Friday, 30 October 2015

Tipping The Velvet

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

Punk rock probably wasn't uppermost in Sarah Waters' mind when she wrote her iconic 1998 novel about one young woman's getting of wisdom as she burls through nineteenth century lesbian London. When a a train ride to the big city becomes a cut-up sound art chorale, however, it is clearly at the heart of Lyndsey Turner's audacious production of Laura Wade's equally wild adaptation.

As provincial girl Nancy falls for gender-bending music hall diva Kitty, life becomes one big cabaret, though not before the show begins with a cheeky wink to Lyceum shows past care of David Cardy's Good Old Days style Chairman. He dictates the action with his gavel, thumping things along when they get a tad dull. With a Palm Court style band accompanying the action, it is this embracing of theatricality that makes what follows so exquisite.

So while Nancy's home-life is expressed through a series of flattened-out sketches, her awakening arrives to a soundtrack of glam-tastic pop trash and old blues numbers given a vaudevillian make-under so at least one song sounds like Billy Bragg. At times such rude intrusions feel like they're retying the umbilical knot between old-time music hall and what used to be called alternative cabaret.

At the picaresque heart of this co-production between the Royal Lyceum and the Lyric, Hammersmith , though, is Nancy's sexual, artistic and political emancipation. Played with increasing glory by a remarkable Sally Messham alongside equally wicked turns by Laura Rogers as Kitty and Kirsty Besterman as the power-crazed Diana, as Nancy finds her voice, feet and pretty much everything else besides, exactly who is wearing the trousers is liberation itself. Oysters and all.

The Herald, November 2nd 2015

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Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Choir

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It's fitting that Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross' new musical play is set in the shabby, wood-panelled walls of a Wishaw community hall. For among the chairs that sit as mismatched as the people who form the choir founded by Iraqi doctor, Khalid, there are few contemporary plays that nail their colours to a grassroots mast quite as much as this.

As single mums, ex cons and zero hours contract workers are thrown together with Tory councillors and other posh locals, each with a theme tune they share with the group, a cross-class, cross-gender, pan-generational supergroup finds unexpected harmony through singing together. There is romance, between Ryan Fletcher's twenty-something Donny and Nesha Caplan's unemployed Velia, sexual tension between Jess Murphy's suburban wife Charlotte and Peter Polycarpou's Khalid, and a melting pot of life between. In the end, however, it is tracksuit-clad Scott's political rap that divides the group.

As the first fruits of a partnership between the Citz and commercial producers Ambassadors Theatre Group, Dominic Hill's production navigates his cast towards a feelgood ending care of David Higham's rousing musical arrangements.

While some of the political drive raised by the rehearsal room fall-outs are so direct as to sound heavy handed, and while some of the characters remain little more than sketches, all this is off-set by an ingrained understanding of the potency of cheap music, while the play's structure is steeped in ceremony and ritual from the off. And if the melody to the play's finale bears a nagging resemblance to Johnny Mandel's theme for Robert Altman's film, M*A*S*H*, it's transformed into something similarly powerful in this dramatic hymn to the power of song.

The Herald, October 29th 2015

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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Midsummer

Bharatiya Ashram, Dundee
Four stars

The central wisdom of playwright David Greig and composer and songwriter Gordon McIntyre's lo-fi musical rom-com as gleaned from an underground car park ticket machine is that change is possible. With this in mind, director Ros Philips takes such everyday philosophy by the scruff of the neck and runs with it to blazes in her Dundee Rep Ensemble production that forms the company's latest community tour.

Where the play was originally performed in 2008 by two actors, Philips does it with a cast of eight, as thirty-something lost souls Bob and Helena's wild weekend after falling together in an Edinburgh bar is charted by a cagoule-clad chorus who double up as assorted waifs, strays and hangers-on the pair meet en route. While this may lose something in terms of manic urgency, it also fleshes out what begins as a drunken one-night stand and ends with what might just be a dream come true. As they pause for breath inbetween scampering from one end of the city to the other, both Bob and Helena must also face up to some pretty serious home truths.

With Jo Freer and Martin McBride playing the couple with a mix of booze-soaked swagger and after-hours vulnerability, on one level this is a blurred set of snapshots of what passes for the twenty-first century dating game in all its messy state of apparent independence. As performed on designer Leila Kalbassi's Google Earth image of auld Reekie, it's also a love letter to the city that sired it and, with McIntyre's bittersweet songs ringing in your ears, an affirmation of love, lust and the power of yes in a glorious seven year itch of a show.

The Herald, October 28th 2015

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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Thingummy Bob - Lung Ha's Theatre Company at 30

When a young tree surgeon called Richard Vallis responded to a poster by learning disabilities charity, The Action Group, it set in motion a chain of events that not only changed his life, but changed the cultural landscape of Edinburgh forever. It was the late 1970s, and The Action Group, set up in 1976 by parents of children and adults with learning disabilities, were looking for volunteers to work with them.

Lancashire-born Vallis had recently moved to the city, and, wanting to meet new people in the place he still calls home, thought he'd chance his arm. Today, Lung Ha's Theatre Company, which was formed as a direct result of Vallis' involvement with The Action Group, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary as one of the UK's leading exponents of inclusive arts working with performers with learning disabilities.

While an informal celebration will take place next week, this weekend sees the opening of Lung Ha's latest production. Thingummy Bob is a new play by Linda McLean, which looks at the effects of dementia on an ageing disabled man. Coming at a time when many of Lung Ha's most senior members are moving into a new demographic, Thingummy Bob, which forms part of the Luminate festival of creative ageing, is an apt way for Lung Ha's to move into middle age.

“I wanted to write a comedy in the widest sense of the word,” says McLean. “My own-step-father had Alzheimer's, so I know it can be a very challenging condition, but he could also be very funny.”

McLean was first approached to work with Lung Ha's by the company's current artistic director, Maria Oller.

“Some of the company members are about the right age, ” she says, “and I thought Linda could do something amazing with the subject.”

While the responsibility of writing the play laid with McLean as it would with any other company, she found the show's development process quite different.

“It's a much longer rehearsal period,” she says, “and I had my hands on the actors from very early on, so I knew who I was writing for. But Lung Ha's seems to me to explore two things. One is inclusivity, and the idea that everyone is creative. The other is that art can cause happiness.”

This ethos was in place from Lung Ha's first ever show, which was born out of Vallis' work with a six-strong drama group at a day centre in Restalrig.

“It was something I'd never done before,” he reflects today. “I'd done a bit of mainstream youth work, but I'd never worked with anyone with learning disabilities before. It was something to take me out my comfort zone.”

Alongside his work with The Action Group, Vallis became involved in a burgeoning community arts scene that existed in Edinburgh in the mid 1980s. He was particularly attracted to the large-scale community plays at the Stockbridge-based Theatre Workshop. It was here Vallis met drama worker Pete Clerke, who would go on to co-found the leftfield Benchtours theatre company.

With some of Vallis' drama group suggesting they become more ambitious in their endeavours, Clerke visited Restalrig, where the group had been developing a short piece inspired by high-flying cult Japanese TV series, Monkey. As Clerke remembers it, the piece presented to him was “the most surreal ten minutes of theatre I've ever seen, before or since.”

With Clerke on board, the group spent the next six months developing what would become Lung Ha's Monkey, a full-length multi-media extravaganza performed over three nights at the old Cowgate-based Wilkie House venue as part of the then Edinburgh District Council's Spring Fling community arts festival. Utilising slide projections and sculpture as well as performance, Lung Ha's Monkey showed what could be achieved with determination and a civic will that seems to have vanished now.

“It was amazing,” Clerke recalls. “Nothing on that scale had been done before with people with learning disabilities, and the energy in that hall after the first performance blew the roof off. There were a lot of naysayers who said we couldn't do it, but we proved them wrong.”

As word spread, so the company grew, and Lung Ha's followed their debut show with a large-scale take on Homer's The Odyssey. Since then, Lung Ha's have produced more than forty shows, which have seen directors such as Andy Cannon, John Mitchell, Michael Duke and Annie Wood oversee work penned by the likes of John Harvey, Louise Ironside, John Binnie and Grace Barnes.
 
Clark Crystal was appointed as Lung Ha's first full time artistic director in the early noughties, while under Oller's tenure, the company has co-produced shows with Drake Music Scotland, Grid Iron and Stellar Quines theatre companies. Lung Ha's most recent productions include a version of Antigone by Adrian Osmond, an adaptation of Jules Verne's Around The World in Eighty Days by Douglas Maxwell and a reinvention of Jekyll and Hyde by Morna Pearson.

“I think Lung Ha's is in a really interesting postion just now,” Oller says. “In the five years I've been with the company, we've tried to train our actors as much as possible and become as professional as possible. There's a short course now at the the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for actors with learning disabilities, so things are changing all the time.”

These days Clerke is based in Winchester, where for the last six years he has worked with Blue Apple Theatre, a company similar in ethos to Lung Ha's.

“There is such a demand,” he says. “Companies like Lung Ha's and Blue Apple provide a lateral way of increasing people's life skills and social skills, and if you can get people feeling really good about themselves by performing, the effect on their everyday lives is enormous. But it's very important that Lung Ha's is an arts company first.”

Vallis, who lost his leg to cancer several years ago, still works with people with learning disabilities, , and remains Honorary President of Lung Ha's, who he sees as confounding all expectations of what the company could achieve.

“People saw what we were doing could be done,” he says, “and took it to their hearts.”

