Monday, 30 May 2016

Hidden Door 2016 - Ubu Roi / Bones / Experts in Short Trousers

Abandoned Street Lighting Depot, Edinburgh
Four stars


Make the most of Hidden Door, the now annual nine-day festival of grassroots art, music and performance, which opened this weekend. This year it styles itself as The Electric City in honour of its sprawling temporary home off King's Stables Road which will soon be converted into yet another soulless development. This despite Hidden Door proving the hunger for such an enterprise on a more permanent basis.

The theatre programme opened with a new take on Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi by Edinburgh-based international collective, The Ludens Ensemble. Here, four Pierrot-faced actors in identi-kit junkshop outfits took on Jarry's gloriously puerile reinvention of Macbeth and invested it with a kitchen-sink's worth of styles. Philippos Philippou's wilfully messy work in progress featured grotesque puppets, live video feeds and animated projections, while an entire battle scene was acted out in shadowplay in a way that gives juvenalia a good name.

In Bones, story-teller Annie Lord looked at the history of King's Stables Yards as a slaughterhouse and Tannery, transforming it into an intimate form of oral history that weaved various strands together to form a quietly evocative flesh and blood scenario. Outside, the courtyard itself burst into a riot of noise and colour courtesy of Cultured Mongrel, whose children's show, Experts in Short Trousers, put its young audience at the centre of a strange world in which the five performers have just landed. Using nonsense language, acrobatics and beat-boxing, Cultured Mongel's quintet of playful aliens gleefully ushered in a participatory celebration that captured the joyous spirit of Hidden Door itself. All this and much more continues over the next week.

The Herald, May 30th 2016

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Sunday, 29 May 2016

The 306: Dawn

Dalcrue Farm, Perth
Five stars

In a barn outside Perth, three young men are being forced to face up to their unplanned, unwanted and heartlessly unnecessary destiny in Oliver Emanuel's meditation on the 306 men executed for cowardice in World War One. As brought exquisitely to life in Laurie Sansom's impressionistic music theatre staging, this epic co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, World War One centenary art commissioning project, 14-18 NOW, and Perth Theatre in association with Red Note Ensemble belatedly honours the dead.

Emanuel's play focuses on three of the men; Harry Farr, Joseph Byers and Joseph 'Willie' Stones, and shows the human frailties behind their eventual fate. From a shellshocked Farr's final moments with his young wife Gertrude, to Byers' enthusiasm to join up, all three men are brutalised by the institution they so loyally served.

Seen between the hours of 2.30 and 4am, the action moves across five stages which are raised above designer Becky Minto's complex network of catwalks and framed by a platform fenced by trees carved into the shape of rifles. Sansom's swansong as artistic director of the NTS shows off his ability to navigate a cast around such a vast expanse in a way that makes every moment matter.

As well-drilled ensembles go, the nine actors are more than a match for the highly choreographed chutzpah of Black Watch, that other war-based dramatic collage that first put the NTS on the map. Here, however, the imagery drawn from Emanuel's writing is gentler and more vulnerable as it betrays . the fear and horror of cannon fodder packed off to a foreign land, with some of those fighting for a cause they could barely comprehend not long out of short trousers.

It is driven too by the sweep of Gareth Williams' score, in which the actors part sing their lines accompanied by Red Note Ensemble members, pianist Jonathan Gill, cellist Robert Irvine and violin player Jackie Shave. Josef Davies, Scott Gilmour and Joshua Miles play Harry, Joe and Willie with an unerring grace in this most brilliantly moving of elegies.

The Herald, May 30th 2016

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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When the eight squaddies fighting for king and country swap Protestant sashes before going into battle towards the end of Frank McGuinness' 1985 play, revived here by Jeremy Herrin, it resemblance a victorious football team swapping shirts with their noble opponents. Such an image speaks volumes about McGuinness' mighty meditation on maleness in all its troubled forms. By this stage the World War One volunteers have moved from act one's peacockish barrack room sparring to become a unit who would die for each other, with everything that really matters between them left painfully unsaid.

These men too are the ghosts conjured up by old Kenneth Pyper, the regiment's sole survivor of its final battle, who wakes as if from a nightmare at the start of the play and ushers his former comrades to would-be triumph at its end. Inbetween, Pyper's effete aesthete holds court to a role-call of Belfast tough guys, failed preachers and others caught in the crossfire and desperate for something to believe in, if only each other. For young Pyper, played with a mix of foppish charm and vulnerability by Donal Gallery, that belief comes in the form of Ryan Donaldson's David Craig.

Their fellow cannon fodder too cling to each other for comfort in this slow-burning collaboration between the Citizens, Dublin's Abbey Theatre, Headlong and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse.

Peppered with drum-beats throughout and set against the stunning scarlet skies of lighting designer Paul Keogan, Herrin's production has taken a genuinely brave piece of writing and made something that is both elegiac and heroic in every way.

The Herald, May 27th 2016

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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Thon Man Moliere

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The play may be the thing, but the lives of those who write them can often prove equally compelling. So it goes in Liz Lochhead's comic love letter to her greatest inspiration ever since her Scots version of Tartuffe graced the Lyceum stage thirty years ago. Here we find Moliere himself, played by Jimmy Chisholm as a middle-aged roue dubbed 'Pokey' by the rag-tag troupe of actors he and his inspiration, Madeleine Bejart, have pulled together, riling up the establishment as he goes.

Enter a cast list of Steven McNicoll's queeny old ham Gros-Rene du Parc, Nicola Roy's past her sell by date debutante Therese and James Anthony Pearson's thrusting young buck, Michel Baron. There is also Sarah Miele's ingenue Menou, whose presence turns everyone's world upside down in a telling take on the consequences of what happens when you do let your daughter on the stage.

Lochhead's story of an older woman usurped by a young starlet to become the frustrated genius' muse could be straight out of a Hollywood backstage musical. But what could have ended up as one great big theatrical in-joke transcends its roots in Tony Cownie's sensitively realised production to become something with infinitely more substance.

