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Showing posts from July, 2016

In The Club - Mark Thomas on The Red Shed, Adura Onashile on Expensive Shit and Ruaraidh Murray on The Club

It was Groucho Marx who wrote how 'I don't want to belong to any club that will have me as a member'. Marx quoted his resignation letter tendered to Milton Berle's private members showbiz haunt, the Friars Club of Beverley Hills, in his 1959 autobiography, Groucho and Me. Immortalised in this way, Marx's words tapped into a form of wilful outsiderdom courted by would-be geniuses ever since.

Even outsiders, however, have to belong somewhere, as three very different Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows look set to demonstrate this year. In The Red Shed, Mark Thomas presents a loving homage to the forty-seven foot wooden hut that forms the Wakefield Labour Club where he cut his stand-up teeth.

In his play, The Club, Ruaraidh Murray sets up a fictionalised account of life in The Tardis, the Clerkenwell-based railway arch turned 1990s hedonist's hang-out, where Brit-artists rubbed up against great train robbers, Boy George was on the decks and absinthe was all the ra…

Tim and Nel Crouch - Adler and Gibb and Fossils

When Tim Crouch brought his show The Author to the Traverse Theatre in 2010 as part of that year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, his dissection of the right to be offensive onstage provoked several walk-outs. While this was in part a conscious provocation for such a reaction, the fact that Crouch's then teenage daughter Nel was ushering the show gave things an extra edge that neither have forgotten.

“I used to have all these irate members of the audience going 'This is appalling',” Crouch senior remembers, “and Nel had to stand there, and all she probably wanted to say was 'That's my Dad.'”

For Nel Crouch, it is the very first Traverse performance of The Author that she remembers.

“About a third of the audience left,” she says. “I've no idea why that was, because it was never that many again, but there is this plant at the start of the show who walks out, so that sort of invites it, and then if people do it means the show is kind of working.”

Six years on,…

Queens of Syria

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Four stars

Out of the darkness, thirteen Syrian women line up wrapped in a multitude of coloured robes and head-scarves. Speaking in their own language, they become the chorus of Euripides' battle-scarred tragedy, The Trojan Women, telling of fictional peers robbed of everything they had by battles not of their making. This is just a prologue, however, for the series of real life testimonies that come from the frontline of the war these women fled from, seeing refuge in strange lands in what they repeatedly call 'the boats of death'.
Over a brooding minimalist underscore, each woman takes it in turn to read letters, to their parents, children, brothers and sisters they left behind. Delivered directly to the audience, the women's' experiences are still raw, and there are moments when you fear they might not get through it. As their words are undercut by more passages from Euripides, however, the women gain strength from Hecuba, Andromache a…

Horse - Careful

Horse McDonald was in a recording studio in Cornwall when the seriousness of telling her life story onstage kicked in. The Lanark-raised singer/songwriter had just had a two-hour Skype session with writer and actress Lynn Ferguson, her long-term friend and artistic peer, who was turning Horse's true life tales into what has become a one-woman theatre show performed by McDonald called Careful.

With Ferguson in Los Angeles where she now lives, such transatlantic brainstorming sessions had becoming part of the creative process for Careful, and this session had tapped into some of the more painful areas of McDonald's story. Hyped up on adrenalin and the emotional anxiety of revisiting her past, McDonald's asthma kicked in, and a whole lot more besides.

“I was having flashbacks,” McDonald says midway through explaining the roots of Careful, which runs throughout August as part of the Gilded Balloon's Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme. “There are a couple of stories in t…

RolePlay

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

A storm may be brewing over London's Docklands at the opening of the third play in Alan Ayckbourn's Damsels in Distress trilogy, but that's just a hint of the explosion to come when Justin and Julie-Ann attempt to host a dinner party for their respective parents to announce their engagement. As they prepare, hints of trouble ahead are already apparent, both through Yorkshire lass Julie Ann's highly-strung brittleness and the phone calls from Justin's already pickled mother. It is only when ex lap dancer and gangster's moll Paige Petite literally drops onto the balcony from the penthouse suite upstairs, however, that things really start cooking.
What follows once the parents arrive is a devastating portrait of turn of the century Britain riven by a north-south and class-based divide, where the only thing that's on an equal footing is a destructively cloying patriarchal conformity. Director Richard Baron navigates a cast …

Doctor Faustus

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars

The dressing up box sitting at one end of the Kibble Palace is telling about the latest venture put together for the fifteenth anniversary season of Bard in the Botanics. As a clock ticks behind it, here, after all, is the laid out apparel of dress to impress immortality designed for a life destined to be unlived.
After remaining monogamous to Shakespeare's collected works for so long, the Bard in the Botanics company have been tempted by his contemporaries for a new strand dubbed Writing the Renaissance. If setting out its store with Christopher Marlowe's unhinged and altogether wilder play than most of Shakespeare's canon is a statement of intent, the future should be nothing if not lively.

