Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mogwai – Atomic

Edinburgh Playhouse
Five stars

Following Playhouse dates by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Ros, it was only fitting that EIF's contemporary music programme completed the holy trinity of 1990s sired noise rock with two very special appearances by Mogwai to perform the soundtrack to Mark Cousins' film, Atomic. Subtitled Living in Dread and Promise, Cousins' film is an astonishing visual poem that cuts up archive footage to tell the story of nuclear weapons, from Hiroshima to Faslane, stopping off at all points inbetween.

With a six piece version of the band sat in darkness beneath a screen, things begin gently enough with a positively twinkly underscore to images of trees, flowers and other earthly delights that suggest a kind of uncorrupted global village. Within minutes, however, the appliance of science gives way to a barrage of atrocities accompanied by a relentless but still textured sturm und drang that heightens a sense of dread and foreboding with pummeling force.

Images of Aldermaston marches, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Greenham Common and all the other names that have become iconic symbols of the atomic age tell a horrific narrative of wilful and unnecessary destruction. There is a brief moment of respite as the positive aspects of medical research are shown in a necessary flipside to the obscenity of nuclear weapons in a world where billions are spent on Trident while the NHS is destroyed by stealth.

After an epilogue of statistics proclaiming the human and financial cost of nuclear arms, it ends, as it must, with a controlled explosion of noise that gives way to squalls of feedback before eventually finding peace at last.

The Herald, August 29th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 9 - Blow Off - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Blush - Underbelly, Three Stars / All the Things I Lied About - Summerhall, Four stars

In an Edinburgh Festival Fringe dominated by radical feminist riot girls, there have been few shows more explosive than Blow Off, A.J. Taudevin's fearless dramatic treatise on what drives a woman – and the fact that is a woman is key here – to blow up a very male symbol of corrupted power in city centre of sleek and gleaming towers.

In what Taudevin describes as a piece of guerrilla-gig-theatre, she is accompanied onstage by musical director Kim Moore and Susan Bear and Julie Eisenstein, aka Glasgow alt-punk duo Tuff Love for a rollercoaster glimpse from the frontline of one woman's mind in a music-punctured monologue that howls with barely suppressed rage.

In the current political climate, where responses to terrorist attacks have included policemen stripping a Muslim woman of her burkini on a French beach, Taudevin's punk rock assault on patriarchy is as incendiary as it is necessary. Taudevin's delivery in a piece co-directed by her and Graham Eatough is a piece of eloquent rage that crafts the text's internalised stream of consciousness into a piece of artful fury. Moore, Bear and Eisenstein's presence are essential to this, their music a drivingly relentless pulse to Taudevin's poetics.

In the spirit of a live fast, die young existence, Taudevin's creation played for two shows only, but can be seen at Dundee Rep on September 20 before it returns to the Traverse on October 12 and 13. This is followed by a date at the Paisley Spree on October 22. Miss this music theatre timebomb at your peril.

Run ended.

The rise of revenge porn as technology has become increasingly accessible to all has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons of late. In Blush, five increasingly dizzying inter-cut monologues lay bare a myriad of damaging possibilities that can result from such indulgences. Written by Charlotte Josephine and presented by Snuff Box Theatre in association with Sphinx Theatre as part of the Underbelly Untapped season of new theatre, the show's no-holds-barred approach is both exhilarating and exhausting.

As the show flits between male and female perspectives on online etiquette and how lives can be destroyed by a private moment made public, it whirls and burls its way throughout with an intensity and passion that points its finger at those who make capital out of their predatory power games even as it lays bare the emotional fall-out left behind.

Runs until August 29

Domestic abuse comes in many forms. Just ask writer/performer Katie Bonna in All The Things I Lied About, a one-woman meditation on the effects everyday dishonesty can have on our relationships, our mental health and ultimately on the world in which we kid ourselves as much as others that everything's alright.

It begins comically enough, as Bonna embarks on double bluff of a show that starts as a TED talk pastiche and ends up being an intimate insight into the sort of hand me down behavioural tics that can leave some pretty serious scars. In the wrong hands, this sort of autobiographical confessional could be a painful experience for all the wrong reasons. In Bonna's hands, however, its honesty is engaging and, as she gets the audience involved in her story, empathetic, so the seriousness of what comes late on in the show is never alienating in Joe Murphy's production. Of course, as believable as all this is, Bonna could be lying through her teeth even as she charms us into submission in a show that gets to the truth regardless.

Runs until August 28
 
 
The Herald, August 29th 2016

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Music is Audible – Especially in August

Back at the very start of this year's August Edinburgh extravaganza, the Edinburgh Tattoo featured a musical tribute to the late David Bowie at Edinburgh Castle. A few nights later, Edinburgh International Festival opened with Deep Time, a spectacular audio-visual event that beamed state of art projections onto Edinburgh Castle's walls to a thundering soundtrack of work by Glasgow-based band, Mogwai.

Both events were epic examples of the significance of pop and rock music to international culture, and EIF's contribution to this has already been highlighted on these pages.

Elsewhere, the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme featured readings from former Fall guitarist Brix Smith-Start and ex Dr Feelgood driving force, Wilko Johnson,while live music featured prominently in the festival's late-night Unbound strand. On the Fringe, live music fused with theatre in many shows.

This coming Monday, as EIF prepares for its final big bang at the Fireworks Concert, Edinburgh Licensing Board will meet at the City Chambers to discuss a proposed change to the City's legislation regarding amplified music being played or performed in venues large and small. Local law as it stands states that ‘The Board will always consider the imposition of a condition requiring amplified music from those premises to be inaudible in residential property.' This effectively means that if music can be heard beyond the four walls of a venue, those responsible are breaking the law.

Given that the David Bowie tribute and Deep Time were audible across the city, both events might be interpreted as having been in breach of a legislation which has made Edinburgh an international laughing stock. At Canadian Music Week in Toronto, music industry professionals greeted the revelation of Edinburgh's policy with laughter and derision. At Primavera Pro in Barcelona, the clause was mentioned in a panel on planning, whereupon a Spanish translator stopped translating, because it was, in their description, too stupid to be explained.

The proposed change in wording is the far more nuanced ‘Amplified music shall not be an audible nuisance in neighbouring residential premises.’ This is a subtle but significant change that acknowledges that music isn't inaudible. It is not, as some of those opposing the proposal seem to believe, a license to turn the volume up to eleven.

The Licensing Board's decision will be the culmination of a three month public consultation on the proposed change, which was drawn from a report by the UK wide music industry body, Music Venue Trust, and proposed by a body called Music is Audible. MIA is a CEC convened working party of musicians and music industry professionals working alongside councillors and CEC officials. I have sat on the MIA working group since its inception in 2014.

The proposal has the full support of the Musician's Union, the Scottish Music Industry Association, Music Venue Trust and the University of Edinburgh based Live Music Exchange, who conducted a live music census in 2015 that discovered that forty per cent of musicians who took part had their working lives negatively affected by the current legislation. One suspects that there is tacit support too from some of the city's key artistic stake-holders.

The main opposition to the proposal has come from some of the city's community councils, who, in the spirit of local democracy, are statutorily consulted by CEC. MIA approached each of Edinburgh's community councils offering presentations explaining the proposal. Several took up the offer.

Morningside Community Council wrote a very polite letter back explaining that as they had already decided to oppose the proposal, a presentation wouldn't be necessary. This is a pity, as it would have been interesting to hear representatives of an area that is hardly rock and roll central explain their position.

New Town and Broughton Community Council, however, have placed their thoughts on their website, and it makes for quite a read. As with NT&BCC's two submissions to the Licensing Forum, who are also statutory consultees, it contains little in the way of verifiable fact.

Perhaps those against the change should compare Edinburgh's current policy with other cities. In Adelaide, rules on live music provision have just been rewritten, ditching archaic bureaucratic red tape in a way that recognises the significance of a vibrant local live music scene, both to the economy and a city's artistic well-being. In London, following similar initiatives in Amsterdam, recently elected mayor Sadiq Khan is set to appoint a night czar, who will oversee the city's night-time economy in a way that protects it from encroaching gentrification.

On Monday, there is a real chance to begin the move towards an equally progressive approach to live music in Edinburgh. For the world's original festival city whose year round music scenes feed into official events, the Licensing Board must make their decision based on fact rather than some of the more fanciful objections raised. Edinburgh's music communities, who have as much ownership of local legislation as any other residents, can only hope common sense will prevail.

The Herald, August 27th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 8 - Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat - Underbelly, Four stars / Letters To Windsor House - Summerhall, Four stars / Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again - Traverse Theatre, Three stars

When Lucy McCormick opens her somewhat singular take on the life and death of Jesus in Triple Threat dancing with a purple dildo in hand alongside a pair of butch male angels (though sadly not Herald ones) in pants who look like they've stepped off the set of Eurotrash, it sets the tone for an eye-popping hour of dramatic salvation.

With McCormick casting herself in all the main parts in Ursula Martinez' Soho Theatre/Underbelly production, she brings the bible to life with all the boring bits left out. The Three Kings dance to camp disco, Judas betrays McCormick's leotard-clad messiah with considerably more than a kiss, while come ressurrection time there is a decidedly liberal interpretation of what constitutes stigmata. All opf this comes complete with power ballad karaoke in a blissfully blasphemous take on the greatest story ever told that flings wilfully ridiculous concepts of power, glory, agony and Ecstacy around with gay abandon. For a grand finale, a massed ascension to Heaven might just leave you coming out with sticky fingers in a riotously messy and genuinely subversive theatrical halleluhah.

