Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Five Guys Named Moe

Festival Square Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Looking for a real good time this Christmas? Then stroll on down to the magnificently named Funky Butt Club, the speakeasy dive that the quintet who give Clarke Peters' irresistibly infectious piece of musical theatre its name, and chase those winter blues away. Paulette Randall's revival of Peters' 1990 west end hit has taken over the purpose-built Festival Square Theatre as part of Underbelly's Edinburgh's Christmas season. With much of the action taking place on a revolving circular floor housed within the temporary construction's expansive in-the-round interior, the audience watch from cabaret tables within the circle, as the show's firecracker cast jump between the two spaces.

Here we meet Nomax, a down-at-heel big lug wallowing in self-pity after being dumped with good reason by his true love Lorraine. With a bottle in front of him and Louis Jordan playing on the radio, Nomax is in the thick of the ultimate break-up indulgence, until five dazzlingly dressed fairy godfathers all named Moe step out of nowhere to get him back on track.

This loose-knit narrative is the perfect excuse for more than twenty slices of classic Jordan, sung by the cast backed by a rollicking six-piece band. Given that Jordan at his peak was known as King of the Jukebox, his array of earthily inclined comic musical sketches were always a show in waiting. Sired in part on the back of the 1980s vogue for retro-cool jazz dance, Peters' life-affirming concoction resembles A Christmas Carol in zoot suits, and even after a quarter of a century is still singing, swinging and making merry like Christmas for all it's worth.

The Herald, November 30th 2016

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Leslie Bricusse - Scrooge! The Musical

It's a sunny morning in Los Angeles,and Leslie Bricusse is working on his latest musical.

“It's always sunny here,” says the man who co-wrote Goldfinger for Shirley Bassey with Anthony Newley and John Barry, and penned the score for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “It hasn't rained here for about for years, so it's beautiful.”

While there hasn't been anything resembling a drought regarding Bricusse's output, the sunny climate is perhaps a reflection of the now eighty-five year old writer and composer's outlook. This is evident from the fact that his new work will see him putting lyrics to Tchaikovsky's score for an animated version of The Nutcracker, the ever-green ballet drawn from Alexander Dumas' story, which was adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman's short story about a little boy's favourite Christmas toy coming to life.

“Imagine,” says Bricusse. “My latest collaborator is Tchaikovsky. He's even older than Dickens.”

The novels of Charles Dickens have looked large in Bricusse's own working life, as audiences at Pitlochry Festival Theatre will find out when they attend the Perthshire based theatre's Scottish premiere of Bricuse's version of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge! - The Musical.

“The story lends itself so well to being a musical,” says Bricusse, “because it's so beautifully structured. “It was the first of Dickens' Christmas books, which he wrote to pay off some bills, but because it has the ghosts of the past, present and future, it's a gift to write songs for.”

Bricusse's take on Scrooge was first seen as a film in 1970 with Albert Finney in the title role, and was later adapted into a stage play by Bricusse in 1993, when his long-term collaborator Anthony Newley played Scrooge. Finney and Newley weren't the only household names to have been involved in Scrooge!

“My original Scrooge was going to be Richard Harris,” Bricusse remembers, “but we had to get the film made by a certain date so it could open in time, and Richard Harris got delayed on a film. Then we approached Rex Harrison, but he got sick, so Albert Finney came in at two days notice and did it. But I loved his performance. The great thing about Alby was that he was only thirty-two years old when we started on it, so he could play Scrooge when he was a young man as well as when he was old. Some productions have two actors playing him at different ages, but I think it works better just having one.”

When Bricusse eventually adapted Scrooge for the stage, Newley was an obvious choice to play Dickens' miser across the generations. As a child actor, he had played the Artful Dodger in David Lean's big-screen version of Oliver Twist, and in 1975 had played the title role in Quilp, a musical film based on The Old Curiosity Shop, which, as well as a score by Elmer Bernstein, featured Newley's song, Love Has the Longest Memory of All. Even with such a pedigree to hand, Bricuse initially wasn't convinced.

“I didn't think it could be done onstage,” Bricusse says, “but then Anthony Newley came in, and he was an old friend, and he ended up playing it for six or seven years, and then we sadly lost him.”

Bricusse and Newley's work together dates back to their 1961 musical, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, which scored a hit for Sammy Davis Junior with his version of the show's closing number,

What Kind of Fool Am I? While the show went on to be a Broadway hit, like Scrooge!, it was pulled together quickly, and very nearly didn't happen at all.

“Bernard Delfont, the impresario, had given Tony a theatre to do something,” Bricusse says, “and he was just going to do a variety show. We were friends and were both the same age, and I said that if we wrote a musical then we could own it. Then my wife Yve (actress Yvonne Romain) and I were going to New York, and I said to Tony that I couldn't do it. Yve said to tell him to come with us, and I was working on something else as well, but we wrote the entire score for Stop the World – I Want to Get Off in eight days. You can do anything when you have to.”

When Bricusse and Newley collaborated, they referred to themselves as Brickman and Newburg, with Bricusse concentrating largely on the lyrics and Newley on the music. The pair went on to write The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, which sired Feeling Good, a song picked up by Nina Simone. The pair worked with John Barry on the iconic theme song to Goldfinger, and in 1971 composed the score for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the film adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Songs written for the film included The Candy Man and Pure Imagination, the latter of which became the title of Bricusse's auto-biography.

“That's what this business is about,” he says of the phrase. “I fell in love with the idea of writing songs when I was a child. I thought I was going to be a journalist at first, but I gradually fell in love with all these great writers like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, who were at the peak of their powers then. The great thing about them as well was that they were literate, and wrote story songs. It's much easier to write a song for a musical than just writing a song, because writing for a musical, you know what the story is about so you know what the songs have got to say.”

Scrooge wasn't the first time that Bricusse had made a song and dance of one of Dickens' novels. In 1963 he had written the lyrics for Pickwick, a collaboration with composer Cyril Ornadel based on The Pickwick Papers which made Harry Secombe a musical theatre star.

“Harry Secombe was more famous then for being in The Goons,” says Bricusse, “but Wolf Mankowitz, who wrote the book for the stage, went to Barbados to see Harry and told he'd be perfect for the part, even though he'd never put his voice to much use before.”

Secombe's rendition of Bricusse's song, If I Ruled the World, helped it win an Ivor Novello award.

“Harry was so good we've never been able to cast it again.”

This hasn't been the case with Scrooge!, which saw producer Bill Kenwright cast Tommy Steele in a role he has played many times since. In Pitlochry, Philip Rham will play Scrooge in a production directed by Richard Baron, who recently oversaw Alan Ayckbourn's Damsels in Distress trilogy of plays.

Bricusse regrets not being able to make it across the pond to see Baron's production, but deadlines mean he must remain in the L.A. Sunshine. A forthcoming social engagement, meanwhile, will see Bricuse and Romain hook up with Anthony Newley's former wife and a superstar in her own right, Joan Collins.

“We're still friends after all these years,” say Bricusse. “That's why Anthony Newley and I worked so well together. Friendship means more than anything.”

Such generosity shines through all of Bricusse's work, with Scrooge! in particular capturing its spirit.

“I think Scrooge is the best of the Christmas stories,” he says. “Every child warms to it, because it's about one man's transformation. It's saying that it's never too late to change, and that's a good feeling to have at Christmas.”

Scrooge! The Musical, Pitlochry Festival Theatre,December 2-23.
www.pitlochryfestivaltheatre.com

The Herald, November 29th 2016

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Sunday, 27 November 2016

George's Marvellous Medicine

Dundee Rep
Three stars

Growing pains don't come much more expansive than those shared by George, the boy alchemist at the heart of Roald Dahl's nasty little tale about how a terrier-like granny is brought down to size by a home-made cocktail of domestic detritus. In Stuart Paterson's Scots-tinged adaptation, first produced by Borderline Theatre and revived here in Joe Douglas' vivid pastel-shaded affair, Ann Louise Ross' Grandma is a bitter old crone in a purple wig and confined to an oversize armchair. With his mum and dad having both left the family farm for the day, poor bored George must tend to Grandma's every whim. When he starts cooking up a magic potion of his own design, however, Grandma gets a breath of fresh air in a way she never imagined.

George is helped along in his poisonous endeavours here by a quartet of colourful characters who
resemble ninjas at a teenage rave. Their status is confirmed, both by Michael John McCarthy's burbling electronic underscore and the little fluffy clouds that hang over the auditorium throughout the show. Ross' ever-expanding Grandma and the genetically modified livestock that result from George's experiments are no hallucination.

While this is far from Dahl's best yarn, Douglas' pocket-sized ensemble of five have as much fun as they can with the material. Ross in particular is in witheringly vicious form as Grandma. As George, the Rep's acting interns Rebekah Lumsden and Laurie Scott alternate the role, with Lumsden taking the lead on Saturday night with gutsy gusto. It is the appearance of a Giant Chicken, however, which really gets the young crowd going in a playful antidote to grumpy relatives everywhere.


The Herald, November 28th 2016

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Jazzateers – Don't Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy (Creeping Bent)

For a golden moment sometime around 1981, it seemed that pop music had been reborn as something primitive and pure. In a wilfully independent post-punk climate, anything and everything was up for grabs. Jazz, funk and all hybrids inbetween were de rigeur.

In Glasgow, care of Alan Horne's Postcard Records, this took the form of a short-lived but world-changing musical response to the spit and sawdust, razor gang machismo of the city’s unreconstructed pub life. It looked to the past of the Velvet Underground's more sensitive side, lounge bar jazz and Radio 2 for comfort. Orange Juice may have added extra camp, Josef K more funk and Aztec Camera more class to the template, but it was left to Postcard second-wavers Jazzateers to add an essence that fell somewhere between shambolic and chic.

