Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Agatha Christie – A Quietly Subversive Assassin

Imagine tempting eight of the most unpleasant people in the world to an isolated house on uninhabited island. Then imagine wining and dining them into a false sense of security before methodically and mercilessly bumping them off one by rotten one as an act of poetic justice for the crimes they've escaped punishment from.

This is effectively what happens in And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie's novel long regarded as her masterpiece since it was first published in 1939. And it is a trademark set-up of her murder-mystery oeuvre, whether putting her characters in a country house drawing room for the big reveal or else decamping them to the middle of nowhere.

The allure of taking characters out of their comfort zone and throwing them to the metaphorical lions may be sated these days by the mass appeal of reality TV, but Christie got there first. More significantly, perhaps, the mind games she plays are a whole lot subtler, shot through as they are with a hardcore sense of morality.

Because beyond the period cut-glass priggishness and primness of Christie's assorted grotesques, there is something quietly radical and anarchic about her tit for tat treatment of them. With World War Two looming, it's as if Christie is not only calling to account an over-ridingly self-entitled strata of society who genuinely believe they can get away with murder. She's also attempting to wipe them out.

It is this deceptive sleight of hand that makes Christie so quietly and exquisitely subversive, even as her genius with the thriller genre occupies the mainstream in a way that gives her sizeable back catalogue a perennially universal appeal.

This is why And Then There Were None has been translated into more than forty languages, has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and remains one of the best-selling books of all time. It is also why it has had more adaptations on stage, screen and radio than any other of Christie's works. This includes her own 1943 stage version, for which producers convinced her to graft on a feel-good ending, while later versions returned to the downbeat tone of her original.

This is also why her play The Mousetrap has run continuously on the London stage for more than sixty years, with not even the rise of social media encouraging audiences to spill the beans on who exactly done it, preferring instead to be part of a knowing conspiracy with Christie herself by way of her sainted crime fighters.

So it is with Miss Marple, one of Christie's most loved creations who featured in twelve of her novels and twenty of her short stories. A Murder is Announced was published in 1950 after being serialised over eleven instalments in the Daily Express. The book marked Marple's fourth full-length appearance in a series which had already established the notion of an elderly spinster and gimlet-eyed amateur sleuth keeping a close watch on the goings on in sleepy middle England villages.

While both And Then There Were None and the Marple stories are whodunnits, it is what lies behind each character that taps into a more vulnerable and dysfunctional society than their trappings might immediately betray. Beyond their respectable façades, Christie's creations are damaged goods, with histories which gradually unravel to leave them emotionally exposed.

Christie spares no mercy on the guilty, who are either caught red-handed by Miss Marple in A Murder is Announced, or else destroyed by some shape-shifting vigilante hiding in plain sight and seemingly as psychotic as their victims in And Then There Were None.

In a way both plays might be said to be crying out for the sort of post-modern deconstruction already afforded such familiar yarns elsewhere as The Thirty-Nine Steps and An Inspector Calls, and some of the starry TV adaptations have reinvented Christie's stories even as they retain their period setting. Onstage too there can be an archness to her work which allows actors familiar from the small-screen to have some very serious fun.

This is a tradition that goes way back, with William Templeton's 1956 small-screen adaptation of A Murder is Announced featuring singing legend Gracie Fields as Marple. With Leslie Darbon's stage version having been around since 1977, the Alan Plater scripted 1985 film featured Joan Hickson in the lead, with Geraldine McEwan defining her anew for the 2005 TV version of the story.

In the end, it is the out and out humanity of Christie's characters that appeal. They may be flawed enough to commit a crime, but as Christie makes damningly clear, it is their self-serving cowardice that will finish them.

And Then There Were None, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, October 19-24; King's Theatre, Edinburgh, October 26-31, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, November 2-7; A Murder is Announced, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, February 1-6 2016.

Commissioned by John Good as programme notes to accompany the 2015/2016 touring productions of And Then There Were None and A Murder is Announced, and published September 2015.


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Up Close and Personal - 50 Years of The Close Theatre

As the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow celebrates its seventieth year of theatrical excess with a welter of
activity that includes several high-profile shows and a BBC TV documentary, Blood and Glitter, set to be screened this week, a much less lauded but equally key influence on the Citz style and way of doing things is also being

It was fifty years ago that that The Close, a 150-seat studio space in a former gambling club adjoining the Citz, opened its doors to a new world of experimental theatre. In the club-based theatre's short but colourful life between 1965 and 1973, The Close played host to some of the more outré
contributions to the European art house canon in a uniquely underground environment which managed to circumnavigate the censorship imposed on live performance by the Lord Chamberlain up until 1968 when his role was abolished.

In its eight year existence, The Close may have began with productions of rarely seen curtain-raisers by Shaw, but there was also a controversial mask-based take on Faustus by American director Charles Marowitz and early sightings of work by Jean Genet and Marguerite Duras. Later there were
double bills of Pinter, productions of Jack Gelber's drug-based play, The Connection, Heathcote Williams' counter-cultural classic, AC/DC, and a legendary all-male look at Genet's The Maids. The latter, directed by mime auteur Lindsay Kemp, featured a young Tim Curry sporting a corset he took with him when he played Frank N Furter in the original London production of The Rocky Horror

The Close's club status also allowed the theatre's management to keep the bar open later than any Glasgow city centre pubs, thus providing a natural and necessary home for some of the Citz alumni's more flamboyant after hours excesses. If an anything goes attitude prevailed both onstage and off in the hothouse laboratory of The Close, once it burnt down, the same libertine spirit was taken onto the Citz's main stage which it would end up defining.

It is with this spirit  that the Citz has programmed The Close Anniversary Season, a series of three shows performed in the theatre's now rarely used Circle Studio space, and which aim to recapture The Close's sense of daring and redefine it for a twenty-first century where safety all too often in art comes

“It was illicit,” current Citz artistic director Dominic Hill says of
The Close, “and it felt like Glasgow's only gay club at the time. It was
inspired by the Traverse, which had opened in Edinburgh two years before, and
the desire to get something that was the equivalent of the Traverse on the west
coast. At the time it existed it was vital in a lot of ways because there was
nowhere else that was really like it.

“The Close had an underground subversive feel to it, which is something that's hard to find these days. There was a feeling that anyone could do anything, which was inspiring, and which
eventually led to the founding of The Tron to fill the space that the Close left
when it had gone. There's a line of theatrical legacy there that goes from the
Traverse to the Close to the Tron and then later to everything that the Arches

“Once we realised it was the anniversary of The Close,  we wanted to
celebrate that and the influence it had on the Citz itself. We also wanted to do
something in the Circle Studio, which we don't use much, but which isn't going
to be around long, and to work with young directors who we already have a
relationship with.”

For the latter, Hill has drafted in Debbie Hannan, who
directed a remarkable staging of Dostoyevsky's Notes From Underground, Matthew
Lenton of Vanishing Point, who are now cultural tenants at the Citz, and Gareth
Nicholls, , who as the Citizens Main Stage Director in Residence oversaw a
revival of Robert David MacDonald's adaptation of Gitta Sereny's book, Into That

The Close anniversary season begins with Hannan's production of
English iconoclast Howard Barker's biblically inspired look at the last days of
Sodom, Lot and His God. This is followed by Lenton's look at Striptease and Out
At Sea,  a double bill of plays from the early 1960s by Polish absurdist
Slavomir Mrozek. Completing the season will be Vanya, a contemporary response to
Chekhov by Sam Holcroft as directed by Nicholls.