Chisholm and co may initially appear ridiculous, but the emotional devastation experienced by Moliere, Menou and especially by Siobhan Redmond's Madeleine becomes increasingly serious stuff. There is a wonderful running gag on Moliere's series of cheeky maids', with Roy no stranger to such parts, while Molly Innes' all-seeing Toinette's deadpan put-downs upstage all in this loving homage to how the creative process itself can tear people apart.

The Herald, May 26th 2016

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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars

If romance is dead, nobody told Holly Golightly, the self-invented good time girl at the heart of Truman Capote's 1958 novella, made iconic in Blake Edwards' big-screen adaptation three years later. Nikolai Foster's Curve Theatre, Leicester production of Richard Greenberg's stage adaptation opens with Emily Atack's Holly gazing at her own shop-soiled reflection clad in regulation little black number and movie star shades as Moon River serenades her. In terms of button-pressing homage, however, that's as far as it goes.

Here Matt Barber's would-be writer Fred narrates the story of a woman he might easily have dreamt up, and who already seems to be every man's fantasy figure as she burls her way through New York's high and low 1940s society with bohemian abandon. When her past and present collide with suitably dramatic panache, the country girl who chased something more glamorous in the big city is as quick to go on the run as she ever was.

Atack's Holly is a knowingly self-aware construction in what is a charming but no less grown up love letter to the ultimate unconsummated passion. Sure, Holly strums a guitar and sings herself a lullaby in private, but in public, with her steely front protecting the damaged goods behind, like the man said, she remains the realest phony of all. Crucially as well, Holly becomes Fred's muse in a way that sees him plundering the raw material of their brief encounter and transforming it into an epic adventure as he finds his voice beyond boyish sentimentalism. In the end, there are no Hollywood happy ever afters here, only long goodbyes in a bittersweet affair to remember.

The Herald, May 25th 2016

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David Hutchinson - Sell A Door

As international calling cards go, having the words New York, London, Dundee emblazoned on your stationery is possibly as good as it gets. For David Hutchinson, who as a young graduate of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts in 2009 co-founded a small theatre company called Sell A Door, it's one more milestone on what after seven years is looking increasingly like an ongoing exercise in world domination.

This week sees the company's production of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach arrive in Edinburgh as part of a tour which has just visited the Middle East and will soon travel to Hong Kong. The company's take on Footloose: The Musical will shortly arrive in Glasgow and Aberdeen following a run in Edinburgh, while a revival of grown-up puppet musical, Avenue Q, was seen in Edinburgh earlier this month. In the autumn, ambitious plans for a new stage version of iconic comic strip The Broons are already under way, while a new tour of cult musical Little Shop of Horrors will also visit Scotland.

Amidst this whirl of activity, it is Sell A Door's new production of Green Day-based musical, American Idiot, which looks most intriguing as it tours to Glasgow next week. Taken from the American band's 2004 concept album about three young men's life in post 9/11 America, American Idiot was first seen on Broadway in 2010 before touring the UK. When Hutchinson and co saw it, however, they decided they wanted to do it differently.

“That original production was done in a huge concert arena,” says Hutchinson in his office in Sell A Door's South London HQ, not quite cushioned from the sounds of singing auditions for Little Shop of Horrors which echo down the corridor. “That was great, but we thought that another version of that story could be told. Here's a story about three young men, one of whom joins the army, one settles down with his girlfriend, and one gets involved in drugs. That's quite an intimate story, and nothing says that it has to be done in a 3,000 seater auditorium. We said, okay, let's take off a zero and put it in an underground arts theatre and see what happens.”

Racky Plews' production ran at the Arts Theatre in London for twelve weeks.

“Racky completely got the intimacy of the show,” says Hutchinson, “and that was always going to be a risk in terms of making the numbers work, but it worked brilliantly, and after that we thought we could scale it up for this tour, but do it in a way that still has that intimacy.

“The great thing about this show,” Hutchinson continues, “is that it's not just for Green Day fans. If you like music theatre there's probably something there for you. I think the fact that we had an eighty-five year old with purple hair in the other night who was having an absolute blast speaks volumes about the appeal of the show.”

American Idiot is the latest in an ongoing line of Sell A Door shows that recognises the popular success of an already existing work before putting the company's own stamp on it that allows them to adapt to mid-scale venues as well as larger spaces.

“We choose titles which are audience led,” says Hutchinson. “If you look at something like Avenue Q for instance, there's a huge demand for that show, and where I think Sell A Door has found its niche is that we can go to big venues, but we can also go to mid-scale ones which are undersold with product, and where we can try and engage with new audiences. Up to sixty or seventy per cent of audiences who went to see Avenue Q are first time theatre-goers, and that's something I'm really proud of.”

Sell A Door began, as with many theatrical ambitions, as a student operation on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“We founded the company with fifty quid doing a show at Venue 45 when we were all still at LIPA,” Hutchinson remembers. “I was on the acting course at LIPA,but what was amazing about being there was that it allowed you the possibility of exploring other realms, and doing little shows on the Fringe gave you a good vocabulary.”

A break-out show for the company was a 2010 tour of Liz Lochhead's stage version of Dracula.

“Before that we were doing small-scale work travelling around in the back of a van,” says Hutchinson.

Sell A Door's Scottish had already been cemented early on by way of a production of Anthony Neilson's controversial two-hander, Stitching. This continued when in 2012 they co-produced Arthur Miller's The Man Who Had All The Luck with Mull Theatre. In 2013 Sell A Door became an associate company with the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, and in 2015 Hutchinson directed Jo Clifford's version of Jekyll and Hyde, which toured the UK. Relationships with Perth Theatre and now the Gardyne in Dundee have followed.

“We're loving being at the Gardyne,” Hutchinson says of its latest collaborators. “It's a new venue finding its feet, and it gives Sell A Door A meaningful Scottish base for our tours.”

The first fruits of this relationship comes in the autumn with The Broons, in which playwright Rob Drummond, whose career began at the much missed Arches venue, will attempt to put the legendary comic strip family onstage.

