Wednesday, 27 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 the case whether they come in the form of cuddly bunny rabbits or Saoirse-Monica Jackson's equally loveless and tellingly nameless wife of the boss' son, Curly.

As the play's central partnership, Phillips and William Rodell as George avoid sentimentalism in favour of a more flint-eyed approach as they navigate a land peopled by thwarted dreamers like themselves. The blue-collar machismo of Steinbeck's world may be rooted in the 1930s Californian badlands, but in this Touring Consortium's remount of a production that originated at Birmingham Rep it foreshadows the disenfranchised working class of every austerity-crushed generation since. Swap the wooden shack for a portakabin, and the divide and conquer dynamic propagated by the boss class is much the same.

The Herald, April 28th 2016

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

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 appeared at the Citz in the company's main stage production of The Libertine, while McEvoy was recently seen in the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh's production of Conor McPherson's play, The Weir. Burn came to the play having played the same role last time The Dance of Death was seen at the Citizens when Stewart Laing directed it in the same Circle space.

Offstage, the play's soundtrack will be provided by Luke Sutherland, Burn's collaborator on the stage adaptation of Sutherland's novel, Venus As A Boy. In terms of design, lighting is provided for such an intimate space by regular Vox Motus collaborator, Simon Wilkinson, while set and costumes look set to be delivered with a flourish by the National Theatre of Scotland's outgoing associate director Graham McLaren before he departs to co-run the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. All of whom make quite a team for such a rarely performed piece of work.

“Something about the play spoke to me,” says Edmunds. “I picked up a collection of Strindberg to look at a completely different play, but I loved how brutal this one is. I know some people think Strindberg is very dour, but he's also very funny in the blackest way possible. These two people are having this argument at the most viciously extreme level possible, and I think I must have this penchant for darkness.”

With Vox Motus co-director and Magic Circle member Jamie Harrison, with whom Edmunds has created works such as Dragon, currently working on the illusions for the forthcoming stage version of Harry Potter, Edmunds' production isn't being presented under the Vox Motus banner, but under her own name in association with the Citz.

“We could never have made The Dance of Death a Vox Motus piece,” she says. “Something like this isn't really within our remit, and doing it in the Circle Studio, which is now this stripped out space, that change of parameters has made fore something more intimate than how it might usually be done. No way were we going to make it a nineteenth century drawing room piece.”

Originally set over three days on a desert island, the play has seen Poet and Edmunds have rip into things with an abandon that has left much of it on the cutting room floor. This includes an entire second half which Strindberg wrote after the first part had already been performed.

“I think the second half is pretty forgettable,” is how Edmunds sees it. “We pretty much took a hatchet to Strindberg's original, and are doing it with a cast of three in one setting and with a strict time-frame so it takes place over one day rather than three. But that's okay, because it's not a museum piece, and it's a lot more fun than just doing an old version.”

Not that Laing's production was in any way old hat when it was produced at the Citz in November 2000, as Burn would no doubt testify to. Edmunds only became aware of his previous appearance in the play when she approached him to be in her production.

“I knew I wanted Tam to do it from day one,” she says. “I had no idea he'd done The Dance of Death before, but the first thing I ever saw when I came to Glasgow was him doing Irvine Welsh's Filth solo in the Citz's Stalls Studio, and that was quite an introduction. I also knew I wanted Lucianne and Andy to do it. Luke's music I knew already was going to be epic, and Graham's in full steam ahead mode and has gone for really lush costumes. All of that's great, because when you're tackling something that's been around a while, you need people around who can punch big and think big.”

That Edmunds has managed to pull together such a crack squad is impressive in itself. To keep that team together while she and producer Susannah Armitage played the waiting game regarding funding is quite another.

When Edmunds found out on the last working day of the year before the Christmas break that the project's application had been successful, it was too late to be included in the Citz's season brochure. Miracles have been worked since in spreading the word, and Edmunds is clearly relishing the rapid-fire turnover of her production in a way that serves the play's extreme nature.

“It's really important to me that it doesn't feel domestic,” she says. “It's still set on an island, and it's still this couple adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean, but we've had to keep pushing ourselves.

“For me it feels like a cautionary tale. If you don't take care of your relationship, this is where it's going to end up, somewhere cruel and violent. It's an interesting interrogation of marriage, and how little things can become bigger things until they become something murderous. It's all about relationships, and is a big dark murmur at the world about how those relationships can go so horribly wrong.”

The Dance of Death, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until May 7.
www.citz.co.uk

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Sunday, 24 April 2016

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, Hera and the rest of the gods sit sunning themselves on the beach, lapping up cocktails like Heat magazine sired reality TV stars just a little higher up the food chain than their minions below. Only Melody Grove's black-clad Thetis milks the melodrama, coming on like an overprotective mother in mourning for everything that follows. Emmanuella Cole's Hera proves how she still calls the shots by having Hephaestus cast all manner of elemental ills on the environment simply by pressing a button on his laptop before she gives a telling nod to Marshall McLuhan.

