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Showing posts from April, 2016

Of Mice and Men

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When a fiddle-led chorus sing Woody Guthrie's depression era anthem, This Land is Your Land, against the backdrop of a billowing sunset at the start of Roxana Silbert's revival of John Steinbeck's dramatisation of his 1937 novella, the delivery is laced with deadpan irony. Steinbeck's milieu, after all, is a transient society of unskilled labourers whose idea of home is a rough-shod dormitory tempered by the illusion of luxury provided by the fancy chairs that grace the local brothel.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, co-dependent drifters George and Lennie dream of a place of their own, while all about them protect everything they own, to the death if need be. Beauty and something to hold onto for comfort in an otherwise dirty world are so rare that they're either shot, like the old dog that keeps Dudley Sutton's Candy company, or else crushed guilelessly out of existence by Kristian Phillips' Lennie. This is …

Candice Edmunds - The Dance of Death

When August Strindberg went on holiday with his his sister and brother in law, the Swedish playwright was privy to an almighty falling out between the married couple. His response was to write The Dance of Death, in which a similarly styled husband and wife tear emotional and psychological chunks from each other while a third party looks on.

More than a century after Strindberg's relentlessly brutal play first appeared, it has arrived like a thunderbolt in a last minute production in the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow's Circle Studio. Conceived and directed by co-artistic director of the Vox Motus company, Candice Edmunds, this new version of the first part of Strindberg's play is penned by Frances Poet, for which Edmunds has pulled together a veritable supergroup of collaborators both on stage and off.

Onstage, the not so happy couple of Alice and the Captain are played by Lucianne McEvoy and Tam Dean Burn, with Alice's cousin Kurt played by Andy Clark. Clark last appear…

The Iliad

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

“This is the greatest story never told,” says the goddess Hera at the start of the second half of Chris Hannan's mighty dramatisation of Homer's epic chronicle of a death foretold, staged here by the Lyceum's outgoing artistic director Mark Thomson as his swansong production. It starts and ends quietly, with the collateral damage of life during wartime sitting about designer Karen Tennent's broken city, the girders encased within its classical columns exposed like scars on a body that's still standing, but barely.
Set at the fag-end of the decade-long Trojan War, things begin with Ben Turner's Achilles taking an almighty huff when Ron Donachie's Agamemnon, here a battle-bloated drunk who's lost his killer instinct, attempts to throw his weight about. What finally sees Achilles go back into battle is fuelled by the bromance between the reluctant warrior and his best friend Petroclus.

In Heaven, meanwhile, Zeus…

Love Song

Dundee Rep
Four stars

When damaged loner Beane's apartment is burgled, his life is turned upside down at the opening of John Kolvenbach's play, which has travelled the world since it first arrived onstage in Chicago in 2006. Beane's wake up call is mainly due to the lifeline brought to him by Molly, a puckish sprite with a guitar slung over her shoulder and a penchant for doing things she shouldn't. This is in stark contrast to Beane's sister Joan, who lives upstate with her avuncular husband Harry, in the thick of an altogether more domesticated dream than her brother. It is through Beane's wide-eyed imaginings, however, that Joan and Harry learn to play at being kids again, while Beane himself gets his house in order, with or without Molly to spark off.
By putting such seemingly contrasting sets of lives on a revolving stage, director Andrew Panton captures a world in motion not of Kolvenbach's characters making. There are no hints of how they got whe…

Right Now

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The offstage crying that punctuates the deceptively domestic opening of Quebecois writer Catherine-Anne Toupin's decade-old play is a giveaway about the inner turmoil that Alice, the young woman at its heart, is going through. Her screams, alas, remain silent as she navigates her exhausted way through the blandly immaculate des-res she shares with her husband Ben, an equally worn out doctor who she barely sees. When her predatory neighbours turn up at her front door, high comedy moves from madcap to manic in an increasingly troubling psycho-drama.
In Chris Campbell's English language translation for Michael Boyd's co-production between the Traverse, the Theatre Royal Bath Ustinov Studio and the Bush, this is delivered with exaggerated gusto by a cast of space invading grotesques. Between them, Maureen Beattie's Juliette, Dyfan Dwyfor's Francois and Guy Williams as Gilles fill a void of lovelessness and loss with cloying d…

Melody Grove - The Iliad

When Melody Grove stepped onto the red carpet with Mark Rylance at this year's Olivier Awards a couple of weeks ago, the clamour of attention aimed at her co-star in Claire van Kampen's play, Farinelli and The King, made her forget that she too was up for a gong. While Rylance was up for best actor in John Dove's production, which transferred to the west end following a run at the Globe Theatre, Grove was nominated for best actress in a supporting role, having played Isabella Farnesse, the wife of Rylance's character, King Philippe V of Spain.

