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Showing posts from September, 2016

The Broons

Perth Concert Hall
Three stars

The Broons annual isn't just for Christmas, it seems, in this bumper-sized staging of Dudley D Watkins' eighty-year old comic strip family, brought to life by writer Rob Drummond and director Andrew Panton for the Sell A Door company in association with Perth Theatre. It begins with Maw Broon attempting to round up her brood for a family snapshot on a stage already framed by cartoon portraits of the clan set against a jumbo-sized logo. As resident glamour-puss Maggie announces her impending wedding, Drummond put flesh and blood on the characters in a topsy-turvy mix of knowingness and nostalgia.
The dramatic portrait that follows lays bare a matriarchal microcosm of working class family life stuck in a Sisyphean limbo of everyday adventures where nothing ever changes. While there is much fun to be had from the eleven-strong ensemble's studies of all that is braw with Maw, Pa, Grandpa and co, Drummond paints them as a not always happy breed d…

Ramin Gray, David Greig, Rosie Al-Malla and Tricia Brown - Reimagining The Suppliant Women

In the Royal Lyceum Theatre's Edinburgh rehearsal room, twelve women are gathered around the piano, singing the praises of the goddess Aphrodite. Vocal Leader Stephen Deazley is putting the women, who will be playing the wise women of Argos in the Lyceum's forthcoming production of The Suppliant Women, through their paces. It's only their second rehearsal, but already they sound in fine voice for playwright and new Lyceum artistic director David Greig's new version of Aeschylus' rarely performed Greek tragedy.

Half an hour later, another twenty-odd women troop into the room, and gather on chairs beside the wise women. These are a younger generation, who have been rehearsing every Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon for a month now, and whose collective voice as brought to life by Deazley is steelier and more defiant in tone as they spar with their elders. As the young women shriek in rhythmic unison, one of them punches the air like a warrior princess in waiting…

The National Theatre of Scotland - Ten Years That Shook The World

When the announcement came that a National Theatre of Scotland was to be formed, it ended decades and possibly centuries of wrangling over a desire for artistic self-determination in the country's thriving theatre scene on a par with opera, ballet and classical music. When this new body announced in 2004 that the company's inaugural artistic director would be Vicky Featherstone, with John Tiffany as associate director for new writing and Neil Murray as executive producer, it seemed to some who had championed long-serving directors from major building-based institutions as a leftfield choice.

As it turned out, with an unexpected major international hit on their hands in the company's first year after it was launched in 2006 in the form of Black Watch, Gregory Burke's bombastic theatrical collage on life in the military frontline post Iraq War, it was an inspired one.

Featherstone had come from new writing company, Paines Plough, and had strong ties with theatre in …

Charlotte Church - Bringing the Late Night Pop Dungeon to Neu! Reekie!

It's after midnight on Saturday night in a gloriously anachronistic North Wales holiday camp, and the atmosphere is electric. Over the previous two days, revellers gathered for the Stewart Lee curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival have moved between alt.rock, free jazz and John Cage inspired experiments.

Now, however, a packed audience gazes on a scarlet-swathed stage, having even less of a clue what to expect. When a band clad in golden robes enters, it is not the surviving members of Sun Ra's Arkestra, who will close the festival the next night wearing similarly sparkly apparel. Sporting a shimmering gold lame leotard, the young woman at the centre of the spectacle looks as showbiz as it gets.

As she and her entourage open with a version of Laura Palmer's Theme from David Lynch's cult TV show, Twin Peaks, one could be forgiven for presuming that Club Silencio, the mysterious nightclub in Lynch's film, Mulholland Drive, had set up shop in Pontin's. …

John Samson: '1975 – 1983'

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow until April 17th
Four stars

When the then twenty-two year old world darts champion Eric Bristow is captured throwing the tools of his trade to victory at the end of Arrows (1979), John Samson's 1979 study of the self-styled crafty Cockney as he tours working men's clubs inbetween being interviewed on local radio, Bristow is invested with a poetry that makes him appear part Robin Hood, part pop star. Similarly, in Samson's first film, Tattoo (1975), the closing tableaux of artfully posed illustrated men and women resemble inked-in Greek statues.
Kilmarnock-born Samson may have only made five short films between the ages of 29 and 37, but his fascination for largely working class sub-cultural fringes was on a par with Kenneth Anger, while pre-dating some of Jeremy Deller's work. Samson followed Tattoo with Dressing For Pleasure (1977), which unzips the assorted rubber, leather and latex-based fetish-wear scenes, and briefly features Sex…