All of which is navigated by Thomson's cast of twelve with an intense ferocity sustained over almost three hours of battle punctuated by blood splashed from buckets held high over the gladiatorial combat below. Doubling up of parts is never hidden, with each costume change accompanied by composer Claire McKenzie's majestically keening chorales. The fact that some actors also play their Greek character's Trojan nemeses points up how opposing armies are just flipsides of each other committing tit for tat atrocities in an epic staging that invests Homer's poetry with a sadly familiar flesh and blood relevance.

The Herald, April 25th 2016

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Thursday, 21 April 2016

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 where they are or any kind of back-story to explain what left Beane sop awry, but in the end that doesn't really matter in a play that marks out a necessary process of survival and rebirth after the crash.

Emily Winter and Barrie Hunter invest Joan and Harry with a highly-strung uptightness that gradually mellows, and Sarah Swire's Molly is the ultimate free spirit, who also provides the soundtrack to Beane's own liberation as played by Ewan Donald with beatific off-kilter charm. As fantasy and reality meet, the play's feelgood ending makes clear how all it takes to stop the world collapsing in on you is to let in a little light.

The Herald, April 22nd 2016

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

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 displays of inappropriateness that mine every post Freudian neurosis going. With Sean Biggerstaff's Ben and Lindsay Campbell's Alice seemingly going along for the ride, the play doesn't so much dissect Alice's troubled psyche as poke furiously around each layer until all its sores are exposed alongside the scars on Francois' body.

The increasingly desperate extremes plumbed seem to come from some parallel universe fever dream that leads the tellingly named Alice down a rabbit hole where a looking glass of hormonally driven social subversion stares back at her before overwhelming her into submission. When she eventually comes up for air in a world that recalls Polanski's film, Repulsion, as much as Abigail's Party, everything Alice wished for has clearly been her downfall in this blazing and brilliant depiction of a grown-up nightmare.

The Herald, April 21st 2016

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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

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 “earthbound and feisty.” It is the goddess Thetis, however, who rings familiar celebrity bells for the twenty-six year old.

“She's a bit like Jackie O,” says Grove, who plays the mother of Achilles as a woman dressed for eternal mourning. “The gods and goddesses are like film stars, living like they're in Cannes. They're very glamorous, and there was a moment going into rehearsals on Monday the day after the Oliviers where I thought that this goddess world is really like the red carpet world.

“The whole red carpet thing is so ridiculous anyway, because the dresses you wear and everything that goes with that have nothing to do with the work, but when Mark was there on Sunday it was the first time he'd been seen in London since he'd won the Oscar, and it did feel like Achilles returning from war.

“We stepped onto the red carpet, and it was a tunnel of sound, with everyone shouting for Mark. People were crazed. I don't think he'd ever known anything like it, but he's on that Oscar, Spielberg circuit now, and once you're on that there's no going back, is there?”

While Rylance's reported casting in Spielberg's upcoming feature, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, following his Academy award win for Bridge of Spies, seems to confirm this, Grove is forgetting again that she too was at the Oliviers for a reason.

“Oh, yeah,” she giggles when reminded of this. “But because Mark gets so much attention I forgot, and when I heard Judy was nominated I just thought there's not a chance that I could get it, so I made it okay with myself that I was just going to have a nice time and not worry about anything else.”

After such headiness, diving straight into The Iliad the day after the awards might have been an anti-climax. As it was “It was lovely coming back to rehearsals after all that. I'd just been working with Stellar Quines on The Air That Carries The weight, and was coming back to The Iliad, so there was no time to have post-show blues or any kind of build up to the red carpet, so it was a joy to come back and to throw myself into learning all of these wonderful songs we're doing and learning ancient Greek.”

Such devotion to the cause bodes well for Hannan's take on Homer's mythological epic.

“Chris has written such a fabulous script,” Grove says, “and he's really owned the poem. It's so sparky, alive and contemporary, but like Shakespeare there's no sub-text, and everyone just does what they feel. Claire McKenzie has written these big, clashy discordant songs, and Mark Thomson is in a really exciting place. Because he's leaving you feel like he's letting loose because he can, and he seems very inspired.”

This is the first time Grove has worked with Thomson at the Lyceum since he cast her as Gwendolen in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest not long after graduating from what was then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Grove's early work included a one-woman play, Room, at the Arches, which was overseen by writer Abigail Doherty and director Lu Kemp. She worked with Doherty and Kemp again on a piece called 1000 Paper Cranes before being spotted by Thomson. Grove went on to appear in Wilde's play again in Belfast, playing the same part in a very different production by Graham McLaren.