Runs until August 29

Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole are real life flatmates in Letters To Windsor House, the duo's very personal look at the London housing crisis for their Sh!t Theatre company. When the pair start opening the pile of mail sent to previous tenants that's piled up, their obsessive researches into each of their predecessors builds up a socio-economic jigsaw of a strata of society which may never be able to afford to buy. More startlingly, they discover that the tiny flat they're sharing close to where luxury new builds are planned is actually a council flat being illegally sub-let to them.

In an hour-long DIY-style collage of songs, projections and out-front address, they by turns rip up, bulldoze and topple the idea that all-encroaching gentrification is in any way a good thing. That they do this in such an amusing and entertaining fashion makes for a politically illuminating and at times joyful experience. Because beyond Biscuit and Mothersole's deceptively serious line of enquiry, they've created a show that is also about friendship, and how living and working on top of each other can sometimes damage that friendship. In this way, it's both love letter to their living together and a damning expose of how the notion of housing for all went so very wrong.

Runs until August 28

One is reminded of a short poem by Adrian Mitchell watching Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, Alice Birch's call to arms, legs and pretty much everything else besides as it attempts to not just reclaim women's language and behaviour from the male gaze, but spark it into revolution too. In the poem, a theatre director tells his actors that in rehearsals that they are to be as free as they like, only for one actress to leave the room and never come back. In Birch's play, directed by Erica Whyman for the Royal Shakespeare Company, three women and one man argue the toss about life, love and pretty much everything else besides in a war on patriarchy where words themselves become a weapon.

Each scene reclaims language in everyday acts of defiance and revolt, with an umbilical link between each an ongoing series of references to flowers and foods – all born, significantly, from mother earth rather than anything processed.

All of this more resembles a rad-fem Dadaist cabaret than a play per se, and while it may not be nearly as badly behaved as it likes to think it is, as a provocation it makes its point in a way that never minds its language.

Runs until August 28.

The Herald, August 25th 2016

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Richard III

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars


The 1940s style microphone that hangs down from the rafters throughout German director Thomas Ostermeier's Berlin Schaubuhne production of what is arguably Shakespeare's most malevolent play is a telling nod to some of the showbiz-styled reference points that follow. The royal court bursts onstage in a riot of glitter punchlined by Thomas Witte's relentless noise rock drumming. This is an impressive curtain-raiser already before Lars Eidinger's Richard takes the microphone and centre-stage for his opening monologue that makes “Now is the winter of our discontent” sound like a stand-up live art routine.

Wearing a harness and rugby style skull-cap and contorting himself as he goes, Eidinger's Richard is by turns straight man, clown and old pro who flits between court jester and MC, but who really wants to be top of the bill. In this way he's a mash-up of Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman and wannabe comic turn Rupert Pupkin in Martin Scorsese's film, King of Comedy. He's a boundary-pushing hustler who loses his edge and ends up a bitter old ham after being crowned to a Laurie Anderson loop.

Performed in German with English surtitles – plus a few comic English asides from Eidinger – the pace gradually slows over its interval-free two hours and forty minutes to become increasingly mesmeric. Ostermeier's cast of ten are heroic throughout, but this is Eidinger's show. When he utters the words “A horse, a horse, a kingdom for my horse,” Richard's sense of clinging on to something lost beyond his own isolation is akin to Citizen Kane, and this his Rosebud moment in a piece that reinvents the play while staying radically faithful throughout.

The Herald, August 26th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 7 - The View From Castle Rock - Artspace@St Mark's, Four stars / The Hours Before We Wake - Underbelly - Three stars / The Way the City Ate the Stars - Underbelly, Three stars

Canadian writer Alice Munro is something of a heroine in literary circles. This is something that the sell-out staging of two of her short stories in The View From Castle Rock confirms, as it brings to life Munro's real life nineteenth century ancestors, the Laidlaw family, who leave the Scottish borders behind for a new life in Canada. Rather than focus on what happens when they get there, Munro's text, adapted faithfully by Linda McLean and split between five actors in Marilyn Imrie's production for the Stellar Quines company as part of Edinburgh International Book Festival, charts the voyage itself.

As the actors enter along the pews of St Marks' magnificent interior clutching copies of Munro's book, we ushered into a messy world of lives in motion, as several generations of Laidlaws attempt to make themselves heard,criss-crossing dialogue and description between them. In this way the story is given weight, depth and a poignancy elevated both by Pippa Murphy's score and sound design, which seems to echo down the centuries, and a closing coup de theatre which can't fail to tug at the heart-strings.

There's a quiet beauty at the heart of a story that becomes a piece of hand-me-down history that gets to the roots, not just of Munro's background, but to a global DNA that makes clear more than ever, just as Young Fathers did at their Edinburgh International Festival gig, that we are all migrants now.

Run ended.

There aren't enough science-fiction plays around, and late theatrical maverick, Ken Campbell, who produced a legendary twelve-hour staging of Robert Anton Wilson's The Illuminatus with his Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool in 1977 would surely approve of The Hours Before We Wake. Produced by the young Bristol-based Tremelo Theatre, the play is a bare bones black comedy set in a world where people have the power to control their dreams and make them freely available for all to see. For one man, this mean becoming a hero and getting the girl he loves to notice him.

In a world where everyone can be a star after dark, it also makes for a flesh and blood nightmare of high voltage conspiracies and noirish plot-turns that both intrigue and entertain. While themes of technology careering out of control have been a staple of sci-fi for decades, for the generation the play's young cast belong to they are more pertinent than ever, especially in a present increasingly dominated by social media and virtual reality. There's subsequently a freshness to a show created and devised by the company under Jack Drewry's direction, both in the story and in a playing style that fizzes with wit in a wilfully lo-fi construction.

Runs until August 29

When Australian performer Wil Greenway begins his latest piece of storytelling theatre, The Way the City Ate the Stars, with a scene-setting prelude about how a Christmas kiss is usurped by Santa Claus, it ushers in an even more twinkling tale about how a wrongly sent text message changes the lives of its recipients forever. Out of this, Greenway gradually unravels a tale of criss-crossing lives linked by a woman named Margaret, who reaches out to people who need her more than she'll ever know.

Greenway is an engagingly wide-eyed presence in a beautifully understated show made even more so by having each section of the story punctuated by live songs in an initially charming yarn that gradually evolves into a matter of everyday life and death.

Runs until August 29

The Herald, August 25th 2016
 
 
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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Sadie Hasler and Asfaneh Gray - Fran & Leni and Octopus

When former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine defaced the signage at the British Library's current Punk London: 1976-78 exhibition a few weeks ago while there to take part in an event with writer Jon Savage, it was a very necessary gesture. Albertine's inking in of the names of her own band as well as X Ray Spex and Siouxsie and the Banshees in an otherwise all male list was followed by the question 'What about the women?' alongside her signature

At an exhibition where visitors have even been admonished for taking photographs, it was about as punk as it gets. This was something recognised too by Faber and Faber, publishers of Albertine's memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, when they tweeted to the British Library that Albertine was 'still more punk than you.'

Writer and performer Sadie Hasler committed a slightly less public but equally significant act of rebellion the week when she laddered her tights just before she was about to leave the house. Hasler was on her way to prepare for her new play, Fran & Leni, which she is appearing in with her fellow conspirator in the Old Trunk theatre company, Sarah Mayhew, when the spirit of punk overtook her.

“I was going to change,” she says, “but then I just thought, fuck it. If I'm writing a play about punk then I'm not going to change just because someone might be offended by it. Why should I?”

Fran & Leni focuses on two women who meet in 1976 in a North London comprehensive school, and who form a punk band called The Rips. Dove-tailing between the pair's teenage years and everything that follows, the play looks at the ups and downs of a friendship which crashes and burns much as punk did, but which comes out the other side bruised but defiantly unbowed.

“I wanted to tell a story that wasn't just about punk,” says Hasler, “but about these two women, and what happens to them over the years. I always want to wrote strong female characters, and I wanted to shake off any ideas of what traditional female behaviour should be in terms of being demure. That was the case even up to the sixties, but when punk happened that all changed.”

Hasler saw some of this first hand.

“My mum was in a band with Hazel O'Connor, doing glam rock covers,” she says. “That was before she became famous, but then my mum got pregnant with me, and within a year Hazel got really big with Breaking Glass.”

In the play, Fran and Leni's differences are what makes their friendship click.

“Fran is a classically trained musician, but Leni sees the bad behaviour of punk as a vehicle to get away. It's not a history play. I wanted to look at the sort of freedoms women were allowed at that time. It's about escape.”

Fran & Leni plays back to back at Assembly with Octopus, a new play by Asfaneh Gray which sets itself in a frighteningly recognisable near future where state-defined Britishness prompts three very different women to define their own identity by forming a punk band.

“I'm a big fan of punk,” says Gray, who developed Octopus' co-production between Paper Tiger and Fine Mess Theatre at Soho Theatre and the Arcola. “It feels like a curiously British form of protest. We've never really had a revolution, but it feels like there was this moment when people thought, fuck it, and ripped everything up.

“People have this idea that punk is a white, male aggressive thing, but the play came out of a frustration about how identity is defined, and about what kind of stories we should be telling. I'm half Iranian and half Jewish, I look middle eastern and I've been to Iran, but that experience isn't a story I feel I could tell. People's backgrounds are a lot more complicated than they might first appear.”

