Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Joe McAlinden - EDIT

When Joe McAlinden sat on a rock beside the sea near Achiltibuie, he
didn't know the end result would be the making of the short film, EDIT,
which premiered at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Directed by visual artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the team
behind 20,000 Days on Earth, the award-winning impressionistic
documentary featuring Nick Cave, EDIT will be screened on New Year's
Day as part of Edinburgh's Hogmanay's series of Scot:Lands events
around the capital.

A loop of EDIT, which follows a young woman's cross-country journey in
search of her missing younger brother, will form Tide:Land at a yet to
be named venue. Here, McAlinden will perform the live soundtrack that
inspired Forsyth, Pollard and stage and screen writer Martin McCardie
to make the half-hour film that features a remarkable performance by
Kate Bracken.

“Bizarrely, it was me who started it,” the former singer with the
group, Superstar, says of the roots of a project that began more than a
decade ago. “I was sitting on a rock, feeling a bit exposed. Not
scared, but uneasy, and I started thinking about the tide as I watched
the waves coming off the rocks, and the music it made as it built into
this crescendo, and I thought, I'm going to do a piece one day and I'm
calling it Edit, which is tide backwards.”

At that time, Superstar, whose first album, the audaciously titled
Greatest Hits Volume 1, had been released in 1992 on Creation Records
prior to five more releases over the next eight years, were coming to a
close. From a musical family, McAlinden had cut his musical teeth with
The Boy Hairdressers, The Groovy Little Numbers and BMX Bandits,
Superstar had been the latest branch of Glasgow's ever-expanded and
inter-connected musical tree.

When McAlinden's father, who had been choir-master of Motherwell
Cathedral, passed away, the music stopped, and McAlinden moved out of
the city to live in Argyll, a place full of space, but with little
noise. Only several years later, after first opening up to producer
Katie Nicoll, then when Forsyth and Pollard approached him to use a
piece of his which they'd heard on Soundcloud, did McAlinden's
windswept epiphany about EDIT start to take shape.

“Iain and Jane were fans,” says McAlinden, “and I had this idea about
EDIT being more cross-platform but didn't really know what to do with
it.”

A quick Google search by Forsyth revealed that a water-powered pipe
organ was in situ in a church in Kilmur, which happened to be twenty
minutes away from McAlinden's no longer silent home.

“I don't know where it came from,” McAlinden says of the resulting
piece recorded with the organ over a four-day period, “but it seemed to
be this deep, dark place. I guess it was about loss. I remember as a
kid being in the choir loft listening to the sound my dad was making.
It was a big sound, and it's become an even bigger sound since he's not
been around. I don't write music with any kind of preparation. I just
do it, and I was probably the last person to realise what I was dealing
with through the music.”

McCardie, who was at school with McAlinden and was taught by his
father, confirms this.

“I listened to the music over and over, making notes,” McCardie says,
“and I couldn't stop listening to it. I felt the whole thing was about
grief and Joe's acceptance of the death of his father. It's such an
important piece of music, and it's very hard to explain,but I
personally thought it was the most inspirational thing that's ever
happened to me as a writer. Because I knew Joe and I'd worked with him,
I knew he'd moved to Argyll, and had had to adjust from this remarkable
relationship he had with his dad. There's an anger in the music, but
there's also an acceptance, and the acceptance is beautiful, and it's
fantastic he's had a musical awakening again with this thing that
touched me in a way that was completely unexpected.”

There has always been an emotional rawness to McAlinden's music. By his
own admission, “If I didn't do it, I'd go nuts. I seem to deal with all
my s*** through my music. It's typical west coast of Scotland male
stuff.' Aye, I'm fine.' I've become more aware of that since I lost my
dad. He was three weeks in a coma, and I thought, I bet if he had a
chance to talk, he would, and here's me avoiding it.”

EDIT isn't the only film set to be shown as part of Scot:Lands. From
Scot:Land will show From Scotland With Love, Virginia Heath's journey
through a collective past using footage from the Scottish Screen
Archive set to an evocative soundtrack by King Creosote. Elsewhere, 3
on this Is:Land will feature a screening of artist Rachel Maclean's
gothic short, The Weepers, commissioned by Comar and first screened on
the Isle of Mull.

There is a kinship of sorts too with the recently released The
Possibilities Are Endless, which charted Edwyn Collins' heroic recovery
from the two cerebral haemorrhages that left the former Orange Juice
singer aphasic. It is fitting then that McAlinden's 'comeback' record,
Bleached Highlights, released under the name Linden, was produced by
Collins and released on his AED label. A follow-up is due this year.

“We all started out in bands wanting to sound like Orange Juice,”
McAlinden says, “so this is like a dream come true.”

Given how it started life, so too, one suspects, is EDIT.

“The thing that's most important to me about the whole thing,” he says
of the film, “is that it was done completely a*** over elbow, and
started with the music first. We weren't trying to be clever. That's
just how it happened. When people see it, they just presume it's been
done the proper way round, and I think that makes it an even better
thing.

“Making a film that started with the music, I think it's a world first.
It's certainly an Argyll first. For me, certainly, I like the idea of
people knowing that's how it came about. I was the one with the blank
canvas. Martin and Ian and Jane responded to that, and I'm still amazed
at how it turned out.”

EDIT is screened in Tide:Land, which forms part of Scot:Lands at
Edinburgh's Hogmanay, January 1st 2015. EDIT is also screened as part
of A Night At The Regal at the O2 ABC as part of Glasgow Film Festival
on February 19th 2015. Joe McAlinden will perform a live soundtrack to
the film at both events.
www.edinburghshogmanay.com
www.o2abcglasgow.co.uk

ends


Joe McAlinden – A Life in Music

Joe McAlinden is a classically trained musician best known as the
driving force behind Superstar, who between 1992 and 2000 released six
albums.

Superstar's first album, Greatest Hits Volume 1, was released on Alan
McGee's Creation label, while the follow-up, Superstar, came out on
Capitol.

Superstar's next four albums, 18 Carat, Palm Tree, Phat Dat and Six
More Songs, were all released on Camp Fabulous.

McAlinden's song, Superstar, was covered by Rod Stewart on his When We
Were the New Boys album.

Prior to forming Superstar, McAlinden was one of The Boy Hairdressers
with future members of Teenage Fanclub, Norman Blake, Raymond McGinlay
and Francis MacDonald and artist Jim Lambie. The band's sole release,
the Golden Shower EP, was released on the 53rd & 3rd label

McAlinden was later in the Groovy Little Numbers with Gerry Love and
Catherine Steven, with a brass section from the Motherwell Youth
Orchestra. They released two EPs, You Make My Head Explode and Happy
Like Yesterday, on 53rd & 3rd.

McAlinden went on to join the BMX Bandits and arranged strings for
Teenage Fanclub.

McAlinden's first release under the name Linden, Bleached Highlights,
was released on Edwyn Collins and James Endeacott's AED label.

New releases by Linden are due in 2015.

The Herald, December 30th 2014




ends

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Kevin McLeod - From The Singing Kettle To Funbox

When the founders of children's music theatre company The Singing
Kettle, Archie Trezise and Cilla Fisher, announced in October that the
much-loved company was set to close following a final tour of
large-scale venues around Scotland, it marked the end of an era that
began an astonishing thirty-two years ago. Before children of all ages
could mutter so much as a 'Spout, handle, lid of metal', however, The
Singing Kettle's final line-up of Kevin McLeod, Anya Scott-Rodgers and
Gary Coupland announced the arrival of a brand new company called
Funbox to keep the spirit of their former employers alive.