With a name that conjured up a one-for-all, all-for-one coffee bar gang mentality, the original Jazzateers oeuvre was fragile, fey and overwhelmingly pretty. Led by guitarist Ian Burgoyne and bass player Keith Band, the songwriting mainstays who would appear in every incarnation of the group, they played tastefully plucked Gretsch guitars over Colin Auld's rim-shot sophisticated bossa nova drums. It was Alison Gourlay's dreamy faraway vocals, however, that made Jazzateers so sublime.

Postcard had shut up shop before its planned release by Jazzateers could happen, and the band's eponymous album released on Rough Trade records in 1983, with future Hipsway vocalist Graham Skinner replacing Gourlay, was an infinitely spikier piece of work. As Rough 46, also released by Creeping Bent in 2013, the record formed the first fully formed chapter of a story that would see Jazzateers eventually morph into the Paul Quinn fronted Bourgie Bourgie and attempt to ride the glossy New Pop train.

This Gourlay-fronted collection of unreleased gems from 1981 and 1982 can be seen as a prequel to all that jazz, with its low-key swoon tapping into a wave of artistes looking to the likes of Brazilian chanteuse Astrud Gilberto, retro-cool licks and classic song-writing for guidance. Think early Everything but the Girl doing Cole Porter and Vic Godard crooning Tony Bennet numbers. Think too of Mancunian cocktail poppers Dislocation Dance and Alison Statton's wispy vocals with post-Young Marble Giants trio, Weekend.

As pre-cursors to the Sades and Carmels of a few smooth years later, the Jazzateers compiled here occupied a place where naïve pop and nouvelle vague met for Cappuccino in one of the Glasgow west end eateries they so studiedly plied their wares in, and where the album's gloopy cover paintings by the late David Band wouldn't have looked out of place.

The opening Natural Progression starts off as wallflower shy as the duskier side of all-female 1960s beat combo The Feminine Complex, before Gourlay's croon gives way to an extended Velveteen rifferama that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Live '69. Don't Worry About A Thing is a pouty cocktail shaker of a song, and Say Goodbye, I'm No Tarzan and When The Novelty Wears Off sound like jangly dress rehearsals for C86 compilations to come.

With the second side produced by Edwyn Collins, musical arrangements are fleshed out by subtle percussive flourishes and little piano runs that lend a wryness to Moon Over Hawaii. It's the quietly audacious version of the Giorgio Moroder/Pete Bellotte-penned disco nugget, Wasted, a number originally released by Donna summer, that stands out. Scheduled to be the fourteenth Postcard release, but which remained unaired following the label's closure (only eleven singles and an album saw the light of day), the frantic guitars and Gourlay's dreamy vocal on the song resembles a blueprint for Bite-era Altered Images.
 
If history had worked out differently, Wasted could have been a crossover smash hit, but instead remains the one that got away. Such was the fate of Jazzateers themselves, who, on Stop Me From Being Alone, the disco funk of Love Is Around and the jaunty stroll of the closing Run Away are now revealed as a crucial missing link in indiepop history.

A CD version of Don't Let Your Son Grow Up To Be A Cowboy was released by Cherry Red Records in 2014, and featured six extra tracks from the post-Gourlay, pre-Skinner era, with future Sunset Gun singers and This Mortal Coil collaborators Deirdre and Louise Rutkowski on vocals. This vinyl version, however, captures the Gourlay years in all their gossamer glory, and comes instead with a free download of a 1981 live show at Deville's club in Manchester, where Jazzateers formed a double bill with Aztec Camera as part of an event styled as The Postcard Factory Sit-in.

Bootlegged by an audience member on cassette, the band's six-track set lasts barely twenty minutes. Opening with a jazz-lite instrumental, the recording is punctuated throughout with lo-fi audience chatter. This lends a pseudo authentic atmosphere to an after-hours vibe of faux intrigues played out by dressing up box rebels living out their own arthouse movies in dimly lit rooms.

Captured in the raw, Jazzateers soundtracked all this with a modest sense of aspiration on what has become an essential hand-me-down objet d'art. It remains a timeless blast from a monochrome past captured just before the light they came blinking into turned technicolour.

www.jazzateers.com


Product, November 2016

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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Ghost The Musical

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Three stars

When writer Bruce Joel Rubin and director Jerry Zucker's celestial romance first appeared on the big screen in 1990, it wasn't that far removed from 1960s cult TV show Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), only with extra added schmaltz. Two decades later, Rubin's musical stage play featuring songs by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart and songwriter Glen Ballard invested a further layer of gooeyness on a story which had already given Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers renewed anthemic status

As financier Sam and potter Molly's domestic bliss in their Brooklyn loft is cruelly cut short, none of this is a bad thing in Bob Tomson's touring production of Rubin and co's recently revamped version. Things may be a tad one-dimensional at times, but the balance between poignancy and slapstick works well, with much of the latter provided by Jacqui Dubois' gospel-singing medium, Oda Mae. The second act bank scene between Oda Mae and Andy Moss' Sam is a particular hoot. It is good too that Sam Ferriday's creepy banker Carl gets his come-uppance by Sam as he discovers the full extent of the powers that come with life after death.

Much of the not always favourable attention Tomson's production has received thus far has focused on the show's leading lady, former Girls Aloud vocalist Sarah Harding, who plays Molly. While the show might have benefited from more experienced stage actors being at its centre, whatever the teething troubles may have been earlier on the tour, Harding seems to have settled into the role, both as an actress and singer in an unashamedly sentimental affair designed for old-fashioned lovers everywhere.

The Herald, November 23rd 2016

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Anthony Neilson - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

At first glance, Anthony Neilson might not be the most obvious choice to write a new stage version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as this year's Christmas show at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Neilson's early works, after all, were lumped in with the 1990s wave of so-called in-yer-face writers. As a theatre-maker who creates his work in the rehearsal room rather than at his desk, Neilson's way of working remains outwith the norm in text-based British theatre, particularly where it might be applied to a seasonal play for children.

Look again, however, and there is a magical quality that pulses much of Neilson's work, that seems to have leapt onto the stage straight from his head without any intellectual filter to restrain it. Neilson's most celebrated show to be seen in Scotland to date, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, originally produced by the Tron Theatre at the 2004 Edinburgh International Festival, in part created a Wonderland style fantasia to explore mental illness. The influence of Alice here was no accident, and Lewis Carroll's greatest creation has been with Neilson since he was a child growing up in Edinburgh.

“It's always stuck with me,” says Neilson. “I'm sure I read it, but the first memories I have of it are an old vinyl album, a cast recording on a Music For Pleasure album or something, and all the voices were slightly reverbed. I don't think it was a great production of it, but it sounds like it was recorded in this echo chamber, and sounded really weird. Everything's weird when you're a kid, but it was very haunting, with all the images and ideas, just the way that it was so anarchic and so sort of punk in its spirit.”

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was the creation of Lewis Carroll, the literary pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematician, Anglican deacon and a member of the Society for Psychical Research. Such apparent contradictions in Carroll's world-view have clearly influenced Alice in a way that dates back to the earliest stage versions. Neilson has also looked to the book's prevailing influence on popular culture.

“I think ours is a funnier version of Alice in Wonderland than you might usually get,” he says, “because it should be funny. If you think about the influence Alice in Wonderland had on Spike Milligan and Monty Python, they're very Carollian, so I've tried to bring a little bit of that element back. It will hopefully hit that sweet-spot where kids will enjoy it and adults will find it quite funny. Not because there's anything risqué or nudge-nudge in it, but just because we've gone more towards the Pythonesque element of it. It's almost what Alice in Wonderland would have been like if Monty Python had done it, but for kids.

“One of the reasons why I wanted to do this was because I worry a bit about the fact that a lot of kids now will know Alice primarily, not from the Disney animated version, which isn't that great, actually, but from Tim Burton, which grafted a quest narrative of a returning princess onto it, and that horrifies me. I'm all for free adaptation, and there have been lots of different versions of it, but to graft that sort of narrative onto it, that's just fundamentally the antithesis of what it's about.

“The amazing thing about Alice is that she doesn't want to go home, she's happy to wander round there. Alice is incredibly contemporary and a strong female character. She's not worried about mummy and daddy. She's brave, she's independent, she's curious. She's really great. We talk now about representation of women and role models, but Alice has been sitting there all this time. She can get a little bit lost sometimes, because she's surrounded by so much craziness, and we've been talking today about how she adapts to that world, or does she become part of that world as it begins to make more sense to her.

“When the first stage production was done in 1886, Lewis Carroll insisted they put on a subtitle of A Dream Play, and that's what it unashamedly is. The weird thing about it is, for all people try to impose a narrative on it where it has an anti narrative, or try to modernise it or bring out a theme in it or try to create parallels, it's actually incredibly contemporary in its structure. It's very much like an internet surfing session, where you wander from one site to the next, so you're the only thread to it.

“We may find that this is a more enduring structure than more narrative based structures, so in a funny way it makes more sense now than it ever did. Of course, it's always made some sense, because it moves like a dream, and we all understand dreams and because the internet and computers are modelled on a neurological model and it's a free-associative thing in a way.”

This applies to Neilson's approach to telling stories as much as it did to Carroll.

“Alice in Wonderland started its life as something that Carroll told to these girls in this boat,” says Neilson, “and was obviously told to them in instalments, and then he'd redraft it. It came from a particular place, and wasn't about sitting down at a typewriter. He was trying to entertain these young girls, and it was coming from a certain subconscious place, and I think he just let that get on the page. I don't think he tried to censor it.

“The whole set up I have when I make a show is specifically designed to circumvent that side of your brain that kicks in when you sit down to actually write something. To do that, I'm telling stories to the actors, I'm giving them this part and the next instalment, and I'm trying to find a way to allow my subconscious to work. I literally don't have the time to censor myself in that way much, or to really get on top of what it is I'm saying or doing. If you let it go through all these filters, and let the water run down through all those rocks and come out the bottom, what comes out of a lot of stuff can be quite considered. Looking back they can be quite exposing, because at the time you didn't quite understand them, but it's just where your brain takes you.”

