Sunday, 31 August 2014

1984 - Headlong Theatre on George Orwell

There was a time when the phrase Big Brother meant a whole lot more
than an increasingly freakish reality TV show. It is such grotesque
legitimisation of surveillance culture as public spectacle, however,
which in part fuels Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan new stage version
of George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984. Their co-production between
the Headlong theatre company, Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida
Theatre arrives in Glasgow this week following suitably mass acclaim
for its first run in 2013.

While this new version adapts Orwell's novel in full, the starting
point for Icke and Macmillan was not the novel itself, which charts
Winston Smith's battle with an authoritarian state as he rebels and
falls in love with a woman called Julia, but the appendix that follows
it.

“The appendix really changes your perception of the main story,” Icke
says of The Principles of Newspeak, which refers to the novel's
ideologically driven minimalist language. “It's a strange part of the
novel, that's written as an academic essay in oldspeak and in the past
tense. There's a footnote  in the novel that refers to the appendix, so
really, you should read the first five pages of the novel and then go
to the appendix, which says that Newspeak should have been the official
language by 2050, but also implies that it didn't happen. So clearly
the appendix is set in a future time after the novel has ended, which
raises all sorts of questions about the reliability of the text that
you've just read. Clearly Winston Smith made it into the future, but it
doesn't tell you how, or who is in charge.

“In this respect the narrative of the book becomes slippier and harder
to pin down than it first appears to be, and it's a much more ambiguous
novel than you think. The left have claimed it as a novel of the
political left, and the right have claimed it as a novel of the
political right, but it's actually very difficult to get the book to
fall on one side or the other. It's very balanced in that way, and at
the book's heart is this love story that takes up great chunks of the
book alongside these questions about what do we do when we live in an
age where people don't trust politicians and the system is broken.

“The story is set during an age of austerity when there is
disenchantment with the political system, so it's not that far removed
from where we are now, especially with Wikileaks and Bradley Manning.
There's this whole idea of surveillance culture, and whether it's ever
justified for the government to read your emails if it helps to stop
certain things like terrorist plots.

“1984 also asks questions about what happens if you have no faith in
the current government, how you change that, and what power do you
actually have to protest. Can one man change the world without
resorting to violence, and what is the point of going on a march if it
has no discernible effect? It's much bigger than just getting out the
blue overalls and having the actors learn to march in step. Our take on
1984 isn't about doing it as gritty realism. It's much more dream-like.”

The last time 1984 was seen on a main stage was more than a decade ago,
when former Dundee Rep artistic director Alan Lyddiard served up a
large-scale version for Northern Stage at what was then Newcastle
Playhouse. As well as utilising video work by Mark Murphy, Lyddiard's
production featured a cast which included Cait Davis as Julia. Davis
would go on to work with Edinburgh-based site-specific theatre company
Grid Iron in the unnervingly intimate Those Eyes That Mouth.
Coincidentally, the original Winston in Headlong's production, Mark
Arends, also appeared in a Grid Iron show, the hip-hop musical, Fierce.

Like Lyddiard's production, Icke and Macmillan's version uses video and
sound alongside a large ensemble cast to tell Orwell's story in
spectacular fashion. While this in itself makes for a thrilling
theatrical experience, Icke and Macmillan have attempted to push things
even further to try and get to the heart of the story.

“So often in theatre it's more comfortable not to have an effect on the
audience,” Icke says. “You go along, watch a show and leave, picking up
the same conversation you were having before you went. With our version
of 1984, we felt that we had to try harder to be visceral, and to try
and capture that spirit of the book that leaves you feeling
steam-rollered, and we have had some pretty visceral reactions. We've
had people running out and people being sick, and that's how it should
be. If you try and sanitise things then you're not doing it properly.

“Our approach to 1984 is fundamentally like a lot of really good horror
films. A lot of the novel slips in and out of Winston Smith's mind as
he becomes under more and more psychological pressure until he can't
take it anymore, so we go deeper into that. The response to that is
going to be different for everybody, if you've maybe had your phone
hacked, or if you're pro surveillance, but if you don't go out of the
theatre afterwards feeling different to when you went in, then we're
not cutting deep enough.”

1984, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until September 6.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, August 30 2014




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Friday, 29 August 2014

Ubu and the Truth Commission

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars
“Our reign of terror,” says Pa Ubu at one point in director William
Kentridge, writer Jane Taylor and Handspring Puppet Company's
reimagining of Alfred Jarry's grotesque fable on power, corruption and
lies to post-apartheid South Africa, “was no reign of error.” Wandering
the stage like an overgrown baby in grubby vest and Y-fronts, Ubu here
is a general on the make, whose liaison with Ma Ubu may look as
multi-cultural as it comes, but is one which hides a multitude of sins.

Much of this comes out by fusing Jarry's play with real-life
testimonies from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
in which witnesses laid bare a litany of institutionalised brutality.
These testimonies are relayed by puppets, operated by a trio of
performers, with English translations provided by the other performers
situated in a glass booth beside them. They are visualised even more
powerfully in a series of chalky monochrome animations by Kentridge,
which are projected onto a billboard at the back of the stage and
counterpointed with archive footage of real-life Township massacres.

Both devices lend a Brechtian simplicity to a production first seen in
1997, when the Commission was still ongoing, as do the puppets of Ubu's
wild dogs and a crocodile who gobbles up any incriminating evidence.

As the Ubus, David Minnaar and Busi Zokufa capture the full grubbiness
of their domestic bliss and the warped ambitions that drive them. It is
Ubu's final speech to the commission that lets him away with murder
before he and  Ma Ubu sail off into the sunset, however, which suggests
a whitewash of the highest order.

The Herald, August 29th 2014


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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

William Kentridge - Ubu and the Truth Commission

When Johannesburg-born artist William Kentridge teamed up with the
Handspring Puppet Company to create Ubu and the Truth Commission, the
post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that
inspired it was a year into proceedings Scripted by Jane Taylor,
Kentridge's audacious fusion of Alfred Jarry's piece of proto-absurdist
buffoonery and real life transcripts from the Commission opened in
Johannesburg in 1997. The show went on to tour South Africa, Europe and
America, finishing with a run at the London International Festival of
Theatre in 1999. Seventeen years after its premiere, with Handspring
now universally acclaimed for their work on War Horse, and with South
Africa commemorating twenty years of democracy, Kentridge's revival of
Ubu and the Truth Commission closes this year's Edinburgh International
Festival theatre programme.

While much of South African theatre remains associated with the
satirical agit-prop of the likes of the Market Theatre of Johannesburg
and Pieter-Dirk Uys, Ubu and the Truth Commission offered a more
multi-layered, collage-like approach, fusing live action and
Handspring's puppetry with music, Brechtian techniques, archive film
footage and Kentridge's own animations.

“Initially I worked on a series of etchings of Ubu,” says Kentridge,
who is one of South Africa's most renowned artists, best known for his
sculptures, tapestries and film work. “At the time, it was the
centenary of the first production of Ubu Roi, and I became interested
in working with a dancer and animations based on the etchings,.At the
same time I was talking to Handspring about doing a project based
around waiting. We wanted to do Waiting For Godot, but in their wisdom
the Samuel Beckett estate wouldn't allow the play to be done with
puppets.

“Then at a certain point I realised I'd committed myself both to the
Ubu project, and to working with Handspring on the project about
waiting, which we decided would include material from the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. The only way out of this double date was to
smash the two together, and see what would happen if Ubu Roi and the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission came together. They did so very
quickly in a strong way, in the sense that the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission gave a kind of gravitas to the burlesque of Jarry, and the
Jarry gave a formal language to the difficult material of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission.

“The test became how close could one bring archival images and archival
text of the witnesses evidence together with the burlesque and crude
animation that was used in the Ubu areas. We found
that the closer they were together, the stronger they became, and that
the crude drawings of violence had a real violence in them when put
against the documentary evidence. I think it also made you see archival
footage in a way that was less jaded than the way one usually sees
archival footage on the television, for example.”

Ubu and the Truth Commission was Kentridge's third collaboration with
Handspring following versions of Faust and Woyzeck, so puppetry was a
given for a version of a play which Kentridge knew from playing a
dancing bear in a student production of Jarry's play. Discovering that
puppets had been used in Jarry's original 1896 production of Ubu Roi
also seemed to sit well with Kentridge and Handspring's approach.

“Our question of how to deal with the real voices that had been
speaking was to use the very artificial language of a puppet being the
witness,” Kentridge explains, “so you were aware it was another voice,
rather than having actors pretending to be that person. It's a
complicated question, the relationship between documentary material and
theatricality, and the double games of belief and non-belief one plays
when watching them.”

During the show's creation, its cast and creatives attended some of the
Truth and Justice Commission hearings, “to see the theatricality of it
first-hand,” Kentridge says, “to watch the witnesses and listen to the
translators, and to check what the raw material of what we were working
on.”

While acclaimed across the globe, Ubu and the Truth Commission didn't
please everyone.

“At the time,” says Kentridge, “some people thought it was much too
soon to have done the piece, but one of our feelings was firstly to do
with the fact that no artists had been invited to be participants in
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There were priests, there were
teachers, there were politicians, but there were no artists. This felt
to us to be a gap, considering that mourning, grief, responsibility and
guilt are the stock in trade or the raw material with which artists
work.

“The other feeling was that there were all of these extraordinary
pieces of information and witnessing being broadcast every day, which
it seemed were about to disappear irrevocably into an archive. One of
the things the production could do would be to make these stories heard
more often, and in fact that's one of the things that happens with the
production seventeen years on, to give something of a reminder of how
recent old history is. It's like the ancient sound of a dot matrix
printer, which is only from eight years ago, but it feels like it could
be from fifty years ago.”