“We were having far to much fun doing what we do to stop doing it,”
Funbox co-founder McLeod explains of the decision to carry on beyond
the company he has worked with for the last seventeen years, “so we
decided to start our own company and do something similar. We think the
work that The Singing Kettle has done in terms of keeping the tradition
of Scottish playground songs alive is quite important, and that was the
whole basis for starting the company in the first place. We want to
continue with that, but we also recognise that it's a family show, so
kids can see mummy and daddy being a bit silly as well”

As McLeod suggests, Funbox is a continuum of the work achieved by The
Singing Kettle, with Coupland's involvement going right back to the
founding of the fledgling company which he joined as a teenage
musician. Yet, while the personnel will remain familiar along with at
least one of the characters developed with The Singing Kettle, Funbox
will also be a brand new adventure for all involved.

“The first question I asked Archie when he told us the news was can I
have Bonzo,” McLeod says, referring to the larger than life canine
character played by himself in Singing Kettle shows, “because he's
become an important part of the show. He's naughty and he's cheeky, and
he really appeals to some of the older kids who come along. So we are
in a sense jumping on a moving train fired by a certain momentum which
The Singing Kettle had, but it's more than just a rebrand. It's a brand
new company working from the ground up. I've been writing scripts for
ten years and I'm used to behaving like a seven year old onstage, but
dealing with the business side of things as well now can be quite
scary.”

Theatre for children in Scotland has shifted greatly over the last
thirty years, before which it seemed like companies such as The Singing
Kettle and later The Happy Gang were the only fun in town. The now
globally recognised Imaginate festival of children's theatre changed
the landscape considerably since it was originally set up as the
Scottish Children's Theatre Festival. Since then, Imaginate has brought
some of the best children's theatre companies from across the world to
Scotland, while also nurturing and showcasing Scottish-based artists
such as Shona Reppe and the Catherine Wheels company who can now also
be considered to be world-class.

While Funbox make no claims to be cutting edge, McLeod and co are
looking to engage their young audiences in a thoroughly modern manner.

“The Singing Kettle is quite traditional,” McLeod points out. “Someone
once described the company as panto without the boring bits, and that's
what we're aiming to do with Funbox as well, but we're also keen to
explore the social media side of things as well. We'd like to have
extra filmed content on the Funbox Facebook page, and the apps market
is something we'd like to get into as well. The basis of the company
will always be live performance, but if there's more we can do
afterwards that has a slight educational value, then that's something
we'd like to explore, although we don't want to be preachy. Songs and
silliness is how we like to bill ourselves, and that will always be at
the heart of what Funbox is about.”

While McLeod, Scott-Rodgers and Coupland are currently tour with The
Singing Kettle's final show, Big Christmas Party, the first tour of
Funbox's debut show, Pirates and Princesses, is already lined up for
Spring 2015, with the opening date at the SSEC in Glasgow. Prior to
that, Funbox will announce themselves to the world with a thirty-minute
showcase as part of the forthcoming Celtic Connections 2015 festival in
January, where they will perform on a bill alongside roots band Blazing
Fiddles as part of the festival's series of schools concerts.

“We've been publicising what we're going to be doing with Funbox at the
Singing Kettle shows,” says McLeod, “and Archie's been very much up for
us doing that. He was really pleased that we're doing it. He's been
really supportive across the board, to the extent that when our Funbox
flyers arrived for our first day of The Singing Kettle's Christmas run
in Dundee, Archie said he'd go out front to make sure the ushers were
handing them out.”

Given the length of time the company that spawned them survived, can
McLeod see Funbox still being around in thirty two years?

“I'd like to think that Funbox could continue,” he says. “It's hard
work jumping around onstage when it's just the three of you, but it
does keep you young, and I'd like to think that if Funbox does become a
success, that eventually the cast will change so the company stays
constantly refreshed. The audience for The Singing Kettle has changed
every few years as children have got older and younger children taken
their place, and I'd like to think that we can do the same.”

Funbox will perform at Celtic Connections as part of the schools
concerts at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on January 15 2015 at 11am.
Funbox's first full length show, Pirates and Princesses, opens at the
SECC, Glasgow on March 1st, and will tour throughout the year.
www.funbox.co.uk

ends


Meet Funbox, The Newest Gang in Town

Funbox was formed after The Singing Kettle announced that the
children's musical theatre company was set to wind up after thirty-two
years.

Funbox consists of three stalwarts if The Singing Kettle, Gary
Coupland, Kevin McLeod and Anya Scott-Rodgers.

Gary Coupland – The musician and composer for the company, Coupland was
one of the founder members of The Singing Kettle and is a leading
traditional music specialist. In 1999 he was given an MBE for services
to children's theatre.

Kevin McLeod – Originally a stage manager, McLeod gradually worked his
way onto the stage more and more, until he joined The Singing Kettle as
a full-time performer in 2002. McLeod is also in charge of Funbox's
naughty dog, Bonzo.

Anya Scott-Rodgers – Having joined The Singing Kettle in 2013,
Scott-Rodgers brings to Funbox a wealth of experience as a performance
and musician with the Baldy Bane Theatre Company and others.


The Herald, December 23rd 2014

ends

Monday, 22 December 2014

Briefs: The Second Coming

Spiegeltent, St Andrew's Square, Edinburgh
Four stars
“Is everybody alright?” asks the six-foot drag-queen in his/her
high-heeled pomp at the edge of the Spiegeltent catwalk after three
similarly attired colleagues have taken a trio of their fellow artistes
dressed as dogs for a walk. The vintage movie starlet shapes thrown by
those portraying the dog-owners initially suggests a kitsch precursor
to some energetic bounding from their charges. When the scene ends with
a comic but no less effective simulation of coprophagia between
mistress and four-legged friend, however, it makes for a more
unexpected but altogether more subversive punchline.

By this time the six-man team who make-up Australian troupe Briefs have
thrusted, teased and bared their well-buffed behinds in a series of
routines involving bananas, a yo-yo, a Rubik's Cube and increasingly
less clothes. There are wigs, lip-synching, and a gymnastic routine
with a suspended ring loaded with enough homo-erotic attitude as to
more resemble a 1980s Levis ad than a flying circus.

Having forged their reputation on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe,
Briefs' mixture of high camp and highly charged burlesque remains hot
as hell entertainment for enlightened parties of all genders. There is
even a raffle, in which the winner is rewarded with the most refreshing
of libations.

Yet, for all the fun, frolics and wilful outrage, there is something
political going on too, as
a caustic shout-out to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot during the
show's disco dancing finale confirms. In this way, Briefs recall
pioneering and similarly taboo-busting 1970s drag ensemble, Bloolips,
and when the most daring of young men performs an eye-popping trapeze
act from the inside of a water-filled see-through bath, wetness all
round is guaranteed.


The Herald, December 22nd 2014




ends

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Hamish Clark - Almost Maine

When Hamish Clark went from his home in Broughty Ferry in Dundee to
Edinburgh University to study English Literature, he never meant to
become an actor. When he joined the student theatre company,
performing, writing and putting plays together, a career on the stage
began to seem like a possibility.

It took a few years working in factories, shops and other jobs to get
by, but Clark suddenly found himself a familiar face through appearing
in a series of ads for a mobile phone company, then as a regular for
seven years in Sunday night drama series, Monarch of the Glen.

This week, however, Clark returns to the stage at the north London
based Park Theatre in the UK premiere of American writer John Cariani's
2005 Broadway hit, Almost Maine. Cariani's play is set in a small
American town in the thick of winter where over the course of one cold
and frosty evening, various couples fall in and out of love at exactly
the same moment in nine two-person vignettes.

In contrast to it's setting, Almost Maine is possessed with a warmth
that has seen it become one of the most performed plays of the last
decade, with some 2000 theatre companies having produced it in America
alone. While the play has been performed across the world, for this
production by the Go People company, Cariani has updated his script in
a way that makes its milieu even more resonant.

“It's about love,” says Clark, who plays three very different roles,
“but it's also about what that means in practice, from extreme joy to
extreme heartbreak. All the scenes are independent of each other, but
gradually come together in this magical little world. That's kind of
fun, but it's also very human. It's trying to set a path through human
experience without either being too cynical or too schmaltzy. Of
course, real life does have those moments, and I suspect part of why
the play has such a broad spectrum of appeal is that you recognise all
of it, but then there are one or two moments in it where you think,
'Oh, God, he's written about me'.”

