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Showing posts from 2017

Claude-Michel Schonberg - Miss Saigon

It was a photograph that became the inspiration for Miss Saigon, the Vietnam War set musical that ran for a decade on the West End after its original production opened in 1989. At the time, French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alan Boublil were in the full throes of their success with Les Miserables, their musical version of Victor Hugo's epic nineteenth century novel, which had already been running on the West End for four years. That show would go on to be seen throughout the world, while in 2015 its London production celebrated its thirtieth anniversary.

With such a huge hit already on his and Boublil's hands, Schonberg was wanting to do some kind of adaptation of Madame Butterfly, Puccini's opera about a US Navy officer's love affair with a Japanese geisha. Exactly how he would do it, however, had yet to be worked out. The fact that Puccini had tried and failed to write an opera based on Les Miserables, but wrote Madame Butterfly instead after decid…

Val McDermid and Philip Howard - Message from the Skies

When Val McDermid was approached to write a new short story for Edinburgh's Hogmanay by the event's incoming producers, Underbelly, the result looks set to be illuminating on every level. Commissioned by Edinburgh's Hogmanay and Edinburgh International Book Festival, New Year's Resurrection sees McDermid move away from her crime-based novels to bring neglected nineteenth century writer Susan Ferrier back to life. Rather than being confined to the page, New Year's Resurrection will be told by way of Message from the Skies. This literary walking tour and dramatic promenade will the story's twelve chapters revealed across a dozen buildings using projections, music and recorded voices heard by way of an app.
Beginning at dusk, Message from the Skies will run every day from New Year's Day to Burns Night on January 25th, transforming the capital's city centre landscape after dark. The projections will be created by Double Take Projections, the Edinburgh-ba…

Dan Jones –Sound and Fury, Massive Attack, Nitewoks and Edinburgh's Hogmanay

Dan Jones reckons his heart will be pounding at one minute to midnight on Hogmanay. This probably won't be an unusual experience for the several hundred thousand revellers who are likely to be on Princes Street in Edinburgh as they await the midnight fireworks at the climax of this year's Edinburgh's Hogmanay street party. For Bristol-based composer and sound designer Jones, however, the stress may be heightened. This is likely to be the case for both Jones and his collaborators who've created the first ever original soundwork to accompany the annual pyrotechnical spectacular will be sixty seconds away from seeing if their vision literally goes off with a bang.

This will be the culmination of a project commissioned by incoming Edinburgh's Hogmanay producers Underbelly, in which the turn of the year fireworks display will be choreographed to a single nine-minute sound-scape. Working with Skye-based band, Niteworks, and regular firework display designers, Titanium,…

Karen Fishwick - Juliet, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

For the first time in six years, Karen Fishwick is not in panto. This time last year, the Clarkston raised actress was playing the female title role in the Citizens Theatre's seasonal production of Hansel and Gretel. This year, she's hanging out in Edinburgh, putting her feet up while her fiancée does all the work onstage over at the King's Theatre.

For many performers at this time of year trying to fill their Christmas stocking, such enforced leisure time would be a disaster. After her Christmas present came early, however, Fishwick is making the most of her time out while she can. As was announced last week, come the new year, she will begin rehearsals playing another title role as half of an altogether less cheery onstage duo when she takes the lead in the Royal Shakespeare's new production of Romeo and Juliet.

The company's latest take on Shakespeare's doomed romance will be directed by Erica Whyman, the RSC's deputy artistic director, who in 2016 bro…

John Durnin - Leaving Pitlochry Festival Theatre

It seems fitting that John Durnin's final show as artistic director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre is Singin' in the Rain. It was Durnin, after all, who first introduced the idea of producing what is a now annual large-scale Christmas show in a theatre which previously focused solely on its summer rep season of plays. During his fifteen year tenure in charge of the Perthshire based 'theatre in the hills', Durnin has expanded the season into winter even further, with a new staging of The Monarch of the Glen by Peter Arnott being a runaway success this year.