“One of the shocking things is how little has changed in seventeen
years, and how the venality of Ubu and Ma' Ubu in the play is borne out
by so many old and new politicians in South Africa. So it has a
different echo, I think, and different images make one think of
different characters in the political firmament, but for me it still
feels  like a good voice to hear again. Hearing these stories again
made me realise they aren't so ancient.”

Ubu and the Truth Commission, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 28-30, 8pm,
August 30, 2.30pm.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 26th 2014


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Monday, 25 August 2014

Helen Lawrence

King's Theatre
Four stars
1948, and a femme fatale is receiving her just desserts in a Los
Angeles sanatorium after being convicted in a headline friendly murder.
A year later, and the same ice-cool blonde blows into Vancouver,
drop-dead gorgeous and with revenge on her mind. So it goes in Stan
Douglas' epically staged piece of cinematic theatre, which is part film
noir homage, part dissection of post Second World War social
engineering, and part technical feat par excellence.

The story, as scripted by some-time HBO writer Chris Haddock with
hard-boiled baroque flourishes, is stylistically familiar enough, as
the play's eponymous heroine flits her way between a decrepit hotel
that houses homeless war veterans and the mixed race Hogan's Alley
ghetto nearby. As corrupt cops attempt to clean up the black economy
which has thrived during war-time, we get a glimpse at the roots of
future urban regeneration projects that razed big cities as much as
enemy bombs did.

All of this is filmed on a bare stage and subsequently beamed live in
black and white onto a screen shared with astonishingly realised 3D
realisations of the play's two settings writ large. Accompanied by a
suitably shadowy jazz soundtrack, these parallel images resemble a
titillatingly drawn collage on a pulp fiction book jacket or a poster
at the local flea-pit promising sex and violence galore.

Beyond the big-screen action, there's a without walls vulnerability to
the ensemble cast's living colour performances, led by  Lisa Ryder as a
beautifully brittle Helen. Haddock's wise-crack loaded script is shot
through with occasional sapphic undertones in a meticulously plotted
period piece  laced with politics aplenty.

The Herald, August 25th 2014


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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews15 - The Future For Beginners / Animal Farm / Anthem or Doomed Youth

The Future For Beginners
Summerhall
Three stars
When boy meets girl and things start to get serious, making plans for
the future can take many forms. In the case of Jennifer Adams and
Matthew Bulgo in Alan Harris, Martin Constantine and composer Harry
Blake's lo-fi musical rom-com for the liveartshow company, that means
meticulously cataloguing every detail of every single day of their life
together in advance.

She sings operatic arias and might just be a Russian princess. He plays
the ukulele and is into Buddhism and skateboarding. As if such hipster
affectations weren't quirky enough, the perfect fantasy life they map
out more resembles an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder inspired art
project than real life domestic bliss. It is when things go wrong,
however, that things get really interesting in a sweet little
construction performed with considerable charm that makes for a show
that is about the unexpectred surprises which happy ever afters can
bring.
Run ended.

Animal Farm
Assembly
Three stars
George Orwell's metaphorical novel about how power can corrupt an
initially well-meaning ideal has continued to be as pertinent as it was
when it was first published in 1945, as Stalinism raised its ugly,
self-serving head. It is perfect material too, for the large cast of
the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre Company of Tbilisi from Georgia,
the birthplace of Stalin himself. It is a story too that director Guy
Masterson knows well from his own solo adaptation which he has
previously performed in Edinburgh.

With some twenty-six people onstage here, Masterson's production is
about as far away from such an intimate rendition as one can get. Seen
on such a scale, it is impossible to avoid something of a school play
feel as the ensemble moo, honk and cluck their way through proceedings
as the animals rise up against their human captors, only to fall victim
to an even crueller regime. Yet, for all its seeming scrappiness, there
is heart and soul aplenty on show in a work which brings home the
universal relevance of Orwell's vision.
Run ended.

Anthem For Doomed Youth
Assembly
Three stars
To suggest that Guy Masterson's solo reading of poetry from the First
World War is a greatest hits show might sound glib given the
seriousness of its subject matter. That is pretty much what Masterson's
compendium of works by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke
and their contemporaries is delivering, however. Neither is this fact
to the show's detriment, as Masterson gives grandiloquent performances
of Dulce Et Decorum Est, the show's title poem and a myriad of others.

Accompanied only by an occasional soundtrack of falling bombs,
Masterson's style as he reads from a folder is engagingly low-key. More
than merely reading, he occupies each poem intensely, only to step out
of character as it were once he's done and chat with the audience.
Given the amount of other, far flashier First World War-based material
on show in Edinburgh this year in response to the hundredth anniversary
of irs start, it is testament to Masterson's no frills approach that he
can command the stage and deliver each work with the gravitas it
deserves.
Run ended.

The Herald, August 25th 2014
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Saturday, 23 August 2014

FRONT

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars
The stark, solo trumpet fanfare that opens Luk Perceval's polyphonic
cut-up of First World War memoirs sets an anti-triumphalist tone for a
bi-lingual piece drawn from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On The
Western Front and Henri Barbusse's Under Fire as well as contemporary
sources. What follows, as nine men and two women dressed in charcoal
black suits and white shirts line up on crates placed in front of
lamp-lit music stands across the lip of the stage, is an ice-cool piece
of European post-modernism that uses the trappings of live art to evoke
the horrors of war that arguably begat them.

The ensemble speak into microphones in German, French, Flemish and
English, weaving counterpointing dispatches from the Belgian frontline
around each other while gazing out front in reflection of the archive
photographs from the trenches projected behind them. The descriptions
of grotesquely dismembered bodies are delivered flatly, as if those
recounting them have been blasted by collective shellshock. When they
finally give vent, their words are possessed with the rage of Dadaist
sound poetry.

Performers spin like tops, their shirt-sleeved arms outstretched like
little human bombs waiting for the pin to be pulled. The martial
thunder of battle is bashed out on sheets of metal at the back of the
stage. Against all the odds, there is romance, as a nurse and the
wounded soldier she tends to cling to each other for dear life.

Delivered with such contemporary stylistic trappings, Perceval's
co-production between the Thalia Theater, Hamburg and NTGent brings
home just how much it is the the cannon-fodder who bear the bloody
brunt of war in a slow-burning elegy that honours them.

The Herald, August 23rd


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Friday, 22 August 2014

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Theatre 2014 Theatre Reviews 14 - Every Brilliant Thing / Bill Clinton Hercules / The Initiate

Every Brilliant Thing
Summerhall
Four stars
How life-affirming can you get about suicide? If that’s not an easy
question to answer, try asking the hero of Duncan Macmillan's solo
play, who probably has it filed away in his list of great things in
life that keep you going. The motivation for this was when his mother
attempted suicide and he began a list to help remind her of why she
should be alive. As performer Jonny Donahoe leads us through all the
love, loss and messy twists and turns of our hero's own life, his
ever-lengthening list becomes part diary, part totem of survival.

Goethe and Daniel Johnson all make an appearance by way of the
meticulously numbered epigrams that come to life when Donahoe asks the
audience to recount them throughout the course of George Perrin's
production for Paines Plough. The audience too become assorted key
players in the unfolding drama as they go willingly onstage in what may
be the gentlest form of audience participation ever. This is largely
down to Donahoe's skill as the jolliest of hosts in what, despite its
starting point, is one of the loveliest shows of the year.
Until August 24th

Bill Clinton Hercules
Assembly
Four stars
“You don't want to be hero-worshipped by me,” says the former President
of the United States at one point in Racheal Mariner's solo play cum
TED talk. “It guarantees you an assassins bullet.” Bill Clinton is
talking about pressing the flesh with JFK and hanging on every
inspirational word of Martin Luther King before both men were gunned
down out of history.; He doesn't make such an observation with
sombreness, but, as played by Bob Paisley, with a positive spring in
his step.

This sets the general tone for an insightful portrait of the
jazz-loving hippy whose flight into the establishment was only
inevitable if you pay heed to the classical yarns of Odysseus and
Hercules which he treats mores as a lifestyle choice than literature.
Kosovo, the Arab Spring, Lewinskygate and his later playing second sax
to Hillary are all in the mix in the sort of speech that Tony Blair
would kill for.

Despite its factual root, Mariner's script lifts things beyond dull
political biography to a sort of
self-deprecating poetry, replete deadly one-liners delivered by Paisley
with aplomb in Guy Masterson's production. Speaking out in support of
the Occupy movement, this is the one-time Slick Willy as born-again
radical, a wannabe hero who only ever wanted to be one of the good guys.
Until August 24.

The Initiate
Summerhall
Four stars
Life is just one long series of negotiations for the Somalian mini-cab
driver at the heart of Alexandra Wood's punchy new thriller, that
twists and turns its way around the back-alleys of the psyche as a
driver taking the 'scenic' route around London might. This is the
trouble. There's not enough wide-open spaces, everyone is in too much
of a hurry and, above all, there simply isn't enough money to make it
big in multicultural London. When the cab driver's son son is teased
about Somalian pirates kidnapping a local couple, some kind of meaning
beyond being an invisible migrant.

One of several presentations of new work held in Paines Plough's new
Roundabout venue housed in the grounds of Summerhall, Wood's play is an
intricately woven thriller, in which the driver navigates his way
through his home life with wife and child, to his country-men and the
hostages he becomes a go-between for. With a trio of performances  from
Andrew French, Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis that fizz and
crackle their way through George Perrin's production, Wood's prime-time
narrative simmers with a tension that says something quietly profound
about the complexities of cultural roots in twenty-first century
Britain.
Until August 24th

The Herald, August 22nd

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 13 - No Guts, No Heart, No Glory / The Trial of Jane Fonda / Sirens

No Guts, No Heart, No Glory
Sandy's Boxing Gym
Four stars
Not a punch is thrown in anger in the Common Wealth company's follow-up
to Our Glass House,
one of the sleeper hits of last year's Fringe. In its real-life
show-and-tell played out by a determined quintet of young female Muslim
boxers, however, this new piece's depiction of young women empowering
themselves enough to find a voice beyond their backgrounds is
inspirational.

