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Showing posts from June, 2015

A Little Night Music

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

It's not hard to see the appeal of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's musical waltz through the mating game that so captivated Broadway on its 1973 debut. From teenage dreams to mid-life crises and beyond, it is sex that drives its action, after all. It may be set in 1900 Sweden, but it remains a text-book study of a neurotically self-absorbed generation coming to terms with the trickle-down possibilities the sixties brought in its wake. This much is clear from John Durnin's stately revival, beyond the chocolate box veneer of Charles Cusick Smith's set which puts the full compliment of Pitlochry's acting ensemble into the frame. All this with great songs to boot.
This is laid bare once the dressed-up chorus gathered round a baby grand give way to the play's principal players, who let off steam with the opening salvo of Now, Later and Soon, as the frustrations of middle-aged lawyer Fredric Egerman, his teenage virgin …

Elizabeth MacLennan Obituary

Elizabeth MacLennan

Actress

Born March 16th 1938; died June 23rd 2015.


Elizabeth MacLennan, who has died aged 77 following a short illness, was an actress of great passion, whose presence on stage and screen demanded attention. As one of the co-founders with John McGrath and her youngest brother David MacLennan of 7:84 Theatre Company, who blazed a trail touring the Highlands in the now seminal 1973 production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil, she was also at the vanguard of a theatrical revolution. The resonances of this are currently influencing a brand new generation of politicised theatre-makers in the face of the business of bad government.

In partnership with her life-long personal and professional comrade and soul-mate McGrath, MacLennan was at the forefront of applying traditional art-forms to make serious political and theatrical points that created a new form of ceilidh theatre. With McGrath and MacLennan serving as each other's inspiration, MacLennan appe…

Love's Labour's Lost

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars
The hunt is on in the first offering from this year's Bard in the Botanics season of outdoor Shakespeares, with one of his lesser spotted rom-coms leading the charge. Gordon Barr's promenade production opens with Constable Dull cast as a red-neck parkie navigating the audience up hill and down dale. Here King Ferdinand of Navarre and his preppy band of brothers sport donnish gowns to make lofty proclamations of abstinence for three full years while they get themselves some qualifications.
When the fair maids of France come calling necking airline miniatures and with their smalls hanging out to dry, the rugby shirts go on but the gloves are off as temptation looks like getting the better of the stags if not the hens. Throw in Kirk Bage's Daliesque Spanish rogue Don Andriano and a couple of chavvy servants and it looks like the casts of Made in Chelsea and Geordie Shore have been rounded up and cast incongruously adrift on Love Island.�…

Frantic Romantics - Alan McCredie, The Shrimptons and How Brit-Pop Lost Owt

In the early 1990s, Baggy may have been on the verge of morphing into Brit-Pop, but in Edinburgh's bohemian Stockbridge district, something was stirring in the form of what can now be seen as a missing link that had absolutely nothing to do with either of those era defining musical movements. Nor indeed would it.

Weaving together a mish-mash of musical incongruity that defied both style and substance, The Shrimptons burst onto St Stephen Street, where Velvet Underground vocalist Nico had once held court and where Punk Rock's luminaries once played, to massive indifference. Like all prophets in their own land, however, The Shrimptons were both ahead of and seriously behind the times.

In a parallel universe, and with something resembling decent management instead of the shifty, dole queue lowlifes who attached themselves to the band, bumming drinks and favours off anyone who'd have them along the way, they could have been contenders. As it is, all that is left of the Shri…

Edinburgh festivals 2015 highlights

Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner

When Stewart Laing's Untitled Projects, who were recently turned down by Creative Scotland for Regular Funding, brought this meticulously observed show to the stage in 2013, it ostensibly told the tale of a radical young theatre director who staged a production of James Hogg's novel, Confessions of A Justified Sinner, in the 1980s before vanishing from an increasingly safe artistic scene. In actual fact, its mix of film footage, archive material and a performance by actor George Anton tapped into a hidden history of underground theatre-making in Scotland that reclaimed it in the most playfully inventive of manners. Already acclaimed internationally, Paul Bright has now been picked up by the Edinburgh International Festival for dates in the Queen's Hall, a venue integral to Anton's story. Edinburgh International Festival, Queens Hall, August 19th-22nd


Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour
When Alan Warner's Saltire Society…

The Lady in the Van

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

If the former World War Two ambulance driver who camped out in a yellow-painted Humber in Alan Bennett's Camden garden for fifteen years until her death in 1989 had been around today, chances are she would have been carted off a lot earlier than she is in Bennett's quasi-autobiographical look at truth, artifice and how we care for each other.
The woman Bennett knew as Miss Shepherd arrives in the neighbourhood at the fag-end of the sixties like a leftover from the Bloomsbury set by way of the squatters paradise of alternative London. With Bennett represented by two actors, both facets of his split personality collect people's personal tics as material, even as he divides his time between his ageing mother and this other psychologically bombed-out presence who defines him.