In Octopus, Sarah, Sara and Scheherazade have very different musical tastes, but somehow manage to find a bond that unites them all. The title of Gray's satire on identity comes from a story told by one of the girls about an octopus who visits a hairdressers, only to be tugged eight different ways in terms of styling.

“It's looking at how things can be multi-faceted,” says Gray, “and it has this do it yourself spirit that's channelled throughout it.”

Fran & Leni and Octopus arrive at a time when autobiographical tomes by Albertine, Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon and ex Fall member Brix Smith have put their various female fronted punk story to the fore in a similar fashion. Recent fundraising events for She-Punks: Women in Punk, a documentary film in progress initiated by Helen Reddington and Gina Birch alongside Albertine, writer Vivien Goldman and others is reclaiming a hidden history which Reddington, as Chefs vocalist Helen McCookerybook, and Birch as bass player and vocalist with The Raincoats, were a key part of.

This was outlined in Reddington's book, The Lost Women of Rock Music, published in 2011, while the recent compilation album of lesser known female post-punk artists, Sharon Signs to Cherry Red, exposed an even greater wealth of talent which a new generation is drawing inspiration from. When The Raincoats recently played the Stewart Lee curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival, Birch could be spotted quietly enjoying younger but equally punky female bands, including Shopping and Trash Kit.

“It's wonderful to read about how these women made things happen for themselves,” says Hasler. “They really had to inveigle their way into things, and they're such an inspiration.”

For Gray, "Looking at what's going on in the Labour Party since the Leave vote, people are putting bricks through windows, and it's the same sort of anger as punk. People are seeing through the bullshit, and seeing that we need to tear things down and start again. Out of all that antagonism that's a constructive thing. It's like in Octopus, the moment these three young women come together, even though they're singing different songs, they still have the space to be who they want to be, and despite all their differences they can create something beautiful.”

For Hasler and Mayhew, this sort of attitude applies to the entire aesthetic behind both Fran & Leni and Old Trunk.

“If we want to be playing these strong women who aren't reliant on men,” Hasler says, “then we have to do it ourselves.”

Fran & Leni, Assembly George Square, Aug 4-28, 3.05-4.10pm; Octopus, Assembly George Square, Aug 4-28, 1.45-2.45pm.
www.assemblyfestival.com

The Herald, August 24th 2016

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Paul Vickers - Jennifer's Robot Arm and Twonkey's Mumbo Jumbo Hotel

Paul Vickers never planned to make his Edinburgh Festival Fringe act his main thing. As the former frontman of John Peel championed band Dawn of the Replicants turned collaborator with Edinburgh underground supergroup Paul Vickers and The Leg, his foray into off-kilter comic cabaret with his debut show, Twonkey's Cottage, in 2010 was meant to be a diversion from producing a Beefheartian stew of punk-folk clatter to accompany an increasingly fantastical series of narrative vignettes.

As it is, seven years on, the man now known as Mr Twonkey is in the thick of Twonkey's Mumbo Jumbo Hotel, the latest instalment of an ongoing and at times mind-boggling saga involving songs, puppets and an absurd set of interactive routines that may or may not involve a nest of knickers. As if that wasn't enough for this junkyard Edward Lear who last year was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, this year Vickers has branched out into doing straight theatre. Almost straight, anyway, as the title of Jennifer's Robot Arm indicates.

“It's about this little girl who thinks she's Pinocchio's sister and is made of wood,” says Vickers. “Her imaginary friend tells her to cut off her arm so she can see the rings in the wood, and her dad has to make her a robot arm.”

What Vickers describes as “a simple kitchen-sink drama” was born after he was approached by director and performer Simon Jay, a fan of Mr Twonkey's shows who encouraged him to write a play.

“He kept saying we should work together,” says Vickers, “and we had a rehearsed reading of an early draft of the play at the White Bear in London, and then we got a cast together and did it at the Bread and Roses pub theatre. That was really nerve-wracking to watch, because everyone in it put something into it that I never expected, Miranda Shrapnell who plays Jennifer especially.

“When I wrote the play I expected it to be a bit camp, but Miranda properly acts the part so you feel something for Jennifer. All the other characters are just grotesques, and I realised from watching it that it has a lot of depth. That's what stops me from being a straight down the line comic writer. I can't help but put layers of sadness in it.”

Both Vickers and Jay appear alongside Shrapnell in Jennifer's Robot Arm, with Vickers playing a crazed inventor in the play, which recently made it to the top twenty out of more than 900 entries in Soho Theatre's Verity Bargate award. This is testament to Vickers' sense of the fantastical which looks to Mervyn Peake, Roald Dahl and, in some of his shorter works, Ivor Cutler, for inspiration, but which is delivered with a ramshackle sense of absurdity.

Vickers was born in Middlesbrough, and studied performing arts in Carlisle. While he acted at college, “I soon realised I was a natural frontman for a band,” and early combos such as Irish Juice and Pennies from heaven mined a surreal blend of songs and performance art. “We were terrible,” says Vickers.

These efforts nevertheless morphed into the first incarnation of Dawn of the Replicants, by the mid 1990s, Vickers was living in Galashiels, where he wrote and drew cartoons for music zine, Sun Zoom Spark. With D.O.T.R championed by John Peel, the band were signed to a major label. Even here Vickers' penchant for off-beat storytelling came through, albeit much to their label's confused chagrin.

I used to send the A&R people all these stories,” Vickers remembers, “and they'd say they didn't want any of that rubbish, and tried to make us a dirty rock and roll band.”

After being dropped, Vickers decamped to Edinburgh College of Art “to reboot myself.” With the final D.O.T.R. Records released on local independent label SL, label boss Ed Pybus suggested a collaboration between Vickers and The Leg, a manic and equally maverick trio featuring former Khaya frontman Dan Mutch, classically trained cellist Pete Harvey and drummer Alun Thomas

“I showed the stories to The Leg,” says Vickers, “and they liked them and encouraged them.”

A first album, Tropical Favourites, spawned a set of jug-band punk narratives such as The Ballad of Bess Houdini and Chime Chime Cherry. The follow-up, Itchy Grumble, was a spiky conceptual fantasia involving the adventures of an immortal dwarf who ends up being fired from a cannon in order to revolve a lighthouse. While the band's live shows of this post-punk songspiel were ferociously intense affairs, Vickers developed his salty yarn into a play that required an epic staging which he saw as being potentially played out on the set of Robert Altman's film of Popeye.

“It was quite an ambitious thing to do,” Vickers says. “Like everything I do, it's got escapology, engineering and witchcraft in it, but the album didn't get much radio play. It's like we were doing our Trout Mask Replica,” he says, referring to Captain Beefheart's arguably most intense album.

With no takers forthcoming for a stage show, Vickers published Itchy Grumble as a novel along with some of his miniatures, and, inbetween recording a third Paul Vickers and The Leg album, The Greengrocer, channelled his performing energies into the Twonkey series. Twonkey's Cottage begat Twonkey's Castle, Blue Cadabra, Kingdom, Private Restaurant and Stinking Bishop before alighting this year at the Mumbo Jumbo Hotel.

“It was supposed to be a side-project,” Vickers says of a franchise which he has toured to Brighton and Prague festivals as well as sharing bills with the likes of Josie Long. “It was a scrapbook of ideas. I was originally obsessed with telling the story of Twonkey, who was half dragon, half witch, and the first three shows had all this Lord of the Rings stuff in it, but then I realised it didn't matter, because no-one really knew what I was on about. Once I abandoned all that, it really freed me up, and I became Mr Twonkey. It's a state of mind. When the ideas come, it's like a tornado, and I go to Twonkeyverse.”

Jennifer's Robot Arm may also be part of Twonkeyverse, but, while Itchy Grumble lays dormant, this new play marks yet another diversion in Vickers' anti career.

“I think what I've done my whole life is fall between stools,” he says. “That's where I belong. It took me a long while to embrace my own failures. I used to think if I put a brave face on things then people wouldn't notice, but I realise now that it's best to let it all hang out.”

As for Itchy Grumble, “I'm sure that it will happen,” he says. “There's unfinished business that needs tending to. I was trying to do this massive show too soon, but it will always be there. I have this image of how my life will end, where I'm hanging off a lighting rig trying to explain things and the hydraulics don't work. But Itchy Grumble will rise again.”

Twonkey's Drive-in presents Jennifer's Robot Arm, Sweet Grassmarket, August 4-28, 5.15-6.30pm; Twonkey's Mumbo Jumbo Hotel, Sweet Grassmarket, August 4-28, 9-10pm.

The Herald, August 23rd 2016

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Thomas Ostermeier - Richard III

The last time Thomas Ostermeier brought a production on at Edinburgh International Festival, the German director was considered to be a young wunderkind. As he blazed a trail through his country's theatrical establishment before alighting at the Berlin Schaubuhne, his iconoclasm seemed aligned in some way to the so-called in-yer-face wave of British writers who had taken much of their influence from the similarly iconic post 1968 generation of German playwrights.

Ostermeier first came here in 1999 with a production of Marius von Mayenburg's play, Fireface, then again in 2002 with David Harrower's English language translation of Norwegian writer Jon Fosse's play, The Girl on the Sofa. Fourteen years on, and still in charge of the Schaubuhne, Ostermeier's provocative aesthetic remains intact in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III which thrusts one of |the bard's most complex characters centre stage on an interpretation of an Elizabethan globe style theatre that leaves performers nowhere to hide as they attempt to connect with the audience.