“Rob Drummond has theatre in his blood,” Hutchinson says of the Rutherglen born writer of Bullet Catch and Quiz Show, “so I know that whatever he does, his take on The Broons won't be some big empty cardboard production, but will have a life of its own.”

With more than fifty shows under their belt and a full time operating staff of fifteen, as well as a recently acquired New York address -”It's literally just an office - Sell A Door have blazed an increasingly ambitious trail akin to the Lloyd Webbers, Cameron Mackintoshes and Bill Kenwrights of the commercial theatre world.

“We're not in a place yet where we can just put the company's logo on the poster and get an audience in the way that some companies can,” Hutchinson says, “and I don't know if that will ever happen, but we really want to be based in a building, and to be able to launch shows from there. Of course what the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Bill Kenwright have done is created excellent timeless shows, and I want Sell A Door to be able to do that. I want a Wicked. That's not about box office. That's about creating something that people will be talking about for years.

The only thing I find difficult with that is the people who think that putting on commercial theatre is somehow about not putting on quality productions. I find that quite insulting. Everything we do with Sell A Door is done with total integrity and total care, and I want to develop that even more. We've had five shows come to Glasgow in a year. In a few years I hope some of the shows we bring will be brand new works that we've commissioned.”

James and The Giant Peach, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, May 24-27; American Idiot, King's Theatre, Glasgow, May 31-June 4; Footloose: The Musical, King's Theatre, Glasgow, June 13-18, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, June 20-25; The Broons, Perth Concert Hall, September 27-October 1 then on tour to Inverness, Kirkcaldy, Stirling, Aberdeen, Ayr, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow; Little Shop of Horrors, Theatre Royal Glasgow, November 14-19.
www.selladoor.com

The Herald, May 24th 2016

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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Shall Roger Casement Hang?

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

In a cell in Scotland Yard, a knight of the realm is in custody awaiting questioning after being found on an Irish beach with a bag full of bullets. By the next day, where he should have been immortalised as a glorious martyr to a doomed cause, other factors will dictate that he is, not written out of the history he helped make, exactly, but hardly lionised the way his fallen comrades are.

So it goes for Roger Casement in Peter Arnott's gripping two-hander, in which Casement's rebellious adventurer, human rights activist and republican gun runner caught out in the run up to the 1916 Easter Rising sounds like some pulp fiction super-hero. This is especially so considering the fact that he is also a well-heeled establishment figure and a homosexual who likes to document his illicit liaisons in prose that comes to define him even as it brings about his downfall.

Such contradictions run deep in Andy Arnold's Tron Theatre Company production for this year's Irish flavoured Mayfesto season. While Casement's interrogation by hard-nosed Scotsman Captain Hall is initially respectful, as played by Stephen Clyde with grim-faced politesse, good cop turns bad the next day as Casement's secret life is unearthed. Benny Young invests a seasoned hang-dog gravitas to Casement's exchanges with Hall, even as Hall compares him to Oscar Wilde, another sexual rebel “evangelical of art, Ireland and buggery,” as he puts it. Over eighty-minutes of cut and thrust punctuated by flashbacks that sees each scene captioned as a misplaced file might be, Arnott gets to the core of both men with forensic insight in this most intimate of psychological thrillers.

The Herald, May 23rd 2016

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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

REaD

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Three stars

Has there ever been a better time to declare yourself better red than dead? Try asking The Red Haired Sirens, the flame-locked trio at the heart of this narrative cabaret that imagines a world where its ginger-follicled inhabitants are made second-class citizens and forced to exist as outlaws underground. In the case of Esther, Shelley and the all seeing Madame, this means entertaining themselves at the Scarlet Church, a tellingly named Kit-Kat Klub style after-hours retreat in what is a red light district in more ways than one.

Here the ladies hold court by way of song, dance and recitation, all on a strictly red theme as made flesh from the pen of poet Kevin P Gilday. In their private moments, the trio contemplate their lot before working some real live red magic en route to liberation. All of which as delivered by Sarah McCardie, Linda Duncan McLaughlin and Belle Jones can't quite decide if it wants to be a 1970s politically inspired revue or else a full-on girls night out. In the end, Allie Butler's production of this seventy-five minute loose-knit compendium of pieces for her Tidy Carnage company in partnership with the Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock, falls awkwardly between the two.

While all three performers are clearly having great fun on Alice Wilson's rough-shod portable set, there are serious things at play which have been heightened this week by the ongoing real life incident of Royal Ballet dancer Edward Watson constantly being criticised in reviews for his hair colour. If an over-riding slightness to some of the material remains, it is good humoured enough to make seeing red an entertainingly empowering experience.

The Herald, May 19th 2016

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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Emily Atack - Breakfast At Tiffany's

Emily Atack has been playing a lot of girlfriends lately. The twenty-six year old actress may have first come to prominence breaking geeky schoolboy hearts as sassy Charlotte Hinchcliffe in The Inbetweeners, but more recently she has been seen in the big-screen reboot of classic sit-com, Dad's Army. In the film, Atack plays Daphne, the wartime squeeze of local spiv Private Walker, who, as played by Daniel Mays, manages to get everything on ration.

Atack plays girlfriends as well in two upcoming feature films. Iron Sky 2: The Coming Race is a sequel to a Finnish science-fiction comedy about what happens when Nazis from the Moon invade Earth. Atack plays Tyler, the partner of a cult leader played by Tom Green. In Lies We Tell, Atack is gangster's moll Tracey in an action thriller led by Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel and Gina McKee.

In her professional stage debut, however, Atack gets to play a far more independent woman in a touring production of Breakfast At Tiffany's that arrives in Glasgow and Edinburgh over the next couple of weeks following dates in Aberdeen. Atack plays Holly Golightly, the upmarket American call girl originally created by Truman Capote for his 1958 novella of the same name, but immortalised on film three years later by Audrey Hepburn in Blake Edwards' big-screen take on the story.