“Gwendolen was a sex pest, basically,” she says of the contrast between the two productions. “It was so kind of naughty. We did it so everything they talked about was about sex.”

Grove returned to the Lyceum to appear in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which is where she first worked with Dove.

“It was because of John that I got to audition for Much Ado About Nothing, which Mark [Rylance] was directing at the Old Vic, so it feels like it all started here, at the Lyceum.”

Grove grew up in Kent, where she was exposed to theatre from an early age by way of her father, a musician with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, and her storytelling mother.

In such a fertile creative atmosphere, Grove found herself creating her own stories, utilising props from a dressing up box she shared with her brother, Reuben. Grove would spend hours on her own, playing a teacher she had invented, complete with a register which she'd take each day.

“Mad, isn't it?” she says. “I just loved being other people.”

While Grove pursued acting, Reuben became a writer and director, and assisted on Rylance's production of Much Ado.

“I begged him to get me an audition,” Grove says, “but he wouldn't budge, and said I had to go through the proper channels. He didn't even tell Mark that we were related.”

Grove was cast as the maid, Margaret, in the play, anyway.

Either side of Much Ado, Grove went on to take over the title role in David Greig and Wils Wilson's reinvention of border ballads, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland.

“That show was a delight,” she says, “just learning all of those folk ballads and going on tour with such remarkable musicians as Aly Macrae and Annie Grace. There's nothing that makes me happier than singing and being in a band.”

With this in mind, Grove has joined Melody and The Mutineers, a band which also features her father. Coincidentally, Grove took over from Edinburgh-born actress Madeleine Worrall, who was the original Prudencia Hart, although the pair have never met.

Grove has also formed a musical alliance with MJ McCarthy, the composer and musical director of Grid Iron's show, Light Boxes, which she appeared in. The duo played together at this year's Celtic Connections festival.

“The work that MJ and Aly do is priceless,” she says, “that way they can be so receptive to an actor and just feel it.”

Beyond such contemporary concerns, Grove expresses a desire for more classical fare.

“I think I might be getting too old to play Nina in The Seagull,” she says, “but I'd love to do it.”

In the meantime, The Iliad allows Grove a more god-like demeanour.

“The gods represent that thing about the way luck falls,” says the woman who has just walked her first, though probably not her last, red carpet. “It's about fate, and how ridiculous that fate can be.”

The Iliad, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, April 23-May 14.
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, April 19th 2016

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Monday, 18 April 2016

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 under the lights as Miss Adelaide and her Debutantes' skirts billow in libidinous abandon beside them.

The duel love stories between Nathan and Louise Dearman's terminally engaged Adelaide, plus that between Sky and Anna O'Byrne's hot salvationist Sarah, are captured with blousy swagger. Beyond the thrust of such dalliances, Andrew Wright and Carlos Acosta's frantic dance routines make for an expressionistic technicolour dreamscape wrapped up in a big band Brechtian heart that drives things.

This is particularly the case when Sky whisks Sarah off to Havana for a bet, only for his ultimate evocation of street-smart machismo to be tamed by a purity corrupted by latin fire. In a show where gambling and godliness are two sides of the same coin, everyone's a winner, so take a chance.

The Herald, April 15th 2016

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

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 old Jackie mags providing inspiration for her teenage son, what emerges from Mike James' script in Anna Linstrum's production is a cartoon-strip style part rom-com part sit-com. At times this resembles Tell Me on A Sunday rewritten for the teeny-bopper generation.

With each scene punctuated by a series of 1970s smash hits, Arlene Phillips' choreography is performed with an expressive gusto by a bright-eyed retro-clad ensemble who never take themselves too seriously in the literalism of shapes that probably haven't been thrown since Pan's People last shook a leg. As mid-life crisis turns to emancipation, the unadulterated glee that emanates throughout is life-affirming in every way.

The Herald, April 14th 2016

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

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' original trilogy is a bloody saga of revenge, justice and a family ripped apart en route to redemption following the fallout of Clytemnestra's slaying of her husband Agamemnon. In Harris' version, reinvented here as Agamemnon's Return, The Bough Breaks and Electra and Her Shadow, Clytemnestra is not only seen as less of a villain, but her daughter Electra comes more to the fore, while the lingering presence of her other daughter, Iphigenia, becomes a key force driving Clytemnestra's actions.

“It is massive,” Harris says of the undertaking which has occupied much of the last three years of her working life. “I think in my own original work the stories have been reaching for something more epic, and although it is a family story, I've really nested it in the psychology of the piece and put the women more centre-stage.”

Given the choice and tone of some of her other stage adaptations, which include versions of Strindberg's Miss Julie, revived at the Citizens with Louise Brealey in the title role, and Ibsen's A Doll's House, which featured Gillian Anderson as Nora, it's not difficult to speculate where Harris might be coming from with This Restless House.