Lung Ha's immediate plans for the future include Silent Treatment, a new play by Douglas Maxwell which will not use words at all, but which will be pulsed by a musical score composed by M.J. McCarthy. In the longer term, Oller expresses ambitions for the company to have its own rehearsal space. This would give them the flexibility to set their own working schedule, and would also allow the cast to work on set from the beginning of the rehearsal process.

“We'd also like to do more collaborations,” Oller says, “particularly in terms of collaboratiions betweeen disabled and non-disabled casts, just to blur those lines and step over a border a little.”

McLean for one is a fan.

“I'd love to write a big show for Lung Ha's,” she says. “The actors are so energising. There are no quiet silences after a first read-through when you're wondering what people think. No-one's holding back.”

Vallis too remains as enthusiastic as ever for the company he kickstarted into life.

“I'm still completely surprised and amazed,” he says. “but I'm also proud of all these fantastic shows that the company are putting on. For a crazy idea that we were told wouldn't work, I think we've done rather well.”

Thingummy Bob, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, October 29-31; Eden Court, Inverness, November 3; Platform, The Bridge, Glasgow, November 5-6.
www.lungha.com

The Herald, October 27th 2015

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Liquid Room, Edinburgh
Four stars


The last time Godspeed You! Black Emperor played Edinburgh was in 1998, when the Quebec-sired nontet played only their second ever UK show at the tiny Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street at the behest of the short-lived but pioneering leftfield music promoters, The House of Dubois. Given the explosive nature of the band's extended strings and guitar-led instrumentals, the venue's private view size speakers were duly blown, though not before neighbours alerted the local constabulary regarding the impending apocalypse below.

Seventeen years on, not much has changed with Godspeed's template. As the now eight-piece ensemble of two bassists, two drummers, three guitarists and lone fiddler Sophie Trudeau gradually flesh out an opening violin and bass motif, there's still the same scratched-out projections with the word 'Hope' on it that top and tails an epic two-hour suite of slow-burning thunder that move between the martial and the mournful. Sat in a circle, heads bowed in concentration, they breathe flesh
and blood onto this year's album, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, their fifth, which they play in full sandwiched between older material.

While at times harder, less nuanced and more macho than of old, there remains a raw emotional pulse that sounds like the band that spaghetti western soundtracker Ennio Morricone and Estonian composer Arvo Part might have formed if they'd been raised on Black Sabbath wig-outs and Jewish and Catholic ritual. At moments it sounds like a ceilidh at the end of the world, at others a furious purging. They depart as they came, one by one, leaving a looped cacophony which eventually
gives way to a raging calm.



The Herald, October 27th 2015

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The Bridge

North Edinburgh Arts, Edinburgh
Three stars

Bells chime and voices sing in what sounds like a mix of celebration and mourning at the opening of Annie George's solo play, performed by herself during the closing stages of a short tour following its Edinburgh Festival Fringe run. As we see projections of George writing out her own name at the bottom of her family tree, a very personal quest for identity ensues as she dramatises her inquiry into her own history through the voices of her ancestors who become witnesses to a world in turmoil.

The starting point for this is the life and work of George's grand-father, Paduthottu Mathen John, whose portrait is projected as George adopts his persona to illustrate her hand-me-down legacy. She does this too through snapshots of her mother and father as her family eventually move to the west and a less turbulent way of life than in both pre and post colonial India.

There is considerable charm in George's impressionistic labour of love, much of which comes from a performance that isn't afraid to leave herself vulnerable but which can be steely when it needs to be. Pulsed along by an exquisite score by Niroshini Thambar that lends both the text and visuals a richness and a depth that also gives what could be an overly dense rendering space to breathe.

In terms of showing how global events can have an often life-changing effect on everyday lives, this is an intimate excavation of a hidden past that sees George reclaim her roots and present them as an elegiac multi-media tone-poem. “We are history,” she says at one point, taking charge of everything and everyone that defines her.

The Herald, October 27th 2015

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Monday, 26 October 2015

Hector

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
Three stars

The story of Hector MacDonald is one of the least sung tales in British military history. For those who engineered this one-time nineteenth century war hero's downfall, this is possibly with good reason. David Gooderson's play, first seen at the Finborough Theatre in London in 2013 as So Great A Crime, and revived here for an extensive tour in this co-production between Eden Court, Inverness, the Mull-based Comar organisation and Ed Littlewood Productions, makes this abundantly clear.
 
Born in the Black Isle, Gaelic-speaking crofter's son MacDonald rose through the ranks to become Fighting Mac, a terrier-like warrior of the Second Afghan War who eventually became a Major General, serving in what was then Ceylon. Here, among a more leisured officer class, MacDonald was vilified by his peers, who eventually brought him down with accusations of inappropriate behaviour.

In a story where the truth of what actually happened has been all but airbrushed out of official records, it's quite right that Gooderson's play takes a stance. He and director Kate Nelson navigate a cast of six led by Steven Duffy as Hector through a mire of upper crust snobbery and petty jealousies writ large.

When not in a scene, the assorted officers, clergymen and well-heeled ladies watch what's going on in character, silent witnesses to an unfolding tragedy loaded with innuendo and hearsay. They look suitably bemused too when MacDonald reveals that he has kept his wife a secret for eighteen years and has a child. As complex as MacDonald undoubtedly was, this remains a damning indictment of a grand conspiracy that seems to course through the uglier manifestations of the British establishment's blood.

The Herald, October 26th 2015

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Saturday, 24 October 2015

Desire Lines, Music is Audible and City of Edinburgh Council's Noisy Silence

On Tuesday I attended a meeting of City of Edinburgh's Culture and Sport Committee. I was there in my capacity as a member of CEC's Music is Audible working group, set-up a year ago following a tsunami of dissent concerning the capital's attitude towards live music during a meeting of the city's musical community at the Usher Hall under the banner Live Music Matters.

One of the main issues raised at LMM was that of noise complaints. CEC's current legislation dictates that live amplified music must remain inaudible beyond the four walls of where it is being performed. Many argue that this favours a complainant. While outside of John Cage any notion of music being inaudible is an absurdity, such legislation isn't made any more credible by CEC officers not being trained to measure sound in any meaningful scientific way. This has made for some full, frank and very necessary exchanges between music professionals and CEC officers.

The culmination of this process was the presentation on Tuesday of a report drafted with MIA input by Beverley Whitrick of the London-based Music Venues Trust, who was brought in by CEC to advise MIA (which, if left to my own devices, I would have called Music is A Better Noise, named after a 1980 single by post punk band Essential Logic, who also released a saxophone-led instrumental called Tame The Neighbours, but hey) .

MVT was set up to protect existing music venues across the UK in the face of encroaching gentrification which similarly threatens Edinburgh's own year-round cultural life. See the ongoing Caltongate/New Waverley development on the site of the original home of the Bongo Club, JD Wetherspoon's plan to convert the former Picture House venue on Lothian Road into a so-called superpub and the furore over the proposed luxury hotel in the Old Royal High School. All of these were sanctioned by CEC's Planning Committee in the face of considerable public opposition.

Live Music Matters took place prior to the first meeting of Desire Lines, an initiative set up by a cartel of representatives from Edinburgh-based arts institutions. As with LMM, Desire Lines brought together many working on the frontline of Edinburgh's year round arts organisations who in the past have perhaps felt sidelined from the city's high-profile festival-led portfolio. In a Jekyll and Hyde city where respectable institutions mask the underground that feeds them, twas ever thus.

The result of Desire Lines thus far has been another report compiled from a survey thrown open to all-comers, while the steering group will meet shortly to discuss further developments. Like the MVT/MIA report, Desire Lines is progressive in its recognition of an artist-led infrastructure and a burgeoning city-wide grassroots scene.

Both reports made me think of Artist Unknown, a surprisingly readable history of the Arts Council in England penned in 1998 by Richard Witts. A former percussionist with the Halle Orchestra, Witts was a key figure in Manchester's 1970s post-punk landscape, both with his own band, The Passage, and as founder of the Manchester Musicians Collective. As Music and Dance Officer of Merseyside Arts Association, Witts brought Merce Cunningham and John Cage to Liverpool before going on to run Camden Festival. As an academic, for a time he was a visiting lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, and could often be spotted at some of the city's more outre musical events.

Beyond such a pedigree, Artist Unknown is notable for a pithy biographical introduction, which points out how Witts 'has whiled away many frustrating hours on committees and panels...and remembers writing two policy reports. He wonders what became of them.' Those involved in Desire Lines and Music is Audible must take care that their reports are not similarly jettisoned into the dustbin of history, but that their recommendations are trumpeted as loudly as possible, whatever the noise laws might say.

The Herald, October 24th 2015

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Friday, 23 October 2015

The Devil's Larder

Customs House, Edinburgh
Four stars

The lost-looking sailor who opens the door into one of Leith's most grandiloquent buildings where Grid Iron Theatre Company's tenth anniversary staging of vignettes from Jim Crace's food-absorbed novel awaits may look like he's stepped off a ghost ship, but there's something even more haunting beyond. From Johnny Austin and Charlene Boyd's sexy Addams Family style couple who top and tail the show with some of its more wildly erotic imaginings, to the over-riding and all-pervading sense of melancholy that runs throughout Ben Harrison's production, life, death, sex, loss, mortality and everything inbetween are served up in a way designed to gorge on.