“I'd seen the film,” says Atack on the eve of rehearsals, “but this is quite different, and is more faithful to the original book. Holly Golightly is a good time girl who's been through a lot in life, and is a bit of a drifter, but she has lots of different layers. She's unapologetic and she's ballsy, but there's this inner vulnerability there as well, and the audience has to unravel all of that.”

Atack hadn't planned such a baptism of fire for her stage debut, and it was only after former Emmerdale star Verity Rushworth was forced to drop out of Nikolai Foster's production for the Curve Theatrre, Leicester after becoming pregnant that she was approached.

“I got a call from my agent, who said that the people from Breakfast At Tiffany's wanted to see me, and I was so flattered and felt so lucky to even be seen. Then when they told me the next day that I'd got it, for my first show it felt quite scary, and it was really being thrown in at the deep end. But I was up for the challenge. I've got the confidence, and I feel really ready for it now. “

This is an attitude Atack has had since she left school at sixteen, because “I wanted to get out there. I've got a really strong work ethic, and I really believe you get your real education by being out there doing something. My teachers used to tell me I'd never get anywhere if I didn't do my maths homework, and I'm like, I will.”

Atack got an agent pretty much straight away, and was put up for auditions with the friendly warning that she might not get anything for a while. As it was, her first ever audition saw her cast in an episode of TV cop show, Blue Murder. It was her second audition, for The inbetweeners, however, that changed everything.

“I'd only left school a year before,” she remembers, “and suddenly I'm in this massive sit-com. That had always been the plan, but I never expected it to come off. But the second I read the script I knew it would be good. Once we got together at the first rehearsals, everything started to gel, and we knew we were onto something big, but it was fascinating watching it grow into what it became.”

Given her background, it was inevitable that Atack would end up on stage at some point. Atack's father is Keith Atack, who in the 1970s was a member of the band, Child, who had some chart success as well as becoming teeny bopper idols who were once voted the second most popular band for teenage girls in FAB 208 magazine. Atack's father later played as a session musician with David Cassidy, Rick Astley and Bonnie Tyler before forming Eagles tribute band, The Illegal Eagles.

Atack's mother is Kate Robbins, who, aside from having a top ten hit in the 1980s with a song she sang while appearing in TV soap, Crossroads, and providing the female voices in satirical puppet show Spitting Image, is a first cousin once removed of Paul McCartney. Robbins provided the English language dubbing for Eurotrash, appeared in Victoria Wood's sit-com, dinnerladies, and has toured with the Grumpy Old Women stage show.

“We had such a crazy childhood,” Atack says. “We were always away on tour with mum and dad, and I was just in awe of them. They're both really strong people, and have always supported me with everything I do. We've always been a close family,and even though I was quite shy as a child, ever since I could walk and talk I was always going to be a performer. It was just what I was going to do. People ask me what else I'd have done, and I honestly don't know what else I could do.”

Dad's Army saw Atack appear alongside a role-call of British acting talent that included Toby Jones, Bill Nighy and Catherine Zeta Jones, as well as her Inbetweeners co-star Blake Harrison, who played the gormless Neil, as Private Pike.

“That's definitely been my best job to date,” she says. “I had a meeting and got told the same day that I'd got the role, and I couldn't believe it. It's a hard old slog, though. You can go for a million auditions and not get anything, and then you hit the jackpot. With Dad's Army I hit the jackpot ten times over. The film focuses a lot more on the women, and Daphne is one of a group of women trying to protect their men when Catherine Zeta Jones comes into town as this journalist.”

Atack's other films are becoming increasingly diverse. Iron Sky 2 is “a crazy film set on the Moon, where evil reptiles are trying to take over,” while Lies We Tell is “a gutsy drama, in which I play the girlfriend of an evil drug lord.”

Given the amount of girlfriends she's been playing in comparison to the free spirit that is Holly Golightly, how does Atack see her career developing beyond them? Are their any roles out there she'd like to get her teeth into?

“Something quite dark,” she says without naming anything specific. “I'd like to play a role completely opposite to a lot of the things I've done. I don't know why, but I usually get cast in these glamorous roles or in comedy, which are brilliant to do, but I'd like to strip away the glamour and the make up, take the lashes and wigs off and do something dark.”

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, May 23-28; King's Theatre, Edinburgh, May 30-June 4.
www.edtheatres.com

The Herald, May 17th 2016

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Saturday, 14 May 2016

Blaine L Reininger - Tuxedomoon

Blaine L Reininger was on a solo tour with former Josef K singer Paul Haig when he was introduced to ex Velvet Underground chanteuse, Nico.

“Nico looked at me,” Reininger remembers, “and says, do I know you? I said no, and Nico said, I didn't think so. That was that, and that's the way it's always been.”

As one third of San Francisco-sired post-punk electronic trio Tuxedomoon, Reininger had helped cause a quiet sensation in 1980 with the release of the band's debut album, Half-Mute. The record's low-slung mix of noirish saxophone and violin pulsed instrumentals combined with abrasive vocal-led tracks were an after-hours cocktail of post-modern cabaret sleaze, avant-garde austerity and multi-media poise.

Given a record that sounded so alien and so studiedly European, moving to Belgium seemed like a natural move. Here Tuxedomoon became part of an international avant-garde based around record labels, Crammed and Les Disques du Crepescule. They released albums of theatre and film soundtracks, some as Tuxedomoon, some solo ventures, and toured with the likes of Cabaret Voltaire, The Pale Fountains and Richard Jobson

Three and a half decades on, Reininger, Steven Brown and Peter Principle, plus trumpeter Luc van Lieshout, have reconvened as Tuxedomoon in a Brussels rehearsal room. The quartet have travelled from their respective homes in Mexico City, Athens and New York to revisit Half-Mute for a tour to coincide with the album's re-release, and which tomorrow night arrives in Edinburgh for the band's first ever Scottish show.