Prior to Almost Maine, Clark spent much of 2012 and 2013 in America,
where he signed up with an agent and a manager, and spent his time
work-shopping assorted projects in various degrees of development. As
well as the move rekindling a desire to write, it also made Clark
realise why he'd become an actor in the first place.

“For some reason I remembered all these TV shows which were all filmed
there,” he says, “so I can see a through line there with what I've
ended up doing. When I was a kid in Broughty Ferry playing cowboys in
the garden, I didn't run round going bang bang. I used to sit in the
shed and imagine I was going across prairies and stuff like that. I
didn't live particularly near to other children, so I'd play on my own
in the garden, and even then I loved films like Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid.

“When I was little there was a TV programme called Alias Smith and
Jones, with Ben Murphy and Pete Duel playing these two outlaws trying
to reform, and I just used to be them for months. There was The Six
Million Dollar Man as well, and I think these TV shows chimed a bell
for a lot of people. They were the last days really of being something
to believe in. You didn't know who Ben Murphy or Pete Duel were married
to or anything like that, so they were totally believable. It was
before the days of celebrity, and you still had a sense of wonder
enough to believe it when you saw the Six Million Dollar Man ran in
slow-motion. It could access your mind and your imagination, and I
suppose that never really went away.”

While playing Duncan for seven years put Clark on the map in a way that
now allows him to explore opportunities stateside, it also distracted
him from other things he's only now starting to think about again.

“You're shooting for five months of the year for seven years,” he says,
“and inbetween each series there's not really time to do much else. I
did a lot of things around the show as well, so it becomes
all-consuming, and time seems to stand still for a bit. Your
character's not getting any older, but then you realise you are.”

Clark left the show mid-way through series six, returning along with
other series stalwarts for the very final series .

“You've got to get over a show like that,” he says. “My name's Hamish,
I'm five-foot six with sticky-up hair, and most of the time in the show
I wore a kilt, so it's quite difficult to get beyond all that when you
go up for a part that's completely different, but that's all part of
it, and I've done okay. Monarch of the Glen went around the world, so
people come up to you in such strange places, and it meant a lot to a
lot of people. It's not gritty drama, it's just wallpaper, but it's
still a very powerful thing to be part of.”

The mobile phone ad that he was associated with had already proven to
be equally powerful.

“On one level it's just an advert,” he says, “but then you go, wait a
minute, I'm just a boy from Broughty Ferry, and I'm standing in the
desert in Africa doing this thing. It used to be funny getting in a
cab, and you'd see yourself on an ad on the back of the seat, and the
cabbie would laugh. That's no credit to me, that's the power of
advertising, but I'd rather people looked at me and smiled than not.”

Whether there are many laughs in Almost Maine remains to be seen, but,
like most things Clark touches, it should be full of heart.

“It's the kind of play I'd want to go and see,” he says. “It talks
quite profoundly about the human condition, but the style of writing is
very accessible, so it's deep, and it has important things to say, but
you're not going to be sat there wondering what's going on. It's not
long either. Sometimes you can achieve all you need to say in a short
story than in a seven-hundred page novel, and hopefully you walk out
afterwards a bit more hopeful.”

Almost Maine, Park Theatre, London, December 16-January 17 2015.
www.parktheatre.co.uk

ends

Hamish Clark

Hamish Clark was born in Broughty Ferry in Dundee in 1965, and studied
English Literature at Edinburgh University, where he joined Edinburgh
University Theatre Company.

Clark first came to prominence in a series of ads for a mobile phone
company, and later became even more familiar from his recurring role as
Duncan McKay in TV favourite, Monarch of the Glen.

Prior to Almost Missouri, Clark's theatre credits include Donkey’s
Years (Comedy Theatre) and The Agent (Old Red Lion).

Television credits include Arrested Development, Rab C. Nesbitt, Small
Fish and Blessed, while film work includes The Decoy Bride, Liz & Dick,
The House, After the Rain and The Only Boy for Me.


The Herald, December 16th 2014


ends



Saturday, 13 December 2014

Smoke Fairies – Waiting For Something To Begin

One of the many stand-out songs from the Chichester-sired duo of
Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies' eponymous fourth album begins
with some far-off plainchant that ushers in the sort of gossamer-thin
atmospherics not heard since the back-packer trip-scape of All Saints'
Pure Shores. A low-slung guitar and a drum-beat that's part martial
mediaevalism, part Spectoresque wall-of-sound, gives way to a
self-reflective tale of small wonders, everyday epiphanies and fleeting
moments of shared joy.

Like some ancient madrigal fused with Me Generation confessional and
given a discreet post-modern sheen, Waiting For Something To Begin
belies any misplaced notions of kookiness the duo's name and image may
imply. At the heart of its textured melancholy and cut-glass
introspection is a shimmering sensuality possessed with strength and
power.

At moments Blamire and Davies' twin vocal recalls the equally spectral
work of Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski with 4AD records super-group This
Mortal Coil on their Filigree & Shadow and Blood albums, where this
very English form of folktronic gothic pastoralism wouldn't have
sounded out of place. As the centrepiece of an exquisite album, Waiting
For Something To Begin is a beguiling miniature masterpiece of yearning
and transcendence that whispers a beautiful truth.


Product magazine, December 2014, as part of Songs of 2014, co-written with Stewart Bremner, Sarah Busby and Simon Frith.

ends




Faust – Just Us (Bureau B)

Three stars
Like a little army of trolls marching out of the shadows, this latest
opus from the Jean Herve Peron/Zappi Diermaier version of Germany's
veteran kosmische hippy Dadaists creeps up on you slowly. Peron's
looming bass and Diermaier's martial drums set a moody tone before
exploding into the extended guitar wig-out of the album's opening
assault, 'Gerubelt'.

After more than forty years in the saddle, Peron and Diermaier have
styled this new release as jUSt, a set of twelve semi-improvised
bare-bones rhythm-driven sound sculptures designed to be rebuilt by
anyone who fancies a bash at adding their own touches to it. Whether
the end result will find Krautrock copycats indulging in
fantasy-wish-fulfilment hero-worship or inspire something more
interesting remains to be seen. What's left in the meantime is a group
of miniatures far less formless than mere backing tracks.

Stripped back to basics, the same rush of primal physicality best
captured in Faust's live shows rushes through a series of tunes that
sometimes resemble mediaeval ragas pulsed by the makeshift mechanics of
a sewing machine metronome or else what sounds like the entire contents
of the duo's toolbox.

Elsewhere, 'Nur Nous' is a minimalist sketch for piano and drums, while
'Palpitations' is seven and a half minutes of exactly that.
Onomatopoeia permeates other titles, including the magnificently named
horn-led cacophony that is 'eeeeeeh...'

There are vocal tracks too, with 'Ich bin ein Pavian' as good-naturedly
declamatory as a Kurt Schwitters routine before giving way to the
surprisingly understated finale of 'Ich sitze immer noch'. This
punctuates its pretty guitar melodies with what sounds like a dog
barking and the endlessly insistent sound of rain.

With plans afoot to repeat the album's exercise in de/reconstruction in
the live arena by collaborating with local musicians wherever they tour
– a move not unlike former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki's never-ending solo
sojourns using local 'sound carriers' at each date – Faust's strategy
is both economically viable and potentially gloriously unpredictable.


The List, December 2014

ends

Victoria Morton

The Modern Institute, Aird's Lane, Glasgow
Until January 17th 2015
Four stars

'OPTIMUM LIVING MADE EASY', the quasi-ironic legend just about declaims
from the second of five large-scale paintings that make up a new cycle
of work by Victoria Morton. Or at least that's what it appears to say,
as the poster-size message that resembles a stencilled-in slogan is all
but obscured by swirls of red camouflage as well as the image of a
female figure who appears to be squirting paint into her palm.