Navigating the capacity audience of just forty around the building through a network of rarely occupied rooms prior to a short Scottish tour, the action veers from staircase erotica to an array of settings and situations, with each tale of the unexpected brought vividly to life in something akin to a portmanteau horror film compendium. A refugee working as a hotel maid attempts a taste of the high life; a widow hears her late husband singing inside her; and the aphrodisiac properties of the 1970s fondue scene becomes the life and soul of the party.

All these and more are exquisitely delivered by Austin, Boyd, Ashley Smith and Anthony Strachan, who flit between an array of characters, each attempting in different ways to satisfy a hunger for love. With the low-key magical realist mood heightened by a live score composed and performed by David Paul Jones and harpist Mary Macmaster, who also prove themselves to be adept performers, The Devil's Larder proves to be a feast for the senses, however deranged they may be.

The Herald, October 23rd 2015

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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Rebecca

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When the second Mrs de Winter surges forward onto the beach at the opening of Kneehigh Theatre's radical reworking of Daphne du Maurier's iconic windswept classic, it isn't clear whether it's the storm she's just walked through or the last breath of her predecessor that soundtracks her every triumphant sashay into the night. Either way, when she utters the novel's immortal opening line about how last night she dreamt of Manderley, the seaside house where her widowed older husband Max took her following a whirlwind romance, it gives new resonance to everything that follows.

Rather than offer up some slavish sub-Hitchcockian homage, Emma Rice's production of her own adaptation more resembles a late night Freudian explosion in Mrs de Winter's head that gives her a very rude awakening. As she stumbles through designer Leslie Travers' take on Manderley built of higgledy-piggledy staircases that climb to chandelier-adorned corridors linked by pirate ship planks and an upturned lifeboat, the unseen ghost of the first Mrs de Winter who gives the play its title looms large.

Much of the first half is a riot of madcap fancy dress dance routines, a chamber folk chorus singing sea shanties, a crotch-sniffing puppet dog and a quicksilver comic turn from Katy Owen as sprite-like boy servant Robert. Only when Emily Raymond's Mrs Danvers cons Imogen Sage's naïve newlywed into wearing a funereally black see-through frock once sported by Rebecca do things take a leap into the dark side. As Mrs de Winter gradually takes charge from Tristan Sturrock's emasculated Maxim, the story becomes her getting of wisdom as the past is finally set ablaze in this eye-poppingly irreverent reinvention.

The Herald, October 21st 2015

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Asian Dub Foundation - THX 1138

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four Stars


The two laptops that shine in the gloom from one side of the stage flanked by Asian Dub Foundation's live quartet speak volumes about how far we've come since George Lucas's first and best feature film appeared in 1971. Before Lucas veered off into smash hit space operas and pulp adventure yarns, THX 1138's depiction of a medicated dystopian society utilised hi-tech surveillance techniques and computer data to illustrate a form of social control which seemed like so much post-1960s paranoia. Almost half a century on in ADF's mash-up of sound and vision that began a UK tour this weekend it now looks and sounds like prophecy.

ADF have previous form in grafting live soundtracks onto the likes of La Haine and Battle of Algiers, and you can see the appeal of Lucas and co-writer Walter Murch's parable about a man who attempts to escape from a psyched-out world of sex crimes and virtual messiahs to such a politically charged band.

As a pioneer of sound design, Murch's input to the film was crucial, as was made clear in a filmed interview that preceded the main feature. Here the three time Oscar winner made clear the effect of music concrete on a soundscape that looped a Pierre Henri piece for atmosphere, while John Cage and Terry Riley are also acknowledged influences.

Such subtleties aren't always heard through ADF's beat-led approach, as flute, guitar, bass and drums lend pounding propulsion to an era defining work that goes way beyond Lalo Schifrin's original score. The end result gives urgency to the film's soporific trippiness, refreshing it with a twenty-first century intensity that thunders its way to freedom.

The Herald, October 20th 2015


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Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross - The Choir

Singing was a way of life for actor Paul Higgins when he was training to be a priest. Deacon Blue frontman, Ricky Ross, on the other hand, didn't want to sing at all, but just wanted to write songs for others. For one reason or another, things worked out differently for both men, with Higgins becoming a familiar face on stage and screen in the likes of Black Watch, The Thick of It and Utopia, while Ross and band helped defined mainstream popular music throughout the late 1980s and beyond.

The results of both men's relationship with song have led to The Choir, a brand new musical play written by the pair which opens in a major production this week at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow in co-production with commercial producers, Ambassadors Theatre Group. As the first fruits of an initiative designed to nurture and develop new musicals by homegrown writers and composers, The Choir somewhat fittingly tells the story of how a community choir in Wishaw gradually comes together, overcoming numerous tensions within the group, The Choir has become something of a long-term labour of love for both men ever since Ross posited the idea of doing a musical “where the characters really sang.”

What he meant by this was doing something other than showtunes.

“People had always suggested to me that I do a musical,” Ross says, “but I always had problems in a way that I don't anymore about traditional musicals, where chimney sweeps suddenly burst into song and I didn't know why. I quite like that as well, but I wasn't sure I could write it.

“I always loved that idea in Cabaret where you had the Kit Kat Club, and every night people had this reason to perform these songs as a kind of reflection or a reaction to what was going on. I asked Paul what that was called, and he said it was diagetic, where characters know that they're singing and there's a reason for a song to happen. That all made sense in terms of what I think we're trying to do.”

With the idea of basing a play around a community choir, Higgins began writing.

“I had this idea that we would start from scratch,” he says, “from the choir beginning in this really ropey way, where there's only two or three people there and they're not singing very well. The beinning of the play is these one or two people trying to get their partners to join until they've got all twelve characters in it, but it takes a while.”

While best known as an actor, Higgins has previously written a stage play, Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us, directed by John Tiffany at the Traverse Theatre in a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland. Ross and his partner, actress and fellow Deacon Blue vocalist Lorraine McIintosh sat in front of Higgins on the opening night of Nobody Will Ever Figure Us. Hill had just taken over as artistic director of the Traverse, and it was here that the first conversation about a collaboration took place.

With a protracted working process while the pair pursued other projects, including a film just seen at the London Film Festival, Couple in A Hole, for Higgins, and radio shows and assorted writing projects for Ross, the pair regrouped occasionally to develop their ideas. One of these was the decision that, even though the songs are new to the audience, in the play they already exist.

“The guy who runs the choir says to these people to bring the song that's most important to them, and then they say why they chose it,” Higgins explains. “So you hear about peoples lives through a song that sounds like its from the fifties or the eighties, but all of the songs are actually all original.”

One of the development periods coincided with Ross being asked to become a patron of a real life community choir in the Gorbals, and with the idea for the play brewing, Higgins and Ross visited it.

“Thinking back to that night, says Ross, it's pretty similar in make up to our choir. There was a community thing there. It's about diversity, and all these people coming together to do this one thing that they have in common. Of course, that means that they come from so many different places and have so many different ideas, so you have to find a song that sounds like its them, but which can also be done by the choir.”

Of this conceit, Higgins points out that “When somebody brings along a song that means the most to them and talks about that, that can put them in a very vulnerable position, making public something that's quite personal. In a group of people that can go wrong. Someone can say the wrong thing. Someone can find a song that they like, but which they don't realise is political. They just thought it was nice, but someone else hears that song and resents where it comes from. It's all about the music, and how people reveal themselves through song.”

Higgins and Ross have very different personal experiences with choirs. Ross “ran a mile from them. In primary school you had to be in the choir, and it wasn't just a choir. It was a choir that won things. But my mum had a choir at church, and I would go and sit at the back while she was rehearsing, and I remember thinking it was a lovely sound, but I also thought choirs were really naff. Then a guy who was in the first band I was in said he loved choirs, and I thought, well, yeah, I suppose it is a lovely sound.”

Even then, Ross had no intentions of ever becoming a performer.

“All I wanted to do,” he says, “was write songs. My friend Michael Marra always said all he wanted was his name in brackets. I knew exactly what he meant. To me the loveliest credit you could ever have was that bit on the record with your name in brackets as a writer.”

For Higgins, “Training to be a priest, our whole school was a choir, and we learnt the Missa Luba and performed at civic events in Coatbridge, but itwasn't really like a choir. It was just normal life. We went to mass every day, and we sang every day. It wasn't like in the play, where people make an effort to go somewhere and stick their neck out. The one thing about everyone in the play is that they're sticking their neck out. They don't know who they're going to meet, so it's a bit risky, and that's why some of the characters are a bit reluctant to join.”

It was through singing that Higgins became an actor. After he left the seminary, he went to “a normal high school” in Motherwell, and, having applied to university too late for that yeasr despite having the grades, took a year out. During this time he joined a youth theatre because he knew they did musicals.

“I liked to sing,” he says, “but because I wasn't an actor they kept taking lines off me. I played John the Baptist in Godspell and they took all the lines off me, and that was absolutely fine by me. I had no interest in being an actor, and I didn't think I was any good.”

Higgins worked with a professional director on youth theatre summer school, where Higgins realised he actually was quite good at it. The director told him he should be an actor, he applied for drama school, and got in.

“That all came from singing,” he says.

Choirs are everywhere just now, from numerous TV reality shows to a rise in community choirs which in some way reflect Higgins and Ross' observations. Onstage too, several plays, including The Events, written by David Greig, have put locally sourced choirs onstage, while Lee Hall's smash hit adaptation of Alan Warner's novel, The Sopranos, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, focused on the teenage adventures of a schoolgirl choir, complete with Electric Light Orchestra numbers. Give that the idea of an onstage chorus dates back to the Greek roots of drama, this should come as no surprise, though this resurgence perhaps reflects a very twenty-first century need for community that is the crux of The Choir.