“These songs for me are timeless,” drawls vocalist and violinist Reininger on a break from the final day of rehearsals prior to the tour's opening dates. “They have epic, mythic proportions, and live large in my sense of nostalgia. We didn't really forget this music, and I have to be subjective about it. I don't feel uncomfortable about playing it. These songs still stand up, and it's a lot of fun and pretty rewarding to play them, but we try to avoid revisionism. If a writer goes back to rewrite their poetry and prose, then it becomes something else. We have to honour the people we were and respect our past.”

That past began in mid 1970s San Francisco, when Reininger met Brown while they were both studying electronic music.

“There was a really interesting synthesiser lab,” Reininger deadpans. “It was a really powerful period, with Terry Riley playing across the Bay, where lots of other interesting things were going on, and we plunged ourselves into the emerging punk rock scene.”

With much of Tuxedomoon's early action revolving around Filipino restaurant turned key Bay Area punk venue, the Mahubay Gardens, Reininger, Brown and bass player Principle, who joined in 1979, took advantage of the era's anything goes attitude.

“We played galleries and salons, and were more associated with the performance art and theatre thing. A lot of the styling was in the tradition of Roxy Music. We were very aware of how to manipulate personae.”

Such awareness came in part from Brown's involvement in Angels of Light, a drag-based alternative theatre troupe which had evolved out of another group steeped in underground culture, The Cockettes.

“There were graduates and refugees from Broadway around,” Reininger remembers, “but we'd had this inter-disciplinary thing going on from the foundation of Tuxedomoon. I'd been in bands since I was twelve, so I knew what it was like playing covers in bog-standard bar bands, and I knew I wanted to do something more than that.”

In performance, Tuxedomoon developed a multi-media approach that incorporated work by performance artist Winston Tong and film-maker Bruce Geduldig. The latter sadly died earlier this year, necessitating fellow film-maker David Hanneke to step in for the tour.

As well as revisiting Half-Mute, the current spate of Tuxedomoon activity has seen the release of a ten CD box set, and a soundtrack to a documentary on David Lynch's film, Blue Velvet. All of which suggests that Tuxedomoon have become something more than cult figures, even if Nico didn't know who they were.

“We've managed to survive,” says Reininger, “and are still doing music and culture, and for that alone we have eminence grise status. It's like Genesis P Orridge or the guys in The Fall. One way or another they came through lives of obscurity and poverty and managed to survive, and through that acquire elder statesman status. That's fairly ironic and amusing.”

“It's the same with labels. The scenes they represent in the late seventies and early eighties, they put a gloss on them, so people now think, oh, I wish I was hanging out at the Hacienda, or I wish I was hanging out in Brussels.”

Some of this new wave of admiration for Tuxedomoon can be heard on Give Me New Noise – Half-Mute Reflected, a bonus disc that comes with the Half-Mute re-release, and which sees artists such as Simon Fisher Turner, Jim Thirlwell of Foetus and Georgio 'The Dove' Valentino cover the original album in full.

“These people are like our co-workers,” Reininger says. “They're like our disciples or students, younger guys we've had a lot of involvement with.”

Beyond Half-Mute, Tuxedomoon will continue to operate in the margins.

“We'll finish this tour and see what comes up,” says Reininger. “We have various releases and re-releases happening. After that we'll see. Once we get a spark, we can see what that yields.”

Tuxedomoon, Summerhall, Edinburgh, tomorrow.
www.summerhall.co.uk

The Herald, May 14th 2016

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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Northern Star

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Whether it's politics or theatre, everybody knows it's behind the scenes where the real work gets done. This is something Lynne Parker's production of the late Stewart Parker's 1984 play, revived by Rough Magic for the Tron's Mayfesto season, recognises in abundance. Parker opens her uncle's study of Henry Joy McCracken, the lost hero of the 1798 Irish rebellion, by having her troupe of actors wander onto a stage which has been turned around to reveal a rare glimpse of its wings. In what begins in a safe-house where McCracken and his lover Mary Bodle are holed up after the rebellion, this framing device heightens Stewart Parker's dramatic fantasia, so history is mythologised even as it is being made.

Stewart Parker does this by interspersing McCracken and Mary's last night together with delirious reflections presented in the manner of the greats of Irish literature. Key moments are delivered as part pastiche and part homage to Sheridan, Boucicault and Wilde. As the stakes are raised even higher than the noose that hangs over the action as the deadliest of props, the spirits of Synge, O'Casey, Behan and Beckett are similarly channelled.

Paul Mallon and Charlotte McCurry appear as bleak as a Play For Today as the central couple, while the ghosts McCracken conjures up pass around his military tunic like a badge of honour. While a working knowledge of Ireland's dramatic literature may be desirable to pick up all the references points, what is unmistakeable in the Parkers' sense of theatre is how politics and art are the most inseparable of bedfellows. The punky portents of future struggles that close the show confirm this.

The Herald, May 13th 2016

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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Lewis Baltz with works by Carl Andre and Charlotte Posenenske

Stills, Edinburgh until July 9th
Four stars

The word 'Ideal' (1970) forms the title of a key image by the late American photographer Lewis Baltz in The Prototype Works (1967-76), one of three series of images seen in parallel with two text-based pieces by Carl Andre and a sculptural construction by Charlotte Poseneske. Framed in close-up monochrome as one of ten prints taken from this early selection, the elaborate music-hall turn of a font that beams out from 'Ideal' also points to the false optimism of post World War Two suburbia that never quite delivered.

As a prime mover in the New Topographics wave of 1970s landscape photography, Baltz captured the built-in obsolescence of the Californian desert once its untamed public space was co-opted and domesticated by developers across the decades. If The Prototype Works show off worlds already inhabited but destined to be gentrified, fetishised and restyled as 'vintage', the thirty-three images of Park City (1979) show half-built ideal homes sitting unoccupied beside mountains of rubble.

A decade later, Candlestick Point (1989) tracks what at first glance looks like a seemingly unspoilt idyll, before a far-off flat-pack city emerges beyond the telegraph poles and dumping ground of old tyres. Viewed side by side like a cartoon strip or flick-book stills, such wide open spaces frozen between moments in motion resembles the panoramas of Wim Wenders or Michelangelo Antonioni.