Taking place in Sandy's Gym housed in a community centre in
Craigmillar, director Evie Manning and writer Aisha Zia have
choreographed a criss-crossing confessional that moves from a training
session with punchbag and skipping ropes to climbing in the ring and
declaiming like champions. On one level, the young womens' concerns –
about themselves, their families and the world that would rather define
them in other ways while behaving crazily to each other – are the stuff
of any teenage rites of passage. In the context of their race, religion
and what must have been a huge set of decisions to jump in the ring, No
Guts, No Heart, No Glory transcends that to become an irresistible
things about muscle, guts and the determination to stand up for who you
are in an increasingly mad world.
Until August 25

The Trial of Jane Fonda
Assembly Rooms
Three stars
When movie starlet turned political activist turned up in the
Connecticut town of Waterbury in 1988 to film her new movie, Stanley
and Iris, in 1988, in a town with an especially high population of
Vietnam war veterans, she was forced to face up to her past in a way
she didn't expect. This is the backdrop for Terry Jastrow's new play,
which reimagines a off-limits event in which Fonda met the ex-soldiers
boycotting her presence in town in a local church hall.

As a vehicle for another Hollywood icon, Anne Archer, Jastrow's
production of her own script lines up the arguments that Fonda was a
traitor who allowed herself to be filmed on a Vietnamese gun positioned
to shoot down American forces. On one level, this is an an entire
period of American history on trial, in which a young, wealthy and
often famous counter-cultural elite flirted with a  radical chic that
came back on them and sometimes bit them hard. As Fonda argues her
case, however, Jastrow's at times overly sentimental premise suggests
that Fonda might actually have stopped the war.

Whatever the truth of this, and while Archer is no Fonda, the archive
footage – of Fonda, of soldiers in the field who committed war crimes,
and of the politicians who sent them there – points up an at times
fascinating insight into a vital era of late twentieth century history
that went beyond he big  screen.
Until August 24.

Sirens
Summerhall
Four stars
Six women step onstage in formal evening gowns and place their
manuscripts on a series of lecterns in front of them. The formality of
such an opening might suggest a choral recital of politesse and
restraint. What follows over the next hour of Belgian company
Ontroerend Goed's latest confessional dissection of human behaviour,
however, is a provocative litany of self-determination and power, in
which all the everyday abuses inflicted on women are thrown back in our
faces in a strictly personal fashion. This is no harangue, however. The
performers strike a pose, ach first-hand experience delivered with a
raging calm. The keening chorale that accompanies the hardcore porn
being projected behind the performers ends up as the wittiest of
soundtracks.

In form and delivery, Alexandra Devriendt's production resembles a
spikier, less self-congratulatory Vagina Monologues that goes further,
the performers looking the audience in the eye as they draw strength
from their words. It's an intimate aesthetic which Devriendt and
Ontroerend Goed have applied elsewhere. Here, however, the elegant
simplicity of its presentation becomes an unnerving but all too
necessary show of strength.
Until August 24th.

The Herald, August 22nd 2014


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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 12 – Traverse Breakfast Plays 2 - Fat Alice / Mother Ease / Walter

Fat Alice
Traverse Theatre
Three stars
When the crack that appears in the ceiling of a woman who's been
conducting a ten-year affair with a married man threatens to turn into
something bigger, it becomes a metaphor for how easy it is for  entire
worlds to come crashing down if you allow them to run to seed. Issues
of body image, fear of commitment and the willingness to acquiesce to
others all rear their chocolate-fuelled head in Alison Carr's absurdist
tragicomedy, the fourth play in the mini season of Traverse Breakfast
Plays directed by Traverse associate director Emma Callander as
script-in-hand work-in-progress productions.

There are contemporary shades of Ionesco in the audacious largesse of
Carr's script, which would make a wonderful radio piece while offering
some potentially tantalising technical and design choices for any
future full stage production. As it stands, Keith Fleming and Meg
Fraser spar furiously in a domestic tug of war where comfort eating can
bring the house down with big-toed abandon.
Repeated August 22.

Mother Ease
Traverse Theatre
Three stars
Angela and Fiona have very different ideas about child-care. Yet
somehow the pair have ended up together in Angela's high-rise flat,
with Fiona seemingly there to offer guidance on how Fiona should be
raising her new baby, Aidan. At the opposite ends of the social
spectrum, the two women don't exactly bond, but form a brittle alliance
of need, especially inn the face of Jim, the father of Angela's other
child. It is when the two women enter the house of Marie, however,
where the full tragic consequences of an entire class being allowed to
slip through the cracks of an already broken system are tragically
brought home.

After five days of Traverse Breakfast Plays, Molly Innes' new play is a
devastating thing to wake up to. Unremittingly bleak, it is a forensic
dramatic dissection of a part of society we only ever hear about when
things go wrong. When it is Fiona rather than Angela who finds
something to believe in with Jim at the play's end, it is all too
telling of how broken things have become in a damning and fearlessly
serious affair.
Repeated August 23.

Walter
Traverse Theatre
Three stars
Growing old disgracefully was never on the cards for Gloria, the woman
on the verge of something or other in Lachlan Philpott's magnificent
rom-com with a twist that forms the final selection of this year's
Traverse Breakfast Plays Season. When Gloria's sister Sheena sets her
up on a blind date at the zoo, she meets Walter, who's not her type,
but who she ends up dating anyway. It is a very different kind of wild
life, however, that she ends up discovering with Walter and his foxy
friends.

This is quirkily off-kilter as it gets as Philpott explores the odder
side of the dating and mating game through an eye-poppingly strange set
of characters. With Andy Clark suitably goofy in the title role, Meg
Fraser once again steals the show in a delightfully deadpan portrayal
of Gloria that proves to be one of the highlights of the entire season.
Repeated August 24.

The Herald, August 22nd 2014

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 11 - Theatre Uncut

Traverse Theatre
Four stars
Revolutions don't often start on Monday mornings. For the last three
Mondays, however, Theatre Uncut has suggested otherwise in a series of
lo-fi presentations of relatively hot-off-the-press bite-size playlets
in response to burning issues of the moment. Founded in 2010 by
directors Emma Callander and Hannah Price as an open access style
operation in response to the Westminster government's cut-driven
austerity culture, Theatre Uncut has become an annual fixture of the
Traverse bar, where their three programmes were presented as
script-in-had works in progress.

This year's first session featured five new works, including Anders
Lustgarten's The Finger of God, which sees what happens when the
National Lottery is sexed up to extreme proportions, and Inua Ellams
This is Us, in which direct action against the bedroom tax is the only
solution. It is a timely co-opting of someone else's words that made
Hayley Squires' piece, Ira Provitt and the Man, so special, closing as
it did with Charlie Chaplin's rousing plea for humanity and justice in
his film, The Great Dictator. It is a powerful and increasingly
pertinent way to close.

The forthcoming Scottish referendum has been pretty hard to avoid on
this year's Fringe, and Theatre Uncut's response came in the form of
six very different plays. The absurdity of Lewis Hetherington's The
White Lightning and the Black Stag, in which a woman is questioned
exactly how Scottish she feels, is heightened even more in AJ
Taudevin's The 12.57.  Here border guards in Berwick upon Tweed keep an
eye on the trains with an increasing pointlessness.

Davy Anderson's two monologues see the referendum through the cynical
non-voters who will decide the referendum's result, Kieran Hurley's
Close is its weary hangover, and Rob Drummond's Party Pieces asks who,
given the chance, will sing up in their own voice.

The final Theatre Uncut programme featured work by writers from Turkey
and Scotland responding to the wave of protests in and around
Istanbul's Gezi Park. Performed by actors from the Turkish theatre
company, DOT Tiyatro alongside Theatre Uncut regulars, the programme
looked at how young people can be politicised by police brutality, how
news of the protest is disseminated, and the very real threat of
dissent being crushed without discrimination. This is a powerful
insight into a situation rarely heard about in any form on these
shores, and is perhaps the most telling example of why Theatre Uncut
remains such a vital platform.

The Herald, August 21st 2014


ends

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 10 - Spine / A Walk At The Edge of the World / 13 Sunken Years

Spine
Underbelly
Five stars
When teenage Amy turns up on the doorstep of an old woman with the
promise of a room, she opens up the door into a brand new world.  Amy
may be chock-full of attitude, but the old woman is no pushover, as she
reveals to Amy when she reveals her own attitude founded on old-time
Socialism. This is something she put into practice following the
enforced closure of her local library, when she and her neighbours
liberated all the books.

Originally presented as a twenty-minute version in 2012 as part of the
Theatre Uncut initiative's hot off the press responses to austerity
culture, this hour-long development remains  as touching and as urgent
as it ever was. Surrounded by shelf-loads of hard-back tomes, Rosie
Wyatt gives a ferocious performance as Amy as she charts her accidental
getting of wisdom and the call to arms for people power in action that
follows.

Where the old lady we never see represents the wisdom, decency and
compassion that is being all but wiped out by wilful ignorance and
greed, Amy is one of a generation who could flourish if they were only
offered something other than nothing. Brennan, Wyatt and director
Bethany Pitts have together produced a vital piece of theatre about the
the right to knowledge and the power of community in the face of access
to both being annexed by the over-privileged few. It is also a
heart-wrenchingly beautiful modern classic of hard times.
Until August 24.

A Walk At The Edge of the World
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Four stars
You could be forgiven for feeling like you were deep in the countryside
for the first half of the Magnetic North company's exploration of
wide-open spaces by way of body, mind and free-thinking soul. It begins
in the gallery gardens, in which performer Ian Cameron casually
declares his intentions of leading us on a brief city stroll, pleading
too for silence as we go.

