Saturday, 29 November 2014

Scotch and Soda

Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square, Edinburgh
Three stars
What happens in a bar after-hours stays in a bar after-hours. Unless,
that is, the late-night action is immortalised and worked up into an
hour-long routine by a troupe of alt-circus performers who resemble
extras from a Tom Waits song. This is the case here, as Australia's
Company 2 transform drinking games into gymnastics in the Underbelly's
flagship show for Edinburgh's Christmas 2014 programme.

A quintet of acrobats accompanied by the equally five-strong Crusty
Suitcase Band introduce the audience into a speak-easy atmosphere with
a fanfare that moves between rag-time and bump n' grind. Things start
off simple enough with a set of what looks like party tricks, as sole
female member of the ensemble Chelsea McGuffin takes a walk across some
upright champagne bottles.

The elaborately bearded Mozes indulges in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it
full-frontal flash before embarking on a far more impressive solo
trapeze act. His colleagues do hand-stands on towered-up crates and
bicycles circling the stage, or else fling either themselves or Ms
McGuffin through the air for a dexterously co-ordinated display.

With the band barely letting up their brass-laden cacophony, what is
revealed beyond the show's loose-knit narrative is essentially a set of
extended indoor busking routines writ large and honed into a bite-size
cabaret. The most charming moment of the entire hour of this European
premiere comes not from assorted physical jerks, but from creatures
more accustomed to being in flight.

Because when the lights dim on the Spiegeltent auditorium and McGuffin
pitches a tent and opens a suitcase as three very tame birds perch on a
  music stand before flapping about, it has a natural gravity which even
the high-flying finale can't match.
The Herald, November 28th 2014


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Nikola Kodjabashia - A Christmas Carol

Ebeneezer Scrooge and composer Harrison Birtwistle may not be the most
obvious of artistic bedfellows. Without the latter, however, one
suspects Nikola Kodjabashia would not have been able to make the
Citizens Theatre's seasonal production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas
Carol as adapted by Neil Bartlett sound like it does when it opens this

It was Birtwistle, after all, who effectively taught Kodjabashia his
musical chops when the Macedonian composer studied under the former
musical director of the National Theatre in London before giving  him
his first theatre gig on Sir Peter Hall's production of The Bacchai.

Since then, Kodjabashia has worked all over the world, and has forged a
particularly fruitful working relationship with the Citz's artistic
director, Doninic Hill, who will oversee A Christmas Carol. This
follows on from Hill's acclaimed productions of Crime and Punishment,
which saw Chris Hannan adapt Dostoyevsky's epic novel for the stage, as
well as the pair's recent collaboration on an equally lauded Hamlet.

Kodjabashia's music was integral to both shows. Where Crime and
Punishment looked to east European chorales, Hamlet seemed to channel
the ghosts in the machines of the BBC Radiophonic workshop. Crucially,
both productions saw their ensemble casts sing and play an array of
instruments that looked as though they'd been rescued from a skip. The
subsequent  soundscapes became each show's dramatic pulse.

”Everything is about the storytelling,” Kodjabashia says. “Sometimes
you start from a musical  place and then you try to make it become a
scene, and sometimes you start with a scene and try and make it work
musically. I've been writing music for theatre for over twenty years,
and it is important to understand how the medium works, because it is
about the literature, but sometimes it is more  about the space and the
movement. Theatre is a time-based thing as well, and performing the
music live adds to it enormously. I use my comfort zone of the time as
my canvas, so that's the game I'm trying to play. We often go from
something very concrete, and then add a few brushes of abstraction
there, but the focus has to remain absolutely on the story.”

For A Christmas Carol, Kodjabashia was surprised at how familiar he was
with the traditional carols that form the play's musical backbone.

“When I moved to the UK seventeen years ago,” he says, “I certainly
didn't know about them then, but when they sent me the score for the
play, I was like, I know that. Some of them are just amazing tunes, and
you just need to treat them with respect, but I'm trying to simplify
them, not just for the sake of it, but to make them part of the story.
Sometimes they are harmonised, sometimes they are complimented with
instruments, and sometimes they are variations of the originals, but
again, that depends on how they serve the story.|”

One of them, Kodjabashia says, sounds like a piece of choral funeral
music. Another is a dance-based Mediterranean piece. Such a variety of
styles, however, “are glimpses. I'm talking about spices rather than
big pieces of meat.”

From a musical family – his father is a composer and expert on
Byzantine music, his mother a music teacher - Kodjabashia studied music
in Bucharest before moving to the UK seventeen years ago. Kodjabashia
was already a fan of Birtwistle's before studying under him at King's
College, London.

“Harry was a hero of mine already,” Kodjabashia says, “so I was very
lucky. He said he couldn't teach me how to compose, but he could show
me the tools he uses to make his work, and I could do as I pleased with

Kodjabashia first worked with Hill on The Three Musketeers and the
Princess of Spain, Chris Hannan's ribald reimagining of Alexandre
Dumas' seventeenth century swordsmen, which was first seen at the
Traverse Theatre in a co-production with the Coventry-based Belgrade
Theatre. It was here the pair first began to develop a style which has
resulted in some of the most thrilling moments seen and heard on
Scotland's stages in recent times.

“There are two very important things you need to know about how Dominic
and I work,” Kodjabashia points out. “We both very strongly believe
that theatre today is about the experience. You want to show how the
storytelling is made. That's why we are very open in our staging. You
want to see the organs inside the body. We create the mysteries by
revealing what they are, and that's very exciting for me. One of the
tricks that we use is that we are constantly low-tech. So all the
hi-tech software that is available, and perhaps used too much, we say
no to. We would like everything to be created as much as possible by
human beings.”