“I think when you approach anything there's got to be a two-fold thing going on, she says. “One is that you love the original in some way, but secondly you have to feel that you've got something to bring to it, and if you don't feel that then you're best leaving it to the original.

“I felt I had a kind of take, initially on Clytemnestra, that I wanted to explore. I wanted to render it as something that would feel like a contemporary play, and I think it does feel like three new plays by me, but ones which use Aeschylus' structure and story.

“One thing was to get all those things that happen offstage put back on it, so let's have the murder in front of us. The other thing running alongside that was revisiting characters in terms of the received archetypes we have of them. So Clytemnestra is often viewed as this Lady Macbeth type figure, and this incarnation of evil who is plotting to kill Agamemnon with her lover.

“I had a slightly different view on Clytemnestra, and saw her as a woman and a mother who lived in a time where the sacrifice or murder of her daughter would go unpunished, and where she had no recourse to anything else but to kill Agamemnon. She expected him to be killed on the battlefield, and I wondered if it would be interesting if it was harder for her to kill him.”

It is here that Iphigenia's role becomes crucial, while Electra takes a more dominant role.

“Iphigenia is completely absent in the original,” Harris points out, “so she was a blank slate for me to imagine the simplicity of a little girl playing on the sand waiting for her dad. In my version Electra has a claustrophobic relationship with Clytemnestra, so it becomes much more about a mother and daughter.

“There are odd things in the plays as well to do with the murder which I felt were slightly unnecessary. The catastrophe in the domestic is all that is required here for the enormity of these feelings to be unleashed, and I felt that this was big enough.”

The chorus too become more integral to the action, while in the third play, Harris introduces a new character who looks at the extreme actions that have occurred with a less celestial sense of judgement than Aeschylus' gods brought to the table.

“That would have felt for a modern audience like a piece of custodianship,” Harris says, “and I wanted to see part three through our eyes, and find out how we might deal today with someone who is running away from the Furies.”

This Restless House arrives at a time when the roots of Greek theatre are being reassessed in a variety of ways. Gary Owen's play, Iphigenia in Splott, which the Cardiff-based Sherman Cymru company toured recently to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, cast Iphigenia as a hoodied-up wild child. Next up at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, meanwhile, is Chris Hannan's new take on Homer's Iliad.

“It's interesting,” says Harris, “because I remember six or seven years ago someone mentioned the Greeks, and it felt really out there, but maybe we're reaching for these big stories because it teaches us something about how we live now.”

Harris says that writing This Restless House has been a learning experience for her as a playwright.

“I think my writing in some ways has turned several corners, particularly in the third part, where the play argues very strongly for a jury and democracy, however flawed that might be. It's certainly not making a political statement, and yet I think you do have to try and say something about our times. The whole story is about faith and vengeance, so there's a lot to be said, but you have to be careful how you tell that story, and recreate it in a way to make sure it's still making its point.”

In the contemporary terms that Harris has set down, This Restless House as a whole becomes an almighty personification of a psychological process that explodes onto the stage in a mess of flesh and blood rage.

“It's all about the extreme nature of domestic psychological distress,” she says. “What do we do when we feel let down, and when we feel vengeful? How do we process that? If Aeschylus is telling us anything, it's how we process extreme rage and how we cope with that without unleashing catastrophe on everybody around us. That's something we all have to process at some point in our lives. Almost everybody goes through some kind of calamity, and this is about a process of grief and acceptance.”

This Restless House, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, April 15-May 14. Part 1: Agamemnon's Return, April 15-16, 26, 28, May 3, 5, 10, 12, 7pm, April 30, May 7, 14, 2pm; Part 2: The Bough Breaks and Part 3: Electra and Her Shadow, April 22-23, 27, 29-30, May 4, 6, 7, 11, 13-14, 7pm. The full This Restless House trilogy can be seen over one day on April 30, May 7 and May 14.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, April 12th 2016

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Saturday, 9 April 2016

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 knowing Mary Poppins than one remembers from Julie Andrews' iconic turn in Disney's 1964 film version of the story is in place.

As Sir Richard Eyre's all singing, all dancing production prepares for an Edinburgh run at the city's Festival Theatre later this month, this is in keeping with Downton Abbey writer Sir Julian Fellowes' script. Fellowes' take on things not only retains the story's idealism, but it seems to have a sly dig at how banks do or don't invest their money while advocating a progressive form of parenting that favours play over discipline. Much of this is brought to life onstage by the ebullience of Sir Matthew Bourne's choreography which is served up with an unabashed glee that will make you believe a chimney sweep really can walk on the ceiling.

For Strallen, who carries the show from start to finish, such epic irreverence is exactly how Mary Poppins should be.