Led by strong central performances by Jacqueline Dutoit as Miss Shepherd and Mark Elstob and Ronnie Simon as the two Bennetts, Patrick Sandford's productio…

Jerry Mitchell - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Jerry Mitchell had never watched the film of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when he was asked to choreograph David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane's stage musical of the Frank Oz directed 1988 big screen vehicle for Michael Caine and Steve Martin. That was back in 2004, and by the following year the American born dancer turned director and choreographer was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Choreography on the show's original Broadway production, which ran for some 626 performances.

A decade on, and Mitchell revisited the show for a UK production which he both directed and choreographed on the West End. With the production being nominated for an Olivier Award, again for Best Choreography, Mitchell jetted in to London in April to attend the award ceremony in-between overseeing rehearsals for a touring version that arrives in Glasgow tonight prior to dates in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

Oz's original caper movie about a couple of middle-aged con artists competing to scam wealthy women on t…

Home and Beauty

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

What to do when the war is over and Johnny, or Bill in the case of W Somerset Maugham's quietly subversive comedy, doesn't come marching home? With Bill missing presumed dead for three years and World War One's hostilities long since done and dusted, frippish coquette Victoria does what any nice gel would, and gets hitched to Bill's best friend Fred. The allure of one man in uniform is one thing, but when Bill turns up on her doorstep, Victoria's accidental polyandry becomes an awfully big adventure for all, even as Fred has his sights set on a blonde stenographer while Alan J Mirren's silver-tongued charmer Leicester Paton is currently finding more favour with Victoria than either spouse.
Written in 1915 and first seen onstage four years later, Maugham's deceptively frothy affair keeps its own amused council regarding its greater intent, even as it winks at those in the know. There are hints of this in Richard Baron'…

Test Dept – Still Raging Against the Machine

When iconoclastic 'metal-bashing' auteurs Test Dept reconvened in 2014 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the UK-wide Miners Strike as part of the Newcastle upon Tyne based AV Festival of art, film and experimental sound and music, it was an emotional experience. Rather than play live to reclaim the band's provocative fusion of martial percussion and constructivist inspired stage shows that recycled the scrap metal ruins of industrial Britain into an impassioned and visceral form of oppositional spectacle throughout the Thatcher years, Test Dept chose to take audiences on a boat trip and give them a film show.

DS30 was a thirty-minute collage of archive footage pulled together by Test Dept's Brett Turnbull that charts the history of the mining industry and the communities that worked in it, through to the bitter unrest during the strike and Test Dept's own presence throughout it on their 1984 Fuel To Fight tour. With the sturm und drang of Test Dept'…

Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream 1977-82

Imagine a record label that turned down Joy Division. Imagine if that record label had already turned down The Cramps. Now imagine a feature-length documentary charting the wayward history of Scottish indie music that doesn't mention Glasgow until some thirty-eight minutes in.

Such expectation-confounding contradictions are the driving forces behind Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream 1977-82, Grant McPhee's new meticulously sourced filmic dissection of Edinburgh's world-changing post-punk scenes which has its world première this weekend at Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Ten years in the making, Big Gold Dream charts the legacy of Bob Last and Hilary Morrison's short-lived Fast Product label, which put out the first records by The Mekons, Gang of Four, The Human League and Dead Kennedys, as well as Edinburgh's original post-punks, Scars. With only occasional diversions to Glasgow, where Alan Horne founded Postcard Records to…

The Driver's Seat

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When a young woman about to go on holiday finally reaches the end of her tether, her largely male colleagues indulge her, only laughing at her seemingly highly-strung antics once she's out of sight. So it goes for Lise, the enigmatic heroine of Muriel Spark's 1970 novella, a chronicle of a death foretold brought to life here in Laurie Sansom's adaptation for his own National Theatre of Scotland production.
Clad in vividly clashing candy-stripes as she takes a plane to an un-named European city, Morven Christie's Lise is forever in transit and in search of her own soul more than the potentially dangerous liaisons she never quite embarks on. As her movements are forensically mapped out and dissected by those left in her wake, an elusive, barely there portrait emerges, not just of Lise, but of a psychologically and sexually repressed society barely coping with its apparent new liberties.