Beyond his theatre work, Kodjabashia has recorded four albums, three of
which have been released on ReR records, the label run by former Henry
Cow drummer Chris Cutler. Much of this work is inspired by the writings
of Heiner Muller, James Joyce and William Gibson.

“The words aren't there,” Kodjabashia explains, “but I try to take some
of the shapes and elements of them and try and convert them into music.
Of course, an audience can say that it has nothing to do with the
writings, and of course it doesn't, but I think it is important to give
them a chance to see where my journey started from, and it can mean
whatever they want it to. It's good to give yourself a structure,
because only then can you be free. The best free jazz, for instance, is
the most organised.”

While Kodjabashia has been acclaimed in the contemporary music world,
there is a sense too that his work's inherent playfulness doesn't quite
fit in with it.

“The contemporary music establishment can be very serious,” he says,
“and is a mystery to me, but I like to have fun. I'm recycling all the
time, not just my work, but my entire cultural baggage, and that's what
we all are. So if Crime and Punishment was neo-Russian avant-gardism or
whatever, and Hamlet was about exploring European modernism of the
1950s and 1960s, then A Christmas Carol is probably something like a
Dada opera with carols, gags and pantomime.”

Again, openness is everything.

“I don't like mystification,” Kodjabashia says, “but here in the
theatre, we create God every night.”

A Christmas Carol, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, November 29-January 3

Nikola Kodjabashia At A Glance

Nikola Kodjabashia was born in 1970 in Macedonia, where he studied
music before continuing his studies in Bucharest and at King's College,
London, under Harrison Birtwistle.

Kodjabashia's first job in theatre was as musical director of Sir Peter
Hall's production of The Bacchai at the National Theatre in London.

Since then, Kodjabashia has composed scores for Penelope X (Macedonian
National Opera), Kafka’s Monkey (Young Vic), Scorched (Old Vic);
Wedding Day of the Cro Magnons (Soho Theatre/Dialogue Productions);
Helter Skelter/Land of the Dead, Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of
the Qu’ran (Bush Theatre/Dialogue Productions) and the Olivier
award-winning Jonathan Kent’s production of Hecuba (Donmar Warehouse).

With Dominic Hill, Kodjabashia has scored The Three Musketeers and the
Princess of Spain at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh and the Belgrade
Theatre, Coventry, and Crime and Punishment and Hamlet at the Citizens
Theatre, Glasgow.

Outside of the theatre,  Kodjabashia's compositions include Die
Hamletmachine (1997), Sinphonia (1998), Hymn (1998), Yellow Sostenuto
(1999) and Explosion of a Memory (2000), as well as Ludus Gothicus
(2001), Gaudi's Bed (2001), Neuromancer (2001), Bildbeschreibung
(2001), Single Will (2002) and The Birds (2002).

Commissions include scores for Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble, BBC
Singers, Macedonian National Opera and Ballet, Macedonian Philharmonic
Orchestra 2009.

For TV and film, Kodjabashia has composed for the award- winning film,
Defining Fay (2012), Dear Ana (2011), BBC Four TV documentary series
Racism, a History (2010), and BBC Arena documentaries, Saints, Dance
with Me and Green Pages.

Kodjabashia has released three albums on ReR records; Reveries of the
Solitary Walker (2004), The Most of Now (2008), Explosion of a Memory
(2010), and one, Penelope X (2011), recorded with Foltin featuring Goce
Stevkovski, on Filter Records.

The Herald, November 25th 2014


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pere Ubu

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Four stars
“Ma body may be broken,” drawls Pere Ubu's vocalist and de facto
director David Thomas to explain why he won't be getting up from his
chair so the people at the back of the room can see him, “but ma miiiiiind
is more dangerous than ever.”

It may sound like a line from a Tennessee Williams play, but having
already thrown his walking stick to the ground en route to an
explanation of Random-access memory, Thomas' seated presence as he
slugs a bottle of red wine inbetween reading lyrics from a music stand
is clearly a bodily necessity.  Mercurial belligerence may have always
been Thomas' thing, but his uncompromising stance is also a knowing
piece of self-reflection as the current Ubu line up play two sets
culled largely from the band's recent Carnival of Souls album.

With no mention of Ubu's recent appearance on the soundtrack of the
latest series of American Horror Story, the first half hour is a
loose-fit alliance of clarinet-led B movie electronics that rebuilds
1980s single Waiting For Mary with theremins and a monologue about how
Thomas is in league with a Martian invasion. It's a piece of comically
retro-futurist hokum before Thomas throws the mother of all strops in
the second half. Painfully in need of the bathroom, a smoke and some
serious TLC, he conducts, blows a horn and yowls with 'ornery intent.

Things get edgier as Thomas grimaces and bears it throughout the set's
remainder. Relieved at last, he returns for a soporific version of the
new album's first single, Irene. After such a thrillingly tense display
of parallel universe sci-fi pop, to see him perk up is a relief to all.

The Herald, November 20th 2014


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Jean-Denis Leduc and Orla O'Loughlin - New Writing From Quebec

When the Traverse Theatre's artistic director Orla O'Loughlin touched
down in Montreal in September of this year to take part in an
international exchange between Scots and Quebecois playwrights, one of
the first things she saw was a Saltire hanging from a city centre
balcony. A week after the referendum on Scottish independence, feelings
were still raw.

Edinburgh's new writing theatre had spent referendum night itself
presenting their production of John McCann's play, Spoiling, which
imagined the Realpolitik behind an independence win as Scotland's first
minister of international affair prepared her maiden speech. The
Traverse also hosted an informal presentation of David Greig's
independence-themed Twitter plays. As the referendum result became
clear, however, the next night of Spoiling was by all accounts an even
more emotional affair.

