Friday, 27 February 2015

The Effect

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

What does it mean to be love sick? Lucy Prebble's award-winning play, first seen at the Royal National Theatre in 2012, explores this painful question through two couples confined in very different ways by clinical drug trials in a medical testing centre run by a tellingly named pharmaceutical company. Connie and Tristan arrive as strangers, but within hours find themselves attracted to each other in a way that might just be chemically enhanced. Lorna and Toby, meanwhile, are the doctors overseeing Connie and Tristan's trial, and whose uneasy shared history dictates everything that follows.

As Connie and Tristan's terminal flirtation eventually spills over, so Lorna and Toby come to redefine their relationship through a series of double bluffs which have devastating consequences for them all.

The inner landscape Prebble explores in this fascinating dramatic analysis of chemistry, biology and sheer physical and mental desire is the sort of material that one might expect to be dissected in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror series of one-off TV dramas. Richard Baron's revival of Prebble's play for the Borders-based Firebrand company squares up to the heart and soul of the matter with a quartet of ferocious performances that render much of the digitally animated projections unnecessary distractions.

As the younger pair, Scarlett Mack and Cameron Crighton get fully to grips with Connie and Tristan's adolescent yearnings in a way that counterpoints beautifully with Pauline Knowles and Jonathan Coote's more grown-up pairing as Lorna and Toby.

“This is a storm,” says Toby to a prone and possibly medically dependent Lorna towards the play's end. “It passes.” For some, maybe, but for those like Lorna addicted to love, probably not.
 
The Herald, February 27th 2015
 
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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Twelve Angry Men

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The scales of justice hang heavy in stark black and white on the gauze through which the murder jury sit in the shadows at the start of this touring revival of Reginald Rose's post courtroom classic, first seen as a television play before being made iconic in Sidney Lumet's big screen debut in 1957. Christopher Haydon's production, first produced by Birmingham Rep before becoming a West End hit, casts Tom Conti as the anonymous Juror 8, initially the sole dissenter of a pack intent on sending a young boy of colour to his death in what initially seems a cut and dried case.

As the facts are gradually revealed over the next two riveting hours, they also lay bare an assortment of everyday prejudices and knee-jerk notions of law and order fuelled by ignorance, fear and self-loathing.

It's not hard to recognise contemporary universal parallels in Rose's play, which burns with claustrophobic heat in the shabby room of Michael Pavelka's set, where the jurors pace about as if they're the ones on trial or else already incarcerated.

Conti's world-weary understatement as the play opens is a deceptive foil to his fellow jurors as he quietly but determinedly changes everybody's mind. While unexpected gales of gallows humour ripple throughout, it is the ferocious bluster of Denis Lill's Juror 10 and especially Andrew Lancel's fierce turn as Juror 3, lashing out at his own estranged son by proxy, that defines the production. At the play's heart is a noble belief that truth, justice and the American way are still ideals to aspire to, however much they may sometimes be corrupted.
 
The Herald, February 25th 2015

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Alexander and Susan Maris – The Potter's Field / Tim Sandys – Damocles / Kenny Watson – Last Rites

Lust and the Apple, The Old School House, Temple, near Gorebridge until April 19th
Four stars

It's all too fitting that the outside lights weren't working on the opening night of this new venture from Paul Robertson, the iconoclastic former curator of Summerhall, whose sudden departure from the former Royal Dick Veterinary School in August 2014 has yet to be explained. Situated in the former primary school of a Midlothian village fourteen miles south of Edinburgh and steeped in Knights Templar folklore, Lust and the Apple's opening triple-headed hydra of shows appears tailor-made to cope with electrical gremlins, and seeing the work in the raw and partly shrouded by the blackest of night skies enhances rather than denudes their sense of public ritual.

This is evident from the moment you enter the old school's car park to be greeted by six helium balloons suspended in mid-air, each with a wooden spike pointed firmly downwards. As indicated by the spikes already embedded in the earth, when the balloons burst, the spikes will plummet downwards without warning.

This is Damocles, a new installation by Tim Sandys, which reworks the Greek myth of power, responsibility and the constant state of dread imbued with both, for a prevailingly precarious state of twenty-first century doom. That the inflatables that hang above us are themselves in the hands of gravity gives any visual sense of party-poppers and other such fripperies a grotesque sense of foreboding flapping in the wind.

In terms of narrative thread, in the unlikely event of prosecution for any of Damocles' potential impalings, in Lust and Apple's world they may well end up Suddenoakdeath, Kenny Hunter's wooden approximation of an electric chair which sits on the schoolhouse garden in the shadows as part of his all too appropriately named 'Last Rites' compendium of sculptures and paintings.

Perhaps it was here that the nine classical Muses lined up in pretty graves all in a row in Alexander and Susan Maris' 'The Potter's Field' were shocked into submission, sizzling spiritual inspiration to a crisp before being laid to rest. But these are paupers graves, simple mounds of earth, each one candle-lit by night and marked with only a piece of white quartzite from the Knights Templar linked Perthshire based mountain, Schiehallion.

As for survivors, they're more likely to be found indoors in the schoolhouse itself, even if a less pronounced but still tangible air of (self) negation permeates throughout. This is best seen in the main room largely devoted to Watson's paintings, where, besides the window, the lid of a small metal box bears the legend, 'PERHAPS ALL PLEASURE IS ONLY RELIEF'. The quote is from novelist, junky and explorer of altered states, William S Burroughs. Inside the box is a set of works for cooking and shooting up heroin.

The rest of the room is a infinitely brighter affair, with some of Watson's drip paintings leaving patterns down the walls like candy-striped wounds making a bid for freedom. The room's centre-piece, however, is Intermission, a billboard sized splash of movie iconography in which poster girl starlets who might just be some auteur's muse are immortalised in triplicate. For the debut of Lust and the Apple, this umbilically linked three-way split of life, death, transcendence and renewal is the perfectly dark entry to a potential cult in the making.
 
The List, February 2015

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Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Florian & Michael Quistrebert - Visions of Void

Dundee Contemporary Arts until March 22nd
Four stars

White light, white heat and pop art fun palaces are what initially spring to mind as one enters this biggest UK display to date by the French-born Quistrebert brothers to a mind-bending projection of op-art geometric patterns beamed onto canvas in a pitch-black room. Such black and white counterpoints in what is styled as Stripes 2 (2013) gives off the image of a well turned out chill-out room designed for sensory disorientation and altered states in ways many of DCA's shows have explored over recent years.