While the choice of plays were left to each director, Hill set down some parameters for each to work

“I said that they should either draw on the fact that the theatre was
influenced by the classical repertoire,” says Hill, “that they should reflect
the European nature of the repertoire, or that the work was very different or
experimental in a way that you wouldn't necessarily put it onto a big stage, and
I think we've covered all three of those bases.

“We also don't  have a lot of money to do this, so while the actors and the directors are being paid,
anything else they want has to be found from within the building. The important
thing is to get the work on and for people to see it. That applies both to the
Studio and to the main stage.”

This consciously Poor Theatre approach itself harks back to a can-do era of creativity which studio-based fringe theatre was  sired on. As Hill and the Citz embrace a new era of DIY, he acknowledges too how
much starved resources have changed things.

“We're living in an age now where there are hardly any studio theatres anymore,” he says. “There was a time in the 1970s when, not just fringe theatre, but studio theatres and regional theatres
were a crucial part of the theatrical lifeblood of what was going on. A lot of
that has gone now, and a theatre having a regular second space is not deemed to
be as important as it once was. That has an effect on new work, and theatres
without those spaces aren't able to stage work that's as experimental as they
might like. When I think about studio theatres in Scotland, there’s really just
the Traverse and ours, which we hardly ever use.”

Since arriving at the Citz, Hill's raison d'etre has been one of putting big plays onto the main stage,
including works that might normally be seen in smaller spaces. While he admits
to an ambivalence towards studio spaces in this way, he recognises the value
they can bring to the development of new and experimental work.

With this in mind, while the Citz's Circle Studio will soon be demolished as a part of the
theatre's ongoing multi-media development, it looks set to be replaced in the
new building by a purpose-built 170 seat studio theatre. It's name, for the time
being while in the planing stages, at least, is The Close.

“The legacy of The Close is the legacy of the Citz,” says Hill. “It's part of the creative thing
that goes on here. All that energy that was channelled into the Citz after the
Close's demise was so fruitful in everything that followed on the main stage,
and that energy has permeated down into everything that's happened in the Citz
over the last forty years and hopefully beyond.”

The Close Theatre
Anniversary season runs at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from October
3-November 7. Lot and His God, October 3-10; Slavomir Mrozek double bill –
Striptease and Out At Sea, October 17-24; Vanya, October 31-November

The Herald, September 29th 2015


Monday, 28 September 2015


Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Why should Alice in Wonderland be forever presented as a white, blonde and very
English ingénue? What if she was a little different, and the rabbit hole she
fell down not as enticing as her own fantastical uniqueness? These are questions
posed by director and performer Josette Bushell-Mingo on the second and final
day of Progression 2015, this weekend's international celebration of deaf arts
hosted by the pioneering Glasgow-based Solar Bear Theatre Company.

The answers come in the show-and-tell finale that follows a day of workshops with
some of deaf theatre's leading practitioners, including Bushell-Mingo and her
team from the Swedish Tyst Theatre (Silent Theatre), a company which has been
developing deaf theatre for forty-five years as an offshoot of the national
touring company, Riksteatern.

The loose-knit programme begins with some interactive games with the audience before Bushell-Mingo hands over to a mix of hearing and non-hearing teenage actors, both from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which has just announced the first ever UK-based British Sign Language
course for deaf performers, and from Solar Bear Deaf Youth Theatre.

As Alice becomes a Spartacus-like figure, a kind of communal empowerment is infused
throughout the young cast that enables them to conquer their demons and have
confidence in who they are. It's short, sharp and as fresh as any devised piece
created by a group of strangers over an hour that afternoon.  Watching its mix
of speech and signing simultaneously translated into Russian for the benefit of
the Moscow-based Nedoslov company in attendance and then signed back to them
itself becomes a beguiling demonstration of the power the international language
of theatre can transmit beyond anything mere words can muster.

The Herald, September 29th 2015


Friday, 25 September 2015

Unlocked Freedom/No Rights To Have An Angel

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

This week's announcement of the establishment of the UK's first deaf performing arts degree course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has been pushed hugely by the Glasgow-based Solar Bear Theatre company. The company have been working with deaf artists and performers since its
inception, and are quite rightly co-running the course in partnership with RCS.
It's timely too that Solar Bear's recent flurry of activity peaked this weekend
with their hosting of Progression 2015, a two day international celebration of
deaf arts.

Thursday night saw a double bill of large ensemble-based works by
the Moscow-based Nedoslov company. The first piece, Unlocked Freedom, was based
on Maxim Gorky's 1882 short story, Makar Chudra, about a horny young peasant who
murders his gypsy bride only to be stabbed to death in turn by her father.  The
second, more impressionistic piece, No Rights To Have An Angel, looks at art,
life and death through a jazz age silent movie style scenario that takes a peek
backstage in a cut-throat showbiz world.

While the former bursts into vivid life with a whirlwind of traditional dance and recorded song awash with raging colours and raging hormones, the second throws more contemporary monochromatic
shapes set to a more thoroughly modern soundtrack. Both, in different ways, look
at notions of freedom, be it breaking through creative or domestic shackles to
find liberation beyond. Given the highly stylised physical and dance and music
theatre aesthetic of both as they incorporate signing into otherwise wordless
scenarios, it's a telling preoccupation in an intermittently fascinating
showcase of how different cultures embrace hearing impairments as something
vital to their artistic world.

The Herald, September 28th 2015


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Joanna Gruesome

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Four stars

It's an unintentional piece of synchronicity that Cardiff-sired nouveau-riot grrrl
indie-pop noiseniks Joanna Gruesome have broken cover to release their second
album, Peanut Butter, the sparky follow-up to their 2013 debut, Weird Sister,
just as the other-worldly voice of the chanteuse who inspired their name, Joanna
Newsome, has similarly reappeared on the scene.

With former front-woman Alanna McArdle departing following the recording of Peanut Butter, twin vocalists Kate Stonestreet of Glasgow fem/queer punks Pennycress and Roxy Brennan of Two White
Cranes have stepped into the breach in a way that makes them sound more wilfully
disparate than ever.

The Edinburgh date of JoGrue's inaugural tour in their new six-piece line-up forms part of Summerhall's ongoing Nothing Ever Happens Here
series of shows, and opens with the headliners Fortuna Pop! label-mates and
fellow travellers, The Spook School. Like their forbears, the Edinburgh-based
quartet are a mixed gender combo who wrap up two-minute yarns concerning
twenty-first century sexuality with fifty-seven varieties of androgynous buzzsaw
punk-pop that isn't afraid to get in touch with its feminine side.

Joanna Gruesome are even more contrary, their three guitar frontline bridging the gap
between C86 gonzo thrash and more FX-driven cosmic adventures as Stonestreet's
shouty confrontationalism counterpoints Brennan's sweeter choir-girl warbles.
The effect of all this in a live arena is a gloriously low-attention-span sugar
rush of absorbed ideas which have been cut up, bent out of shape and freshened
up for a new wave of DIY dilettantism. Beyond the fun and frenzy, the music
takes itself seriously even as it makes for a beautiful explosion of pop and
politics designed to have you grinning your way to oblivion.