All this is is played out by Sansom…

The Siege

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Bethlehem is a holy place. This is something the Church of the Nativity's tour guide makes clear when he steps from the audience in the Palestine refugee camp based Freedom Theatre's production of Nabil Al-Raee's new play, created and directed with Zoe Lafferty, which closes its UK tour at the Tron this week. But it can be other things too. It is in the church's confines, after all, where a group of machine-gun wielding young men seek sanctuary from a hostile Israeli army intent on desecration of a different kind.
Inside, amidst sporadic bursts of gunfire, the men noisily hold their own alongside a smattering of priests, nuns and others caught in the cross-fire of a very unholy war. As the men settle in for the long haul, tensions rise and fall, with a sense of solidarity coming from gallows humour as much as the soul-sapping fatalities and concerns beyond themselves that eventually sees them acquiesce to their captors and the exile t…

F.F.S

Glasgow School of Art
Five stars

As concept-driven theatrical art-pop collaborations go, there are few more perfect than this year's hook-up between rejuvenated glam/disco/electro oddballs Sparks and Glasgow-sired quartet Franz Ferdinand, whose own fusion of dancefloor-driven jauntiness and lyrical archness has never shied away from its debt to the Mael brothers fabulist canon.
With a tour pending that includes a sold out date at this year's Edinburgh International Festival, it was only fitting that such a super-group made its full live début at FF's spiritual alma mater. Fanfared on by the plastic triumphalism of the theme from Blake's 7, this unholy black-and-white clad alliance gallop into a salvo of songs from this year's eponymous album, with Franz's Alex Kapranos and Sparks' Russell Mael trading vocals and hamming it up on frantic and frenetic future gay club classics like Johnny Delusional as if their lives depended on it.

At moments they're the S…

Dominic Hill - The Citizens Theatre's Autumn 2015 Season

The announcement of the Citizens Theatre's forthcoming autumn season has been something of a gradual affair this year. While the shows scheduled by Citz artistic director Dominic Hill have been regularly revealed on the pages of the Herald, this year much of the season is already out there.

Both David Greig's new version of Alasdair Gray's epic novel Lanark and Vox Motus' revival of their show for young people, Dragon, will be seen at this year's Edinburgh International Festival prior to their Glasgow dates, while this year's Christmas show, Rapunzel, is also in the public domain.

Three very special parts of the Citz' autumn programme, however, are revealed here for the first time. First of all, the Glasgow-based Solar Bear company will present Progression, an International Celebration of Deaf Arts, set to run over two days in September.

Secondly, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of The Close, the Citizens Theatre's ill-fated expe…

Blood

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Two teenagers meet at college. In a gloriously gawky, awkwardly unromantic fashion, he asks her out to Nando's. She returns the favour, but quite rightly won't take any of his nonsense. With their affair played out in plain sight of their disapproving families, the star-crossed young lovers carry on regardless. Coming from a tight-knit inner city Pakistani community that's as prone to gangland bullying and brutal misogyny as any insular society, Caneze and Sully must face ever higher stakes in Emteaz Hussain's punchy and street-smart riff on Romeo and Juliet for Tamasha and the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.
There are beatings, mad dashes to airports and suspicious reconciliations in Esther Richardson's fast-moving production, played out by just two actors on designer Sara Perks' stacked up shanty town of a set as Caneze and Sully go on the run. As their world closes in on the couple, with all the hormonal mess of conflicting lo…

Grace Schwindt - Only A Free Individual Can Create a Free Society

Tramway, Glasgow until June 7th
Four stars

It's significant that a curtain of rainbow-coloured strips form the entrance to Tramway 5 for the looped screening of German-born artist Grace Shwindt's feature-length film dissecting the ideological legacy of post Second World War Germany's strand of left-wing activism. It not only suggests an element of pageantry to the choreographed spectacle it unveils, but offers up a set of multi-hued futures beyond the black, white and red of old idealism.
Utilising eleven dancers and filmed over five weeks in a walled set transplanted onto parkland with the bright lights of the city just beyond, Schwindt weaves together choreography, social history and an interview with a taxi driver activist influenced by Germany's volatile 1960s and 1970s history to create a multi-layered performance that questions notions of freedom on both an individual and collective basis.

Seemingly hemmed into the room, the dancers recite the taxi driver's …

Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show 2015

Until June 7th
Four stars

With more than 430 graduates showing off their wares in the vast expanse of ECA, it's impossible to give anything but a cursory overview of the event in such limited space as is allowed here. One can only follow one's nose and try not to be too overwhelmed by the vast array of fresh talent bursting from every pore of the building. Wit is always a winner, and William Spendlove (or William Spendlove & Bros Painters & Decorators if you please) has it in spades in his waggishly industrious line in small works that include a pair of sandles and a vivid polo neck jumper wrapped around a frame with a Picasso tote bag hung rakishly on its arm.

