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Showing posts from 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…

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 cont…

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, wh…

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 las…

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-moder…

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…

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 seas…

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, …

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, …

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,…

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 …

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 pl…

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…

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 dire…

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…

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
Crich…

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 …

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
a…