As Cameron leads us on a round trip through the neighbourhood's secret
gardens, the sights, sounds and smells – of traffic roar, water
ripples, buzz of life – such low-key displacement heightens the senses
in something that is not so much a retreat as a quiet coming to terms
with the world.

Back in the SNFoMA's studio space, Cameron gives us what he describes
as a talk, which comes complete with what appears to be an archive
slide-show of real-life times past. Accompanied by forensically sourced
visuals by the Sans facon design team of Tristan Surtees and Charles
Blanc, what follows in Cameron's engagingly low-key delivery is part
meditation, part psycho-geographical derive, and part philosophical
inquiry of some very personal effects. Nicholas Bone's production of
his own script is a carefully constructed dramatic affirmation of the
transcendental power of putting one foot in front of the other.
Until August 24.

13 Sunken Years
Assembly Rooms
Three stars
When thirteen year old Eva's vivacious and free-spirited mother,
Helena, drives off one day and never comes back, Eva is left in the
care of her granny, Ursula. With Ursula becoming increasingly engulfed
by dementia, Eva must learn to grow up pretty fast, even as she must
face up to the mysteries of the river that flows beside her village. As
she moves into womanhood, the loss of Eva's mother looks set to linger
forever.

Ushered in by Susan Appelbe's folksy score, Paula Salminen's play, as
translated by Eva Buchwald dovetails back and forth between time
periods, as Eva's friends grow up and move away, with the figure of the
canal lock-keeper a constant presence. Set on an array of wooden
platforms, Maria Oller's co-production between the Lung Ha's and
Stellar Quines theatre companies in association with the Finnish
National Theatre is laced with a simmering sense of grown-up mystery.
Nicola Tuxworth gives a nuanced central performance as Eva in a rites
of passage that charts three generations of women and their responses
to the world.
Until August 24.

The Herald, August 21st 2014


ends

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Theatre Thalia - Front

When Belgian theatre director Luk Perceval decided he wanted to live
and work in Germany, his parents apparently warned him against such a
move. The Germans killed their countrymen, they said, so why would he
possibly want to live there?

This is what the director whose last work to be seen in Edinburgh was
his 2004 production of Andromache told Christina Bellingen, the
dramaturg of the Thalia Theatre, Hamburg, anyway. Bellingen worked
closely with Perceval on Front, an epic, multi-lingual spoken-word
polyphony brought to Edinburgh International Festival this week in a
co-production between the Thalia and NTGent from Belgium.

Front is based in part on All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria
Remarque's novel published in 1929, which sold more than two and a half
million copies in twenty-two different languages over eighteen months.
Remarque's book, which was filmed twice in 1930 and 1979, was also
burnt by the Nazis when they came to power. Front also draws from Under
Fire, written in 1916 by Henri Barbusse while still a soldier fighting
the war he went on to chronicle. These are put together with
contemporary accounts of life during wartime and related in a mixture
of German, French, Flemish and English.

“We are showing the war from these four different perspectives,”
Bellingen explains. “There are soldiers on either side speaking German,
French or Flemish, and we have a nurse from Great Britain getting in
touch with a wounded soldier from Belgium. But we're not playing war
onstage. You won't find guns going off or anything like that, and the
actors aren't in uniform. They wear suits like they're sitting in the
dining room of the Titanic as it sinks”

During the performance, which opened in Hamburg earlier this year,
projections of young soldiers illustrate the criss-crossing testimonies
spoken by the actors.

“It is done out of respect,” says Bellingen, “to get the voice of the
people. The actors are the voices of the unknown soldiers. You can
never really imagine what it was like to be there as a nineteen year
old boy, and here you hear all these different voices of war, so it
becomes like a symphony, like a requiem. We wanted to do it like a
concert, with variations on a theme of war and being in a war. It was
not the point to follow a character on stage from beginning to end.
It's about where we find liberation from other countries. With everyone
talking, no-one knows who they're talking about. It was the same
experience for these young men whichever country they came from.”

In this way, Front is more of a dramatic collage than a play per se.
Crucial to its creation alongside Perceval, Bellingen and Flemish
dramaturg, Steven Heene, was composer Ferdinand Forsch, a German
percussionist and sculptor who has crafted instruments out of scrap
metal sourced at junkyards. In Front, Forsch evokes the cacophony of
battle using metal sheets in a way German industrial band Einsturzende
Neubaten might.

“He is a sound artist,” Bellingen points out, “so the sound produced on
the stage from steel and metal adds another layer to the collage.”

One of the things Front's trio of adaptors discovered during their
initial researches was the lack of written-down Belgian experiences of
the great war.

“The war took place in Belgium,” she says, “but we did not find so much
Flemish war literature. It was an occupied country, and Gent is forty
miles from the front. There's a museum, and they rebuilt the trenches
there. You can see the craters in the landscape where the bombs
dropped, and where thousands of people died. It's amazing to see how
much World War One was a part of people's daily lives. There were forty
thousand dead in Belgium, but there were not so many Belgian soldiers
fighting.

“World War One didn't take place in Germany, where World War Two and
the Holocaust are obviously still really important, but before this
year, World War One wasn't so much forgotten as never really talked
about. People do remember it, and I think that wherever you are, we
have a real duty to remember the horrors of World War One.”

The response to Front since it premiered in Hamburg in March of this
year has been suitably humbled.

“I think people were really touched,” says Bellingen. “Sometimes you
can be playing to a thousand people, and it doesn't matter what is
going on onstage, there is always someone coughing, but when we first
did Front, it was really like being in church.”

While there is a clear sensitivity in Germany about any work of art
that deals with war, there is no sense in Front of Perceval's vision
falling down on one side or the other.

“It is about the horror of war, says Bellingen. “In our play, there is
no talking about good or bad sides. It is about young men who spent
eighteen months in the mud, and how wars are still going on. You can
never say that enough.”

Front, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 22-26, 7-10.30pm
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 20th 2014


ends


Stan Douglas - Helen Lawrence

There's something oddly off-kilter about Stan Douglas being
photographed in an ornate, low-lit and state-of-art room in the Haus
der Kunst, Munich, where his new exhibition, Mise en Scene, has just
opened. For the past hour, the Vancouver-born artist, film-maker and
photographer, whose large-scale piece of cinematic theatre, Helen
Lawrence, opens as part of Edinburgh International Festival, has been
taking part in a panel discussion to talk about the series of
elaborately constructed fictions contained in the exhibition.

Taken from real life historical events, the assorted images of staged
streets scenes, 1950s nightclub portraits and post-revolutionary 1970s
hedonism may be steeped in meticulously realised retro imagery culled
from film noir and pulp fiction, but they are quietly and deeply
political in intent. Which is why Douglas appears as off-kilter as the
shadowy 3D image at the far end of the long room where much of the
exhibition is housed, and which reimagines the now razed Hogan's Alley
in 1948 Vancouver as a ramshackle set for a post-war film noir which
Helen Lawrence effectively is.

While his fellow panellists are dressed in standard issue European arts
mandarin black suits, Douglas sports a dressed down checked shirt,
which, given the themes of Helen Lawrence, makes it clear where his
loyalties lie. As does the show itself, which is performed later the
same night at the  Munich Kammerspiele's studio space, around the
corner from the main theatre, and just off the main drag of the city's
well-heeled centre.

In stark contrast to all this, Helen Lawrence switches between Hogan's
Alley – the local name for Park Lane in Vancouver's Strathcona district
-  where the black community live, and the run-down hotel occupied by
war veterans left on the skids once the war ended. Into these
highly-strung environments run on a black-market economy steps a
mysterious femme fatale catching up with her past. Onstage, Douglas'
story, scripted by HBO writer Chris Haddock, who has penned episodes of
Boardwalk Empire, is conveyed by actors performing on an empty stage
who are in turn filmed by other actors not in that scene. With a
low-key jazz underscore setting the tone, a live black and white video
feed of the performance is projected onto a huge screen against
computer generated backdrops, with every wide-eyed, tight-lipped
gesture exposed.

It is effects like this that prompted one of Douglas' black-suited
colleagues to earlier describe him as “a wizard of location.”

Douglas spoke plainer.

“Every performance is like the actors are making a movie live every
night,” he said. “Twice on Sundays.”

To explain the dual nature of Helen Lawrence, Douglas went on to quote
Canadian-born classical pianist, Glenn Gould, who, when talking of his
own charged relationship with playing, performing and recording, spoke
of how importance it was “to be aware of the illusion, but to be able
to see the physicality going on.”

Douglas, whose artworks over the last thirty years have frequently
looked at the failed utopias of late twentieth century urban renewal,
also talks of “the social structure of a downtown bar.”

This is an idea the real inhabitants of Hogan's Alley might have
recognised. Like any ethnically diverse neighbourhoods that existed in
a world before cultural quarters, Hogan's Alley was also a melting pot
of underground artistic activity, where the likes of Duke Ellington
stayed when on tour.

The next day, over breakfast in the dining room of the hotel where he
is staying in Munich, Douglas considers the political motivations and
considerations behind Helen Lawrence, which began its road to stage and
screen in 2008.

“George W Bush was coming to the end of his time in power,” Douglas
explains, “and I thought that would be the end of the war on terror,
and I was curious about what a post-war period was like, both then, in
Vancouver after the Second World War, and now, with what I thought was
the end of the war on terror. Unfortunately the war on terror didn't
actually end in the way I thought it might,  and there was no real new
situation, but there were still parallels. There was a recession back
then, and there's a recession now. The world banking system was a
shambles then and it's a shambles now. There was a housing crisis then,
and there's a housing crisis now. Also, the Cold War was beginning
then, with what was seen by the west as a shadowy sort of communism,
and now there's a shadowy form of terrorism as seen by the west.