“I went to a memorial service recently for a friend of mine who sadly died,” says Higgins, “and the minute it got to the hyms and we started singing together, it just transformed the atmosphere for everyone, Because of the occasion you wanted to sing as well as you could, and there was no self-consciousness. I think singing is about the most beautiful thing people can do together.”

Ross had a very different experience recently at a humanist funeral.

“It was so sad,” he says, “not because it was humanist, but because there was no music. People needed some kind of outlet. That's why people sing at football matches, because they're happy or because they're angry.”

Higgins points out how “people sing in the shower and they sing at football games. There's a character in the play who doesn't want to be part of the choir because he thinks it's sissy, but he sings all the way through the match, yet doesn't associate that with any kind of choir. We're funny about singing.”

In terms of The Choir being the first show out of the traps as part of the Citz/ATG partnership, Ross jokes that “In a way we've nothing going for us. Nearly every musical that's running has been a film, or has familiar songs. Once was a film. Close To You has all these hits by Burt Bacharach, so we're facing an uphill struggle from the start, but someone needs to do something new at some point, and with what we've done with The Choir, I think there's a lovely human story to it.
“The older I get, the more I get moved by people making things work, even though they might disagree about things. Watching people get on with the mundane, I find increasingly the most moving thing about being alive.”

For Higgins, The Choir is a story that is “not about not arguing. It's about being able to express strong views and being able to disagree, and to be able to disagree in a way that's okay.”

The Choir, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, October 24-November 14. Ricky Ross performs on Thursday night at The Glad Cafe in Glasgow before opening his Lyric Book Live solo tour of Ireland, Scotland and England in New Galloway on November 1st.
www.citz.co.uk
 
A version of this appeared in The Herald, October 20th 2015

ends

Monday, 19 October 2015

Emma Rice - On Staging Rebecca for Kneehigh Theatre

It was inevitable that Emma Rice would go to Manderley one day. As both a long time fan of Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier's iconic 1938 novel transposed so memorably to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock two years later, and as joint artistic director of the Cornwall-based  Kneehigh
Theatre, Rice was more than aware of the story's dramatic potential. As her production should prove as it arrives in Edinburgh tonight for a string of dates in Scotland, what might initially appear to be a commercial staple is a Rebecca like no other.

Where purists might prefer  a more slavish recreation of Du Maurier's gothic noir concerning the unseen presence of Maxim de Winter's first wife who died at sea in mysterious circumstances, and the influence she has as he brings his new young bride home to his country pile, Rice takes an infinitely more playful approach. It begins with a live chorale of sea shanties performed by a chorus of fishermen who pop up through trap doors in upturned boats. There are ebullient knockabout dance routines, a crotch-sniffing puppet dog and some imagery which seems to have been poached from Kiss of the Spiderwoman.

Yet throughout all this shenanigans, the story's throbbing erotic pulse and air of menace that emanates largely through the figure of housekeeper Mrs Danvers remains in a radical reworking of the story that is neither pastiche nor old faithful.

“Rebecca has got Cornwall running through its veins,” according to Rice. “I'd been thinking of doing a Du Maurier piece onstage for some time. Every time I go for a run on the beach I think about it. Living in Cornwall you become aware of the beauty and terror of the sea, and I think Daphne du Maurier understood that from living there right up until she died. Rebecca also has some of the best female characters in literature, so it's great to look at the role  of women in the story and put these dark and sexy women onstage.”

While Rice has remained faithful to Du Maurier's story and its underlying essence of suspense, she also wanted to invest it with a theatricality that a twenty-first century audience could grab hold of.

“I don't always do a script before rehearsals,” she says. “Rebecca is a big novel that needed to be condensed for a couple of hours of entertainment, and that required an awful lot of thinking about how to do it. The characters are very complex, so that was a challenge, but I always feel that you should only ever do something like that if you feel you can bring something new to it. It's like with Mrs Danvers. She was devoted to Rebecca, and I really wanted to see the damage in her and the sense of loss that you sometimes don't always see.”

This isn't the first time Rebecca has been seen onstage. Du Maurier's own dramatisation of her novel was a hit in London in 1940, with George Devine's production featuring Celia Johnson and Margaret Rutherford in the cast. It ran for 181 performances before a West End run at the Strand Theatre, where it played for another 176 nights.

With Hitchcock's film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine appearing the same year, Rebecca captured the public's imagination in a way that saw them delight in its darkness. While the film remained faithful to the book, it presented a younger Mrs Danvers than in the original. It may have focused on Danvers' obsessive memories of her dead mistress, but any hints of a more Sapphic relationship were prohibited outright by Hollywood's moral watchdogs.

Rebecca isn't the first time Rice has taken a classic work better known from film and put it onstage. Her other productions for Kneehigh have included takes on such matinee classics as The Red Shoes,  Brief Encounter and A Matter of Life and Death. Much of this fascination comes as much from Rice's own childhood experience of the films as for finding material that can retain an artistic integrity while also capturing a popular audience.

“I first saw all these films on dull and rainy Sunday afternoons when it seemed like the BBC only had about three films they could show,” Rice explains. “I think that's where my fascination with them came from, and if I'm going to try and put them onstage, it's important that they're never boring.”

Prior to the tour's Scottish dates, Rebecca will also be stopping off on home turf for a run in Cornwall. For Rice, this looks set to be an emotional occasion.

“It's going to be really important,” she says. “I think in part it will be a celebration of all things Cornish, and that means a lot to me. I first joined Kneehigh in 1994 as an actor, and I've lived and worked here ever since, so I know how powerful an image the sea can be. Obviously there's an affinity here with Du Maurier and her work, but audiences here are very open-minded.”

Rice's production of Rebecca hits the road as Rice prepares to step down from Kneehigh to becomes artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe, taking over from Dominic Dromgoole in 2016. Before then, Rice has plenty to keep her occupied with Kneehigh, with a new show to stage before she moves on. In the meantime, she remains as obsessed with Rebecca as ever.

“It's a story about an innocent young girl who gets involved in a situation she doesn't understand,” she says. “It's a little bit like Bluebeard in that way. It's mood is dark, and that's probably why Hitchcock liked it. There's this beautiful innocent victim, and Hitchcock films were full of beautiful innocent victims.

“It's also a story about loss and renewal, and how we want the people we love to be good, and what happens if they're not. We've all been with someone who turns out to not be as perfect as we thought they were, but what happens if we're not as good as we think we are either?”

Rebecca, Kings Theatre, Edinburgh, October 19-24; His Majesty's Theatre,
Aberdeen, October 26-31; Kings Theatre, Glasgow, November
2-7.
www.edtheatres.com
www.atgtickets.com

The Herald, October 19th 2015




Ends

Friday, 16 October 2015

Martyr

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


There are moments when it feels like Benjamin, the teenage Christian fundamentalist at the heart of Maja Zade's English translation of German playwright Marius von Mayenburg's drama, is bursting, not just out of his school uniform, but out of his very skin in this co-production between Actors Touring Company and Unicorn Theatre. One minute he's quoting the scriptures to justify
his refusal to take part in mixed swimming lessons, the next he's thrown into temptation by both his
classmate Lydia and his would-be disciple and good cause, George.

Growing pains and a bursting sexuality, it seems, are guided by a blind faith that is prepared to sacrifice anything that gets in its way. This is made flesh here by Benjamin's  biology teacher, Erica, who, in between dodging the everyday sexism of her male colleagues becomes an equally obsessed believer.

Set on an array of wooden surfaces and platforms which his cast navigate, Ramin Gray's production estuarises things up to a more localised degree. This points up just how easy classroom terrorists can be sired even as it acknowledges the play's roots in a Germany which has been dealing with the fallout of extremism from all sides for seventy-odd years.

Such a complex crisis-crossing of belief systems and adolescent angst is fiercely and at times wittily delivered by an eight-strong cast led by Daniel O'Keefe as Benjamin and Natalie Radmall-Quirke
as Erica, with Farshid Rokey a tragi-comic George. The production's final image, in which private devotion becomes public spectacle by way of grand gestures, resembles a contemporary rendering of classical religious tableaux. It's immortality of sorts, even though no-one has a prayer left to call their
own.

The Herald, October 19th 2015


Ends

Jim Crace, Grid Iron Theatre Co and The Devil's Larder

In a Leith rehearsal room, the cast of Grid Iron Theatre Company's production of The Devil's Larder, which begins a short tour of some of Scotland's more less travelled venues next week, are pondering the contents of a label-free tin of something that's presumably edible.

“Do you know what it is?” asks Johnny Austin.
“I don't want to know,” Charlene Boyd snaps back.

“It feels quite syrupy,” Ashley Smith ponders as she shakes the tin.
“I know what it is,” says Antony Strachan.

No-one asks, with Austin and Boyd slipping into character as they proffer the tin up like gothic quiz show hosts that could have been made flesh and blood from an Edward Gorey drawing as they salivate and speculate over the tin's potentially aphrodisiac contents with thrustingly lascivious intent. So erotic is Austin and Boyd’s routine that director Ben Harrison gets them to pare things down so that only the faintest whiff of sex remains.

“Maybe if you stopped touching each other,” he says.