This is especially the case if Jennifer Dick's relentless ninety minute adaptation for three actors is anything to go by. Here Adam Donaldson's bookish Faustus chalks pentagrams either side of a Pandora-like box that sits dead centre on the …

Planet Pop, Flux and the 20-Year Trickledown Effect to Edinburgh International Festival

When Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan announced his first programme in 2015 would include a gig by FFS, a collaboration between Glasgow-sired art-rockers Franz Ferdinand and post-modern music hall duo, Sparks, it was a headline-catching statement of intent. While previous EIF programmes had featured the likes of rock and roll poetess Patti Smith performing alongside minimalist composer Philip Glass, here was an event rooted in Scotland's DIY pop underground which had subverted the mainstream.

This year, Linehan's contemporary music programme has been developed further. Glasgow instrumentalists Mogwai performing a live soundtrack to Mark Cousins' film, Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise. Former Arab Strap vocalist Aidan Moffat will perform alongside Where You're Meant To Be, Paul Fegan's film that follows Moffat's journey in song around Scotland.

Moffat's performance will take place in The Hub, where Chemikal Underground records main…

Jennifer Bailey – Will I Make a Good Father, Mother, Sister?

Collective Gallery, Edinburgh until September 4th
Three stars

There's a deeply personal sense of uncertainty at the heart of Jennifer Bailey's new show, which forms part of the Collective's Satellites Programme 2016, designed to promote work by emerging artists based in Scotland and showing as part of Edinburgh Art Festival. This is explicit in the enquiry contained in the title, and is made even more so by the print stretched out across an entire wall that takes its lilac colour scheme from an old-time John Bull printing kit.
While its patterns resemble the sort of flowchart favoured by management training types, its words refer to the everyday contradictions between work, rest and play, a serious concern for Bailey's generation, many of whom work two or three jobs to make ends meet. On another wall, a head and shoulders photograph of Bailey's sister resembles a byline shot for a works magazine or a security pass dangling from a lanyard. Next to it, three small ce…

Mayo Thompson - Well Red

When the Crayola company began to manufacture packs of crayons in 1903, they introduced kids to hitherto unknown multi-coloured artistic possibilities. Taking the ‘Cray’ from the French word for chalk, and the ‘ola’ from oleaginous, or oily, they also introduced new semantic potentials into the mix. Beginning with just eight colours, by the turn of the millennium they were producing 120 different hues, including 23 different shades of red.

The Red Krayola are a band formed in Houston, Texas, almost 40 years ago and still a going concern. They may have changed their ‘C’ to a ‘K’ after Crayola took legal action over their original name, but as an organisation, they too have expanded, morphed, reinvented, accommodated and appropriated an ever-expanding palette of multi-coloured strategies.

In 1967, when Mayo Thompson, Frederick Barthelme and Steve Cunningham first released their debut album, The Parable of Arable Land and its follow-up, God Bless the Red Crayola and All Who Sail with It,…

Lynda Radley - The Interference

At the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, Lynda Radley is sitting beside a group of American exchange students who have just spent the morning taking part in a workshop led by theatre-maker Kieran Hurley. After lunch they'll be getting on with rehearsing Radley's new play, The Interference, which was written specifically for them.

As Radley talks, their voices rise and fall behind her. They could be any students from anywhere, with all the excitement and high spirits being abroad brings with it. When these young people from the Malibu-based Pepperdine University step back into rehearsals, however, they will be squaring up to a troublingly prescient issue issue which could conceivably affect every single one of them.