“The parallels were there, but the transition to stability didn't
really happen in the post-war period, and the solution  to the economic
challenges then were to invent consumerism, so people who worked could
buy the stuff they made, but this time they built the banks up, so I'm
not sure that bodes too well for the future.”

In this respect, Helen Lawrence represents a society in flux, where old
communities were clinging on by their fingertips to the bricks and
mortar that would eventually be swept away by a form of urban
regeneration and social engineering designed for the wealthy.

“I guess I try to look at things that are very abstract and very
political,” says Douglas, “and things that affect the world as well as
affect individuals on a personal level. So all we have to experience in
the play are these individual lives, and the challenges of these people
who are living through these crises. You live it through them to a
certain degree.

“The whole urban renewal thing changed things. Ethnic slums in urban
centres were cleared out, warehousing for the poor was built, there was
new housing in the suburbs for the middle classes, freeways were built.
It was about normalising things again. During the war a blind eye was
turned to gambling and prostitution, and you have a very different set
of morals. The question for me was how do you go from a war situation
to peace-time with a new set of morals? Sadly, we haven't seen that
yet.”

As with the best movies, the end of Helen Lawrence is open-ended enough
to leave room for a sequel. As with even better movies, it may be best
to leave well alone. Either way, the 3D image of Hogan's Alley, 1948
that graced Mise en scene in Munich will form part of an exhibition by
Douglas at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh this coming November.
Also on show will be Der Sandmann, Douglas' 1995 split-screen piece
which charts a post-war urban garden in Germany's transition into a
building site.

As for Douglas, he has a plane to catch, and, after breakfast, stands
waiting outside his hotel for a cab to take him to the airport. On the
corner, with his luggage beside him, he takes shelter from the
mid-morning rain that's just started to fall, pulling his collar up
close as he goes. The cab pulls up and Douglas puts his luggage in the
boot, steps inside the back seat, and slams the door behind him. The
cab slowly drives away, turns the corner, and he's gone. If this were
night-time, a saxophone would be playing.

Helen Lawrence, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Aug 24-26, 8-9.30pm; Aug 25,
3-4.30pm. Stan Douglas, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, November
7-February 15 2015.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 19th 2014




ends

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 9 - The Collector / Theatre On A Long Thin Wire / Thief

The Collector
Gilded Balloon
Three stars
What do you do when the only way to earn a living is to work for the
enemy? This is the dilemma for Nazir, the hip hop loving translator who
provides the heart of Henry Naylor's new play set in Iraq in 2003.
Nazir's story is told by way of three cut-up monologues spoken in turn
by his partner, Zoya, and the two American army interrogators he
translates for. With humanity turning to brutality, Nazir is
effectively outed by one of the army captives and made a pariah that
changes his and Zoya's lives forever.

There is some neat writing in Naylor's timely script, which is given a
strong delivery by Ritu Arya, Wiliam Reay and Lesley Harcourt. There
are probably more imaginative ways of moving from one monologue to the
other than simply turning the lights off as the actors shuffle on and
off stage in Naylor's own production An understated power prevails,
however, in a piece that highlights the potentially destructive
aftermath of local collaboration with enemy forces in international
conflict.
Until August 25.

Theatre On A Long Thin Wire
Summerhall
Four stars
A dozen people are led to a tiny room at the top of the building. On a
chair below one of the windows sits a mobile phone. It rings, and one
of our number picks it up. The voice on the other end of the line asks
the person who answered the phone to repeat their words exactly, and to
do everything they're asked. Over the next hour, we hear second-hand
about our disembodied narrator and protagonist's every move. They're
excited and in need of affirmation, but they could be telling us
anything, and their apparent presence remains unverified right up until
the final connection leaves us wanting.

This interactive exchange facilitated by Exterminating Angel's Jack
McNamara comes laced with the trappings of a self-help psycho-therapy
encounter group locked up playing pass the parcel as we're led up
assorted garden paths by our unseen host. This all starts off as a bit
of a wheeze, even as we're emotionally engineered to react and behave
in certain ways. As the anticipation mounts, it's like taking a reverse
charge call from Godot, only to be put on permanent hold in a quietly
troubling disturbance.
Until August 24.

Thief
Hill Street Theatre
Three stars
Anyone who has ever read Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal will know
well this arch existentialist's philosophies of sex and thieving. Liam
Rudden's play mines freely from such iconography, as a stripy t-shirted
Matt Robertson as the archetypal Sailor recounts his adventures on the
street and in or behind bars as he plys his trade. Like his tattoos,
every anecdote is a badge of honour for Sailor, every dangerous liaison
and self-inflicted flesh-wound reminding him that he's alive. It's not
so much sex as violence and vice versa, but a mission that lacerates
even as it aggrandises Sailor's soul.

In Robertson and Rudden's hands, Sailor is on a mission as he stands
there with his naked tush facing the audience. His lifestyle choice is
relentless, obsessive and addictive, even as he stays emotionally
removed from things as he goes. This makes for a choice and at times
explicit delivery, as Robertson thrusts his way through Rudden's own
production with abandon, relishing every dirty little word as the
ultimate piece of rough trade.
Until August 24

The Herald, August 19th 2014


ends

Monday, 18 August 2014

Common Wealth - No Guts, No Heart, No Glory

Sandy's Boxing Gym in Craigmillar might not know what hits it this week
when Common Wealth Theatre Company move their new show in there for its
Edinburgh Festival Fringe run. No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, after all,
isn't a typical look at the power and the glory of one to one combat
inside the squared circle. Evie Manning's production of Aisha Zia's
script is not only about women boxers, but Muslim women boxers who also
happen to be champions.

“It all stems from Our Glass House,” Manning says of Common Wealth's
previous Edinburgh show, a site-specific piece about domestic abuse
performed in an empty house in Wester Hailes. “After we did it, we had
a lot of conversations about representations of women onstage, and we
decided that we wanted to focus our next piece on strong role models
for women and what they can achieve.”

With Zia also keen to do a piece based around young Asian women,
Manning somewhat fortuitously met a Muslim neighbour in Bradford who
was a boxer.

“That really challenged my expectations about why I should be surprised
that she's a boxer,” says Manning. “Then I discovered there were two
national womens boxing champions from Bradford who were Muslim, and
they both ended up getting involved in the project, which fitted
perfectly.

“Presentations of Muslims on TV or in the theatre are usually about
extremism, or about women staying at home. We worked with young Muslim
men and women, and asked them how they thought people saw them, and the
answer that came up most was that that they thought most people thought
they were terrorists. How do you change that perception? We wanted to
do something to show Muslim women in a different light, and show that
they could be inspirational and become role models.”

In this respect, No Guts, No Heart, No Glory is a kind of flipside to
Our Glass House. Based on real life experiences, Zia's text and
Manning's production transformed these into a series of up close and
personal vignettes performed simultaneously across each room in the
house, with some spilling up or down the stairs and criss-crossing each
other. However impressionistic its rendering, witnessing the play in
such close proximity made for a devastating experience, and when its
final scenes tumbled out onto the streets, it was almost a relief to
follow it outside.

“We want the audience to be active,” says Manning, “so we have to try
and say something to how the audience is feeling, and respond to the
building we're working in as well.”

The Common Wealth aesthetic has been developed since the company formed
as a loose-knit collective of artists in 2008.

“We were very DIY,” says Manning, “like little punks just taking over
abandoned buildings and transforming them, putting on big-scale shows,
political, ambitious epics that were a bit wilder than we are now.”

These early works included taking over Bristol's old courtroom for The
Ups and Downs of the Town of Brown, a large-scale reimagining of
Bertolt Brecht's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahoganay. Common
Wealth also moved into a disused zip factory in London's east end for
An Indecent Incident, a riotous, vodka-fuelled take on Dostoyevsky's A
Nasty Story. Since then, the company's reckless spirit may still be
intact, but they have honed things somewhat.

“By the time we got to do Our Glass House we were a bit more mature,”
is how Manning puts it, “and found that we wanted to do something about
social change, and wondered how we could apply all this stuff we'd
learnt to doing that.”

By Manning's own admission, Our Glass House, which toured to other
cities in the UK, was “a game-changer. It was site-specific, but more
importantly we learnt how to work with people who lived on the street
we were working on. Taking things out to Craigmillar or Wester Hailes
rather than regular venues is a very deliberate choice, and is part of
us trying to do theatre differently.

“We had this amazing relationship with the people in Wester Hailes,
where they can feel left out of the Fringe, but where it's important
that they're part of it too. The boxing community as well have been
amazing. Any gym we approached have been totally up for it, and want to
promote womens' boxing.”

In some ways, Common Wealth are a refreshingly vital throwback to what
fringe theatre used to be like, with a messy, anti-establishment and
unashamedly socialist ethos at the company's core. This should be made
even more explicit in the company's next work.

Commissioned by National Theatre Wales, Nationalisation! is a
community-based project which asks participants in Merthyr, South
Wales, to imagine they have reclaimed control of all public services
from private hands to run them collectively. As with Our Glass House
and No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, this promises to go beyond polemic to
make its point.

“It's an experience and an event,” according to Manning. “It's the
emotional journey that's the important thing. There'll be lasers and a
powerful sound score in No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, so it really feels
like a gig. There's a narrative thread that runs through it, but I'm
more interested in audiences going away with a brand new energy.”

No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, Sandy's Boxing Gym, Castleview Community
Centre, Craigmillar, August 18-25, various times.
www.commonwealththeatre.co.uk

The Herald, August 18th 2014


ends

Minetti

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars
“All artists are afraid,” says the ageing actor early on in this new
English translation of Austrian literary giant Thomas Bernhard's mid
1970s dramatic treatise on life, art and an actor's lot. Subtitled A
portrait of the artist as an old man, Bernhard's play has the title
character turn up at a wood-panelled Ostend hotel on New Year's Eve
while a storm rages outside. As played by Peter Eyre, Minetti makes his
entrance quietly enough, but, as he' tells anyone who pretends to
listen, he's here to meet a noted theatre director, who looks set to
cast him as King Lear thirty years after he turned his back on the
classics and killed his career.