In the main gallery there is plenty of space left between the paintings that make up the Overlight series (2015), on which are daubed thick-set layers of modelling paste mixed up with coatings of either gold, chrome or gold chrome. Inside these already shiny surfaces are embedded tiny LED lights, both coloured and clear.

Parked next to each other, with two next door using a gritty powder used for high visibility road markings, each resembles a mould of a car boot or the base of an Airfix diorama upended and hung vertically. In the corner, the projected shapes of The 8th Sphere (2010) conjure up an array of occult-based conspiracy theory symbols against silver painted walls that look like retro-futurist cave paintings of Illuminati pyramids and the like.

For simulated sacrifice, one could immerse oneself among the flickering screens of Void Fires (2015), however hard it may be for home-grown viewers of a certain age to avoid replaying the opening credits of hammed-up 1970s TV thrill-fest Tales of the Unexpected. The fact that, far from the noise, smoky breath and rock and roll excesses of any maddening crowds that might easily illustrate it, the Quistreberts' work is shown in silence without soundtrack speaks volumes of a more attentive approach required to reflect on what's on show beyond its shiny surface.

The Quistreberts have already been championed by ultimate transgressive art star Genesis Breyer P-Orridge in his/her essay, Shadows and Mirrors. Here the siblings' psych-punk titled show is supported by the Institut Francais d'Ecosse in Edinburgh, who are showing a trio of the pair's geometrically inclined short video works under the name Amnesiac cisenmA in tandem with Visions of Void.

Back at the DCA, once all demons have been silently dispelled, one could go and hide from the fray in the gallery's small ante-room, where, again set against silver-painted walls, the jet black paint spray of the tiny Soue-Bois Vertical (2010) is tucked in the corner of what could easily be the bedroom of two teenage brothers flirting with their dark side from sulky adolescence to the spaced-out beyond that fuels them.
 
The List, February 2015

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Jenny Sealey - Blood Wedding

In the Sun-filled rehearsal room on the top floor of Dundee Rep, a tender scene is being played out. On the floor, two young lovers are declaring undying devotion to each other. “We'll never ever leave each other,” the young man utters earnestly to his heart's desire as they hold on to each other, albeit somewhat gingerly. “My body is yours. Your body is mine,” he says, with her repeating his words back at him.

Watching over the scene alongside assorted stage managers and crew is a woman who appears to be dressed in a pair of checked pyjamas. While choreographer Mark Smith negotiates the couple's movements as actors Miles Mitchell and Amy Conachan repeat the scene several times, the woman eventually can't help herself, and, as the “My body is yours” lines are being spoken, moves into the playing area and puts Mitchell's hands firmly onto Conachan's breasts. “Touch each other,” the woman says out loud.

The woman is Jenny Sealey, who since 1997 has been artistic director of Graeae, the theatre company founded in 1980 by disabled actors Nabil Shaban and Richard Tomlinson. They wanted to put on theatre in a way that didn't discriminate against disabled actors, but put them at the centre of the action rather than marginalising them. The play being rehearsed is Blood Wedding, Federico Garcia Lorca's steamy tragedy of doomed love rendered in what might possibly be an even more full-on take on things in a new version by David Ireland. Hence Sealey's intervention.

“It's about sex,” says Sealey on a lunch-break as a sign language interpretor relays questions to her, “and sex is about grabbing. You can't be modest.”

Graeae, named after the Greek myth of three sisters who possessed one tooth and one eye between them, paved the way for other disabled theatre companies, and are now regarded as one of the best purveyors, not just of disabled theatre, but of theatre per se. Much of this is down to Sealey, an artistic force of nature who has been profoundly deaf since she was seven years old.

Graeae were last in Dundee with Sealey's production of Reasons To Be Cheerful, a musical inspired by the work of of Ian Dury, who had been struck down with Polio as a child, and whose song, Spasticus Autisticus, was banned by the BBC. Sealey had earlier collaborated with the Suspect Culture company on the play, Static, and her production of Blood Wedding is being co-produced by Graeae, Dundee Rep and Derby Theatre.

Given this context, the young lovers words mouthed by Mitchell and Conachan about each other's bodies is given fresh resonance, especially as Mitchell is a non-disabled actor of colour, while Conachan is disabled.

“We had a development week early on,” says Sealey, “and as it happened the woman playing the mother was deaf, and I started to realise that the relationship between a deaf mother whose son is her main form of signing contact, to lose him is even more profound. She's already lost her other son and her husband to murder, and now she's losing her son who is alive, but she's losing her communication asset, so that moved things to another level.

“Sometimes Graeae makes a choice to refer to people's physicalities and impairments,” Sealey points out, “and sometimes it really doesn't, but because the deafness of the mother is so profound in this it felt appropriate that people's physical differences or ethnicities were mentioned, and that became part of our territory, so there are no elephants in the room.”

This looks set to be the case too in terms of playing style, in which signing and audio-description are woven into Ireland's script, which relocates the heat and dust of Lorca's play to the sticky claustrophobia of a city. The former is a methodology which Sealey has applied to other Graeae works, ever since she directed Steven Berkoff's version of The Fall of the House of Usher with the numerous stage directions being spoken by the actors.

“Maybe it has become a signature thing,” Sealey says, “but with Graeae our work has to be signed and have audio description every night, and with The Fall of the House of Usher we hardly had any money and could only afford three actors. I wrote to Steven Berkoff and asked if we could have actors say his stage directions. That was when we realised the theatricality and sense of ownership in doing that.”

Ownership is something that came to the fore during Sealey's tenure as co-artistic director of the much lauded London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony. While this spectacular event saw disabled artists move into the mainstream like never before, Sealey has found what has happened since a frustrating experience.

“For my team of fifty professionals who took part in the opening ceremony, I thought the world would be their oyster” Sealey says, “but the only people who rang up months later were Channel 4, asking if any of them wanted to be on their programme, The Undateables.”

Sealey recalls several audience members at Graeae's production of The Threepenny Opera who said that if they'd realised it was being performed by disabled actors they probably wouldn't have gone to see it. Even closer to home was the language used by head-hunters who had approached Sealey with a view to her applying for the then vacant post as artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

“The head-hunter asked me whether I would want to continue to audition deaf and disabled people and why, and was Scotland ready to see deaf and disabled people on stage.”

Given the success of companies such as Birds of Paradise, who Amy Conachan recently appeared with in hit show The Wendy Hoose, and learning disability based company Lung Ha's, the question was a strange one. Especially given that only a few years ago Theatre Workshop in Edinburgh instigated Europe's first fully integrated theatre company that featured a semi-permanent ensemble of disabled actors. Sealey withdrew her application anyway.