The Herald, September 25th 2015


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Waiting For Godot

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

In the middle of nowhere in a barren grey and white world, two old men
stay busy doing nothing while putting their increasingly blind faith in someone
destined to never arrive. So begins Samuel Beckett's now half a century old
piece of bombed-out existential vaudeville, revived here by the Royal Lyceum's
artistic director Mark Thomson to open the Lyceum Company's fiftieth
anniversary season as well as his own swan song in charge of the Grindlay Street

Casting Brian Cox as a bright-eyed Vladimir and Bill Paterson as
his more melancholy sparring partner Estragon is an inspired move from the off,
as the pair wrestle with ill-fitting boots in Estragon's case or a wet-patch
inducing prostate like Vladimir, all with a time-filling determination that
borders on OCD.

As the pair indulge in terminal small talk and deadpan gallows
humour on Michael Taylor's walled-in semi-circular set that lends things a real
sense of faraway depth, Beckett's theatrical in-jokes remain intact, but are
never over-egged. Instead, a far more moving portrait of broken humanity emerges
than some of the more obviously music hall indebted approaches which the play is
sometimes loaded with.

If itinerant visitors Pozzo and Lucky, played equally
majestically by John Bett and Benny Young, represent an old-school
master/servant hierarchy, Cox and Paterson's Vladimir and Estragon are the last
gasp of a put-down but essentially decent co-dependent democracy in all its
knockabout contradictions. When the pair embrace early on in the second act,
destined to be forever reconciled, the way they cling to each other for comfort
sums up the fall-out of generations thrown onto life's  scrap-heap forever

The Herald, September 24th 2015


Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Brave New World - Dystopia and Science-Fiction Theatre Now

The spacious bar area of the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton doesn't look much like a teenage wasteland. At the first night post-show party for the theatre's co-production with The Touring
Consortium  of Brave New World, Dawn King's adaptation of Aldous Huxley's
increasingly recognisable dystopian novel, it's the sounds of Baba O'Riley, The
Who's damning statement on a strung-out, acid-fried Woodstock generation that
underscores the chit-chat beside the drinks table. It's appearance is probably
an accident, but, given Huxley's prophetic study of a society numbed into
submission by a pill called Soma, and where sexual promiscuity is encouraged to
the point that no one feels a thing, Pete Townshend's counterblast to the summer
of love sounds oddly appropriate.

The play itself, as directed by Royal & Derngate artistic director James Dacre, is as state of the art as it gets, a fast-moving voyage through a world where a medically bred elite call the shots
and where those who attempt to live free are treated like freaks. All of which
was already there in Huxley's novel, written in 1931, and which was a gift for

“It  appealed to me immediately,” she says, “because one of the many
things I like is science fiction. Not only is this a classic piece of science
fiction, but in terms of doing an adaptation it's really good material, though
it's also very challenging. It's got lots of plot, and there's all these
concepts about how the future is. Then, going back and re reading the book, I
was really surprised about how much of it seemed to be about my life, and that's
what I wanted to bring to it, this idea that it's about our life now.”

Dacre and King's take on Brave New World arrives at a time when dystopian worlds are
being shown onstage with increasing regularity. Brave New World follows
Headlong's similarly hi-tech take on George Orwell's 1984, while a new
production taken from William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies, will shortly
tour to Scotland. With this in mind, for King at least, the future has already
arrived, and it's not very pretty.

“We live in really dystopian times,” King observes. “You only have to open up the paper and it reads like science-fiction. There's a huge tension between my life, and that I can be having a ridiculous
conversation about wanting some silver trainers or something, and then watching
or reading about people dying trying to get here.

“There's so much money floating around, but we still seemingly can't do anything to resolve any
of these things. There's also this vast spectre of climate change, which
everyone knows about, and I think does affect people's moods in a way that I
think does make them feel a little bit dystopian.”

For Dacre, how peoplereact to dystopian times is key to Huxley's entire outlook on how we may or may not live now.

“I think something that distinguishes Brave New World and
Huxley from writers like Orwell, Asimov, Atwood and HG Wells and others from
that dystopian canon is that it's very open-armed,” Dacre points out. “There's a
great sense of character, humanity and pathos in the book, but I also I think
it's uniquely interested in how science, commerce, technology and politics will
affect human behaviour in the future. Huxley was less interested in how the
world might look than he was in how any changes that happen in all those spheres
might change how we relate to one another.”

In terms of science-fiction's relationship with theatre, King points out as well how she believes that
“theatre culture's changing a bit. Science-fiction isn't done that much onstage,
but now there are science-fiction plays that are being done at the Royal Court
or in the West end in a way that wasn't happening before, and I find that really

Northampton is no stranger to science-fiction. Veteran fantasy and
science-fiction comic book writer and cultural alchemist Alan Moore lives just
around the corner from the Royal & Derngate in a city he recently described as
“absolutely average,” but also a “very unusual town.”

The latter certainly tallies with the thinking of the protagonists of Energy in Northampton, a sci-fi
synth-pop single released by Northampton Development corporation way back in
1980. The song, which was picked up by Radio 1 alternative music icon John Peel,
tells the story of an alien race looking for a place to build a new home that
offers them a bright new  future, with Northampton a somewhat less than obvious

Such jaunty retro stylings are light years away from These New
Puritans' soundtrack for Brave New World, awash as it is with stentorian
electronic stylings that lend it atmosphere and pulse. For These New Puritans
composer and songwriter Jack Barnett, who since 2006 has led his band through
three hip hop, electronica and contemporary classical inspired albums, composing
for theatre for the first time was a liberation.

“I didn't know much about theatre,” Barnett  says, “but we've been asked to do stuff like this several
times before, and after a while you feel you should stop saying no. But it was
great fun to do. I'd read the book when I was about sixteen, and I re-read it,
and we talked about what to leave in and what to leave out, because there's so
many different ideas in it. Then working on the music was very different for me.
I have a tendency to write too much stuff and have to edit it down, but this
process made a virtue of that, and I was able to step outside of myself, and
only when you do that do you find out what your limits are. It made me write in
a different way, and gave me a different impetus to write.”

Such artistic emancipation may go against the grain of Brave New World's over-ridingly bleak
world-view, but Dacre sees the story itself as something similarly liberating.

“Huxley delights in contradictions,” Dacre says, “and that allows
different arguments and ideas to be discussed in a way that enables the reader
to make up their own mind. In a world where we're bombarded by social media and
stimuli of all kinds, that’s something we hope can give theatre audiences the
space to do that.”

Brave New World, Kings Theatre, Edinburgh, September 29-October

The Herald, September 22nd 2015.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The Citz at 70 – Growing Old Disgracefully

It was all too fitting that director Graham Eatough and writer David
Greig's audaciously ambitious staging of Alasdair Gray's novel, Lanark, was
playing at the Citizens Theatre on September 11th, seventy years to the night
since the Gorbals-based theatrical powerhouse first opened. Following Lanark's
Edinburgh International Festival premiere, here was an epic take on on a
magical-realist story that defies easy categorisation today just as it did when
it was first published in 1981, and which both mythologised the powers of the
imagination to change a city like Glasgow even as it defined them.

If there is a building that could be said to do something similar, it is the Citizens,
the theatre more lovingly known to several generations of audiences, actors,
directors and designers who've been inspired by the work barely contained within
its walls as the Citz.