Billy Elliot The Musical

Edinburgh Playhouse
Five stars

A big National Coal Board sign looms large at the opening of Lee Hall and Elton John's decade-old musical stage version of Hall and director Stephen Daldry's hit turn of the century film. In a tale of one little boy's liberation as a dancer against the backdrop of the 1980s miners strike, however, the Durham Miners banner and the 'Save Our Community' sash held aloft matter more. It is this call to arms that forms the heart of Daldry's production, as Billy becomes a potty-mouthed beacon of hope in a situation where picket line, thin blue line and chorus line rub uneasily up against each other.
Given such a context, there is bound to be some pretty grown-up stuff going on here, be it the institutionalised homophobia in Billy's village, the class war going on within it, or Billy's grieving for his dead mother that drives his every move. And, as so magnificently choreographed by Peter Darling, what moves they are. Watching Lew…

The Rise and Inevitable Fall of Lucas Petit

Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The Lord moves in mysterious ways in Andy McGregor's new lo-fi musical fable, currently on an extensive tour by McGregor's own Sleeping Warrior Theatre Company in a co-production with Stirling's Macrobert Arts Centre and in association with the enterprising Showroom producing house. As introduced in the opening number performed by Ashley Smith and Darren Brownlie's unholy alliance between Lucifer and God, Lucas Petit is one of life's little guys, a man trapped in a soulless job and a loveless marriage, and whose sole pleasure is hanging out in the B&Q cafe on Saturday afternoons. Once temptation is thrust in his face, however, Lucas embarks on a comic book style adventure that takes him to Hell, but not necessarily back.
What initially resembles a 1960s style caper pastiche involving nightclub singer assassins, suitcases full of something shiny, and Nicola Sturgeon evolves over the eighty minutes of McGrego…

Joseph Chaikin Obituary

Joseph Chaikin, actor and director; born September 16, 1935; died June 22, 2003

Joseph Chaikin, who has died aged sixty-seven, was a beautiful dreamer. Right up to his death, when the weak heart he had suffered from since childhood finally failed, this purest and most visionary of theatre directors was still questing after truth in the strangest of places.
Even after a year of creative activity that would have sapped the energy of men half his age, especially one struck near dumb with aphasia, Joe, always Joe, was auditioning for a new production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. That it never made it to completion is a strangely fitting swansong, because Joe never liked things to be too set in stone. He preferred the bloodrush creativity of rehearsals, and, if things ever slipped into formula, he'd likely as not mess everything up before moving on to something else, as he did with The Open Theatre, the legendary troupe he led, only to disband when it looked like they might go mains…

Stephen Daldry and Lee Hall - Billy Elliot the Musical

When director Stephen Daldry was awarded a Herald Angel for his debut feature film after it premiered at Edinburgh Film Festival in 2000, it was one of the first of many plaudits for what was a relatively modest production. Given what has happened to the film since, it also showed the considerable foresight of those behind the awards. Billy Elliot, after all, went on to become an international phenomenon, with the Herald Angels' championing of the film recognised when this newspaper's name was displayed on billboards across the globe.

But Daldry and writer Lee Hall's tale of a working class boy who discovers the transcendent power of dance in the thick of the civil war that was the 1980s Miners Strike went further, scooping a multitude of awards, including three BAFTAS. Five years after the film was released, this seemingly local story was given fresh life with the arrival of Billy Elliot the Musical, reuniting Daldry, Hall and choreographer Peter Darling, as they got back…

Trainspotting

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When Gavin Jon Wright's hapless Spud embarks on his Class A-fuelled job interview in front of red drapes at the opening of Gareth Nicholls' main-stage revival of Harry Gibson's 1994 adaptation of Irvine Welsh's iconic novel, it's a telling pointer to everything that follows. Like the play, there is no filter in the mad rush of tragi-comic truth that Spud blurts out. This is a signifier too that this isn't a play in the conventional sense, but is a series of loose-knit routines that only make full sense when lifted off the page and delivered in a full-on Leith Walk demotic framed by designer Max Jones' strip-lit breezeblock wasteland.
While ostensibly the story of 1980s dole queue junky Renton and his drug buddies, there is less of a gang mentality here than in Danny Boyle's film version, which Gibson's script pre-dated by two years. Nicholls' staging of the series of solos, duologues and ensemble-based vignet…

A Steady Rain

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

There's a serial killer on the loose in Theatre Jezebel's revival of Keith Huff's hard-boiled noir, first seen on Broadway in 2007, and he's eating everyone alive. For frontline cops Denny and Joey, the murderer's presence right under their noses is the final nail in the coffin of a partnership that dates back to childhood. Even now, in a lamp-lit room at a long table flanked by two rows of buckets, they joke that they're like 1970s TV heartthrobs Starsky and Hutch, except Denny and Joey's double act has long since stopped being funny.
Dressed in identical sweatpants and hoodies in Mary McCluskey's darkly brooding production, Andy Clark and Robert Jack invest Denny and Joey with a captivating intensity as old loyalties are corrupted at both a personal and professional level for both men. Blighted by personal demons and unspoken tensions that threaten to blow up in their faces, as the pair switch between their versions of…

Edward Albee - Obituary

Edward Albee – Born March 12 1928; died September 16 2016.