It was against this backdrop that O'Loughlin arrived in Montreal with
Scottish writers Rob Drummond, Douglas Maxwell and Morna Pearson for a
weekend of readings at the city's Theatre La Licorne. Drummond's play,
Quiz Show, Maxwell's A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity, The Artist Man
and the Mother Woman by Pearson and Most Favoured by David Ireland were
all seen and heard in new Quebecois translations.

“The referendum was the first thing people wanted to talk to us about,”
says O'Loughlin. “We met people in Montreal who had travelled to
Scotland for what they thought would be a celebration, but who returned
despondent. In that context, some of the plays we took there became
redefined as something political, so with The Artist Man and The Mother
Woman, which is about a domineering mother and her son, you started
thinking about a big nation bullying a smaller one next door, and it
made you think about this relationship in a different way.”

This week, the second half of the exchange will take place in
Edinburgh, when artistic director of Theatre La Licorne, Jean-Denis
Leduc, will similarly present performed readings of three new Quebecois
plays in English translation. The programme will feature works by
leading Quebecois writers, Fabien Cloutier, Catherine-Anne Toupin and
Francois Archambault, which will all be directed by Theatre La
Licorne's assistant artistic director, Philippe Lambert.

“Like Scotland,” says Leduc, “Quebec is a nation next to a big strong
neighbour. We are proud about what we are and what our theatre and
culture is. We have big spaces like you have the Highlands, and we talk
about identity. All of these things are part of our theatre and what
our playwrights talk about.”

The theatrical relationship between Scotland and Quebec has long been a
fertile one, ever since Michel Tremblay's highly poetic works started
being seen in Scots translations by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay.
While The Guid Sisters was first seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow,
the Traverse produced Tremblay's A Solemn Mass For A Full Moon in
Summer as well as Ella Wildridge and Tom McGrath's translation of
Stones and Ashes, penned by Tremblay's fellow country-man, Daniel Danis.

Elsewhere, the Stellar Quines company has also focused on Quebecois
drama since their production of Jeanne-Mance Delisle's play, The Reel
of the Hanged Man more than a decade ago. More recently, the company
forged a long-term collaboration with the Quebec-based Imago Theatre
which resulted in Ana, a new bi-lingual play co-written by Clare Duffy
and Pierre Yves Lemieux. The company also presented an acclaimed
version of Linda Griffiths' audacious play, Age of Arousal, in
co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Since then,
Stellar Quines have also produced two solo plays by Jennifer Tremblay,
The List and Carousel.

The roots of the Traverse's New Writing Quebec programme date back
several years to Philip Howard's artistic directorship of the Traverse.
This was a period when the theatre's then literary manager Katherine
Mendelsohn forged significant international links which have developed
through subsequent managements, from Dominic Hill to O'Loughlin's
current tenure.

Traverse plays already seen in translation at Theatre La Licorne
include Gregory Burke's debut, Gagarin Way, Passing Places by Stephen
Greenhorn and Midsummer by David Greig, as well as After The End and
Orphans, both by Dennis Kelly. Rona Munro’s version of Evelyne de la
Cheneliere's play, Strawberries in January, meanwhile, was a Herald
Angel winning hit at the Traverse.

“When I walked into Theatre La Licorne's brand new space two years ago
was uncanny,” O'Loughlin says. “The theatre is modelled on the
Traverse, with two performing spaces like ours, and a big long bar.
They have this real commitment to the work of the Traverse as well, so
to see them sometimes programme two plays a year that have been on at
the Traverse first was really quite moving.”

Whatever the bricks and mortar of Theatre La Licorne, for Leduc,
producing new work in a country as independently minded in spirit as
Scotland has been affected by its own political situation.

“Before and during our referendums we had the same feeling,” he says,
“which was one of excitement about change, which was reflected in our
writing. What's happened since the referendum is that writers are
talking about other things, but that feeling is still with us.

“We've lost two referendums, remember, and it's very sad what's
happened in Quebec since then. We were told we would have more
autonomy, but that never really happened, and we're always searching
for our identity. We talk about those times in our plays, but not like
we did before. Now it is more intimate.”

As the Traverse deals with a damaging eleven per cent funding cut by
Creative Scotland which will jeopardise the amount of work Scotland's
new writing theatre can programme, New Writing Quebec is a significant
international collaboration for both parties.

“The will from both the Traverse and Theatre La Licorne to collaborate
is so strong,” says O'Loughlin. “We want to put on Quebecois work here
and see Traverse plays done in Quebec, but there may also be scope for
doing something brand new between us.”

Leduc is equally enthusiastic.

“It will be a meeting and a reunion,” he says of this week's programme,
“and there will be further collaborations, I hope. When we open our
minds like that, we can go further and further. This relationship
between the Traverse and Theatre La Licorne is part of the dramaturgy
we need to do to make great theatre.”

New Writing From Quebec, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 18-20.


New Writing From Quebec – At A Glance

Three new plays will be presented on consecutive nights in a series of
script-in-hand readings in Traverse Two directed by Theatre La
Licorne's assistant artistic director Philippe Lambert.

Tue 18
Billy (The Days of Howling) – Written by Fabien Cloutier and translated
by Nadine Desrochers, this is piece questions the reliability of
narrators and the complexities of living up to the high standards we
often set for ourselves and others. A rising star in the Quebec theatre
scene, Cloutier is an actor, playwright and author of eight plays. His
first solo show, Scotstown won the Coup de coeur at Zoofest in the 2010
Just For Laughs Festival. The play's sequel, Cranbourne, was a finalist
for the Michel Tremblay Prize.