Despite such setbacks, things have moved on for Graeae and other disabled artists. The fact that theatres such as Dundee Rep and Derby are co-producing Blood Wedding is itself a statement.

“There's been a real shift in the the word diversity,” Sealey says, “and deaf and disabled people are part of that. It's not solely about ethnicity. So theatres have really started taking it seriously, but there's still a long way to go.

“The last two years have been an uphill struggle,” she says, “and that was why doing a play ;like The Threepenny Opera was so important now. It's not just about the effects of austerity culture. It's saying, hang on a minute, we're not going to be sidelined. Doing Blood Wedding is equally important for the same reasons. We're not going away.”

Blood Wedding, Dundee Rep, March 4-14, then on tour to Derby Theatre, March 17-28, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, April 1-3, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, April 8-11,New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, April 14-15, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, April 21-25.
www.dundeerep.co.uk
 
The Herald, February 24th 2015
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The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Before the opening of Mark Thomson's new production of Bertolt Brecht's late-period masterpiece, seen here in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, the large ensemble cast begin to mill about the auditorium. Dressed down in jeans and hoodies, they chat with the audience as they enter, or else warm up their accordion playing in the box seats above Karen Tennant's expansive set, left wide-open with pianos and a drum kit arranged around a gallows and some pillars.

As a plummy-voiced civil service type attempts to foster social engineering in a war-ravaged village, Sarah Swire's rock diva narrator breezes onstage, and the villagers become a multi-tasking musical theatre troupe, playing out the plight of servant girl Grusha, who flees an uprising with her Imelda Marcos-like mistress's forgotten child after pledging herself to soldier Simon. With Grusha's survival dependent on others, her story eventually gives way to that of Azdak, a village eccentric turned accidental judge, who must decide the fate of both Grusha and the child her blood mother wants returned.

With the business of bad governments at a global premium just now, there is no better time for a production of Brecht's epic, which Thomson invests with warmth and sensitivity rarely seen in Brecht. With much of the cast cross-dressing with Monty Python style glee, Christopher Fairbanks' court-room shenanigans borders on Carry On, while Amy Manson invests Grusha with a heady
vulnerability.

It is Claire McKenzie's live score, however, that powers the narrative, and Swire leads the cast with a mix of punk folk fury, Country laments and out and out swing in an all too necessary display of strength through joy.
 
The Herald, February 25th 2015

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Monday, 23 February 2015

The Fair Intellectual Club

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When a white-clad young woman lights a set of candles at the opening of Lucy Porter's sleeper hit of the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, she ushers us into a very different age of enlightenment to the world history normally allows us privy to. Our hosts, after all, are Polyhymnia, Thalia and Clio, the three founder members of The Fair Intellectual Club, a female-led secret society operating in Edinburgh in the early eighteenth century as a counterpoint to the men only hellfire clubs and salons that proliferated at the time.

As our three fiercely intelligent graces engage with each other as much of their brand new world of history, philosophy and big ideas, their intellectual endeavours are only distracted by affairs of the heart, the wild new indulgence of chocolate and a looming matrimony which, as is so often the case, may break up the gang forever. Or not, as the case may be in what looks like a pre-cursor to the free university movement.

Revived by the Stellar Quines company with the original cast, Marilyn Imrie's production serves up Porter's charming treatise on self-determination with a froth that isn't afraid to show off its author's stand-up roots in a more formal setting. Samara MacLaren, Caroline Deyga and Jessica Hardwick hold court like Greek goddesses en route to a getting of wisdom that goes beyond mere book-learning. Their thoroughly modern ideas owe more to the sass of Girls than Sex and the City's terminally vacuity. As Polyhymnia blows out the candles a final time, the trio blaze a trail for both in a delightful meditation on truth, beauty and the power that comes from embracing both.
 
The Herald, February 23rd 2015

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Friday, 20 February 2015

Design in Motion

Travelling Gallery, Dundee until February 27th, then touring Scotland
Three stars

It's appropriate that the opening dates of this seventeen week, seventy-eight venue bus-bound pre-show to the forthcoming V&A Museum of Design Dundee's purpose-built waterfront takeover are where they are. Flanked on one side by the Caird Hall, which once doubled up as a Moscow theatre in John Schlesinger 's 1983 TV film of Alan Bennett's An Englishman Abroad, and Tony and Susie Morrow's statue of DC Thomson's comic favourites Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx on the other, such monumental icons demonstrate exactly how the local could go global in a pre-digital age.

Back on the bus, meanwhile, five artists and two studios showcase wares drawn from fashion, textiles, jewellery, gaming and software in an understated array of state-of-art displays. 3D is all the rage throughout, most notably via Anarkik3D Ltd's duo of Ann Marie Shillito and Xiaoqing Cao, whose Cloud9 software makes for an appositely touching display. Digital Design Studio's real-time 3D captures of five of Scotland's UNESCO World Heritage Sites, meanwhile, takes you behind the scenes, and does for digital design what the Caird Hall did for Russia.

Elsewhere, vintage and classical art is reinvigorated by new ways of working. Such is the case with Holly Fulton's intricately patterned flapper-like frocks, which look akin to a hi-tech House of Elliot, while ancient and modern are combined again in the light and shade of Digital Lace, Sara Robertson & Sarah Taylor's painstakingly enhanced textiles.

Game Designer Sophia George's filmed show-and-tell of her William Morris-inspired creation, Strawberry Thief, offers up a pastoral alternative to Grand Theft Auto while also laying bare the collaborative nature of the game-making process. Lynne MacLachlan utilises computer design and 3D printing to pop out a line of primary-coloured retro-futurist accessories, while Geoffrey Mann offers up a more meditatively inclined study of a moth at rest and in motion as it orbits around a lit bulb in this bite-size trailer for the V&A's interactive fun palace to come.

The List, February 2015

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Jekyll and Hyde

Perth Concert Hall
Three stars
The stage seems to be taking deep breaths at the start of the Sell A Door company's touring production of Jo Clifford's reimagining of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic split personality tale. If such amplified rumblings sound like they've been dredged up from Quatermass's pit, such allusions to dark futurescapes are all too fitting in Clifford's version, set in an shiny 2020 where all the measures right-wing fundamentalists aspire to have been set quietly in stone, steel and glass.

Here cancer specialist Dr Jekyll is a celebrity saviour, a publicity-hungry charity runner who, away from the cameras, can't control his desires. Once he tests his wonder drug on himself, the rush of testosterone turns such everyday abuse into something even more predatory. Jekyll's alter-ego Mr Hyde is like a feral werewolf on heat, at one point humiliating his prey in what looks like a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey rendered as music hall.