In the summer season of plays itself, Durnin has slowly but surely nudged away perceptions of PFT as an old-school purveyor of conservative commercial staples. On the one hand, he he has introduced a stand of contemporary Scottish work by writers such as Liz Lochhead, David Greig and Stephen Greenhorn into the repertoire in ways that at one time would have been unthinkable. Durnin has also staged revivals of neglect…

Shrek The Musical

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

I'm A Believer may be a song made famous by both The Monkees and Robert Wyatt, but Neil Diamond's bubblegum pop classic is spot on for the finale of writer David Lindsay-Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori's rollickingly knowing stage version of Dreamworks' animated classic. Given that the ensemble cast are all dressed up as assorted larger-than-life ogres, princesses and fairytale subversions come to dancing life in a cartoon-coloured world, the image is trippy enough to have stepped out of the Monkees' psychedelic big-screen classic, Head.
The reference probably isn't deliberate, but every other one is in a show that celebrates the weird, the outsider and the downright other while lacing the love story between jolly green giant Shrek and the too-good-to-be-true Princess Fiona with fleeting nods to its pop culture peers. Disney, Monty Python and, care of Lindsay-Abaire and Tesori, a welter of musical theatre shows are all i…

Bruce McLean - A Lawnmower in the Loft and Trying for A Sculpture

Bruce McLean doesn't like the idea of being called a performance artist. Nor has the Glasgow-born sculptor ever been the food critic for the Herald or any other newspaper. Both possibilities, however are mooted in A Lawnmower in the Loft, the hilarious new book published this month by the now seventy-something auteur. A series of auto-biographical anecdotes, the title of each in A Lawnmower in the Loft is arranged in numerical and order. As the reader moves from the opening 3 Bandy Legged Scottish Artists from Fig Street, to the final piece, Yorkie Bar Ad, McLean's adventures in the art world over the last fifty years criss-cross between decades and places. The result is a delicious series of thumb-nail sketches that are barely a page long or less to complete a jigsaw of a very funny but still serious man.

Much of the fun comes from the fact that pretty much all the yarns McLean spins on the page as if scripting a series of after-dinner yarns revolve in various ways around foo…

The Sunnyside Centre

Hibs Supporters Club, Edinburgh
Three stars
The doors stay closed once the audience have found sanctuary from the un-named chaos outside in Village Pub Theatre's imagined response to a world gone mad. In the Hibs Supporters Club function room, a magician plays tricks at a small table while we are split into colour-coded groups. On the dance-floor, on the stage and over by the bar, other bodies are loitering, finding space to breathe as they hide in plain sight.

Over the next hour, these five survivors share their stories through a series of bite-size encounters that recall the scenes in disaster movies when everyone's thrown together in crisis and discovers the person beyond the strangers they would otherwise never have met. This is certainly the case for the magician in Les, Sophie Good's one-man opening gambit performed by Crawford Logan. It's true too in The Administrator, in which Tim Barrow's clipboard-wielding middle manageress confesses all.

In James Ley…

Nigel Harman and Laura Main - Shrek The Musical

Nigel Harman wasn't someone theatre audiences might immediately see as being right to appear in Shrek The Musical, composer Jeanine Tesori and writer David Linday-Abaire's stage version of the 2001 animated feature film, which in its relatively short life has become a modern classic. Here, after all, was an actor who had become a household name from his role as Dennis Rickman in TV soap East Enders a decade before, and whose initial shift into stage musicals saw him take on similarly swaggering roles such as hard-boiled gambler Sky Masterson in a West End production of Guys and Dolls.

Harman's turn as Shrek's arch villain, the comically diminutive Lord Farquaad, not only caused the actor appear on his knees throughout the show, but saw him win an Olivier award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical. Such was Harman's affinity with the show that in 2014 he was invited to direct Shrek's UK tour. This is a role he continues as the latest leg of the tour open…

Sarah Rose, Susannah Stark, Hanna Tuulikki – Lilt, Twang, Tremor

CCA, Glasgow until January 14th 2018
Four stars

The female voice is at the centre of this exhibition by three artists who go beyond words to construct a series of town and country landscapes. These veer between communal chorales, silent environments and public proclamations. The sounds of Hanna Tuulikki's cloud-cuckoo-island (2016) and Away with the Birds (2014) overlap in a way that leaves space enough for both to breathe. Filmed on Eigg, the former finds Tuulikki taking on the mantle of Irish king, 'Mad Sweeney', whose call of the wild communes with a real life cuckoo. Away with the Birds is a group vocal composition heard on headphones that evokes a poetic impression of flight in formation.
Susannah Stark's Agora of Cynics (2017) is a series of Greek style foam columns which house a stage for public discourse. This comes through Searchlights (2017), a sound-work produced with musician Donald Hayden, which sets Berlin Wall graffiti and words from a World War Two inte…

How to Disappear

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

When Robert's benefits assessor from the Department of Work and Pensions takes a peek into his wardrobe mid-way through Morna Pearson's astonishing new play, to suggest she gets more than she bargained for is something of an under-statement. Such is the way of things in the worlds Pearson conjures up. On the one hand, Robert and his younger sister Isla have seemingly been abandoned, both by their father, who has gone AWOL at a weekend rave, and by a society represented by Jessica's overly-officious form.
Robert hasn't been out of his bed-room since Helen Daniels' death in daytime TV soap, Neighbours, an event so traumatic that he cocoons himself away, peeling off his skin and hair while a menagerie of exotic pets shed skins of their own. Isla has effectively taken charge of the collapsing household, but she too is barely keeping it together.