Wed 19
Right Here, Right Now – Written by Catherine-Anne Toupin and translated
by Christopher Campbell, this play looks at a family coming to terms
with grief. Toupin is a well-known actress in Quebec who has written
three full length plays, and many short plays, which have all been
produced.  She spends most of her time acting, both on stage and on
screen while also working as a script editor for a television show she
created, called Boomerang.

Thu 20
You Will Remember Me РWritten by Fran̤ois Archambault and translated
by Bobby Theodore, this play looks at a modern family under pressure
and in search of redemption. Archambault has written more than twenty
plays which have been translated and staged across the world. His play,
15 Seconds, was seen in at the Traverse Theatre in a version by Isabel
Wright, while You Will Remember Me looks set to be adapted for screen.

The Herald, November 18th 2014


Friday, 14 November 2014

Stan Douglas

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
November 7th-February 15th
When Stan Douglas' play, Helen Lawrence, played as part of this year's
Edinburgh International Festival, its live depiction of a post World
War Two film noir beamed against a a 3D photographic backdrop looked at
the class and racial divides of Vancouver's run-down Hogan's Alley
district, later cleaned up then razed in the name of urban renewal.

Hogan's Alley's 3D remains can be seen in Douglas' remarkable
large-scale image that forms part of his new show at Edinburgh's
Fruitmarket Gallery. Also on show will be Video, which recasts Orson
Welles' film of Kafka's The Trial with a Senegalese woman in the
Parisian suburb of La Courneuve, where some of the worst violence of
2005's Paris riots took place.

“Sarkozy was still Minister of the Interior when we shot the piece,”
says Douglas, “and his office tried to shut our production down, even
though we had made deals with the local mayor and local gangs. The
police were afraid we would start a riot, but in the end we were
allowed to shoot exteriors between 4am and 7am.”

The show will also feature Douglas' Corrupt Files series of “acts of
photographic disobedience,”
as well as his 1997 piece, Der Sandmann, which juxtaposes footage of an
urban garden in Potsdam outside Berlin alongside film of the building
site it later became.

“Der Sandmann came out of being in Berlin a few years after the Berlin
Wall came down,” Douglas explains. “As in Helen Lawrence, the setting
is one in which the urban fabric of a place is being radically
transformed. DDR buildings were being destroyed, Imperial Prussian ones
were being restored and there was an influx of western capital
intending to make nearby Wansee a luxury resort again. It felt like
multiple times were inhabiting the same space and that's what Der
Sandmann looks like.”

The List, November 2014


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Kite Runner

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
A lone tabla player ushers in Giles Croft's formidable production of
Matthew Spangler's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel
with a frantic overture that points up the turmoil of the story's
Afghan origins. If the images of big city skyscrapers that loom behind
offer up some kind of salvation, the opening speech by the play's
narrator Amir is poetic enough to resemble a Tennessee Williams

Worlds collide and cultures clash in far crueller ways over the next
two and a half hours, from the moment Amir plays cowboys with his
father's servant's son and best friend Hassan after watching John Wayne
films in the Iranian cinema in mid-1970s Kabul. Separated by class and
ethnicity, Amir and Hassan's fates are marked by a shocking childhood
event that sees Hassan brutalised, while Amir's shameful acquiescence
leaves him hard to sympathise with, let alone like.

What follows, as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan sees Amir and his
father flee to 1980s San Francisco, is a story of betrayal, identity,
heritage and redemption. Amir seeks only to prove himself worthy to his
father, a metaphor for a greater patriarchy powerfully and evocatively
delivered by Ben Turner as Amir.

Turner is onstage throughout this touring version of a production
originally presented by Nottingham and Liverpool Playhouses, and makes
for a charismatic presence as he leads a cast of ten through a
theatrical assault course of love and war. On a stage awash with images
of east and west, by the end things appear akin to a  Blood Brothers
for the post 9/11 world in a poignant study of emotional and political

The Herald, November 12th 2014


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Pamela Carter – Slope

When Untitled Projects' production of Slope opens this week at the
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow as part of this year's Glasgay! festival,
both the writer and director of this sex and drug fuelled study of the
love affair between nineteenth century poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud,
will be absent from the auditorium. Instead, director Stewart Laing and
playwright Pamela Carter will be watching a live online feed of a show
first seen at Tramway in 2006 in a production which put the audience
above the stage peering down into the poets' bathroom as if spying on
some of the lovers' most intimate moments.

Slope's new hi-tech approach will further the play's underlying theme
of voyeurism. This originally developed, not out of the script, but
from the starting point of Laing's design.

“All those years ago,” Carter recalls, “Stewart had this design, and
wanted to develop a piece of work using it. It struck me that having an
audience peering down into a bathroom is as voyeuristic as you can get,
and at the time there was a lot of stuff going round about Pete Doherty
and all these badly behaved rock stars, so I applied that to Verlaine
and Rimbaud. It's about realism, and it's about naturalism, and it
seemed to me that the best thing would be to write a very
straightforward play, albeit one in which the room is a character.

“Then Stewart talked to me again about wanting to do the play
specifically in a studio theatre space,  we looked at it again, and
because it's being done in a different space, that dictated certain
structural changes. It's still the same story, with the same three
characters, but for me it's about the spatial relationship between the
audience and the actor. It's not a literary event.”

The original production of Slope was Carter's first collaborations with
Untitled, since when she has scripted the company's twenty-first
century reworking of Marivaux's La Dispute, An Argument About Sex. More
recently, Carter penned Untitled's hit collaboration with the National
Theatre of Scotland, Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner.
The latter show has already toured to Sweden and Ireland, and is lined
up for several international theatre festivals in 2015

As a dramaturg too, Carter has worked on many of the most vital pieces
of theatre seen in Scotland in recent times. She has forged a close
working relationship with Vanishing Point, with whom she has worked on
Interiors, Saturday Night, and, most recently, the haunting Tomorrow.

