company
home, both Cross Country Stories shows will end their short tours there.

As a veteran directing and designing shows both great and small in
theatres such as the Citizens Theatre, where he cut his directing
teeth, to Perth, the Tron and Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint and
Classic Cuts seasons, Miller is aware of how spaces can be adapted to
suit a production more than most. Miller recognises too how much Cross
Country Stories fits in with an increasingly lo-fi aesthetic pioneered
at Oran Mor in a climate where no tradition of pub theatre exists in
the way it does in London, where function rooms are at a premium.

“We're really keen to explore that intimate kind of theatre Oran Mor
does so brilliantly,” he says. “Although the shows there still work
very much with a stage, which is slightly different to what Cross
Country Stories is doing, there's still a similarity.”

What audiences in the Green Hotel in Kinross and beyond will make of
the two plays remains to be seen, although those who don't live in
Perthshire but who are keen to see both plays can see a special Cross
Country Stories double bill in the Tron Theatre's equally intimate
Victorian Bar in Glasgow this coming Saturday night.

“I think some audiences may be surprised,” he says. “Our regular Perth
Theatre audience certainly weren't used to it, which is part of why we
brought in Mary to do Tips, but they loved it. Some of the places we're
going to certainly won't have seen this kind of theatre, and they
probably won't be used to having someone sit down at the table next to
them and start telling them a story. Maybe some people will just get up
and wander off, but I think if they stay they'll enjoy themselves.
These are both great plays which, in different ways, have ended up
having a kind of therapy theme to them, and there's really something
for audiences to get their teeth into.”

While Miller can't say too much about future plans for Perth Theatre
beyond Cross Country Stories, it's a fairly safe bet to presume that
the nearby Perth Concert Halls may be co-opted for larger productions
at some point. Smaller off-site fare on a par with Face and Jacquoranda
also look set to become company staples.

“Now we've started doing it,” says Miller, “we want it to continue.
Even when the theatre re-opens, we always want to have plays done
off-site and commit to that as part of our programme. Perth Theatre
isn't known for doing new writing, but new writing is something that I
think is so important to do and to get it out there in a way that we
hope to continue to do once the theatre re-opens. By doing Cross
Country Stories, we're making a statement that's saying that we're Perth
Theatre, we're still here, and this is the sort of work we might be
doing when we re-open.”

Face opens at the Green Hotel, Kinross on June 10, with Jacquoranda at
the same venue on June 17. Both shows then tour venues in Kenmore,
Pitlochry, Crieff, Blair Atholl, Dunning, Dunkeld and Perth. A double
bill of both plays takes place at the Victorian bar, Tron Theatre,
Glasgow, June 14. For full tour dates, see


Twenty-first Century Perth – The future of Perth Theatre

With contractors now appointed, work on Perth Theatre's multi million
pound redevelopment is scheduled to start this summer.

As well as creating a 225 seat studio theatre, the newly transformed
venue, which aims to reopen in 2017,  will have increased workshop
spaces for creative learning and community projects including  Perth
Youth Theatre.

The B listed Edwardian auditorium will be restored to its former glory
and there will be improved access and facilities for audiences and

The Perth Theatre redevelopment project has already been pledged £13.5
million from various funding bodies and partners.

The Herald, June 10th 2014


First Cosmonaut

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
The peasants huddling round a hand-cart and wooden ladder at the start
of Blue Raincoat Theatre Company's biographical study of pioneering
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagaran may not be revolting, but the
dressed-down quintet are clearly keeping a self-consciously stern eye
on the audience as they gradually troop in to a suitably heroic
soundtrack. As it turns out, director of the Sligo-based company Niall
Henry has them frame Jocelyn Clarke's forensically researched script as
an arch  facsimile of a rural Soviet theatre group paying homage to
their country-man.

As the three men and two women strike a series of Meyerhold-inspired
poses, this develops into a gloriously deadpan device which they
sustain throughout the play's full seventy-five minutes. Following an
opening monologue which appears to give a very Russian nod to David
Bowie's Space Oddity, the ensemble's suitably collective retelling
charts Gagarin's rise from a little boy with stars in his eyes to
iconic status as the first man in space. Only long after he's become an
untouchable tool of the Stalinist state does he prematurely fall to
earth in, of all things. a plane crash.

In Henry's fluidly playful affair, the hand-cart somehow morphs into a
space-ship as Yuri's family and Comrade Kruschev look on. All this is
back-dropped by Joe Hunt's ingenious projections, a fast-zooming
collage of dazzling archive footage that orbits a time when the
exploration of mysterious other worlds mattered and planet Earth was
revealed as a place most definitely not at the centre of the universe.
With infinite invention, Blue Raincoat have taken such notions and
transformed them into a beguiling piece of theatre for space cadet
survivors to gaze on.