Such wilful discretion is the most tellingly talismanic image on show,
even as it acts as a bridge between the explosions of colour elsewhere.
At times improvised but never slap-dash, these burst forth with a
self-referential life-force which flits between a blood-rush of fevered
activity offset by pools of calm that trickle out beyond the oranges
and lemons.

As a very personal story-board, it highlights a vivid life and death
swirl that points to little moments captured from everyday narratives.
These aren't so much made flesh as have their psychological innards put
under the microscope in a way that goes beyond words in a shadow-line
that borders the woozy limbo-land between process and product.


The List, December 2014
ends

Alasdair Gray – Spheres of Influence I and II

GOMA until May 25th 2015/Glasgow School of Art until January 25th 2015
Five stars

It's only too fitting that programme image for the first of these two
shows that form part of the Glasgow-wide Alasdair Gray season, lovingly
and meticulously put together by Sorcha Dallas to mark Glasgow's
original renaissance man's eightieth year, is a compass. For both the
GOMA show it heralds and its accompanying GSA show join the dots
between those who influenced this poppiest of classicists and those who
followed in his wake, with Gray both wide-eyed bridge and beacon
between the two.

So at GOMA we move from Durer's crucifixions, Blake's judgements and
Aubrey Beardsley's erotic politesse to Japanese figurative art, line
drawings by David Hockney, the vintage poetics of Adrian Wiszniewski
and Chad McCail's poster-size take on wisdom and experience. The
umbilical links between these and Gray's own works are made plain, yet
remain tantalisingly fresh even as the join is gloriously exposed.

Over at Gray's alma mater things are brought even closer to home, as
volumes poached from Gray's own home library including a Radio Times
annual appear alongside book covers for his own work and contemporaries
such as Agnes Owens. There's a mix of the meta-physical and the
grizzled in pieces by Eric Gill, drawings by Peter Howson and the
rad-fem desires of Dorothy Iannone, while Stuart Murray's dole culture
cartoons bring things bang up to date.

The frontispieces of each of the four books that make up Gray's 1981
novel, Lanark, which reimagined Glasgow as a fantastical
magical-realist kingdom, appear in both shows as pivotal works. Adorned
with super-heroic bodies set against infinitely accessible but densely
detailed landscapes, seen together they are comic-book multi-verses
writ large.

Finally, Hanna Tuulikki's two pen and ink images, Ascension and Fall,
encapsulate the spiritual, the erotic and the heroic, the holy trinity
of Gray's world, which grows more magical by the day.


The List, December 2014


ends

The Devil Masters

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
It's Christmas Eve in Edinburgh New Town, and in the ornate interior of
legal power couple Cameron and Lara's Georgian des-res, the fire is
roaring, the wine is uncorked and their beloved dog Max is frolicking
in the garden. Set to a classical music soundtrack, the scene is almost
too perfect in Orla O'Loughlin's production of Iain Finlay Macleod's
new play, as if lifted from the pages of some high society magazine.

Enter John, an intruder from the opposite end of the social spectrum,
whose rude intrusion and kidnap of Max sees the veneer of
respectability rapidly unravel as Lara at least shows her true colours.
The name of the game for what follows is survival, as John first
becomes trapped, only to use his animal mentality to turn the tables on
his captors. As played by John Bett and Barbara Rafferty as Cameron and
Lara, and Keith Fleming as John, the heightened grotesquerie in the
cartoon class war that follows resembles the sort of treatment Mike
Leigh might give his subjects. John in particular is cut from the same
cloth as underclass anti-hero Johnny in Leigh's film, Naked.

As increasingly absurd as things become in the play's comically cutting
dissection of snobbery, prejudice and just how divided a city
Scotland's capital can be sometimes, to fully hit home it could be even
more manic and even more savage in its delivery. Despite this, the
local references from Irvine Welsh to Jack Vettriano which are peppered
throughout Macleod's script provoked instant recognition from the
first-night audience in this enlightened tale of two cities occupying
the same urban jungle.


The Herald, December 12th 2014

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Desire Lines – The Future Is Unwritten

1

Thirty-five years ago tonight, on December 8th 1979, I went along to an
under-eighteens matinee gig in a shabby basement club in a run-down
street in Liverpool city centre.

I was fifteen, the band I went to see was called Joy Division and the
club was called Eric's.

To say the experience was life-changing is an understatement.

Eric's was situated at one end of Mathew Street, and was already
legendary for birthing a colourful post-punk underground made up of
bands with ridiculous names such as Echo and the Bunnymen and the
Teardrop Explodes.

Both these bands were signed to Zoo records, run by two young men from
an office at the other end of the street, over the road from Probe
Records, a social hub where all the Eric's crowd hung out.

A couple of years before on the same street in an old warehouse
transformed into an arts lab and cafe called the Liverpool School of
Language, Music, Dream and Pun, maverick theatre director Ken Campbell
premiered a twelve-hour stage version of a sprawling science-fiction
conspiracy novel called Illuminatus.

The production of Illuminatus too had become the stuff of legend, and
featured the likes of Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy in the company, with
set design by a young carpenter called Bill Drummond, who went on to
play at Eric's in a band called Big in Japan before co-founding the
aforementioned Zoo Records.

Illuminatus transferred to the just opened National Theatre in London,
and was the first show to play at the centre's Cottesloe space.

Even earlier, Mathew Street had been made famous by another basement
club situated across the road from Eric's, and called The Cavern.

The Cavern of course gifted the world The Beatles, and suddenly that
one shabby street became the centre of the universe.

These days, such activity would have prompted Mathew Street to be
dubbed something called a 'Cultural Quarter', that dead-eyed piece of
twenty-first century Newspeak designed to make property developers
rich.

As it is, Liverpool's city fathers decided to fill in the space where
the Cavern had been and build a car park on top, while Eric's closed
four months after the Joy Division show following a police raid.

Only later did anyone realise they could make money on the back of the
street's heritage, so now Mathew Street has a fake rebuilt Cavern, a
fake rebuilt Eric's and a lot of glossy Beatles theme bars where stag and
hen parties congregate.

At one point there was a wine bar called the John Lennon Society which
you had to wear a tie to get in.


2

The reason I'm rewinding across mine and my home town's back pages
isn't just out of middle-aged nostalgia.

It's an attempt to illustrate where a city's culture comes from, and
how urban regeneration can sometimes be the death of it.

This is highlighted in an exhibition currently running at the
Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh by Canadian artist Stan Douglas, whose
play, Helen Lawrence, was seen at this year's Edinburgh International
Festival.

Both looked in part at the world of Hogan's Alley, a run-down district
in post World War Two Vancouver,  where a blind eye was turned to a
back-street black economy, while also attracting musicians such as Duke
Ellington and Miles Davis to play.

Once the war was over, however, Hogan's Alley was cleaned up and
ultimately demolished in the name of gentrification.

This sort of thing is still happening all over the world.

It's happening  in Liverpool again, where the site of the world's first
super-club, Cream, is about to be bulldozed away so flats can be built.

It happened too in a once bankrupt New York, where CBGBs, the club that
gave the world The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie, was forced to
close because the people who ran it could no longer afford to pay the
high rents that came with regeneration of the once mean streets around
the club.

But this has been happening far closer to home for years.


3

When Jim Haynes, inspired by the energy of the Edinburgh Festiuval Fringe – which was
started, let's not forget, as a grassroots event when a group of
students turned up in the city during the International Festival and
started putting on their own events – opened up the UK's first ever
paperback bookshop close to the University, it set in motion a chain of
events that led to the creation of the Traverse Theatre, now rightly
regarded as one of the world's most important institutions for new work.

Rather than have a preservation order slapped on it, the street where
Jim's bookshop sat was flattened and turned into a car-park before the
University's Informatics Centre was eventually built.

A generation on, and the old bus station on New Street which housed the
original Bongo Club was demolished and the land taken over by property
developers who left it as a gap site for over a decade before the
Caltongate project as was was eventually given the green light.