As a playwright, Carter has written What We Know for the Traverse
Theatre in Edinburgh, which also hosted Carter's own EK company's
production of Game Theory. Carter has also worked with the National
Theatre of Scotland, Tramway and the Finborough Theatre.

Yet, despite such an impressive string of credits, it is not Carter's
name one readily associates with such works as Interiors and Paul
Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, and it seems at times that
she simply isn't getting the credit she deserves. While much of this is
down to the collaborative nature of her work, it is also in part down
to how it is contextualised. If judged in terms of a visual art or live
art context rather than a theatrical one, perhaps her profile might
appear higher.

“A lot of literary managers find it hard to read my work,” Carter says.
“The vocabulary of my work is non-literary, and the working
relationships I've developed have all been based on friendship and
trust as artists, and I get to work with people I really like as
artists. The reason I ended up in Glasgow was to do my Ph.D. in visual
art and performance, and I taught on the Contemporary Theatre Practice
course at what was then RSAMD.

“It's a fairly niche place I operate in, but I can't bash my way
through a TV script just to make money. That makes things financially
difficult, but spiritually and artistically I'm probably richer. I have
friends writing for TV, and they talk to me about all the compromises
they have to make. For me that's the opposite of what art is about, and
you just end up with this lowest common denominator thing. But do I
feel hard done by? Of course I do.”

Given that Untitled Projects has just been turned down by Creative
Scotland for three-year Regular Funding, a move which may jeopardise
the company's future, Carter may well have good reason to feel hard
done by.

In the meantime, she has commissions for the Traverse and the National
Theatre of Scotland ongoing, as well as work with the Yard Theatre in
London. Carter is also about to embark on a course to learn about
writing for opera.

“I'm interested in form,” she says. “I've been thinking about opera for
a while, and it's a chance to learn about something new. I'm always
looking for some new challenge.”

This is evident in Carter's ongoing work with Swedish conceptual art
duo, Goldin + Senneby.

“They're very much against the idea of the artist as author,” Carter
explains of a project that looks at the nature of financial reality by
way of alchemy and algorithmic trading. “They're interested in
financial and tyrannical structures.”

Again, context is everything for Carter in work which is as much at
times an exploration of herself  as the ideas that stem from that.
Given just how much she doesn't make life easy for herself, what drives
her to work in this way?

“A difficult childhood?”she suggests. “I've been reading the
psychologist, Adam Phillips, and he talks a lot about not getting it. I
make work that some people don't always get, work that, if it doesn't
make me feel uncomfortable, then I'm not that interested in it. I'm
half Chinese, and was brought up by my father, but was surrounded by
the Chinese side of the family, who would all be talking to me, or at
me, with me not having a clue what they were on about. So I'm kind of
used to not getting it, and as much as I can work in the mainstream if
they'll have me, maybe I've deliberately put myself outside it.”

Slope, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, November 12-22; Traverse Theatre,
Edinburgh, November 26-29. Slope will be live-streamed at Signing up to the site is required.

Pamela Carter – A life in theatre

As a writer, director and dramaturg, Pamela Carter has worked in
Scotland and beyond for more than fifteen years.

Between 1998 and 2004, she was a lecturer in cultural theory and
performance at what was then RSAMD (now Royal Conservatoire Scotland)
on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course.

From 1998 to 2002, Carter was Research Associate with Suspect Culture,
the theatre company led by director Graham Eatough, writer David Greig
and composer Nick Powell.

In 2004, Carter founded her own performance company, EK, for whom she
directed Habitats (2004), and devised and directed Soul Pilots (2004)
and Plain Speaking (2005) for Tramway in Glasgow. She also co-wrote and
directed Game Theory (2008), which was nominated for the
Meyer-Whitworth award.

As a dramaturg, Carter has worked with Untitled Projects, the National
Theatre of Scotland, Coney HQ and Malmo Opera House. With Vanishing
Point she has worked on Interiors (2009), Saturday Night (2011) and
Tomorrow (2014).

Carter's plays include What We Know for the Traverse (2010) and Teatro
Circulo in New York (2013) and Wildlife for Magnetic North (2011).

Skane was first seen at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs (2011), and won
the New Writing Commission at the Berliner Festspiele Stukemarkt
(2012), and received its German premiere as In Der Ebene at Theatre Ulm

Carter has also written Fast Ganz Nah/Almost Near for the Dresden
Staatsshauspiel (2013) and the Finborough Theatre (2014).

With Untitled Projects, Carter has written Slope (2006), An Argument
About Sex – After Marivaux's La Dispute (2009) and Paul Bright's
Confessions of A Justified Sinner (2013). The latter, a co-production
with the National Theatre of Scotland, has also been seen in Ireland
and Sweden.

Carter also works with Swedish conceptual art duo Goldin + Senneby on
The Nordenskiold Model, an ongoing investigation into algorithmic
trading and the nature of financial reality. Scenes have been staged 
in Bucharest, Vilnius, Rotterdam, Stockholm, New York, Aachen and

Carter was the IASH/Traverse Theatre Creative Fellow at Edinburgh
University in 2012.

