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Showing posts from March, 2014

Never Try This At Home

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars Now the 1970s have been tarnished forever by the behaviour, alleged or otherwise, of some of the era's biggest show-business stars, it's as hard to satirise its excesses as it is to know how to replace all the endless retro Bank Holiday telly shows it spawned. Yet that's exactly what the Told By An Idiot company attempt to do in a show that reimagines the custard pie throwing anarchy of Saturday morning children's TV as the accident waiting to happen it probably was.
It starts with our host Niall Ashdown setting up a student union vibe with the framing device of gathering the surviving presenters of a Tiswas-like show called Shushi, which came to an abrupt end in 1979 when its sole female presenter attempted suicide live on air. As a series of live rewinds reveal a culture of casual misogyny, cultural stereotyping and egomania, Ashdown interviews each of Shushi's alumni in turn, including its female survivor.
As a comment …

Union

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars It takes a thunder-crash to do away with the giant projected Union Jack that fills the stage at the opening of Tim Barrow's new play concerning the 1707 Act of Union between England and Scotland. Whether such a powerful symbol is any indicator of how the Act may or may not be similarly washed away following the independence referendum this coming September remains to be seen. Either way, Barrow's ambitious piece of imagined history makes for a rollicking political romp involving poet Allan Ramsay, spy turned novelist Daniel Defoe and a roll-call of low-lifes and high-flyers from Edinburgh and London.
It's the way these two worlds rub up against each other sexually and politically that makes Mark Thomson's production so thrilling. With dynamic use of Andrzej Goulding's video design and Philip Pinsky's harpsichord-led underscore, things work best when the exchanges among the ten-strong ensemble are at their most wildly …

Black Coffee

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars Now that actor David Suchet has completed his stint in the title role of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on TV, if the powers that be ever consider repeating the exercise, they could do worse than put Robert Powell behind the master sleuth's inscrutable moustache. In the Agatha Christie Theatre Company's touring look at the grand mistress of crime's first ever play, Powell plays Poirot with a raised eyebrow and a deadly sense of fun that works a treat.
When top-notch physicist Sir Claud Amory is murdered in a house full of guests where he has also invited Poirot to reveal who stole his secret formula, a labyrinthine world of blackmail and international spy rings is uncovered, even as those gathered pass the incriminating after dinner coffee cups around quicker than a magician. Written and set twelve years after World War One, the country-house conspiracy the play exposes may come equipped with impeccable man…

Sketches for Albinos – fireworks and the dead city radio (mini50)

Three stars
Matthew Collings has become a quietly ubiquitous presence in Edinburgh's off-piste electronische live diaspora over the last couple of years. This latest release in the composer and sound artist's Sketches for Albinos guise was forged and recorded during snatched moments during time spent in Iceland, and comes on 12” vinyl with a photographic book.
The seven tracks make for a curiously domestic-sounding affair, with the treated guitar and breathy, just-out-of-bed vocal of the opening 'I Have So Many Things I've Always Wanted' seemingly pulsed along by trolls playing a toy orchestra. The crudely cut-n'-pasted drum clatter of 'I Think We Grew Again' comes on like a lo-fi John Barry and a frosty rather than chilled take on The Orb's 'Little Fluffy Clouds'
Beyond the drone, snatches of conversations dip in and out of view, A woman describes herself opening the door and stepping into the sunshine. Toddlers sing some far off nurse…

Never Try This At Home - Told By An Idiot Get Messy

When Told By An Idiot director Paul Hunter told writer Carl Grose that he'd appeared on 1970s Saturday morning TV madhouse Tiswas when he was eight years old, Grose thought he'd struck gold. The pair had decided to do a show based around the curious phenomenon of shows such as Tiswas which, while ostensibly made for children, were steeped in some very grown-up shades of anarchy in a way that made them cult viewing for students even as some parents changed channels to the BBC's altogether safer world of Noel Edmonds and Swap Shop. Hunter, alas, had come out of the experience unscarred.
“I thought initially we were going to making a show about our director exorcising his demons,” says Grose, “but as it turned out, he was mates with someone who's dad was a cameraman or something like that, and he said he remembers being in the cage and having water thrown over him, but after that it all gets a bit hazy, which was really rather frustrating for me.”
There is an exorcism of…

A Slow Air

PalaceTheatre, Kilmarnock Four stars There's a deep-set poignancy in David Harrower's own production of his play about a brother and sister's reconciliation that feels more fully realised than when it was first produced in 2011. This may or may not have something to do with the fact that Harrower's revival for Borderline Theatre Company is touring the country in a way it hasn't done before, but either way it captures a splintered sense of intimacy that seems to sum up the state of a nation in flux, whereby the personal and the political and the local and the global are bound together. Athol and Morna may have both been brought up in Edinburgh, but even beyond their fourteen year estrangement, they are worlds apart. Where Morna gets by cleaning rich people's houses inbetween bringing up her son, Joshua, Athol runs his own construction business from his Renfrewshire living room opposite the house where the Glasgow Airport terrorists holed up prior …