Founded in 1943 as the Citizens Company by playwright James Bridie (Osborne Henry Mavor), gallery owner Tom Honeyman and Irish dramatist Paul Vincent Carroll, what became the Citizens Theatre Repertory Company was originally housed in the Old Athenaeum on Buchanan Street before
moving across the Clyde two years later into what since 1878 had been the Royal
Princess's Theatre. Renaming it the Citizens Theatre made a bold statement about
this new venture's intended reach, especially situated as it was in the heart
of a bombed-out Gorbals.

Under Bridie's artistic directorship, the Citz aimed in part to try and capture the spirit of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, and there was a focus on Scots dramatists such as Robert McLellan, Robert Kemp and Bridie  himself, with Kemp being possibly the earliest homegrown dramatist to adapt
Moliere into Scots. Shakespeare, Shaw, Sheridan, J.B. Priestley and J.M. Barrie
made up a stately programme.

Following Bridie's death in 1951, no artistic director was appointed for another twelve years, and during that period The Citz opened its doors to a new wave of contemporary writing, from John
Osborne's Look Back in Anger with Fulton Mackay as Jimmy Porter,  to what were then
similarly early sightings of Arthur Miller's The Crucible and Tennessee Williams
'Cat on A Hot Tin Roof.

From 1963 to 1969,the five directors who oversaw the Citz, including Callum Mill and Iain Cuthbertson, would offer portents to come as they fully embraced European theatre to their

It was during this period too that the experimentally inclined Close theatre was founded. The
Close was a 150 seat annexe that the Citz opened up in an adjoining dance-hall
in 1965 as a club in order to get around the beady moralistic eye of the Lord
Chamberlain, who was charged with censoring out of a script any perceived
lewdness or insurrectionary act. With a bar open longer than the local pubs and
members even able to get a drink on a Sunday, beyond its risqué avant-garde
programme involving the likes of Steven Berkoff and mime auteur Lindsay Kemp, it
was in The Close, one suspects, that the Citz's reputation for Dionysian excess
extended off-stage.

It is also said that the corset worn by Tim Curry in the original London production of The Rocky Horror Show was first sported by the young actor during his tenure in the Gorbals. With The Close sadly destroyed by fire in 1973, any ghosts of that era probably took such legends with

Throughout its existence, the Citz has had a remarkably stellar acting
alumni pass through its ranks. The bar was set  in these early years, with such
luminaries as Stanley Baxter, Edith MacArthur, Duncan Macrae, Fulton Mackay,
Russell Hunter and Roddy MacMillan opening the door for youngsters such as
Hannah Gordon and Tom Conti. Giants such as Iain Cuthbertson blacked up as
Othello, Albert Finney took the title role in Pirandello's Henry IV, while waves
were made in 1968 when Leonard Rossiter took the title role in Brecht's parable
on Hitler, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

Probably the Citz's most lionised era began in 1969, when a young director called Giles Havergal took the helm. Over the next thirty-odd years, Havergal, alongside his co-directors
Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse, redefined what a rep theatre could be.
Through a combination of unabashed intellectualism, a visual flamboyance that
bordered on the decadent and a taboo-busting irreverence with both greater and
lesser known  classics, the Citz became a truly European theatre.

In the first decade of the triumvirate's reign controversy was almost de rigeur, ever
since a near nude 1970 production of Hamlet that saw a dynamic young actor
called David Hayman take the lead in a show one newspaper headline described as
'Hamlet Depicted As A Gibbering Oaf', but which hungry young audiences flocked
to anyway. Hayman would become a key figure of the Citz's acting ensemble of the
era, whether playing Lady Macbeth in another controversial Shakespeare or a
myriad of classical roles.

Actor Ian McDiarmid, who played the title role in the Citz's 1971 production of Brecht's The Life of Galileo, has described the triumvirate's approach to casting as being one more responsive to personalities than more conventionally trained actors. This can be borne out, not just through
Hayman and McDiarmid, but through the likes of Gerard Murphy and Laurance Rudic,
who both made their mark at the Citz. While all were fine actors in their own
right, each came too in full possession of a star quality that has rippled
throughout the company ever since.

This approach lent itself to the Citz's bold stylistic reinventions of classic plays that chimed with the new freedoms afforded by the abolition of the Lord Chamberlain in 1968. Even if the Lord
Chamberlain had still possessed any power, the fact that Citz productions went
beyond words to make for an equally rich visual experience might have meant such
restraints would have had little effect. There may have been plenty of
adaptations an translations, usually penned by MacDonald alongside some fifteen
of his own original plays, but, with Havergal as ringmaster and madam, the Citz
was as far from a British literary-based theatre as you could get.

The visual drive of the regime came from Prowse, and it is telling that other designers he
brought in such as Kenny Miller and Stewart Laing both moved into directing
their own work, combining their Citz-sired skills to become theatre makers of
note both in and out of the building.

One of the crucial benchmarks laid down in this era too was that, despite the Citz's location in the heart  of an unreconstructed working class community, rather than patronise their patrons,
they offered up Goethe, Schiller, Marlowe, Proust and Jean Genet. This was done
too in a take it or leave it fashion which may have occasionally enraged the
city fathers, but which, with tickets available free to anyone turning up on the
night with their dole card – and in the 1970s and 1980s there were plenty-
arguably captured an entire generation of back street autodidacts. It was this
mix of Glaswegian localism and classicist internationalism that has set the tone
at the Citz ever since.

This could be seen too in the Citz's theatre in education arm. TAG (Theatre About Glasgow) was set up in 1967 as Citizens Theatre For Youth, and throughout the 1970s and 1980s as TAG epitomised the blossoming grassroots outreach and community theatre scene. A company which at
various points featured the likes of Alan Cumming, Robert Carlyle and Blythe
Duff in its ranks toured the city's schools where they performed to young
audiences, many of whom were discovering theatre for the first time. TAG
eventually grew into a national touring  theatre company in its own right before
eventually being absorbed back into its parent theatre's

Today, under the guidance of directors Guy Hollands and Neil Packham, the Citz's outreach work is
covered by the Citizens Young Company and the Citizens Community Company.

During the triumvirate's tenure the Citz continued to nurture talent, and young turks such as Pierce Brosnan, Alan Rickman, Frances Barber, Gary Oldman and Rupert Everett all cut their acting
teeth on the its stage. In Everett's case, at least, he returned several times
after finding fame on film, lending an ongoing whiff of glamour that  could
continue to attract the likes of Ken Russell starlet Georgina Hale, A Taste
ofHoney's Murray Melvin or Sophie Ward to perform in one of the theatre's two
studio spaces that had opened up.

1990 saw a revival of Pirandello's  Enrico IV for the Citz's programme to accompany Glasgow's tenure as European City of Culture in 1990. Also in the 1990 season was a production of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children starring Glenda Jackson in the title role. Jackson
returned to the Citz a year later to appear in Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes
Electra, one of the actress's final stage roles before being elected as a Labour
MP in Westminster in 1992.

The triumvirate continued their reign over a decade that saw the Citz embrace a new wave of writing via Harry Gibson's stage adaptations of several Irvine Welsh novels as well as little seen works by Mae West and Noel Coward. Then, after an astonishing thirty-four year run, Havergal,
MacDonald and Prowse – all long-standing players on the world stage by now –
finally departed the Gorbals in 2003 and 2004, with Jeremy Raison moving in as
the Citz's new artistic director.

