Thursday, 31 July 2014

Grimm Tales

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
When a family is so poor  that they abandon their hungry children in
the forest, you know things have become pretty desperate. This isn't
some contemporary tale of austerity culture and food banks, however,
but is the Brothers Grimm's much loved story of Hansel and Gretel, as
told here by the Cardiff-based Theatre Iolo for the Tron's
Commonwealth-supported Home Nations Festival 2014.

One of two Grimm Tales first reimagined by poet laureate Carol Ann
Duffy and dramatised by Tim Supple in 1993, Iolo's take on them is as
dark as Duffy's writing is sharp. With a cast of five scampering their
way around a set of artfully arranged door and picture frames, Kevin
Lewis' production is underscored by live banjo and guitar playing that
adds to the moody intimacy of the show. Both stories are brutal, as is
made clear when Hansel and Gretel shoves the Witch into the fire before
pocketing all her precious wares and making a prodigal's return home to
their now widowed father. As ecstatic as he is to see his lost
children, their dear old dad should really watch his back.

Sibling rivalry abounds even more in Duffy's radical take on
Cinderella, the abused young woman who is gifted here with her original
German name of Ashputtel. Here, Ashputtel's suitor is a  punky,
leather-jacketed, guitar-playing Prince who she shimmies with all night
long. Like a pair of wannabe WAGS, Ashputtel's nasty step-sisters are
desperate enough to go under the knife to get their man. When the birds
peck out their eyes at Ashputtel's wedding, it's a viciously downbeat
ending to a family favourite that's been reinvented forever.

The Herald, July 29th 2014


ends

Edwin Morgan's Dreams & Other Nightmares

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
Liz Lochhead's impressionistic homage to Edwin Morgan, her friend,
fellow poet and predecessor as Scotland's Makar, first appeared in 2011
as part if that year's Glasgay! festival. Three years on, as the
centrepiece of the Tron's Commonwealth-supported Home Nations Festival
2014 of poetic drama, director Andy Arnold has put the life and work of
this major artist on a world stage.

It begins and ends with Morgan's Life Force personified as a dynamic
and fearless figure at odds with Morgan's quietly mischievous public
persona, before moving into the care home where he spent his final
years. Here Morgan holds court, unveiling his past to his Biographer in
a tumble of anecdote and dreams peopled by lovers and dangerous
liaisons in Glasgow parks after dark.

Drawn in part from Beyond The Last Dragon, James McGonigal's published
study of Morgan, Lochhead's play weaves together a touching but
unsentimental study of a complex and contrary figure, whose parallel
lives powered his poetry. One minute Morgan is on a bus sat next to a
man with tattooed knuckles who puts his hand on his knee, the next he's
watching absurd 1970s TV quiz show, The Golden Shot, with his long-term
partner.

Morgan's ever-shrinking physical presence, so sensitively captured by
David McKay, is counterpointed by the more bullish tendencies of
Morgan's assorted companions, played by Steven Duffy. It is Laurie
Ventry's Biographer, however, who anchors things. Given an all too rare
insight into the private life of a literary genius who continued to
push boundaries until his final days, the end result, both for him and
for Lochhead, is a labour of love to cherish.

The Herald, June 28th 2014


ends

Beowulf

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
Three darkly dressed women sit on benches in a crypt-like room at the
start of Lynne Parker's staging of Seamus Heaney's majestic version of
what is probably the best-known Old English epic narrative poem to
survive the centuries. With the trio's contemplations underscored by a
whispered chorale, the women could well be Shakespeare's Witches in
retreat, seeking sanctuary or enlightenment or else in mourning in the
gloom. The wooden pillars that flank them are shattered and exposed,
with little shards of debris frozen in mid-air as  if hanging from a
Fluxus-inspired peace tree.

When the women start talking, the tale they pass between them, of
Beowulf's heroic slaying of the monster, Grendel, and his even more
monstrous mother after she seeks revenge, is related calmly and without
rancour now the battle is over. While this basic story is simple
enough, it comes accompanied by a cast of characters as myriad as those
in Game of Thrones, which at times it superficially resembles.

Parker's production for the Tron's Commonwealth Games supported Home
Nations Festival 2014 may be subtitled A Dramatic Reading, but,
performed by Helen McAlpine, Lorraine McIntosh and Anita Vettesse with
exquisite flair, Heaney's rich and vivid text transcends mere
story-telling to become a thing of flashing, pulsating life. Every stab
of Beowulf's sword is conjured up by words alone, without unnecessary
recourse to literal gymnastics, but with a raging calm at its root.

While by no means explicitly anti-war, in the current climate one can't
help but think of what happens when real-life monsters invade small and
vulnerable countries. There too, it seems, it is the women who are left
to tell the bloodiest of tales.

The Herald, July 28th 2014


ends

Friday, 25 July 2014

Olwen Fouere - riverrun

Olwen Fouere had never read James Joyce's epic novel, Finnegan's Wake,
before she adapted it for riverrun, her Dublin Theatre Festival hit
which arrives at the Traverse Theatre for an Edinburgh Festival Fringe
run next week. Being where she's from, the maverick Irish actress and
director had of course dipped into what is often regarded as an
impenetrable text over the years. Only when she read the last page of
the book out loud to celebrate the Joyce-based Bloomsday festival while
on holiday with friends, however, did she have any notion to transform
it into a piece of theatre.

“It was really one of those moments,” she says now, “that the tongues
of fire descended, and  I felt this vibration around the room, and it
had this extraordinary communicative effect. I knew then that this
would be my next piece, the voice of the river. I started from the idea
that she from dissolved into the ocean, and worked backwards from
there.”

At one point Fouere planned to only perform the last ten pages of the
book, but then became fascinated by the journey of the river itself.

“It's said now that water can hold memory, which I think is a wonderful
idea,” she says. “It's all a little bit on the borders of science, but
they've done these experiments where they play these sounds in water,
and there's this idea that water can contain history, which I think is
very beautiful.”

Born on the west coast of Ireland to Breton parents, Fouere has
developed a fascinating body of work since she first moved into acting
in 1976.

“The 1970s in Ireland were a very low period,” she reflects, “and art
was the one thing that was like a doorway that opened up all sorts of
possibilities. I was drawn to art and medicine, and studied visual art
for a while, though not formally. When I started going to the theatre,
I thought I might go into it as a designer, but then ended up becoming
a performer.

“One of the most beautiful things about theatre is its ephemerality. As
a visual artist I don't think I would ever have been happy with what I
was creating. It would never be finished, whereas with theatre you have
to have the humility to accept that you've got as far as you can before
you let the audience in, and then you can continue it together, but
it's never complete.”

While she has acted with all of Ireland's major theatre companies,
including the Abbey and the Gate, as well as the Royal National Theatre
in the UK, Fouere has carved out a canon of her own work that fuses
image, text and sound. Having been exposed early on to work by the
likes of Robert Wilson, The Living Theatre, visiting avant-garde Polish
companies and the young Laurie Anderson, Fouere developed a
cross-disciplinary approach that began with Operating Theatre, the
company she co-founded with composer Roger Doyle in 1980. Over the
twenty-eight years of the company's existence, Fouere created and
performed in stage and installation based work drawn from sources such
as Antonin Artaud and Sebastian Barry.

Running parallel with this, Fouere took the title role in Steven
Berkoff's take on Oscar Wilde's Salome in 1988, and worked extensively
with directors Michael Bogdanov and Patrick Mason. For Mason she
appeared in Tom Murphy's The Wake at Edinburgh International Festival,
where she also worked for Calixto Bieito in Jo Clifford's version of
Calderon de la Barca's Life Is A Dream. Fouere toured the world in Mark
O'Rowe's play, Terminus, and has just finished a science-fiction film
set for release next year.

“I've always had two streams to my work,” she says, “and that's because
I started in the theatre without really knowing at the start of the
journey I was on which way to go. Then I started to be offered a lot of
mainstream work, and  thought I would have to decide, but I've been
really lucky being able to straddle both streams, because they inform
each other and nourish each other. It's about learning to balance
things, but I feel now that those two worlds are coming together a lot
more.”

Fouere's latest platform is TheEmergencyRoom, which, as well as being
the logical step on from Operating Theatre, also implies a sense of
urgency about creating a space for what she defines as “work needing
immediate attention. It's work that I felt needs to be done, even if it
doesn't necessarily have any form of support system other than what I
can give it.”

This is certainly the case with riverrun, in which life and art come
together as one.