While this new take on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland will remain a family show that will stay true to Carroll's original, in the making of it, Neilson stresses the importance of looking beyond what's already there.

“Despite the fact that it's funny, and the fact that it's a classic that kids should be exposed to in some way,” he says, “I think there's a lot to be learnt from the structure that Lewis Carroll consciously thought up. Because of what it was and how it was anti narrative, the fact that it's endured as a children's classic is a miracle. Alice can easily continue in your head, and could be a TV series. There's no end to Alice. She goes from one thing to another, and the only limits are your imagination.”

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, November 29-December 31.
www.lyceum.org.uk

The Herald, November 22nd 2016


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Thursday, 17 November 2016

Screamers, Bangers & Cosmic Synths (Triassic Tusk)

Anyone who ever chanced upon Moon Hop, the occasional club co-run by members of Edinburgh-sired band FOUND, and which ran at Henry's Cellar Bar in Edinburgh throughout 2014 and 2015 will have stumbled into a late-night multi-cultural wonderland of musical riches. With the evening introduced by low-key live shows from the likes of The Sexual Objects, Withered Hand and ex Arab Strappers Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton playing separately, FOUND themselves could be seen in various solo guises and together. As wonderful as such uniquely styled outings were, Moon Hop's heart was pulsed by the records spun before, inbetween and after the live shows.

This came in the form of some of the wildest array of records you'd never heard, a euphoric melting pot of retro-futuristic psych soul funk disco eclectica spread out across the decades and culled from all four corners of the world. Here was a compilation album in waiting, something that could exist on a par with other crate-digging ethnographic obsessives who release similar meticulously sourced musical joys. Labels such as Soul Jazz, the African and Latin-based Soundway and Edinburgh-based soul specialists Athens of the North spring to mind.

For those who miss hearing such a euphoric back to back array of obscure treasures, the fifteen cuts compiled across the four sides of this debut compilation by the freshly constituted Triassic Tusk label is about as close as you're likely to get to recapturing the Moon Hop experience. This is mainly because those behind Triassic Tusk - based with glorious impracticality in both Crail and Achaphubuil - are Stephen Marshall and FOUND's Ziggy Campbell, who were also the prime movers behind Moon Hop.

With the clue to the riches on offer coming in the title, Screamers, Bangers & Cosmic Synths spreads out its store roughly between 1966 and 1984 over two slices of 12” vinyl, with the first disc pressed in delicious lime green and the second on electric blue/turquoise. As is the way of such club-based compilations, there’s a loose-knit, ahem, 'journey' that moves across the record's four sides with an increased focus on the dancefloor as it goes. As a bonus, for the benefit of budding grandmasters and mistresses on the wheels of steel, the sleevenotes give friendly hints of what each track might work best alongside to keep swinging cellar bars jumping till the early hours.

Side one begins with a twitter of sci-fi synths, which, along with rubber bass, funky drums and little horn fanfares transforms the Bosnian folk of Safet Isovic's Mujo Kuje Konja Po Mjesecu into a groovetastic floor-filler. From late 1960s Bangkok, Monrat Kwanphothai's Ya Ma Kid Sa Ngne Sa Ngae opens with a wayward flute that eases into a vocal that sounds at moments like its plaintive stuttering repetitions have been dubbed over the song's slow-mo rhythm section. From Brazil, The Jones make Hey Mina (foul) sound like the Monkees' (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone, and Keije Nagaan by Het finds a Dutch fuzz-beat combo co-opting rhythm and blues for the mod set with extra added spoken-word interludes.

The tempo increases on the second side, which opens with some wild west female yodelling on Born to Wander, a panoramic gallop out of town by Jack Wood with The I Can't Say. Drum Talk by the Al Rose Trio is a pounding car chase instrumental that zigzags its jazz-fuelled way into the night, possibly passing Jack Wood along the way. Be My Side by Francis Guillon starts off in a similar getaway mood that belies the song's title before Guillon sings over the frantic rhythms like a classic chicken-in-a-basket showman.

Saving the best to last, on Mon Histoire, an unhinged John Malick declaims with gusto over an African-psych melody that sounds a dead ringer for the Rolling Stones' 1968 anthem, Sympathy For the Devil. Malick then spends the instrumental break laughing like a drain while the band get wiggy in a way that Keith Richards might similarly have copped his moves from. One scream later, Malick is back into the verse, enjoying every second of an ultra-rare masterpiece barely heard beyond Malick's living room, let alone the Ivory Coast where it was sired.

Things jump a couple of decades at the start of side three, when long lost Aberdeen punk-funk band

APB crank things up a notch on the dance floor with Shoot You Down . Originally released on their home city's Oily Records as the band's second single, its over-excited dance-floor stew is led by a busy bass sound that slaps away with abandon before giving way to a brief and impressive flourish of Scots-accented rap(ture).

Don't be fooled by the classically styled title of Nocturne Op. 1 that follows it. Juan Pablo Torres ' Cuban delight zaps its way onto the floor with a heavily percussive groove and wordless female backing vocals to party hard alongside. Moving on up into the 1980s, Last Chance to Dance is a still timely anti-nuclear skank by Afrikan Dreamland. Darkly polemical in intent and driven by a gulping bass sound, it also has one of the most impressive pauses in pop. Aleksandr Zatsepin's Tanets Shamana lightens the mood with a big epic kitchen-sink production that throws in what sounds like mad scratching but given that it dates from 1974 is probably some kind of wobble board. There is even madder piano and a welter of horns, voices and effects to force the listener to grab out every which way before it vanishes with a collective sigh.

The final side finally gives way to some full-on disco dancers, with the glossy synth-led squelch and pure 1980s soul of the Chocolate Buttermilk Band's Can't Let Go conjuring up images of neon-lit nitespots designed to bust some moves inside. Clifton Dyson's She's A Playgirl continues the mood, combining a crashingly relentless electronic rhythm and little guitar and piano flicks and flourishes with a high-pitched vocal that has its partner's flirtatious card marked from the start.

Finally, to end the evening, Steve Monite's Only You (disco jam) is a jaunty late night romance described on the sleevenotes as 'THE Moon Hop Classic', 'Utterly indispensable' and 'The loveliest song ever'. This mix of the vocal-based original soundtracks a breathy courtship that dips in and out of view before skipping off into the night.

While it might have been tempting to bung all the cuts collected here and a whole lot more on a budget price CD compilation that could have been twice the length, releasing them in this way gives them a weight and respect they deserve. The first – and possibly last – pressing has already been snapped up and has doubled in price on Discogs. Rumour has it, however, a second volume might be on the way. In the meantime, check out the Moon Hop mixes on the Triassic Tusk site to get you in the mood, and maybe make a Moon Hop party of your own.

www.triassictusk.com

Product, November 2016

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Little Shop of Horrors

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars

In their six year existence, the ever enterprising Sell A Door theatre company have carved something of a niche for themselves by touring brand new productions of hit musicals in a way more readily associated with the heavyweights of commercial musical theatre. Not that being relative new kids on the block has cowed them in any way. Tara Louis Wilkinson's take on writer Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken's 1982 campy pastiche inspired by Roger Corman's 1960 B-movie is very much alive and kicking in its approach.

Set in a Skid Row flower shop that's wilting badly, nerdy botanist Seymour stumbles upon a strange plant that brings dramatic fresh life to the neighbourhood. As the new money moves in accompanied by a media frenzy, Seymour's new status also improves his chances with shy shop girl Audrey, who he names the plant after. Audrey's dentist boyfriend Orin, meanwhile, as played by former X-Factor winner Rhydian, is a big-haired bully with a penchant for casual misogyny and domestic abuse that these days would see him elected president. His doomed penchant for auto-asphyxia while doling out violence, meanwhile, is oddly reminiscent of Dennis Potter's turn in David Lynch's big-screen suburban nightmare, Blue Velvet.

As Audrey II grows out of control and ever more demanding, this soul-singing fly-trap bleeds Seymour dry while success turns everybody monstrous. Beyond a moral centre born of its B movie roots that points up a metaphorical critique of American capitalism, biting the hand that feeds it as it goes, Ashman and Menken also created a knowing parody of hammy horror that grows on you along with Audrey II's all-consuming presence.

If some of the musical backing sounds low-key, it doesn't stop the cast from giving it their all. Rhydian lends Orin's grotesque himbo a goonish swagger, and Sam Lupton's Seymour is a neurotic little guy who ends up being eaten up by the system that Audrey II represents. Paul Kissaun gives shop owner Mushnik a downbeat air as he too is swallowed whole by Audrey II. For sheer comic perfection, however, as the original object of Seymour's affections, Stephanie Clift invests the flesh and blood Audrey with an exaggerated physical jerkiness that looks straight out of a comic book.

The show is carried by girl group Greek chorus Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette, who, as played by Sasha Latoya, Vanessa Fisher and Cassie Clare are a hit. As for Audrey II, voiced by Neil Nicholas and operated by Josh Wilmott, he/she/it morphs into a suitably larger than life creation in a show about greed and how easy it is to be chewed up if you get too big for your boots. Or indeed your plant pot.

The Herald, November 16th 2016

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Dominic Hill - Citizens Theatre's Spring 2017 Season

It seems fitting that Citizens Theatre artistic director Dominic Hill is talking about the Gorbals-based theatre's 2017 spring season while his production of The Rivals is still running. While Hill may have carved a reputation for programming more serious works since he took over the reins of the Citz, Sheridan's eighteenth century comedy, which plays until this weekend, shows off Hill's lighter side. As does too his forthcoming take on Stuart Paterson's version of Hansel and Gretel, which is this year's Christmas show at the Citz. Coming at the end of a season in which the company's revival of Trainspotting has captured the imagination of audiences across Glasgow on a huge scale, there is clearly fun to be had at all levels.