When Edward Albee, who has died aged eighty-eight, wrote a play, it was usually a wilful provocation that arguably came from deep within his own experience. While best known for the dramatic explosion of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which seeped into popular consciousness by way of Mike Nicholls' film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Albee was anything but a one-trick-pony.

This was evident in his three decade-spanning Pulitzer Prize wins, for A Delicate Balance in 1967, Seascape in 1975 and Three Tall Women in 1994. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had been initially selected by the 1962 drama jury, but was over-ruled by the Pulitzer advisory committee, who opted not to make any drama award that year. Given that the play won a Tony and ran on Broadway for over a year prior to the film version, one suspects Albee wasn't overly concerned, as he kept his distance from the theatrical establishmen…

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Dundee Rep
Three stars

It's a man's world alright in the Globe Theatre's 1960s inspired take on Shakespeare's proto rom-com, set largely inside designer Katie Sykes' rainbow-bordered box resembling an after-hours open mic dive bar. Here Valentine and Proteus are a couple of small town boys in stuffy old Verona, wanting to make the scene in the far groovier Milan. With his guitar on his back, Guy Hughes' Valentine hits the road, while Dharmesh Patel's Proteus remains hopelessly devoted to Leah Brotherhood's Julia. With Valentine forced into a dance-off over Aruhan Galieva's society girl Sylvia, Proteus follows his main man to the big city, while Julia dons Bob Dylan cap and suede jacket to inveigle her androgynous way into the gang.
Nick Bagnall's production sees love letters sent as seven-inch singles before the would-be couples flirt with promiscuity and cross-dressing in a youthful rites of passage that traces an entire decade's worth of…

Sunny Afternoon

Edinburgh Playhouse
Four stars
The stage is all dressed up as a 1960s dancehall occupied by tuxedo-clad crooners at the opening of Joe Penhall and Ray Davies' musical history of the early days of Davies' seminal band, The Kinks. By the end, however, the hysteria of Madison Square Garden has whipped a nostalgia-seeking audience into a suitable frenzy. Inbetween in Edward Hall's touring production of a show first seen at Hampstead Theatre in 2014, the Muswell Hill born Davies brothers take on the world, crash, burn and come out fighting to produce a now classic canon of pre-punk music hall social realist vignettes.
Penhall's necessarily dot-to-dot script lays bare a tale of back street ambition, tortured genius and warring siblings, with sensitive songwriter Ray and his wild child kid brother Dave initially flanked by a living room full of sisters who rather handily double up as a swinging op-art chorus line. As the band square up to money men in London and New York, ther…

Harry Gibson and Gareth Nicholls - Trainspotting

Harry Gibson was working as a script-reader for the Citizens Theatre when he stumbled across Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh's iconic novel of 1980s Leith life that went on to become a phenomenon. It was the early 1990s, and the equally iconic Citz had just opened its Circle and Stalls studio spaces in the image of the long gone Close Theatre, with the intention of producing cutting edge new and experimental work with little financial risk.

Not to make too fine a point of it, a lot of the stuff landing on Gibson's desk wasn't that great. In search of the holy grail, he went off to John Smith's bookshop, a legendary and now lost emporium on Byres Road, where he asked if there was any new Scottish prose fiction he should be taking a look at. Eventually, Gibson was handed the last battered copy of Trainspotting they had in stock. The book, which charted the hedonistic adventures of a group of young Leithers in 1980s dole queue Britain, was already being devoured by a young re…

This Happy Breed

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars

If ever there was a play where the phrase Keep Calm and Carry On would make the perfect publicity tag-line, Noel Coward's between the wars soap opera is it. Just as the phrase and its assorted derivatives have tapped into a kitsch form of post-austerity nostalgia for empire, Coward's play is an equally propagandist fanfare for the common man and woman designed to rally the troops.
Set in the crucial twenty years either side of the end of World War One and the dawn of World War Two, Coward's play charts the fortunes of the Gibbons family, who breathe bustling life into Ethel and her demobbed hubby Frank's newly acquired Clapham dining room. As period newsreels soundtracked by cheap songs usher in each scene, it is here the play resolutely remains throughout its everyday tapestry of births, deaths, family schisms, tragedy and joy. As voguish whiffs of progressive thought briefly subvert old certainties if not old prejudices, such …

Joe Penhall - Sunny Afternoon

It was back in 1996 when playwright Joe Penhall went to see Ray Davies. After more than thirty fractious years as singer and chief songwriter with The Kinks, Davies had finally broken up the band he'd founded with his brother, lead guitarist Dave Davies, and was embarking on his first solo tour. Somehow, Penhall, who was riding high on the back of the Royal Court Theatre's productions of his first two plays, Some Voices and Pale Horse, managed to squirrel a script backstage. The gift was accompanied by a note to the effect that if Davies ever fancied doing anything drama-wise, Penhall was his man.