The Devil's Larder is a compendium of fourteen bite-size short stories taken from Jim Crace's novella of the same name and adapted for the stage by Harrison. The show was first produced by Grid Iron a decade back after being commissioned by Cork 2005 European Capital of Culture prior to an Edinburgh Festival Fringe run at Debenhams department store on Princes Street.

For this tenth anniversary revival, The Devil's Larder will open at Custom's House, the Leith-based building used as a store room for the last thirty years, but which is now in the care of the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust. Grid Iron will then tour the show to venues in Selkirk, Oban and Melvich.

“It was one of the company's favourite shows,” says Harrison about revisiting The Devil's Larder, “and it didn't have a huge run in Scotland. That was one reason for taking another look at it. The other was approaching The Touring Consortium to find out what audiences in places like Oban might want to see. The answers that came back were something about family, something about community, something that was funny and something that was moving. We thought, hmm, I think we've got something that has all of that.”

Harrison was first attracted to The Devil's Larder, which was first published in 2001, by its cover.

“It was a very striking image of a woman with a mouthful of blackberries,” he recalls, “and the juice dribbling down her mouth looks like blood.”

With Grid Iron having already explored the erotics of food with their 1998 show, Gargantua, it seemed a good companion piece. For Crace, who describes The Devil's Larder as a cumulative novel made up of sixty-four parts, it gave his book a fresh lease of life.

“As a book it's a favourite of mine,” he says, “because it enabled me to be playful. Normally my books are serious, but when it came out it did#'t initially get that much exposure. Now it's ended up onstage, it's been given a different kind of exposure, so maybe it was always meant to be onstage.

“Both writing and reading are very solitary acts, and I've often found that difficult as a writer, because I like to be sociable. Theatre, on the other hand, isn't a solitary activity. It's a social activity, with colleagues and comrades all working together. What was great about seeing Grid Iron's version of it ten years ago, and I'm sure will be again, is that they take it off the page, with real faces and real voices responding to each other and really fleshing it out, so the book's now been socialised.”

With this in mind, Crace admits that it might have made more sense for him to adapt The Devil's Larder for the stage himself. The fact that his daughter, Lauren Crace, is an actress and writer who was a regular in East Enders prior to focusing on theatre encouraged him even more. As he also admits, however, “I don't have the skills to do it. When I nominally retired from fiction writing, one of the things I wanted to do was write plays, but I sat down to try and write one again and again, and each time I did that I don't think I got beyond the first half page.”

Whatever Crace's own limitations, theatre has continued to embrace his work. As well as The Devil's Larder, also touring this month is a stage version of his historical novel, The Gift of Stones, in a production by the Richmond-based North Country Theatre. Also set to be produced is a version of his Man Booker short-listed 2013 novel, Harvest, by Birmingham Rep.

In the meantime, Harrison's new production of The Devil's Larder is, on the showing of this week's rehearsals, at least, already looking like a darker and more stylised production than Grid Iron's first take on it.

“We're older and have more life experience second time around,” is how Harrison sees it, “so hopefully we can bring more layers to it.”

Other things have changed too in the last decade that may give the show a new resonance. On a superficial level, where before Grid Iron might have been hard-pressed to find a café selling fancy coffee in their adopted neighbourhood, today there are three Michelin-starred restaurants within a stone's throw of Customs House. One story, too, Angel Dough, now can't help but remind audiences of food-obsessed TV shows such as The Great British Bake-Off.

On a more serious note, given the recent flight of Syrians from their homeland, the fact that two of the fourteen stories, A Little Town of Great Charity and The Refugee of the Seventh Floor, concern themselves with refugees is painfully pertinent.

“That wasn't in our minds the first time we did it,” says Harrison, “but now you can't help but think about Syria.”

This tallies with Crace's observation that “It's not actually about food at all. If you kept the book in the kitchen and tried to follow the recipes in it you'd end up poisoning yourself. Each section is about something else entirely.”

Whatever The Devil's Larder is about, seeing it receive a second stage life is something Crace is clearly thrilled about.

“When you write a book,” he says, “that's pleasing in itself, but when it gets another life, that's something else again. Three sections of The Devil's Larder have been filmed, and just this week I got a letter from a composer wanting to set a song I wrote for one of them a capella. All of this after life is something I count myself really lucky about. It puts a spring in my step.”

As for Grid Iron, Crace is gushing with praise for their efforts.

“They're so courageous,” he says. “There's nothing in their productions they can't do. Grid Iron should be cherished.”
 

The Devil's Larder, Customs House, Edinburgh as part of the Traverse Theatre programme, October 18-24; The Haining, Selkirk, October 29-31; Rockfield Centre, Oban, November 6-7; Melvich Hotel, Melvich, November 13-15.
www.griditron.org.uk

The Herald, October 16th 2015

ends

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sleaford Mods

La Belle Angele, Edinburgh
Four stars

“This is a Sleaford Mods disco party,” the Nottingham-sired duo's demonic frontman Jason Williamson roars at one point before launching into Tied Up in Nottz, “and you're all invited.” It had already been a busy week for Williamson and and feral-looking trucker-capped beats-meister Andrew Fearn even before this first of four sold out dates in Scotland, which culminates in a show at Glasgow Art School on Saturday. The night before, Williamson and Fearn had played live on BBC TV's Later...With Jools Holland as the unlikely musical meat slapped between a sandwich of Burt Bacharach and Labi Siffre.

There will be more on the forthcoming extended edition of the show, though it's unlikely to top the Mods' third visit to Edinburgh, a trip which began two years ago when they played to a handful of curious Noise fans in an Old Town basement dive before gatecrashing a performance art night next door. With such a pedigree, their wilfully belligerent austerity era state of the nation address takes on all comers in a set drawn largely from this year's Key Markets album.

Williamson propels himself into the title track with a gobby fury matched by the spindly relentlessness of Fearn's laptop-drawn rhythms. While Williamson is a pent-up ball of pub philosophy on nihilistic terrace anthems like No One's Bothered, Fearn stands shuffling with his hands in his track-suit pockets, lip-synching to Williamson's verbal assaults on the way we live now. Flicking the on switch for each song is his only concession to performance. The result sounds like a musical collision between Madchester savants Happy Mondays and New York electronic confrontationalists, Suicide, and for the moment, at least, is an essential display of back-street poetics borders on the riotous.

The Herald, October 16th 2015

ends

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Lord of the Flies

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


It's telling that it's a British Airways style Union Jack crest ripped asunder on the tail of the decapitated passenger plane that's been bombed out of the sky at the opening of Regent's Park Theatre's touring stage version of William Golding's novel. As it's colonialist history has made clear, behind the flag's stiff-upper-lipped veneer lays a symbol of something altogether less edifying.

That history is all but acted out in microcosm in Timothy Sheader's production of Nigel Williams' adaptation, which begins with jungle drums beating hard as the surviving schoolboys of the crash are thrown together on an unknown island. With Luke Ward-Wilkinson's Ralph an unassumingly wide-eyed outcast whose authority is challenged by the tribalism and mob rule of Freddie Watkins' Jack
and his gang, their little boys games soon get very serious indeed.

Played out on the vast expanse of Jon Bausor's detritus-littered set, Williams' script is peppered with visual and linguistic updates, from laptops and selfie sticks to references to Bear Grylls and I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but there are far more significant parallels which don't need rewriting.

Substitute Jack's rhetoric about the need for spears to protect themselves from some mythical beast for weapons of mass destruction, and it's not difficult to recognise some real-life bogeymen. Jack's bullying of Anthony Roberts' Piggy and fear of anyone 'weirdy' is also telling, even as his self-absorbed dance moves resemble the last dregs of a suburban rave. Through all of this, Sheader and his large ensemble cast have created a thrillingly timeless look at Golding's parable of corrupted civilisation which suggests that barbarism really does begin at home.

The Herald, October 15th 2015




ends

We Are The Mods?....No, We Are The Mods – Life's A Riot With Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods are having their moment. The first time the dynamic duo of vocalist/wordsmith Jason Williamson and techno-primitivist soundscaper Andrew Fearn brought their acerbic alliance of shop-floor social commentary and four-to-the-floor electronic abrasion to Edinburgh in 2013, they played in Old Town basement dive The Banshee Labyrinth to a handful of the city's fertile Noise-scene regulars used to more abstract rackets.

Afterwards, Williamson and Fearn were taken to a performance art night at a rehearsal space next door, and ended up playing the same set again to an audience that made it into double figures this time. Seeing them second time around in such close proximity helped make sense of the short, sharp shock that was the equivalent of a musical punch to the face earlier on, but it was no less startling.

When Sleaford Mods returned to Edinburgh in November 2014 on the back of supporting the reformed Specials on tour, it was to a sold out Electric Circus, where, with an audience of largely middle-aged men for Williamson and Fearn to bounce off, an even more intense experience ensued. While scary looking geezers flogged spare tickets outside, the show opened with Glasgow performance poet McGuire's meditations on masculinity, and ended with the amusing sight of Fearn, possibly the most unlikely sex symbol this side of Goldie Looking Chain, being mobbed by a gaggle of orange-tanned ladies who'd possibly stumbled in from the karaoke room next door, getting him to pose for selfies.

The forty-something Nottingham-sired duo arrive in Scotland this week for four already sold out dates, opening at Edinburgh's La Belle Angele on Wednesday. Touring on the back of their recently released Key Markets album – their eighth since 2007 – these shows promise to be even more furious, more scathing and more necessary than ever.