The latter-day parallels aren't hard to spot in a rich text which leaves nothing hidden as actors Nathan Ives-Mioba, Lyle Barker and Rowena Lennon introduce their characters to the audience. Clifford says much about how a self-serving establishment can become high on their own presumed power while obliterating their essential humanity within. David Hutchinson's production, set on a revolving steel platform that represents the sort of soul-less apartment the filthy rich hide out in, aspires to cartoon-strip science-fiction, as Hyde's increasingly cyborg-like appearance shows.

As the final scene makes clear, however, it is the women who are forced to keep their true selves hidden, even as they mop up the man-made mess left behind.
 
The Herald, February 20th 2014

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Jo Clifford and Morna Pearson - Two Very Different Jekyll and Hydes

When the Sell A Door theatre company's touring production of Jo Clifford's futuristic take on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde opens in Livingston tonight, theatre regulars could be forgiven for doing a double take at the schedules. Clifford's version, after all, arrives just a month before another new version, this time by Morna Pearson, appears in a production by the Lung Ha's company in association with Drake Music Scotland.

Both playwrights take radical but very different approaches to Stevenson's classic split personality tale, which has seeped into mass consciousness by way of numerous interpretations of the story on stage, film, radio and television. Where Clifford has reimagined the story in an oppressive futurescape where Dr Jekyll is recast as a high-flying cancer specialist testing a new drug, Pearson has kept her version in a Victorian locale, but has chosen to relocated it to Edinburgh. Here she focuses on young Miriam Jekyll, a rebellious young woman trying to break free from her family's refined New Town restraints.

“Setting it in Edinburgh makes it feel like home in a way,” Pearson explains of her approach to the story. “The backdrop of the city is quite theatrical, which is part of why I've kept it in Victorian times as well. That allowed me to explore some of the ideas and scenes in the novel through a Victorian girl in the middle of childhood and womanhood, and the overnight change that occurs. She's in the middle of being conditioned into what she's told a woman should be, and the play looks at how overwhelming that can be for her and how she has no outlets to express herself anymore, and that's where Hyde comes in.

“There's a lot going on inside the family, and everyone's got a secret to hide, but Miriam finds a big appeal in the Old Town, where people are allowed to express themselves and be more honest and open.”

Clifford originally thought her version too would be set in Victorian times, but his characters begged to differ.

“They wouldn't speak to me from that period,” she says. “They were speaking to me from a time a little bit in the future or maybe in an alternate universe, in which all the most reactionary elements that are happening in our world today had somehow gained the ascendency.

“Women's rights have been set back. Homosexuality has been recriminalised. The libel laws have been changed so you can't get prosecutions of figures like Jimmy Saville, and capital punishment has been reintroduced. So in some ways it's hi-tech, but in other ways it's quite a derelict and distressing society.

Stevenson's story was originally inspired by Deacon Brodie, whose double life as a burgler, gambler and womaniser seemed to sum up the dichotomy between Edinburgh's respectable veneer and the dark underbelly beneath. Such hypocrisy is even more pronounced today, as Clifford points out.

“We live in a society in which people are really encouraged to detach themselves from their actions,” she says. “So Tony Blair can order a war that's illegal, and can still have the position of a middle eastern peace envoy. David Cameron can preside over an unbelievably cruel and vindictive government, and still call himself a Christian. It's as if it's somebody else is doing all the bad things while they remain good people, and it's as if Stevenson saw this.”

Pearson too recognises the universal modernity of the story.

“I suppose everybody identifies with it in some way,” she says. “There are examples of Jekyll and Hyde everyday on the news, with all these men in suits being hauled up in court. One of the reasons I was drawn to making it about a young woman was to do with the conflicting and confusing messages that are put out about what it means to be a woman and an adult.

In terms of explorations of duality, both Clifford and Pearson's dramas come in part from very personal places. As a transgender woman, Clifford talks about how as a man she had to keep her female side hidden “in a box, and the more you try and hide something away,” she says, “the more it wants to come out.”

A rare moment of liberation came in a late night viewing of the Hammer studio's 1971 big screen sexploitation feature, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Apart from throwing all its Victorian myths into one basket by having Jekyll hire Burke and Hare while Hyde is recast as Jack the Ripper, Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell's script had Jekyll transform into a female Hyde.

“That was an extraordinary moment for me,” Clifford says. “I remember watching it on TV very secretly very late at night, and it kind of expressed so many of my feelings at the time of being transgendered.”

For Pearson, any sense of liberation comes through the writing itself.

”If anyone saw any of my plays they might think I was quite wild and confident,” she says, “when outwith my writing I'm really quite shy, but I can say and do things on a stage which I'd never dream of doing in my real life.”

Pearson has has tried to avoid most other versions of Jekyll and Hyde.

“I've seen a couple of films,” she says, “and they seem to focus on the abuse of women. A lot of entertainment today seems to be about the abuse of women, so mine tries to take things in a completely different direction.”

Much of the tone of Pearson's piece looks set to be expressed in Caitlin Skinner's production by crucial contributions from Drake Music, as well as choreography by artistic director of Curious Seed, Christine Devaney.

“The darkness of the story is probably what drew me to it,” Pearson says, “but there's comedy there as well. It's quite irreverent, and I wouldn't claim to be faithful to the original, more inspired by it.”

Clifford similarly isn't shying away from the story's larger than life elements.

“To see that transformation is such a theatrical pleasure,” she says, “and I really wanted to give the audiences that, but I also want to scare people. I hope my play is frightening and shocking in places, but also that it's funny, tender and compassionate, with a little glimmer of hope at the end.”

Jekyll and Hyde, Howden Park Centre, Livingston, tonight, Perth Concert Hall, tomorrow, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Thursday, Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock, Friday, Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, Saturday. The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 19-21, Dundee Rep, March 25.



The Herald, February 17th 2015
 
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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Slab Boys

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The black and white portrait daubed on the cupboard door of A.F. Stobbo's carpet factory slab room sums up everything in David Hayman's revival of John Byrne's play that changed so much in Scottish theatre when it was first seen in 1978. Here is the original rebel without a cause who already crashed and burned by the time the play opens in 1957, but who, looking down like a god and painted in a pop art style, points to the cultural revolutions to come for working class wannabes like Spanky and Phil, the fast-talking heroes of Byrne's play.