Andre's One Hundred Sonnets, BIRD and One Hundred Sonnets, TREE (both 1963) are concentrated concrete impressions of their subject, while Poseneske's Vierkantrohre Serie D (1967-2014) is a wilfully functionless steel air-shaft-like arrangement that comes from and goes nowhere. Like the silver tiles of Andre's Aluminium Sum Ten (2003), which grows grubby from being walked on, it is designed to be taken apart and reassembled, so, like the bare patches of scrubland in Baltz's images, the wear and tear traces of humanity make their mark.

The List, May 2016

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Liz Lochhead and Siobhan Redmond - Thon Man Moliere

When Liz Lochhead and Siobhan Redmond talk about being part of a theatrical family, it doesn't just relate to Thon Man Moliere, Lochhead's new play which Redmond appears in at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh when it opens next week. The theatre family that Scotland's former Makar and one of the country's foremost and most fiercely intelligent of acting talents are talking about is something more personal.

Ostensibly a comic study of the seventeenth century French playwright formerly known as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, Thon Man Moliere finds Lochhead returning to the writer who has arguably been her greatest dramatic influence over the last thirty years. The relationship began when she adapted Moliere's most scathing of satires, Tartuffe, into a ribald rhyming Scots that caused a sensation in 1986 when it first opened on the same stage that Thon Man Moliere will.

Since then, two more adaptations have followed. Miseryguts, taken from The Misanthrope, appeared in 2002. Educating Agnes, adapted from The School For Wives, followed in 2008. With Lyceum associate director Tony Cownie having directed all three adaptations at various points, it seems only fitting that he is in charge of Thon Man Moliere.

“Moliere goes right back through my life, and right back through my friendship with Tony Cownie,” says Lochhead, sitting opposite Redmond in the Lyceum bar on a lunch break from rehearsals. “We became friends on Moliere when Tony played Orgon in a wee profit-share production I did in 1993  to cheer myself up after my dad had died and I had the money to mount it. We worked together on all sorts of things after that, but it keeps popping up. Both Tony and I realised at a certain point that we're both obsessed with Tartuffe. We must be, because we look at how often we've done it and looked at in different ways.”

In Lochhead's new play, Redmond plays Madeleine Bejart, who met Moliere when he was aged nineteen, and co-ran the theatre company Thon Man Moliere is centred around.

“They needed each other, to do what they wanted to do,” says Lochhead, “and they were both stuck with this need to do this crazy thing, which did not always make them happy, but they were artists. It's not a history play. It's an invented kind of version of this dysfunctional family that's a theatre company, but all families are dysfunctional one way or another. .

But, as Redmond observes, “Theatre families generally have better costumes and more jokes.”

Redmond has been a part of Lochhead's theatrical family ever since Lochhead saw her perform in a St Andrew's University revue in 1981, and got her to join her onstage in the Tron Theatre bar in a revue called True Confessions.

“I did this by stalking her,” says Lochhead, “phoning up all of the not very many Redmonds in the Glasgow phone directory. True Confessions was a great wee feminist show. Looking back, it was quite funny and touching in bits, and people like the wonderful David MacLennan and David Anderson loved it. The following year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe they'd hired a big lump of the Pleasance, and they asked us did we want to sublet a space.”

For what became Tickly Mince, Redmond and fellow actors Kevin McMonagle and John Cobb to perform a compendium of work written by Lochhead with Alasdair Gray and poet Tom Leonard, with James Kelman coming aboard later for a show in which the set was made up of furniture from the writers own homes. Redmond was particularly impressed by Alasdair Gray making his way from Kersland Street to the Tron carrying a settee on his head.

“What was really nice about that period,” says Redmond, “and we probably thought that we were terribly experienced because we'd done True Confessions, was hearing Tom Leonard and Alasdair Gray using all these theatrical terms, and Kevin directing us because we didn't realise that you needed someone to see what you looked like onstage, and not having a clue.”

Lochhead agrees.

“It was this mad family. Tom and Alasdair's satire was just exquisite, and it was all just a laugh. That's why we're still friends. You don't realise when you meet people that they're going to be such close friends for the rest of your life.”

The roots of Thon Man Moliere stem from Lochhead reading The Life of Monsieur de Moliere, Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov's biography of the French playwright, written between 1932 and 1933 but not published until 1963. Lochhead was gifted the book by another friend, short story writer Helen Simpson.

“Despite being English and Oxford educated , Helen loves my rudest and most vigorously Scots stuff best, and when she gave me this book a decade ago said you are going to write a play about Moliere one day. So I read it, and it's like a novel. It's a brilliant read, but I didn't see a play till about two years ago, when I suddenly thought to myself out of the blue how like Woody Allen, another great comic writer, Moliere was in a certain aspect.

“Once I thought that, it made me laugh, and I thought, looking back on Woody Allen's big scandal, what a pity there weren't photographs in Moliere's day. The thing that made me start writing the play was thinking how I could get round the fact that photography didn't exist then.

“So I started writing the play nearly two years ago, and I'll suddenly feel very empty on the 25th of May, because I think I'll be very lonely without Moliere to argue with. He's good company. You'd want to skelp him, but he's good company. I feel like that about Jimmy Chisholm as well,” she says with a smile about the actor who plays Moliere.

With Lochhead's love affair with Moliere having moved through three artistic directorships of the Lyceum, Thon Man Moliere will be the final show of Mark Thomson's tenure before he passes the baton to David Greig, who announced details of his inaugural season last week.

“I don't think anybody else but Mark Thomson would've said yes to this,” Lochhead says.

Part of Greig's announcement was his intention to have the Lyceum host Sunday night Variety nights.

“Oh great,” says Lochhead. “I hope they ask us to do it.”

This goes some way to point up the similarities between Variety and Moliere's own upfront brand of comedy.

As Redmond points out, “There's an extremity about it, which is understood to be both heightened and at the same time completely heartfelt. A lot of that is about addressing the audience directly, or not pretending that the audience isn't there.”