With Guy Hollands joining Raison as co-artistic director in 2006, the Citz continued to bridge the relationship between the local and the international through the likes of an adaptation of
Ron Butlin's novel, The Sound of My Voice, a look at German playwright Franz
Xaver Kroetz's play, Tom Fool, and main stage productions of work by Tom Murphy,
Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, with former This Life star
Daniela Nardini in the cast.

It was the appointment of Dominic Hill as artistic director of the Citz in October 2011, however, that really started to build bridges between each era of the theatre's past with its bright new

One of Hill's opening statements was to cast a prodigal David Hayman
as King Lear in a programme that focussed on putting work onto a big stage. This
was the case both for his epic stagings of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment,
as adapted by Chris Hannan or Hamlet starring a brooding Brian Ferguson as the
Danish prince, in Hayman's own production of John Byrne's The Slab Boys, or for
Samuel Beckett's solo chamber piece, Krapp's Last Tape, for which Hill brought
back another golden age prodigal, Gerard Murphy, in what would be Murphy's final
stage role.

For all its past legends, myths and scurrilous stories, the Citizens Theatre's artistic sights are set squarely on the future albeit with the same knowing nods to the forces that shaped it that saw David
Hayman cast as King Lear. Beyond its current production of Lanark, the Citizens
opens up its Stalls Studio for a season of work to commemorate the fiftieth
anniversary of the Close. On the main stage meanwhile, next month sees the
opening of a major new musical play by actor and writer Paul Higgins and Deacon
Blue frontman and songwriter Ricky Ross. This marks the first collaboration
between the Citz and commercial producers, Ambassadors Theatre Group.

Beyond that, already announced for the Citz's 2016 programme is another collaboration,
this time with just opened state of art Manchester venue, Home, on a production
of Samuel Beckett's play, Endgame, which will star Coronation Street actors,
David Neilson and Chris Gascoyne.

Outside of the work itself, plans are wellunder way for a multi-million pound development that will retain the Citz'unique character while bringing its physical and technical facilities in line
with twenty-first century needs. In this respect, while on one level the
Citizens remains defiantly old-school in a world based on market forces, it
must, like Alasdair Gray's imagined Glasgow, reinvent itself anew just as the
landscape of the Gorbals has around it. Because what has made, and continues to
make the Citizens Theatre unique, is its willingness to embrace the new in all
its forms, however shocking that may be.

Commissioned by BBC Arts Online to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 2015.


Friday, 18 September 2015

The Notebook

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Two bespectacled men in identical suits and patterned maroon sweaters step onto a
wooden floor empty save for a pair of matching chairs with a bottle of water
beside each. Standing alongside each other, the two men open the brown paper
covered notebooks each are carrying, and, in unison, announce each chapter of
their back pages.

What follows in Forced Entertainment's interpretation of Hungarian writer Agota Kristof's novel concerning twin boys' experiences while evacuated to their grand-mother's farm during World War Two and beyond is a fascinatingly grotesque look at the brutal extremes survival can take.

As performers Robin Arthur and Richard Lowden read their first-person narrative as
if unveiling their joint diaries at a spoken-word night, it's as if Gilbert and
George had channelled John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos and married such an unholy
alliance to a bombed-out equivalent of Ivor Cutler's Life in A Scotch Sitting

Beyond such a Jackanory story-telling aesthetic, such absurdities move
into increasingly stranger waters, as the boys, dispassionate, precocious and
dangerously inseparable, run up against a community who grab on to anything they
can in the face of both Nazism and the subsequent Russian occupation.

Running at over two hours without a break, Tim Etchells' production, conceived and
devised with Forced Entertainment's long-standing company of six, is a grim look
at how a pair of misfits can be emotionally numbed to everyday atrocities even
more than they already are. An inherent gallows humour is heightened by a
deadpan delivery that seems to put every line in inverted commas in this child's
eye view of life during wartime that transcends its subject to become the
ultimate show-and-tell.

The Herald, September 21st 2015


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Brian Cox and Bill Paterson - Waiting For Godot

In the row of billboards on Lothian Road
in Edinburgh which act as a conduit to the capital's theatre district, the most
striking poster  features an image of two men standing side by side. Shabby
suited, bowler-hatted and somewhat officious as they appear, it is the faces
that captivate. Both lived-in and of a certain vintage, neither smiling, they
are by turns world-weary and wide-eyed, giving everything and nothing away.

In the upstairs green room of the Royal Lyceum Theatre that sits on Grindlay
Street just past the billboard-constructed conduit, the same two faces peer out
from a squishy sofa where it's dressed-down occupants sit side-by-side like
bookends. As with the billboard,  the two men look tired yet
still brimming
with accidentally acquired life.

The reason for the latter probably has
something to do with the fact that Brian Cox and Bill Paterson have just come
out of a strip lit rehearsal room where they've spent all day rehearsing
outgoing Royal Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson's  forthcoming production
of Waiting For Godot, Samuel Beckett's classic piece of existential vaudeville -
though the latter word is one they'll dispute –  which opens the theatre's
fiftieth anniversary season this week.

Cox was here back in 1965 when the
Royal Lyceum company was founded and has been back intermittently since becoming
a Hollywood star. Paterson too has continued his stage work while becoming an
equally familiar face in film and television.

In Waiting for Godot, Cox and
Paterson play Vladimir and Estragon, two gentlemen of the road waiting for the
elusive saviour that gives the play its title even as they seem to be occupying
an almost barren landscape at the end of the world. With only visitors Pozzo and
Lucky, played here by John Bett and Benny Young, to distract them, Vladimir and
Estragon have a world of possibilities ahead of them.

“We're not making it
like a double act or any of that kind of thing,” Cox says. “We're just
concentrating on the relationships and letting them speak for themselves. We're
not trying to impose any kind of comic business on it. There are comic moments
there, of course, but we're just playing straight. Apart from their own
neuroses, of course.”

Paterson picks up on this.

“They're very different
men,” he says. “There's the optimist and the pessimist, where you have the one
who sees life as possible with options and who's eager to move on, and then you
have the
other who just says we might as well stay here and see what they can
get. That's the difference that comes out if you don't add anything else and
don't impose a big concept on it.”

Concepts have become anathema to Beckett's
work ever since En Attendant Godot appeared in its original French version in
Paris in 1953 prior to Peter Hall's  English language production two years

“The play seems to have its own volition,”Cox observes. “It goes
where it wants to go. That's
its brilliance, but it's hard, because Beckett
makes certain demands, and you've just got to acknowledge them. You can't fight
them, and you can’t change them, because he's made it clear that's what he
wants, and you have to understand that.”

Paterson points out that “We get
absolute freedom apart from the one freedom we've taken a bit for
granted for
years, in that we can't change a word because we might not like it. What Beckett
does, he gives you a certain amount of, not latitude, but largesse. There's a
largesse in the play that he allows you to have your way, then he squeezes you
technically and forces you back on track. He's very unremitting in that

Paterson nails it when points out that“It's a blueprint for a very
particularly kind of mechanism. You could do endless little routines, but you
don't want to do that. Some of it might fall naturally and might work, but as
soon as you start doing it as a couple of old codgers doing a vaudeville act
who've fallen on hard times, I don't think you need that.”