Dare To Care

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars “If you could see inside my head you'd be terrified,” says a character in Christine Lindsay's relentless fifty-five minute dramatic collage of life behind bars for a group of female prisoners. As words and experiences explode into view in a litany of cut-up first-person monologues, that's exactly what Muriel Romanes' dynamic production for Stellar Quines feels like.
With six actresses dressed in regulation track suit bottoms and t-shirts, each one plays a multitude of inmates and officers, with the names of each character flashed onto a network of TV monitors as they either talk out front, hang back in the shadows or else dangle from a climbing frame at the back of the stage. To point up the fact that many of these women's crimes are ones of circumstance as much as anything else, there are similarly crafted dispatches from the past, as suffragettes and women tried as witches recount their own experiences of persecution, incar…

Kathryn Elkin - Mutatis Mutandis

Collective Gallery, Edinburgh March 29-May 11 Kathryn Elkin doesn't want to say too much about 'Mutatis Mutandis', her new video installation that forms part of Edinburgh's Collective Gallery's Satellites programme. She doesn't want to give too much away, the Belfast-born purveyor of performance, video and text-based work says inbetween rummaging through the BBC archives as one of six Scotland-based artists given access to such a treasure trove of sound and vision with a view to creating new work from it. That Elkin has the time to explore such a major undertaking may in part be down to the fact that 'Mutatis Mutandis' is a stand-alone work that doesn't require her physical presence. “It's the first time I've really had to do a straight-forward exhibition,” says. Elkin, who, as well as her own film and performance work, has presented and curated her own events at CCA in Glasgow and elsewhere. “I'm not going to do any live w…

Navid Nurr - Renderender

Dundee Contemporary Arts March 29th-June 15 Permanent transience is a way of being for Navid Nurr, the Dutch/Iranian auteur who takes over DCA with an epic array of work that co-opts the temporary detritus of everyday life into a series of constructions that provoke as much as they play with the material to hand. In what he describes as an ongoing set of 'interimodules', a conflation of 'interim' and 'modules' that defines a state of impermanence beyond easy pigeon-holing, Nurr utilises an array of wheelie bins, water coolers, emergency blankets, slide projectors and the like to make deeply personal expressions riven from a very private world. “The art world is the only place where people listen to someone's personal and private language,” he says.” For his second ever UK solo show, and his largest in a public space to date, Nurr presents key works, including 'When doubt turns into destiny' (1993-2011), a surveillance video in which Nu…

Bloody Trams

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars They may not have been tram related, but the roadworks blocking the bus stop on Lothian Road immediately following this fifty-minute 'rapid response' to the seven-year carry-on that has been the Edinburgh Trams project spoke volumes about the vagaries of civic planners who seemingly give little thought to the everyday consequences of their decisions. Put together by director Joe Douglas via a series of interviews with those in Edinburgh affected one way or another by the major city centre upheavals caused by the tram-works, what is effectively an extended dramatised vox pop is performed by actors Jonathan Holt and Nicola Roy, with musical accompaniment by composer and singer David Paul Jones on piano. In an initially comic but increasingly poignant series of exchanges related by the actors via recordings of the interviews relayed through mobile phone ear-pieces, we hear from the small business people whose livelihoods were …

Eternal Love

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars As rom-coms go, Howard Brenton's reimagining of the love affair between twelfth century French philosopher Peter Abelard and his teenage student and nun Heloise d'Argenteuil is cleverer than anything Richard Curtis has ever written. Yet, as the play's title indicates since it was changed from the loftier In Extremis when first seen at Shakespeare's Globe in 2006, despite the prevalence of dialectical and theological arguments between Abelard, Heloise and their pious nemesis, Bernard of Clairvaux, a rom-com is exactly what Brenton has produced.
Both Abelard and Heloise are a pair of precocious, constantly questioning firebrand's in John Dove's restaging of his original production for English Touring Theatre. It's as if they are living embodiments of the trees of knowledge that flank the action as the couple come together in secret. While the anti-establishment ideas of both are indulged before they meet, their coupli…

Tim Barrow - Union

Tim Barrow didn't know much about the 1707 Act of Union between Scotland and England before he decided to write a play about it. The Roslin born actor and writer was living in London, where he was in the throes of producing his low-budget road movie, The Inheritance, when he started to wonder how England and Scotland had come to be part of something called Great Britain. When he started to look into events leading up to the Act which may or may nor be done away with following the forthcoming independence referendum, Barrow was amazed at what he found.
“It was so dramatic,” he declares. “It was way more fascinating and complex than I would have thought. There were all these amazing characters and corruption and intrigue in this fast-moving political sphere where all these figures had suddenly come to prominence before falling. You had people like Queen Anne, who was this ageing woman who didn't have an heir, despite having about seventeen pregnancies. You had Daniel Defoe, wh…