“My Mary is quite cheeky,” Strallen says. “I guess I kind of do look young, but I play her as an old soul who's been around for hundreds of years teaching families to love each other, and whatever situation comes up, I just think how would I deal with that or say that if I was a family's au pair or something, and that seems to work. So my Mary is young but wise. She can be any age you want her to be. In the book she's more of a disciplinarian and is tougher on the kids, although it's always done with love and a glint in her eye.”

This was an approach encouraged by Mackintosh when Strallen first auditioned for the role in his house. At the time she was appearing in a revival of The Car Man, Sir Matthew Bourne's radical reimagining of Bizet's opera, Carmen, that incorporates elements of James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice into a darkly erotic affair. Dancing too was destined to be in Mary Poppins' box of tricks.

“Cameron wanted me to play a younger and more flirty Mary Poppins than people might remember from the film,” Strallen says. “He also said that if she can do magic then she should be able to dance as well. Not that Mary Poppins is a high-kicking show-girl, but she does have a few more steps, but that's because she's magic.”

Stepping into Mary Poppins' dancing shoes seems like a natural fit for Strallen. When she was eleven she saw her elder sister Scarlett play the same role.

“I remember loving the show when I saw Scarlett in it,” Strallen says, “so I knew I was joining a brilliant show, but I absolutely loved the books as a child as well. My mum used to read the Mary Poppins books to myself and my younger sister to go to sleep to when we were really little, so I knew the books even better than the film.”

From her name alone it seemed that Strallen was destined to dance, ever since she was christened Syphilde Charity Vaigncourt-Strallen, with her first name in honour of her mother's favourite ballet, Les Sylphides. Strallen's now better known nickname came about after her mother noticed her daughter's resemblance to French ballerina, Zizi Jeanmarie.

Strallen is actually the third sister to step into the spotlight following Scarlett and her other sister Summer, with a fourth, Saskia, also an actress. The quartet form part of a musical theatre dynasty, with their parents Sandy Strallen and Cherida Langford having both appeared in Andrew Lloyd Webber's T.S. Eliot inspired musical, Cats, which Strallen's aunt, Bonnie Langford, also starred in. Strallen herself has also appeared in Cats, though despite growing up surrounded by performers in an environment she shrugs off as “just really normal,” things might have worked out differently.

While all the Strallens' first experience of performing was at their grand-mother's dance school, unlike her elder sisters who pursued acting at Arts Educational performing school, Strallen won an academic scholarship and seemed destined for something different.

“At the time the school was the third most academic in the country or something,” Strallen says, “and I thought, well, if I've got in, I must be quite clever, but it wasn't right for me. I was really badly bullied, and I was always longing to go to Arts Ed. Then after two terms I went home and cried to my mum to let me go, and I auditioned and got in.”

In Strallen's own words, “the doors opened to me, and I started seeing agents and going for auditions, and then getting jobs, so I've been really lucky.”

In keeping with her more academic background, Strallen has begun writing comedy sketches based on things she overheard on her travels. More recently she has adapted this into a sit-com idea.

“It's something to do on tour,” she says. “Hopefully something will come of it at some point, but it's too early yet to start handing scripts out or anything like that.”

While she won't be drawn on the subject of her dramatic endeavours, given her background, she does point out that “It's pretty obvious. My family are kind of a novelty thing, so they're asking to be written about. My grand-mother is such a character, and as Bonnie Langford's mum was the ultimate showbiz mother. She's this infamous person people know about, and at the moment has kind of turned into the lead character of the sit-com without me realising it.”

Despite her family background, the Strallens have rarely worked together, and are unlikely to be seen onstage as a musical theatre equivalent of the Redgraves just yet.

“My elder sister Scarlett's really keen for us being seen as individual performers rather than as a clan,” Strallen says, “and I kind of agree with her. There's lovely people in this business, but there are also people who like to criticise and compare. Of course, there's competition between us all, but it's a healthy competition rather than sibling rivalry, and if we did a show together I think we might be compared unfairly, and I think that's a dangerous road to go down. I think it's better to sit on the outside of each other's work and be proud of each other.”

While Strallen's devotion to her family is plain, it is also wonderfully in keeping with the sentiments posited by Mary Poppins herself.

“When I was younger I always used to think that I had to go down the same road as my sisters and do what they do,” she says, “but now I realise I don't have to at all. I only have to do whatever makes me happy.”

Mary Poppins, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, April 27-May 21
www.edtheatres.com



Sir Cameron Mackintosh - Mary Poppins and the Festival Theatre

For producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who first brought Mary Poppins to the stage more than a decade ago, Zizi Strallen was a natural to play the title role.

“My connection with the Langford-Strallen family goes back a long way,” he says. “They've become this wonderful theatrical dynasty, and in a way I'm their sort of fairy godfather. I was fascinated to see Zizi in The Car Man. I couldn't stop watching her. She had that hauteur about her, and you need some of that if you're going to play Mary Poppins, something that's neither inside or outside, but that goes beyond. I remember thinking watching her that if she can sing and act half as well as she can dance that she'd be perfect for it. Fortunately the genes and genius of the Langford-Strallen family worked in my favour once more.