“I've always had an exploratory nature,” says Fouere, “which is tied up
with nature itself and spirituality, so I suppose what I do is kind of
a search, but it's also a no choice kind of search. Art is kind of like
love, a love you believe in, and which kind of pulls you towards it,
and it's up to you whether you follow it or not. It's more than just a
want. It's like with riverrun. It's saying for us to wake up, and in
that way I hope audiences leave the theatre with a sensation that they
can't put aside.”

riverrun, Traverse Theatre, July 29-Aug 24, various times.
www.traverse.co.uk

ends


Olwen Fouere -  A life in performance.

Fouere was born on the west coast of Ireland to Breton parents.

After being drawn to both the visual arts and the stage, she began
acting in 1976.

In 1980, Fouere co-founded Operating Theatre with composer Roger Doyle.

Fouere went on to work with the Abbey, the Gate, the Royal National
Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Fouere created the title role in Steven Berkoff's version of Salome,
was directed by Tom Murphy in his play, Bailegangaire, and appeared in
plays by Brian Friel, Marina Carr, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.

Works with Operating Theatre include The Diamond Body (1984-1987), The
Pentagonal Dream (1986), Angel/Babel (1999) and Here Lies (2005-2007).

Fouere has won numerous best actress awards, has contributed to several
theatre journals, has acted opposite Sean Penn on film and appeared on
television in Ballykissangel.

A documentary film, Theatre in the Flesh, charted a year in Fouere's
life, and was shown on RTE in 2005.

In 2011, Fouere toured the world with the Abbey Theatre in two plays
written and directed by Mark O' Rowe, Terminus and The Broken Heart.

Other recent stage credits include Gerald Barry's opera of The
Importance of Being earnest, Maria de la Buenos Aires at Cork Opera
House, The Rite of Spring and Petrushka with Fabulous Beast Dance
Theatre at Sadler's Wells and Fouere's own translation of Laurent
Garde's Sodome, my love in a co-production between Rough Magic and
Fouere's own TheEmergencyRoom.

riverrun was first seen at Galway Arts Festival, who are co-producers
of the show with Cusack Projects Limited and TheEmergencyRoom.

The Herald, July 25th 2014


ends

Passing Places

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
The giant map of Scotland tilted centre-stage above the audience at the
start of Richard Baron's timely revival of Stephen Greenhorn's road
movie for the stage not only shows off some of the country's
lesser-travelled pastures as the play travels from Motherwell to
Thurso. It also puts a roof on an entire world, with designer Adrian
Rees' wooden construction below doubling up as sports shop, Traveller
camp, ceilidh hall and ferry.

In and out of this weave Alex and Brian, a pair of small-town boys who
go on the run and on the road with a surfboard beloved by Alex's
psychopathic boss, Binks. With Alex as overheated as the Lada that
belongs to Brian's brother, and Brian trying to get beyond the
guide-book clichés, the pair hook up with assorted free-spirits who
take them out of their comfort zone en route to somewhere else, all the
while with Binks in hot pursuit. The end result is one of the most
significant pieces of post-modern populism and end of the century
enlightenment to have roared out of our own back yard.

Baron navigates his cast lovingly throughout, with Derek McGhie as Alex
and Keith McLeish as Brian capturing their characters full Yin and Yang
mix of frustration, fear and born-again yearning. Romana Abercromby's
Mirren is  the female foil to their Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty,
bridging both in a play as steeped in pop culture as it is full of big,
philosophical meditations on identity and a quest for something real.
Only Alan Steele's Binks clings to the imaginary in a poignant and
irresistibly funny look at what can happen when you run away from home.

The Herald, July 25th 2014


ends

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Siddhartha - The Musical - Inside Milan's Maximum Security Prison

In a downtown restaurant in Milan, a group of actors are celebrating
the first performance of their new show. As one might expect for a
musical version of Herman Hesse's Buddhist novel, Siddhartha, the cast
for what is an an unashamedly commercial mix of Bollywood and pop video
theatrics are young, beautiful and bursting with post-show energy.

Earlier that evening, the young stars gave a dynamic performance of
Siddhartha – The Musical at a huge theatre complex in front of an
invited audience of friends, family and assorted co-producers of the
show, including representatives of the New York-based Broadway Asia
International. Such serious interest in the play bodes well for
Siddhartha – The Musical's Edinburgh showcase, which opens at the end
of the month as part of the Assembly Rooms Edinburgh Festival Fringe
programme, putting an international spotlight on something which has
already wowed audiences in Italy and beyond.

Overseeing the post-show festivities with equal measures of ebullience
are writer/director Isabella Biffi and producer Gloria Grace Alanis.
Biffi is an Italian musical star, Alanis a Mexican ex model who settled
in Italy. With successful careers under their belt, somewhere along the
way the two women bonded over Buddhism. Together they are a force of
nature, and take Siddhartha – The Musical very seriously indeed.

“It is the message of the performance that is important,” Alanis
translates for Biffi in excitably broken English. “Whatever happens to
you in the world, love and peace are the important things.”

These might sound like lofty ambitions for a commercial musical, but,
as Biffi nods in rapid agreement across the dinner table as the pair
flash the widest of smiles, you get the sense that there really is
something deeper at play here.

The next morning in L'Opera Prison is as far away from the glamour of
the night before as one can imagine. It is here, however, among the
1400 inmates of one of the biggest maximum security prisons in Europe,
where Siddhartha – The Musical began. Ushered into a large, if somewhat
more makeshift theatre space than the lavish arena the play was
performed in the night before, we're greeted by seven inmates, who
perform several scenes from Siddhartha for us.

What we see may be rougher in terms of physical technique, but in terms
of spirit, determination and rough-hewn athleticism, the L'Opera
performance adds a new resonance and depth to a show which is
effectively about one man's quest for self-knowledge as he goes about
the world. In this respect, this version of Siddhartha – The Musical is
theatre at its purest.

When the performers sit lined up across the stage to talk to us, it's
hard to equate these focused, beatific and near evangelical-sounding
men with the crimes they have committed. Given that 1300 of the 1400
prisoners confined in L'Opera are serving life sentences, those crimes
must be very serious indeed. Yet, when the men talk, while there's a
certain understandable swagger to their bearing which isn't that far
removed from the professional actors letting off steam the night
before, they sound transformed. As well they might.

Siddhartha – The Musical was developed by Biffi with the prisoners as
part of an ongoing theatre programme that has presented a series of
shows over the last seven years. With many of the men being involved in
the project from the start, you get the sense that Siddhartha has been
the pinnacle of their achievements thus far.

Many of these former hardened criminals have clearly softened over the
years, and some have themselves become Buddhists. It was the prisoners
too who suggested to Biffi and Alanis that they take the show out into
the world in a way that they will never be able to perform it.

“Before we did these workshops,” says one man who we've just watched
play the Narrator as if his life depended on it, “a lot of therapists
came in, but we are lifers for a reason, and they couldn't get through.
But the workshops opened my heart.”

In the clamour to talk to a rare audience not made up of fellow
prisoners, the same message, again translated by Alanis, comes over
again and again.

“Before,” says a younger inmate, “I was a bad boy, but when I joined
the workshops I became another person. I'm still a boy,” he laughs,
“but I'm a good boy now.”

This is the message Biffi and Alanis were so keen to explain the night
before. As one of the prison performers puts it, “We want to give the
message to the world that everyone can have a second opportunity. When
I get out of prison, I don't want to be seen as a prisoner anymore. I
want to become a good citizen, and do something of value.”

The nearest comparison with such a set-up is with Barlinnie, the
Glasgow prison that set up a radical art-based rehabilitation programme
in the 1970s. That scheme transformed convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle
into an artist and became something of a cause celebre before being
quietly wound down. In Milan, however, under Biffi and Alanis'
guidance, the message of Siddhartha – The Musical looks set to go on.

Future plans include touring the show to twenty-eight prisons in
Europe. A docudrama is also being planned to tell the story of how
taking part in the prison theatre project changed the men's lives as a
group.

How any of this will translate to audiences watching the professional
staging of Siddhartha – The Musical in the hurly burly of Edinburgh in
August remains to be seen. Whatever happens, it has arguably already
achieved its goal.

“We are so grateful to have been part of this community,” says the
inmate who plays the Narrator in the L'Opera prison version. “We're
aware that we've done bad things in the past, but now we are a part of
this, we can enjoy a new life.”