The Cowgate Fire was a disaster which nobody could have foreseen, but
which destroyed venues such as La Belle Angele, The Gilded Balloon and
The Bridge Jazz Bar, as well as artist's studios and the work contained
in them.

Twelve years on, at long last we have La Belle Angele back, and I've
been inside and it's beautiful.

But above La Belle Angele, we also have brand new branches of Hotel
Ibis, Cafe Costa and Sainsbury's Local, three prime examples of the
creeping homogenisation by faceless multi-nationals of a city that's in
danger of having its unique heart ripped out.

The spectacular mismanagement of Edinburgh University Settlement led to
the demise of both the Roxy Art House and the Bristo Halls home of the
Forest, both thriving grassroots ventures which grew up in the spirit
of the Bongo, but which were sold to owners who only seem to use them
with any real visibility during August.

Right now, the Picture House on Lothian Road is about to be given
planning permission to convert this former cinema and concert venue
into a superpub by Wetherspoon's, a brewery based in Watford.

This, despite some 13000 signatories of a petition protesting the move.

Meanwhile, the property developers who own the old Odeon cinema on
South Clerk Street appear to be letting the building go to wrack and
ruin until they get their own way and are allowed to turn this listed
building into flats.

And, last weekend, yet another Edinburgh bar cancelled its live music
nights because a solitary complainer didn't like it, while the archaic
notion of a zero audibility clause deems such a move acceptable.

If such a clause had been enforced in the recent past, both the Fringe
and the 1960s folk revival would have been dead in the water before
they'd even begun.

And imagine what might have happened the night when the late Kurt Cobain played
an impromptu gig in the Southern Bar if a couple of Council officers
had turned up and told him to keep the racket down.


4

And yet, great things still come out of Edinburgh, despite what seems
sometimes like the best efforts to restrict, police or just prevent
artistic activity beyond the city's great institutions.

This is the city that sired Grid Iron theatre company, the
site-specific auteurs who started off performing shows in Mary King's
Close, and who have since performed in Edinburgh Airport and Ratho
climbing centre, and are rightly regarded as one of the world's great
contemporary theatre companies.

Now in its third space, the artist-run Embassy gallery off Broughton St
has just celebrated its tenth anniversary, while down the road on
Arthur St, the Rhubaba artspace is similarly thriving in a Leith
brought to glorious life during the two-day LeithLate extravaganza.

Initiatives such as the Village Pub Theatre, which operates out of a pub
function room, and Discover 21, a thirty-five-seat theatre space in an
old office block, are also thriving.

Then there is Young Fathers, the Edinburgh band who won this year's
Mercury Music Prize, and who met at an under eighteens hip-hop night in
the Bongo Club.

Since winning the Mercury, Young Fathers have been vocal about the
noise laws in the city, which everyone knows has been a problem for
years.

A grassroots spoken-word scene led by nights such as Neu Reekie and 
Rally & Broad is making waves across the country.

So it's great that Edinburgh Book Festival is already recognising that
scene in the city through their Unbound season of Sunday night
speak-easy events in the Spiegeltent featuring programmes by Neu
Reekie, Rally & Broad and others.

But those nights have their roots in the sort of events which Neu!
Reekie! co-founder Kevin Williamson used to put on with his seminal
magazine Rebel Inc in the back rooms of pubs and community centres and
the old Unemployed Workers Centre on Broughton Street, which was
forcibly closed following a police raid.

Similarly, it's vital that a novelist such as Julian Cope can be
embraced by the Book Festival.

But if he and his band the Teardrop Explodes hadn't found a platform to
perform in a shabby basement club in Liverpool called Eric's
thirty-five years ago, he might have ended up becoming a teacher, which
was the original plan.


5

So while Edinburgh's festivals and institutions need to be cared for
and resourced and constantly refreshed, art doesn't work from top-down
thinking.

Art works from the ground up, in back-rooms of pubs and creative spaces
with cheap rents where artists can make a scene.

In this way, the whole city is a cultural quarter, whether you're
watching a band in a bar on Leith Walk, walking up Martin Creed's steps
or wandering through the Richard Demarco archive in this magnificent
building.

We don't need to look to Austin, Manchester or Glasgow for advice on
how to do things.

All those cities do wonderful things in their own special way, and out
of a particular set of social, economic and political circumstances,
but so does Edinburgh, and we have all the expertise we need in this
room right now.

This isn't about money, because everyone here knows there isn't any.

This is about developing a will to do great things and, rather than
being seen to put obstacles in artists paths, to enable them.

And through that will, the City needs to learn to say no to property
developers and breweries, and to protect its existing cultural assets
by annexing the arts centres, bars and grassroots spaces and asset-lock
them so they can't be turned into one more Sainsbury's Local, an outlet seemingly so named without any apparent irony.


6

Over at the Traverse tonight, photographer Alan McCredie is launching
his book, One Hundred Weeks of Scotland, a collection of images taken
across the country over the two years leading up to this year's
referendum on independence.

In a pub in Leith, Paul Vickers – the singer with the band, Paul
Vickers and The Leg as well as a comedian and stalwart of the Free
Fringe - is running a pub quiz in a way which I suspect will more
resemble surrealist performance art.

On BBC 6Music, a band called The Sexual Objects, led by a man called
Davy Henderson, whose musical roots go back to Edinburgh's
world-changing post punk scene with his band Fire Engines, who formed
after seeing The Clash's White Riot tour at Edinburgh Playhouse, and
are now cited by the likes of Franz Ferdinand as a major influence, are
playing a live radio session.

None of these artists needed official approval for what they're doing.

Nor were they part of any managerialist box-ticking strategy.

And yet, 100 Weeks of Scotland has already caught the national
imagination; Paul Vickers is planning to take his new show to the
Prague Fringe next May; while The Sexual Objects are about to release a
new album that might just prove to be the record of the year.

All of these artists just did this stuff because they wanted to, they
needed to, and, in the context of tonight, they desired to.

And that's exactly how it should be.

As The Clash's Joe Strummer said long after he played Edinburgh
Playhouse, the future is unwritten.

It's up to everyone here to make sure that future is written the way we
want it to be.

ends


A shorter version of the above was originally presented as part of
Desire Lines – What makes Edinburgh a culturally successful city?,
which took place in the Dissection Room at Summerhall, Edinburgh on
December 8th 2014.

Desire Lines was an initiative set up by a steering group of fourteen
representatives of some of Edinburgh's major arts institutions to
promote discussion on arts and culture in Edinburgh in a way that looks
forward to City of Edinburgh Council's forthcoming cultural strategy in
March 2015.

Desire Lines was chaired by Joyce McMillan, and consisted of four
parts; 1. Divided City? The audience for the arts in Edinburgh; 2. The
arts and the city economy; 3. Spaces for the arts in Edinburgh; 4. The
different artforms and the challenges they face.

Each part of Desire Lines featured an introductory three-five minute
'provocation' by invited speakers, which were followed by
contributions from the floor.

Divided City? The audience for the arts in Edinburgh featured Linda
Irvine (Strategic Programme Manager, NHS Lothian).

The arts and the city economy featured James Anderson (Trust Manager,
Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust PLC).

Spaces for the arts in Edinburgh featured Malcolm Fraser (Director,
Malcolm Fraser Architects) and myself.

The different artforms and the challenges they face featured Olaf
Furniss (Director, Born to be Wide), Caitlin Skinner (Artistic
Director, The Village Pub Theatre), Morvern Cunningham (Festival
Producer, LeithLate).