Mary Poppins marks the first time internationally renowned impresario has brought a show to the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. When it last toured, Mary Poppins was seen at Edinburgh Playhouse, but Mackintosh is keen to forge an ongoing relationship with his current Edinburgh hosts.

“I've wanted to work at the Festival Theatre for years,” he says, “but there were never long enough slots for me to make it work. That's nothing against the Playhouse, which is a wonderful theatre, but I was always very sad that I couldn't take shows like Oliver to the Festival Theatre, and only when it was reorganised a couple of years ago and we could look at doing longer runs was I able to think about bringing something like Mary Poppins here.”

While no other shows from Mackintosh's stable have yet been announced for Edinburgh runs at the Festival Theatre, given that a tour of Miss Saigon is scheduled for 2017, it shouldn't be too long before we see a large-scale Mackintosh production arriving here.

“We're having a wonderful time working with the Festival Theatre on Mary Poppins,” Mackintosh says, “and it won't be the last time we'll be here.”

ends

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

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 think that if a man's going to wear nail varnish, David, it shouldn't be chipped.”

This mix of girl-powered attitude and near parental judgement has not only defined Myskow's career since then, but Jackie itself as she went on to become the first female editor of the magazine where she'd begun her career.

Today, Myskow has been appointed 'editor in chief' of Jackie – The Musical, an all singing, all dancing homage to the seemingly more innocent age the magazine represented and the influence on women of a certain age that it's left in its wake as they grew up in a pre social media age. Scripted by Mike James and with choreography by Arlene Philips, Anna Linstrum's production of a show originally mounted in the Gardyne Theatre, Dundee in 2013 focuses on a fifty-something woman of the same name who returns to her old copies of the magazines for advice as she embarks on a very grown-up divorce.

“It's very strange for me becoming involved in such an extraordinary show so long after I was working at Jackie,” Myskow reflects. “It's nearly half a century, but although Jackie was so long ago, because it was my first job it meant so much.”

Jackie was founded by publishers DC Thomson in 1964, and by the time Myskow ended up working there a couple of years later after departing St Andrew's University following the end of her first year, “because I wanted to get on with things,” it was already making waves.

“The editor then was a lovely, big, gruff, red-bearded, bald guy called Gordon Small,” Myskow remembers, “and the office was full of these young girls like me in their teens or their twenties, so there was this mix of his journalistic brilliance and our knowledge, and that's what made it work.”

During Myskow's twelve years with the magazine, Jackie grew to be the best selling teen magazine in the UK. The likes of Fab 208 and the sorely under-rated Pink couldn't compete, and by 1976 Jackie was selling more than 600,000 copies. The mag's mix of pop, fashion, romantic fiction, photo-based comic strips and advice from the much lauded Cathy and Claire agony column tapped into a teenage readership like no other girls magazine before or since. The Cathy and Claire page alone generated as many as four hundred letters a week. The reasons for such a phenomenon, according to Myskow, were a mixture of time, place and circumstance.

“There was all sorts of competition,” says Myskow, “and it would have been very easy to market something to the vulnerable age group we were dealing with and make these vulnerable young girls part with their money, but there was a certain ethos in place, and, without being pompous, we had a certain responsibility to our readership.”

Under Myskow's tenure, shortly after the contraceptive pill was made free on prescription, this sense of responsibility manifested itself in a Dear Doctor column that dealt with what were coyly termed 'below the waist issues.' For all there may have been a focus on boys and teenage romance pulsing throughout Jackie's pages, a sense of empowerment and independence for young women on the verge was also paramount.

“I felt it was important that we articulated that young girls could have dreams and self-esteem,” says Myskow. “My mother was a science teacher who'd gone to St Andrew's University and brought me up after my dad died when I was twelve, so the idea of being around intelligent independent women wasn't strange to me, and I wanted Jackie to be like an encouraging big sister.”

Being based in Dundee too kept those behind Jackie grounded, not least Myskow herself.

“We weren't living some flash existence in London and falling out of 1970s parties,” she says. “I think it's fair to say that Dundee in the sixties and seventies didn't swing in any way, and because we lived more of a nine to five existence I think we could reflect more what our readers, who were really a lot like us, were about. In that way, Jackie was a sort of early technicolour form of social media that concerned itself with the sort of life we thought might be possible.”