Somewhere inbetween all this, Sleaford Mods have have collaborated with The Prodigy and Leftfield, been lionised in the Sunday broadsheets as poster boys for a new pop resistance and interviewed by actress Maxine Peake on BBC TV's Artsnight strand. That the interview took place in the sort of Manchester Wheeltappers and Shunters style working men's club that The Fall's Mark E Smith once mythologised was telling.

Looking like a pair of Brit-pop/Rave casualties who went on a bender too far but somehow managed to come out smiling, Williamson and Fearn's irresistible rise has run in tandem with the Westminster Tory government's increasingly shameless cruelty on all fronts. It's perhaps no accident that the Lincolnshire town that gave the band their name is close to Grantham, birthplace off Margaret Thatcher. Because Williamson's bile-driven rants born of a dole queue culture where the underclass are spoon-fed a sickly diet of daytime TV trash and party political bullshit gives voice to a generation of back-street autodidacts who continue to be disenfranchised by Thatcher and her heirs.

In a world where the all-in-this-together conformity of Jools Holland's Later, BBC 6Music and identi-kit summer music festivals hold sway with a conveyor belt of indie-by-numbers guitar bands who seem to have formed at a prep school careers fair, Sleaford Mods are the latest prole art threat. Like Half Man Half Biscuit without the gags, their channelling of Happy Mondays style lyrical non-sequiters, the confrontational electronic assault of Suicide and the sheer oppositional frustration of an old-school housing estate riot is a bare-knuckled antidote to such anodyne conformity. As the welfare state is dismantled brick by broken brick, Sleaford Mods are a breath of lager and skunk scented air that is as perfect a soundtrack for the austerity age as Ghost Town by their former tour-mates The Specials was for the inner-city UK riots of 1981.

Yet, just as they've gatecrashed their way into the music biz clubhouse on their own potty-mouthed terms, Sleaford Mods have also leapt a barrier loaded with contradictions. This week even sees them appear alongside Jools and co on Later in what can either be seen as full-on mainstream acceptance or a magnificent piece of entryist subversion.

In a couple of years time when things may or may not have got better, Williamson and Fearn will either have choked on the fruits of their success or else imploded into impotence with no pricks to kick against anymore. Either way, make the most of this week's shows while you can. The riots should be starting any day now.

Sleaford Mods, La Belle Angele, Edinburgh, Wed October 14th; The Tunnels, Aberdeen, Thursday October 14th; Buskers, Dundee, Friday October 16th; The Art School, Glasgow, Saturday October 16th.

Product magazine, October 13th 2015

ends

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Nigel Williams - Adapting Lord of the Flies

When William Golding said to Nigel Williams that the latter's stage version of Golding's iconic novel, Lord of the Flies, would be performed at 'the crossroads of great cathedrals', he probably wasn't thinking it might end up on an open-air stage at Regent's Park in London. On an early autumn night in a clearing flanked by trees more than a quarter of a century after Williams' adaptation was first performed in his son's Wimbledon school by students, however, that's exactly where it's ended up.

Parties of school-children still in uniform, some clutching dog-eared paperback copies of Golding's 1954 tome about a party of boys who survive a plane crash on an uninhabited island, look initially overwhelmed by the authentic looking sight of a decapitated passenger plane splayed totem-like as part of designer Jon Bausor's set. The noise of planes coming into land that punctuates the action overhead for the next two hours of Timothy Sheader's touring production which arrives in the indoor arena of Edinburgh's Festival Theatre this week adds an extra frisson to an already charged atmosphere.

In the end, however, it's the onstage action that captivates, as, freed from their social restraints, what would normally be everyday playground gang warfare becomes something altogether more tribalistic. As performed by a top-notch cast who look younger than their years, the experience is even more electric.

“The natural landscape is a really important aspect of the story says Williams. “What Bill said about the book is that, as it goes on, the boys become men. Seeing it done outdoors in Tim's production, I think you really see that for the first time. I think it's a very clever and very clear production, and I think Bill would've been able to see that as well.”

Lord of the Flies was originally sent on spec by Golding to publishing house, Faber and Faber. Golding was working as a teacher in Salisbury, and after his book was rescued from the slush pile, very quickly went out of print. Only later did its exploration of civilisation slip into popular consciousness and become a classroom staple, possibly on the back of Peter Brook's 1963 film version, possibly after the bok's cache was increased even further when Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983.

The original idea for Williams to adapt Golding's novel for the stage came from Matthew Evans, now Baron Evans of Temple Guiting, who was the managing director and later Chair of Faber and Faber, who published both writers works. While now best known for his Emmy-nominated script for 2005 TV drama, Elizabeth I, featuring Helen Mirren in the title role, Williams' first novel, my Life Closed Twice, appeared in 1977. A year later, Williams' play, Class Enemy, which looked at adolescent conflict in a South London schoolroom, was produced at the Royal Court Theatre. Given such shared interests, Golding and Williams seemed a natural fit.

“Matthew said, look, everyone's going on about this book,” Williams remembers, “wouldn't it be great to do it onstage. He also wanted to keep control of it, because there'd been unauthorised versions of it done, not out of malice, but they made Bill very angry, because he never got any royalties, so it was Matthew who commandeered it all.”

Williams visited Golding at his home in Cornwall, where a “hilarious” and epically boozy evening ensued before Williams returned home to work on the first draft of the play.

“I wrote the first act and sent it to Bill,” Williams remembers, “and he was really sweet about it, but then I thought, I can't do this, and I had him on at me asking when he was going to see the rest of it. It's a really difficult book to adapt, because a lot of it is description, but when discussions do happen, it has to be significant.”

Williams eventually finished the three-act version that was performed at his son's school, where opening night was even more nerve-wracking than usual.

“The whole idea was to do this so Bill could come to see it and see what he thought,” says Williams, “and I remember Matthew coming up to me and telling me he'd never seen me looking so scared.”

A photograph of the original production is pinned to Williams' toilet wall, and captures a cast which included both the son of actor Ben Kingsley and Williams own son, Jack Williams, now a successful screen-writer himself on TV dramas such as The Missing.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he says, “all these kids in the picture aged somewhere between ten and twelve, but who are all about thirty-five now.”

Adrian Noble, then artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, picked up on the show, and invited Australian theatre and opera legend Elijah Moshinsky to direct the first professional production of Lord of the Flies. Moshinsky took the potentially perilous step of drafting in real children to perform in his production.

“There were some people who said children can't act,” says Williams, “which is ridiculous. Some children can act and some can't, the same as adults.”

Williams' adaptation was eventually picked up by director Marcus Romer's Pilot Theatre company, who toured it extensively. Nothing, however, has matched the sheer scale of Sheader's Regent's Park Theatre production, which was put together by the same team who recently toured the stage version of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee's equally iconic novel which put a child's experience at the story's centre. Williams worked closely with Sheader when the Regent's Park production was first produced in 2011.

Since then, while Williams' latest novel, RIP, “a comedy about a bloke who wakes up dead,” is about to be published, he is also writing a play for his old school.

“The director, who's one of the teachers, rang me up and said he couldn't find the right boy to play the main part,” says Williams, “so he said they'd decided to make it an all-girl production.”

Given the use of a selfie-stick and the unavoidable twenty-first century shadow of jungle-based reality TV show I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here in Sheader's current production, might something similar be done with Lord of the Flies?

“Well,” says Williams, “my feeling about the whole casting thing is that anyone can play anyone. White people can play black people, black people can play white people, girls can play boys, boys can play girls, and so on. The only thing I would say about Lord of the Flies is that you can't have it being girls from a girls school, because it's very much about male violence.

“I don't think there's another novel that's been written since the Second World War that deals with such visceral and incredibly serious themes in the way that it does. It's not just about boys who become savages. It's about democracy, civilisation and fundamental philosophical questions about the world, and in theatre, if you get it right, that becomes something sharper and even stronger.

“It's a story about human beings, and it's about young children, who are faced with having to deal with eternity, and that's a pretty big idea for them to deal with.”

Lord of the Flies, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, October 13-17.
www.edtheatres.com

The Herald, October 13th 2015

ends

Monday, 12 October 2015

Not About Heroes

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


You can hear the bombs from the off in Philip Howard's touring revival of Stephen MacDonald's play focusing on the relationship between poets Siegried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen while incarcerated in what in 1917 Edinburgh was Craiglockhart War Hospital. As they sound, the two men face each other at opposite ends of Kenneth MacLeod's abstract, marble-patterned set, being dressed in the formal trappings of a military uniform that may give them standing, but which will keep more
personal feelings thoroughly buttoned up.

As these two shellshocked casualties find common ground after being thrown together, fanboy Owen gradually grows in stature as the emotionally stunted man who becomes his mentor opens up a whole
new world for him before the inevitable occurs.

It's easy to make such a portmanteau piece look small, but in Howard's hands for this Eden Court Theatre, Inverness production, MacDonald's play is lifted out of its own seeming stiff-upper-lipped roots and invested with a theatrical richness that gives it gravitas and depth. This is done in part  by a use of choreographed movement overseen by EJ Boyle which puts flesh on the horrors of Owen's dreams to accentuate the futility of war.

Central to the production's over-riding intensity are the performances, and, as the poets, both Ali Watt and Thomas Cotran lend Sassoon and Owen an uptight vulnerability and sheer human frailty that clearly fuelled their art. A fascinating addition too comes by way of the third figure of an officers' batman who seems to be a perennial spectre from the trenches, a piece of silent cannon fodder caught in the crossfire so these great men's elegies could take flight.