While Judi Dench eventually won the award on a shortlist that included Michelle Dotrice and Catherine Steadman, such a taste of the high life has fed into Grove's current role in Chris Hannan's new stage version of Homer's epic poem, The Iliad. In Mark Thomson's production – his last as artistic director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh - Grove plays two parts. She describes the first, Andromache, as “eart…

Guys and Dolls

Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

The solitary saxophone that opens the touring revival of the ultimate Broadway musical may be deceptive in its quietude, but it's also the perfect neon-lit mood-setter for everything that follows. Originating at Chichester Festival Theatre, Gordon Greenberg's production taps into the full picaresque largesse of Damon Runyan's role-call of mobsters, showgirls, saints and sinners who first jumped from the page and were made flesh onstage by Frank Loesser, Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows in 1950 before being immortalised on film five years later.
Beneath the arched curvature of billboards that give Peter McKintosh's otherwise wide-open set the feel of the sort of after-hours big city dive bars where a glorious mess of popular culture is born, the largely bare stage bursts into raucous life with cartoon glee. Maxwell Caulfield's commitment-phobic Nathan, Richard Fleeshman's uber-cool Sky and the gang sport suits that seem to sharpen u…

Jackie The Musical

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There aren't many magazines that could be transformed into a jukebox musical. But then, few publications have the lingering iconic status of Jackie, the teenage girl bible born in Dundee, and which changed lives along with hair-styles, hem-lines, hearts and minds. A couple of decades after Cathy and Claire advised their last and the magazine's not quite glossy pages finally folded, Jackie appears to have come of age. Or at least their readers have if the pink fizz sipping audience lapping up every moment of a show that began at the Gardyne Theatre in Dundee before being picked up like a small town hot date and given a make-over for its current tour are anything to go by.
The story focuses on Janet Dibley's fifty-something Jackie (natch), who, after being dumped by her husband of twenty years for a younger model is attempting to get back into the dating game. With her younger self escaping from her psyche to advise her and a box of…

Zinnie Harris - This Restless House

All is quiet in Zinnie Harris' house on the south side of Edinburgh. In a leafy suburb on Easter Bank Holiday Monday afternoon this should come as no surprise, but given that Harris has opted to call her adaptation of Aeschylus' ancient Greek epic trilogy, The Oresteia, This Restless House, the quietude is initially disarming. As it is, such a peaceful atmosphere has been key to Harris channeling her creative energies into reinventing an already volatile work for a twenty-first century audience.

Not that Harris has chosen to contemporise Aeschylus' family-driven trilogy in an explicitly modern setting, as should be clear when her marathon undertaking opens at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland next week. Rather, as with some of Harris' increasingly expansive works, This Restless House occupies a historical no man's land that puts women at its heart.

For those not already versed in Greek tragedy, Aeschylus' or…

Zizi Strallen and Cameron Mackintosh - Mary Poppins

Zizi Strallen is flying. Onstage at Birmingham Hippodrome, the twenty-five year old actress who has just spent the best part of three hours onstage is soaring above the audience's heads looking as cool, calm and collected as you like. Given that the latest of the multi-talented Strallen sisters to scale the dizzy heights of the acting world has been playing the title role in Sir Cameron Mackintosh's touring remount of Mary Poppins, such seeming nonchalance regarding defying gravity in this way is exactly as it should be.

A few hours earlier, sitting alone in the Hippodrome's upstairs bar, Strallen is equally poised, albeit with her hair down and a casual shirt thrown over black vest top and jeans, is all but unrecognisable as the magical nanny first seen in a series of eight children's novels penned by P.L. Travers over a fifty-four year period. Only Strallen's perfectly made up and seemingly permanently amused face which will later animate itself into a far more …

Nina Myskow - Jackie The Musical

It was May 17th 1973 when Nina Myskow met David Bowie in Dundee. Myskow was working as a writer on Jackie, the iconic girls pop and fashion magazine that was already one of the most iconic signifiers of the decade. Bowie had just done a show at the Caird Hall as part of the final leg of his Ziggy Stardust tour, and was at his glam-packed peak.