Siddhartha – The Musical, Assembly Rooms, July 31-Aug 24, 6.10-7.20pm
www.siddharthathemusical.co.uk
www.arfringe.com

The Herald, July 22nd 2014




ends

Monday, 21 July 2014

Under Milk Wood

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

As with all the best soap operas, it's fitting that the pub should be at the centre of Gareth Nicholls' staging of Dylan Thomas' seminal radio play concerning the bustle of life in a day in the imaginary hamlet of Llareggub. Presented as part of the Tron's Home Nations Festival of poetic drama that forms part of the Commonwealth Games' arts programme, Nicholls takes full advantage of the Tron Community Company's resources to put quaking flesh on the rich bones of Thomas' big, rambunctious symphony of inner yearning, shattered dreams and hidden hopes that the play evolves into.

With the narrator's lines split three ways between the bar staff of Charlotte Lane's wood-lined howf, the rest of the townsfolk either prop up the bar or else sit in repose at a floor of tables until they spring into life to lay bare their hearts desires. At one point in what at times looks and sounds like the physical evocation of a saucy seaside postcard, the entire sixteen-strong ensemble get on their feet for the sort of dance routine that only ever fully lets rip in an after-hours lock-in situation.

The musicality of the piece is accentuated even further here by a new chamber pop score by Michael John McCarthy, and performed live by a guitar, bass and percussion trio who provide a sublime set of arrangements for the songs of the ever fertile Polly Garter. These are sung with clarity and grace by Jacqueline Thain as Polly in a version of the play that grabs lustily at its libido-driven heart that pulses an entire community in all its topsy-turvy glory.

The Herald, July 21st 2014

ends




Henry 1V / Henry V

Royal Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars
War is everywhere just now, both onstage in the numerous commemorations
of World War One's centenary year as well as an increasingly ugly real
world. The centrepiece of this year's Bard in the Botanics 'What  We
May Be' season, goes forth with three of Shakespeare's history plays to
tackle both the personal and political consequences of conflict.

Bard in the Botanics director Gordon Barr not only condenses both parts
of Henry 1V into just over two hours, but has it played in the catwalk
of the Kibble Palace by just three actors. It's a version full of macho
swagger that charts Prince Hal's wild years from estrangement from his
father and slumming it with Falstaff to finding out where his true
loyalties lay.

There's an acerbic edge to both James Ronan's Prince and Tom Duncan's
Hotspur, while Kirk Bage lends emotional depth to Falstaff as well as
the King. As Hal takes the throne and leaves the gang behind, the
play's final image is of a rejected Falstaff sitting alone, his meal
ticket lost forever.

What Harry did next can be seen across the gardens in an open-air Henry
V adapted and directed by Jennifer Dick, whose concept frames the play
around a school fete circa 1915, with the pupils and teachers sat
either side of a wooden assembly hall stage flanked by stalls. This
set-up allows the parallels between Agincourt and Flanders to be made
plain, with between-scene interludes flagging up letters from the
school to the families of fallen former pupils. Henry's 'Once more into
the breech' speech, meanwhile, becomes a rabble-rousing dispatch from
the front-line delivered by a man of action over a soundtrack of
gun-fire and bombs.

Such shadows of doom hang even heavier in the second half, with the
cast marching on like a public school cadet force. The men's uniforms
become gradually more up to date, so by the time Henry mouths his 'We
happy few' speech, he may still sport the crown, but he's also wearing
the khaki of an officer in the trenches.

As played here by Daniel Campbell, Henry may have become a statesman,
but you can still see the unruly lad within. Robert Elkin's Boy Chorus
is a crucial figure, from igniting the audience's imagination, to the
way he, like Falstaff, sits to one side, the black arm-band over his
uniform counteracting any triumphalism elsewhere.

The Herald, July 21st 2014

ends

Friday, 18 July 2014

Random Accomplice - News Just In

News just in. The 2014 Commonwealth Games about to open in Glasgow is
not beyond satire. This is the case, it seems, despite the now
abandoned plan to demolish the city's iconic Red Road Flats as part of
the Games' opening ceremony. Neither does the derision from some
quarters which greeted the unveiling of Team Scotland's official outfit
seem to have deterred further parody.

Both incidents, in fact, look set to be given a nod in News Just In,
the new nightly, hot off the press portrayal of an imaginary TV
news-room from Random Accomplice that forms part of the Commonwealth
Games' Festival 2014 arts and culture strand. Set among the presenters
of the fictional Tartan Tonight show, News Just In will highlight the
show's larger than life presenters both on and off air.

Your hosts of Tartan Tonight – named, incidentally, a good six months
before STV's new Scotland Tonight show first aired - will include
newsroom anchors Fergus Butler and Delta Barker, played by Jordan Young
and Random Accomplice co-director Julie Brown, Margo the short-shorted
sports reporter, played by Rosalind Sydney, and Ross the Weatherman,
played by Brown's creative other half, Johnny McKnight. Then there is
Jan and Sam, who, as played by Julie Wilson Nimmo and Gavin Jon Wright,
will become two completely different characters each night depending on
what the script requires.

“It's mental,” explains Brown, blinking into the Glasgow light after
spending just that little bit too long in the windowless bowels of the
Arches, where the show is being pulled together. “We're all a bit
shell-shocked and in a little bit of denial about what we've taken on,
because every single show is different. Not just the text, but all the
technical stuff as well, because we genuinely don't know what we're
going to be doing.”

Dovetailing between what is effectively a back-stage soap opera and
what goes out onscreen, News Just In will feature material by a team of
thirteen writers, who will meet daily to respond to events, not just in
the Games, but on the streets of Glasgow and beyond. As well as Brown
and McKnight, contributors include Douglas Maxwell, Morna Pearson,
Lynda Radley and Stef Smith as well as actors Martin McCormick, Anita
Vettesse and Mary Gapinski, all Random Accomplice regulars.

“When Johnny and I first started thinking about doing something for the
Commonwealth Games eighteen months ago,” Brown recalls, “at first we
were just going to write a show, but then we decided that wasn't
ambitious enough. It's such a one-off occasion for the city that we
decided we had to go for it big style.”

While such unabashed chutzpah is admirable, it nevertheless begs the
question which any real life current affairs show must sometimes face,
of what happens if it's a particularly slow news day and the writers
don't have anything to work with?

“I know,” says Brown. “We're basically asking all these people to be
funny on demand, but there are safety nets. We story-boarded the soap
opera part of things in January, and we've said to the writers that as
long as they hit certain points, they have carte blanche. Then the
daily writers can come in and see how the characters are developing and
respond to that.”

Taking the rise out of media folk has become a staple of TV comedy. In
America, both Saturday Night Live and the Chicago-based Second City
Revue have used sketches based on chat shows, game shows and soap
operas. In the UK, Drop The Dead Donkey similarly attempted to combine
up to the minute topical references with news-room based inter-personal
shenanigans. More recently, Twenty Twelve was an inspired mockumentary
style sit-com based around a fictional team behind the London 2012
Olympic Games.

If the show's mix of boardroom absurdities punctuated by meaningless
management-speak and PR buzzwords hit home, a sequel, W1A, which moved
the action to the BBC, who commissioned the programme, looked a tad
toothless.

Random Accomplice, however, aren't interested in biting the hand that
feeds them for the sake of it. As Brown puts it, “We're not trying to
be horrible about things. We want to have fun with them. The Red Road
flats and the Scottish athletes outfits will absolutely get a mention,
but it will be done with warmth in what is very much a celebration of
the Games.”

With Rod Stewart, Lulu, Susan Boyle and more signed up for the
Commonwealth Games' accompanying festivities, chances are they too will
make an appearance in News Just In's rolling storyline. When exactly
that might be, however, will be a surprise.

“People could go and see all ten shows if they wanted to,” says Brown,
“and see how it changes from night to night depending on what happens
in the Games. We're not doing Chekhov, which is fine. We might go close
to the knuckle with some things, but like everything Random Accomplice
does, it's all done with a cheeky wee smile.”

As News Just In's hosts might put it; Bring. It. On.

News Just In, The Arches, Glasgow, July 22, 24-26, 28-31, Aug 1-2. A
brand new show will be performed each night at 9pm
www.thearches.co.uk

ends


TV Funnies – Shows that made the headlines.

Second City – Originally founded in Chicago in 1959, the Second City
became one of the first improvisation-based performance troupes in
America. Basing their satirical sketches and songs around events of the
day. Second City later opened a theatre in Toronto, which later led to
Second City TV, a sketch show based around a TV station in the
fictional town of Melonville. The show ran from 1976 to 1984, and
featured spoofs of game shows, soap operas and contemporary films, with
the likes of Rick Moranis and John Candy in the cast.