Forming part of a programme at this year's EIF that commemorates the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's death, Ostermeier's production adapted and translated into German by Ostermeier's long-term collaborator von Mayenburg, has already captivated audiences at international festivals in Romania and France since it premiered in Berlin in 2015. Having only previously brought contemporary chamber pieces to Edinburgh, for Ostermeier to be bringing a large scale classical piece after so long away is a proposition he clearly relishes.

“For me it's always very exciting to bring Shakespeare onto the island,” he chuckles as he prepares to watch his show in Romania. “Of course, there's a difference to bringing Shakespeare to London than bringing it to Edinburgh and to Scotland, so I'm excited and happy, but I'm not afraid. Of course, it's a challenge. It's in German, first of all, and it will have subtitles. Sometimes I tell myself that's better, to have the beautiful language of Shakespeare, without any bad acting.

“I myself enjoy watching Shakespeare shows and watching subtitles at the same time. I admire and praise the language of Shakespeare, and I'm pretty excited about what he audience will make of the production, but I'm quite confident about it as well.”

There's a playfulness to Ostermeier when he talks in this way. It both upends the seriousness of his work even as it accentuates its boundary-pushing extremes. Make no mistake, however. Every action, while designed to get a reaction, is carefully thought out, from the casting of Lars Eidinger in the title role, to having a live drummer play onstage, to the physical architecture of the piece.

“Having Lars play Richard was one of the most important reasons for doing the play,” Ostermeier says. “He'd played Hamlet for me six years before, and I thought he was definitely at the right place in his career to do this. My main interest was the fact that Richard is regarded as a character of evil, and how him doing evil appears onstage as he manages to climb up the ladder of power.

“Secondly, how much is Richard like a member of the audience around him? Could he be as evil without a completely corrupted world around him? A lot of that is to do with language. That is the most important topic of conversation in the rehearsal room. How does he communicate with the audience? He's not a character on a screen, so how does he do that? Thirdly, how does he exploit this and profit from being in the same space as the audience?”

The answer for Ostermeier comes in the shape of the space the play is performed in.

“The way actors performed in Elizabethan globe theatres had a lot to do with the architectural space they were in,” Ostermeier says. “There was an audience all around them, and they had to entertain them, and there were moments that they were like stand-up comedians. That comes from the architectural lines and the lines of energy in a space like that, and which makes it so very different to the relationship where you have the audience in front of you. This is much more like saying, I'm one of you, and when one of us becomes evil, that makes things more tense.

With a live drummer onstage throughout, Ostermeier's take on the play sounds like an Elizabethan cabaret, with Richard topping the bill as the deadliest of old troupers, hamming it up with the audience as he goes.

Like the writers whose work he cut his teeth on, Ostermeier has grown up steeped in popular culture in a way that makes him unafraid to marry classical drama to contemporary concerns. This has been the case ever since he worked as assistant to playwright Manfred Karge, author of Man To Man, in the early 1990s. As artistic director of the Barracke company at the Deutsches Theatre in the mid 1990s, Ostermeier focused on work by contemporary British playwrights, including Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill.

Ostermeier began to apply his aesthetic on classic plays by Ibsen and Shakespeare, and for at least the last decade now, Ostermeier says, he has directed a Shakespeare play every other year.

“The most important thing for me coming to Shakespeare,” he says, “and this might sound banal, but he is the best writer ever to have written drama. Also what is important for me, and people often forget it, is that he is part of high art, but he is also fascinated with popular culture and comedy in his writing. That's what makes him so fascinating for me, because in the time we're living in now, we have the internet, TV and YouTube, but, at the same time, we also have Bach and art exhibitions.

“All of these things are happening at the same time, so we live in a world very close to the world of Shakespeare. We have the same political situation as the Renaissance, when there was terrorism, atrocities and gunpowder plots. It was a world of prosperity, but it was also a very violent time, and yet it was also a time of science and art and renaissance, so there are very clear parallels.”

Richard III, Royal Lyceum Theatre, August 24-28, 7.30pm.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 23rd 2016

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Ross Dunsmore - Milk

There is a pre-fab house close to where to Ross Dunsmore lives that is boarded up from the inside.

“It looks like no-one's living there,” says the Glasgow-born actor and writer, “but there's this beautiful ornamental garden outside. You take an imaginative leap, and you wonder what it was that made people hide from the world in this way. Is the world moving so fast and so noisily that this is what some people feel that they have to do? That made me start to think about what people need to feel fulfilled.”

The result of such close to home influences is Milk, Dunsmore's debut full length play that looks at three seemingly different couples from across the generations who are all trying to survive in an increasingly scary world.

“There's a craving there,” says Dunsmore. “These people are always seeking nourishment. There's a desire to feed others and to be fed. These people all live in the same community, where they brush up against each other on a journey to this kind of fulfilment, bumping into each other as they go.”

Little slices of life like this are what feeds his work.

“The thing I find as a writer,” he says, “is that you don't sit down and think that you want to write a play about nourishment or sustenance, but there are some things – a picture, a word – that sticks in your mind and intrigues you, and it won't go away because you can't leave it alone.”

Dunsmore discovered theatre at a young age when his parents would drag him along to the amateur dramatics group they were involved in.

“It was noisy and funny and busy,” Dunsmore remembers. “I loved it.”

Aged seventeen, and wondering what to do with his life, he considered a career in civil engineering.

“I wanted to build dams in Latin America,” he says.

By that time he was reading plays in the library, and watched a video of Bill Bryden's promenade production of The Mysteries at the National Theatre.

“I wanted to be there,” Dunsmore says. “It seemed like the most vibrant, alive place to be. Whether I was in the audience or onstage, socially or artistically, I didn't care, I just wanted to be there.”

Dunsmore studied drama at Kirkcaldy College of Technology.

“I fell in love with the idea of theatre,” he says, “with the fun and excitement and the newness of it all.”

He also decided to take theatre and acting seriously enough to apply for RADA. It was during that time, with classmates who included Adrian Lester and Rufus Norris, that Dunsmore began to understand theatre as an artform.

“I saw how it could reflect society,” he says, “and my senses were honed. I came out of RADA fully engaged with how important theatre and acting can be, and I've retained that.”

Over more than twenty years working as an actor, Dunsmore has worked extensively on new plays. His very first job after leaving RADA was in 1989 at Leicester Haymarket Theatre on a production of Jackets, a play by Edward Bond set in a riot torn city in the near future. This was an increasingly rare sighting of a new work in a major British theatre by the mould-breaking writer of Saved, and the experience of working on a play shot through with Bond's humanist rage seems to have left its mark on Dunsmore.

“Jackets was a great play,” he says, “but I'm baffled that it's never been done again. There's an economy and an elegance to Edward Bond's writing. He was around quite a lot during rehearsals, and he brought this intellect to things that I learnt a lot from.”

Since Jackets, Dunsmore has worked with companies including the National Theatre of Scotland, the Young Vic and Chichester Festival Theatre. Appearances on home turf have included the Tron Theatre's production of David Greig's play, The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman he Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union.

“I've done a lot of workshops and readings of plays that maybe didn't see the light of day,” Dunsmore says, “helping the writer find out what works and what doesn't.”

This led to his own move into writing.

“I started writing little short stories for fun,” he says, “and the more of them I did the more I realised how filmic they were.”

Dunsmore took an MA in screenwriting at Royal Holloway University of London. This led to a year studying playwriting with John Burgess, former head of new writing at the National Theatre.

“As soon as I started studying film my writing became more theatrical,” he says.

Dunsmore entered a competition for writers to pen ten-minute long plays. He wrote a piece called Twenty-One Breaths, about a couple coming home from hospital after having a baby. There are connections here with Milk, which features a heavily pregnant female half of the play's central couple.

“I've got three kids,” says Dunsmore, “so I know that world. It's a very potent idea to explore theatrically, even just visually onstage, but I'm comfortable if this idea is something that keeps pulling me back if I don't quite get it right and want to explore it.”

Other short plays by Dunsmore include Cold Call, about two people working in a call centre whose relationship is falling apart, The Move, which follows two different families moving into the same house a century apart, and one called The Postman. The latter was developed with Playwrights Studio Scotland, where he was mentored by writer Lynda Radley. In 2015 was one of four winners of the Scotland Short Play Award with a piece called Romance.

Although his writing career is on a roll just now, Dunsmore will continue to act.

“Being an actor helps me write,” he says, “and being a writer helps me act. They're one and the same thing in many ways.”

With Milk, however, you get the impression that the play is a labour of love that comes from a very personal place.

“When I read Milk now,” says Dunsmore, “the thing that strikes me more and more is how great the need is in all of us to be loved and wanted. The key to that is how you reach out to people and nourish them. We find ourselves where we are politically in the world right now, and to take that risk and reach out to someone who you might not otherwise reach out to, that balance isn't easy to reach, but it's so important we try and reach it, both for us as individuals and for society as a whole.”

Milk, Traverse Theatre, August 5-28, various times.
www.traverse.co.uk

The Herald, August 22nd 2016

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

James Thierree - The Toad Knew

Family matters to James Thierree, the Swiss-born theatrical alchemist who brings his dark tale, The Toad Knew, to Edinburgh International Festival next week. Such concerns are there in this tale of a brother and sister who remain children forever, but it's there as well in his real life lineage growing up in his parents circus where as a child he performed alongside his own sister. Given too that Thierree's grand-father was comic genius Charlie Chaplin, and his great-grandfather playwright Eugene O'Neill, it might be fair to say that Thierree is following in some pretty large artistic footsteps.