As he waits, Minetti cuts a hangdog figure who plays to an ever
changing audience of drunken revellers while he waits, locked in a
limbo of his own making, out of step and out of time. At first he
accosts a woman in a red dress lost in her own champagne fuelled
reverie. Later it's a young woman waiting for her lover who leaves him
with a transistor radio playing an easy-listening instrumental version
of David Bowie's song, Kooks. All the while Minetti waxes lyrical, his
audience fluid, but at least they're still there.

Tom Cairns' production of his and Eyre's own translation is a stately
and melancholy affair that navigates the flotsam and jetsam of a
generation who doesn't care around his attention-seeking idea of the
artist as someone higher than mere mortals. Only when Minetti is alone
without anyone watching in the play's final moments is he unable
function, as he makes his final exit to embrace the storm.

The Herald, August 18th 2014


ends

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Genesis & Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge – Life As A Cheap Suitcase (Pandrogeny and A Search For A Unified Identity)

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is laughing. Sitting in the New York apartment now called home on one of the hottest day of the year, for the artist once decried in the Houses of Parliament alongside others participating in a 1976 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts called Prostitution as 'wreckers of civilisation', it's a laugh that's justified.

The man who gifted Breyer P-Orridge and fellow members of nascent industrial band, Throbbing Gristle, such a damning soubriquet, after all, was Scottish Conservative MP, the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. The flamboyant sexual libertine, former Chair of the Traverse Theatre and ex member of the Edinburgh Festival Council's name has recently been mentioned in reports highlighting the ongoing alleged VIP paedophilia scandal, and Breyer P-Orridge for one feels vindicated.

“Why were they so angry at us researching sex magick and other forms of sexuality?” ponders Breyer P-Orridge, who was effectively exiled from the UK in 1992 after the Obscene Publications Squad raided s/his Brighton home following falsified claims of ritual abuse, “when behind closed doors they're the most depraved of all? Establishment techniques of control have always been there throughout history, but they're about to be exposed, just as we tried to expose them back then.”

Breyer P-Orridge is talking prior to Edinburgh Art Festival's European premiere of major works from The Pandrogyne Project, an ongoing series of body modifications conducted with Breyer P-Orridge's late wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, in a bid to become matching, non-gender specific beings. This began with the pair getting matching breast implants on Valentine's Day 2003, with Breyer P-Orridge continuing the process since Lady Jaye's passing in 2007.

With Breyer P-Orridge now referred to with s/he, h/er and h/erself pronouns, Life As A Cheap Suitcase (Pandrogeny and A Search For A Unified Identity) charts what has become a life's work in every sense, with large-scale images of the artists' ever-changing bodies taking in religious iconography and a Renaissance quest for divine perfection beyond accepted social constructs.

“One piece is called Stations ov thee Cross,” says Breyer P-Orridge, who uses the royal we when talking about h/erself. “We've taken twelve different images from different parts of our process, collaged them onto a Jesus card and put it into a golden frame like a sacred heart. What a brilliant statement, that the divine has to be hermaphrodite.”

Breyer P-Orridge stresses that such imagery is in no way intended to offend.

“We live in a society that's based on violence and war,” Breyer P-Orridge says, “but what really matters is how you relate to other people. We should be being kind and compassionate, and discussing how we can be better people. That's why Buddhism is so appealing. It's time for radical change, and the best way for people to make that happen is not by being dogmatic, but to root themselves in spiritual ways and unconditional love.

“In a way what we've done is very traditional, but it comes at things from a different angle. But we've never wanted to shock. We only ever wanted to seduce. That is the glue that holds everything together, romantic love, and the fear that you might never meet that perfect other half. But we were blessed.”

Breyer P-Orridge was last in Scotland for a date with a briefly reactivated Throbbing Gristle at Tramway in 2009. S/he was first brought to Edinburgh by Richard Demarco in 1973, when COUM Transmissions performed their Duchamp inspired Art Vandals piece, in which guests were engaged in odd conversations as the performers spilt food on the floor. A more conventional solo musical performance, at which Breyer P-Orridge sang over backing tracks, took place at the city's Cafe Royal upstairs – now the Voodoo Rooms – in 2000.

In the UK, Breyer P-Orridge is still best known for his musical adventures with Throbbing Gristle and various incarnations of his post TG band, Psychic TV. In America, however, s/he is given increasing respect as a major avant-garde thinker and artist. His makes the first UK appearance of Life As A Cheap Suitcase (Pandrogeny and A Search For A Unified Identity) even more significant.

“We've not had much contact with the British art world,” Breyer P-Orridge points out. “We've not exactly been ostracised, but time has been kind, and here we've been giving lectures to 3-400 people.”

In this respect, Breyer P-Orridge is in danger of becoming institutionalised. S/he was recently approached by a Paris-based fashion designer with a view to them working together, and has just been given an award by Rhode Island School of Design for services to art.

“We're being taken seriously at last,” Breyer P-Orridge shrieks, “but we're not establishment. Brion Gyson told me a long time ago not to even think about being accepted until you're old. Derek Jarman said much the same thing to me. Unless you're old or dying, no-one's interested.”

Breyer P-Orridge's all-consuming relationship between life and art comes from early exposure to the Dadaists and Surrealists.

“Life and art were inseparable for them,” says Breyer P-Orridge. “Then we found out about Fluxus, who had the same mischievousness about them. It's always been that way for us. Lady Jaye was the same. It's never been a nine to five like it is for some artists who get students to make their work for them. The joy of the world is to be an explorer in it. 'See a cliff, jump off,' that's what Lady Jaye always said. She was fearless. We wondered why we were so obsessed about being like each other, and there's that moment when you're making love, a moment when you have mutual orgasms, and you become one.”

Now aged sixty-four, the Manchester-born artist christened Neil Andrew Megson has far from finished h/er artistic quest. A film, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, was made in 2011, and Breyer P-Orridge is working on a second book based on the Pandrogyne Project. S/he is also working on another film, The Bight of the Twin, in which s/he explores Vodun, or Voodoo, in Benin, West Africa.

“The state religion is Voodoo,” says Breyer P-Orridge, “which is the most misunderstood religion in the world. The people are the most loving and kindest people we've ever met, and it's a place where more twins are born than anywhere else in the world. Being me, I'm curious, that's why we do what we do, we found out that twins are sacred in Benin, and there is a twin festival every four years, celebrating the two halves of the same being.”

For all Breyer P-Orridge's energy about other projects and bruised but defiantly unbowed loathing for the establishment, everything comes back to Lady Jaye. What this and the Pandrogyny works highlight most of all beyond any notions of grieving is that everything Breyer P-Orridge has ever done has been about love.

“We talk to her every day,” says Breyer P-Orridge. “In the film, Lady Jaye was asked how she wanted to be remembered, and she said 'as a great love affair', and that's still happening. She still infiltrates the work. Wherever we go, we meet all these people, and they always say 'We wish we could've met Lady Jaye, she sounds wonderful'. She was. And she still is.”

Genesis & Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge – Life As A Cheap Suitcase (Pandrogeny and A Search For A Unified Identity), Summerhall, Edinburgh, Aug 1-Sept 26. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge will take part in a Q and A at Summerhall on Aug 1 at 10pm.


The Herald, August 15th 2014

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre reviews 8 - Traverse Breakfast Plays 1 - Broth / Blinded By The Light / The Day The Pope Emptied Croy

Broth
Traverse Theatre
Three stars
The Traverse Breakfast Plays have become a 9am Fringe fixture over the
last few years. This year's season of six plays have been selected and
developed from The Traverse 50, Scotland's new writing theatre's
year-long initiative designed to develop and hone writers' playwriting
skills.

First out the traps is this brutally dark look at domestic abuse in a
family which has somewhat miraculously stayed together despite the
behaviour of its drunken head of the house. As with the soup on the
stove at the start of Emma Callander's script-in-hand work-in-progress
production, tensions betweeen the three generations of women who may or
may not have battered Jimmy Chisholm's unreconstructed patriarch into
submission are simmering to boiling point.

This is seriously grown-up stuff from Primrose, who takes all the
trappings of dour domestic drama and, as the likes of Martin McDonagh
has done before him, explodes it into unexpected territory which a
full-length rewrite might make even wilder. Even at this stage,
however, the text has prompted a set of no-holds-barred performances
from a cast of five. This is particularly the case with Meg Fraser,
whose depiction of the mother trying to keep it together is a
masterclass in barely suppressed hysteria.
Repeated on August 19


Blinded By The Light
Traverse Theatre
Three stars
One of the joys of the Traverse's early morning season of Breakfast
Plays is the liberation it provides for writers to play with form.
Sylvia Dow takes full advantage of this in a piece that criss-crosses a
first-hand account of striking miners who occupy a Blackhall colliery
in 1982 with notes from a young woman living in a future-world where
society has moved underground. As tensions unravel down in the pit, the
air becomes equally stifling in both places. It is a Ladybird
childrens' book, however, that allow those in both time-spheres to come
up for air.

On one level, the Blackhall set sections are a timely reminder about
how one of the UK's most profitable industries was gradually and
wilfully destroyed. There is something more going on here too about
community and life beyond being kept in the dark, while E.M. Forster's
short story, The Machine Stops, springs to mind in this section's
science-fiction tinged parallel.