Saturday Night Live / 30 Rock – Beginning in 1975, sketch show SNL has
become a comedy institution on American television, and has spawned
successful film careers for the likes of Chevy, Chase, Bill Murray and
Eddie Murphy. Mike Myers also created Wayne's World for the show before
adapting it for the hit film of the same name. This was the first
successful breakout movie since John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd had made
The Blues Brothers more than a decade earlier. In 2006, Tiny Fey
created 30 Rock, a sitcom based around the back-stage antics of a
fictional sketch show and based around her experiences as head writer
on SNL.

Drop The Dead Donkey – Running between 1990 and 1998, Andy Hamilton and
Guy Jenkin's sitcom was set in the news room of GlobeLink News, a
fictional TV station owned by media mogul Sir Roysten Merchant, whose
initials may or may not have alluded to Rupert Murdoch and/or the late
Robert Maxwell. Recorded close to transmission in order to reference
breaking news, the show combined satire with off-screen rivalries
involving reporters, editors and on-screen anchors.

Running for six series, Drop The Dead Donkey made stars of Haydn
Gwynne, who played assistant editor Alex Pates Neil Pearson as deputy
sub-editor and office lothario Dave Charnley, and Stephen Tompkinson,
who played action man field reporter, Damien Day.

Twenty Twelve – John Morton's inspired sit-com ran for two series in
the run up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, and focused on a fictional
team led by Hugh Bonneville's Head of Deliverance, Ian Fletcher,
responsible for organising and overseeing the Games. Framed as a
mockumentary with narration by David Tennant, the programme followed
Fletcher through the build-up to the games with the likes of Head of
Brand, Siobhan Sharp, played by Jessica Hynes.

There were several parallels with real-life events, including problems
with the 1000 day countdown clock, and a conceptual artist character
who proposes people to play as many instruments as possible to coincide
with the Olympic opening ceremony in much the same way Martin Creed
proposed that everyone should ring a bell at a specific time. Twenty
Twelve was followed up by W1A, which saw Bonneville's character
decamped to the BBC.

The Herald, June 15th 2014
ends



John Byrne - Dead End

It's sometimes easy to forget that John Byrne was a painter first, long before he became a playwright. While he has earned a living as an artist since 1967, only latterly, it seems, has the Paisley-born author of the Slab Boys Trilogy and TV drama, Tutti Frutti, received the acclaim for a body of work equally rich in baroque, multi-hued narrative as his stage and TV writing. With Byrne's mural for the auditorium ceiling of the King's Theatre, Edinburgh cementing the importance of his criss-crossing relationship between the two mediums when it was unveiled last year, two major exhibitions this summer should remind audiences of the instinctive and audaciously good-humoured flourishes which possess his paintings.

While Sitting Ducks, a collection of some fifty, largely unseen works from private collections that forms the body of a long overdue show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is already up and running, it is the twenty-odd brand new pieces that make up Dead End, Byrne's Edinburgh Art Festival show at Bourne Fine Art that should reveal where Byrne is currently at.

On a Tuesday morning in Edinburgh's Filmhouse bar, the now seventy-four year old Byrne appears to be in the rudest of health and even ruder humour. This despite his recent labours being briefly frustrated by a bout of flu. His immaculate checked three-piece suit and elaborate beard may give Byrne the air of a Bohemian dandy dating from anytime between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bloomsbury set and 1950s Soho, but such apparel can't hide the rough as sand-paper but still gentle baritone of his unreconstructed Paisley patois, nor the twinkle of wonder and mischief that frequently lights up his piercing blue eyes. It's a twinkle that may well be the product of a mis-spent youth at the dawn of rock and roll, when the austere black-and-white post-war world turned technicolour. The painting that gave Dead End it's title is a give-away.

“I painted a big watercolour, which is twice the size of this table,” Byrne says, nodding at where we're sat. “I had no idea what I was gonnae do, and I painted two teddy-boys in big close-up, with exaggerated hair, and then I put in a cinema behind them, the Astoria. Outside is a car parked, it's a Riley, my Riley from 1957, and there's a guy dancing on the roof of it, and there's people running across the edge of the roof of the cinema. There's a guy in a close nearby who's about to stamp on a cat who's looking out on us, blissfully unaware that there's a family up the stairs watching him, and there's a guy on a motorbike under the bridge that they're standing on.

“The film that's showing is Dead End, which was a Broadway stage play, for which they built a huge gable-end on the stage. It was a made into a film with Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Kids, who became the Bowery Boys, and they were our heroes when we were growing up in the 1950s.”

This impressionistic auto-biographical streak is key to Byrne's work dating right back to The Slab Boys, in which lead character Phil McCann was a teddy-boy who, like Byrne, worked in Stoddard's carpet factory in Paisley during 1957 while trying to get into art school.

“Well, why not?” says Byrne. “I lived that life. I lived the life of a teddy boy in a complete slum, and it was so exciting, and every new day was a joy, a total and absolute utter joy. So why would I no' do that? Writers do it. Writers use their own life, but very few painters do. I mean, they use a part of it, part of their psyche or whatever it is and try things out, but it's no' that entertaining. Also, I want to entertain myself, and keep myself alive and thinking and constantly surprised. Unless you're totally engaged, it's pointless. It's a fucking hobby. A lot of artists these days have other jobs, but how boring is that? If you're going to paint, you need to do it full time and live it.”

Other paintings in Dead End feature “a whole lot of narratives, which you'll have to decipher, because I don't start off with a theme. If you plan too much, you cannae wait to finish the bloody thing, and you get annoyed, whereas if you're exploring it as you go along and things are revealing themselves, it becomes very entertaining, and you cannae wait to see what happens next. I trust my unconscious to do all that, though I didn't start out that way. It's a good thing not to have any thoughts in your head, and just be fucking knackered the whole time, because that's when you're unconscious takes over, and you're just the robot who does it. It sounds fanciful, but it's true.”

Byrne's conversation is unguarded, discursive and occasionally scurrilous, and in the main is peppered with little gurgles of laughter. Beyond an amused scepticism where conceptual art is concerned, only occasionally does Byrne appear mildly affronted, like when he talks about how one half of an eight-foot diptych of Billy Connolly which has been on loan in perpetuity to the Peoples Palace in Glasgow since it was first painted in 1975 was discovered to be missing when the curators of Sitting Ducks came to look for it.

Then there are the sketches for a mural of a gable end in Partick which Byrne painted around the same time, and which were found in a skip at the side of the old Third Eye Centre on Sauchiehall Street as the pioneering arts centre was being emptied in preparation for its transformation into the far glossier Centre of Contemporary Arts.

“I'm sure the National Gallery will be more careful,” Byrne deadpans.

Growing up in the rough Ferguslie Park area of Paisley, Byrne appears to have lived in a permanent state of wonder that transcended his surroundings, even as he sought out worlds beyond them. Exposed to art at an early age, he fell in love with Titian and Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross, which has hung in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum since 1952, and which Byrne calls “an extraordinary painting.”

Byrne lapped up the part works of the great masters serialised through the Daily Express, and spent hours in his local library

“And there was life itself,” he remembers, “because you were playing out or in the house all the time, inventing things, and the wireless was a great pictorial aid. I remember hearing Christopher Fry's A Phoenix Too Frequent on the Third Programme when I was twelve or thirteen, which was absolutely spell-binding. That sort of thing, poetic drama, is dead in the water now.

“My life was crammed with all this stuff. Then there was the life around me. We knew everyone in the entire street, and every one of them was a phenomenon. You didnae need to write anything. It was ready-made. I went to so many schools, and I loved every one of them. Then when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I had this unformed and unconscious realisation that I had all the information I needed to last me an entire life. I couldnae put it into words, but my heart leapt with joy at the prospect of that. I was delighted and thrilled and astonished on a daily basis.”

After studying at Glasgow School of Art, Byrne had his first show in 1962 at Bytheswood Square Gallery. It would be another five years, however, before he would find real acclaim, under the assumed name of Patrick, with works Byrne somewhat fancifully claimed to be by his imaginary naïve painter father. This was an idea that came about after reading a piece on self-taught artists in a Sunday newspaper colour supplement.

“You needed a hook,” Byrne says. “Like if there was a murderer who'd come out of prison or something, their work would get attention.”

Byrne's mischief worked, and in 1968, conscious of being feted for great things, his next show was
photographed by David Bailey for a piece written by Marina Warner, “who took me round the corner and bought me a packet of fags. I was enthralled. It was very showbizzy. You met anybody and everybody.”

Byrne painted album sleeves for Donovan and his Paisley-born friend and contemporary, Gerry Rafferty, and moved into stage design, working with Scottish Opera, the Royal Court and on the West End.

“That was the only time I could get to meet any other playwrights,” Byrne says, “by designing their shows.