Claire Goose - The Perfect Murder

Claire Goose is used to playing strong but vulnerable women. Up until now, most of these have been on the small screen, be it in the Edinburgh-born actress's breakout role as Nurse Tina Seabrook in Casualty for three years between 1997 and 2000, or her forthcoming role as a woman who witnessed the murder of her mother aged seven in forthcoming mini-series, Undeniable.
This week, however, audiences will get to see Goose in the flesh when she stars alongside Les Dennis in the stage adaptation of Peter James' crime thriller novel, The Perfect Murder, which opens at the King's Theatre in Glasgow tomorrow night. In the play, which forms one of James' best-selling Roy Grace series of stories, Goose plays the appositely named Joan Smiley, who has probably been married to her husband Victor just that little bit too long. As both parties decree to get rid of their other half forever, the feeling is clearly mutual.
“He's so disappointed in her,” says Goose. “He goes to work…

Refugee Boy

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Four stars A big red-brick inner city construction with towers of suitcases dotted across the stage becomes adventure playground, sanctuary and accidental prison for the fourteen year old boy at the heart of Lemn Sissay's stage adaptation of Benjamin Zephaniah's teenage novel. At times it looks like home, as Alem attempts to fit in with London's multi-cultural diaspora, from his foster family the Fitzgeralds to hyper-active bully Sweeney and his new best friend, Mustapha. At others it's as lonely as a prison cell, with Alem yearning for his own parents, caught in the crossfire of the Eritrean/Ethiopian war he's fled from. From flash-backs of Alem and his father gazing up at the North Star to a first experience of snow with the Fitzgeralds' daughter Ruth and discovering that very English chronicler of orphans, Charles Dickens, Alem embarks on an unflinchingly cruel rites of passage. While the judgement passed by social w…

The Hold

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Three stars Given just how much we are living in an age of instant archiving via Instagram, Tumblr and whatever other social media app may have just gone live, Adrian Osmond's play about one man's rummaging through the emotional totems that shaped him is a particularly timely piece of work. As performed by Lung Ha's inclusive ensemble company in Maria Oller's site-specific tour around a building that holds a vast store of archival material that gives a hungry public several keys to the past. As John Edgar's ageing Peter goes through boxes with mobile phone wielding Sally to conjure up his past while a distracted Bridget loses sight of her little girl elsewhere, this is an infinitely more personal display than anything held off-limits in glass cases. This is something the bumptious Professor Stone's lecture on 'Thing Theory' makes clear. With Peter's younger self reappearing to attempt to woo his d…

Some Girl I Used To Know

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars The stream of 1980s hen night classics that form the pre-show fanfare for Denise Van Outen's solo turn in her new play co-written with Terry Ronald may be telling about what follows, but this is no dancing-in-the-aisles gin-fest. There's something endearing about Van Outen's portrait of Essex girl made good Stephanie as she seeks sanctuary in her posh hotel room following the launch of her latest fancy underwear range. As she confides in the audience like we're all having a girly chat, something vulnerable emerges beyond Samantha's brassy front, especially when her long lost first love gives her a virtual poke on Facebook.
What follows in Michael Howcroft's production openly acknowledges its debt to Shirley Valentine,Willy Russell's monologue by a similar woman of a certain age on the verge of temptation. Things have moved on, however, for women like Stephanie, and there's a kind of trickle-down feminism at p…

Vic Godard – Thirty Odd Years (Gnu)

“It's a literary and philosophical group,” says the voice of the late Edinburgh-based poet Paul Reekie in a faux-radio interview at the start of this 2CD, forty-four track retrospective from Vic Godard. As a singer/songwriter, Godard's band Subway Sect may have been forged by punk, but his adopted surname, taken from iconoclastic film-maker Jean Luc Godard, revealed a far smarter talent who quickly and quietly stepped aside from the melee to plough his own maverick furrow. On this respect, Godard's low-key singularity has slowly but surely cast him as an elder statesman reclaiming and refreshening his past.
Reekie, like many people on this album, first encountered Godard with his band Subway Sect supporting The Clash at Edinburgh Playhouse on the 1977 White Riot tour. Reekie went on to become president of the Scottish branch of the Subway Sect fan club – the literary and philosophical group he waxes lyrical about here. As Godard's online sleeve-notes relate, the pair …

Paul Haig – At Twilight – (Les Disques du Crepescule)