The Herald, November 11th 2014


Monday, 10 November 2014


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
There's a slick but laid-back rapport between the overall-clad
four-piece band playing a punky overture at the top of this ménage a
trois of lo-fi mini musicals from the nabokov company and Soho Theatre.
They address the audience as they enter the theatre, setting a casual
tone to what follows as they step into character and costume for each

Proceedings open with Jonesy, Tom Wells' tale of a sports mad asthmatic
boy who can't finish a netball match without a brush with death, but
still finds music in his heart. Ella Hickson's A Love Song For The
People of London finds two solitary travellers adrift in the big city
catch each others eye with tragi-comic results, while My Thoughts On
Leaving You is a quick-fire run through a relationship, as boy meets
girl in a nightclub toilet before playing out their everyday urban
melodrama in song.

While the first piece is essentially a fleshed-out monologue, the
following two are old-school rom-coms with a slightly cynical twist
that captures the modern-day dating game with the theatrical equivalent
of an arched eyebrow. All of which makes for sixty-five minutes of some
pretty serious fun.

As the cast of  Jack Brown, Liam Gerrard, Iddon Jones and Katie
Elin-Salt swap instruments and roles with the joie de vivre of
children's TV presenters, something slight but irresistibly sweet
emerges in Joe Murphy's production. With all three plays driven by Ed
Gaughan's live score for guitars, keyboards and drums, this taps into a
DIY aesthetic that is a twenty-first century  reinvention of fringe
theatre's original shoestring approach rebooted for the age of the
pop-up venue with considerable charm.

The Herald, November 10th 2014

The Fundraiser

Salutation Hotel, Perth
Four stars
In the banqueting hall of the oldest hotel in Scotland, a very special
event is about to take place. The party tunes are playing, and the
stage is swathed in sparkly scarlet tinsel designed to match the oh-so
OTT outfits of our glamorous auctioneers, Tina and Rachel. They are
here to raise money, spirits and a smile for Tina's heroic
cross-channel swim following a near brush with death after an asthma

Once the audience have been escorted to their tables with bidding cards
and raffle tickets in hand, what follows in Robert Jack's production of
Lesley Hart's new play at first looks like a kitsch and slightly camp
dissection of the toe-curling spectacle which a well-meaning but
misguided fund-raising event can easily end up as. The bad gags, rictus
grins and awkwardly staged amateur hour routines are all grotesque
enough in the hands of the double act of Sally Reid as Tina and Claire
Knight as Rachel in something which initially resembles a Saturday
Night Live style satirical routine.

When the pair are upstaged by an uninvited guest while the supposed
special guest star fails to show, however, the stakes are cranked up
considerably for a troubling piece of dark comedy made all the more
effective by its deliberate localism in this contribution to Perth
Theatre's Out and About programme. Reid and Knight, accompanied by a
blousy Libby McArthur, provide a perfect balance of light and shade in
Hart's blackly comic look at familial dysfunction. If it doesn't quite
know how to end things yet, no matter. This can easily be developed
once Jack's production is hopefully revived to play function rooms
across the land.

The Herald, November 10th 2014


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Towards The End of the Century – On The Road With Passing Places

If the 90s were just the 60s turned upside-down, as some wag once
suggested, then such a notion  confirmed what cultural commentator
Michael Bracewell described in his book on the era as an age 'when
surface was depth'. What this appeared to mean by the time Stephen
Greenhorn's play, Passing Places, appeared in 1997, was a definition of
a decade that had already spawned Brit Pop, Girl Power, New Laddism and
Cool Britannia. Here, then, was a shallow pool of pop without politics,
Barbie Doll feminism in a Union Jack mini dress and sexism with an
apparently ironic twist.

The Berlin Wall had come down in 1989, and, after a decade of class and
civil war by way of the Miners Strike and the Poll Tax, Conservative
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been forced to resign from office
after an eleven year reign of terror. Tony Blair's landslide New Labour
victory in 1997 suggested  that things could only get better, but
suddenly, with no pricks to kick against, it wasn't easy to tell which
side was which anymore.

Was this, as post-modern philosopher Francis Fukuyama had asked in his
1989 essay of the same name, the End of History? Or was it the sort of
rootless search for meaning at the end of a turbulent century that
Chekhov had captured so poignantly a hundred years before?

At the time it seemed like the former, as once rebellious youth
embraced first the apathetic slackerdom of Douglas Coupland's
Generation X, before getting it together enough to sally forth into the
hedonistic excesses of a loved-up dance culture in which they just
wanted to get loaded and have a good time.

The title of Primal Scream's indie-dance call to arms, Loaded, inspired
a magazine of the same name, which, fired by the spirit of the Beat
Generation and Hunter S Thompson's Gonzo journalism, attempted to capture in print the
irreverent spirit of sex, drugs and rock and roll largesse that had
just erupted.

The era's hard-partying rise and fall would go on to be
defined by Oasis, whose debut album, Definitely Maybe, captured all the
unleashed hunger and righteous snarl of dole queue kids who wanted a
slice of the action. Their follow up, (What's The Story) Morning
Glory?, was mission accomplished, a cocksure, cocaine-fuelled
masterpiece of apolitical triumphalism.

By then, however,  the come-down was already ongoing, as playwrights
such as Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane and others lumped in with the
in-yer-face wave of dramatists were making clear. Kane had made waves
with her debut play, Blasted, at the Royal Court in London in 1995, and
Ravenhill with Shopping and F****** the following year. In Scotland the
groundwork had been done several years before by the likes of Lance
Flynn, John McKenzie and Anthony Neilson, all of whom looked to a raw
poetic form to break out of the straitjackets of naturalism.

All three writers had early plays produced at the Traverse in
Edinburgh, the new writing theatre which itself was undergoing
something of a shift as it prepared to move from its tiny Grassmarket
space to a new, purpose-built home next to the Royal Lyceum Theatre and
Usher Hall.

