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Showing posts from July, 2015

John Hannah - The Titanic Orchestra

You could be forgiven for thinking John Hannah had done a vanishing act. The last time the East Kilbride born actor was on a Scottish stage was back in the 1980s, when he appeared in Communicado theatre company's take on Carmen and at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in 7:84's production of Robert McLeish's The Gorbals Story, directed by David Hayman.

Playing a down at heel magician in a little-known play called The Titanic Orchestra, however, marks Hannah getting back to his roots with his first Edinburgh Festival Fringe appearance since he was a drama student at what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama before being restyled as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Written by contemporary Bulgarian writer, Hristro Boytchev, The Titanic Orchestra focuses on a quartet of tramps hiding out in an abandoned railway station who dream of escape when a mysterious stranger turns up promising them the ultimate way out.

Steve King's translation of the play is dire…

Galway International Arts Festival - An Extraordinary Experience

It's 10.30 on Friday night in Galway, the West of Ireland city that is hoping to become the country's next European Capital of Culture, and down-town Quay Street is buzzing with noisy life. Given the array of bars and restaurants dotted along the narrow street this isn't unusual, but given that it is the first weekend of the 2015 Galway International Arts Festival, an annual two-week melee of theatre, music, art, comedy and spectacle that styles itself as 'The Festival of Extraordinary Experiences', the vibe is different.

Sure enough, the sound of martial drums in the distance attracts revellers onto the street, where the crowds part as three gigantic frock-like constructions are wheeled by, with the white-painted faces and torsos of a trio of opera singers at the centre of each. As they pause every few hundred yards or so, flanked by the equally colourful Tin Soldiers' Band of Drummers, the sinhers of The Giant Divas and Les Tambours regale the throng with ex…

Bailey's Stardust / Moonglow

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh until October 18th
Four stars

When David Bailey became a fashion photographer for Vogue magazine just as 1960s London began to swing, he became as much of a face of the era as his subjects, despite being on the other side of the camera. It is the pin-ups of Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton, Marianne Faithfull, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and a very sexy Yoko Ono striking assorted poses that initially catch the eye, however, in this major touring retrospective which arrives in town like a retro-chic hot date rubbing shoulders with the great and the good at Edinburgh Art Festival.
Moving with the times, there is pop iconography down the ages, from Jack Nicholson to John Lydon to Kate Moss to Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn, bad boys and girls all. An entire section is devoted to the Rolling Stones, while, old softy that Bailey undoubtedly is, a whole room is set aside for portraits of his fourth wife, Catherine Bailey, who he met on a 1980s shoot.

Yet, as with…

Sam Simmons: Spaghetti for Breakfast

If things had worked out differently, Sam Simmons might have ended up becoming a zoo-keeper. As it is, the thirty-something Australian has spent the last decade or so travelling the world as a self-styled professional idiot, brandishing an off-kilter brand of comedy that has confused and confounded many, even as it has reeled in critical acclaim and ever-larger audiences.

With his 2014 show, Death of A Sails-Man, being nominated for the Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Award following a previous nomination in 2011 for Meanwhile, Simmons returns this year with Spaghetti For Breakfast. This latest one-man extravaganza, which has already scooped the Underbelly Adelaide Award and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Award for Best New Show, may take a nod at the inner world of its creator's psyche, but it still allows full vent for his inner dickhead to explode into primary-coloured life.

“There's some very dark stuff,” Simmons admits, “and it gets to the reason why I'm an idi…

Richard II

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

The 1970s porn film style wicker chair flanked by chess pieces at one end of the Kibble Palace is a give- away that Bard in the Botanics' truncated take on the first episode of Shakespeare's historical mini-series might not be playing it straight. As too are the silver-maned showroom dummies standing either side of a pink-wigged statue. Sure enough, once a mercurial Robert Elkin introduces proceedings as a battered looking Richard in a vest and tight leather trousers, Jennifer Dick's production of her own adaptation has Adam Donaldson's Duke of Aumerle clean him up with a tender affection that is clearly mutual.
Together the pair look like they're having a hoot play-acting at running the country as they dole out judgements with a waspishness which understandably gets people's backs up. Finlay McLean's John of Gaunt is particularly unhappy about his heir Bolingbroke being thrown into exile, with the future Henry IV here re…