The Herald, June 9th 2014


Saturday, 7 June 2014

Sports Day

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
From the moment River City star, stage actress and musician Joyce
Falconer shuffles onstage sporting a vivid pink track-suit, Olivia
Newton John sweat-band and Chariots of Fire ring-tone, it becomes clear
that teamwork is at the heart of the Citz's big-scale community theatre
response to the impending Glasgow-based 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Falconer is Geraldine, the retiring but never shy janitor whose last
day falls on the school sports day that this compendium of sketches,
songs and short plays is based around. With Geraldine the linking
device, narrator and social glue between each, Falconer also becomes
the fifth member of the show's rousing live band led by Michael John

From such a starting block on an astro-turf covered stage, we follow
the lead-up to the main event through miniature dramas involving
toffee-nosed head-masters, anxious parents, competitive dads and a
family fending off  bribes from dodgy politicians who offer them cash
for fancy new training shoes. There is a touching scene between a star
runner who is also his dad's carer, some off-piste bake-sale rivalry
and a solo riff on rounders in which defeat is snatched from the jaws
of victory.

Performed by a mammoth cast of sixty-five, Guy Hollands and Neil
Packham's production miraculously navigates the performers through each
set-piece with a well-co-ordinated brio that heroically manages to
avoid them from crashing into each other. So well knitted-together are
things, in fact, that it's hard to tell who wrote what, although the
likes of Peter Arnott, Lynda Radley, Douglas Maxwell and Linda McLean
are certainly in there with thirteen others in a show in which everyone
is on the same side.

The Herald, June 6th 2014


Thursday, 5 June 2014

Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story

Tramway, Glasgow
Four stars
Anyone who ever witnessed the full live experience of dread-locked
piper extraordinaire, Martyn Bennett, at the height of his 1990s pomp
will know only too well how powerful his fusion of ceilidh and club
cultures could be. Bennett's tragic death of cancer in 2005 aged just
thirty-three robbed the world of a composer and musician bursting with
talent and a lust for life which can't help but cause one to wonder how
his work might have developed.

Much of Bennett's passion is captured in this new dramatic homage,
conceived and directed by Cora Bissett, who also collaborates on Kieran
Hurley's script for a co-production between Bissett's Pachamama
Productions, Tramway and the Mull-based Comar organisation. As with the
show's inspiration, Bissett mixes and matches forms with abandon.
Opening speeches to the audience find actors Sandy Grierson, Hannah
Donaldson and Gerda Stevenson, respectively playing Bennett, Bennett's
wife, Kirsten, and his mother, folk singer Margaret Bennett. We're then
burled through the sketch-book naturalism of Bennett's early years
before things let rip with a series of impressionistic contemporary
dance moves and aerial displays choreographed by Dana Gingras, all set
to a back-drop of archive film footage and Gaelic language projections.

With the principal cast and dancers ably supported by a large youth
ensemble, this is undoubtedly impressive, even if early parts of the
script shoe-horn in a tad too much polemic. When we move into Bennett's
final years, however, it is heart-rending to watch Grierson replicate
Bennett's demise. The emotional power of Bennett's story can't be
over-stated, especially when illustrated by such high-octane set-pieces
accompanied by Bennett's own music. Like its creator, that music
remains a force of nature.

The Herald, June 5th 2014


Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Sports Day - Guy Hollands on Commonwealth and the community

The opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next month has
inspired a welter of extra-curricular artistic activity. One of the
first out of the traps is Sports Day, a huge community show at the
city's Citizens Theatre, which features a compendium of new short
pieces penned by major Scottish writers, including Peter Arnott, Linda
McLean, Douglas Maxwell and Julia Taudevin, all based around a school
sports day. These will be accompanied by a series of new songs written
by equally major song-writers and musicians such as Vaselines vocalist
Eugene Kelly, Sparrow and the Workshop's Jill O'Sullivan, John Kielty
and Claire McKenzie. All this will be linked by a series of scenes
featuring River City star Joyce Falconer as the school's janitor.

For anyone studying the form, the stats go like this. Sixty
non-professional performers drawn from assorted Citizens-based
community groups will perform some seventeen new plays accompanied by
twelve brand new songs. With only four weeks rehearsal to play with,
putting Sports Day together has been something of a Herculean task.

“It's a lot of stuff,” says Citizens associate director Guy Hollands,
who oversees the theatre's Citizens Learning community arm, and is
co-directing Sports Day with the theatre's Community Drama Director,
Neil Packham. “It obviously started out as a response to the
Commonwealth Games, but I also wanted an opportunity to bring together
all of the different groups that already exist in the building, and to
try and get them to inter-mingle somehow, rather than just going away
after their classes.