One of the Traverse's early hits in its new space was The
Life of Stuff. Written by Simon Donald, The Life of Stuff was set in a
deserted warehouse occupied by gangsters, their molls and their not
entirely willing henchman, and, with its characters high narcotic
intake, in 1992 seemed to pre-date Irvine Welsh's seminal novel,

While Trainspotting wasn't published until 1993, excerpts appeared a
year earlier in Rebel Inc, the brash litzine that would give similar
voice to a disaffected generation in search of something beyond what
the perceived literary canon could offer. By the time Harry Gibson's
stage adaptation of Trainspotting appeared at the Traverse in 1994,
those voices were growing in confidence by the day.

Much of this activity had developed from a nascent spoken-word scene
that existed in Edinburgh in the early 1990s, which Greenhorn had been
around. In theatre, however, the quieter, more thoughtful voices of
David Greig, David Harrower and others of Greenhorn's generation were
just as questioning about personal, if not explicitly political,

In 1994, Greig's play, Europe, cast a disparate set of characters in a
deserted railway station that became a hinterland between unknown
borders between people as much as nations trying to connect. The
following year, Harrower debuted with Knives In Hans, a rural-set stale
of one woman's getting of wisdom as she discovers the power of

In 1997, the same year Passing Places debuted at the Traverse, other
key works included Mike Cullen's Anna Weiss and the David Greig
scripted Timeless, presented at the Edinburgh International Festival by
the collaboratively run Suspect Culture company. While Anna Weiss
looked at the contentious issue of repressed or false memory as a
female psychotherapist took a young woman under her wing, Timeless
looked at the ever changing relationships between a quartet of friends
trying to hold on to what first brought them together.

Here, then, in a panoply of disconnections, was a generation in a state
of ontological flux, who had grown up with punk and protest, but who
now, with the rise of New Labour, which eventually turned out to be
Thatcherism with a smile, had nothing left to believe in. The
Stranglers had been right. There really were no more heroes.

The Tory government's crude attempts to outlaw a burgeoning dance
culture with the Criminal Justice Bill, which made the assembly of two
or more people in the vicinity of the sound of 'repetitive beats'
illegal, politicised a generation who now had to fight for the right to

All of this seemed connected too to the rise of bands like Arab Strap,
who themselves sounded like they'd escaped from a Gordon Legge short
story as they spoke in an unreconstructed Falkirk accent about the
sorts of things that did or didn't happen to a couple of small-town boys who would do
anything to get out of it.

The pair of likely lads in Passing Places took things too far in other ways.
These dead-end kids stole a surfboard, went on the road and tried to make
a scene of their own. Then, as now, it looked like a bid for self-determination.
Either way, the possibilities were endless.

An extended version of an essay originally commissioned by Pitlochry
Festival Theatre as programme notes for their production of Stephen
Greenhorn's play, Passing Places, July 2014.


Friday, 7 November 2014

The Hypochondriak

Royal Conservatoire Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars
As openings go, when the cast of Ali de Souza's production of Hector
MacMillan's ribald Scots version of Moliere's seventeenth century
comedy, La Malade Imaginaire, come burling through the New Athenaeum
auditorium led by a bagpiper before launching into an onstage ceilidh,
it's a pretty strong statement of intent. What follows is an
accomplished and suitably larger than life study of how an old man
called Argan can take near masochistic pleasure in his imaginary
ailments. He is cured, not by quackery and a fondness for enemas, but
by waking up to his own gullibility as he's taken in by his
gold-digging wife Beline inbetween attempting to marry off his daughter
Angelique into the medical classes.

MacMillan's pithy and richly evocative dialogue is captured impeccably
by a young cast of final year acting students from the RCS, led by
Philip Laing's physically dextrous turn as Argan, who has some fine
comic interplay with Amy Conachan as Argan's maid, Toinette. As the
young lovers, Sara Clark Downie and Andrew Barrett as Angelique's beau,
Cleante, run rings around their elder charges, while there is cartoon
style largesse aplenty from Katie Leung as Beline, who two-times Argan
with Nebli Basani as a gallus Beralde.

There are a stream of doctors in the house in the second half of the
play as Argan is led towards his discovery. With the entire ensemble
donning mortar boards and cowls for the play's finale, the musical
number that follows as Argan ascends to Heaven wouldn't look out of
place in a Dennis Potter play in this fresh dissection of a play that
looks to be in the rudest of health.

The Herald, November 7th 2014


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Matthew Spangler - The Kite Runner

It seemed like there weren't many books dealing with a contemporary
immigrant's experience before Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite
Runner, was published in 2003. It was this quality that first attracted
playwright Matthew Spangler to adapt Hosseini's tale of two boyhood
friends – Amir  and Hassan -  growing up in Afghanistan against a
backdrop of war for the stage. With both men living in the same
Californian neighbourhood, Hosseini and Spangler met up for coffee,
with the end result being Spangler's adaptation of The Kite Runner,
currently on a UK tour in a co-production by Nottingham Playhouse and
Liverpool Playhouse, and which arrives in Edinburgh next week.

“I first read the book in 2005,” says Spangler, “and a lot of it is set
locally to me, in the area where the family in the novel move to. The
first attraction to me was that it was a book about the immigrant's
experience, but it's a book about many things. It's a love story, a
father-son story, it's a book about two best friends, and so on, so
there are all these  things going on in it, and there's something there
for everyone to grab hold of.”

Spangler developed and directed  an early version of the play at San
Jose State University in 2007, where he is an associate professor of
performance studies. The fact that the main character in the book
actually attends San Jose State gave the production an extra frisson
for the students who performed in it. The Kite Runner received its
professional premiere two years later, also in San Jose, since when it
has been seen in several American and Canadian productions prior to
making its UK debut in 2013.