Emma Callander's script-in-hand mini production allows Dow to raise
concerns about how the world has been and may yet be shaped to its
detriment, and when the play's twin protagonists, played respectively
by Andy Clark and Emma Hartley-Miller come blinking into the light,
there epiphany that follows.
Repeated on August 20


The Day The Pope Emptied Croy
Traverse Theatre
Three stars
When Pope John Paul II came to Bellahouston Park in Glasgow in 1982, it
left an awful lot of Catholic churches in the vicinity unattended. This
is the starting point of Martin McCormick's contribution to the
Traverse Breakfast plays, in which a glued-up pair of would-be teenage
punks break into one such institution in Croy intent on stealing its
chalice. To use as bargaining power with the bullying big brother of
Finbarr, the Catholic half of the operation.

This is all dressed up as something of a comic caper in Emma
Callander's script in hand work in progress, and even when the pair
chance upon a man wearing a mini skirt who has been similarly beaten
and hung on the cross by a balaclava sporting gang it looks like it
might veer into Whistle Down The Wind territory. With an off-his head
Barring showing a sensitive side through his drawings, a bond of sorts
is formed with the man, only to be cruelly upended in the final moments
of a meticulously plotted study of where loyalties really lie in a town
riven with prejudice, whichever deity happens to be visiting.
Repeated on August 21

The Herald, August 15th 2014
ends

Where The World Is Going, That's Where We Are Going

Summerhall
Three stars
Neil Cooper
It probably isn't essential for audiences to know the inner workings of
eighteenth century French philosopher  Denis Diderot's novel, Jacques
the Fatalist and His Master, before coming to see the Hof van Eede
company's contribution to the Fringe's Big in Belgium strand, but it
might help. Jacques, after all, was one of the earliest known novels to
mix up the fictional form in a way that questioned the very essence of
what a novel could be whilst also offering up a treatise on free will.
Post-modernism before it's time, as one of this show's scholarly
protagonists wryly observes.

Things begin casually, with a bookish young man and woman who may or
may not be a couple declaring their intention to introduce Diderot's
ideas to us as they might in a lecture or a book group. Over the next
hour of flirtation, bickering, misunderstandings and sixth form level
misinterpretations of personal politics, the pair skirt around each
other in a discursive and wilfully without punchline piece of
self-referential meta-theatre.

  Amongst a series of fascinating elucidations on Amazonian archers,
true love and other great adventures, one is reminded both of Ronnie
Corbett's weekly armchair monologues on The Two Ronnies, as well as the
regular opening exchanges between the happy couple giving their own
particular and often contradictory versions of events in 1970s sit-com,
No Honestly. While neither of these reference points are likely to be
big in Belgium, they're no more out there than other exchanges in Ans
and Louise Van den Eede's script. By the time performers Jeroen Van Der
Ven and Ans Van den Eede go onto the streets by way of a short filmed
epilogue, mutual understanding has evolved into something else in this
quietly witty extended literary gag which invites audiences to do as
they please.

The Herald, August 14th 2014

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Tom Cairns - Minetti

When Thomas Bernard wrote his play, Minetti, for veteran actor Bernhard
Minetti in 1976, it introduced a new generation to a performer whose
career had seen him play on all of Germany's major stages in the post
Second World War years. Regarded as 'the king of theatre', and with an
ego to match such a claim, Minetti joined the Schillertheatre in Berlin
in 1957. By the time he first worked with Bernhard in 1974 aged
sixty-nine, however, as a cantankerous circus ringmaster in The Force
of Habit, Minetti's career was in need of a kickstart. Even though it
wasn't directly about him, Minetti the play was it.

For an equally provocative Bernhard, this new solo piece about an actor
in decline stuck in the lobby of a New York hotel on New Year's Eve
became a platform for his own ideas on life and art. Who better to
become his voice than an old-time actor who echoed his own frustrations
with the world, which the literary and theatrical establishment became
a microcosm of.

Almost thirty years on from the play's debut, Minetti finally receives
a mainstage UK showing in
Tom Cairns' Edinburgh International Festival production, in which Peter
Eyre takes the play's title role.

“Actors are always looking for a great role, whatever age they are,”
says Cairns of his thinking behind doing Minetti, “and actors of this
particular age group are always looking for a plum role like this.
Peter and I talked about doing the play for about three years, and he
was very keen. I wanted to work on serious material, and this was out
there and seemed to fit the bill.”

The choice of play is interesting for Cairns, who has worked
extensively as both a director and designer over the last thirty years
at major institutions, including the National Theatre in London and
Glyndebourne. While Bernhard is regarded as a major figure by scholars
of European literature and theatre, his work is rarely seen in the UK.
Bernhard's bloody-minded ban on any of his work being performed or
published in or around Austria, which he imposed prior to his death in
1989, has only added to his legend.

“He's a towering figure,” says Cairns, “and people who've heard of him
in this country recognise that, but he was a complex figure. He was
quite hostile to his country, and in his own way was quite
anti-establishment. His plays are quite angry about prejudice and other
things. I knew his  plays, but I knew this one had never had an English
translation, and isn't done very often, possibly because it can be
quite challenging. It's complex and jagged, and it relates to King
Lear, which this old actor had done thirty years before, and now
there's a storm raging outside this hotel, and all these young
party-goers are passing through the lobby while he explores his views
on art.

In keeping with Minetti's study of an actor's lot, Cairns' production
will also collaborate with two great dramatic training houses, the
Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and The Juilliard School, New
York.

“Minetti looks at the nature of theatre,” says Cairns, “how far one can
go with theatre, and how challenged or comfortable people should be
when they go to the theatre, but Bernhard does that without being
polemical, and because the play's about an actor, he can address all
these things.”

While the play may have been written for Minetti, other actors have
played the role since. This may make things easier for audiences to
distinguish between fiction and the real-life person who inspired it.

Like Minetti the actor, American-born, English-schooled and
Paris-trained Eyre has led a distinguished career both on stage and
screen. Unlike the character he plays, however, seventy-something Eyre
is very much still in his prime, according to Cairns.

“He's still a very well-respected actor,” he says, “and he's done
everything, and his career's doing rather well just now, so I think
he's enjoying himself, having something to get his teeth into like
this. I think Peter is finding the debate in the play quite
interesting. It's not necessarily a debate he would agree with, but
it's one he can be frustrated by. Peter has a big brain.”

As for Minetti the man, his work with Bernhard led to a second wind.
While he stayed with the Schillertheatre until the company's demise in
1995, he went on to join the Berliner Ensemble after accepting an
invitation from playwright and the Ensemble's then artistic director,
Heiner Muller, who directed Minetti in Brecht's Arturo Ui. Before his
death in 1998, Minetti would go on to work with post-modern maestro,
Robert Wilson, and others. It is Bernhard's homage, however, that has
kept Marinetti's name alive in a way that Cairns believes still has a
power for audiences today.

“I would just say Minetti is as important as it ever was,” he says.
“It's essentially a discussion about human nature and how we behave
towards each other. It isn't a play that has any particular political
relevance to today, but was written about a particular world, and we
use the play to see how that world is influenced by it. Bernhard's
plays do have an insistently strong point of view, and with this one
there are no half measures.”

Minetti, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Aug 16-18, 8-10pm; Aug 17,
2.30-4.30pm
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 14th 2014


ends

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014 Theatre Reviews 7 - Chef / Little On The Inside / Britannia Waves The Rules

Chef
Underbelly
Four stars
How does a high-flying young girl from the back-streets go from getting
her big break working in a swanky restaurant to serving slops as a
prison inmate working the kitchen? Sabrina Mahfouz's street-smart solo
verse play tells all over several courses, in which a high-flying club
kid from a troubled background goes on a rollercoaster ride, from being
the emotional appendage of a wannabe gangster to getting sent down for
something she didn't do.

In the thick of all this, Mahfouz's heroine finds salvation for cooking
up elaborate dishes that become a means of expression as much as
anything else. In the thick of all this are comments on the penal
system in all its slopped-out glory which our woman manages to transcend

Onstage alone for an hour, Jade Anouka gives an uber-cool and
thoroughly believable delivery of Mahfouz's dramatic poem which flows
with a gregarious musicality. By the end of being served up such an
overload of wordy riches, the message of Mahfouz's mini masterpiece is
to stay hungry, whatever gets thrown at you.


Little On The Inside
Summerhall
Three stars
Where do you escape to when you're in the darkest of places to keep
yourself alive? The answer for the two women in Alice Birch's new play
for the Clean Break company is a little patch of green that can become
anything they want to. In Lucy Morrison's bare bones production,
Estella Daniels and Sandra Reid play the two women with a tangible
sense of antipathy before each one gradually mellows enough for them to
become co-dependents.

This makes for a raw and no-holds barred affair, in which the power of
the imagination is ranked up even more by it being played in a bare and
neutral space that allows the company to open up for business without
much fuss. Daniels and Reid belt out Birch's text with a gutsiness
which at times might benefit for more restraint in such an enclosed
space, but which still manages to pack a punch.
Until August 24

Britannia Waves The Rules
Summerhall
Four stars
Blackpool out of season is a dead end town, as the hero of Gareth
Farr's blistering little play for the Royal Exchange Theatre,
Manchester makes clear in his opening monologue, a northern English
grimoir straight out of the Tony Harrison and John Cooper Clarke school
of urban grit laced with poetic wit. Carl is a secret poet in a
wasteland of drug-dealing Brit-pop casualties, a widowed father
obsessed with model train sets and a girl seemingly out of his league.

The only way out is to do a runner, join the army, and see the world,
even if it does mean a tour of Afghanistan in which he learns to kill
inbetween watching his best mates get shot. Sleep-deprived and
stressed, at heart Carl is still a little boy who wants his mum.

Nick Bagnall's production taps into the human psychological cost of the
dole queue cannon fodder thrust into the frontline to fight for causes
they barely understand.  Dan Parr gives a fearlessly gutsy central
performance as Carl, with some great support, especially from
Franscesca Zoutewelle as Goldie, who is gifted with some of the
funniest one-liners in a play that, like Carl, comes out fighting and
takes on the world.