When Paul Haig, Malcolm Ross and co called time on Edinburgh's jangular art-rock funkateers Josef K following the release of both theirs and Alan Horne's Postcard label's sole album release, 'The Only Fun In Town', in 1981, Haig styled himself as the original European son, all electronic beats and artfully moody sidelong glances. In the NME, Paul Morley even went so far as to somewhat fancifully declare Haig as 'the face and sound of 1982' and the 'enigmatic fourth man' in a parallel universe imaginary New Pop quartet which also included Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr and ABC front-man Martin Fry, and look how that worked out.
As this two CD compendium of some thirty tracks recorded during a peripatetic tenure between 1982 and 1991at Michel Duval's chic post-modern Belgian label and some-time Factory Records affiliates, Les Disques du Crepescule, testifies to, Haig was more slippery than all of his then contempo…

Lemn Sissay - Refugee Boy

It's not hard to see why Lemn Sissay was the obvious choice to adapt Benjamin Zephaniah's teenage novel, Refugee Boy, for the stage. Zephaniah's book tells the story of fourteen year old Ethiopian boy who is forced to flee his homeland following a violent civil war in his homeland. As Alem and his father take flight to London, a litany of thwarted attempts at asylum and institutional red tape ensues.
While Sissay was born near Wigan in Lancashire, his mother too left Ethiopia for England. That was in 1966, when she was pregnant with Sissay, who, for most of the next two decades, was shunted from foster home to children's home by a care system that was bound by less explicitly hostile but equally bureaucratic measures.
By his late teens, Sissay was working with a community publishing company in Manchester, and by twenty-one had published his first book of poems. Tender Fingers in A Clenched Fist was a street-smart collection that could be said to have picked up the man…

And Then There Were None

Dundee Rep Three stars There's a whiff of anarchy about Agatha Christie's much loved murder mystery yarn, revived here by Kenny Miller, who puts Christie's island-set affair in an impossibly chic drawing room complete with catwalk, bar and a rhinoceros skeleton on top. It's as if by putting ten thoroughly ghastly archetypes of her age in the same room and bumping them off one by one, she's attempting to wipe out an entire society. The fact that the opening scene where the ten strangers meet for the first time resembles something out of Big Brother makes Christie's righteous indignation at such a motley crew of boy racers, corrupt coppers, dried-out doctors, well-heeled fops and career girls on the make even more justified. While none of this is pushed to the fore in an at times unintentionally funny rendition as Dundee Rep's ensemble cast navigate their way through Christie's cut-glass period demotic, it still simmers beneath the play'…

Allan Stewart's Big Big Variety Show

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars It's telling that King's panto stalwart Allan Stewart's final solo number of his two-hour top light entertainment extravaganza is accompanied by a series of projected images of his colourful show-business back pages. It's even more so that the images give way to a pictorial roll-call of bygone comedy greats. As Stewart does an impression of each, it's as if he's taking stock, not just of his own successful career that has seen him make the move from club turn to TV star to panto legend, but of a bygone form that refuses to lie down and die.
By drafting in his yuletide sparring partners, Andy Gray and Grant Stott, Stewart can play with their comedic chemistry further, while vintage-styled female sextet, The Tootsie Rollers, ventriloquist Paul Zerdin and Britain's Got Talent graduate Edward Reid make up a full and versatile supporting cast. There is also a big-voiced star turn from Kate Stewart, daughter of the show…

Gym Party

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars In the post Sochi Winter Olympics fall-out, it's clear that winning and losing are about a lot more than medals. The Made in China company's hour-long dissection of competition and the need for affirmation by coming out on top may be an infinitely more intimate affair than the circuses and bread of any international sporting event, but the end result is the same hollow victory.
Christopher Brett Bailey, Jess Latowicki and Ira Brand already have their names in lights as they warm up with an opening lap of honour while dressed in shorts, vest and dayglo wigs before things get too serious. Over three rounds, the trio try to prove who's best via a series of tests worthy of reality TV. These range from getting the audience to hurl sweets at them so they can try and catch them, to seeing how many marshmallows they can stuff into their mouths. Finally, the audience are asked to vote on the perceived attributes of those onstage, until there …

Kenny Miller - Directing And Then There Were None

When director and designer Kenny Miller was growing up, mystery was everywhere about the house. This came in the form of a stack of Agatha Christie novels lapped up by his mother. The young Miller had never touched them until one night when the 1945 film adaptation of Christie's 1939 novel, And Then There Were None, was broadcast on television. Originally published under the more contentious title of Ten Little Niggers until it was changed for the US edition, Christie's pot-boiler drew inspiration from a British nursery rhyme, and charted how ten people are lured to an island by persons unknown, whereupon they are picked off one by one in a manner already set down by the rhyme.
Miller was smitten, and, with his mother's approval, turned his attention to the mini Agatha Christie library he already had access to. While this may go some way to explaining some of Miller's directorial choices over the years, from a compendium of true life Glasgow murder stories, Blood on T…