Two iconic designs were for The Great Northern Well Boot Show in 1972, and John McGrath's 7:84 production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil a year later. While the latter pretty much changed Scotland's theatrical landscape as we know it, with Byrne's pop-up book set a major feature, the former is remembered as the show that made Billy Connolly a star. Byrne designed the banana boots which Connolly eventually had made when he went out on tour.

A move into play-writing was inevitable

“It just seemed natural to me,” Byrne says. “I always went to the theatre. I slept through every production at the Citz, because I was always so knackered from painting. But I enjoyed that. I took it in by osmosis. They were always doing such wonderful things, a lot of which I couldn't get a handle on because they were so obscure, but they were always great shows, with Phillip Prowse's design. They were never laid-back or unimportant. They were always the most important thing, so I got a great education at the Citz. I actually sent The Slab Boys to the Citz, but Giles Havergal said they couldn't do it, because they only had one Scottish actor in the company, but why didn't I send it to the Traverse?”

Byrne's first play, Writers Cramp, was a hit of the 1977 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and led to the Traverse eventually picking up The Slab Boys, which itself was something of a landscape-changer. Byrne's rich, pop culture derived dialogue was delivered with a music hall flourish that showed just how vibrant the Scottish dramatic voice could be in much the same way his paintings had and indeed still do.

“I couldnae not do the two things that I do,” says Byrne, “and I'm blessed that I can do the two things that entertain me. People who don't know me at all say don't you think of retiring. You mean die? People think like that because they hate their jobs, but that could never happen to me. I was never a conformist, and I couldnae wait.”

Beyond Dead End and Sitting Ducks, Byrne has several theatre projects pending which he can't talk about yet. He's also just directed a video for American band, Merchandise, who are about to release a new album on 4AD Records. With music playing such a big part in Byrne's work, it will be fascinating to see what he brings to a contemporary act like Merchandise. One shouldn't, however, expect anything too obscure.

“I love populist art,” Byrne says, “genuine populist stuff like Norman Rockwell, who I adore, and popular music. I've always loved it, but populism is totally under-rated, even though when it's good there's a real intelligence to it. There's no point in being obscure for the sake of it. The big thing is whether something's alive and does it speak to you. If it isn't alive, what's the point?”

Some new writing, Byrne says, is also on the cards.

“At the moment I'm all painted out,” he says. “I've been painting morning till night seven days a week, and I need to give my mind and my imagination a break from all that visual stuff. But that won't last. It's when I'm working that I feel most alive.”


Dead End, Bourne Fine Art, Edinburgh Art Festival, July4th-August 30th; Sitting Ducks, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, June 14th-October 19th.

The List Edinburgh Festivals Guide, July 2014

Ends






The Neutrinos - KlangHaus

Despite it's name, the new show by dark-hearted art-rock ensemble The
 Neutrinos is about much, much more than mere music. By keeping the
audience in the dark of Summerhall's already atmospheric Small Animal
 Hospital and utilising an array of slide projectors beaming out
 home-made slides created by artist Sal Pittman to play with the early
 evening light, KlangHaus (it translates as House of Sound) becomes
what the Neutrinos describe as a 360 degree immersive experience.

“It explores extremes of performance,” explains Neutrinos vocalist
Karen Reilly from the band's spiritual home of Berlin, where the
seeds of KlangHaus were sired. “With the slides we can really shape-shift
the room, so your perception is altered, and because the room was a small
 animal hospital, the idea of anaesthesia keeps returning.”

Reilly and co are currently drawing some last-gasp inspiration from
visiting Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain), the artificial hill built in
 Berlin out of World War Two rubble on which an American listening
 station was built. Some of what they hear may end up either in
 KlangHaus or else in little sonic installations which Reilly
describes  as “sound graffiti” placed around Summerhall.

 “Music can be ground-breaking,” Reilly says, “but when you go gigs,
the format is really conservative. It's always first band, second band,
 encore. We wanted to break out of that, so we started listening to
 rooms, and pulling out what we could hear. It's like the bones have
 gone, but the songs breathe on.”

While one might presume that KlangHaus might work best after dark,
Reilly seems to prefer the Neutrinos tea-time slot.

“To be doing something like this so early in the evening, and then to
have the rest of the evening to do other things, it gives people a
strange feeling,” she says. “It's like having a really good afternoon
 nap.”

KlangHaus by The Neutrinos, Summerhall, Aug 1-24, 4pm and 6pm.

The List Edinburgh Festivals Guide, July 2014

 ends

Luke Fowler - The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott

Scottish National National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh until November
2nd
Four stars
Luke Fowler's ongoing fascination with icons of radical thought has
extended from film-works on punk band The Homosexuals and composer
Cornelius Cardew to his Turner nominated dissection of
anti-psychiatrist RD Laing. Each of these has cut-and-pasted
sound-and-vision collages of archive footage and newly filmed work to
create a set of suitably world-turned-upside-down narratives. Like
them, this 2012 study of Marxist historian and CND activist E.P.
Thompson's involvement with the Workers Educational Movement is both an
impressionistic portrait of its subject as well as a timely reminder of
a vital figure all but airbrushed out of official history.

For this sixty-one minute piece originally commissioned by the
Hepworth, Wakefield, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Film and Video
Umbrella, and now shown in Scotland for the first time as part of
GENERATION, Fowler slows things down to play with form even more. As
Cerith Wyn Evans intones Thompson's grimly poetic litanies over images
of red-brick Yorkshire towns that move between the black-and-white
bustle of the past and the barren back-streets and To Let signs of
today, the film becomes both oral history project and living newspaper,
complete with Brechtian captions and reflections of Fowler in assorted
windows. As a conduit for working class autodidacts, the WEA has vital
umbilical links with the free university movement and today's
autonomous zones. The Great Learning goes on.

The List, July 2014


ends

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Hayley Tompkins – 'Digital Light Pools'

The Common Guild, Glasgow until August 2nd
Four stars
It's the brightest and airiest of environments that have housed Hayley
Tompkins' floor-based
bird's-eye picture postcard views of holy-hued rainbows, high-rise
city-scapes, earth-bound stone formations, tranquil blue seas and
fog-bound multi-lane traffic surges thus far. Originally seen as part
of Scotland's contribution to Venice 2013 and now forming part of the
nationwide GENERATION programme, these off-the-peg images contained in
plastic trays play with the full light-and-shade spectrum of the Common
Guild's high-windowed town-house interior they've been reconfigured for
on the floor alongside an empty chair to take in the view. The painted
stick on the wall, half-consumed bottles of coloured liquid, fake
steaks, baguette and a plastic salad sandwich in the hall suggests the
left-over souvenirs of an off-piste picnic in some man-made
make-believe utopia.

Upstairs, newer works, on the wall this time, take a trippier approach,
with the looking-glass light-show swirls and poached egg shapes that
occupy the plastic trays giving them the feel of petri- dish
experiments in search of the most refreshing facsimile of authenticity
they can muster. Where these swirls might ooze, pulse and spit with
life, here they've been captured at their most vivid and preserved in
what, like any still life, is an approximated palette of living colour.
The close-up of a crush of oranges in the hallway isn't the only thing
that looks good enough to eat. Outside, meanwhile, seen on the clearest
of days, a false sun never dims.

The List, July 2014




ends

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Andy Arnold - The Tron Theatre's Home Nations Festival 2014

There is a line in Liz Lochhead's play, Edwin Morgan's Dreams and Other
Nightmares, in which Scotland's first Makar is asked by his biographer what he
thinks of fellow poet Seamus Heaney's adaptation of Beowulf, which Morgan had
done a version of some years before. Morgan's response in the play is that he
considered Heaney's version to be “too Irish.”

The line penned by Morgan's successor as Makar for a show first seen at the
Glasgay! festival three years ago became the key for its director, Andy Arnold,
to stage this month's Home Nations Festival 2014 at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow,
where he is artistic director. This  mini season of four pieces of poetic drama
from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales looks set to coincide with
the impending Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and its accompanying Festival 2014
arts strand which supports the season.

Opening with a big community production of Dylan Thomas' masterpiece, Under Milk
Wood, artistic director of Irish company Rough Magic, Lynne Parker, oversees a
dramatic reading of Seamus Heaney's take on Beowulf.
  This is followed by Britain's Glasgow-born poet laureatte Carol Ann Duffy's
version of Grimm Tales, which is directed by Kevin Lewis, currently artistic
director of Welsh theatre company, Theatre Iolo.
Arnold will revisit Lochhead's look at the life, work and imaginings of Morgan
to complete the quartet.