“I originally wanted Sports Day to be a revue-style piece, so I emailed
a load of writers and asked them if they'd be interested in writing a
piece about a school sports day, which is something people tend to have
fairly distinct memories of in one way or another. Everyone seemed to
have a story about it, both positively and negatively, and I was quite
surprised to see what came back.”

With assorted responses to Hollands' brief looking variously at
preparations for the day to the races themselves, a rough chronology
developed, that saw teachers, parents and pupil athletes all in the
frame. One play even looks at the plight of a family trying to raise
money for a new pair of training shoes in order for their child to
participate in the day.

“We wanted Sports Day to be largely celebratory,” Hollands points out,
“and to celebrate the power of community spirit in sport. Douglas
Maxwell's piece is a beautiful short play, and is probably the most
hard-hitting of them all, but on the whole we wanted to keep things

Such a spirit of celebration will almost certainly be enlivened by the
presence of Falconer, whose deadpan Doric tones are best known to
viewers of River City from her long stint as Roisin Henderson.

“We've worked with Joyce before,” says Hollands, “and we knew she was
right for this part. She's someone who everyone knows from seeing her
in River City, and is totally the right kind of person for the role.”

While there will be some interaction between Falconer's janitor and a
not entirely sympathetic head teacher, the majority of her scenes will
see her onstage alone. A mean accordion player, Falconer will also take
part in the show's musical interludes.

These were initially co-ordinated by theatre composer and former member
of the group, Zoey Van Goey, MJ McCarthy, and will be performed by the
cast alongside a live band.

“One song was written especially for Joyce,” says Hollands, “but it's
been an interesting process, and I think we discovered that writing a
song perhaps needs more time invested in it than we originally thought.
For the artists who come from the indie world, it's a very different
thing for them to be doing, because they have to be songs written to be
sung in unison. All three of those songs have a really unique take on
things, and really fit in well with the whole tone of the piece.”

While scheduling rehearsals for Sports Day has been something of a
logistical nightmare, with proceedings being scheduled around the
performers day jobs and other commitments, it has been the show's
musical aspects that has united the company.

“It's really enjoyable to sing together,” Hollands observes, “and that
all ties in with the explosion of community choirs. Working on Sports
Day, I've witnessed it myself how much you can bond through singing. 
That's the only time in rehearsals we've had the full company together,
and that has become a really important part of the process. The mood in
the room when everyone gets together like that is just electric.”

If the music of Sports Day has acted as a unifying force, there is an
even bigger message that comes from the theme of sport itself.
“I believe in sport,” says Hollands. “Personally I think art and sport
are very similar in lots of relative ways. There's a very obvious sense
of play in both art and sport, but there are also similarities in terms
of well-being and giving people the opportunity to achieve something,
and to express themselves in some way.”

Given how the performers in Sports Day have come from several different
groups as well as the subject of the piece, one wonders whether any
sense of competitive rivalry has crept into proceedings. Hollands,
however, suggests team work has been paramount throughout rehearsals.

“We want to achieve the highest quality production we can,” he says,
“and for that to happen people have got to work together. A major part
of Sports Day is about personal growth and personal expression, and for
the Citizens it's making an important statement about the value of
community work, and where we place it in our portfolio.”

Whatever the result of Sports Day, then, it's the taking part that

Sports Day, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, June 4-7.

This Sporting Life – Sport onstage

The Changing Room - David Storey
Storey's look at life among a semi-pro rugby team before, during and
after a game opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 1971 in a production
by Lindsay Anderson, and was revived by Michael Rudman in 1996 as part
of a Royal Court classics season.

Tuebrook Tanzi – Clare Luckham
Luckham's 1978 feminist play about a young woman's desire to be a
wrestler was performed in an actual wrestling ring, with the cast
hurling each other around over a series of rounds. Originally known as
Tuebrook Tanzi – The Venus Flytrap, the play toured Liverpool clubs,
and was filmed by the BBC in front of a live wrestling audience. As
Trafford Tanzi, the play was revived at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre,
while later productions starred Toyah Wilcox and, in America, Blondie's
Debbie Harry and comedian Andy Kaufman.

Up 'n' Under – John Godber
Rugby again featured in Godber's play, first produced by Hull Truck in
1984, which looked at a ramshackle pub team who are turned into
champions by a female trainer. The play picked up an Olivier award for
best new play, and inspired a sequel, Up 'n' Under 2, as well as a film
version in 1998 starring Neil Morrissey.

The Celtic Story/The Rangers Story/We Are The Hibees
There were a spate of popular football plays several years ago, which
played to packed houses of football fans, who cheered on the history of
their particular team told through a series of iconic moments.