Lochhead describes Moliere as “a major,major comedian, but at the heart of any good Moliere play, there are mysteries. By mysteries, I mean, well, would human beings actually do that? And my heart says, well, yes, they would.

“People writing about him say, oh, he's not psychological, and that if you translate them then just a skeletal plot remains, but I don't agree. I think you get human beings with all their ridiculous complications coming out of his greatest plays. I keep hoping there'll be an undiscovered one and it would have to be a rhymer, because I like doing the rhymers, that would turn up that's got the kind of life in it that I like.”

Like his characters, Moliere was something of an obsessive.

“I think it's good writing plays about obsessions,” Lochhead says, “because protagonists have got to care or the audience won't care. Being quite an obsessive person myself once I get going, for a year and a half I've had no peace. But he can bugger off on the 25th May as far as I'm concerned, and I can get my life back.”

Thon Man Moliere, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, May 20-June 11.
www.lyceum.org.uk


The Herald, May 10th 2016 

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Connolly

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Audiences could be forgiven on Friday night for thinking they'd stumbled into Liberty Hall for real at the opening main stage production of this year's Mayfesto mini-season of politically driven theatre. The speak-easy vibe that punctuates Brian McCardie's searingly intense solo turn as James Connolly, the Edinburgh-born icon of the Easter Rising, when Ireland's free-thinking would-be liberators rose up against English rule a hundred years ago, may have been distracting, but it couldn't take away from the slow-burning power behind McCardie's performance in this self-penned piece.

The evening opened with three songs by singer Maeve Mackinnon accompanied by guitarists Fraser Spiers and the show's co-producer for the Fair Pley company in association with trade union Unite, Stephen Wright. After this, McCardie addressed the audience as if they were volunteers poised for battle. Beyond the low-key but impassioned rhetoric, Connolly gradually opens up, and by the time he's in Dublin's GPO building he's revealed a man who saw poverty first hand, and who stutters over the word 'capitalism' in a way that fires his inner socialist drive.

McCardie may be up there on his own, but there's an expanse to his director brother Martin McCardie's production that goes beyond the physical. The play still needs work in terms of shape and structure, and there are moments when McCardie's delivery is too insular to fully deliver, but there's a strength too to such quiet vulnerability. The near Beckettian bleakness which permeates the play's final third as Connolly sits in his striped prison cell pyjamas awaiting the firing squad is a damning image of how the establishment continues to brutalise dissent in a soon to be breathtaking piece of work.

The Herald, May 10th 2016

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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Three Irish Icons - Mayfesto 2016

When Andy Arnold first began Mayfesto at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, the idea behind the annual season of socially pertinent theatre was to fill a gap left behind by the long defunct trade union backed arts festival, Mayfest. While this chimed with a wider interest in politically engaged drama, Arnold's programmes have consistently cast a net which has combined the contemporary and the historical from both Scottish artists as well as those from further afield.

All this is captured in this year's Mayfesto, which focuses on the one hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising, when Irish republicans attempted to end British rule by way of an armed insurrection that left its mark on politics in both Ireland and the UK forever after. While Arnold's love of Irish drama in general pulses his programme, three works in particular focus on very different Irish icons, both of the Easter Rising itself, and of the previous Irish rebellion of 1798.

The Tron's own production sees Arnold direct Shall Roger Casement Hang? This new play by Peter Arnott looks at the incarceration and interrogation of the British diplomat turned human rights activist and republican gun-runner, who was executed for treason following his role in the Rising.

To compliment this, Dublin's Rough Magic company revive Stewart Parker's 1984 play, Northern Star, which dramatises the last days of Henry Joy McCracken, the leader of the United Irishmen, who was similarly executed following the 1798 rebellion. The play finds McCracken holed up in Belfast, where, in a theatrical gag par excellence, his rhetoric channels the voices of great Irish dramatists, from Sean O'Casey to Samuel Beckett.

Prior to both plays, Mayfesto's first big production comes with a look at the altogether more familiar figure of James Connolly, the man long recognised as the Easter Rising's greatest figure. In Connolly, Scottish actor Brian McCardie performs a one-man play written by himself, and which looks at the more personal aspects of a man better known as a political figurehead.

McCardie's interest in Connolly stems from extensive research he carried out after being cast as the great Irish Socialist in Rebellion, a TV mini series broadcast by Ireland's national broadcaster, RTE, this year.

“I couldn't believe how little people know about him,” says McCardie. “I knew he was an important fella', and that he'd been born in Edinburgh in Cowgate, but because of that he sits between two stools. People in Scotland don't really know about him because he went to Ireland, and people in Ireland don't really know about him because he wasn't Irish.

“I wanted to redress all that, and try and get to the man behind the myth, like how he had a major stutter, and spent seven years in America, and how his wife Lily was in some ways the brains of the operation, because she was educated and Connolly wasn't. One of the important things about him as well is that he was a Socialist, and was vigorously non-sectarian.”

McCardie became so engrossed with the history of Connolly and the Easter Rising that while filming Rebellion he took to taking a small bag of books on set with him, just in case the action veered a little too far from a historically accurate portrait of events.

“They kept trying to change things to make it more dramatic, so you had to keep them right, otherwise when it was screened in Ireland no-one would take it seriously.”

While Connolly was only scheduled to run for two nights, a third matinee show has been added to sate audience demand, and McCardie is keen to tour his eminently portable play as far and wide as possible.

“It's the sort of thing I could play anywhere,” McCardie says. “Connolly is a huge figure, and I think it's important to show what was going on behind everything he did that was so immense.”

Northern Star has already opened at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin, and will play in Belfast following the show's Glasgow performances. The production will be directed by Rough Magic founder Lynne Parker, whose work with the company is familiar to Scottish audiences by way of her productions of Improbable Frequencies on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and a staging of Seamus Heaney's translation of ancient epic poem, Beowulf, at the Tron itself.

As a niece of the late playwright regarded as one of Northern Ireland's great twentieth century writers for works such as Pentecost, Parker has long held a desire to stage her uncle's play.