“It made sense,” says Arnold. “Liz Lochhead's Edwin Morgan play seemed to work
with audiences, and I wanted to do it again, and the Commonwealth Games seemed a
good time to do it, because the play's very much about Glasgow as well. Then I
thought it would be good to put on work by some of the other iconic poets from
the other home nations.”

Under Milk Wood and Heaney's take on Beowulf were no-brainers, while Duffy's
cross-bordeer roots seemed an equally perfect fit. Regardless of where the
writers and directors of the season are from, however, it is great writing that
matters to Arnold.

“I really like adapting poems for the stage,” he says, “and, in a way, it's an
indulgence on my part, to have a festival where, through theatre, you celebrate
poets, either through their lives or their work.”

Poetic and literary-based drama has always been at the heart of Arnold's work.
Since he took over as artistic director of the Tron, this interest culminated in
a mighty staging of James Joyce's novel, Ulysses, while during his previous
tenure running the Arches,  Arnold himself directed productions of both Under
Milk Wood and Beowulf.
Arnold has also staged Robert Burns' Tam O'Shanter, while as part of this year's
Mayfesto season at the Tron, he presented a staged reading of Caribbean writer
Aime Cesaire's Return To My Native Land.

“It was so powerful it made people cry,” says Arnold of the event. “It was just
two women performing it, but every young writer should listen to it because
every single line is full of visual imagery and music, and that's something you
get more in poems than in plays.”

Arnold's fascination with the poetic form dates right back to The Noise and
Smoky Breath Show, a cabaret-style compendium of performances of works taken
from Noise and Smoky Breath, a seminal collection of Scottish poetry published
by the old Third Eye Centre, which is now out of print. The Noise and Smoky
Breath Show was first performed at the Third Eye to tie in with a mooted second
edition of the book that never happened, but which then became the first show
Arnold directed for what became the Arches Theatre Company. A poster for the
show hangs on Arnold's office wall.

“It was Noise and Smoky Breath which first introduced me to the poems of Edwin
Morgan,” Arnold recalls of the show that toured to the Tron during Michael
Boyd's tenure there, and which seems to have been pivotal in Arnold's career.

Arnold followed The Noise sand Smoky Breath Show with a production of V, Tony
Harrison's epic poem about visiting his parents graffiti-strewn grave in Leeds.
Written during the Miners Strike, V first appeared in 1985, the same year that
Bill Bryden directed Harrison's version of the Mysteries at the National
Theatre. V caused controversy when Channel 4 broadcast a television version of
the poem complete with four-letter words that caused some consternation in the
House of Commons.. Working with a community cast of long-term unemployed
volunteers, Arnold faced a similar reaction to Harrison's viceral text.

“I remember when we did the first reading of it,” he says, “and one of the
performers couldn't deal with the language and walked out.”

With a new generation of poets such as Kate Tempest tackling the dramatic form,
as she did last year in the Herald Angel winning Brand New Ancients, Arnold may
be onto something. Brand New Ancients'
street-smart mix of hip hop rhythms and South London patois, after all, also had
a heroic narrative that owed much to both Dylan Thomas and Tony Harrison.

Such lively poetic activity will be reflected in a series of events going on
throughout the Tron's building beyond the Home Nations Festival's four main
shows. These will include readings by Lochhead, who is also the season's
Poet-in-Residence, a Slam poetry competition hosted by Edinburgh-based spoken
word night, Rally & Broad, and a rehearsed reading of a new play by Jackie Kay.

“All of this goes back to Shakespeare,” Arnold points out. “Taking the
musicality of poetry, but applying it to drama, and trying to find a way of
acting out every line. Epic poems particularly lend themselves to that. What I
value more than anything is the power of the spoken word, and none more so than
through the vehicle of theatre. I'm always drawn to the whimsical, the surreal
and the absurd,  and you can take that as extreme as you like, but everything
starts with the spoken word.


Home Nations Festival 2014 takes place at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow; Under Milk
Wood, July 17-19; Edwin Morgan's Dreams & Other nightmares, July 24-Aug 2;
Beowulf A Dramatic Reading, July 24-Aug 2; Grimm Tales, July 27-Aug 1.
www.tron.co.uk

ends


Home Nations Festival 2014 in miniature

Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas wrote his radio play set in a small Welsh seaside
town in 1953, abd performed it live with a troupe of actors in a performance in
New York, where he died shortly after, having delivered a completed draft to the
BBC. The first broadcast version featured Richard Burton in a part he repeated
several times, including in a 1972 film version. Set in the fictitious town of
Llareggub ('bugger all' backwards), the play for voices tells of the dreams and
inner lives of the town's assorted inhabitants, and is now regarded as Thomas'
masterpiece.

Edwin Morgan's Dreams & Other Nightmares – Liz Lochhead's play about her friend
and fellow poet Edwin Morgan first appeared at Glasgay! in 2011, a year after
Morgan's death aged ninety. Set in a care home and based around conversations
with Morgan's biographer, Lochhead uses this a jumping off point to look at
Morgan's life as a gay man living a private life beyond his poetry in a vivid
eighty minutes of memory, imagination and poetic longing.

Beowulf – Written somewhere between the eighth and eleventh century, Beowulf
tells the fantastical tale of the eponymous hero, who comes to the aid of the
Danes to slay the monster Grendel and the monster's mother. After returning to
Sweden where he becomes king, Beowulf later slays a dragon, but is fatally
wounded in the ensuing battle. The Old English poem has been seen in several
versions, including ones by Edwin Morgan and Seamus Heaney, while American
theatre company, Bananna Bag & Bodice, won a Hetald Angel for their musical
version that was an Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit in 2008.

Grimm Tales – Poet laureate carol Ann Duffy's stage adaptation of the Brothers
Grimm's collection of fairy tales first appeared in 1996, and included versions
of Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretal and The Golden Goose. A sequel,
More Grimm tales, followed a year later.

The Herald, July 8th 2014
ends

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Toby Paterson - GENERATION

Standing outside his studio in Glasgow city centre, beyond its noise
and smoky breath, Toby Paterson can observe a metropolis in a state of
architectural flux. It isn't difficult to spot this influence in the
Glasgow-born Becks Future winning former skate-boarder's body of work
over the last twenty years. This is reflected too in Paterson's solo
GENERATION show, one of the first out of the traps which opens in
Kirkcaldy before touring to Inverness, Peebles and Dumfries in a
deliberate focus on smaller locales outwith the central belt.

“One of the things about the show,” Paterson explains, “is that there's
a lot going on in terms of texture and scale. That goes right back to
my formative experiences skate-boarding, when you're focusing on a tiny
detail of whichever location you're using, and you occasionally take a
step back and think, 'Oh, this building is interesting'. You're
discovering a way of looking at things.”

Since graduating from Glasgow School of Art's painting course in the
early 1990s, Paterson has continually looked to the botched utopian
visions of post-war modernist architecture that ended up as makeshift
playgrounds for skater-boys like him. His GENERATION show will feature
work drawn from the last decade that can be reconfigured to tailor each
venue. It will also include new work specific to each venue.

For Kirkcaldy, Paterson will draw from a specific spot on the esplanade
and “the complete failure to address a body of water in the landscape,
and how you have to look through several lanes of traffic to see it.
This isn't a representation of what I think Kirkcaldy is like, but is a
specific subjective experience.”

For the other venues, “It will be be off on a wander again and see what
happens. My favourite thing in the world to do is to go to places I've
never been before, get lost and find out about it.

“As I get longer and longer in the tooth, I do start to realise what
I've been doing, which is a subjective form of town planning of the
mind, containing a series of images and experiences that sit together
and build a kind of geography for myself. These spaces sit together in
my head, and I'm able to copy them imaginitively and feel like I'm
engaging with the world. There's idealism in that, but it's a personal
idealism. I kind of hope what comes out of the work isn't something
that's being didactic. It's more saying, this is open as a way of
approaching your environment and positively engaging with it.”

Toby Paterson, Fife Contemporary Arts and Crafts @ Kirkcaldy Galleries,
April 27th-June 22nd, then on tour to Inverness, Peebles and Dumfries.
Paterson's work will also be seen as part of GENERATION: 25 Years of
Contemporary Art in Scotland, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art,
June 28th-January 25th 2015, and Urban/Suburban, City Art Centre,
Edinburgh, August 1st-Oct 19.

The List, July 2014




ends

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Admirable Crichton

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
There was never anything innocent about J.M. Barrie, as this 1902
dissection of class consciousness testifies in an at times
remarkably progressive if ultimately redundant fashion. Richard Baron's
revival has Barrie himself introduce his creation by way of his
elaborate stage directions to set the scene. These concern the
liberal-minded Earl of Loam, who gathers his three spoilt daughters,
Mary, Catherine and Agatha, his equally brattish nephew Ernest and an
extended coterie of aristocrats for a day of meeting the servants on
allegedly equal if toe-curlingly awkward terms before setting sail on a
family expedition.