As The Toad Knew should make clear, however, he has trodden his own singular path in a piece made for his Compagnie du Hanneton ensemble that follows the adventures of five characters in a mix of dance, circus and physical theatre which also looks to the likes of Salvador Dali and Tim Burton for its fantastical execution.

“I wanted to explore something intimate,” Thierree says of the roots of The Toad Knew. “I'd just done a big choreographic show, and I started with this idea of a brother and sister being kidnapped and taken to this weird place. Of course, I re-read all the typical tales of children being kidnapped in Grimms' tales and so on, and thought about them having to experience this tremendous anguish in that situation.

In The Toad Knew, the children grow up, and are shaped by the world they were taken to, and become old children trying to find the code or key to escape, with the voice of the jailer ever-present. For me it's important to get the audience to leave their rational brains behind, accept the rules of the world onstage and let themselves go on this visceral and intuitive journey.”

Thierree made his stage debut aged four in 1978, playing a walking suitcase opposite his elder sister Aurelia in Le Cirque Imaginaire, the experimental circus run by his parents, Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thierree. Thierree toured with the company and its successor, Le Cirque Invisible, until he was twenty. Given that he was born into the circus rather than having to run away and join it, such a peripatetic existence has inevitably trickled down into his own work beyond it.

This began first on screen with Thierree playing one of three Ariels in Peter Greenaway's 1991 film inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, Prospero's Books. Greenaway's maverick casting on the film included having John Gielgud as Prospero, Michael Clark as Caliban and Mark Rylance as Ferdinand.

Thierree's film career has continued alongside his theatre work, and he was nominated for a most promising actor award for his turn in Eurotrash presenter Antoine de Caunes' 2006 film, Twice Upon A Time. Most recently he appeared in Chocolat, a film about Chocolate the clown, the first black circus artist to grace the ring in nineteenth century France.

Onstage, Thierree's career beyond Le Cirque Imaginaire and Le Cirque Invisible began in a Paris production of Fassbinder's play, Pre-Paradise, Sorry Now. It was when he founded Compagnie du Hanneton in 1998 to produce his first show, The Junebug Symphony, however, that Thierree really started to make waves with his stage work.

With Le Figaro describing The Junebug Symphony as one of the top ten shows of the decade, Thierree followed it up with the equally acclaimed Bright Abyss, and has since created three more works, Au Revoir Parapluie in 2007, a solo piece, Raoul, in 2009, and Tabac Rouge in 2013. While the worlds he created in all of his spectacles are born of an imagination forged outwith mainstream theatre, all he will say about the influence that growing up in the circus has had on his work is a quietly charming “Most probably, but the advantage here is that I don't think about it, and I don't think I would create a show about that experience.

“As a child you accept whatever situation you're in. The reality we were in was very special. We were touring with the circus, and performing was part of our daily activity. It was just part of our game, whereas strangest for us was school. I thought school and regular life was exotic. School was a jungle, a scary and mysterious place, whereas the circus, the touring and all of that was my everyday experience.

“With this show,” Thierree says of The Toad Knew, “there's maybe a feeling of coming back to familiar ground, of getting back to working with a troupe and searching for a world of ideas. I'm very pragmatic. Of course, I come from the circus, but it wasn't really a circus as we think of a circus. It was more about experimentation, whether that was through acrobatics or whether it was absurdism. My parents were exploring and playing with ideas around the circus as they directed it, but I was always on a theatrical stage. The trick here is to take all these physical ideas and to blend them in a way that doesn't look like it's just presenting a series of moments. That's why the set's important. You can blend it into a world of ideas.”

Where previously Thierree's physical ideas have manifested themselves in the form of talking teapots and umbrella jellyfish. In The Toad Knew, Thierree promises a vintage feel.

“I like old things,” he says, “old props and so forth. I don't know why, but my sets are always full of things worn down by time. I never build a modern contemporary set. I know a spend a huge amount of time on preparing the set. For me it is the lead character that undergoes a metamorphosis. I work with the crew on it for months. That's the first game I play, then once the character is there we bring in the human factor, and we just have to make this place our home.”

Again and again, Thierree's speech fuses the domestic with images from his imagination in a way that suggests his art and life are inseparable. His talk of games and play as well not only takes theatre back to its purest essence, but suggests that, for all his pragmatism and technical expertise, as a child of the theatre, he too has never fully grown up, retaining a sense of wonder that fires his work.

At the time of talking, Thierree, Compagnie du Hanneton and The Toad Knew are on tour at the Naples Festival. As with the circus, life on the road with a show can be a gruelling experience.

“The baby is screaming a little bit for rest,” Thierree jokes, personifying the show as one might imagine he does with its component parts on a nightly basis, “but we're recuperating, so we'll be fresh and joyful in Edinburgh.”

For all the technical and physical intricacy involved in The Toad Knew, Thierree's flights of fancy remain at a heart which he's perfectly willing to allow to go off on flights of fancy of their own making.

“There is a story,” he says, “and we try to tell the story more or less, but then the story goes away and becomes something else. My point is not to say once upon a time there was a toad who was a man. Who cares? We try and pull the same strings of childhood learning. I like the idea that the children learn something from a creature, and then they move on, and we never know what happens after that.

“In most stories there is supposed to be a happy ever after, but I don't think that's the case here. I think the brother and sister in The Toad Knew are more traumatised than anything. They're freaked out ever after, and remain freaks forever. That for me is the conclusion of it all. We are freaks. Let's enjoy it.”

The Toad Knew, King's Theatre, August 24-28, 8pm.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 20th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Theatre Reviews 6 - Counting Sheep - Summerhall@ King's Hall, Four stars / The Red Shed - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Mouse - The Persistance of An Unlikely Thought - Traverse Theatre, Four stars

“In a revolution you don't need a diary,” says an audience member to her partner during a mass waltz mid-way through Counting Sheep, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra's 'guerilla folk opera' retelling of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine that opened up in 2004 before turning nasty a decade later. A relatively innocuous beginning sees the room kitted out for what looks like it's about to host a church hall feast with big makeshift screens beaming out news footage above. The junkyard klezma euphoria that soundtracks the starter bursts wide open along with the space, so keening east European chorales accompany a military raid that tears the interior of the premises apart.

From that point on, the audience and the show's seventeen performers are pretty much inseparable in a gloriously messy barrage that sees us mucking in, manning barricades and embracing the still beautiful idea of revolution as carnival. Created by Mark and Marichka Marczyk, a Canadian and a Ukranian who met during the protests and formed an alliance of their own, the sound and fury that fires the show points to a sense of participation and people power which, in the Lemon Bucket Orkestra's world, at least, will never be defeated.

Runs to August 28

Mark Thomas has been the left wing conscience of the Fringe for some years now, and in The Red Shed, his latest piece of stand-up activist theatre, he channels a firebrand spirit which in the current political climate is more necessary than ever. On a red carpeted stage set up with wooden tables and chairs and with scarlet doors at its centre, Thomas invites us into the forty-seven foot shed that forms Wakefield Labour Club, a place where he cut his performing teeth as a young drama student, and where, more significantly, he discovered politics by way of the Miners Strike and the world of working class struggles immortalised on the Red Shed's walls.

Director Joe Douglas enables Thomas to steer through this past with an unashamedly partisan vigour that brings to life a past that is in danger of being buried. As with all his shows, this is as much a journey for Thomas as those watching. Having six of those audience members onstage is key here. Their presence taps into a need, not just to watch passively in the dark as history is removed ever further from us, but to participate and help make the sort of history that The Red Shed so passionately advocates.

Runs to August 28

“When will I learn to tailor my ambition to my ability?” asks Daniel Kitson midway through Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought, his latest late-night show for the Traverse. When he says this, Kitson has just stepped out of character as William, a warehouse-bound writer who receives a phone call from a wrong number whose dialler sounds oddly familiar. It's one of several points in the show when he does this, acknowledging his own mistakes or else pointing out the heat of the room or a yawning audience member.

Despite attempts to hang up on his wrong number, Kitson's possibly auto-biographical creations strike up a rapport as they brainstorm William's protracted attempts to tell a story about a mouse. What emerges over the next one hundred minutes or so is a conciously discursive meditation on the solitary nature of the creative process as internal dialogues vye for attention. In this way, Kitson's sense of parallel universe style duallism is a way of him writing his own story-book, brim-full of obsessions, psychological detritus and a craving to connect in a meticulously trag-comic construction that is the most revealing hint at what makes Kitson tick to date.

Runs to August 28
The Herald, August 20th 2016

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Friday, 19 August 2016

Anything That Gives Off Light

Edinburgh International Conference Centre
Four stars

It feels like a wake at the opening of this transatlantic collaboration between New York wunderkinds The TEAM, the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival. As Brian Ferguson steps out into a deserted pub to consider what's Scottish, the top soil is still fresh on the floor as his character, also called Brian, makes a prodigal's return from his London home with his granny's ashes in tow. Hooking up with his old pal Iain, an uneasy reunion unlocks a shared history of anti Poll Tax demos and anti Thatcher protests before Brian 'sold out.' When they're hit on by American tourist Red, the trio take a road trip to the Highlands, where hard truths come home to roost.