The Herald, October 13th 2015


Ends

Ghosts

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars


You can tell things aren't going to turn out well in Megan Barker's contemporary new take on Henrik
Ibsen's nineteenth century treatise on hand-me-down guilt and the long-term consequences of desperate actions. It's something about the way John Hogg's Osvald, the motorbike riding, film-making prodigal returning to his mammy's Highland home, kills a stag en route. For such a symbol of macho pride to be felled so cruelly seems to be a portent of Osvald's emasculation, even as it forms his opening monologue in Barker's richly poetic text.

Osvald is greeted, not by his widowed town councillor mother, Helen, as played by Alison Peebles,
but by Scarlett Mack's social-climbing young assistant Regina. Her plans are waylaid by her ex policeman father, Jacob, before Helen arrives with her political ally, Martin. With plans afoot to bankroll a care home in honour of Helen's late husband, it's a summit meeting to be reckoned with in Andy Arnold's production which becomes a damningly prescient indictment of everyday corruption.

In keeping with the melodrama of Ibsen's original, the action revs from nought to sixty in a matter of minutes as secrets collapse into each other with devastating results during a dark night of the soul that destroys all involved. While its not difficult to make parallels with recent real life events, the play's stand-out image comes in the second half, when Osvald and Helen's self-destruction is seen in relentless close-up.  Here the very personal fall-out of how a weak local authority caught with its pants down can become complicit in institutionalised abuse on a grand scale is made brutally clear,
even as it damns future generations forever.

The Herald, October 12th 2015


ends

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Lot and His God

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars


It's hard to gauge exactly who's turned on the most in Howard Barker's
erotically charged reimagining of the Bible's Old Testament myth set in the last
days of Sodom. It might well be Daniel Cahill's horny angel, here named Drogheda
and sent down by God to save Lot and his wife from the destruction that's about
to wipe out the original Sin City. Or it could be Lot's wife Sverdlosk, played
by Pauline Knowles as a faithless drop-dead femme fatale resembling the
shoe-hoarding wife of a deposed dictator on the run, who gets her kicks by
defying Drogheda's celestial intervention.

Cliff Burnett's Lot, meanwhile, works himself into a lather over even the idea of Sverdlosk and
Drogheda embarking on a last-gasp pre-apocalyptic liaison. It might also be worth keeping
an eye on Ewan Somers' silently disdainful waiter who  clearly has ideas above
his station.

Debbie Hannan's production of Barker's late period chamber piece
sets out its store in a decrepit café where anything civilised has been
jettisoned to the dustbin of history, and only the sacred profanities of
language remain. As delivered by Hannan's cast in the Citz's stripped back
Circle Studio space, a near declamatory relishing of Barker's poetry makes for
an electric set of power games to witness.

Seen only once before on a British stage, Barker's play forms part of the Up Close season of work to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the long lost Close Theatre. With a libertine morality
at play, rather than Sverdlosk looking back at the decadent world where she
thrived, in Barker's version, at least, it is God who is left behind and
rendered speechless.

The Herald, October 8th 2015


ends

The Shawshank Redemption

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


While there are plenty of bankers who should be in prison, Andy Dufresne,
the banged-up hero of Stephen King's 1982 short story, Rita Hayworth and
Shawshank Redemption, isn't one one of them. It is to King's original story
rather than the iconic 1994 big-screen version of it that Owen O'Neill
and Dave Johns' stage adaptation looks to.

Here, Dufresne's incarceration for allegedly killing his wife and her lover in 1940s America is told through the eyes of Ellis 'Red' Redding, the prison go-to man, who can supply pretty much anything
any self-respecting jailbird would need. For Dufresne, this includes a rock
hammer and a pin-up poster of Hayworth for reasons which are eventually made
clear.

Inbetween navigating his way through the institutionalised brutality of
the penal system on both sides of the law, Dufresne manages to negotiate a
library into being. This becomes a symbol of his quietly unwavering
determination to stay true to himself over the next two decades in the face of
the iniquities of the prison caste system. Salvation trickles down too through
hoarded copies of banned novels, while Dufresne guides George Evans' serial
delinquent Tommy Williams through his exams.

With its roots in O'Neill and Johns' own production seen in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, David Esbjornson's touring production of this rewritten version scales things up on
Gary McCann's expansive prison set. Ian Kelsey makes for a powerfully stoic
Dufresne and Patrick Robinson an equally charismatic Red, while O'Neill drips
hypocritical venom as Warden Stammas. All of which makes for a powerful treatise
on integrity and honesty for a full-blown meditation on the pains of confinement
and the power of hope beyond.

The Herald, October 7th 2015


ends

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Megan Barker - Ghosts

It was a strange sensation for Megan Barker when she stepped off the train at Glasgow Central Station en route to the first read-through of her new adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play, Ghosts, which opens at the city's Tron Theatre this week. Alighting onto Argyle Street from the station's back exit and into the gloom of the station bridge for the first time in several years, Barker was greeted by the sight of the former entrance to The Arches.

The understated doorway had once been a portal to one of the most important arts venues in Europe, a place which for twenty-odd years hosted a steady stream of audiences and artists. Now the venue where Barker's first play had been produced while still a student, and which, like so many others of her generation, opened her up to the possibilities of what theatre could be, lay locked up and empty after it was forced to close down earlier this year following Glasgow City Council's decision not to renew its late licence on the advice of Police Scotland.

“I feel grief-stricken by it,” Barker says of the closure of The Arches late in our conversation while reflecting on her roots as a writer and artist. “I feel it in a very personal way, and when I got off the train at Central Station it was really sad to see it so stricken. The support The Arches gave to me and to everyone who ever worked there was so important in terms of the outward looking thing that they had, so it felt like it was part of a bigger scene beyond. Everything I've ever done came from The Arches, so it feels like a very personal loss.”

While Glasgow City Council's role in the demise of The Arches was crucial, it's probably coincidence that Barker's contemporary update of Ghosts is set against a backdrop of local politics, with the main character Helen Alving a Highland councillor and seemingly model citizen whose carefully constructed respectable veneer masks a murky world of corruption in high places. Where Ibsen's original shocked nineteenth century society with its revelations of immorality and inherited sexual disease in a way that modern audiences can often be left wondering what all the fuss is about, Barker introduces a back-drop of addiction and institutionalised child abuse that sounds troublingly current.

“In lots of ways Ghosts is the most dated of Ibsen's plays,” Barker says of a piece first performed in Chicago in 1882 by a touring Danish company. “When Andy Arnold at the Tron first rang me up out of the blue and said he wanted to do Ghosts, but with a more modern approach, we talked a lot about its relevance, and how to make the religious conservatism that runs through the play more relevant to today.”

Barker initially thought about looking at the contemporary Catholic church, but turned instead to the political world, and how private indiscretions can eventually come to light as part of a very public disgrace.

“In the original,” says Barker, “syphilis is this inescapable physical thing that sums up this idea of the sins of the fathers, but in my version I wanted it to be a psychological inheritance, so there's this history of abuse, and the son is going to inherit that from his father. There's a thing there as well about hypocrisy and how that relates to power.”

Such a change might sound like a fairly hefty dramatic leap, but while Barker begs to differ, neither is she attempting to cause similar shockwaves to how Ghosts was first received in 1882.

“Shock's a funny word,” she says, “and I’m not really sure there's a huge amount of worth in it. I don't feel any kind of duty to shock, but there's so much in the press just now about powerful people abusing people who aren't as powerful that it felt quite natural to do it this way. It was a struggle going through some pretty horrible material about abuse, but I wanted to try and work on it from the inside of the characters rather than the outside.”

The last time Barker worked with Arnold was in 2009 on Monaciello, a very Arches-like work performed in a network of underground rooms at Naples Theatre Festival.

“I suppose Monaciello was pretty dark,” says Barker, “and that's maybe why Andy though of me for Ghosts. He said it's a dark piece and he knew I could do dark, but I'd just had a baby and was all love and happiness, so that really wasn't the place I was I when I began writing it.”

It's telling that it was Arnold who approached Barker to adapt Ghosts. Back in 2000, the boot was on the other foot when Barker and fellow University of Glasgow student Jackie Wylie first approached the then artistic director of The Arches with the idea of putting on a play Barker had written.

“We knew absolutely nothing about how to do it,” Barker reflects, “but we pretended we were professional theatre people. Andy must've known we were lying, but he let us put it on anyway.”

The play, Dead Letter, led to both Barker and Wylie developing a long-term relationship with The Arches, with Wylie eventually taking over from Arnold as Arches artistic director following his departure to run The Tron at the other end of Argyle Street in 2008. Barker went on to write Dead Pan with Rob Evans, and, with Faultline, the ad hoc company that produced Dead Letter, No Ghosts Expected, with both shows appearing in 2001.

While Barker left Glasgow in 2002, in 2006 she contributed a piece called Bernie to Spend A Penny, The Arches' fifteenth anniversary toilet cubicle-set compendium of five-minute plays. The same year, Barker wrote The incredible Human Heart Machine Part 1 (A Personal History) and Pit, which she followed up with Tongue Lie Tight a year later and Cria in 2008.