With the eponymous butler Crichton and mouse-like maid Tweeny
accompanying, by the second act they are shipwrecked and, aside from
Crichton, without a clue about survival. After two years, the girls
have gone the way of most posh back-packers on gap-year, with Mary in
particular morphing into an androgynous lost girl in thrall of
Crichton, who now rules the roost. Any hippy idealism concerning
equality has, alas, been upended by old-fashioned patriarchy in a new
set of rags. What happens on the island, however, stays on the island,
and once the castaways are rescued, all  holiday romances are
forgotten, even as Ernest rewrites history in his self-aggrandising
memoir.

Dougal Lee gives a charismatic and statesmanlike performance as
Crichton, with Helen Mallon capturing the full sense of Mary's
awakening as she moves from studied boredom to off-the-leash abandon
and back. With the old order restored without any emotional or
political resolution, the play's author played by Alan Steele stands
appalled, both by its deeply unhappy ending, and by his impotent
complicity in being either unable or unwilling to rewrite it.

The Herald, July 4th 2014




ends

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Tectonics 2014 - St Andrew's in the Square/City Halls/Old Fruitmarket - May 9-11

Friday
If incoming Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan
really wishes to refresh his music programme with something more
contemporary than the current model as he hinted at during a recent
press briefing, he could do worse than look at  this second edition of
the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra's inspired three-day meeting of
musical minds, which saw curators Ilan Volkov and Alasdair Campbell
foster international alliances aplenty.

While Volkov has been a mercurial figure, both with the BBC SSO and in
Iceland, where a Reykjavic-based arm of Tectonics runs in tandem with
the Glasgow event, much of the the groundwork over the last decade for
something as sonically ambitious as Tectonics was done by the Instal
and Le Weekend festivals, with Campbell in charge of the latter for
much of its existence. The involvement of the BBC and the presence of
Radio 3 in particular at Tectonics, however, suggests an official seal
of approval that opens up an avenue of mainstream culture to a strand
of forward-thinking experimentalism too often pushed to the margins.
This also frees up composers to produce bigger works than they might
normally have the resources for.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the opening and closing concerts
of the Tectonics weekend. The first featured Bill Wells performing a
new piano-led piece, Summer Dreams, with viola player and long-term
collaborator Aby Vulliamy alongside a thirteen-piece string and horn
ensemble drawn from the SSO that made for an ethereal experience
accentuated by the acoustics of St Andrew's in the Square. Even more
ambitious was Richard Youngs' festival finale, Past Fragments Of
Distant Confrontation, but there was a lot more inbetween in a full to
bursting programme which looked designed to disorientate.

Much of this pushed boundaries of space, form and content in a series
of moments which use the assorted venues housing Tectonics in
interesting ways. While another large ensemble played David Behrman's
self-explanatory Pile of Fourths and Pitchbends, the first half of
Friday night's concert followed Wells and co with Klaus Lang playing
solo harmonium in the centre of the room, with Prainn Hjalmarsson doing
something similar with viola  and Marcus Weiss with assorted
saxophones. Jer Reid took things even further with Fracking, a piece
for manipulated electronics which saw dancer Solene Weinachter begin
her meditations on the venue's balcony before moving into the main
space sporting a costume by artist Victoria Morton.

The second half began with a short piano piece by Christian Wolf,
before Richard Youngs performed a wonderfully evocative solo vocal
piece, using St Andrew's in the square's rich acoustic in a powerfully
insistent miniature that tapped into folk idioms while sounding
thoroughly contemporary. Catherine Lamb and Klaus Lang's viola and
harmonium duo was concentratedly low-key, while Vernon and Burns'
Renditions of the Beat: A Resuscitation Recital was a playful mix of
pure sound and spoken word that was a harbinger of much fun to come.

While there was much anticipation centred around the first of two
Tectonics appearances by former Sonic Youth guitarist, the increasingly
ubiquitous Thurston Moore, in the end his duo with Japanese Fluxus
veteran Takehisa Kosugi that closed day one was a pleasant enough but
unremarkable concoction of avant-guitar stylings and electronic
squiggles.

The real highlight of the second leg of the evening, alongside Youngs,
was ANAKANAK, aka Conquering Animal Sound vocalist Anneke Kampman,
whose solo turns are fast mutating into increasingly confident
multi-media spectacles. Her the as if body loop featured visuals by
artist Tom Varley, which accentuated the pulsating stridency of
Kampman's performance. As she morphed her live vocals into dubbed-out
mis-shapes using layers of electronics, the end result was akin to a
one-woman Cabaret Voltaire circa 1982, just before Sheffield's
electronic pioneers fully embraced the dancefloor.


Saturday
Saturday's proceedings may have been divided between the Old
Fruitmarket and the City Halls' more formal Grand Hall space, but that
didn't prevent composers Christian Wolff, David Behrman and Georg
Friedrich Haas from exploring what an orchestra might be capable of
when taken out of its comfort zone, a challenge the BBC SSO rose to
with distinction. Plunderphonics pioneer John Oswald, meanwhile, messed
things up even more with a wink to the Beatles at their trippiest on
his BBC Commission, I'd love to turn.

Sarah Kenchington's Sounds from The Farmyard installation was a
gloriously Heath Robinsonesque sonic playground that set up shop in the
Recital Room off the foyer of the City Halls, with a trio version of
female collective Muscles of Joy ramping up the presence of
Glasgow-based artists even further.

Things really livened up with an impromptu promenade through the Old
Fruitmarket, in which a whole heap of Tectonics artists and fellow
travellers including Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra director and
saxophonist Raymond MacDonald, plus curators Volkov and Campbell,
spiralled their way through the audience, blowing and honking an array
of instruments or else singing or shouting their way through the space
with harmony and dissonance rubbing up against each other in equal
measure.

As warm-ups go, it was perfect for Thurston Moore's second appearance
of the weekend, this time in tandem with Blood Stereo mainstay, founder
of the Brighton-based Colours Out of Space festival and proprietor of
the Chocolate Monk micro-label, Dylan Nyoukis. Combining Moore's guitar
with Nyoukis' electronically enhanced gibberings made for an intense
but surprisingly nuanced experience.

Things fully let rip with the second night's closing performance by
Cindytalk, for more than thirty years the thunderingly raw
spleen-venting vehicle of vocalist Gordon Sharp. Sharp's musical roots
date back to Edinburgh's original punk scene with his band, The Freeze,
which was followed by appearances on 4AD Records house band/super-group
This Mortal Coil's debut album, It'll End In Tears. Since then, his
wilfully singular path has taken his explorations in avant-rock and
self-styled 'ambi-dustrial' soundscaping ever further out there.

The eight-piece version of Cindytalk that graced Tectonics proved to be
a beguiling visual experience as much as an aural one. While much of
this was down to the presence of Sharp helming things as a dragged-up
Cindy, looking like a trans-gender auteur straight out of Andy Warhol's
Factory, the sight of band-members Melanie Clifford and Lucy Duncombe
extracting sounds from table-tops full of electronic boxes, sticky-back
plastic and such-like with near hypnotic concentration made for
gloriously disorientating and contrary light and shade spectacle of
fury and calm.

The way 'performance percussionist' Tim Goldie, aka “ “ [sic] 
VomiTimov Goldie Abject Bloc, appeared to play his face by rubbing it
at length at one point further added to a mix of music concrete, skewed
noise-rock and Sharp's soul-baring confessionals. At one point, on his
knees, Sharp clutched his hand-bag to him, taking time out from an at
times pulverising but nonetheless touching display.


Sunday
If Cindytalk were purging old demons on the Saturday, the Old
Fruitmarket space was left exorcised enough for much levity on the
final day of Tectonics. The Sunday afternoon session began with a
trouserless Usurper, the absurdist and increasingly performative duo of
Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson, perched on the stairs of the City Halls
in cardboard tuxedos as they attempted to iron their cut-off troos for
what looked to be a very formal affair. Once the pair acknowledged the
audience with faux-surprise and vaudevillian double-takes before
raising a toasted with plastic container-loads of bottle-tops, they led
the audience in a procession to the Old Fruitmarket, where four tables
were set up in a large square that left enough space for the circus
ringmasters Duff and Robertson effectively became to navigate their way
around.