The Importance of Being Earnest

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

There's always been a knowingly subversive heart beyond the seemingly throwaway one-liners of Oscar Wilde's most celebrated dissection of polite society. There are hints of this during the opening of Richard Baron's revival when Gavin Swift's work-shy fop Algernon comes to at the piano following an all-night bender. With tunes blaring from the Victrola and complete strangers puffing on something dubious in the living room, just when you think Viz comic's Raffles The Gentleman Thug might gatecrash, in steps Reece Richardson's lovesick Jack Worthing.
The boys duly indulge in some bantz before Jack makes goo-goo eyes at Emma Odell's deceptively coy Gwendolen on the blind side of Margaret Preece's Lady Bracknell, a buttoned-up gold-digger who used to be a bit of a one. What follows as Algie and Jack embark on an elaborate game of kiss-chase with Gwendolen and Jack's country-dwelling ward Cecily seems to signify an…

Jennifer Tremblay - The List, The Carousel, The Deliverance - A Very Personal Trilogy

Jennifer Tremblay never meant to write a trilogy of plays. Only after the Quebecois-born novelist and playwright's Herald Angel award winning solo play The List became a hit did she even consider a sequel to its moving and poignant depiction of a woman coming to terms with life in the country and the tragedy that results from the domestic creations she constructs to survive. Even then, Tremblay only wrote The Carousel after gauging some of the audience's reaction to its predecessor.

“People always said that the woman in The List didn't seem to like her children,” says Tremblay through a translator, “but that wasn't the intention of the play. Then as soon as I wrote The Carousel, because I'm obsessed with form I knew there had to be a third play.”

The result of this is The Deliverance, a new work which receives its world premiere during this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe in an English translation by Shelly Tepperman produced by Stellar Quines, the female foc…

Romeo and Juliet

Dundee Rep
Four stars

On a mocked-up wooden booth stage, the lively cast of Shakespeare's Globe's touring revival of the bard's ultimate adolescent love story move from the auditorium where they've been mingling with the audience and strike up a lively tune with the assorted saxophones, clarinets and big bass drums they've been carrying. Their artisan outfits add to the effect of a hipster-led nouveau Balkan ensemble playing some boisterous homage to the ghosts of lost romances past, and after some out-front introductions, we're off into a show that doesn't let up for a second.
The lights remain on in director Dominic Dromgoole's production, which is exactly how it should be as his cast of eight plus three musicians burl their way through action which is at times cut up to juxtapose crucial moments as a film might do. So while Hannah McPake's Lady Capulet and Sarah Higgins' Nurse attempt to marry Cassie Layton's Juliet off to Paris with …

Complicitie - The Encounter

Simon McBurney has always been an explorer, with the writer, actor and director's work with Complicite, the theatre company he co-founded in 1983 as Theatre de Complicite, pioneers in introducing visual-based European-influenced and playfully off-kilter work to British audiences. When twenty years ago McBurney was given a copy of Amazon Beaming, Romanian writer and film director Petru Popescu's 1991 account of National Geographic photo-journalist Loren McIntyre's 1969 trip to the Javari Valley, on the border between Brazil and Peru, its account of McIntyre's three months with a rarely sighted Mayoruna tribe and his quest for the source of the Amazon opened McBurney up to an adventure of his own.

The result is The Encounter, a solo tour de force by McBurney, which marks Complicitie's d├ębut at Edinburgh International Festival, and which finds the audience being taken on a journey of their own to discover an ever-shifting world of sound that charts the profound extrem…

Shakespeare's Globe - Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a play that can come in many guises. As one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies, it's tale of star-crossed lovers caught in the crossfire of families at war has been
reinterpreted umpteen times down the centuries, with Leonard Bernstein turning it into teen-gang musical West Side Story while for his 1996 big-screen version Baz Luhrmann took inspiration from MTV. More recently the Royal Shakespeare Company presented Shakespeare's play on Twitter as Such Sweet Sorrow, with actors engaging with other Twitter users as well as each other.

The last time Shakespeare's Globe brought Romeo and Juliet to Scotland was back in 2007, when they played it outdoors in Glasgow University Quad in a production that featured future Game of Thrones star Richard Madden as Romeo. Eight years on, Shakespeare's Globe artistic director is back with a new touring production that moves indoors for dates at Dundee Rep and the Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

“Touring was in Shakes…

Becky Minto - The Commonwealth Games, Great Expectations, the Prague Quadrennial and the V&A

When Becky Minto first went to study theatre design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in the mid 1980s, the Liverpool-born designer was by her own admission “a proper scally.” It wasn't just the acting students going around singing songs from Les Miserables that opened Minto up to a new world after studying interior design, but some of the technical terms themselves in her chosen field that threw her.