The Herald, August 14th 2014


ends

Heathcote Williams and Pip Utton - Hancock's Last Half Hour

Comic genius Tony Hancock had been dead for almost a decade by the time
Heathcote Williams' solo play, Hancock's Last Half Hour, first appeared
in 1977. Since that first production at The Almost Free Theatre, in
which stalwart of Harold Pinter plays Henry Woolf played The Lad
Himself, as he prepared to commit suicide in a Sydney hotel room with
only a scrap-book of newspaper cuttings, a telephone and a bottle of
vodka for company. Like the legend of Hancock himself, however,
Williams' play has lived on.

The late Richard Briers played Hancock in a radio version ofd Hancock's
Last Half Hour in 1988. At that time, Pip Utton, who revives Williams'
play for this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was still working as a
jeweller, and it would be several years before he picked up a copy of
the play in a secondhand book shop and go on to launch his acting
career with a portrayal of a man friends told him he resembled.
Twenty-one years on, Utton has performed in solo plays as real life
characters from Adolf Hitler to Charlie Chaplin, with Charles Dickens
and Winston Churchill en route. It was Hancock, however, who started it
all.

“I was amazed at the level of affection there was for him,” reflects
Utton. “It was amazing as well how big he was. He was a mega-star in
the UK, and was as big as the Beatles. Even today, people who are maybe
too young to remember Hancock will still recognise some of his lines.
That's how big he was, and the play's powerful, both because Hancock is
so familiar, and because he breaks down and disintegrates in front of
you.”

For Williams, a key figure in the British counter-culture of the 1960s
as a poet, playwright, performer and polemicist, Hancock's Half Hour
was an early look at the curse of fame, one of his work's perennial
themes. Hancock's Half was also written out of a very personal set of
circumstances.

“There was an old rock and roller who was in a play of mine, Remember
the Truth Dentist, in the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court,”
Williams remembers of a play directed by the late Ken Campbell, who
Williams acted alongside as Prospero in Derek Jarman's film of
Shakespeare's The Tempest. “He was called Roy Martin. He dragged me
into Foyles in Charing Cross Road and said you have to buy anything and
everything on Hancock and write a play about him.

“I do remember that Hancock was the one piece of common ground I shared
with my father. Fractious and curmudgeonly, he'd had his pelvis crashed
in the war, he used to roar with laughter at Hancock, and I could see
it was therapeutic. Though my father was hard to warm to, Hancock
provided moments when I could warm to him, so I had a personal reason
for valuing him.”

On the surface, at least, Hancock's Half Hour has less of a
revolutionary intent than some of Williams' other works. In the late
1980s and early 1990s, his trilogy of ecologically inclined epic poems,
Whale Nation, Sacred Elephant and Autogedden, all made waves, either in
lavishly published editions, on film or in performance in Edinburgh.
More recently, Roy Hutchins performed  Williams' radically inclined
Zanzibar Cats on the Fringe in 2011, when Williams was awared a Herald
Archangel.

This was followed by a volume of science-based poems, Forbidden Fruit,
a biography of Shelley and a new epic, Royal Babylon: The Criminal
Record of the British Monarchy. Then there is Williams' ongoing
alliance with The Poetry Army, a touring collective that performs
Williams' work in a way that has become a kind of conscience of the
nation.

“The Poetry Army shows how many revolutions have begun with a poem,”
Williams says of the initiative.

Now aged seventy-two, Williams' output shows no sign of drying up. His
latest play, Killing Kit, about playwright Christopher Marlowe,
received a performed reading at the Cockpit Theatre in February.
Film-maker and former member of radical theatre troupe, The People
Show, Mike Figgis, has expressed a desire to direct it.

In the meantime, Hancock lives again in a way that personifies the
figure of the tragic clown.

“Why are comedians so vulnerable?” Williams muses. “Vivien Leigh said
it was much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh. It's not
a skill that you can learn. It's a gift, and a gift can be taken back.
Look at the tragic people who are no longer funny, usually because
they've taken the devil's shilling and done TV commercials. Somehow, as
if by some diabolic magic, they then become unfunny. Comedy has to be
subversive, and can't embrace commerce's creeping meatball. Hancock was
reactionary in many ways, but he was also anarchic.”

Hancock's Last Half Hour, Assembly Rooms, July 30-Aug 9, 12 noon-1pm
www.arfringe.com

The Herald, August 14th 2014


ends






Letters Home

Edinburgh International Book Festival
Four stars
The intimate art of letter writing may have given way to the impersonal
pings of social media over the last decade or so, but this quartet of
short works presented by site-specific maestros Grid Iron in a unique
collaboration with Edinburgh International Book Festival goes some way
to claiming it back. With the audience promenaded between a network of
addresses in and around Charlotte Square, four short stories with
themes of exile and the umbilical link with home are taken off the page
and brought to life in this gentlest of fusions between forms.

In Details, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie charts a long distance email love
affair between a Nigerian woman and her American friend. Christos
Tsiolkas' Eve and Cain brings the Bible's original dysfunctional family
together in a mother and child reunion to end them all. In the first,
Joe Douglas directs Muna Otaru and Rhoda Ofori-Attah through the
womens' painful absence on a double bed on which they email each other.
For the second, Ben Harrison has a fierce Charlene Boyd as Eve squaring
up to Gavin Marshall's Cain on a sand-covered expanse in a piece that
leans towards Greek tragedy in its classical formality.

Beyond theatre, film maker Alice Nelson renders Kamila Shamsie's War
Letters as an exquisite four-screen installation that moves between
nations charting the Indian experience of the First World War. Michael
John McCarthy has the audience buckle up for a flight from Jamaica for
a sonic rendering of Kei Miller's England In A Pink Blouse. Here we see
a young man's flight from home liberating him in a way that allows him
to be exactly who is beyond his roots.

Accompanied by low key scores by Philip Pinsky, and, in War Letters,
Zoe Irvine, all four pieces are rendered exquisitely. It is Zinnie
Harris' final postscript to the show, however, which moves the most, as
the audience is allowed to eavesdrop in on the cast's post-show state
of mind. There's something touching about seeing and hearing such
personal bon mots spoken out loud in a show that shows off Grid Iron at
their finest.
Until August 25

The Herald, August 14th 2014


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Vicky Featherstone and Chris Goode - Men in the Cities

If Vicky Featherstone hadn't come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe when
a student at Manchester University, it's unlikely that the National
Theatre of Scotland would exist as it does. Featherstone, after all,
was the company's first artistic director of a company which had already opted
for a radical 'theatre without walls' initiative, programming a body of
work that drew from all aspects of Scottish theatre.

During Featherstone's tenure, the NTS developed more left-field artists
alongside big main stage plays, a tradition which Featherstone took
over as artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre in London. Despite
heading up such august institutions, it feels as though Featherstone
has retained a Fringe sensibility sired during the 1980s and  early
1990s era of politically driven grassroots shoestring companies and
alternative cabaret.

Featherstone's first Edinburgh show in her own right was an adaptation
of Gogol's short story, The Nose.

“The then literary manager at the Royal Court came to see it,”
Featherstone remembers, “and everything that's happened since came from
that.”

The latest recipient of Featherstone's open-minded approach to what
theatre can be is Edinburgh regular Chris Goode, whose latest solo
show, Men In The Cities, is currently running at the Traverse Theatre.
The play was born out of Goode's response to the murder of Drummer Lee
Rigby, and to the suicide of a young gay man around the same time. Out
of this, Goode explores the fear and loathing behind being a man in
twenty-first century society.

“Chris was on attachment with the Royal Court,” Featherstone explains,
“and he came up with this idea that sounded amazing, and which he
wanted to bring to Edinburgh. Anything by Chris Goode appeals to me, so
whatever he was going to do was probably going to be amazing. I think
Chris is one of the most thrilling and honest performers ever, and when
he did a reading of Me in the Cities, it was so raw and so honest about
what it is to be male that it just made me feel really happy as a
woman.”

For Goode, although Men in the Cities is a fiction, it also comes from
a pretty personal place.

“It's a pretty angry piece,” he says. “I'm really interested in the
ways in which we see men struggling to talk about certain things that
are going on, and the ways in which men consciously hurt themselves and
the people around them through a set of conversations that they're not
having, and which aren't doing them any favours.

“There are conversations which I'm not having with my friends, let
alone with the people I sit next to on the bus, but there are
unpalatable things that need to be spoken. If there's one thing I've
learnt over the last fifteen years, it's that theatre is a place where
you can say those unpalatable things and know that the sky isn't going
to fall in.”

Goode's attitude fits in with Featherstone's ethos, both for what the
Fringe should and could be and at the Royal Court.

“For me the Royal Court has changed immeasurably since Vicky arrived,”
Goode observes. “For me it's really good to be in a conversation with
Vicky and everyone else there, and know that you can make something
adventurous, even though you don't know what it's going to be, and that
inspires you to push yourself to try things you might not have
otherwise thought of.”

Again, the umbilical links of this approach go way back, as was
demonstrated by Featherstone's most recent visit to Scotland for the
funeral of David MacLennan, he producer, director, writer and performer
who co-founded Wildcat Theatre in the 1970s after a stint working with
John McGrath's 7:84 company. For the last decade, MacLennan pioneered
the A Play, A Pie and A Pint lunchtime theatre phenomenon at Oran Mor
in Glasgow.

“David was such a great, generous man,” says Featherstone, “and just to
be part of that community that was around him was a real privilege.”

It is telling that Featherstone forged links, not just with pioneers
like MacLennan, but with a newer generation of theatre-makers such as
Goode, who continue to say important things with their work. In
Featherstone's view, Men in the Cities is crucial in this respect.

“I think it's what the Fringe is for,” she says. “It's about great
artists like Chris taking a risk, challenging what entertainment means,
and really surprising people in their honesty.”

Men in the Cities, Traverse Theatre until August 24, various times.
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, August 12th 2014


ends