As the Herald exclusively reveals the announcement of three shows and a mini festival that complete the Citizens Theatre's Spring 2017 season, tickets for which go on sale today, the theatre's more playful side can already be seen in some of the season's shows which have already been announced. Cuttin' A Rug, for instance, is the second part of John Byrne's Slab Boys trilogy, which follows the adventures of that play's young anti-heroes, Spanky Farrell and Phil McCann, as they prepare for the Christmas staff dance at the Paisley carpet factory they pretend to work in.

Directed by actress and co-founder of Raindog theatre company, Caroline Paterson, Cuttin' A Rug will now no longer be designed by Byrne, who has been forced to step down from his originally announced role due to other commitments. Stepping into the breach will be Kenny Miller, whose relationship with the Citz, both as a director and designer, dates back to when Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse were artistic directors of the building.

Light relief too should be found too in Hill's own production of Noel Coward's comedy, Hay Fever, a co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. It will be there to some extent in the first visit to the Citizens by Cheek By Jowl, the company founded by director Declan Donnellan and designer Nick Ormerod, and who brought their Russian language version of Shakespeare's Measure For Measure to this year's Edinburgh International Festival. In January Cheek By Jowl open the Citz season with an English language production of another Shakespeare play, The Winter's Tale.

The newly announced additions to the programme will see the Citizens host part of Take Me Somewhere, a Glasgow-wide festival of new work produced by former director of the Arches, Jackie Wylie. The anarchic spirit of the Arches, which was so cruelly closed last year after Glasgow Licensing Board removed the venue's late licence, looks set to live on in the festival, with the Citz opening up its Circle Studio space to host performances by the winner of Take Me Somewhere's Somewhere New award. This new award will encourage theatre makers to tell classic stories in radically different ways.

“I'd been on the panel for the Platform 18 awards for young emerging directors at the Arches,” says Hill, on a break from rehearsing this year's Citizens Christmas show, Stuart Paterson's version of Hansel and Gretel “so I very much wanted to be part of the post Arches world as it were. Take Me Somewhere feels like a very exciting shift, and by this new award connected to classic texts, it feels very much what the Citizens is about as well.”

Wylie's recently announced appointment as the new artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland is something Hill describes as “fantastic. Jackie will be able to take the NTS in a daring new direction which hopefully the Citizens can be part of.”

Take Me Somewhere will be followed by My Country – A Work in Progress, a post Brexit verbatim play produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain with a group of partners around the UK, who have been conducting interviews on the EU Referendum. These will be woven together by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and the National Theatre's artistic director, Rufus Norris.

“We're very excited to be the Scottish collaborators with the NT on this show,” says Hill. “Our learning team have been going out and interviewing people about their views on Brexit, which is an issue that is so current, and which is going to affect us all in really important ways. With all of that, I think it's equally important that people's voices from all over the country are heard.”

As well as being seen in London, My Country will tour to all the show's partner theatres, with the possibility of going further afield in Europe at a later date.

The 2017 season will also see the return of Giles Havergal's much loved stage adaptation of Graham Greene's 1969 novel, Travels With My Aunt. First seen at the Citz in 1989, Havergal's four actor version of Greene's globe-trotting yarn about a retired bank manager's adventures with his eccentric aunt transferred to the West End, where it won an Olivier Award before opening on Broadway. It is now something of a much-loved staple of the international repertoire.

“It's very difficult sometimes to find a show that is right to put on in May,” Hill observes, “but with Travels With My Aunt you've got something that is both familiar and joyful. It was phenomenally successful, and was a show that came about because of the financial necessity of doing something with a small cast, but which has had this amazing life right across the world. I've been talking to Giles about doing it for a while, but we're not just going to reproduce the original production. We're wanting to put a new slant on it, and that's another way of connecting the old and the new.”

This approach will also see the return of director Phillip Breen to oversee the show. Breen's previous work at the Citz has included productions of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and Sam Shepard's True West.

The season closes with Tristan and Yseult, Kneehigh Theatre's smash hit show based on the classic tale of forbidden love.

“I think there's a similarity between Kneehigh's style and the Citz's style,” says Hill. “There's a sense of celebration and an anarchic feel to their work, but is still very much rooted in storytelling. Tristan and Yseult was one of their big hits, and it's toured all over, so it's great to have it in Glasgow.”

Tristan and Yseult arrives in Scotland following the announcement that former Kneehigh artistic director Emma Rice will be stepping down from her role in charge of the Globe theatre after only being in post for a year. The production should give Glasgow audiences the chance to see for themselves how Rice's trademark playfulness with classic texts might work. Again, the production illustrates the light touch at the heart of Hill's new season.

“There's joy in it,” he says. “There's a lot of celebration of theatre in this season about what theatre can bring to people. The way the world is at the moment, I think there's no harm in trying to find some joy.”

Tickets for all shows for the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow's Spring 2017 season go on sale today.
www.citz.co.uk
 
The Herald, November 15th 2016


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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Leonard Cohen - Death of A Ladies Man

Leonard Cohen was a joy. It's suddenly okay to say that now that the Canadian poet, song-writer and increasingly deep-throated singer has died aged 82, just three weeks after what has turned out to be his final album, You Want it Darker, was released. It wasn't always the way. Received wisdom in my assorted teenage lairs was that Laughing Lenny, as I took to calling him in gentle mockery of his deadpan funereal delivery, was the ultimate miseryguts.

Growing up in the late 1970s and early 80s, existential crises were being embraced – albeit at a wilfully alienated distance – by assorted post-punk nihilists. Despair, depression and disorder were what seemed to make them tick in the urban wastelands we so self-consciously scowled our way around. Leonard Cohen, however, was as bleak as it gets. Or so we were told.

Cohen was one of those names to drop. Jim Morrison, Lou Reed, Arthur Lee, Scott Walker and John Cale were others. These were names picked up from music paper eulogies by young pretenders high on their own myth-making. These young pretenders hoped some of the dark eccentric genius of their new set of muses would rub off on them like narcotic-tinged fairy-dust. Like the others, you read about Leonard Cohen more than you heard him, so he seemed even more mysterious and elusively out of reach. You heard whispers, but he was never on daytime radio.

Some weekends me and my youth club mates in Liverpool used to take the train from Lime Street over to stay with pals in Runcorn, three brothers, who between them had the most jaw-dropping record collection you could imagine. At an age where it would take you a few weeks to save up enough pocket money to buy that one album, being in close proximity to the entire back-catalogues of the Doors, Cream, Hendrix and all the rest was like falling into a musical treasure trove. But amidst hearing L.A Woman and White Room for the first time, it was the Leonard Cohen albums that fascinated me the most. Even the covers looked different.

Like a survivor from another age, here was this Me Generation troubadour, staring dolefully from that first, modestly named album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, looking dapper in a crumpled, lived-in kind of way, like he'd been up all night, and that melancholy post-drunk comedown was for keeps.

And when you played it? Suzanne; So Long, Marianne; Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye.... Here was a crooner who was as un-rock and roll as you could imagine, a bookish loner who'd been around the block a bit, and who'd come out the other side, damaged goods, but smart enough to not only understand why, but to treat it as a virtue.

As I made my way through Cohen's back catalogue in date order as I was wont to do then, I got to Death of A Ladies Man, the 1977 album he made with, what, was that really Phil Spector who produced it? Compared to the wide open spaces and acoustic longueurs of everything that had gone before in Cohen's name, it didn't feel right somehow that Cohen's trademark insularity was being fleshed out by the crazed lunatic who created the overblown blare of the Wall of Sound. And yet, for all its curveball oddness, I was smitten in an instant.

I only heard the stories about how the album was made, with Cohen effectively held hostage by a drink-fuelled and gun-toting Spector at the controls, much later, but hearing the record the first time it sounded like a seriously unhinged hoot designed to leave the listener giddy. This was especially the case on Don't Go Home With Your Hard On, an unfeasibly smutty one-line gag of a song which featured Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg singing backing vocals on the chorus. Given that this was a Leonard Cohen record, it sounded both shocking and ridiculous.

It was around this time, after I'd no doubt been pontificating larkily about Laughing Lenny and how depressing he was, that someone took me aside and asked me why I thought that was the case. Listen to the words, they said calmly after I'd attempted a weak defence. No, really listen, they said, and I'd find something holy and full of hope. And that made me think, and I listened.

In truth, I was too young and stupid to fully understand Leonard Cohen. He dealt in grown-up stuff, borne of a lifetime of wisdom and experience, and all those sad-eyed litanies of hope and despair were so far out of reach to an unsoiled innocent like me as to be unfathomable back then. Only later, when I'd lived a bit and made a few grown-up messes of my own, did the beauty and truth of what he was saying make sense. There was no epiphany, no thunderbolt, no moment of satori. As with the best of Leonard Cohen's work, it crept up gradually.

I picked up a dog-eared copy of Cohen's first  novel, The Favourite Game, and read it with the earnest attention it seemed to warrant, though somehow I never got round to reading Beautiful Losers, which followed it. I imagined doomed love affairs conducted in dimly-lit rooms over shared cigarettes and whisky dregs, some of which came true. I raised an eyebrow at the glossy sheen of the production on First We Take Manhattan, the single taken from Cohen's 1988 album, I'm Your Man, compared to the starkness of the sound on that first album heard staying up all night in Runcorn. And then, eventually, as I grew into myself and the music, I heard the joy.

This all came home to me on a blustery summer night in Edinburgh in 2008 when I watched Leonard Cohen play at Edinburgh Castle. By rights, this then 73 year old wearing a Homburg and a double-breasted suit looking like an ageing mobster dreamt up by Martin Scorsese shouldn't have been there at all. Cohen had been forced to start touring again when he discovered he'd been majorly ripped off by his manager. If crime ever really pays, it was the audiences who reaped the reward.