The Desire Lines steering group consisted of Jan-Bert van den Berg
(Artlink), Deborah Keogh (Culture Enterprise Office), Adam Knight
(Edinburgh Playhouse), Cerin Richardson (Festival City Theatres Trust),
Janine Matheson (Creative Edinburgh), Jenny Langlands (Dance Base), Ken
Hay (Centre for the Moving Image), Karl Chapman (Usher Hall), Duncan
Hendry (Festival City Theatres Trust), Faith Liddell (Festivals
Edinburgh), Nick Barley (Edinburgh International Book Festival), Frank
Little (Edinburgh Museums and Galleries), Donald Smith (Traditional
Arts and Culture Scotland), Fiona Bradley (Fruitmarket Gallery).



ends

Iain Finlay Macleod - The Devil Masters

When Iain Finlay Macleod moved part time to the Stockbridge district on
the cusp of Edinburgh New Town, it was as far spiritually from the
playwright, novelist and tweed-maker's Lewis birth-place as it was
geographically.

Macleod had decamped to the capital to take up his post as the 2013
Institute of Advanced Studies for the Humanities (IASH) Edinburgh
University/Traverse Theatre Fellow, and the original plan was to write
something loosely based around the nineteenth century Enlightenment
which begat the thinking of David Hume and Adam Smith. Yet, s he spent
more time in the area, Macleod became increasingly drawn towards the
not always enlightened world of the legal profession. Then, when a
friend told him a story about someone looking after a dog which
subsequently died, forcing its minder to put its body in a suitcase to
take it across town to the vet's on the underground, it became
something else again.

The result of such a disparate set of inspirations is The Devil
Masters, a black comedy in which a well-heeled husband and wife double
act of legal eagles are forced to square up to the city's underbelly.
In the play's world premiere production which opens tonight at the
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, this comes in the form of a dog-napping
ne'er-do-well who inveigles his way into the front room of their New
Town des-res on Christmas Eve.

“It isn't entirely a drawing room play,” Macleod points out, “but it
isn't magical realism either. It went through quite a few drafts,
including being quite a straight play, but I do like a darker and more
surreal side.”

This stems to unconfirmed rumours that a real life canine will join the
cast onstage.

“The dog in the play is a Skye Terrier,” Macleod says, “but I've got a
whippet, and I was suggesting that we could just shove that onstage.”

The title of The Devil Masters is taken from the archaic lexicon of
legalese, and refers to the ancient art of devilling, a period of
junior work undertaken by aspiring advocates. In Scotland's legal
system, the juniors are put under the wing of a senior devil-master,
who, as tradition dictates, must not be a member of the Queen's
Counsel. Under their guidance, the devil masters' young charges follow
a programme set up by the Faculty of Advocates.

“My cousin is an advocate,” says Macleod, “and he went through the
process of devilling, where you have a kind of legal family. I wasn't
full time in Edinburgh, and moved about a bit before I became fully
settled in this great house in Stockbridge, where I wandered about with
my nose in the air.

“I know Glasgow much better, so it was interesting to find out
something about Edinburgh's history, and to see how Edinburgh folk are
a little bit different to Glasgow folk.”

The Devil Masters is Macleod's first play to be produced by the
Traverse since I Was A Beautiful Day in 2010. This was the last of a
trio of plays to open at Edinburgh's new writing theatre over the
previous decade, all of which subsequently toured the Highlands. The
Traverse also premiered Broke, Macleod's version of French writer David
Lescot's play, Un homme en Faillite.

More than fifty other works across stage, screen and radio have
included Somersaults for the National Theatre of Scotland, and an
opera, St Kilda, produced at Edinburgh International Festival, and
performed in five European countries simultaneously in four languages.
Macleod was also an associate playwright for two years with
Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and writer in residence at Sabhal Mor
Ostaig.

Beyond The Devil Masters, it was announced that Macleod's new Gaelic
version of Compton Mackenzie's famously filmed novel, Whisky Galore,
will form part of the National Theatre of Scotland's 2015 season.
Produced in association with Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint
venture and Macleod's own Lewis-based Robhanis company, Uisge-Beatha Gu
Leòr will tour Scotland next Spring.

“The season looks at a couple of classic Scottish novels,” Macleod says
of a programme that also includes an adaptation of Muriel Spark's
novel, The Driver's Seat, “and Mackenzie writes English in quite a
funny, comedic way, so this is a bit of a retelling of Whisky Galore
from a Gaelic point of view.”

Given the real life backdrop of the story which has been seen onstage
in both Mull Theatre's radio version and Pitlochry Festival Theatre's
musical take on things, Whisky Galore still has an emotional resonance
to people living in Lewis, close to Eriskay, where the incident
occurred.

“There's another level of reality to what happened,” Macleod explains,
“and I don't think the islanders on Eriskay have ever quite recovered
from the fact that the film was shot on Barra. You can hardly believe
that it happened at all, that this boat full of whisky ran aground.”

As Associate Artist (Gaelic) with the National Theatre of Scotland,
Macleod is at the forefront of a focus on Gaelic writing in all forms.

“The development in novel writing in Gaelic has been quite significant
over the last ten years or so,” he says. “Before then there were only a
handful of novels written in Gaelic, but now there are tens more of
them. Theatre is getting the best of support now as well, and I'm
helping to mentor Gaelic writers through Playwrights Studio Scotland.”

Now safely ensconced back on Lewis, Macleod's sojourn into Edinburgh
appears to have laced his own writing with a hitherto untapped wildness.

“I was interested in how people present themselves to the world, and
what happens when civility breaks down,” he says. “With The Devil
Masters I was trying to get under the surface, and see how far people
can be pushed. When Orla O'Loughlin read the first draft of the play,
she said she liked it, but she told me to put a bomb under it, and
that's what I've done.”

The Devil Masters, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, December 6-24.
www.traverse.co.uk


Iain Finlay Macleod - A Writer's Life


Iain Finlay Macleod was born on Lewis in 1973.
He was encouraged to write at a young age by his uncle, Dr Finlay
Macleod, a dramatist and writer of children's books. His first
experience of making theatre came at the National Gaelic Youth Theatre
in the early 1990s.
In 1994 Macleod attended The International School for Writers, Actors
and Directors at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and began submitting
work to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

For the Traverse, as well as The Devil Masters, Macleod has written The
Pearlfisher, I Was a Beautiful Day, Homers and Broke, a version of
David Lescot's Un homme en Faillite.

Macleod has written more than fifty dramatic works for radio, theatre,
television and film, and his work has been shown in America, Germany
and France.

Other plays include Somersaults for the National Theatre of Scotland
and St. Kilda - The Opera, which was performed in five European
countries simultaneously in four languages.

Macleod was Associate Playwright for two years (2007-2009) with
Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and Writer-in-Residence at Sabhal Mor
Ostaig for two years.

Macleod was awarded the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2009, and 
is currently Associate Artist (Gaelic) with the National Theatre of
Scotland.

The Devil Masters was written when Macleod was the IASH Edinburgh
University/Traverse Theatre Fellow in 2013, based at the Institute of
Advanced Studies for the Humanities at Edinburgh University.

The Herald, December 9th 2014


ends

The Amazing Adventures of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp

Cumbernauld Theatre
Four stars
“Don't go messing with cosmos,” says the operator of a celestial
helpline to big bad Abanazer in Tony Cownie's pocket-sized take on this
most magical of pantomime favourites, “or the cosmos will mess with
you.” This is something Abanazer eventually learns to his cost  as he
manipulates peasant boy Aladdin into leading him to the magic lamp and
the genie that will sate his greed. Lovestruck Aladdin, meanwhile, has
his sights set on the beautiful Princess Jasmine, even if it means
trampolining his way over the palace walls with his best pal Karif to
get her.

A bored king is the initial impetus for the yarn to unravel, as his
loyal subjects scramble around in desperation to find one more story to
keep him interested. Only when the oldest and wisest member of the
tribe lays bare a tale closer to his heart than he lets on does the
gang leap into the dressing up box to act it out. As dramaturged by Ed
Robson and Roderick Stewart, this makes the most of a small is
beautiful aesthetic, with just five actors performing an array of roles.