Surprisingly, despite the best part of a century's acting experience between them, neither
Cox, aged sixty-nine, or Paterson, seventy, have performed Beckett until

“So would you go and see people do a play like this who've never done
something like this before?” Paterson self-mocks.

While they've not worked
much together over the last four decades, the fact that Cox and Paterson, and
indeed Bett and Young, know each other well should enable a certain

“I think it helps both with us and with Benny and with John,”
according to Cox. “The fact that we're all of an age, we all have the

“We all have the same anecdotes,” Paterson interrupts.

Cox chuckles.

“And we all have the same state of exhaustion,” he says.

As Cox observes, Beckett's insular meditations on mortality aren't a young man's

"We're actually the right age to play these parts,” he says. “A lot of
the time the people who play them tend to be too young.”

In veteran critic
Michael Billington's recently published volume, 101 Greatest Plays, Waiting
Godot was noticeably absent, with Billington opting for All That Fall to
represent Beckett. Such a seemingly controversial choice has left its mark on
Beckett scholars and actors alike, with Billington defending his choice on the
grounds that today Godot had been rendered as little more than a boulevard
comedy with no social relevance and with little room for

This was questioned by actress and Beckett champion Lisa
Dwan, who pointed out resonances which Cox and Paterson appear to have picked up

“It's a valid point of view that Billington has,” says a diplomatic
Paterson.. “You could say that the absurd humour it had in the 1950s  along with
all the other absurdists like Ionesco and Pirandello and all these guys, they've
been absorbed into the mainstream now. Waiting for Godot was going out at the
same time as The Goon Show, where you had other strange men in strange
environments saying ludicrous non sequiturs to each other.

“Then Monty
Python picked up the flame ten years later, so surrealism and non sequitur
comedy is  now part of the mainstream, and you can't stop that from happening.
But if you go back and look at it and give it a clear production, it should have
a shining light of freshness about it that shows why it was profound at the time
and has survived the test of history.”

Cox expands on this, bringing
Beckett's play bang up to date as he he points out how “We've got in
present history people crossing desolate landscapes and who have no place to be.
We're living in the middle of it, which is what Lisa Dwan picked up on so
brilliantly. These realities are still with us, the realities of
disenfranchisement and disconnection and being constantly on the move, that's
all talked about in the play. There's this sense of desolation, and they talk
about thousands of corpses.

“So there's lots resonances, but he never dwells
on them. He just allows them a moment
and moves on. And it's quite wonderful,
that aspect of Beckett, because he allows the comic and the poetic to really
exist side by side with a kind of effortlessness. But you have to get it right.
You have to get the tone right. That's the hard part, but you don't need to
reinterpret this play. You just need to get it right.”

Waiting For Godot,Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, September 18-October

The Herald, September 15th 2015


Monday, 14 September 2015


Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

"If you
don't want to see a man fall," the Proprietor of the out of season Alpine
says at one point in David Greig's stately meditation on identity, "look

Like the play it belongs to, it's a line that works on many levels. The
fall the Proprietor refers to stems from the army of intrepid would-be explorers
braving the rocks, but it also refers to the plight of the unnamed middle-aged
Man found unconscious in the snow but unable to remember anything of himself or
how he got there. A young woman, Anna, is dispatched from the British Consulate
to find out who the man is, only to fall for his world-weary charm. When another
woman, Vivienne, arrives at the hotel, a whole new world opens up about who
exactly the Man might be.

There is laughter and forgetting aplenty in John
Durnin's urbane revival  of Greig's 2005 play, which, in the courtyard of
Frances Collier's design, is rendered as a piece of broodingly ice-cool European
art-house that delves deep into the psycho-sexual drives of a suburban mid-life

In this respect, Dougal Lee's Man resembles a more debonair Reginald
Perrin, desperate for excitement and adventure beyond his humdrum world, but
unable to cut the ties that bind once he realises they're still in place. Isla
Carter's forever in motion Anna similarly seems none too sure about her own
self-image. With only Basienka Blake's Vivienne in any way sure of herself as
the accent of Mark Elstob's Proprietor flits between nations, reinvention
without borders is clearly left wanting in a forensically intelligent dissection
of the mountains we have to climb before finding ourselves anew.

The Herald, September 15th 2015


Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black, Black Oil

Dundee Rep
Five stars

The ceilidh band is already playing as the audience step onto
the bare floorboards of Joe Douglas' revival of one of the defining plays of
twentieth century Scottish theatre, and the whisky is flowing. Not as a
sweetener to encourage the smatterings of audience participation that ripple
throughout the show, but as a celebration, both of the play itself and  the
spirit of artistic and political resistance it continues to define.

performed in 1973, John McGrath's ribald melding of variety traditions tells the
hidden history of how Scotland has been plundered by self-serving capitalists
from the Highland Clearances onwards. What could so easily have been rendered as
cheeky revivalism becomes in Douglas' heartfelt production for Dundee Rep's
Ensemble company a vital statement on the world we live in now and the way very
little has changed in terms of who's ruled the roost over the last forty-two

At times its series of sketches and routines resemble a radical take on
Horrible Histories as Douglas' ten-strong cast lampoon a ghastly set of
landowning toffs, corrupt politicians and cowboy oil barons on the fiddle in all
their boss class grotesquerie. As a damning portrait of exploitation emerges,
litany of self-justification for social cleansing could have been lifted
from a Tory party memo of today.

What is most striking is that, for all the
play's consciously roughshod form, beneath its veneer is
something expertly
crafted, and when the cast sing a final song translated simultaneously from
Gaelic, it's a spine-tingling call to arms that needs to be heard across the
land right now.

The Herald, September 14th 2015


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Joe Douglas - The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil

Joe Douglas
was "Minus ten," when a rough-shod fusion of ceilidh and popular drama
together as something called The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black
Oil began a Highland charge around the nation's village halls in 1973 that would
go on to redefine Scottish theatre as we now know it.

In the forty-two years
since, John McGrath and his 7:84 Theatre Company's melding of music hall and
political commentary has become an iconic benchmark of how theatre can fuse
radical intent with populist heart in a way that has trickled down to the
National Theatre of Scotland's equally seminal production of Black Watch and

McGrath's original production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black,
Black Oil featured now well known names including John Bett, Bill Paterson and
Alex Norton in a cast that also included McGrath's actress wife, Elizabeth
MacLennan, her brother David, folk singer Dolina MacLennan and fiddler Allan

The show more or less invented Scotland's small-scale touring theatre
circuit, inspired David
MacLennan and Dave Anderson's more rock-based radical
music theatre group, Wildcat, and defined 7:84 right up to its messy end even as
it inspired a generation of working-class audiences and would-be

While the world has turned upside down several times in the last
four decades, productions of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil have
been few and far between, with the last sighted professional production being
original cast member John Bett's revival for Wildcat taking place in a marquee
on The Meadows during the 1991 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

All of which points
to why Douglas is so keen to stage his brand new look at the show at Dundee Rep
in a production which opens this week.

"I wanted to see it," Douglas
explains. "Reading it's fine, but now, especially, after the referendum and the
General Election, I wanted to breathe life into it. "

Douglas first
discovered McGrath's play while at drama school, where one of his lecturers
talked about its influence. When Douglas moved to Glasgow, the play's influence
hung even heavier when he worked as staff director alongside John Tiffany on the
latter's production of Black Watch.