Dean's image is a bridge too between the drab greyness of the cramped slab room and the customised splashes of colour which Spanky and Phil have adorned their work-place with on a set designed by Byrne himself with a sculptor's eye for detail. It's as if his subjects' lives are bursting out of their post-war restraints with a rock and roll abandon born of frustration as much as ambition.

The play itself charts a day in the life of Byrne's hapless pair alongside fellow slab boy Hector and university educated new boy Alan as they dodge the wrath of designer Plooky Jack Hogg and tyrannical boss Willie Curry, the latter played by Hayman himself with stiff-backed thunder. The assorted shenanigans that follow involving the elaborate humiliation of Scott Fletcher's Hector may be the stuff of Ealing comedy, but this is no one-dimensional cartoon. There are a welter of everyday tragedies at play here, which both define and drive those caught in the crossfire of the ordinary madness around them.

As Phil and Spanky, Sammy Hayman and Jamie Quinn spark off each other like razors, their easy banter a baroque mix of back-street slang and acquired Americana. Each pines in vain for Lucille Bentley, played by Keira Lucchesi as a high-heeled Venus with op-art stylings, while there is a fine comic cameo from Kathryn Howden as tea lady Sadie, who masks her own pain behind a gallus front in this most deadly serious of comedies.
 
The Herald, February 16th 2015

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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Return to the Forbidden Planet

King's Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When pipe-smoking Dan Dare-alike Captain Tempest suggests that “It's a trick we might just get away with” in the twenty-fifth anniversary production of Bob Carlton's smash-hit musical, he may be talking about reversing the polarities to save the universe, but it may as well be a mission statement for the show's entire trip. Here, after all, is a play that not only fuses the 1956 science-fiction B-movie reimagining of Shakespeare's The Tempest with a blistering live rock and roll soundtrack, but throws in some hippy-inspired counter-cultural philosophy laced with a soup├žon of feminist theory for good measure.

None of this may be immediately apparent when Queen's guitar-playing astro-physicist Brian May opens Carlton's Queens Theatre, Hornchurch production with a filmed prologue that sets the tone of comic book kitsch that follows. By the time Joseph Mann's high-kicking robot Aerial has digested Dr Prospero's mind-expanding formula while Jonathan Markwood's Prospero himself is forced to confront the monsters of the id, however, the show's fringe theatre roots are definitely hanging out.

By this stage we've been treated to Sarah Scowen's Miranda leading an a capella Teenager in Love, while Mark Newnham's love-lorn Cookie steals the show with an astonishing version of The Zombies She's Not There. Top and tailed by Edmund's 'bastard' speech from King Lear, it morphs into Nirvana's Come As You Are by way of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze and back again. Elsewhere, Christine Holman as the ship's mysterious Science Officer channels her inner Patti Smith on Them's Gloria, while Scowen blasts The Byrds' Mr Spaceman into orbit as a Tina Turner style soul stomper in a show that remains the ultimate retro-futurist mainstream pop-art mash-up.

The Herald, February 11th 2015

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John Byrne and David Hayman - Reviving The Slab Boys

One afternoon in the late 1970s, John Byrne turned up at the Citizens Theatre canteen in Glasgow to see actor David Hayman. At that time, Byrne's first play, Writer's Cramp, had been a hit at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, though Byrne was still best known as a painter and set designer. Hayman, meanwhile, was the mercurial young star of the Citizens acting ensemble who was about to play Lady Macbeth.

Over a cup of tea, Byrne handed Hayman what he called a present. Byrne told Hayman it was a new play he'd written, and which he wanted him to direct. When Hayman read what turned out to be The Slab Boys, it was a revelation.

Byrne's tale of Phil McCann and Spanky Farrell, a pair of Paisley teddy-boys with artistic ambitions beyond A.F. Stobo and Co's carpet factory and a mutual eye on Lucille Bentley - the femme fatale of the factory floor - after all, wasn't what Hayman was used to.

“I'd been acting in all these reinterpretations of the classics,” he says, sitting besides Byrne in the foyer of the same Citizens Theatre almost forty years later.“Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Troilus, Nijinsky, all of that, and suddenly I've got a piece of work that reflects my culture, my background, my longings, my dreams, my aspirations, and tears ran down my face. I was deeply moved and deeply excited by it. I'll never forget that day.”

Byrne had already recognised an affinity with Hayman enough to seek him out.

“We'd come to the Citz and seen David onstage,” Byrne remembers, “and he was the only Scottish guy, and the only working class guy, I presumed, in the company, and he was the only director I knew. I'd seen him as an actor and thought he was wonderful, and I knew he could do it. I had total confidence in him.”

Byrne's confidence paid off, and Hayman's 1978 production of The Slab Boys at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, featuring the late Gerard Kelly and Billy McColl as Spanky and Phil, went on to change theatre in Scotland forever. Its tragi-comic depiction of working class youth cemented the reputations of both Byrne as a dramatist with a flair for baroque pop-culture derived exchanges, and Hayman as a director of verve with an instinctive understanding of his fellow actors as well as Byrne's text.

The Slab Boys went on to spawn two sequels, Cuttin' A Rug and Still Life, which charted what Spanky, Phil and Lucille did next and which made up what became known as the Slab Boys Trilogy. A fourth play, Nova Scotia, appeared in 2003.

With both men now regarded as masters of their chosen crafts, Byrne and Hayman are in the midst of revisiting The Slab Boys for a very special revival that opens this week to coincide with the Citizens Theatre Company's seventieth anniversary.

“It's always had a dear place in my heart, The Slab Boys,” says Hayman, “and indeed the trilogy, because it was four years of my life. I can remember the way the original lines were delivered. I can remember the original inflections, but what I didn't want to do was repeat it in any way. Both John and I agreed that we had to start afresh and treat these people as brand new characters who we know nothing about, and start from there. We're also discovering other aspects of the play that maybe didn't come out before. Everyone says it's a lovely fluffy comedy, but there's a dark side to it. There's savagery in there.”

Byrne nods his agreement.

“That's the way you go out feeling, rather than feeling it when it's happening,” he says. “It only dawns on you afterwards, and I heard so many people coming out afterwards, especially the women, saying my God, I don't believe I was laughing at that, and that's the whole point of it, to make them laugh for two and a half hours. That's your defence mechanism, humour. There's no point in self pity.”

Hayman's revival of The Slab Boys arrives onstage at a time when serious concerns are being expressed about how today's working class youth can access artistic careers in the way that Byrne's characters, and indeed Byrne and Hayman themselves, were able to do.