What sounds like a conventional road movie style yarn lurches into a whisky-fired fantasia that sees the three role-play the Highland clearances before heading stateside to the country roads of West Virginia past and present. This makes for quite a ride in Rachel Chavkin and Davey Anderson's production, penned by them with cast members Jessica Almasy, Ferguson and Sandy Grierson.

As is usual with the TEAM, literature, pop culture and politics are folded into a wilfully messy narrative, but here are reined in with more languidly paced conversational longeurs. These are
peppered throughout by nouveau Appalachian-Scots fused numbers composed by New York duo, Shaun Bengson and Abigail Nessen-Bengson, and performed by piper Annie Grace, drummer Cat Myers and singer/guitarist Maya Sharpe. As the Scotch mist clears, what is left is a slow-burning meditation on a past that refuses to lie down and stay buried, even as it's mythologised along the way.

The Herald, August 19th 2016

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Helen Monks - Raised By Wolves, Dolly Wants to Die and E15

The story of how Helen Monks ended up playing a fictional version of a teenage Caitlin Moran in TV sit-com Raised By Wolves is pretty well known by now. It's the one about how student fan-girl Monks went to a book-signing by the best selling author of How To Be A Woman, whose journalistic career began aged sixteen after winning a newspaper competition. During the event Moran let slip that she was writing a semi autobiographical show with her sister Caroline, and when she went up to get her book signed, Monks suggested that she could play her.

Being an all round good sort who understands the power of being precocious more than most, Moran took Monks' email address. The next thing she knew, Monks was auditioning for Raised By Wolves sporting a fat suit borrowed from her brother. Moran had googled the twenty-three year old, and, still only in her second year at Sheffield University, was cast as the uber excitable Germaine, hormonal eldest daughter of the housing estate schooled Garry clan.

Now with two series of Raised By Wolves under her belt, Monks is already regarded by some to be the funniest woman on television. Such acclaim was sealed with a regular role as William Shakespeare's sulky daughter Susanna in Ben Elton's period sit-com, Upstart Crow.

Before any of this, Monks had already become involved with Lung, a grassroots theatre company focussed largely on politically engaged verbatim theatre. The company's artistic director Matt Woodhead has overseen plays including Chilcott, based on interviews with veterans of the 2003 Iraqi war as well as refugees, ministers and families of soldiers killed in action. Lung also produced The 56, which was drawn from testimonies of survivors of the 1985 Bradford football ground fire.

This year, Monks takes part in two Lung productions in Edinburgh. As co-writer of E15, Monks and Lung tell the story of twenty nine single mothers living in sheltered accommodation who took on their local council in Newham after attempts to gentrify the area saw them issued with eviction notices.

In Dolly Wants To Die, meanwhile, Monks will appear in her own play as a nihilistic potty-mouthed doll with suicidal tendencies.

“I wrote it because I'm at the stage of life where I realise that pretty much everyone around me is having some kind of existential crisis,” twenty-three year old Monks says of Dolly Wants To Die. “I honestly don't think I don't know anyone who isn't having one. My generation is the first generation that are poorer than our parents in terms of job insecurity and a lack of social mobility and everything else, and that affects the middle classes as well as the working classes. You can see people being pushed into poverty.”

In response to this, Monks started off writing a deeply serious political play, “but then I did a reading of it, and everybody laughed. I was massively offended at first, but then I started using phrases like 'we're all in it together' ironically, and what I've ended up with is a grown up Toy Story for the Prozac generation.”

Delivered in Monks' Brummy accent, such soundbite savvy could have come straight from Germaine's mouth, as could the doll's eye view angst writ large.

“It feels very prescient these last few weeks,” Monks says, taking stock of a post Brexit climate. “There's this climate of complete uncertainty, which totally contradicts what we were promised as children when our parents lived in this sage of social mobility that just doesn't exist anymore. All of that is really frightening, and as soon as I start talking about it I become really passionate about all these issues, but the play is a two-hander with me and this giant DJing bear.”

E15 was pulled together from 175 hours of interviews that chart the story of the Focus E15 Campaign, which was taken all the way to the Houses of Parliament in the the women's determination not to be marginalised.

“The campaign was an attempt to get housing back on the political agenda,” Monks explains. “There was a massive demonstration, and we interviewed everyone, from housing campaigners to the shadow cabinet, and this amazing group of revolutionary women really helped us shape the show. They came up to see us, and were jumping in with ideas, so it felt like a real piece of activist theatre. It's the only piece of theatre I've worked on that's felt so of the moment, and which seemed to blur between theatre and real life.”

Monks reels off statistics discovered during the making of the play about the extent of homelessness in London and elsewhere caused by encroaching gentrification.

“Social housing is being bought up by private investors, and people are being moved out block by block because councils don't want to subsidise social housing,” she says. “As soon as you think about it, you start noticing these huge amounts of houses lying empty, but I never fully understood it till I met the women, and had my eyes opened to the shocking social cleansing that's going on.”

With both her parents working in the arts, Monks was drawn to acting from an early age. Like Moran, she won writing competitions, “but I never thought I'd end up doing it properly. I still think at the back of my mind I'm going to go off and get a proper job at some point.”

Raised By Wolves, Upstart Crow and Lung have put such a search on hold.

“I really was a super fan-girl of Caitlin Moran,” she says. “Germaine has this lust for life, and is slightly more confident about things than she's capable of. In terms of research I think as well that I had a huge advantage, because Caitlin is really open, and tells you everything about her life, like what year she had cystitis.

“Raised By Wolves is so honest as well about what it's like being a fifteen year old girl. I love The Inbetweeners, but the women in it aren't real. In real life, a fifteen year old girl is just as horny, and just as entertaining. It has this very real picture as well of what it's like living on a council estate, which is normal for a lot people. It's not some drug ravaged hellhole like its sometimes presented, and can be boring and cramped, but is filled with this proper indestructible family love.”

While Upstart Crow has already been re-commissioned for a second series and a Christmas special, a Channel 4 recently announced that a third series of Raised By Wolves won't be forthcoming. Undaunted, Caitlin Moran has announced in a video message that she aims to carry on regardless, presumably with new producers in place.

For Monks, work has already begun on two new verbatim projects for Lung. She declares them both top secret for now, though she reveals that interviews are already ongoing. Beyond that, anything seems possible.

“My dream next is potentially television writing,” Monks says. “It's that classic thing of having these late night conversations with friends about something, and you go away thinking, well, I have to do this now. But honestly, British TV is extraordinary. I roll my eyes at how white, male and middle class it is. My real long term ambition,” she says, channeling the spirit of Germaine once more, “is to get a normal job. Maybe world domination, something like that.”

Dolly Wants To Die, Underbelly until August 28, 4.10-5.10. E15, Summerhall until August 27, 6.30-7.30pm.
www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk
www.summerhall.co.uk

The Herald, August 19th 2016

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Thomas Richards - The Jerzy Grotowski Workcenter

Thomas Richards was a young student at Yale University when he first encountered the work of Jerzy Grotowski. Little did Richards know then that he would go on to become what the Polish theatrical guru would later describe as his 'essential collaborator', let alone take charge of Grotowski's work and legacy as artistic director of the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards following his mentor's death in 1999.

As the Workcenter, founded in Pontedera, Italy in 1986, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary, Richards and his collaborators and co-producers at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance bring a short Grotowski season to Edinburgh, where the director's production of Stanislaw Wyspianski's play, Akropolis, first introduced western audiences to his work at the Festival in the late 1960s.

“It blew my mind,” Richards says of his initiation into Grotowski's methodology that went on to change his life. “When I was at Yale we were introduced to Ryszard Cieslak, who was Grotowski's main actor, and who led a workshop with us. That was when I learned about working through the body as a physical instrument in a way that opened me up to Grotowski's work.”

Grotowski visited Yale a few weeks later, with Richards going on to work with him extensively on what he describes as something “beyond theatre” on a method he describes as “objectivity of ritual,” which, for a young man of Afro-Caribbean descent half familiar with his heritage “woke something up in me that was like hearing my grandmother sing, and which opened up a potential for performance that went beyond just getting a message to the audience.”

As Richards worked with Grotowski more, he discovered a world as far away from the conveyor belt of the repertory system and commercial theatre as he could imagine.

“In the beginning when I worked with him I didn't know there would ever be a production,” Richards says today. “We would work on a piece five or six days a week, but only after a year would a small group of people be invited to watch our work, and that was done in a way that we had to confront why we were doing what we were doing.”

The Workcenter's Edinburgh programme consists of a mix of live performance, film and workshops. Richards will direct three works; The Living Room, The Underground – A Response to Dostoyevsky, and L'heure fugitive. The latter of these will be performed in French by Cecile Richards. As well as a historical retrospective of the Workcenter presented by Richards alongside a day long workshop, there will also be presentations of documentary film footage of two of Grotowski's key works, Akropolis and The Constant Prince. Introduced by Italian theatre director Carla Pollastrelli, the footage marks Grotowski's road to international recognition, with Akropolis dating from 1962 and The Constant Prince in 1965.

While Akropolis first showed the west what Grotowski was capable of, it was the publication of Towards A Poor Theatre, the director's seminal tome on theatre-making first published in 1968, that really set the world alight. The book, which argued for theatre that went beyond realism to create what might now be regarded as total theatre became required reading for anti-establishment theatrical explorers ever since.