Cohen opened like a rinky-dink lounge bar showman by going down on one knee for the Jewish wedding strains of Dance Me to the End of Love. Lines now so familiar as to be epigrams in their own right were punctuated with a knowing chuckle. But this wasn't self-parody. So Long, Marianne sounded raw and impassioned, made even more plaintive by the years since the song first appeared. And when he recited the lyrics of A Thousand Kisses Deep unaccompanied to 8,000 people in the pin-drop night, it sounded like a prayer.

Throughout a three hour set a seasoned warmth emanated from Cohen. There was a generosity there too for his band, who he name-checked individually as he gave them space to shine. This was especially the case with backing singers Charley and Hattie Webb, the Kent-born siblings who perform as the Webb Sisters. In an evening filled with beautiful moments, their lead vocals on an encore of If it Be Your Will was one to cherish.

By this time the rain had started, and, after a funky ride through Closing Time, Cohen finally parted with the words, “Don't catch a summer cold.” Even this simple but sage advice was invested with a Zen-like profundity.

And when all the social media whining started up a few weeks ago about why didn't Leonard Cohen win the Nobel Prize for Literature instead of Bob Dylan, and how Dylan apparently isn't a real poet whereas Cohen was, I wonder what Laughing Lenny was thinking about it all. And I think he'd maybe give a barely there shrug and a wry little grin, and then move on, knowing full well that none of it really mattered as much as not catching a summer cold.

And if any young pup who knows nothing yet ever comes on all smart and says how depressing they think Leonard Cohen is, and how he made music to slash your wrists to, I'll say listen. I'll say, no, now really listen to the words and music, and feel the wisdom and experience that's lived through them. Then listen some more, and hear something that's holy and full of hope, then understand that Leonard Cohen was a joy, and that he always will be.

Product, November 2016

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The Male Nurse – The Male Nurse (Decemberism)

There was a time in the pre internet 1990s when some of Edinburgh city centre's darker Old Town thoroughfares were emblazoned with hastily-pasted posters heralding some of the capital's lesser sung future attractions. Around the Cowgate, one could occasionally spot samizdat crosses spray-painted onto walls in a way that suggested some kind of un-named insurgency was afoot even as it seemed to indicate an impending emergency. This graffiti tag was also part of a subliminal insurrection that announced The Male Nurse were in the area. A couple of decades on, a similarly styled blue cross on a white background now forms the Keith Farquhar-designed cover of this long overdue vinyl only compilation of one of pop's most wayward missing links.

The Male Nurse evolved from a band called Lucid, which featured vocalist Keith Farquhar, guitarists Alan Crichton and Andrew Hobson plus Craig Gibson, Spencer Smith and Martin Wilson, who had been at Leith Academy with Farquhar. Having played Edinburgh College of Art's annual Revel in 1993 as Farquhar graduated, The Male Nurse were by all accounts a band for whom the words insurgency and emergency were wilfully appropriate. Inbetween rehearsing in the old 369 Gallery on the Cowgate or hanging out at the Green Tree pub or the City Cafe, their legendary live events are said to have frequently teetered on the edge of substance-fuelled chaos. As this eponymous collection of thirteen largely unreleased tracks confirms, however, The Male Nurse still managed to produce a body of work shot through with fractured beauty.

Over their peripatetic seven year lifespan, the band recorded two John Peel sessions and released three singles on the Guided Missile label, plus a split with similarly off-kilter fellow travellers Gilded Lil on Stupid Cat records in 2000. Somewhere in the midst of all this they crashed, burned, played with fellow travellers The Yummy Fur and Lung Leg, and were banned from ECA's Wee Red Bar. They lost members, including Crichton, who died of drug-induced misadventure in 1999, and acquired others, before imploding in the early noughties.

The material rounded up on this 500-copy limited edition from painstakingly restored tapes dates from the post-Crichton period, and features Ben Wallers on guitar and keyboards. Wallers doubled up as the driving force behind The Country Teasers, who Crichton had also been a member of, and Wallers would eventually co-opt bass player Alastair McKinven and drummer Lawrence Worthington, who both play throughout this album, into the fold. Guitarist Andrew Hobson and keyboardist Alec King complete the Male Nurse line-up here.

The album is released on Decemberism, the record label founded by artist and former member of Glasgow-based instrumentalists, Ganger, Lucy McKenzie. McKenzie was a Male Nurse fan who Farquhar worked with when he invited her to show her work at Deutsche Britische Freundschaft, a London art space founded by Farquhar with German artist Thomas Helbig. Farquhar later took part in Flourish, McKenzie's Sunday night studio-based art-cabaret show-and-tell events in Glasgow. Farquhar also showed work in The Best Book About Pessimism I Ever Read, a group exhibition curated by McKenzie at the Braunschweig Kunstverein in 2002. Since then, Farquhar has exhibited widely in solo and group shows across the world.

Farquhar was already starting to make his mark as an artist while The Male Nurse were ongoing, and his pop cultural eclectica is all over the show here, whether through the references to Joseph Beuys in Road to Moscow, or to Martin Kippenberger in Parting With the Bonus of Youth. Both pointers are telling.

Like Farquhar, Beuys also had a fondness for using crosses in his work, even as the German aktionist revolutionised the international art world following his visit to Edinburgh in 1970 as part of the Strategy Get Arts exhibition at ECA initiated by mercurial impresario Richard Demarco. Kippenberger, meanwhile, was another German, who died in 1997, three years after his work was used on record covers for The Holy Bible era Manic Street Preachers. Like Kipppenberger, The Male Nurse never fully settled on one particular style, picking and mixing from a scattershot set of influences that tugged the band in different directions, often in the same song.

The opening Male Nurse Tower (Intro) is a woozy overture of ambitious intent that sets the scene with some babble about building thirty-five storey high towers. Road to Moscow follows with a darkly sardonic travelogue driven by a wheezy organ, and which contrasts driving a Skoda-load of marijuana across some bumpy Russian roads with Beuys' airborne ride across the same terrain in a Stuka.

German Sleeps in My Bed is an inter-continental romance that shows off Farquhar's softer side, his faraway vocal offset by a spikily insistent guitar pattern.

The Plight of the Remedial Child too starts off as sensitive as a social worker. After a couple of verses, however, its schoolday lament for a failed attempt at kindred spirithood with less academically gifted classmates gives way to primitive bombast worthy of Live at the Witch Trials era Fall, only smarter and more sarcastic.

Esoteric Bookshop is a brief organ-led jingle, the first of three instrumentals on the album. Somewhat contrarily, Channel 4 Theme is an electro-pop ditty that observes with gimlet-eyed fascination the noise made as Carol Vorderman's hands doled out the letters on Countdown. The first side ends with the Kippenberger homage/critique, Parting With the Bonus of Youth, a trippy organ-led hangover of a song that shows off an increasingly mature Male Nurse sound.

The second side's opener, Afraid & Jarring, however, is a wonky instrumental fairground waltz that lollops about as if soundtracking a wilfully ridiculous dance routine, even as it references playwright Alfred Jarry, as the sleevenotes winkingly explain. Male Midwife is the most accomplished thing on show so far, as loping bass and fizzing synths wrap themselves around Farquhar's drawling vocals in a piece of post Madchester indie-dance hedonism with a brain.

Back on the Pills is a jauntily absurdist glam racket and Ducks Over Dachau a scary instrumental march. The keyboard flourishes of Not Sentimental lend a subtle warmth to the song, even as it appears to fade off into the distance. The loose-limbed kosmiche of the final Horse Riding, Painting & Lovemaking, meanwhile, is a heartfelt paean to the simple things that mattered in life to Farquhar and The Male Nurse at that moment, its wiggy climax threatening to break into full-on freakout before juddering to a halt.

Almost two decades on, Farquhar has recently returned to music for the first time since The Male Nurse's demise, as one half of the wonderfully named Edinburgh Leisure alongside guitarist Tim Davies, formerly of Guinness and several other Edinburgh-based bands. The duo are several gigs into their existence and have already generated enough material for an album. In the meantime, The Male Nurse's nouveau Beuysian actions captured here remain a messily evocative and at times wistfully melancholy document of Edinburgh Cowgate’s past. 

The Male Nurse by The Male Nurse is available on Decemberism Records. Edinburgh Leisure play Embassy, Edinburgh on November 25th at the launch of a group exhibition that also marks their first foray into visual art.
www.decemberism.co.uk
www.embassygallery.org

Product, November 2016
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Friday, 11 November 2016

Gina Birch - The Raincoats

Gina Birch can barely contain herself.

“We had the most amazing gig,” enthuses the bass player with the Raincoats, the band she co-founded almost forty years ago with guitarist and co-vocalist Ana da Silver. “What a night! It was fantastic! I'm still flying high.”

Birch is talking about the show the Raincoats did the night before at Islington Town Hall as part of the fortieth anniversary celebrations of Rough Trade, the record shop and label that became the social hub of London's post-hippy, post-punk underground in the mid-1970s. Back then, the Raincoats were part of the first wave of artists to release their records on Rough Trade in a way that would come to define a state of independence in the UK music scene.

On a label diverse enough to include releases by Belfast agit-punks Stiff Little Fingers, Sheffield electronicists Cabaret Voltaire and reggae legend Augustus Pablo, the Raincoats stood out alongside Swiss band Kleenex and the saxophone-led skronk of Essential Logic for being women in a still male-dominated world.