“We've both got similar stories, John and I,” says Hayman. “He started off in the slab room with dreams of being a painter., and I started out as an apprentice in the steelyards with dreams of being an actor. His mammy was mad, and my great granny died screaming her head off in a loony bin in a straitjacket. So there's lots of things that we share which have impacted on each other, and that makes it easier.”

Byrne points out that “there's a lot of things which people have been spared, because you don't have to explain them. And thank God they've been spared. It's what makes you. I lived that life, and not only survived it, but triumphed, and thank God I had that life. You don't get the life you ask for. You get the life you've got.”

As the likes of David Morrissey and Julie Walters have pointed out, there is a fear that economic restraints will leave a new generation of Spankys, Phils and Lucilles undiscovered.

“It is difficult,” Hayman admits. “It costs you £70 to even have an audition at drama school, so where are working class kids going to get the money for that? Already the industry's against you. Not only is that much easier for the posh boys, but the privileged are also running the broadcast corporations and film companies, and the writers come from the same backgrounds, so they're creating work for their own particular class. So even if you do break through the barriers and manage to scramble up the greasy pole, are the opportunities there for you? When we were younger there were all sorts of working class dramas, but now you rarely see them unless you're working in soap operas.”

Hayman paraphrases legendary trade unionist Jimmy Reid, who pointed out that behind every tower block window could be an aeroplane pilot, a Formula 1 driver or an artist.

“What I love about this play,” says Hayman, “is its aspiration. The last line of the play is one of the greatest lines ever written. These guys are at the arse-end of the industrial process. There's one door into the slab room, which is a nightmare. It's hell on earth, but there's this guy dreaming of being something bigger, something better, something richer, something different. I hope that will be inspirational for young people coming to see it who can believe they can do something.”

Like Hayman, Byrne retains that same fiery determination that helped him become the great artist he is.

“If you want something like that,” he says, “there's nothing on earth that will stop you achieving that. Nothing. There's no barrier. There's no thing you haven't been through already.”

“There's nothing to help you,” says Hayman, “but there's nothing to stop you either.”

The Slab Boys, Citizen's Theatre, Glasgow, February 12-March 7; King's Theatre, Edinburgh, March 10-14.

www.edtheatres.com

The Herald, February 15th 2015

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Friday, 6 February 2015

The Sexual Objects

Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh
Thu January 29th
Five stars

“This song is side 1, track 3 of our new album in case anybody's not
heard it yet,” drawls Davy Henderson from behind Factory-issue shades
introducing the wiggy wonders of his song, 'Kevin Ayers'.  The joke
being, of course, that unless the mystery bidder who paid £4,213 in an
eBay auction for the sole vinyl copy of the Sexual Objects' second
long-player, Marshmallow, is in the room, none of the hundred or so
mixture of the faithful, the curious and the recently converted
squeezed into Sneaky Pete's bijou confines are likely to have heard a
note of it.

The punchline of this conceptual gag is made even better by Henderson's
louche delivery and baroque phrasing. As with all his between-song
asides, this  makes him sound like a charisma-blessed distant relation
of 1970s TV gangster Charles Endell Esq doing a Lou Reed stand-up
routine. Which, even without the songs, is sheer performative joy.

This Thursday night triple bill for the UK-wide Independent Venue Week
may have been the last of Sneaky's shows to sell out, but it was
arguably the one that mattered most. Henderson, after all, is a key
figure in the original Sound of Young Scotland, ever since his band
Fire Engines harnessed the energy and adrenalin rush of the new sound
of now with a thrillingly primitive reinvention of pop-art post-punk.

Henderson went on to the high-production gloss of Win, before coming
back down to earth with the dark noir of The Nectarine No 9. Throughout
such adventures, snatches genius inspired by Marc Bolan, Prince and
Todd Rundgren could be heard in album-loads of parallel universe smash
hits that forged the sunshine-dappled pre-punk swagger of The Sexual
Objects in 2008.

Seven years on and following game support from electro-pop duo Miracle
Strip and the punk-funk agit-pop of Snide Rhythms, with the night
magnificently framed by a pre and post-show soundtrack of John
Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, a veritable
rock and roll circus ensues.

It creeps up on you quietly, as Henderson, sporting a t-shirt bearing
the legend, 'Cream Split Up', which also gives the SOBs the title of
their forthcoming 10” instrumental supplement to Marshmallow, hunches
over his guitar eking out the fragile little guitar patterns that open
'Shadow of A Jet Plane.'

By the time Henderson's plaintive vocal creeps in, the room is pin-drop
quiet, only to be blasted into orbit when the band kick in with a
four-man vocal line that's part terrace chant, part call and response
doo wop.

The following Cincinatti Blooms and the aforementioned Kevin Ayers,
both from Marshmallow, reveal a band on fire, the three guitar
frontline twisting and turning their way through a set of complex
arrangements, each texture given a fresh rawness in a live setting.

Henderson's own wig-outs, which he invariably delivers from  a kneeling
position or else punching the air with peace signs, are given depth and
weight by Simon Smeeton's acoustic, while Graham Wann offers up some of
the most tasteful lead playing since Malcolm Ross twanged his way from
Josef K to Orange Juice and beyond. All this is given sass and verve by
the throb and bounce of Douglas Macintyre's bass and Ian Holford's
drumming.

While things slow down for the velveteen melancholy of Marshmallow's
title track, this is a pick and mix set, with selections from the SOBs
2010 debut album, Cucumber, included, as well as two cuts from Cream
Split Up. The latter allow full vent for guitar heroism on Fenella
Fudge, while the tellingly named Ron Asheton, named after the late
Stooges guitarist, provokes beer cans to be shaken and a brief burst of
pogoing. The fact that such a response comes from former Fire Engines
and Win drummer Russell Burn while watching out front gives things an
even more visceral edge.

Despite the titles and lyrical reference points to Davy Graham and
Judee Sill, the SOBs go beyond homage or hero worship to make such
tropes their own, often blending several decades worth of
glam-beat-punk-arama into the same song. In this way, the material from
Marshmallow and Cream Split Up blends in seamlessly with the three
Nectarine No 9 songs they play, effectively covering themselves with
versions of Saint Jack, Walter Tevis and a final This Arsehole's Been
Burned Too Many Times Before.

This is, was and ever shall be how rock and roll should be, and anyone
who witnessed The Sexual Objects tonight should treasure every second
of what might well have been the greatest show on earth. Because,
unless the presumably proud new owner of Marshmallow chooses to release
it into the wider world, they may never hear these awkward little
masterpieces again. Over to you, mystery bidder.