“It completely changed peoples ideas about their approach to theatre, as is the case with great mentors,” says Richards of the book, “but as is also the case it created misunderstandings and myths, which is why it is important to bring our work to Edinburgh and other places and explain it. The idea of poor theatre revolutionised theatre on many levels, and we can still see those effects on theatre today. Grotowski saw that for theatre to be serious, it had to do something beyond TV and film, and had to strip things down to what is essential, which is the actor and the audience.”

One of the key tenets of Richards' work with Grotowski at the Workcenter was the idea of the artist as a vehicle. This was a phrase introduced to Grotowski by Peter Brook, the British theatre director who similarly deviated from the mainstream to explore a more holistic approach to theatre making. As ever with Grotowski, it goes beyond theatre itself to work towards a deeper way of being.

“It's giving a place for the human being inside art,” says Richards, “which is extremely loving in a way that lets you say things in a different way to conventional theatre today. If you look at theatre techniques like Indian dance and Noh theatre, there is an aspect or a part of their process which takes into account the fact that it is human beings who are making the art.

“It's not just about becoming famous, but literally involves a kind of inner evolution, so different things open up inside the performer, and your craft becomes a kind of self-knowledge in terms of what you need to aim for in life as an actor. In this world where human beings are objects, the Workcenter is an outpost to try and transcend that.”

The Living Room, August 18-21, 11.30am; Presentation of Film Documentation of Jerzy Grotowski's Akropolis, August 23, 5pm; Presentation of Film Documentation of Jerzy Grotowski's The Constant Prince, August 24, 11am; L'heure fugitive, August 25, 5pm; The Underground: A Response to Dostoyevsky, August 25-26, 8pm; Thirty Years of the Workcenter: A Retrospective, August 27, 4pm; The Actor/Creator – Workshop, August 30, 10am-5pm.
www.summerhall.co.uk

The Herald, August 19th 2016

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Thursday, 18 August 2016

Davey Anderson, Rachel Chavkin and The TEAM - Anything That Gives Off Light

Enlightenment can come at any time. Just ask the artists behind Anything That Gives Off Light, the international co-production between American wunderkinds The TEAM, the National Theatre of Scotland and Edinburgh International Festival, which opens at EIF this week.

As is usual with the TEAM, the company's artistic director Rachel Chavkin has worked with a group of TEAM regulars to create a show that explores national identity in a post Scottish Referendum, post Brexit climate in which the shadow of the forthcoming American elections has been looming large and increasingly loud.

For Anything That Gives Off Light, Chavkin has been joined by Glasgow-based writer and director Davey Anderson as associate director. The show's writing credits feature Chavkin and TEAM member Jessica Almasy on the American side, with Anderson and actors Brian Ferguson and Sandy Grierson providing input from the Scottish members of the team.

“Because we're in different countries,” says Chavkin, “we've been working on this piece so much off and on that at times so many events have happened in the world that it's been hard to keep up. We started working on it before indy referendum one, now we have Brexit and a call for indy ref two, so who knows where we'll end up?”

Anderson too acknowledges how the white heat of history has overtaken the play.

“We did a work in progress presentation in 2014, just before the independence referendum,” he says, “and there was a real feeling of hope in the air. Now this summer following the fallout of the EU referendum, there's a real sense of trauma and people going around asking who are these people who voted for us to leave the EU.”

The roots of Anything That Gives off Light dates back to 2008, when the TEAM and the NTS collaborated on Architecting, which in part looked at slavery and the American Civil War through the prism of Gone With the Wind.

“That was a piece that investigated how America's past has influenced its present,” says Anderson, who worked as assistant director on the show, “and through Gone With the Wind how it tried to represent itself after the War. I'd been a huge fan of the TEAM, and during Architecting, Rachel and I started talking about collaborating on a story about American and Scottish history and the shared mythology between the two countries.”

With a working title of The Scottish Enlightenment Project, what emerged out of a series of development periods in both America and Scotland was a story about what happens when an American tourist in Edinburgh and a Scottish emigre in London embark on a road trip to the Highlands of Scotland that takes a few timeslips en route.

“They're trying to find some kind of personal enlightenment in dark political times,” Anderson explains. “The man is bringing his granny's ashes back to Scotland, and is wondering what to do with them when he encounters an old friend he's drifted apart from. There's this wary reunion, and then there's this American tourist who's trying to exorcise her own demons, and these people are all recalibrating in some way, and trying to find an identity.”

Part of the research for Anything that Gives Off Light saw the company embark on a pilgrimage of sorts to Virginia, a place where eighty per cent of its population consider their heritage to be Scots or Irish, and where an annual Highland games is held. Two weeks of interviews with local residents yielded some surprising results.

“Not everyone in America is a gun-toting, loud-shouting, Trump-supporting anti-intellectual,” says Anderson. “I had a lot of really nuanced conversations with people, who were talking about taking political positions that I vehemently disagree with, but which, through talking to them, weren't abstract anymore.”

This taps into the response to the results of both the Scottish independence and EU referenda, whereby vocal liberals have attempted to come to terms with results they don't like. It also points up how many of the finest minds of every generation have been American. As Anderson points out, “There's bits of American culture that comes from Scots, but so much of Scottish and British culture comes from America. Literature, music, film, I adore so much of that, but it also comes from a very dark history. If you feed into it some of the hate and despair that's around just now, you can see what might happen if Trump becomes president.”

Received wisdom about Scotland too looks set to be upended in the show.

“It's been fascinating getting into Scottish history and looking at the complexity of it all,” says Anderson. “The Jacobite Rebellion, Culloden and the Highland clearances are stories we think we're familiar with, but they tend to be told simplistically. Scots tend to identify with the underdog rather than the bad guy, and sometimes I think we have a problem with that in Scotland. Sometime we can go, no, it wasn't us, it was them over there, when sometimes we've been the bad guys ourselves.

As is often the way, the umbilical link between nations can often be found in music. In Anything That Gives Off Light, this is seen and heard in the connections between Appalachian and Scottish folk traditions, and is made flesh by New York based husband and wife led band, The Bengsons.

“The music that's played live in the show will reflect the themes of the play,” Anderson points out. “The band will be made up of both Scottish and American musicians, so the connections should be made explicit.”

If Anything That Gives Off Light is about three people finding out who they are while living through complicated times, it also reflects how post indy and post Brexit those on the losing side respond.

“Do they come out of it transformed?” Anderson asks,”or do some give up and focus on their own world and hope it fans out from there?”

For the three people in the play, the choices are the same.

“Each of them changes in a different way,” says Chavkin, “and I think we've managed to steer clear of any kind of epiphany they might have, but basically they have to ask themselves, as we all do, okay, if I've rewritten my history, where do I stand?”

Anything That Gives Off Light, Edinburgh International Conference Centre, August 16-25, 7.30pm (except August 21); August 20, 24, 2.30pm; August 26, 12 noon, 4pm.
www.eif.co.uk

The Herald, August 18th 2016

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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Measure For Measure

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Four stars

Everybody's watching throughout Declan Donnellan's production of Shakespeare's most cryptic comedy, presented at EIF in this Russian language version produced by Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod's Cheek by Jowl company and Moscow's Pushkin Theatre. Church, state, military and common man and woman are all in it together from the start as they march around an array of five large red cubes in silence after what sounds like the shackles of eternal imprisonment have sounded out in darkness.

As each one breaks off one by one, a pecking order is gradually revealed, so when the Duke goes undercover, leaving Vienna in the hands of Angelo, an increasingly oppressive world takes shape. With Claudio sentenced to death for sex crimes, it is left to Angelo to see how far the condemned man's saintly sister Isabella will go to save him. Andrei Kuzichev's Angelo is a dead-eyed bureaucrat out of his depth, while Alexander Arsentyev's wily Duke runs rings round him and everyone else besides in a frighteningly relevant show about puritanical hypocrites who manipulate everyday power-plays to serve their own ends.

When the red carpet is eventually rolled out to mark the Duke's triumphalist return, the audience themselves become complicit witnesses to his high-rolling populism. In this way, the justice he stage manages like a trouper who has his people in the palm of his hand, isn't done for any kind of caring, sharing sense of humanity, but for purely selfish reasons. When Anna Khalilulina's Isabella finally takes his hand, it is with an uncertainty that may finish her yet as she embarks on a not so merry waltz.

The Herald, August 17th 2016

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 Reviews 5 - Greater Belfast - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Daffodils - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Putting the Band Back Together - Summerhall, Three stars

The pre-show Undertones soundtrack is a telling marker of what's to come in Greater Belfast, Matt Regan's spoken word tone poem to Northern Ireland's capital where he no longer lives. While from Derry, the punky purveyors of Teenage Kicks were the epitome of what was possible despite the violent divisions that defined what Regan calls the T word in his sixty-five minute love letter to his home town from an exile's point of view.

Accompanied by the sublime arrangements of the Cairn String Quartet, Regan leads us on an impressionistic travelogue through Belfast old and new, a city marked by songs and an eternal desire for an alternative ulster that nevertheless acknowledges the bombsite of old.

Developed at Glasgow's Tron Theatre, who now co-produce this finished version with the Traverse and Regan's Little King company, Claire Willoughby's production weaves the different elements of the show into an elegant suite loaded with as much black humour as operatic intent. And yes, there are nods to Belfast's musical past by way of covers of both the Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers, while an epic finale distills Van Morrison's back catalogue into a cacophonous hymn to places lost and found.