“The book has a huge following,” Spangler observes, “and people who
come along to see the play are going to notice the changes, so you have
to be faithful to its essence, but you can't put everything in.
Fortunately Khaled Hosseini is a very generous person, and when we met
and I told him my ideas, most of his comments about them were about
things that he would change if he were writing the book today.”

One of the things that Spangler was aware of was representing Afghan
culture as accurately as possible.

“As a playwright I was very concerned about accuracy,” Spangler says.
“By putting something on a stage you're already doing something that
isn't accurate, but if you're going to do that, you have to represent
the details of Afghan culture without being offensive. For instance, a
wedding scene would take an entire day if we were going to portray it
accurately, but you have to try and condense that into just a few
minutes. For each production we've hired a cultural consultant, just to
make sure we get things right about characters who would or wouldn't
shake hands with another character. It's not every play you need a
cultural consultant. You wouldn't need one on a Martin McDonagh play,
for instance, but in this case it's necessary.”

Spangler's previous work has included solo versions of James Joyce's
Dubliners and Finnegans Wake, as well as an adaptation of John
Cheever's short stories, A Paradise It Seems, and Mozart!, a staging of
the composer's letters. There have also been stage versions of fiction
by John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, and adaptations of Thomas
Wolfe's The Lost Boy, Clyde Edgerton's Where Trouble Sleeps and a
recent look at T.C.Boyle's Tortilla Curtain. Spangler's next project
will be Albatross, an adaptation of Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner.

Spangler's interest in the immigrant's experience was first piqued by
his time in Ireland, where he studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and
has written about it extensively in his soon to be published book,
Staging Intercultural Ireland: New Plays and Practitioner Perspectives.

“That was my first point of contact with immigration,” Spangler
remembers. “It was the 1990s, and that was reflected in the arts
community in Ireland, and the way theatre and the imagination was
galvanised by immigrants and gave it this new energy.”

The ongoing global success of The Kite Runner, first as a book, then a
film and now in Spangler's play, suggests that Hosseini's story has a
far greater reach than speaking solely about the immigrant experience.

“It's a story of redemption,” says Spangler. “Amir is asking for
forgiveness for this terrible thing he did as a child and the
consequences of that act, and that is something I think that speaks to
us all.”

The Kite Runner, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, November 10-15.

The Herald, November 4th 2014


Monday, 3 November 2014

Colquhoun and Macbryde

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Long before anyone invented the make-believe Glasgow miracle, Robert
Colquhoun and Robert Macbryde were creating a set of artistic
mythologies that set the tone for much that followed. Kilmarnock born
and Glasgow School of Art trained, as painters and lovers the two
Roberts blazed a drink-sodden trail through bohemian London that saw
them hailed as boy wonders before being spoilt by bad behaviour and
sidelined by the more voguish face of abstract expressionism.

Few have identified the talents of Glasgow's original artistic double
act more than John Byrne, whose original 1992 romp through their messy
lives has here been condensed into a suitably wild two-man version in
Andy Arnold's production for the Tron in association with the Glasgay!
festival. The bare back-side of a sprawled-out Macbryde being painted
by his partner-in-crime at the top of the show sets the tone for the
tempestuous and emotionally naked roller-coaster ride that follows. As
they move from Hope Street to Soho, and from poverty to flavour of the
month and back again, it's as if each are racing to their own downfall.

Andy Clark and Stephen Clyde throw themselves into Arnold's production
with suitable abandon as they roar their way across a set of chaise
longues, easels and other artistic apparel, giving full vent to Byrne's
baroque vernacular and deadly one-liners. The show is worth seeing too
for the accuracy of Byrne's facsimiles of his subjects canvasses, as
well as a large-scale Jackson Pollock forgery that may or may not be
just “wallpaper.” With a major retrospective of Colquhoun and Macbryde
set to open shortly at the National Gallery of Scotland, it seems the
two Roberts have finally made it, no miracles required.

The Herald, November 3rd 2014


The Ladykillers

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
The dramatic and musical cacophony that dovetails the two acts of
Graham Linehan's audacious adaptation of William Rose's classic Ealing
comedy speaks volumes about the post World War Two little Britain
occupied by the disparate gang of get-rich-quick villains at the play's
heart. By posing as a string quartet, the charming Professor Marcus and
his coterie of crooks made up of a cross-dressing major, a pill-popping
teddy-boy, a muscle-headed sidekick and a European psychopath may
appear respectable in the eyes of Marcus' new land-lady, Mrs
Wilberforce. Yet, as with the revolving set that allows the audience in
to Mrs Wilberforce's crumbling King's Cross pile in Richard Baron's
slickly realised revival, it's easy to see beyond the polite facade
towards something messier and more complex.

While Mrs Wilberforce is spotting Nazi spies in the newsagent, the
dog-eat-dog aspirations of Marcus and co points to a crueller future
beyond the never-had-it-so-good years to come. Other than Marcus'
declaration to Mrs Wilberforce when she becomes an accidental
accomplice to the crime that “We're all in this together,” this is
never overplayed in Baron's exquisitely realised affair.  As the last
gasps of old orders seem to triumph even as they're falling apart,
Linehan's version doesn't put a bomb under Rose's original screenplay,
exactly, but you know there's one lurking undiscovered in the long
grass somewhere.

Granville Sexton mines an ambivalent vein of malevolence and
ridiculousness as Marcus, with Sally Grace's Mrs Wilberforce the
trusting face of old-school decency who gets lucky despite herself. If
these two are two sides of the same antique coin, the end result is a
moral victory which these days looks like the most whimsical of wishful

The Herald, November 3rd 2014