The List, February 2015


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D. Gwalia – The Iodine Trade (Elizabeth Volt Records)

Three stars

D. Gwalia has cut a shadowy figure around the unsung sidelines of Edinburgh's myriad of low-key music scenes. Originally from Wales before taking a peripatetic path to Oxford, Gwalia's cracked folk and strung-out gothica was first heard on his 2010 debut, 'In Puget Sound.' This follow-up digital-only release charts even starker terrain in a bleak compendium of scratched-out song collages and apocalyptic portents which conjure up the strung-out ghosts of post Pink Floyd Syd Barrett at his most insular, all whimsy lost.

This is most evident on the opening 'A Day Out', in which a sparse but insistent electric guitar pattern is eked out behind a Mogadon choir-boy vocal. 'Vamp', which follows, is Bauhaus' 'Dark Entries' rewritten for the troubadour age. A martial drum-beat adds to the mood of 'Annihilation Pair' before ushering in the muffled spoken-word narration of the album's title track, which sounds like free-associating ransom note confessionals transmitted through a broken walkie-talkie.

The austere music-box backing to the similarly styled 'Alan's Machine' sounds even more menacing, while a sepulchral piano guides 'Illuminations', a collaboration with composer James Young, author and former keyboardist with ex-Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico during her late-period Manchester years.

All of which conjures up the wayward spirit of the Virgin Prunes, Gavin Friday's wild-child collective of grotesque misfits who mixed up their demented brand of dressing-up box industrial noise-making with the messy shriek of performance art. Here, however, Gwalia sounds abandoned, left foraging in the dirt of a Ballardian nothing-scape inbetween spitting out spiteful little whispers in corners while busking to no-one after dark.

A buzzing fly is swatted at the start of the deathly cook-book incantation of '400°F', and 'Darling Where's My Nuclear War?' is possessed with both the acoustic guitar melody and sense of ennui of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'. Finally, 'Sleeping in Abandoned Cars' is a wordless nine-minute electronic chirrup through the aftermath of a blast where seeking shelter is not an option.

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What next for the Creative Scotland losers?

When Creative Scotland announced their regular funding decisions towards the end of last year, it showed just how much Scotland’s arts funding quango hasn’t changed since the appointment of a new set of administrators following the departure of its previous incumbents at the end of 2012.


While the decisions highlighted justified winners, including the likes of Vanishing Point and Grid Iron theatre companies, as well as contemporary music producers Arika, 28 organisations who received funding in 2014-15 were declined regular funding for 2015-18. Those who missed out included Scottish Youth Theatre and Untitled Productions, whose show Paul Bright’s Confessions of A Justified Sinner has been lauded at home and abroad. Untitled have announced that the company is being left dormant for the foreseeable future, while Scottish Youth Theatre is to receive funding directly from the Scottish Government for the next three years, in the run-up to Scotland’s Year of Young People in 2018.

 

Others who didn’t make the cut included three major Edinburgh galleries – Stills, Talbot Rice and Inverleith House – as well as Artlink, a vital community-based body that provides access to arts for disabled individuals. Neither Aberdeen’s pioneering sound festival of contemporary music nor Live Music Now Scotland, which takes performances to vulnerable people in the community, will receive funding from 2015. Both the Royal Lyceum Theatre and Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, meanwhile, received substantial cuts that will affect future programming.

 

How these companies survive may require some genuine creativity. It may result in a grassroots culture that learns to operate outwith the institutions – and which arguably already exists in lo-fi ventures such as Edinburgh’s 30-seat Discover 21 space, the Embassy and Rhubaba galleries, in LeithLate and the Village Pub Theatre, all of which receive little or no public subsidy, but which create increasingly vital work despite this.

 

Nobody working in the arts is under any illusion that an imposed austerity culture is the cause of the current round of cuts, but Creative Scotland’s top-down philosophy doesn’t help. This is something that needs to be addressed by the organisation’s incoming chair Richard Findlay, a man who, as former chair of bodies including the National Theatre of Scotland, STV and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, arguably has more experience in Scotland’s arts scene than Waverleygate’s tranche of senior managers combined.

 

There are some eminently qualified people working at the coalface of the organisation to enable artists the best they can, but it still isn’t clear who makes the decisions. Ultimately, instead of fostering a culture of competition that creates a scenario of winners and losers as a business might do, Creative Scotland needs to allow artists to lead the way while they get on with the business of administrating, enabling and serving those artists while arguing harder for extra resources. That way, major organisations such as sound, Artlink and Live Music Now and won’t be left struggling to survive.
 
The List, February 2015
 
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Manipulate - Unchained / Tristissimo / Autumn Portraits

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
“A little illumination always brings more light.” So says the puppet-sized music hall ham who's just tunelessly regaled us in Autumn Portraits, Eric Bass' meditative compendium on mortality for the American Sandglass Theater. Bass' show was the quietly grand finale of Wednesday's programme for this year's Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival, in which illumination came in spades.

The evening opened with a double bill of work by two very different companies. The first, Unchained, saw the aerialist duo Paper Doll Militia in a black and white world where one of them is encased in a tent-like cage which is raised ever higher as their boiler-suited other half cuts through the ribbon-like bars to rescue them. Set to a clanging industrial score, the pair become mirror images of each other in an exquisite physical display before the tables are truly turned.

This was followed by an extended version of Tristissimo, a contemporary interpretation of Tristan and Isolde's doomed love story performed by Italy's CEC company, whose central couple open things naked apart from elaborate blonde wigs. As things contort their way out of shape, war rages and the male sings Nick Cave's The Ship Song while his beloved dances her way backwards to oblivion.

Autumn Portraits opened with an image of the puppeteer as a harlequin-masked mischievous god, getting his charges to perform tricks or else lulling them into resignation, as Bass did with his old

Jewish shoe-maker in the most moving of his six vignettes. Japanese warriors may have mourned their demons, but it was the music hall guy's final piece of audience orchestration that breathed fresh life into a moving and slyly witty display of humanity.
 
The Herald, February 6th 2015

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Thursday, 5 February 2015

To Kill A Mockingbird

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars
Whatever the facts behind this week's announcement that novelist Harper Lee is set to publish Go Set a Watchman, a novel presumed lost for fifty-five years and featuring a grown-up version of Scout Finch, the narrator of her much-loved debut, there is no better time to stage To Kill A Mockingbird. Especially when it is such a poignantly evocative take on Lee's story as it is here in Timothy Sheader's touring production, which visits Edinburgh and Aberdeen following this week's Glasgow run of a piece originally produced by the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London.