“I wanted to do it years ago,” she says, “but at the time the Lyric Theatre in Belfast still had the rights, so ended up doing another of his plays, Nightshade, instead. Although I remember Stewart as a great person, whose whole approach to theatre influenced me enormously, I do remember him writing Northern Star, and the sense of mischief he had about him, putting all these different theatrical voices into the play.”

“In this way history becomes fun, and the play is written with an immense wit and humanity, and it's about how these wonderful ideas and philosophy became eroded after the '98 rebellion, and how the same cycle keeps repeating itself.”

For Arnott, Shall Roger Casement Hang? too has been a long time coming, and marks something of an anniversary for himself as well as the Easter Rising.

“It's thirty years ago this year since I told the Tron I wanted to write a play about Roger Casement,” Arnott remembers, “and they said why didn't I write one about Scotland's Roger Casement instead. I said who, and ended up writing a play about Thomas Muir instead.”

Beyond any similarities with the Glasgow born radical, who himself had dealings with the United Irishmen, Casement was a remarkable figure whose life is ripe for dramatisation.

“What I tend to find is that people either know everything about casement, or they know nothing,” Arnott observes. “Here was an Ulster Protestant and knight of the realm who went into the jungle on his own intent on exposing Belgian genocide, and who ended up being executed for high treason. He knew Joseph Conrad, and was the basis for Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, so when he landed off the coast of Ireland in a German submarine on Good Friday 1916 he was quite a famous man.”

Casement's homosexuality may have also been a key factor in his fate.

“A diary of real and imagined sexual encounters was found by Special Branch, who used it to try and destroy his reputation. The British government did everything they could to find a reason not to execute him, but in the end pleas for leniency didn't count.”

The play's form focuses on Casement's interrogation, with its claustrophobic style inspired in part by Sidney Lumet's 1972 film, The Offence.

“There's enough scope with Casement to do something on a David Lean type scale, but to concentrate on Casement's interrogation makes for something really intense.

“I've always liked traitors,” Arnott confesses. “They're such rich characters, especially when they're involved in key moments in history. History is contested territory, and people have very different attachments to the Easter Rising, so it's really interesting having a whole season of work based around it. It's like throwing a rock into a pool and see where the ripples go.”

Mayfesto runs at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow until May 28. Connolly, May6-7; Northern Star, May 11-14; Shall Roger Casement Hang?, May 20-28.
www.tron.co.uk

The Herald, May 4th 2016

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Monday, 2 May 2016

Mary Poppins

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

When Mary Poppins soars over the heads of the audience at the end of Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne's musical staging of P.L. Travers' stories, the strings may be visible beyond the brolley, but the New Age mantra of 'Anything can happen if you want it to' uttered by this most radical of nannies makes perfect sense. As soon as Zizi Strallen's Mary beamed down into the upmarket town house where the nanny-baiting Banks children, Michael and Jane, were rebelling against the regimented routines implemented by their banker father George and ex actress mother Winifred, after all, an entire culture of hand-me-down repression was doomed. .

Once Mary hooks up with chimney sweeping street artist Bert, by way of a series of wonderful set-pieces led by Bourne's choreography, the park becomes a psychedelic wonderland where statues come to life and a sweetshop more resembles an underground shebeen. This exposes Michael and Jane to a magical state of play, while even George finds his buttoned-up company man persona honed in a Kafkaesque mausoleum give way to outbursts of ethical capitalism once he falls under Mary's spell and rediscovers his child within.

Everything about this co-production between the Disney organisation and the show's co-creator Cameron Mackintosh is a marvel. Julian Fellowes' cheekily counter-cultural book is delivered with the same unfettered gusto as Richard M and Robert B Sherman's original songs, accompanied by new material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Strallen invests Mary with a winking coquettishness, while Matt Lee as Bert leads massed constructivist chimney sweeps across the rooftops with fearless glee in a show that relishes in the unabashed transcendent power of play.

The Herald, May 3rd 2016
 

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Sunday, 1 May 2016

This Restless House

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

Ghosts are everywhere in Zinnie Harris' reimagining of the Oresteia, Aeschylus' ancient Greek soap opera trilogy. They are present in the first play, Agamemnon's Return, in the little girl lost that is Iphigenia, through Electra's daddy's girl in the second, The Bough Breaks, to the Singing Detective style raising of the dead in the final piece, Electra and Her Shadow. Dominic Hill's co-production between the Citizens Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland is possessed with an expansive wildness that matches the dark flights of fancy that drives Harris' writing. Seen in one marathon sitting, the trilogy evokes an internal fury prompted by domestic unrest in extremis, before demons are eventually purged.

Things open in a palace that resembles a community hall or a 1970s social club, where a comic trio who seem to have stepped out of Last of the Summer Wine hold court. Here, Pauline Knowles' Clytemnestra swans in like a tortured torch singer, a clubland diva drinking and singing away her sorrows, haunted by the spectre of her dead daughter Iphigenia and unwilling to glam up for anyone except herself. Reunited with her errant husband, there's a brooding intensity to the intimate exchanges between Knowles and an equally magnificent George Anton as Agamemnon. Itxtaso Moreno's Cassandra, meanwhile, attempts to reassert her dignity after being tossed aside like an exotic souvenir past its sell by date, only to fall prey to Clytemnestra's wrath.

The discordant scrapes and rumbles of Nikola Kodjabashia's live score echoes the stabbing pains of Clytemnestra's mental anguish that eventually explodes into a bloody revenge that bears fruit in the second play, where Olivia Morgan's teenage Electra embarks on an even more relentless psychodrama. It is the final play, however, where everything comes home to roost, as an incarcerated Electra sits at the centre of a morass of modern day regression therapy that raises up spirits in conjunction with her similarly haunted psychiatrist. The brutal mess of flesh and blood anguish conjured up by Harris, Hill and their unhinged ten-strong ensemble is both blessing and curse in this most fearless of reinventions.

The Herald, May 2nd 2016

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