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Showing posts from 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
1989.

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 frighteni…

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

Intro – Snapshots – Deaf School

1

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…

UPLAND – War and Peace in Camp 21

1

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 discuss…

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
into
sections
and rearranged
the sections at random.
Gysin introduced
the cut-up technique
to
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
“Language
is a virus
from outer space.”
He may
have been right.
Cut-ups
were later used
by the band
Cabaret Voltaire.
That's them
you can hear
just now.
Musically speaking,
cut-ups
soon became known
as samples.
Sampling
changed dance music
forever.
Just ask
Grandmaster Flash
and
the KLF.
It's funny that
there's a club ca…

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…

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 …

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 bel…

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 l…

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 revi…

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 an…

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 …

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 …

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
McCarthy.

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…

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, an…

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 f…

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 …

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 Pitlochr…

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 a…