In terms of an equivalent to Jackie today, beyond the more upfront Just 17 and More that followed in Jackie's wake before becoming similarly defunct, “I don't think there is one,” says Myskow. “Life moved on but magazines didn't. Teenage girls have so many advantages now in a way that they didn't in the seventies, but there's so much pressure that comes with all that in terms of sexting and online images of the Kardashians that they're pressured into aspiring to. Teenage girls aren't equipped for all that pressure. They used to be able to go to mum and dad to ask about things or they could go to Jackie for answers, but they don't have that sense of security anymore.”

For Myskow, at least, Jackie changed her world.

“My interests were always showbiz and entertainment,” she says, “and Jackie opened so many doors for me. I met Elton John and went to America on a private plane. I met Freddie Mercury, David Cassidy and David Essex, and went on tour with the Osmonds.”

All of this proved essential once Myskow moved into the tabloid world en route to being dubbed first the 'queen of pop,' then later the 'Bitch on the Box.'.

“I had all these contacts,” she says, “and that extended, so I ended up going to China to see Jean Michelle Jarre and had all of these other opportunities.”

Myskow describes Jackie The Musical as “hot flush heaven” and “a riot of platforms and prosecco.” But beyond such flourishes of tabloidese, she also points out that “It does have heart. It makes you laugh, dance and sing, but it also makes you cry at points as well. For me, that all goes beyond nostalgia, and I think there's something in the show that women of every age can learn from.”

Jackie The Musical, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, April 12-16; Perth Concert Hall, April 26-30; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, July 12-16; His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, July 19-23; King's Theatre, Glasgow, July 26-30.


ends

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 around this is a blossoming romance, a quintet of bowler-hatted builders and a game of pass the parcel with the broken head of a religious statue.

Maria Oller's jaunty production capitalises on the sheer ridiculousness of Maxwell's set-up by navigating her twenty-strong ensemble led by Nicola Tuxworth and Emma Clark as Billie and Stacey through all this on Jessica Brettle's set with prat-falling knockabout glee. This is aided hugely by a musical score by MJ McCarthy that bubbles under the action throughout, and which sounds part silent movie, part 1970s sit-com. While chattier than advertised, Maxwell's script fizzes with invention and a playfulness that speaks volumes in a way that words can't always muster.

The Herald, April 4th 2016

ends

Friday, 1 April 2016

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 having recently come full circle in terms of working in black and white once more, this major show demonstrates how over the last fifty years she has coloured her world beyond shades of grey.

The List, April 2016
ends

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 it in the quarries of Odessa or on the North Sea oil rigs.

Devised and written by and with the project's participants, there are so many elements in Simon Sharkey's monumental production that at times it threatens to overwhelm the audience. Led by a six-strong professional cast that features a mighty Joyce Falconer as the city's flinty conscience and Elspeth Turner and Mark Wood as its resilient heart, so many heroic feats of theatrical imagery burst into life over the course of the show's seventy minutes to transcend this that it ceases to be a concern. The collective spirit involved embodies a tenacious strength that matches its surroundings, and which will survive long after the concrete boxes beyond have crumbled.

The Herald, April 4th 2016

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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 pariah, it seems, isn’t such a big leap after all, as trying-too-hard party girl Puella Aterna will also find out. In the mean-time, it’s 11.30am, there’s a female King lying in state awaiting the kiss that will bring him/her to life, a tape loop of some invisible MC is heralding the name of the piece and The Muse and The Witch are throwing shapes ad nauseum.

Commissioned by Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and produced by the Sorcha Dallas Gallery in association with Tramway’s The Work Room operation to accompany Linder’s King’s Ransom (Hybrid Tea) exhibition at Sorcha Dallas, the start of her biggest performance work to date looks for all the world like Kenneth Anger for girls, with all the soul-selling implications of the veteran American director’s seminal 1960s magick-based work intact.

The Darktown Cakewalk is divided up – but not that much – into a biblical twelve overlapping acts a la the lucky thirteen of an old time music hall show, with Cinematic Orchestra composer Stuart McCallum’s live score enabled by three drummers, a trumpeter, double bassist and pianist. A core cast of seven that includes Linder herself are supported by a chorus-line of Lindy-Hoppers, tap-dancers, tango artistes and reverse-stripping burlesques. All of which morphs The Darktown Cakewalk into an ever-expanding amalgam of Linder’s artistic and political pre-occupations over the last thirty-odd years writ large.

From her early collages for The Secret Public zine with Jon Savage and melding of domestic appliances with soft-core nude pin-ups as seen on the cover of Buzzcocks Orgasm Addict sleeve, Linder has continued to explore sexual identity in opposition to what might be dubbed a still ongoing phallocentric cockockracy. In the band Ludus, Linder applied feminist thought to twisted cocktail jazz guitar patterns, cut up into lyrical bons mot and served by her as a self-constructed chanteuse with occasional forays into primal screaming. In Christine Birrer’s SheShe photographs, Linder played with image even more.