It opens with twelve actors lining the stage wearing modern dress, reading the opening pages of Lee's novel in their own accents from the books held open before them. As each steps in and out of character, lining either side of Jon Bausor's wide-open set throughout as Luke Potter plays his live acoustic guitar score, this opens out Lee's treatise on tolerance and justice using her own rich words alongside Christopher Sergel's sturdy adaptation. It also conjures up a 1920s deep south community damaged by poverty, prejudice and a culture of blame, as Scout, her brother Jem and their friend Dill witness the trial of innocent young black man Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman.

At the play's moral centre is Scout's lawyer father Atticus, played with quiet compassion by Daniel Betts. There are similarly exquisite performances throughout, with three astonishing turns from Ava Potter, Arthur Franks and Connor Brundish, one of three teams of children playing the leads in a heart-rending and unmissable plea for justice in a cruel world.

The Herald, February 5th 2015

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Dead Simple

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
Property developers take note. Be careful who you cut deals with, both
in business and pleasure, or else you might end up like the hapless
pair at the centre of Peter James' best-selling thriller, adapted here
by Shaun McKenna and directed by Ian Talbot for a stage version
co-produced by James himself. One minute Michael and Mark are making a
cool five million, which they've carefully lodged in a Caymans Island
account while shooting the breeze concerning Michael's impending
nuptials to Tina Hobley's drop-dead gorgeous Ashley. The next, Michael
finds himself six feet under in the local forest after an elaborate
stag night prank goes tragically awry.

Enter James' regular copper in chief Detective Superintendent Roy
Grace, who just made the headlines after putting faith in a doting but
underwritten Medium rather than foraging for clues the old-fashioned
way. With his sidekick DS Branson in tow, Gray O'Brien's Grace somehow
navigates his way calmly through a plot that also features a socially
anxious young man who's seen too much CSI, as well as Ashley's American
uncle before spotting who the real bad guys are. And yes, his discovery
is again in part down to Sarah Baxendale's devoted Medium.

All of which is tailor-made for the sort of prime time sedative TV most
of the cast have either escaped from or are en route to as they signal
every plot twist with a one-dimensional roll of the eyes that just
stops short of a wink. While there are enough double bluffs and cheap
thrills to keep the uninitiated guessing, including one carefully
placed shock-moment, this harmlessly ridiculous affair is probably for
James fans only.

The Herald, February 5th 2014




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Bob Carlton - Return to the Forbidden Planet

When Bob Carlton first devised a late-night rock and roll show with the
actors he was working with  in a tent run by a London fringe theatre
company, he never thought that its mix of science-fiction, Shakespeare
and a live band would have a life beyond its short run. As it is,
Return to the Forbidden Planet  is about to embark on a twenty-fifth
anniversary tour which touches down in Glasgow next week and Edinburgh
shortly afterwards.

The latest outing of this commercial smash-hit may be commemorating its
Olivier Award winning West End run, but it already had a colourful
life, first at the London Bubble Theatre, then later at the Everyman
Theatre in Liverpool, when Carlton revived it in 1984.

“I never thought it would go on so long,” says Carlton today of a show
inspired by 1950s sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet, which was inspired by
Shakespeare's The Tempest. “I went to do a show at the Bubble, which
was then being run by Glen Walford, and once we'd done the main show,
we started doing this late night thing with 1960s songs. That was our
vintage, and we used to dramatise the songs. Then when I took over the
Bubble, I decided to link the stories, and that became The Hubble
Bubble Band Show. That did ever so well, and then the band suggested we
should develop it into a full-length show, and that became Return to
the Forbidden Planet.”

By that time, Walford had moved to the Everyman, which had focused on
doing popular theatre for local audiences in Liverpool since its
inception. If her plans to do a musical of classic wild west film,
Shane, hadn't come up against the stumbling block of rights issues,
Return to the Forbidden Planet might not have gone into orbit in quite
the same way.

“Glen gave me the confidence to do Forbidden Planet again,” says
Carlton, and it was so successful that we had to bring it back again.”

Forbidden Planet's next port of call was at the Tricycle in Kilburn,
where artistic director Nicholas Kent had been recommended the show by
actor Alfred Molina, who had been playing Macbeth at Liverpool
Playhouse, just down the road from the Everyman,.After that, as
Forbidden Planet developed into something slicker and bigger, the West
End and numerous commercial tours beckoned. This current tour will
feature an appearance by Queen guitarist and noted astrophysicist Brian
May in virtual form.

While arguably an early example of a jukebox musical long before such a
term was used, Return to the Forbidden Planet is also a text-book
example of how subsidised theatre can feed into the commercial sector
with a vast economic return.

“One of my big arguments when people start talking about how arts
funding should be cut, and of course schools and hospitals should be
funded, is that this one show has earned more money for the exchequer
than every grant combined that the Bubble ever had.”

Originally from Coventry, one of Carlton's earliest theatre experiences
was seeing hippy musical, Hair, a show that broke the mould in much the
same way Forbidden Planet did.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Carlton says today. “Just the fact that
the actors held microphones was different, so you didn't know if it was
a play or a gig, and that was really inspirational for Forbidden Planet.

Carlton was in charge of the London Bubble between 1979 and 1984. In
1997 he became artistic director of the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch,
stepping down in 2014. During his time in Hornchurch, run on a
traditional repertory model and brought back into rude health by
Carlton after being threatened with closure before his arrival, Carlton
has witnessed a decline in the once thriving English regional theatre
network. His departure also comes at a time when young theatre artists
are embracing a fringe theatre aesthetic once more, reinventing it for
the twenty-first century.

“Things are going back to that, he says, “and I'd like to say it was
because of all that great creativity that existed in fringe theatre in
the sixties and seventies, but in fact it's to do with economics. All
the funding cuts that are happening now means a lot of people who are
doing theatre aren't getting paid, so it's not for good reasons that
this is happening. The arts need funding properly today more than they
ever have before.”

As for Carlton, he's off to pastures new.

“I've got to an age where I want some new adventures before I'm too
old,”he says as he prepares to fly out to Philadelphia to direct a new
production of Noel Coward's Private Lives once he's put Forbidden
Planet back on the road. He'll be back,though, returning to the show
that made his name for the next tour, and the next one.

“I'll be doing Forbidden Planet until I pop my clogs, I hope,” he says.
“It's interesting when a producer comes in and wants to do it now,
during a time of austerity, because it's just people having a ball up
there, and is perfect for these times, because people need that.”

Return to the Forbidden Planet, King's Theatre, Glasgow, February 9-14;
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, March 10-14.
www.forbiddenplanetreturns.com

The Herald, February 4th 2015


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