These range from James Anthony Pearson's dashing Aladdin and Jayd
Johnson's Jasmine to Steven McNicoll's wicked Abanazar. Laughs are
provided by Nicky Elliot, who doubles up as Karif and Jasmine's fashion
victim father, while Angela Darcy flits between a gallus window
cleaning Twanky
and the wee genie who is finally freed from her lamp. All of this keeps
a young audience in fine voice, while a touching epilogue hints that
Aladdin's life might not have been such a fairytale after all.

The Herald, December 8th 2014


ends

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Christmas Carol

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Five stars
Don't be fooled by the pasty-faced jug-band who strike up a jaunty
version of Silent Night as a curtain-raiser to Dominic Hill's seasonal
look at Charles' Dickens' festive classic. Aside from an audience
sing-along to The Twelve Days of Christmas and Ebeneezer Scrooge's
closing conversion, that's pretty much as cheery as things get.

Such over-riding solemnity is by no means to the show's detriment,
however, as Hill and his creative team take full advantage of Neil
Bartlett's marvellously pared-down script. Fused throughout with an
epigrammatic musicality that allows for much playfulness, it allows an
inherent theatricality to burst onto the stage with an ensemble cast of
eight led by a pop-eyed Cliff Burnett as the old miser himself.

From the off, even the quill-scratching labours of Scrooge's employees
are choreographed to perfection by movement directors Benedicte Seierup
and Lucien MacDougall before things veer into more metaphysical waters.
The Ghost of Christmas Past is a disturbing looking puppet of a child
with a lamp for a face; restless spirits swirl around the auditorium's
upper echelons like manic kites in motion; and a first glimpse at the
Ghost of Things To Come's looming presence at the end of the first act
is a truly scary portent of the future.

This grotesque display of gothic victoriana is forebodingly pulsed by
Nikola Kodjabashia's percussion-heavy live score, while Rachael
Canning's black as night design work is given extra edge by her
accompanying puppet work. Hill has his cast navigate their way through
Bartlett's superior script with occasional flashes of levity that serve
to heighten the intensity of what is probably the darkest feelgood show
in town.

The Herald, December 8th 2014


ends

The BFG

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
Be careful not to quaff too many flagons of frobscottle before going to
see the Royal Lyceum Company's festive take on Roald Dahl's over-sized
yarn about a kindly but flatulent giant. If you do indulge in the
make-believe beverage, Andrew Panton's production of David Wood's stage
version might well end up with so much whizzpopping, as Dahl would have
it, that it could resemble an exercise in odorama, not to mention
adding assorted off-kilter pumps and parps to Claire McKenzie's already
energetic live soundtrack.

Wood opens up Dahl's pages by way of a magician's birthday party
no-show, which inspires young Sophie to put herself centre-stage as she
acts out her favourite present along with her pals, while also giving
her mum and dad the starring roles. On a life-size wooden doll's house
flanked by little fluffy clouds designed by Becky Minto, Robyn Milne's
Sophie transports her puppet self into the clutches of The BFG, played
by Lewis Howden as a gentle sort with a penchant for Stanley Unwinesque
semantics. The other giants aren't quite so laid-back, alas, and more
resemble wild animals as they embark on a child-snatching spree that
only the full might of the Queen of England and all her armed forces
can contain.

There are times when Dahl's story more resembles something out of Viz
comic than a well-respected children's classic. This is something that
makes proceedings infinitely more appealing to adolescents of all ages,
helped along nicely in a bright, modern take on the show by Jamie
MacDonald's quasi-disaster movie animation and some neat puppet work
that truly shows the things that dreams are made of.

The Herald, December 8th 2014


ends

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Jim Campbell – Indirect Imaging

Dundee Contemporary Arts until January 25th 2014
Four stars

The light and a whole lot more besides pours out of the seven pieces in
Chicago-born LED auteur Jim Campbell's first ever UK solo show from the
moment you set foot into the DCA's foyer, where a digital clock behind
the reception desk displays the night and day of things rather than
time itself. If this is a precision-perfect image of a retro-future
relic, it's soporific fusion of low-lit high-tech isn't trying to be
cute, but comes fused with an intelligent and quietly personal poetry.

Outside Gallery 1, 'Motion and Rest 5' (2002) may at first glance
resemble a traffic sign, but is actually footage of a person walking on
crutches. Inside, similar optical effects are writ ever larger.
'Explode View (Commuters)' (2011), the self-explanatory 'Home Movies
1040-3' (2011) and 'A Fire, A Freeway and A Walk' (1999-2000) capture
bodies in rest and motion, en route to work, rest or play. 'Tilted
Plane' (2011) does something similar with birds in flight, albeit on a
grand scale as the viewer walks among a series of bulbs in
sensory-destabilising formations.

For all its meditative, multi-hued expanse, much of it feels like a
curtain-raising primer for the piece that takes up the whole of the
venue's Gallery 2 space. 'Last Day in the Beginning of March' (2003)
reflects on the final hours of Campbell's brother's life by tapping
into a series of imagined memories through twenty-six synchronised
bulbs beamed down from the ceiling. As each one pulses its circle of
light at different speeds, they reflect a moment, a feeling or an
anxiety immortalised on a series of name-plates lined around the dimmed
walls.

Out of the gloom comes a carefully choreographed set of sense memories
that become both homage and elegy to the piece's subject. Where it
would have been easy to go for chill-out room ambience, 'Last Day in
the Beginning of March' is noticeably the only installation to use
sound throughout. As the pools of lights dance, that their accompanying
noises off are those of the sort of relentless but curiously
undemonstrative rainfall one associates with deserted cities at dusk
speaks volumes about the way Campbell keeps his fires burning close to
home.

The List, December 2014


ends

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Miracle on 34th Street

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars
Imagine what might happen if a shop store Santa Claus started to advise
the cash-strapped mums of the pre-schoolers he promises the world to to
go somewhere cheaper. Today, just as in Meredith Willson's 1963 stage
musical of the 1957 feel-good film, chances are the white-bearded
anarchist would have his mental health questioned before being sent for
trial. Especially if the old man actually believed he was Santa Claus,
real life facial hair and all.

Such may be the way of capitalism at Christmas, but John Durnin's
lavish production for Pitlochry Festival Theatre's ensemble make it
clear that, at this time of year, at least, suspension of disbelief is
paramount to overcoming seasonal cynicism no matter how extreme. This
is certainly the case with thoroughly modern middle manager Doris,
who's been unceremoniously dumped and left to bring up her equally
jaded daughter Susan on her own. Enter ex military man and would-be
lawyer Fred to become father figure, suitor and saviour of the day.

Surrounded by an ever-shifting array of mini skyscrapers that all but
hides Dougie Flowers' eight-piece band, the cast rise to the occasion
with a wholesome vivacity in an all-singing, all-dancing display. As
Doris and Fred, Isla Carter and Stuart Reid spark off each other with
vintage appeal, while Kirsty McLaren comes into her own as a grown-up
too soon Susan, who learns to believe again following a fantastical
birthday party in the toy department. It is James Smillie's turn as
avuncular guru Kris Kringle, the man who may or may not be Santa,
however, that steals a show where faith isn't something to be bought
and sold at any time of year.

The Herald, December 4th 2014


ends

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Rupert Thomson - From Summerhall to Salford

When it was announced last week that Rupert Thomson had been appointed
as one of three specialist programme associates at the state of art
Lowry centre in Salford, it probably wasn't because of how Thomson
looked. Even so, clad in a vintage raincoat and cap with a neatly
hipsterish v-neck, tie and skinny jeans ensemble beneath, one can't
help but notice Thomson's resemblance to one of the back-street
dwelling 'match-stalk men' painted by the artist that gives the Lowry
its name.

The fact that Thomson was born and partly raised in the neighbourhood a
stone's throw from the centre - “South Manchester, not Salford,” he's
careful to note,” - built in the city's formerly run down docklands
area lends Thomson an even more striking frisson of post-modern cool.
It's an all too appropriate image too for a man who will flit between
the rough and not always ready expanse of Summerhall, where Thomson
will remain in post, and the Lowry's bright, airy interior which he
will occupy on a part-time basis.