Eighteen years later, the result of Penhall's fanboy gesture was Sunny Afternoon, a warts and all musical biography of Davies' early days, from growing up as the sixth of seven kids in Muswell Hill, to the first five years with The Kinks. First staged at Hampstead Theatre in 2014, Sunny Afternoon follows its award-winning West End run with an extensive UK tour which arrives i…

Summer Heart

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

A young woman enters wearing a raincoat, like she's going on a journey. There's a grand piano behind her, and a comfy chair and a coffee table on the other side of the stage. Over the next hour, Maraike Bruening recounts a remarkable visitation that ushers the audience into the life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the Czech-born pianist who survived the Holocaust, and whose surname translates as Summer Heart. As Bruening observes, this is an all too fitting name for the old lady whose smiling face beams from the image of her projected onto the back of the stage, especially given everything she's been through.
As Bruening recounts in her understated form of journalistic storytelling in what she styles as a 'piano play', Herz-Sommer's life may have been turned upside down by the Nazi occupation of her homeland, but her hope remained undimmed. In what is as much concert as drama, Bruening punctuates each section of her story with her own re…

Gillian Lynne - Choreographing Cats

Gillian Lynne never wanted to choreograph Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber's now thirty-five year old musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot's poetic suite, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. As an internationally renowned choreographer who worked regularly with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and whose career as a dancer had seen her playing Sleeping Beauty at Sadler's Wells thirty years earlier, she was hardly struggling for work. Besides which, she'd just got married to actor Peter Land, a man twenty-seven years her junior, and had other things on her mind.

As a revamped Cats arrives into Glasgow next week for its latest tour following a West End revival, Lynne is glad she said yes to Lloyd Webber, and has remained involved with the show to this day.

“It's like my child,” says Lynne, who is now a somewhat hard-to-credit ninety years old. “It's wonderful. The kids get better every time. They sing better. They dance better, and the show still has the three key elemen…

FlatSpin

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

In real life, the perils of the out of work actress rarely stretch beyond taking a second job to make ends meet. As Alan Ayckbourn proves in the second of his Damsels in Distress trilogy of plays, take play-acting to its logical limit and you'll end up making a real drama out of a crisis. So it goes for Rosie Seymore, who is co-opted as a stand-in janitor for the expensively bland London docklands flat where all three plays are set.
For Rosie, it's a gig considerably better than wearing rabbit ears in a Transit van schools tour, but not as good as the prospect of playing Jane Eyre on prime time TV. A knock on the door from next door neighbour Sam sees Rosie adopt the mantle of absent tenant, the mysterious Joanna Rupelfeld, which is when things really get weird.

Brought playfully to life for Pitlochry's summer season alongside its sister plays by director Richard Baron, FlatSpin is on the face of it a straight ahead comedy yarn. As b…

The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil

Dundee Rep
Four stars

If Dundee Rep's speedy revival of their 2015 production of John McGrath's seminal ceilidh play makes one thing clear, it is how, forty-three years on from McGrath's own 7:84 production, nothing has changed in terms of how Scotland continues to be colonised by big business at home and abroad. Nowhere is this more evident than a stone's throw from the theatre, where the city centre's numerous building sites suggest a progressive form of regeneration is ongoing. Given that the millionaire-owned construction company headlined on the billboards was recently exposed as being part of a cartel that blacklisted building site workers for years, Joe Douglas' production seems even more timely.
The ten-strong cast are already playing ceilidh numbers in front of a backdrop of a stag's head as the audience enter to a bare floorboards mock up of the sort of village hall 7:84 made their own. As a history of social cleansing and political racketeering i…

Yohann Lamoulere & Franck Pourcel - Glasgow Meets Marseille Downtown

When Street Level director Malcolm Dickson realised that Marseille and Glasgow had been twin cities for a decade, he decreed to do something to commemorate the relationship between these two urban landscapes which have changed dramatically, but which have left areas untouched and largely out of view.

The result of this is two off-site shows by Yohanne Lamoulere and Franck Pourcel, two photographers who look at the underbelly of Marseilles in very different ways.

In False Towns, Lamoulere looks at reshaping the northern-most area of Marseille, while Roma: Marseille ajar city focuses on a make-shift Roma community built in the area.

Twinned with False Towns, Pourcel’s At Twilight captures a city caught between demolition and renewal, while Noailles at the time of rehabilitation, which is paired with Roma: Marseille ajar city, looks at an area in the throes of redevelopment even as it houses migrants and temporary workers.

“Both Lamoulere and Pourcel really stood out in terms of singul…