The Raincoats sound was primitive and scratchy, with Birch and Da Silva's voices owing more to multi-cultural folk traditions than rock and roll posturing. Their first single, Fairytale in the Supermarket, was a primal yelp of self-determination augmented by the scrapings of the band's original violinist, Vicky Aspinall. The debut Raincoats album featured a version of the Kinks' Lola which subverted Ray Davies' already mixed-up trans-gender rites of passage even more. Over two more studio albums, the band introduced rhythms and beats from around the world into an increasingly eclectic musical stew wrapped around stark lyrical concerns drawn from female experience.

After splitting in 1984, the Raincoats reformed a decade later after Kurt Cobain named them as a major influence. With Cobain's band Nirvana at the height of their fame, Cobain invited the Raincoats to support them on a tour of America, an event that was destined never to happen following the troubled singer's suicide. The Raincoats recorded a fourth studio album, since when they have enjoyed a sporadic existence inbetween pursuing non-musical artistic projects.

The Rough Trade fortieth anniversary was a celebration of everything the Raincoats and fellow travellers such as the Slits opened the door for, from Riot Grrrl in the 1990s to a new wave of female-led bands that includes Sacred Paws, who support the Raincoats when they play at the CCA in Glasgow on Sunday night. In Islington, on a night where Birch's daughter sang three songs, the Raincoats were playing alongside Angel Olson, the American singer/songwriter, whose third album, My Woman, was released in September.

“There were six of us women lining the stage,” says Birch, “which was different to the show the other night with the Pop Group, the Cabs and Scritti Politti, and it was all men, which was a bit sad.

We played without a drummer, so there was just the three of us, and because our music is such a tapestry, it threads its own path, so you hear things in different ways.

“We did a cover of Patti Smith's Because The Night. We did it really soft and gentle, and it made the song really quite different. What was great as well was that there was a really big age gap onstage. There were women in their twenties, and there were women in their sixties, and that was great, because we were all equals. But Angel's brilliant. She's the bees knees. I would happily do that show all over again. ”

Birch is in her kitchen as she talks, while long-standing Raincoats violinist Anne Wood and Helen Reddington, aka former Chefs vocalist Helen McCookerybook, sit chatting beside her. It is with Reddington that Birch is currently working on She-Punks, a documentary film inspired in part by Reddington's book, The Lost Women of Rock Music, and which aims to reclaim the largely undocumented history of female musicians who came out of punk.

“I'd been making a Raincoats documentary that I started filming over ten years ago,” says Birch, “and I'd been filming lots of women, because I didn't want it to be a sycophantic thing that was just about ourselves. I had this treasure chest of stories, and Helen and I were friends anyway, and she kept on getting approached to do a film based on her book, so we thought that, rather than get some old blokes taking it over that we'd rather do it ourselves and make it more grassroots.”

This is an attitude that Birch and the Raincoats picked up during punk's original flourish of energy.

“It was an incredibly special time for young women to find a gap to express themselves in the way that we did with the Raincoats and other women did,” she says. “It was actually quite bizarre, because it had never occurred that any of us could do it until one of us did it. It was like when a Blue Tit learnt how to peck into the silver milk bottle tops you used to get delivered on your doorstep. As soon as one learns how to do it, they all want to do it.”

Birch's epiphany came after she moved to London to study at Hornsey College of Art, and ended up living next door to the sister of Palmolive, original drummer with all girl band The Slits.

“Palmolive was round all the time, and she was the coolest,” says Birch. “I was going to all the gigs, and I went to the first Slits gig, which was crazy. It was like a punch to the gut. I couldn't believe my eyes and my ears, and I knew I wanted to do that so badly, but I didn't believe I could.”

A few weeks later, Birch had sloped off from an art and politics conference and went to the pub with some people. On a whim, and possibly emboldened by Dutch courage, she went to a nearby music shop and bought the cheapest bass they had. Having formed a loose alliance with da Silva, drummer Richard Dudanski, who would go on to play with Public Image Limited, got wind of it, and two weeks later the first incarnation of the Raincoats supported Dudanski's then band with Joe Strummer associate Tymon Dogg.

The Rough Trade connection came through a friend of da Silva's, who had a market stall selling records, and struck up a friendship with Rough Trade founder Geoff Travis.

“Ana tells this story about how when Geoff opened Rough Trade he said to her that he really wanted her to work in the shop because he wanted boys to learn how to talk to girls about music. Geoff really wanted it to be a mixed gender thing in that way.”

As pop music was smoothed out in the 1980s, things turned out slightly different.

“In the eighties it felt like a candle had been snuffed out,” Birch says. “I love Boy George, but the music industry at that time seemed to prefer boys pretending to be girls rather than girls being girls. It felt like we'd been put back in the cupboard.”

It wasn't until the 1990s Riot Grrrl revolution that things became interesting again.

“They brought us back to life,” Birch says. “They resuscitated us. When Riot Grrrl came along it was a shot in the arm, and boy did we need it.”

Since then, the Raincoats influence on younger bands has grown to the extent that when they played the Stewart Lee curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival earlier this year, Birch could be spotted at the back of the hall on Saturday afternoon watching all female band, Shopping, with a palpably protective air about her.

“We are definitely becoming the grand-mothers,” says Birch, “and every grand-mother is fond of their grand-children and worries about them. They have other issues to us, but you want to see them flourish and to find their own voice. If we can be mentors or collaborators in some way, that's brilliant.

“I am amazed at what I suppose is our legacy, if you like. Ana and I, we play in our own shambling way, and we write in our own trying to ignore conventions kind of way, and I think we've found a way of doing things that seems to chime with people, because we do things in a different way. But I don't take it for granted. Part of me wonders why anyone would get excited about what we do in the Raincoats, but then another part of me thinks 'Yeah!'”

The Raincoats play with Sacred Paws, CCA, Glasgow, November 13th.
www.cca-glasgow.com

The Herald, November 11th 2016

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Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Secret Show 1

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The clue in this latest adventure by the Blood of the Young company is very much in the title. Inspired by a similar wheeze initiated by the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith while its building was being renovated, director Paul Brotherston and a football team size cast of eleven are this week inviting audiences to take a chance on their production of an un-named play, without any expectations of what might await them.

This makes the reviewer's job a tricky one, as normal circumstances dictate that some basic elucidation regarding plot is usually forthcoming. As with Agatha Christie's long-running yarn, The Mousetrap, however, giving the game away in such a cavalier fashion here would be quite wrong. To be clear, no spoiler alerts are necessary.

All that can be said of the experience is that it is a cheekily irreverent eighty-minute version of a classic play that is performed in the Tron's Victorian Bar. At various points it features a holiday romance between a washed-up hero in a torn Captain America t-shirt and a girl in a swim-suit, a drunken double act straight out of Viz comic and a two piece band on the small stage at the end of the bar who are more important than you think.

Beyond novelty value, the show nevertheless remains faithful to both the text – most of the time – and the underlying seriousness of the story, and even though they've only had a week's rehearsal, the cast are impressive in everything they do, especially the corpsing. Most of all there is magic, lots and lots of magic in a refreshingly audacious caper that weathers any storm that's thrown at it.

The Herald, November 10th 2016

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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Mike Poulton - A Tale of Two Cities

It has been the best of times recently for Mike Poulton, whose stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, A Tale of Two Cities, opens in Edinburgh tonight as part of the current tour of a production originally seen in 2014 at the Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton. Directed by current Royal and Derngate boss James Dacre, Poulton's adaptation of Dickens' French Revolution set saga announced Dacre's tenure with an epic flourish honed over two decades of working on classic texts by the likes of Chekhov and Schiller, and which have been seen in productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company and on Broadway.

While more recently Poulton has adapted Hilary Mantel's novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies for the RSC as well as a version of the York Mysteries, Dickens' tale of life during wartime is clearly a labour of love.

“I'd always wanted to do A Tale of Two Cities,” he says. “It was a favourite novel, and Dickens being a man of the theatre, you can see he's written it almost as a piece of drama. The dialogue is so good,and while there aren't stage directions, each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. Dickens really does guide you through it.”

For this touring version, Poulton has rewritten parts, while the cast has been expanded to accommodate the changes.

“Not all novels hold up to being adapted for the stage,” Poulton points out. “It's not simply a case of putting a novel on its feet. You have to find the drama within it. It's like I said to Hilary Mantel when I was adapting Wolf Hall, it's like taking a Rolls Royce to pieces and rebuilding it as a helicopter.”

One of the earliest stagings of A Tale of Two Cities was The Only Way, a play by Frederick Longbridge and Freeman Wills at the tail-end of the nineteenth century. While the play ran for several years on the West End and was made into a film in 1927 by Herbert Wilcox, Poulton describes it as “unperformable today. I looked at it, and it was a huge success, but it's far too sentimental.”

Stage adaptations of Dickens' work have veered between the intimacy of the solo approach favoured by actor Simon Callow, to the epic, which David Edgar's recently revived two-part version of Nicholas Nickleby, first produced by the RSC in the mid 1980s, has come to define. Poulton's approach falls somewhere between the two.

“I have a reputation for taking big, unwieldy novels and adapting them for two hours onstage,” says Poulton. “You have to identify a through line, especially with something like A Tale of Two Cities, and then leave the rest to the actors. David did Nicholas Nickleby over two parts, which allowed him to go into detail in a way that we couldn't. Nicholas Nickleby recently had a very successful outing at Chichester, and it was really very good, but to say you have to spend two nights in the theatre is a bit of an ask. I think with A Tale of Two Cities, we've found a brisk way of doing the play that has the audience on the edge of their seats.”

Poulton's take on Tale of Two Cities follows a recent staging of a hitherto unperformed version of the play written by a young Terence Rattigan with acting giant John Gielgud. Poulton didn't see the production, performed by a small cast with some contemporary flourishes, though he is aware that “It's very different to ours. It's much closer to the Dirk Bogarde film of it made in the 1950s and The Only Way, in that it's needlessly sentimental, and a lot of questions are begged. Rattigan was a very young writer at the time, and I suspect a lot of it was largely down to Gielgud, who I think was really interested in writing a part for himself.”