At each table sat a fellow traveller of Usurper; artist/musician Norman
Shaw, musicians Fiona Kennedy and Luke Poot, and film-maker and
activist Sacha Kahir. Stopping off at each in turn, Duff and Robertson
whipped the table-cloths from under an assortment of junk-shop detritus
that seemed put together at random from a job lot bought for buttons at
Steptoe and Son's yard.  Over four courses, a choreographed mish-mash
of extrapolations, ablutions and a warped remix of dinner party rituals
were performed in turn.

All this was both ridiculous and hilarious, but it was also in part at
least a recognition and cheeky critique of how a runtish underground
has either subverted or else been accepted and co-opted by Auntie
Beeb's posh classical music radio station. Casting themselves as
eternally bemused-looking unexpected guests, Usurper could revel in the
mess they can make with such resources even as they fart in its face.
In this respect, Usurper are becoming the Morecambe and Wise of the
Noise scene that sired them. If live art was a form of breaking the
frame of still lives, Usurper are a cartoon double-act who, like The
'O' Men, the duo of Sylvester McCoy and David Rappaport who applied a
messy fringe theatre aesthetic to early 1980s teatime TV show, Jigsaw,
may yet make it on to kids telly.

There were more laughs to be had with S.L.A.T.U.R., the Icelandic
composers collective whose response to various on-screen stimuli, which
included having the audience join in with a series of co-ordinated
hand-claps, made for a participatory play-pen in which call and
response was an essential component.

Back in the City Halls, the seven short vocal pieces performed by the
eight-piece Exaudi ensemble under the direction of James Weeks was a
fantastic pre-cursor to the world premiere of Weeks' Radical Road,
which took place in the upstairs and downstairs of the City Halls
foyer. With small groups of singers overlapping performances that
tapped into the ebullient spirit of traditional work-song,  it made for
an initially overwhelming but ultimately exhilarating experience.

Volkov and the BBC SSO took over again for a series of world premieres
by Catherine Lamb, Michael Finnissy, James Clapperton and Klaus Lang
before the penultimate performance of the festival, a solo turn from
Takehisa Kosugo, whose manipulations of raw electronics revealed a
discreet but no less evocative form of sonic alchemy.

This left only Past Fragments Of Distant Confrontation, the grandest of
big band finales by Richard Youngs. Performed in the round of the Old
Fruitmarket, Youngs combined brass, strings, electronics and opaque
guitar stylings for a short, sharp invocation of post punk dance
culture which at moments recalled Jeremy Deller's Acid Brass project.
If time had allowed, the performance should have ideally ushered in the
most abandoned of club nights. As it was, it was the grandest and most
joyous of finales to a shape-shifting three days and nights of sound
and vision.

The List, July 2014


ends

Ed Robson and Elspeth Turner - Cumbernauld Theatre, Stoirm Og and Beyond

When Ed Robson took over as artistic director of Cumbernauld Theatre,
to suggest he had something of an uphill struggle ahead of him is
something of an understatement. Here was a theatre with a proud past
both as a community and professional venue, but which had just had its
Scottish Arts Council grant cut. With heavy debts mounting, the
theatre's closure seemed inevitable. Rather than appoint some
number-crunching bureaucrat to step in and manage the venue's demise,
Cumbernauld Theatre's board of directors were convinced enough by
Robson's enthusiasm that he could turn things around.

Seven years on, and things look very different indeed. With Robson
still in post, Cumbernauld Theatre is alive and well with a mixed
programme of visiting shows and in-house work. With an annual
Company-in-Residence partnership set up last year with the
award-winning Tortoise in a Nutshell company, the Edinburgh-based
Stoirm Og company will be the second recipients of an initiative which
aims to culminate in the opening of a brand new co-production at the
2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Stoirm Og's arrival in Cumbernauld comes alongside the announcement
that a brand new building looks set to house Cumbernauld Theatre from
2017, when the company will move into a multi-purpose arts centre more
fitting for twenty-first century pursuits than the theatre's current
home. With all this activity ongoing, Robson is about to take an unpaid
sabbatical to investigate international theatre work and possibilities
for future collaborations. While this sounds like a well-earned
breather for Robson, he remains ebullient about the developments at
Cumbernauld which he helped bring about.

“In a moment of visionary belief in the arts,” Robson explains, “North
Lanarkshire Council has decided to invest four million quid plus into a
brand new theatre and arts centre. A brand new school is going to be
built on the site of the existing Cumbernauld High School, and the new
Cumbernauld Theatre is going to be built next to it. That affords us
the opportunity to share resources and to work on projects together and
develop creative learning work without being totally joined at the hip.”

Robson is philosophical about the state his theatre was in when he
first arrived there.

“It all seems like a long time ago now,” he says. “To all intents and
purposes we were bankrupt. We couldn't afford to pay the bills, and
no-one was going to give us any money to run a new building if we
couldn't afford to run the one we had. So we had to start from scratch
and reinvent the whole thing, and ask ourselves why we were here, what
we were doing and how the building was being used. The only reason
we're talking today to some degree is because we started on this
journey of doing more creative things and being more collaborative, and
endeavouring to make what is a relatively small amount of resources go
a very long way, and to have as much reach and impact as we possibly
can with it.”

This was achieved in part by a series of co-productions, which
eventually led to the current company in residence scheme. Adopting a
philanthropical approach, Robson opened the building up to the wider
community to generate more activity inside it.

“The building itself is bricks and mortar and heating and lighting, but
they're resources which a lot of smaller companies don't have access
to, so these are really valuable things for them to have. So, at a very
real level, we've done more creative things, and more challengingly
creative things, and we've paid off the debt. By changing the economic
way of working and opening up the building, we now have more people
attending events and taking part in things. Once that started to happen
and we turned things around and started becoming successful, we could
start talking seriously about why we need a new building, and why the
building that we've got, as quirky and full of character as it is, is
very much a building of its era, and actually limits what we can do
rather than expands it.”

For Stoirm Og's co-founder, playwright Elspeth Turner, having scored a
hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the company's first show, The
Idiot at the Wall, the opportunity to be Cumbernauld's company in
residence is one that came at the right time.

“It all seemed to fit,” says Turner. “They wanted an emerging company
that they could help grow, and after The Idiot at the Wall we certainly
had lots of room for growth in lots areas where we needed mentoring and
guidance. We had all the energy and enthusiasm, but just thought we'd
really benefit from having the sort of support network that Cumbernauld
Theatre could provide.”

Robson sees Stoirm Og's presence as a radical move in keeping with his
vision for the theatre's future.

“Scotland is in a really interesting place just now in terms of
language,” he observes, “and we thought it might be interesting to
engage with a company that worked with Gaelic and Doric. Then when we
met them, they had a really wonderful way of describing ideas for
magical realism in theatre and relating traditional myths to the modern
world.”

Despite his forthcoming sabbatical, Robson plans to still be in charge
of Cumbernauld Theatre when it moves into its new building. In the
meantime, there is still a lot of work to do.

“To make the new building a reality, we still have to raise another
£1.8 million,” he says, “but given that there is already a significant
financial commitment and political will from the local authority, , I'm
confident we can make this happen.”

www.cumbernauldtheatre.co.uk

ends

Cumbernauld Theatre -A history

Cumbernauld Theatre opened in 1960, after a group of dedicated
residents, upon realising there were no cultural facilities in the 
transformed a set of farm cottages into a fifty-five seat theatre.

The theatre thrived throughout the 1960s, and in 1972 an extension was
built that featured the 250 seat theatre that is currently still in
place.

In 1978, Cumbernauld Theatre Company was formed, with a stream of new
community-based plays being produced under the artistic directorships
of John Baraldi and the late Robert Robson, with Liz Carruthers and
Simon Sharkey also taking up the post prior to Ed Robson's appointment.

With a strong focus on youth and community theatre throughout
Cumbernauld Theatre's history, under Sharkey's tenure, major
international collaborations with companies in Singapore, Portugal and
Jordan were forged.

Since Robson arrived in Cumbernauld, companies who have developed work
there include SweetScar and Tortoise in a Nutshell, who were the first
recipients of the theatre's Company in Residence scheme.

The result of this collaboration was Tortoise in a Nutshell's
production of Feral, which became a hit, both on the Edinburgh Festival
Fringe and on tour.

The Stoirm Og company have just been appointed as Cumbernauld Theatre's
second company in residence.

With North Lanarkshire Council approving the £4 million development of
a new building to house Cumbernauld Theatre from 2017, the next three
years will see the current site remain open as a producing theatre
while raising additional funds to complete the move.

The opening of the new Cumbernauld Theatre will mark Robson's tenth
year in post as artistic director.

The Herald, July 1st 2014




ends