The Herald, June 3rd 2014


Chorale – A Sam Shepard Roadshow

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
It looks like someone's been stranded at the drive-in at the start of
the first night of this weekend's bite-size tour through some of
American playwright Sam Shepard's little-seen works by Presence Theatre
and Actors Touring Company in association with the Belgrade, Coventry.
There's some bump n' grind bar-room blues playing, and, in front of a
back-lit big-screen, some drifter in a sleeping bag remains comatose
throughout the screening of Shirley Clarke's 1981 video of Savage/Love,
Shepard's dramatic collaboration with actor/director Joseph Chaikin.

As the title suggests, Shepard and Chaikin's twenty-five minute
masterpiece, performed to the camera by Chaikin himself with jazz duo
accompaniment, is a relentless incantation on the highs and lows of
obsessive amour. On video, it becomes both an impressionistic
interpretation by Clarke and an essential document of Shepard and
Chaikin's fertile collaboration, which also sired Tongues and The War
in Heaven, both seen as part of the second day of Chorale alongside
Shepard's 1970 play, The Holy Ghostly.

There's a distinct whiff of patchouli oil for The Animal (You), a
compendium of Shepard's prose fragments knitted together by director
Simon Usher and actor Jack Tarlton, who performs alongside John
Chancer, Valerie Gogan and musician Ben Kritikos like some
pan-generational art-rock poetry troupe. From behind microphones, the
three men declaim Shepard's retrospective meditations on fathers, sons
and barefoot girls on trains who look like Tuesday Weld. Inbetween,
explosive litanies on the visceral power of rock music leap out with
abandon. All this converges as a rolling interior monologue with the
irresistible pull of the road at its heart in a piece of beguilingly
poetic rock and roll theatre.

The Herald, June 3rd 2014


Monday, 2 June 2014

Perfect Days

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
One of the most remarkable things about Liz Lochhead's 1998 play is
that, apart from a 2011 version in the Czech Republic, it has never
been adapted for film or television. Here, after all, is a funny and
utterly serious look at an independent career woman's mid-life struggle
with life, love and a biological clock that is ticking ever louder,
which arrived onstage just a few short months after Sex and the City
was first aired. Throw in a gay best friend, a well-buffed toy boy and
an ex husband with a girlfriend half his age, and, in the right hands,
it could have made for a fine mini-series at the very least.

As it is, Lochhead's edgy comedy concerning thirty-nine year old
celebrity Glasgow hairdresser Barbs Marshall has become a stage staple
that taps into the contradictions of a free-spirited twenty-first
century woman who seemingly has it all with wit, style and some very
grown-up humour. Liz Carruthers' new production for Pitlochry Festival
Theatre puts Helen Logan centre-stage as Barbs in a version which
appears to have slightly updated some of its pop-cultural reference
points, although to do that fully for the social media generation would
require a brand new play.

It's the dialogue that counts, though, and Lochhead's lines fizz with
gallus life as they're delivered by Logan, with Scott Armstrong as her
best-friend Brendan sharing some of the funniest exchanges. Beyond the
complex emotional life Barbs sets herself up with, it is her mother
Sadie, played by Estrid Barton, who provides the play's heart. As Barbs
navigates her way to some kind of emancipation, what is revealed is a
play about motherhood at every level.

The Herald, June 2nd 2014


My Name Is...

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
The newspaper headlines that surround the estranged family in Sudha
Bhuchar's new play for Tamasha Theatre Company may scream of how a
young Scottish/Pakistani girl was kidnapped by her father, but the
truth is infinitely more complex. Drawn from interviews with the real
life mother, father and daughter whose faces were seen all over the
world in 2006 when just such an incident occurred, Bhuchar's play
changes their names to try and explain the back-story to what happened.

In Philip Osment's simple but stately production, Farhan and Suzy tell
how they met and fell in love in Glasgow, with a teenage Suzy
converting to Islam as they marry and have children, including their
youngest, Ghazala. As personal and cultural tensions coming to the
fore, the marriage falls apart and Farhan returns to Pakistan, with
Ghazala moving across continents to be with one parent or the other.

This is a sad, emotionally raw story that is laid bare without
sentiment as the family's words reveal a fragile, warts and all world
of painful decisions that have disastrous consequences for all. Buchar
wisely doesn't take sides or attempt to offer any easy solutions in a
drama that has moved on considerably from where her play ends. Rather,
she and Osment allow the understated power of the piece to come through
a fantastically nuanced trio of performances from Kiran Sonia Sawar as
Ghazala, Umar Ahmed as Farhan and especially Karen Bartke as Suzy.
While the resonances of the play being performed in Glasgow cannot be
understated, for all the heartbreak on show, it's the moments of love
you remember most.

The Herald, June 2nd 2014