Rattigan's version of Dickens' story is of particular interest to Poulton, however, as his original play, Kenny Morgan, which was seen at the Arcola Theatre in London, looked at the real life background that influenced Rattigan's play, The Deep Blue Sea.

“Kenny Morgan was Rattigan's lover,” says Poulton, “who committed suicide. Rattigan's agent is my agent, who as part of the centenary celebrations of Rattigan asked me to look at some of his lesser known plays, and also gave me lots of biographies of him. Through them I discovered that Kenny Morgan committed suicide just as Rattigan was opening one of his unsuccessful plays in Liverpool.

“When he was told what had happened, Rattigan stood at the window in the Adelphi Hotel and didn't move, then after twenty minutes announced that he had the plot of his next play. That was how Rattigan dealt with all of his problems. He put them in his plays, so Kenny Morgan became Hester Collyer and he wrote The Deep Blue Sea.”

Prior to his career as a playwright and adaptor, Poulton was managing editor of Oxford University Press. As a good friend of theatre director Terry Hands, who had moved to the Royal Shakespeare Company as a junior director running the company's touring group, Theatreground, after founding Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, Poulton was exposed to stagings of classic stories first hand. As Hands became the RSC's joint artistic director with Trevor Nunn, Poulton's interest increased.

“I'd got to the point where I'd done publishing,” he says, “and I was very critical of theatrical adaptations. Eventually Duncan Weldon and Derek Jacobi asked me to do something with them at Chichester Festival Theatre, which they were running at the time, and I ended up doing Uncle Vanya with Derek Jacobi and Turgenev's Fortune's Fool with Alan Bates.

Both shows transferred to Broadway, with Poulton being nominated for a Tony award for Fortune's Fool. A new production, starring Iain Glen, opened in the West End in 2013.

Poulton is currently hard at work at two new and as yet un-named projects for the RSC that will be announced by the company's current artistic director Gregory Doran in January 2017.

“I would never accept a commission for the sake of it,” Poulton says. “I would only ever do something that I'm burning to do.”

In this respect, Poulton's love and respect for classic texts remains undimmed.

“If you look at a Dickens novel,” he says, “or a Shakespeare or a Schiller play, the reasons they have become classics is because they speak to us with the same sense of relevance now as they did when they were written. Dickens and Shakespeare's works are all about surviving, and making the most of what we're given. All of their works, and Dickens especially, are full of characters who feel so real that you could go outside and meet them on the street. I get annoyed with Shakespeare directors who set the plays in modern day gangland or something like that. No, no, no. Let the characters speak for themselves. You don't need anything else, because everything's already there. Great plays are classics because they tell the truth.”

A Tale of Two Cities, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, tonight-November 12.
www.edtheatres.com

The Herald, November 8th 2016

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Sunday, 6 November 2016

Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know Your Enemy)

“Who doesn't/Emotionally Connect/To Music?” declaims Sandy Milroy in his observations of Daisy, a young woman who downloads the latest Adele album, midway through the nine minute epic that is It is Morning, the finger-jabbing slow-core centrepiece of the second cassette release by Milroy's Shareholder project as a full band. This follows on from Shareholder's previous band-based cassette, Jimmy Shan, that followed a slew of long out of print releases by Milroy in his solo Shareholder guise.

As a member of sludge-noise auteurs Muscletusk as well as siring Shareholder, Milroy has long been a key figure of Edinburgh's cross-pollinating avant-noise underground. In the last couple of years, however, by introducing vocals to the power trio that Shareholder has become, there is a more focused intent to the guitar, bass and drum clatter that lets rip over seven tracks like the bombs released from the war plane on the cassette's front cover collage.

With fellow travellers Grant Smith, also of Muscletusk, and Graham Stewart, aka King Rib, providing battering ram style ballast, Milroy's caustic poetics lash out with sarcastic barbs, including those aimed at the aforementioned Daisy. As 'Something Falls Out Of The Back of Her Head/She'll Have to See to it Later', what initially sounds like frustration at the disposability of commercial pap takes a more menacing turn. This is compounded on the instrumental insistence of Theme from Hashtaggart.

While the template for such urban grimoires aren't hard to spot – Dragnet and Room to Live era Fall immediately spring to mind – Milroy and Shareholder's brand of wilfully opaque and relentless belligerence is at times even more pummelling. This is especially so on a version of Our House, which takes Graham Nash's 'ode to countercultural domestic bliss', as the piece of Me Generation bubblegum was once described, and invests it with a withering disdain that borders on contempt in a bittersweet but thrilling assault course of refreshingly uneasy listening.
www.shareholder.bandcamp.com

Product, November 2016

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Saturday, 5 November 2016

The Rivals

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

If ever there was a play more perfectly suited to accommodate the Citizens Theatre's artistic director Dominic Hill's stylistic penchant for turning a play visibly inside out, so it appears to take place backstage, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's eighteenth century comedy of manners is hard to beat. In a work that puts social pretence at its heart, it seems fitting that we see the cast put on their wigs and elaborately powdered face masks even as they set the scene for Sheridan's similarly multi-layered romp around the houses of Bath en route to true love. And if the assorted picture frames that fly in and out with assorted painted backdrops are as artificial as the mirrors are empty of glass on designer Tom Rogers' set, the point about how looks can be deceptive is made even clearer.

The person most keen on keeping up appearances is Mrs Malaprop, played here by Julie Legrand as a tragicomic grand dame intent on bringing the most well-heeled of gentlemen callers to her niece Lydia Languish's door. Lucy Briggs-Owen doesn't so much play Lydia as unleashes her as a trash fiction addicted rich girl straight out of Made in Chelsea, whose every OTT exclamation is punctuated by a question mark. As various comic grotesques attempt to woo her, Lydia's sentimental fondness for the common people sees her fall for a poor soldier boy who turns out to be Rhys Rusbatch's far more well-heeled Captain Jack Absolute.

Jessica Hardwick's Julia may be prim by comparison, but she too is deceived in love by Nicholas Bishop's paranoid Faulkland in a play where image is everything. Fun is had with such a superficial notion throughout this co-production between the Citz, Bristol Old Vic and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. The second act's wordless opening even makes taking an anachronistic Polaroid look like the province of dirty old men who Mrs Malaprop so mistakenly and magnificently immortalises as “Bavarians.” In the end, it is the women who win the day, without any fakery required.

The Herald, November 7th 2016

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Thursday, 3 November 2016

The House of Bernarda Alba / The Burial at Thebes

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Three stars / Four stars

Family feuds are at the heart of these two productions performed by the RCS' final year BA Acting students. While the relationship between a domineering mother and her five daughters desperate to break her grip is the backbone of Federico Garcia Lorca's final play, The House of Bernarda Alba, a sister's love for her slain brother is what drives The Burial at Thebes, Seamus Heaney's take on Antigone. While Heaney's version lends a clarity to the original story's poetry made even clearer in Gareth Nicholls' expansive contemporary dress production, James Graham-Lujan and Richard L O'Connell's 1940 translation of Lorca enables director Ros Philips to take the play beyond words.

Philips begins playfully by having her cast of eight women line up onstage in nightgowns and introducing themselves accompanied by a Balearic beat before confiding something they've managed to avoid telling their mothers. The mood changes by way of Isabel McClelland's fierce performance as Bernarda, which is offset by the stifled yearning of her daughters.

Nicholls begins The Burial at Thebes like a film noir, with Sinead Sharkey's Antigone sneaking into a desk-lamp lit office and stealing papers on the death of her brother Polynices. The all male Chorus are a bunch of black-suited civil servants tending to a money-obsessed King Creon's business, but this is Sharkey's play as Antigone fights for dear life.

Both plays focus on how a woman's power can be destroyed, either by a domineering patriarchy, or by the willingness of a matriarchy to accept it. Either way, that power remains heroic in both life and death.

The Herald, November 4th 2016

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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Jimmy Cauty – The Aftermath Dislocation Principle

It was somehow fitting that The Aftermath Dislocation Principle, former KLF/K Foundation avant provocateur Jimmy Cauty's monumental installation of a post-catastrophic model village, arrived in Edinburgh's Grassmarket on the back of a lorry, on October 31st. Housed within a graffiti-daubed forty-foot metal shipping container and built on an epic scale, here was a miniature reimagining of a bombed-out British Everytown where the aftermath of some kind of un-named uprising had taken place. [do aftermaths take place? Perhaps another verb?] Advertised as being set in the near future, as with Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror, however, The Aftermath Dislocation Principle looks very very now.

Not only did Cauty's model village park up at the King Stables Road end of the Grassmarket on Halloween, when a form of magic-inspired anarchy causes hordes of costume-clad celebrants to take to the streets and imbibe excesses of whatever alchemical brew takes their fancy. This year it was also the day that Westminster Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced there would be no public inquiry into the events surrounding the Battle of Orgreave, the most notorious event of the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85, when pitched battles between police and picketing Yorkshire miners saw a class war explode into view. While it has never really gone away, things look even more divided today.

Rudd's announcement came despite clear evidence of police cover-ups and collusion prior to initiating the violence at Orgreave, and effectively lets the South Yorkshire Constabulary, also found culpable for the deaths of ninety-six Liverpool Football Club supporters at Hillsborough five years later, off the hook. Those interested in how a fictionalised version of a Yorkshire police force might have acted during the 1970s and ’80s may wish to seek out David Peace's Red Riding series of novels.

Cauty's world may not be as explicit in any suggestion of police brutality on a grand scale. Seen close up through an array of looking glass size observation ports positioned on all four sides of the container, the multi-dimensional images of a vast near-future suburban dystopia in an imagined Bedfordshire and constructed in 1:87 scale, however, speak volumes.