When the clock struck midnight at the after-show party in the hotel bar, it was Myskow's birthday, and Bowie bought her a bottle of champagne.

“I said thank you very much,” says Myskow today after four decades as tabloid pop columnist and TV critic and personality, “but what I really want is an interview.”

Bowie said okay, as it was her birthday, he'd do it, and that she should come and see him at 11am.

When she arrived later that morning, Myskow sized up the superstar in front of her.

“Can you imagine it?” says Myskow “It was probably the first time anyone in Dundee had ever seen a man in make-up. I looked at him and said, 'I do …

The Silent Treatment

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

A ticking clock is pretty much the only sound to be heard as the massed ranks of Lung Ha Theatre Company enter what looks like an old-fashioned school-room one by one at the opening of Douglas Maxwell's new play. With the procession itself delivered with masterly deadpan aplomb, what follows concerns the comic consequences of a sponsored silence being held to raise funds for the seriously ill mother of teenage Billie, who is also taking part in the event.
It is Billie herself, however, who is unable to keep her mouth shut for more than a few seconds, whereupon her exclusion from the quietude prompts an altogether noisier vow as Billie co-opts new girl Stacey to help cause as much disruption as possible. What follows is a series of extended cartoon-style sketches that overlap, collide into and tumble over each other by way of a loose-knit narrative that puts Billie and Stacey's Wile E. Coyote style attempts at sabotage at its centre. Pivoting…

Bridget Riley: Paintings 1963-2015

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), Edinburgh
April 15th-April 17th 2017

Of all the iconic images of the 1960s, few evoked the grooviness of swinging London more than those by Bridget Riley. Riley's hallucinatory array of black and white Op-art checks and geometric shapes shimmered their way into a two-tone styled mod culture mainstream which, more than half a century on, is as indicative of a moment as much as it was fleeting.

Like her paintings, Riley too has kept moving, as this major show of work spanning those fifty years should demonstrate. Centred around Riley's 1966 painting, 'Over', which has been held by the SNGoMA since 1974, this collection of major paintings draws from a back catalogue of rarely seen works. Seen together, they reveal how, just as TV and popular culture morphed from monochrome to technicolour, Riley embarked on a very personal trip, from London to France, Egypt and beyond, absorbing influences as she went.

With Riley h…

Granite

Marischal College, Aberdeen
Four stars

As with many cities just now, the centre of Aberdeen currently resembles a building site. However many concrete blocks are thrown up, however, they will never match the silver splendour of the venue for the culmination of this epic-scale community project initiated by the National Theatre of Scotland. Here a platform flanked by symmetrical crane-like constructions forms an outdoor stage in the Quad that mirrors the shades of grey and white of its surroundings, even as a cosmic sculpture hanging down suggests something more celestial above.
As the industrial clang of manual labour soundtracks the bustle of a community in flux, a 100-plus troupe of actors, dancers, a large-scale choir and band attempt to tell the story of a city defined by its grim determination as much as its hard exterior. As the action flits across centuries and nations, a criss-crossing collage of triumphs and disasters points up how workers are the foundation of any city, be…

The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME(4 stars)

The Arches, Glasgow
Saturday April 23rd 2010

There’s a raging calm at the opening of this epic 13-hour voyage into the underworld for a melding of myths old and new created and orchestrated by post-punk collagist Linder. As the most graceful of Muses wafts about the room like some J.D. Fergusson figure brought to life while a black-clad Witch inches painstakingly towards her from the far side of The Arches cavernous labyrinth as musician Fritz Welch taps out a rhythm on a musical saw that accompanies prettified electric guitar patterns, there’s little indication of the sound and fury to come.

But, as will become clear many hours later when they slow-walk, conjoined, onto the dance-floor where a northern soul shindig is being overseen by DJ Kevin McCardle, The Witch and The Muse are the black and white of The Darktown Cakewalk, the devil and angel hanging on the shoulder of a glamour-chasing Star whose fifteen minutes in the VIP lounge is over before even he realises it. From messiah to …