"I learnt so much from John about the
play's history, and about John McGrath's notion of a good
night out and being
really populist, which John's work totally is as well,” says Douglas. “There are
so many different aspects in the play about what life is like in Scotland, and
it's so fast. John McGrath talked about fast cutting when he was working in TV,
and that's what this is like. It's like a different play every five minutes.
People just don't write like that anymore."

With a team in place that
includes fellow director Graham McLaren on design while composer Aly Macrae
provides the live soundtrack, Douglas approached McGrath's widow and life-long
artistic collaborator, Elizabeth MacLennan, who was key to the creation of The
Cheviot. MacLennan sadly passed away earlier this year, but not before passing
on some sound advice to

"She was so sharp and so insightful,"
Douglas says. "She sounded me out for my politics as much as my theatre, just
making sure everything came from an authentic place. But she was so pleased it
was happening now, and that it was happening in Dundee, where she made her
professional acting debut. I had dreams of dancing with her on the opening

The roots of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil lies in
The Great Northern Welly Boot Show, the Tom Buchan scripted, co-operatively run
extravaganza about the Upper Clyde Shipyard's work-in that made Billy Connolly a
star a year before.

After spending the 1960s writing for mould-breaking TV
cop show, Z-Cars, Birkenhead born, Oxford educated McGrath wrote plays for
Liverpool's grassroots-based Everyman Theatre, before forming 7:84 – so-named,
as surely any theatre scholar knows, after a figure in a 1966 edition of The
Economist that revealed that just seven per cent of the population owned
eighty-four per cent of the wealth. The company's first show, Trees in the Wind,
played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1971.

Wishing to extend his
populist ideas to Scots traditions, McGrath co-opted key Welly Boot Show  cast
members Paterson, Bett and Norton alongside designer and future playwright John
Byrne, who would oversee The Cheviot's ingenious pop-up book design.

before The Cheviot appeared, 7:84 were part of a blooming alternative theatre
scene that grew out of the 1960s counter-culture and post 1968 revolutionary
fervour that capitalised on new freedoms following the abolition of the Lord
Chamberlain, who previously had the right to censor  all plays.

While the
likes of The People Show and Ken Campbell's Roadshow and served up various
shades of live art, hippy Happenings or pop culture inspired anarchy, other
companies were more polemically inspired.

Feminist outfits like Monstrous
Regiment and The Sadista Sisters (the latter of whom allegedly
inspired TV
producer Verity Lambert to commission girl band based prime time drama, Rock
Follies, a show which looked and sounded like a piece of fringe theatre) toured
a loose-knit circuit of arts labs, pubs and working men's clubs.

Red Ladder,
Gay Sweatshop, the drag-based Bloolips and a myriad of others including another
7:84 offshoot, Gavin Richards' Belt & Braces company (whose soundtrack record
notably provided the first production credit for future Factory Records sound
sculptor Martin Hannett) and a myriad of others existed on a shoestring fuelled
by a contradiction-embracing stew of hedonism and barricade-jumping

In Scotland, while 7:84 and Wildcat defined their era most visibly,
with both becoming major forces before the alternative scene was co-opted by
funding body managerialists demanding a more orthodox way of operating, but
there was plenty of activity elsewhere.

While 7:84 existed with a nominal
hierarchical structure with McGrath as artistic director, other companies
operated co-operatively, with company structures making as much of a
statement as the work itself.

At the heart of this attitude was
Edinburgh Playwrights Workshop, which, rather than select work, presented
performed readings of any play that was submitted, with minimal rehearsals
overseen, not
by a director, but by a facilitator and 'outside eye'. Each
reading was followed by a discussion between the cast, audience and writer,
which, again, operated not in a hierarchical Q and A style panel-based affair,
but in a circular fashion, with each person  in the audience speaking in turn or
passing if they so chose.

Early works by the likes of Rona Munro and Peter
Arnott were first aired at EPW, with numerous ad hoc guerrila  companies formed
to take plays on to  full production.

One, Theatre PkF (Peace-keeping Force)
was founded to present the work of George Byatt, whose Prix Italia winning The
Clyde is Red imagined the people of Glasgow walking on water in a hauntingly
evocative expression of people power. Another play, Why Does The Pope Not Come
To Glasgow? (produced in 1981, three years before he did) featured a live score
by Edinburgh post-punk band Fire Engines.  The show's cast included a young firebrand named Tam Dean Burn, who would go on to
form the Workers Theatre Movement before becoming one of the country's leading

Also involved with EPW and PkF was  future SNP
MSP Lloyd Quinan. Quinan went on to form United Artists Scotland with actor Hugh
Loughlin, with the company scoring a hit with Arnott's The Boxer Benny Lynch
before focusing on work by George Gunn, including Emma, Emma Red and Black,
inspired by the life of anarchist icon Emma Goldman.

With a new generation of
radicalised post-Occupy theatre-makers such as Nic Green, Kieran Hurley and JD
Tauvedin using a multitude of forms to make politically charged theatre, things
seem to
have come full circle.

“I think the play is totally right for now
and feels brand new,” says Douglas of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black
Oil. “Things are very similar now to how they were when the play was first done.
There was the 1979 referendum and Thatcherism to come, and now here we are again
after another referendum and a Tory government in Westminster, so things really
have come full circle.

“You've had things like the National Collective and
all these artists collaborating and combining as a unifying force, which is what
theatre's all about. Some people say you can only really create great art when
there's a Tory government, and I really hope that's not true. Hopefully we're in
a time now that can break that circle.”

The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, Dundee Rep, September 9-26.

The Herald, September 8th 2015


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Stones in His Pockets

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Four stars

Marie Jones' tragicomic dissection of cultural colonialism by a predatory
Hollywood film shoot in rural Ireland first appeared in Edinburgh in 1999 en
route to the West End and Broadway. At that time, the so-called Celtic Tiger
which had  reinvigorated the Irish economy and the film industry that went with
it so spectacularly was in its final throes of unfettered largesse. More
recently Ireland's landscape has provided a suitably fantastical backdrop for
Game of Thrones, though the sentimentally inclined sentimentalising of tradition
continues to prevail elsewhere.

Jones puts her story in the hands of
down-on-their-luck film extras Jake and Charlie, played
by two actors who
proceed to unveil a cast of thousands, from the last surviving veteran of The
Quiet Man to the American starlet feeding off the local colour. Through this
device, a very serious statement is made about the relationship between art and
commerce using an apposite and ingenious shoestring aesthetic.

McCrone's production for the Mull-based Comar organisation casts McCrone and
Barrie Hunter as the play's thrown together double act on Alicia Hendrick's busy
set of movie lights, coat racks and a solitary patch of Earth at its centre.
From here, the full vainglorious ridiculousness of a parasitical ego-led
industry is laid bare, no more so than through the suicide of seventeen year old
drug addict Sean, thrown out of his local pub and onto the scrap

Somewhere out of all this Jake and Charlie emerge triumphant, seizing the
moment and the means of production en route to a state of independence in a play
that damns its subject matter even as it reclaims the heart of a local community
beyond it.

The Herald, September 7th 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

Document Scotland – The Ties That Bind

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, September 26th-April 24th 2016

One of the main legacies of the 2014 Scottish Referendum will be the multitude of images from all sides that document the pains and the passions of one of the country's pivotal political moments of the twenty-first century thus far. With this in mind, it's only fitting that some kind of collective response is gathered.