By the time she adorned the skeleton of a posh frock with dripping meat and whapped out a giant dildo at The Hacienda, the seeds were already sewn for small performances at Sorcha Dallas and Lucy Mackenzie’s Sunday night DIY art-cabaret night Flourish in Glasgow, as well as large-scale collaborations such as the four-hour The Working Class Goes To Paradise. Some of the iconography of that show has crept into The Darktown Cakewalk, from the gags adorned with an image of a blood-and-lipstick smeared mouth, to the totemic gold lame jacket bestowed upon the central character of The Star.

While such an act of power dressing may resemble Joseph putting on his Dreamcoat, it already comes fully loaded with a wardrobe full of hand-me-down baggage absorbed from pop history. As has been noted elsewhere, Billy Fury, Malcolm McDowell in Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 state-of-the-nation film O Lucky Man! , ABC’s Martin Fry and Morrissey have all seen their fortunes rise and fall, if not quite so spectacularly as The Darktown Cakewalk’s bare-chested protagonist.

The Star first appears, barely noticeable on the sidelines, after the King has been awoken. Puella Aterna is already hungry to make the scene, though it’s The Muse and The Witch who eventually wrap the gold lame jacket around The Star’s shoulders. By this time, the King has found his/her Queen, and the first cakewalk itself has occurred. Modelled on a dance first performed by negro slaves to mock the upright gait of their masters, its humourous simplicity was such a hit among the white folk that, as with jazz, blues and soul, was absorbed by the popular mainstream.

The Darktown Cakewalk’s processional is a grotesque pageant of contorted limbs and rictus grins soundtracked by the increasingly woozy slo-mo bump n’ grind of something resembling the Twin Peaks house band. This contrasts sharply with the collective improvised eurhythmy of The Muse, The Witch and Puella earlier, though they too, as they get in vogue and into the groove or else strike a pose, hold eye contact with the audience just that inappropriate second too long.

What follows is a classic pop fairytale turned rock and roll suicide on a par with Stardust and Privilege, two very English celluloid variations on the crash-and-burn mythology. Amid an overload of activity, Tom Pritchard’s beatific Star remains at the centre of the action, tempting others into his sphere with Rosalind Masson’s Muse to prop him up and Florencia Garcia Chafuen’s Witch effectively selling his soul to the devil

What’s perhaps surprising in all this activity, replete with all the unintentional longeurs and occasional wrong turnings of any improvisation, is how focused the narrative is, as well as how formally traditional. As raw and as messy as it is, The Darktown Cakewalk may be housed here as art, but it’s so much more. Rough-house contemporary ballet, wordless opera, gig, alternative cabaret and classicist drama embracing myths both old and new are all in the mix.

The second half, the ‘Antimasque’ to the first half’s ‘Masque,’ and which begins round about tea-time, is looser and more inclined to bring in outside influences, perhaps to mirror The Star’s own internal collapse. Addicted to his own image, The Star gets through his lost years like some reformed punk act back on an ever-shrinking circuit to entertain the new wave of art-school kids who may wear the t-shirt, even though someone else has been there, done that for them already. Puella becomes a pneumatic party chick and groupie, and as the pair cling to each other for dear life in a bath-tub, cleaning up in every way, it may be something to do with Puella’s blonde Monroe-wig, but the ghosts of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen seem to be washing their hands of any responsibility for anything that happened ever. Accompanied by McCallum’s plaintive guitar, it’s a tender scene nevertheless.

Linder has already gone on record to declare The Darktown Cakewalk more Hex Factor than X-Factor, and, besides this fascination with fame, both body image and the institutionalised misogyny of judging women either on the catwalk or at the gallows, is crucial to the show’s own execution.

As a gender-bending Animus/Anima/Animal – the very ideal of opposites attracting - Linder herself appears sporadically, rolling about the floor with Judith Williams’ Puella or else keeping a gimlet eye on the wonderland she’s conjured up like some pan-androgynous Prospero in fetish-wear who can’t decide between her own set down sub/dom positions. With costumes by Cerutti designer Richard Nicoll and made by textile students from Glasgow School of Art, the outfits on show in The Darktown Cakewalk are all appendages, attachments and high-heeled ankle boots, all of which go some way to either restrict or accentuate movement.

If The Witch’s presence reminds us of rock and roll’s flirtation with dark forces and excess, there’s something infinitely more liberating being said about the positive spiritual power of dance. Whether this is as a marathon such as the show itself, punishment, rites of passage and courtship or else the pure unadulterated joy of the Northern Soul dancers, transcendence through the most disciplined and repetitive of artforms says what only a three verse/chorus piece of pop candyfloss can. By the final parade, which gets going some time after 11pm with the piano being pulled on a palette truck and fanfares in full flow, the senses of audience and performers alike are seriously disorientated, and we’re not so much watching things as being hypnotised by the experience, bewitched, bothered and bewildered in equal measure.

The List, April 2010