The Interference is set on an American university campus, where a female student is raped by a sports star. While her predator is clearly guilty of the crime he has been accused of, it is his victim who is treated as though she is the one on trial in a dam…

Paul Klee – Ghost of A Genius (1922)

I had a postcard of this for years. At first glance, it initially looks like the figure in the painting has two heads that are separated by a row of guitar strings, then when you look closer you see it's just one massive head on this long neck and skinny body. Even though the figure is standing disembodied on this kind of khaki-ish background, which he both blends into and stands out from, like he's looking into a mirror, there's a movement and musicality about it, like he's shaking his head so the guitar strings twang in this blur of motion.
I imagine him as a character in a 1950s Halas & Batchelor cartoon set against a blaring jazz soundtrack that plays as this strange little figure goes about the world having adventures and getting into absurdist scrapes while looking for inspiration, which he then goes home and paints.
The List Edinburgh Festivals Magazine, July 2016, commissioned as part of a multiple-authored piece I response to the Scottish National Portrait…

GamePlan

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

The London Docklands des-res is as blandly immaculate as the soundtrack that accompanies it at the opening of the first in Alan Ayckbourn's Damsels in Distress trilogy of plays. For teenage schoolgirl Sorrel and her nice but dim best mate Kelly, however, it's about to get very messy indeed. First seen in 2001 and revived here for Pitlochry's summer season, the play's initial aspirational gloss is soon picked at by director Richard Baron to expose a dark-hearted twenty-first century farce of cracked morality, where everything is up for sale.
Sorrel's dad has walked out on her and her mum Lynette, who's taken a cleaning job after the dot com crash. The enterprising Sorrel, meanwhile, has set herself up in the online sex business, and, co-opting Kelly as her maid, sets up shop for some very special homework. The shenanigans that follow as Sorrel and Kelly prepare for their first client could have been lifted from Feydeau and g…

The Lonesome West

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The felt-tip and sticky-taped on V shapes that adorn the dilapidated living room occupied by the two warring siblings at the centre of Martin McDonagh's 1997 play say everything about their relationship. As daubed on by a bear-like Valene marking territory from his biscuit tin of booze to his mantlepiece of religious figurines, the V could be for victory, however pyrrhic, over his equally volatile brother Coleman. If not, it could be marking out the v that divides gladiatorial combatants before they go into battle.
This is evident from even the most casual of sparring as Coleman and Valene return from their father's funeral with Father Welsh to act as referee as much as failed spiritual guide. Temptation for them all comes in the form of teenage wild child Girleen. Left to their own devices, however, Coleman and Valene continue a tug of war that increasingly becomes a very dangerous matter of life and death.

Andy Arnold's new production o…

Nicky Wilson - Jupiter Artland

As the name implies, once you step through the gates of Jupiter Artland, you are in another world. While Edinburgh city centre is a building site driven by a money-driven cartel of property developers, hoteliers and supermarket chains in collusion with the local authorities, a half hour bus ride out of town to West Lothian offers sanctuary of the most imaginative kind.

For a decade now, Jupiter Artland's science-fiction styled sculptured landscape has played host to a series of temporary and permanent architectural interventions that allow contemporary artists' work to breathe in a way that the restraints of a walled institution wouldn't allow for.

Beyond the verdant greens and lush blue pools of Cell of Life, American architecture theorist and critic Charles Jencks' manufactured landform that greets visitors, are more than thirty permanent works. These include piece by the likes of Nathan Coley, Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Jim Lambie and grand-daddy of environme…

Karine Polwart - Wind Resistance

Karine Polwart has spent a lot of time watching the geese fly above her home close to Fala Flow, a windy peatbog in Midlothian, south east of Edinburgh. The end result of Polwart's observations is Wind Resistance, a music-led performance piece produced by the Royal Lyceum Theatre company in association with Edinburgh International Festival, where the show makes its world premiere next month.

While it forms part of EIF's contemporary music programme, Wind Resistance is a theatrical piece overseen by stage director Wils Wilson, and with dramaturgical work by playwright and the Lyceum's new artistic director, David Greig. For an artist like Polwart, who is best known for her folk-based songs but steeped in an oral storytelling tradition, this isn't as big a leap as it first appears. It is telling, however, that Greig and Wilson's last collaboration was on The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, an intimate music theatre piece that reinvented the Border ballad tradition…

Silver Threads

Paisley Arts Centre
Three stars

When you're handed a flyer supporting the workers while DJ Big Div plays civil rights tinged 1960s soul records, one might think Bruce Morton's new play is looking at a more recent protest movement than it is. Especially when a series of paisley pattern projections hinting at trippy Happenings to come punctuates each scene. In fact, Morton's hour-long comedy presented by producers Jim Lister and Stephen Wright's grassroots FairPley company is set in 1856 Paisley, when the weavers who produced such swirly patterns were fighting for a living wage.
The play focuses on Davie McKenzie, who starts both his day and the play by punching a horse, and ends it by resisting the financial advances of works foreman Andrew Galbraith, his integrity intact. Inbetween, he comes into contact with real life emancipated slave and funk-soul brother Frederick Douglass, all the while running the gauntlet of his much put-upon wife Hannah.

All this is presented i…