Runs to August 28

One is reminded of Dylan Thomas' poem, From Love's First Fever to Her Plague watching Daffodils (A Play With Songs), the New Zealand based Bullet Heart Club company's bittersweet portrait of a thirty-five year relationship between Eric and Rose, who meet in 1964 when Eric almost runs Rose over. A whirlwind romance to a rock and roll soundtrack later and a happy ever after is guaranteed. Except that the new freedoms afforded to the post-war teenage generation can't quite shake off the familial baggage that shaped it.

Rochelle Bright's everyday tragedy is told by Colleen Davis and Todd Emerson through a series of criss-crossing exchanges delivered out-front into microphones, while a live three piece band plays selections from the Kiwi song-book. Radically rearranged numbers not only underscore Eric and Rose's relationship, but give glimpses of an entire culture where the possibility of everlasting love is blighted by secrets that can never be shared.

Utilising period home movie footage, Dena Kennedy's production, created with the company, has a lively DIY appeal. Davis and Emmerson are a delight as Eric and Rose, however sad watching their youthful fizz eventually close down to a shell of unacknowledged self-protection may be.

Runs to August 28
Putting the Band Back Together draws from the real life last wish of Tyneside based theatre maker Mark Lloyd after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That he put his old band back together long enough to play live three times is heroic enough in itself. That he then inspired the Unfolding Theatre company's artistic director Annie Rigby to create this show with writer Chloe Daykin and a cast of actor musicians that includes Ross Millard of Sunderland indie band The Futureheads is heartwarming stuff. Over a loose-knit set of song-punctuated scenes, musical passions are reignited in a piece imbued with a roughcast common touch wrapped up in heart and soul.

Each show too features a house-band of local musicians who may similarly have given up the ghost, but who here step out of the audience onto a stage to give it their best shot. In this way the show taps into the pure collective joy of singing and making music, not out of some craving for stardom, but to be able to share in an expression of unity that is a matter of life and death even as it transcends it.

Runs to August 27

The Herald, August 17th 2016

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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Sigur Ros

Edinburgh Playhouse
Four stars

It's interesting to observe how two of Edinburgh International Festival's contemporary music acts have fared since they shared a tour together fifteen years ago that took in a Glasgow club date. Where Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who played the Playhouse last week, have stayed wilfully in the shadows even as they soundtracked a second dark age, Icelandic soothsayers Sigur Ros have retained an epic warmth that has seen them crossover into date night territory.

This is evident from the first of two nights at EIF, where the band's core trio of vocalist Jonsi Birgisson, bass player Goggi Holm and drummer Ori Pall Dyrason are all but hidden from view during the opening numbers. Lined up like maids in a row behind state of art 3D projections that begins with a moody blue forest before cascading into more interstellar imagery, the three eventually move centre-stage just as the meditative tone of the first two tunes splits wide open.

From there on in, it's a sepulchral barrage of swoon-worthy intensity that is as nuanced as it is immense. Where on one level Birgisson and co mine a solidly traditional indie-rock palette, on another, Birgisson's falsetto sounds at its tenderest like Jimi Somerville singing mediaeval madrigals. Such classicist flourishes come to the fore even more when Birgisson isn't singing in his self-invented Hopelandic, and plays bowed guitar in a way that resembles a dervish-like maestro. In contrast, while shades of Kate Bush creep into the piano-led numbers, at one point Birgisson holds a note so long that any would-be X-Factor diva could learn much from the exercise in a musical show of strength to savour.

The Herald, August 17th 2016

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Mark Fell - Descartes, Techno and Diagramming the Listener

Rene Descartes isn't the first name you think of when talking about techno-inspired electronic sound and light installations. The seventeenth century French mathematician and founding father of modern western philosophy is very much on Mark Fell's mind, however, as the artist, producer and sonic explorer talks about Diagramming the Listener, a new installation that forms part of Summerhall's Edinburgh Festival Fringe visual arts programme.

“When Descartes wrote 'I think, therefore I am,” says Fell, “it defined what it means to be human, this rational being who solves problems at a distance. In philosophy this is called the Cartesian subject, and is something that's deeply embedded in our culture, but I try to question that.

“For example, coming from a working class background, you make things with your hands, but you can also observe that my dad, who was a steel-worker, is very different to Cartesian man. Descartes only came to the conclusions he did because he had servants.”

This might sound a rather lofty treatise on an installation which references geometry and cognitive neuroscience as well as underground music and radical politics. Fell, however, is cheerfully inclusive.

“It shouldn't just be for experts,” he says. “You don't need a PhD to see it, and I don't want to send out the wrong signals that I'm someone who's just obsessed with philosophy. When I came up with the title of Diagramming the Listener, it was about what it means to be a listening person rather than a thinking person. But it's not important to know that. If someone comes in and just has a weird experience that's fine by me.”

Fell grew up in South Yorkshire in the village next to Orgreave, site of one of the most notorious battles between striking miners and the police during the 1984-85 miners strike. It was a conflict that became a symbol, both of Margaret Thatcher's reign as UK prime minister, and of the class war it defined.

“As a young kid at school,” Fell remembers, “I was quite oppositional. I was like the brainy kid, but I was also a trouble-maker. I grew up dissatisfied with the things the teachers were telling me, and when the Battle of Orgreave happened it felt like everything was falling apart. Britain at that time was a horrible, violent and vindictive place to be.”

A lifeline for Fell came through art.

“The first things I got into as a young person were electronic music, books and films. My brother who was at college was quite bohemian, and he came into contact with that generation of leftist college lecturers who were giving him books that he never read but they came into the house and I could read them. At the same time the New Romantic thing was going on. My parents next door neighbour had a synthesiser which I borrowed, and it was amazing. From the ages of fourteen to twenty-five I was just in this cocoon of music, literature and film. It was psychic survival. I grew up late.”

In the late 1980s Fell went to Sheffield Polytechnic just as club culture was bubbling up through the underground. While there, he made “a lot of very bad House music,” though he recognises some of the excesses of the era as a direct response to some of the iniquities being inflicted on his generation by the government.

“That dance music and club explosion between 1987 and 1992 coincided with a particular point in British history,” he says, “and that wasn't a coincidence. That five year period where everybody was taking far too many drugs – and for me that revolved around what became a community of clubbers in Sheffield - the drug use and the partying was some kind of collective medication following abuses to our community committed by the government. We were just a bunch of people in Sheffield going along with what was going on, but it became its own little community, where we had no time for sexism and racism or anything like that. It was very Utopian.”

Fell makes this mix of hedonism and collective expression sound like an episode of This is England '90, the culmination of Shane Meadows' Sheffield-set saga of a gang of working class friends coming of age in Thatcher's Britain. It's perhaps no coincidence that the series was produced by Warp Films, formed on the back of the Warp record label, founded in Sheffield to release some of the welter of electronic music coming out of the city and beyond. This included works by Cabaret Voltaire mainstay Richard H Kirk in various guises, The Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.

Fell himself has released records on various labels since 1998 under names including Sensate Focus, and in duo with Mat Steel as SND.

“I was listening to Throbbing Gristle and Coil,” Fell says, “and in the nineties aftermath of the club explosion you had quite extreme electronic music which I fitted into.”

While he cites names such as Pansonic, Oval, Ryoji Ikeda and Farmer's Manual as fellow travellers, it is to club culture he keeps returning.

“A lot of what I do comes from a club aesthetic,” Fell says. “The sounds I use often refer to club music, and even though I use quite weird sounds these days, there is a relationship there with 1980s techno records.”

Beyond Diagramming the Listener itself, Fell will take part in a performance at Summerhall mid-way through the show's run. This will be presented by Edinburgh-based experimental music promoters Braw Gigs, and will form part of Summerhall's in-house music programme promoted under the name, Nothing Ever Happens Here. A trio of solos presentations will feature New York based South Korean cellist, composer and improviser Okkyung Lee, with artist and composer Carl Michaell von Hausswolff will use recording equipment as an instrument. Fell himself will “probably do something rhythmic.”

Diagramming the Listener forms part of Noisemaker, a series of loosely connected exhibitions at Summerhall based around the notion of the artist as communicator, agitator and general provocateur, stirring things up in unexpected ways. At the centre of this is Context is Half the Work – A Partial History of the Artist Placement Group, which documents a unique initiative in the 1960s and 1970s which saw artists seconded to industries and public institutions.

In solo shows, Turner Prize winner Laure Provost presents video works in Monolog, and Haroon Mirza's Adam, Eve, Others and a UFO works with LED lights and computer generated sound. In Hyper Bowl, Tamsyn Challenger creates an expansive performance out of an epic battle of wits, while Glasgow-based artists Pester and Rossi turn the world day-glo with a set of DIY performances. An overview of the relationship between contemporary art guru Joseph Beuys and Richard Demarco completes the season.

Fell may not be aware of what the other shows will be made of as he prepares his own work, but they too will add something to the experience of Diagramming the Listener.

“For me it's not just about the physical space,” he says. “It's about the arrangement of things in there, and different people will respond to different things in different ways. That's human.”

Diagramming The Listener, Summerhall until September 30. A performance by Mark Fell, Okkyung Lee and Carl Michael von Hausswolff will take place at Summerhall on August 17. All exhibitions in Noisemaker run at Summerhall until September 30. Context is Half the Work. A Partial History of the Artist Placement Group runs at Summerhall until October 5.
www.summerhall.co.uk

The Herald, August 16th 2016

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