“I just kept going back to The Arches,” says Barker. “I loved it, and although I did stuff at the university theatre, The Arches certainly felt like it was the only home for me at the time. I suppose what Dead Letter did was give me the confidence to make my own work and just to do it, and eventually, through Pit and other things, I made contacts elsewhere.”

Having decamped to Hertfordshire, Barker embarked on a stint with the Royal Court Theatre in London, before having plays produced at Soho Theatre and the Sherman in Cardiff. Up until recently she also ran Feral, a site-specific based theatre company performing fantastical fairy-tale-based works in off-beat venues including a multi-storey car park.

Up until ghosts Barker thought she'd left playwriting behind, but once approached, “became excited again, and said yes against my better judgement.

“Every time I looked at the play from a different perspective I found the question of responsibility coming up,” she says. “The whole idea of turning a blind eye, allowing things to happen and not being bothered to stand up and challenge things we know are wrong kept coming up as an important issue. I was thinking about that from quite a personal perspective, about how people collude in various things to maintain a certain sense of security by trying to protect people they love or think they love, and how damaging that collusion can be.

“I think I'm always interested in, and I keep on coming back to, the potential we all have to make horribly wrong decisions born out of love, and how often these really bad decisions can have an even worse effect on things, and how our decisions to protect someone can lead to our demise.”

Ghosts, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 7-24.
www.tron.co.uk

The Herald, October 6th 2015

ends

Monday, 5 October 2015

The Last Yankee

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Four stars


Disappointment pulses throughout every second of Arthur Miller's late
period 1993 play, revived here by Rapture Theatre as the second part of the
company's 100 Years of Miller celebrations following their large scale tour of
All My Sons last month. It's there on the face of Leroy Hamilton, the wilfully
underachieving descendent of one of America's founding fathers, who sits in the
waiting room of the state mental hospital where his wife Patricia is spending a
third period in an attempt to keep her depression at bay. It's there too in the
face of John Frick, who may have embraced the American Dream that Hamilton
rejected, but whose own wife Karen is in the same hospital. Most of all,
however, it is Patricia's soul itself that is so fatefully marked by failed
expectations as she attempts to take control of her life once more.

It's key to Miller's chamber piece that we see how men are prior to the doors opening on
Patricia and Karen's world, and director Michael Emans has cast things
beautifully. David Tarkenter's banjo playing Leroy is an insular, mono-syllabic
sociopath in stark counterpoint to Stewart Porter's bluff Frick, the epitome of
a blue-collar capitalist success story. It is Jane McCarry's sad-eyed Karen and
especially Pauline Turner's furiously self-determined Patricia who are
psychologically crippled by the long-term side-effects of their respective
husbands choices in life.

Touring as part of this year's Scottish Mental Health
Arts and Film Festival, Emans' production is a fascinating glimpse into one of
Miller's most intimate works in which an entire system seems to have left its
casualties in need of collective medication.

The Herald, October 5th 2015


Ends

Friday, 2 October 2015

Brian Friel obituary

Brian Friel – Playwright

Born January 9 1929, Killyclogher, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland; died October 2 2015, Greencastle, County Donegal, Ireland.


Brian Friel, who has died aged eighty-six following a long illness, was a quiet giant of modern Irish theatre, whose greatest plays tapped into the beating heart of the human condition through notions of human frailty and community in the face of adversity. If the former was evident in Faith Healer (1979), a quartet of interlinking monologues charting the inconsistent muse of the Fantastic Frank Hardy, the latter pulsed throughout some of Friel's great ensemble works, including Translations (1980), which dealt with cultural colonialism during a volatile period of Ireland's history, and Dancing at Lughnasa (1990), in which memory and history becomes an even more personal for of artistic endeavour.

Bernard Patrick Friel was born in Killcogher, near Omagh, to a school teacher father and post mistress mother, who moved their family to Derry when Friel was aged ten. Friel was educated in St Columb's College in Derry, also the alma mater of poet Seamus Heaney, and, after studying for the priesthood in St Patrick's College, Maynooth, followed his father into teaching.

By 1950, however, Friel was writing short stories, and in 1958 his early radio plays were produced by BBC Belfast. A year later he had become a regular contributor to The New Yorker, while the same year, his first stage play, A Doubtful Paradise, was produced at the Ulster Group Theatre in Belfast. This was followed in 1962 by a collection of short stories, The Saucer of Larks, and another stage play, The Enemy Within, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin before transferring to the Queen's.

It was only after observing the great stage director Tyrone Guthrie for six months while on a sojourn to Minneapolis in 1963, however, that Friel fully found his theatrical voice. This was clear from Philadelphia, Here I Come!, which opened in Dublin in 1964 before transferring to New York and, eventually, London. By the time the two plays that made up Lovers appeared in 1967, Friel had moved to Donegal, where he continued to write plays such as Crystal and Fox, The Mundy Scheme and The Gentle Island.

By 1973, he was writing explicitly political plays such as The Freedom of the City, which was in part a response to events surrounding what came to be known as Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers shot dead twenty-six unarmed civilians during a civil rights march in Derry in 1972. by 1979, however, Friel had moved into both more personal and more epic waters with Faith Healer. Through monologues charting the rise and fall of a once great showman, Friel explored the fragile pursuit of art, with heroic failure the risk of every small success. Earlier this year John Dove directed a thrilling production of Faith Healer at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.

In 1980, Friel began an artistic collaboration with actor Stephen Rea on what would become Field Day Theatre Company to produce Friel's latest play, Translations. By the time it opened at the Guildhall in Derry in September that year against a backdrop of the Irish Troubles, both play and company were already on the map, with Friel's fellow writers Heaney, Tom Paulin and Seamus Deane forming part of a core group with Friel and Rea. While Friel maintained that Translations was 'about language and only about language', a play set in a rural Irish community co-opted by an English establishment who anglicise the local place names, effectively erasing an entire cultural history, was always going to cause a stir. In a production that featured Rea, Liam Neeson and Ray McAnally in the cast, this was even more the case.

Thirty-three years later, and with Translations now regarded as a modern classic, a new production opened in a very different Derry in the Millennium Forum, a brand new state of art theatre built to coincide with Derry/Londonderry's tenure as 2013 European Capital of Culture, which Friel's play and Field Day had arguably helped shape. Adrian Dunbar's production of Translations, which toured top Edinburgh, was quite right rightly one of the year's flagship events of Derry's year, though it was equally telling observing Friel at the first night party afterwards.

There Friel sat on a sofa, a gnomic figure beside Dunbar, who, despite being a well-known face from film and TV, was all but ignored as a huddle of young actresses from the show posed for selfies on their camera phones with the then eighty-four year old writer as if he was a pop star.

Friel quietly left Field Day in the early 1990s,by which time Dancing at Lughnasa, arguably Friel's greatest success, had already lit up Dublin, London and Broadway. Set, like many of Friel's plays, in the fictional rural town of Ballybeg, the play charted the lives of five sisters over one summer in 1936. The play won Olivier and Tony awards for Best New Play, and went on to be made into a film starring Meryl Streep.

While Friel was far from idle in the years that followed, writing Molly Sweeney in 1994 and Give Me Your Answer Do! in 1997,the last decade of his life saw him slow down, with Performances in 2003 forming a meditation on the artist's fear of ageing. In 2005, The Home Place was the last of his works set in Ballybeg, while in 2008 he adapted Ibsen's Hedda Gabler.

If ageing had been a understandable concern in Performances, it was something at the back of mind a lot earlier. In 1971 he wrote Self Portrait, a 'fragment of autobiography' recorded for BBC Radio Ulster when in his early forties. In it, Friel wrote that 'I am married, have five children, live in the country, smoke too much, fish a bit, read a lot, worry a lot, get involved in sporadic causes and invariably regret the involvement, and hope that between now and my death I will have acquired a religion, a philosophy, a sense of life that will make the end less frightening than it appears to me at this moment.'

Friel is survived by his wife, Anne Morrison, three daughters, Mary, Judy and Sally, and son David. He was predeceased by his daughter Patricia in 2012.

ends

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Brave New World

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


"Forget about the future," says pill-pacified pleasure seeker Lenina
at one point in Dawn King's stage adaptation of Aldous Huxley's dystopian 1931
novel en route to an emotion-free liaison with Bernard Marx, the most awkward
alpha male in town. "There's nothing we can do about it. Just live for
today."

Such a self-absorbed lifestyle choice was probably as all the rage in
Huxley's between-the-wars world as it is today. All dressed up in space-age
wigs, video projections resembling a Brian Eno installation and a stentorian
electronic soundscape care of pop panoramicists These New Puritans, however,
James Dacre's production for the Royal and Derngate, Northampton and The Touring
Consortium renders the story as all too recognisable prophecy.

It opens as a lecture, with the audience the new trainees being given a guided tour around a
hatchery centre where test tube babies are sired in a social caste system that
seemingly seals their fate for a half-life of feels-free kicks. This sets a tone
of dispassionate ice-cool ennui only broken when Gruffordd Glyn's Bernard goes on
a not so hot date to the badlands with Olivia Morgan's Lenina. Here they stumble
on William Postlethwaite's John The Savage, a Shakespeare-quoting bit of rough
who becomes a messiah-like cause célèbre, inspiring random outbreaks of sex,
violence and poetry before running off to the wilderness with Lenina.

Watching over all this is the World State Controller, Mond, played by
Sophie Ward as a gimlet-eyed social engineer who calls the shots in a slickly
realised if bleakly desolate affair that suggests people power has already been
tranquilised into submission.

Ends