“It's really nice to encounter this new organisation and how they do
things, and just re-engage with the north-west of England again,”
Thomson says. “There's a feel you get from the buildings, and I
remember going into the Lowry shortly after it first opened, so it
already has those associations, and there's a real buzz about
Manchester and Salford just now. There's a real sense of confidence
about the place, and hopefully there's something I can feed into that
with a Scottish influence and with an international influence as well.”

While Thomson will concentrate on the Lowry's theatre programme, he
will work alongside  Lucy Dusgate, who will work on digital
programming, and Eckhard Thiemann, who will look after dance.

“The idea is that we're feeding in ideas for those artforms, and honing
an artistic vision for the programme of the Lowry,” Thomson explains,
“though very quickly it became clear that we all have overlapping
interests, and the more conversant we are about these things, the more
dynamic the programmes we put together are going to be.”

The reshuffle at the Lowry came about following the sad passing of
Robert Robson, the centre's Hamilton-born artistic director, who cut
his teeth working in community theatre in Glasgow and became key to the
development of Cumbernauld Theatre before moving to Salford.

Thomson's road to the Lowry began as a teenager when he first
discovered Waiting For Godot, Samuel Beckett's classic piece of
absurdist vaudeville. Thomson studied literature at Bristol University,
fell in love with music, and edited the university magazine before
moving to Edinburgh.

Here he edited arts and entertainments free-sheet, The Skinny, before
becoming artistic director of the Roxy Art House. This became a haven
for Edinburgh's off-radar music and arts scene before the collapse of
its owners, Edinburgh University Settlement, caused the venue's demise.

Once appointed as the first artistic director of Summerhall, it was
Thomson's programming of the Herald Angel winning Hotel Medea that gave
the venue its initial status on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This
epic rendering of Greek tragedy began at midnight, and put the audience
in the thick of the action as they were promenaded from room to room
before joining the cast for breakfast at 6am.

Since then, Summerhall has become an all year round multi-purpose venue
which has also housed arts impresario Richard Demarco substantial
archive. This is significant in that Summerhall's programme has tapped
into the spirit of the 1960s counter-culture and east European
avant-garde which Demarco was key in promoting.

Despite its successes, Summerhall – privately owned by philanthropist
Robert McDowell - has at times appeared dysfunctional. Rumours of the
centre's demise have been exacerbated by a recent shedding of staff,
while the sudden and still unexplained departure of visual arts
programmer Paul Robertson in August has also stoked the fires of
gossip. Whatever the facts of such matters, Thomson is already in the
thick of programming Summerhall's 2015 Festival Fringe programme, as
well as exploring potential future collaborations with the Lowry.

“It's already looking very positive,” he says. “There will hopefully be
substantial collaborations, particularly in the context of
international artists, and if we can make them work in the context of
both venues, we will.”

Much of Thomson's work is produced under the name Eleven, the company
he founded with his wife and artistic partner, Anu Selva-Thomson, who
until recently ran the education and artists residency programme at
Summerhall.  Eleven is about to open The Home Straits, a programme of
cross-country events in association with Events Scotland designed to
provide a finale to Homecoming Scotland 2014. This opens tonight with
an evening with poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy accompanied by musician
John Sampson, and continues throughout December.

“We were just really interested in the idea of home,” says Thomson,
“and obviously notions of identity have been really important this year
in Scotland, and even though home can be quite an abstract notion,
everybody knows what it means.”

While it's far too early for Thomson to give away anything concrete
about how his forthcoming programme at the Lowry might pan out, once
its first fruits appear, probably in summer 2015, given his roots the
Roxy and Summerhall, it would be fair to hope for something appealingly
off-kilter.

“On one level,” he says, “the Lowry is a completely different space to
Summerhall, and yet some of the principles you can apply are exactly
the same. Summerhall may be be a unique old building, and the Lowry a
purpose-built space, but it's also steeped in the history of the
Salford Quays, so it's possible to have the same attitude in both kinds
of building.”

This is an attitude clearly borne from Thomson's own artistic roots.

“I think it comes down to a sense that I haven't got a clue what's
going on,” he says, “and no-one else does either, so we might as well
have a bash, gearing towards what might be going on. That all started
with a deeply joyous moment reading Samuel Beckett for the first time,
and it was just that sense that, oh, it is possible to think like that.
So I guess there's a hunger for more moments like that, and those
really powerful experiences that art can bring, but also in
facilitating them for others as well as enjoying them for yourself.”

www.thelowry.com
www.summerhall.co.uk


The Home Straits

The Home Straits is a nationwide programme of events curated by Eleven,
the producing company formed by Rupert Thomson and Anu Selva-Thomson.

The programme aims to explore ideas of home, borders, exile and return
for the finale of Homecoming Scotland 2014.

Home for Christmas: an evening with Carol Ann Duffy, John Sampson and
Little Machine – Edinburgh Festival Theatre Studio, Wed Dec 3.
Poet Laureate Duffy presents a new Christmas-themed performance in
collaboration with her regular musician John Sampson and the band
Little Machine, who have set some of her poems to music including six
as Christmas Carols.

There's no place like...' : two evenings of poetry and music presented
with Rally & Broad, with original commissions from Don Paterson, Martin
MacInnes, Stewart Home, Rupert Thomson, Jenny Lindsay and Rachel
McCrum. – The Tolbooth, Stirling, Thu Dec 11; Byre Theatre, St
Andrew's, Sun Dec 14.
Rally & Broad is the partnership of performance poets, Rachel McCrum
and Jenny Lindsay,  who run spoken word cabaret events in Glasgow and
Edinburgh.

Return to the Voice by Song of the Goat - Tramway, Glasgow, Mon Dec 15
Commissioned by Eleven and Summerhall for this year’s Edinburgh
Festival Fringe, Song of the Goat’s Return to the Voice at St Giles
Cathedral fused ancient Gaelic and other traditional Scottish musical
forms large-scale  theatrical performance by Polish maestros and Herald
Angel award winners, Song of the Goat.
    
 There will also be a series of pop-up performances or interventions in
locations around Scotland, including Harthill Services, the Forth Road
Bridge visitor centre and the chip shop in Anstruther.

The Herald, December 2nd 2014


ends

Monday, 1 December 2014

James and the Giant Peach

Dundee Rep
Four stars
'Give them a peachy juice burst' the legend declaims from a speech
bubble attached to the face of a fresh-faced infant on the giant
billboard that acts as a stage curtain for the interval of Jemima
Levick's festive production of Roald Dahl's five a day-based classic.
David Wood frames his stage version around the sort of New York walking
tour normally the preserve of A-list movie stars. Here, we find young
James Henry Trotter exercising his possibly lysergically influenced
gardening skills from the inside of a beat-up caravan on a slice of
Central Park that resembles a revolving traffic island.

Accompanied by a posse of human-sized insects, James embarks on a
fantastic voyage that sees the
unidentified fruity object that freed him from a pair of wicked aunties
move across land, sea and air before coming home to roost in the big
apple itself. With the ever expanding peach represented in Jean Chan's
surrealist-influenced design work by a series of increasingly larger
umbrellas, Levick's cast, led by Thomas Cotran as a wide-eyed James,
should be relieved they landed atop the Empire State Building rather
than in downtown Ferguson, where the local constabulary might have
greeted them with something quite different to a ticker-tape parade.

Each of the insects is imbued with suitably larger than life
characteristics, from Scott Gilmour's shoe-hoarding Centipede and David
Delve's dour Earthworm to Keith Macpherson's fiddle playing
grasshopper, Irene Macdougall's French-accented Spider and Ann Louise
Ross' oh-so-chic Ladybird. All of the cast double up as assorted sea
creatures in a magical underwater scene, with Millie Turner making a
particularly menacing shark in a show where you'll really believe a
peach can fly.

The Herald, December 1st 2014


ends