The upside-down legs of Rosaleigh Harvey-Otway photographed in theatre auditoriums and other spaces offer glimpses into equally topsy-turvy worlds, while both Mel Wilson and Douglas Allison seem to be operating in similar all-angles day-glo territories. John Nowak's music-inspired canvasses throb with Brian …

Laurie Sansom - The Driver's Seat

When Laurie Sansom brought his production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to the Assembly Hall on the Mound as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2009, Muriel Spark's tale of a mercurial Edinburgh school mistress opened up a world of possibilities for the then artistic director of the Royal & Derngate theatres in Northampton.

Nearly six years on, the now artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland follows up his mighty production of Rona Munro's epic historical trilogy The James Plays at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival with another, less well-known work by Spark.

The Driver's Seat is is a novella that first appeared in 1970, and is here adapted by Sansom himself for its first appearance onstage. Like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Driver's Seat looks at an impeccably singular woman. Where Jean Brodie confines herself within the school walls, Lise, the heroine of The Driver's Seat, is a woman in constant motion as she drives to an …

Great Expectations

Dundee Rep
Five stars

It is a bleak and austere house that Pip and Estella find themselves in at the opening and close of Jemima Levick's production of Charles Dickens' classic treatise on class, power and the perils of having ideas above one's station. Using Jo Clifford's original 1987 adaptation which has continually regenerated over the last three decades, Levick has utilised the script's rich and brutal poetry to create a magnificent and stately piece of darkly comic gothica that retains its period lyricism while becoming a profoundly pertinent play for today.

As a role-call of grotesques step through the walls of empty picture frames where still lives were once captured on Becky Minto's set, Pip is thrust from a poor provincial existence to the mysterious wonders of Miss Havisham's loveless parlour before being whisked off to London where he learns the ways of the world.

“If they do cut your throat,” says lawyer's clerk Wemmick to Pip of the…

Charlie Sonata

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The last time Douglas Maxwell developed a play with students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland it finished up as Fever Dream: Southside, this year's main-stage professional offering at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Whether this picaresque metaphysical fantasia will go the same way following Matthew Lenton's production performed in the Tron's bijou Changing House space by an ensemble of final year BA Acting students remains to be seen, but there are similarities.
Lenton's production finds Charlie 'Chick' Sonata slumped unconscious, a hip-flask by his side. Around him carouse the flotsam and jetsam of a life carelessly lived, a mixture of now domesticated drinking buddies, old flames and accidental angels who seem to have embarked with Chick on some celestial bender. Sat round a hospital bed where teenage Audrey lays unconscious, Chick's life flashes across his eyes as he is lurched Scrooge-like across a life-long mid…

13

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

“We have a parliamentary democracy for a reason,” says the once thrusting but now cancer-ridden right-wing atheist academic in the second act of Mike Bartlett's epic expose of a Britain on the verge of collapse. “The people can't be trusted.” Hearing those words in the heat of the anti-capitalist Occupy protests when the play was first seen in 2011 is one thing. Hearing them just a few grim weeks after the Conservative Party's Westminster victory in this May's UK General Election sounds chillingly pertinent.
This is especially the case in a production performed by a large ensemble about to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's BA Acting course. An entire nation may be having bad dreams at the start of Ben Harrison's production, but in the midst of a criss-crossing array of increasingly troubled lives in motion, hope comes along in the form of John, a park-side anti-war preacher resembling a leftover from Speakers Co…

Samantha Jones – Don't Come Any Closer

There were several versions of some time Joe Meek and Burt Bacharach collaborator Charles Blackwell's mini Greek tragedy in words and music, but none can match the barely restrained melodrama of the 1965 original by the artist formerly known as Jean Owen.

Owen had started out as one of the Vernons Girls, the sixteen-piece female choir founded at the Liverpool-based football pools firm, who appeared on TV rock show, Oh Boy! in the late 1950s, and recorded albums for both Parlophone and Decca in a slimmed-down three-piece version.

Some former Vernons Girls went on to form splinter groups such as The Breakaways, The Pearls and The Ladybirds, the latter of whom provided backing vocals on Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe before becoming stalwarts of The Benny Hill Show. Others married into rock and roll aristocracy, with The Breakaways Vicky Haseman wedding Joe Brown, while Joyce Smith got hitched to Marty Wilde, with both partnerships ensuring musical dynasties continued with Sam Brown an…