Because, of the 3,000 or so miniature figures seen from all angles in the toytown-size urban expanse of smashed-up flyovers, burnt-out high rises and looted retail parks, only the police and media seem to be still standing. Where the ordinary everyday citizens who were presumably in the thick of such an apocalyptic pile-up have got to is anybody's guess. The array of upended Matchbox car police vans that make the thin blue lines of police look vulnerable beside walls emblazoned with anti-establishment graffiti, however, suggests they may have made their point before being taken into custody en masse.

First seen in the Netherlands before taking up residence at Banksy's wilfully short-lived anti theme park, Dismaland, ADP 1 (there are two more episodes of Cauty's police state soap opera to come) has since April been on a thirty-six date pilgrimage of UK cities, parking up in sites historically significant for riots and civil unrest. In Edinburgh, the Grassmarket was chosen in honour of the 1736 Porteous Riots, named after Captain John Porteous, who, after overseeing the hanging of a convicted smuggler, ordered his men to open fire on the crowd that had gathered. Porteous himself was arrested and looked set to receive a royal pardon before the local mob broke him out of prison and watched him hang on their makeshift gallows.

The full story of the Porteous Riots can be found in a leaflet pocketed from a stall beside the container. Other merchandise, including bright yellow t-shirts bearing just the word 'RIOT' can be purloined from local clothing terrorists, Pieute. On Saturday and Sunday of this week, Cauty's intervention moves onto the street even more with a live art Happening presented by the Too Much Fun Club and featuring mural-based actions by street artists Elph and Chris Rutterford.

As you move around the container itself, peering in at a world frozen by chaos in both town and country, ADP1 resembles Airfix model mock-ups of crucial battles from history – Waterloo, El Alamein, the Somme – their static reconstruction iconic in their familiarity. This is the case too with ADP 1, even though the battle depicted appears, at least, to be imaginary. Punctuated with the hiss of police walkie talkies and the occasional swoop of overhead searchlights, the tabletop expanse of ADP 1 also resembles a reconstruction of a very British alien invasion.

Arguably Birkenhead's musical satirists Half Man Half Biscuit set the template for ADP 1 with their response to the inner-city unrest in Liverpool, Manchester and Brixton in 1981, The Trumpton Riots. Cauty and co, however, have switched off daytime kids TV and taken direct action of their own. With Bonfire Night coming up on Saturday prior to the container being transported to Glasgow to honour the 1919 Battle of George Square, ADP 1 may imagine the aftermath of a future revolution, but it looks like history in the making.

The Aftermath Dislocation Principle 1 can be seen at Grassmarket, Edinburgh until November 7th; Platform, Glasgow, November 7th-14th. Jimmy Cauty and Steve Lowe of L-13 Light Industrial Workshop will give an artists talk at Platform on November 10th at 6pm. The event is free but ticketed. The Aftermath Dislocation Principle tour continues until its final showing as part of Garden of Eden at the Panacea Museum, Bedford, on Christmas Day 2016.
www.platform-online.co.uk
www.jamescauty.com

Product, November 2016



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Million Dollar Quartet

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

December 4th 1956, as the projection on the stage curtain points out prior to Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's musical drama, marked one of the most significant moments in early rock and roll history. As Jason Donovan's Memphis record mogul Sam Phillips explains to the audience following a rousing rendition of Blue Suede Shoes by his young charges, it was the day that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and an unknown Jerry Lee Lewis ended up in Phillips' legendary Sun studio together for the first and last time. The recordings of the impromptu jam session that followed immortalised one of the earliest supergroups to never take the stage.

In Ian Talbot's production of a decade-old Broadway hit now embarking on its first UK tour, on the one hand this becomes a feelgood nostalgia-fest featuring a series of rapid-fire rock and roll classics belted out by the four principals, alongside Katie Ray as Elvis' girlfriend Dyanne. On the other, it looks at the music business at shop floor level, with all the ego and ruthless ambition this first generation of pop stars set the template for.

Matthew Wycliffe's Carl is chippy at having been usurped by Ross William Wild's Elvis, who's taken to singing ballads and appearing in terrible movies since Phillips sold his contract to a major label. Robbie Durham's Johnny too has his eyes on life beyond Sun. Only Martin Kaye's hyped up Jerry Lee is in any way loyal to Sam. While there isn't anything here that you can't find in numerous biographies, to see what could be an extended anecdote reimagined with such vigour is a musical trainspotter's delight.

The Herald, November 3rd 2016

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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Julie Legrand - The Rivals

When Julie Legrand was growing up in Pitlochry, where she lived until she was three, she saw from afar the dubious glamour of an actor's life. This came via the family cottage in the garden that was let out as digs for members of the original Pitlochry Festival Theatre's incoming ensemble, who would perform in the theatre's summer season.

“I knew from an early age that something very special was going on down at the bottom of the garden,” Legrand says today. After more than thirty-five years as an actress on stage at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in West End musicals, as well as a leading stint in Footballers Wives on TV, Legrand is now steeped in the special world she witnessed as a child.

After more than twenty years away, this week sees her return to the even more special world of the Citz to play mispronouncing matriarch Mrs Malaprop in Dominic Hill's revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's eighteenth century comedy, The Rivals. As the show opens in Glasgow this week following runs at the show's co-producing partner theatres, Bristol Old Vic and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, it is a role Legrand is clearly relishing.

“She's a dream part,” says Legrand. “Mrs Malaprop is one of those roles you most want a crack at. She's such a delight. She's a social climber who probably had a private tutor, and read all these things with a scattergun approach without really taking everything in, but she's doing her bit, bless her. I wondered before I started performing as her how many people would recognise all of the malapropisms that she uses, but even if they don't quite get them all, people are happy to hear it. In the play she misquotes Shakespeare several times, but it doesn't matter if you don't get that, because it's funny anyway.”

The Rivals was Sheridan's first play, and its comedy of errors concerning Mrs Malaprop's attempts to marry off her niece was initially a critical disaster. Arguably it was the strength of the play's lead character that helped save it. Sheridan's creation not only left her mark dramatically, but introduced a new word to the dictionary to define the unintentional mispronunciation of words that Mrs Malaprop made so hilarious.

“Sheridan's mother, Frances Sheridan, had written a play called A Trip to Bath,” says Legrand, “and that play had a prototype of Mrs Malaprop which Sheridan developed for his play.”

Mrs Malaprop is the latest in a long line of larger than life characters Legrand has portrayed, ever since she finally gave in to the acting bug and studied drama at Webber Douglas Academy in London. Shortly after leaving drama school, she was introduced to director and designer Philip Prowse, one of the three co-directors of the Citz from 1969 to 2003, and after auditioning for him was cast in his epic production of A Waste of Time, Robert David MacDonald's take on Marcel Proust's sprawling novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, originally translated as Remembrance of Things Past.

As well as appearing alongside Havergal and MacDonald in a now unimaginable cast of twenty-seven, Legrand acted with Rupert Everett and Gary Oldman in a show that played in Amsterdam as part of the 1981 Holland Festival. Legrand also toured to Caracas the same year in Chinchilla, another Prowse production of a MacDonald play.

“It was such an exciting time,” Legrand says. Working with Rupert Everett and Gary Oldman, and later with Tim Roth, was such a thrill, and A Waste of Time was such a joy to be part of. The production was so off the wall, but it also looked so very beautiful and glamorous, and those three guys were so wonderful to work with. I remember Philip told me to go and put on a costume that had been used in another show, and then once I'd put it on he literally just started cutting away at it, and made something beautiful and new, and which looked wonderful onstage.”

Legrand returned to the Citz in 1982 for Prowse's season of plays by Jean Genet, appearing in
The Balcony, The Blacks and The Screens. She returned again for a production of John Webster's The White Devil, Chekhov's The Seagull and William Congreve's Restoration comedy, The Way of the World. Legrand last appeared on the Citz stage in 1994 in Pinero's nineteenth century melodrama, The Second Mrs Tanqueray.

“It was a glorious company to be part of,” says Legrand. “I hold that time very dear to my heart. We were all desperate to work at the Citz, and I returned there whenever I could.”

Somewhere inbetween all this, Legrand worked extensively at the company now known as the National Theatre of Great Britain, and more recently carved a niche for herself in West End musicals, including two years playing Madame Morrible in Wicked and the stripper Electra in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Gypsy.

“Musicals came later in my career,” she says. “That door opened, and I jumped through it.”

Legrand was last in Glasgow when she played the Nurse in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Romeo and Juliet. It is another nurse, however, who many audiences will know Legrand best. As Nurse Jeanette Dunkley, Legrand was a series regular in Footballers Wives, the glossily kitsch drama that looked at the roaring and scoring among the WAGS as much as the players.

“Dear Nurse Dunkley,” says Legrand. “I was cast in the first episode, but nobody had any idea how it would be received, and I ended up doing four series. But Nurse Dunkley was another one of those wonderfully iconic characters, who are mad and bad and dangerous to know.”

This has been something of a running theme throughout Legrand's career, which has seen increasingly take on parts that border on the comically grotesque.

“It's wrong,” she says, “but the baddies are always such fun to play. Not baddies exactly, because Mrs Malaprop isn't a baddie, but you wouldn't want to know them in real life. Madame Morrible in Wicked is obsessed with power, and all these richly painted and multi-layered characters are the most fun to play by far.”

For The Rivals, Legrand suggests that Hill's production has taken things a little bit further than audiences might expect from such a stalwart.

“It's a really clever thing that Dominic's done,” says Legrand. “He's brought a slightly modern twist to the play, and he's roughed it up a bit. A lot of the time period pieces can be too pristine, and watching them is sometimes like seeing them through a glass, but he's grabbed this play by the scruff of the neck, so the stench of the street at that time is still there, but there's the odd modern reference as well. By doing that, it shows that love and everything that goes with it never changes.”

The Rivals, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, November 2-19.
www.citz.co.uk

The Herald, November 1st 2016

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