Step up photographers Colin McPherson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Sophie Gerrard and Stephen McLaren, who as Document Scotland have pulled together some fifty to seventy-five images of Scotland and its people from the front-line to commemorate the first anniversary of such a seismic event.

It is this sort of thing that makes documentary photography so evocative of moments great and small as the human hearts behind those moments are framed in a way that both historicises and mythologises them in the best senses of both words.

While a patina of politics is inherent in such an undertaking as The Ties That Bind, there is no polemic here, with the artists showing off a range of viewpoints that hang together in a way that goes some way to capture the messy diversity of a mongrel nation in flux in glorious fashion.
The List, September 2015


Thursday, 3 September 2015

All My Sons

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars

If war
is a curse, pity the official opening night of Rapture Theatre's new touring
revival of Arthur Miller's post World War Two dissection of the business of bad
government. Not only was actor Paul Shelley temporarily indisposed from playing
the play's pivotal character, Joe Keller, requiring company member David
Tarkenter to step into the breach, but midway through Act Two, actress Trudie
Goodwin, leading a crucial scene as Joe's self-deluding spouse, Kate, passed
out, causing the action to be halted for several minutes before the curtain
raised once more.

While both unfortunate incidents made for an understandably
uneven evening, they also lent a certain edge to proceedings, so that by the
time we get to a funereally played last act, the tension is palpable to

Prior to that, things had started off in a wonderfully sunny American
suburbia, where Joe and Kate's forced niceties barely hide how Kate pines for
her pilot son, who went missing in action three years before. With surviving
offspring Chris hitting on Larry’s former girl Annie, daughter of Joe's former
business partner, Steve, who took the rap for offloading some dodgy airplane
parts while Joe went free.

Miller's timebomb of a play put families at war in
a way that saw them caught in the crossfire of warped capitalism and downright
lies that the American Dream was built on. Plus ca change in Emans' brooding
production, in which Tarkenter and Goodwin both prove themselves heroic in a
timely revival that can't help but point up how the real war criminals get away
with mass murder while the little guy becomes the people's patsy.

The Herald, September 4th 2015

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Danny Krass - Kind of Silence

What does music mean when you can't hear it? That was one of the questions composer and sound designer Danny Krass asked before making Kind of Silence, his new piece of theatre for the Solar Bear theatre company, which opens in Glasgow this week. Loosely drawn from the legend of Echo and Narcissus, which featured in the third book of Ovid's Metamorphosis, Kind of Silence fuses physical theatre and choreography with state of the art technology that enables Krass and co to explore the relationship between them all in a deaf theatre context.

“It's quite a strange thing to be a sound designer on a deaf theatre production,” Krass points out, “and whenever I've done it I've always considered my role to be about making things accessible for a hearing audience. I've worked on a couple of shows for deaf people, which is I suppose where the initial idea for Kind of Silence came from. It always made me think about communication in different ways, and how you might look at that through sound and through theatre.

“Of course, there's never time to look at such fundamental questions when you're doing a show. You're far too busy sorting out the immediate problems, but those questions were always at the back of my mind in the first show I did, then during the second show, Smokies, I came across a piece of kit called a Sub-Pac, which rather than doing what a loud speaker does, which pushes air, it just vibrates into the body. That's interesting, as because it's not audible, you can create work which in principal gives the same experience for both hearing and deaf performers.”

When Krass approached Solar Bear with his ideas about the Sub-Pac, as Scotland's premiere theatre company working with deaf actors and audiences, artistic directory Gerry Ramage became understandably excited by such a prospect.

“Solar Bear programmed something without any of us really knowing what it was,” says Krass. “All we really knew was that we wanted to make a performance that, rather than having different aspects of it accessible to hearing and deaf audiences in different ways, to make something that would be accessible to hearing and deaf audiences together.”

Krass enlisted choreographer Chisato Minamimura, designer Kai Fischer and a mix of deaf and hearing performers to what evolved into Kind of Silence. Krass also brought in Australian musician and electronic auteur Alon Ilsar, who had developed his own state of art piece of electronic percussion, AirSticks. For all this hi-tech conceptualism, it is Echo and Narcissus that contextualises Kind of Silence with a very human pulse.

“There's not a lot of language there,” Krass explains. “There's a lot of choreography, and a lot of visual music, and we ended up with a deaf performer who's really excited about music, and a deaf choreographer who's interested in working with music, but doesn't really listen to it. Echo and Narcissus kept coming up, and that dichotomy between a character who was stuck in a visual loop and a character stuck in an aural loop became really interesting.”

Krass has become a prolific figure in Scottish theatre since moving here from Australia in 2007, and has worked alongside some of the country's more inventive talents. As well as working with Solar Bear, Krass has provided sound design for Catherine Wheels on Stuck, The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk, White and Kes, with Shona Reppe on The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean and Huff, and with the National Theatre of Scotland on assorted off-kilter projects.

Krass has also worked at Traverse Theatre on Quiz Show and The Artist Man and the Mother Woman, and has just come off the Edinburgh Festival Fringe run of Stef Smith's play, Swallow.

“I'm a collaborator, I suppose,” says Krass. “That's what attracts me to theatre. With film it's less of a collaboration. I've not done a single show in Scotland that isn't a piece of new or devised work, and with something like The Voice Thief or Huff, the sound is essential to what happens onstage, but people perhaps don't think about it in the same way they might with a straight soundtrack, and if I'm doing my job properly they don't even notice it. If I wanted to do capital M music I think I'd be working in a different sector.”

Krass recently worked at the Royal Court Theatre in London with the theatre's associate director Hamish Pirie, who previously occupied a similar role at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, on an NHS-based play, Who Cares.

“That was a promenade show,” says Krass, “and it made me think, because I've done The Voice Thief, Huff, The Tin Forest and The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish, which were also promenade pieces, and I just wondered if I'm just the promenade go-to guy now.”

Kind of Silence is the first of three initiatives by Solar Bear that take place over the next month, as the company's artistic director, Gerry Ramage, directs a new play by Nina Raine, Tribes, while the following week Solar Bear host Progressions 2015, an international celebration of deaf arts. As Krass points out about Kind of Silence, however, “We're not making a show about deafness. It's more about the relationship between movement and sound, and that opens up a lot of questions about my own practice.

“It's the first time I'm directing a show,” Krass says.”That's not necessarily because I want to be a director, but is more to do with me probably being the only person who wants to explore these ideas in this way. At times the moments of unity and difference that come out feel quite magical and uncanny.

“Because of the nature of the piece, we've had to have an open attitude to things in terms of what the experience might be, and I think that will relate as a collection of things. My hope for it, and the spirit of it, is that it's a bunch of people coming together to try and understand each other better. That's what we're reaching for, and if people can see that we're reaching for something, and if we don't quite get it, that's okay. It's a very human thing what we're doing. Personally, whenever I see a piece of theatre I always ask if it's something I can experience in a new way, and that's the benchmark for my own work as well.”

Kind of Silence, Platform, The Bridge, Glasgow, September 3-4, then on tour to Inverness, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Ayr, Greenock. Tribes tours from September 17-22. Progression 2015 takes place at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 24-25.

The Herald, September 2nd 2015