When one lecturer started talking about the male and female parts of a connector, Minto didn't know what he was on about, and only when she put her hand up to ask and it was explained that the male part had prongs on and the female part didn't did the penny drop.

Twenty-five years on, Minto is one of the most prolific theatre designers in Scotland, who has worked with the likes of the National Theatre of Scotland, Grid Iron and Vanishing Point as well as most building-based companies in the country. Last year she capped off more than two decades of experience as …

Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer

Penny Arcade is in a New York state of mind. Sitting in her apartment in the city that was once presumed to be so good they named it twice, the sixty-something performance artist, raconteur, activist and force of nature takes stock of just how much the formerly bankrupt Big Apple has changed.

The once hip bohemia of Greenwich Village, where Beat poets and hippies defined generations, has become a slave to overpriced real estate, with its four zip codes ranked in the top ten most expensive places to live in the USA. CBGBS, the club that sired the New York punk and No Wave scenes, and gave a platform to the likes of Patti Smith, The Ramones, Blondie, Television and Talking Heads, is no more following a dispute over increased rent. Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground are all gone now, leaving a perfectly honed set of myths behind along with their poetry and art.

Then there is Penny Arcade, the dervish-like native New Yorker who first shook up Edinburgh with…

Can't Forget About You

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three Stars

It speaks volumes that the cross-generational love story that drives David Ireland's potty-mouthed rom-com begins in the Belfast branch of Starbucks. Here, after all, is a now classic symbol of urban homogenisation, in which anything resembling character has been scooched away and replaced with the same shade of bland.
Such places can't plan for people, however, as twenty-something Stevie and pushing fifty Martha come together – eventually – over a good book and a mutual mourning for loved ones, even if Stevie being dumped can't quite match the death of Martha's husband seven years before. Where would-be Buddhist Stevie has his rabid Protestant sister Rebecca and an over-bearing mother steeped in tradition to contend with, Martha is a thoroughly modern Glasgow emigre with few superstitions left. Beyond the hangover of the Troubles, it seems, there are plenty of borders to cross.

There's a deceptive depth to Conleth Hill's no…

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Three stars

Leaving aside the unintended irony of the first night of Shakespeare's sunniest rom-com being rained off, if ever there was a play to be seen outdoors, A Midsummer night's Dream is the one. This was made clear once the seasons finally smiled on Emily Reutlinger's production, the second of this year's Bard in the Botanics season, which serves up a bright, youthful but utterly serious take on the play.
It starts with grey-robed besties Hermia and Helena appearing to have taken a vow of silence before the pair let rip with their heart's desires. With Theseus' attempts to preside over both greeted with disdain, once the pair morph into Bottom and Titania respectively, it looks more like they've not quite come down from Glastonbury.

As performed by just five lead actors, there's a trippiness in the way each character melds into another, as if they're being led astray between realities. Such high spirits are accent…

Unruly Wonders - Bard in the Botanics 2015

When Richard II talks of 'unlikely wonders' while alone in his prison cell awaiting his execution in Shakespeare's rarely seen history play, it's hardly the most positive of speeches. The phrase has nevertheless inspired Bard in the Botanics artistic director Gordon Barr to dub the company's latest summer season of outdoor Shakespeare productions in Glasgow's West End with such an appositely sunny sounding sobriquet. With familiar works such as The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream reimagined alongside rare sightings of Love's Labours Lost and the aforementioned Richard II, it's easy to see why.

“The quote is about how life can surprise you,” Barr explains before heading off to rehearsals for the first of two productions in the season he's directing himself. “Calling it Life's A Bitch seemed too much, but in Richard II it's much the same thing. For us, it's about us gaining in confidence, both in ourselves and in our a…

Improbable Fiction

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

A flash of metaphorical lightning is sometimes all it takes for your whole world to be turned upside down. So it is with Arnold, the haplessly under-achieving host of a small town creative writing group in Alan Ayckbourn's sixty-ninth play, first seen in 2005. For much of the first act Arnold is almost painfully nice to the disparate community who come together in his crumbling old house to share what they've not written, even as it provides respite from their assorted real world problems.
With Arnold's young work-mate Ilsa looking after his ailing mother upstairs, inspiration is in short supply for all. Like a toyshop after dark, however, when Arnold appears to have closed the door on his guests for the night, only then does the imagination run riot as an entire pulp fiction factory bursts from a sea of unpublished pages that never made it out of their creators' heads.

What follows in Clare Prenton's dexterously managed prod…