As told in Pearson's rich and gloriously unhinged Doric, this initially looks li…

Singin' in the Rain

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

There's a moment everyone's been waiting for in outgoing Pitlochry Festival Theatre artistic director John Durnin's pre Christmas revival of the stage musical that brought Stanley Donen's 1952 film to full soaking life. The recreation of the film's iconic title number, in which silent movie star Don Lockwood hoofs his way through every puddle in town, goes down a storm. This is especially so for the front row revellers caught in the splash-back, so heartily chuffed are they to be part of something that seems to have burst through the big screen that made it so familiar.
This accidental move into immersive theatre speaks volumes about the power of all-singing, all dancing evergreens such as this, which retains both Betty Comden and Adolph Green's original screenplay and its accompanying songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. As it charts the move from silent movies to talking pictures, the show itself is a knowing peek …

Futureproof 2017

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow until February 4th 2018
Four stars

Now in its ninth year, Futureproof's showcase of recent graduate photographers from seven Scottish art schools and universities returns to its spiritual home at Street Level, with nineteen artists embracing photo essays, abstraction and constructed narratives. It is Karlyn Marshall's Willies, Beuys and Me that grabs you first. Tucked in a corner, this depiction of a woman impersonating iconic artist Joseph Beuys says much about gender stereotyping, and recalls Manfred Karge's play, Man to Man, in which a German woman took on her dead husband's identity.

The personal and the political converge throughout. Ben Soedera's Foreign Sands contrasts natural resources and the constructed world. Gareth and Gavin Bragdon's The Bragdon Brothers moves onto the carnivalesque streets of Edinburgh. Kieran Delaney's Moments also looks at the apparently ordinary. Matthew Buick goes further afield, as tourists…

A Christmas Carol

Dundee Rep
Four stars

“Let them die,” says Scrooge about the beggars proffering their hands outside his well-insulated front door at the start of Dundee Rep's Christmas show. “Decrease the excess population.”
Charles Dickens' emotionally stunted miser hates the poor and the disabled, and imposes working conditions that would give latter day sweat-shop owners a run for their very dirty money. With a CV that resembles that of any latter-day fat cat you'd care to name, one could be forgiven for thinking the setting of Andrew Panton's seasonal production might have been updated in Neil Duffield's stage adaptation. As it is, there's very little need in a production which casts Scrooge as a woman, played with a magnificent sense of self-loathing by Ann Louise Ross.

Before that, we're ushered into designer Richard Evans' multiple layered Dickensian terrain by the nine-strong cast singing and playing a series of Christmas carols. They begin by parading through …

Caitlin Skinner - The Sunnyside Centre and Village Pub Theatre

If a zombie apocalypse runs riot on the streets of Edinburgh, where do you go for sanctuary? This was one of the starting points for The Sunnyside Centre, the first full stage production by the Leith based Village Pub Theatre. The answer for the company's artistic director Caitlin Skinner and the five writers who have collaborated on bringing their own visions to the table is the Hibs Supporters Club, the window-less function room down an alleyway off Easter Road. More known for post match socials, the club has become the host venue for the company's compendium of linked plays, as well as a key part of the production's over-riding concept. This stems too from VPT's DIY ethos, which has grown out of regular monthly nights of scratch performances seen in the bijou confines of the Village pub in South Forth Street, off Leith Walk.

“We've been interested for a while in how to turn what we do in the pub on a regular basis in an informal, social, fun, seat-of-your-pan…

Bdy_Prts

Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh
Saturday December 2nd


It should probably come as no surprise that professional dancers are in the audience for the Edinburgh leg of this mini tour by spectral performance art/pop auteurs Bdy_Prts on the back of the release of their sublime debut album, The Invisible Hero. Beyond the music, the raison d’etre of Bdy_Prts’ dynamic duo of Jill O'Sullivan and Jenny Reeve, after all, is a flamboyantly costumed display of kinetic physical jerks and modernist shape-throwing to illustrate a set of fizzing machine-age chorales.

In this sense, the Bdy_Prts live experience is several works of art for the price of one that's a long way from the pair's formative work fronting Sparrow and the Workshop (O'Sullivan) and Strike the Colours (Reeve). Part living sculptures, part Bloomsbury Group super-heroines, part widescreen pop fabulists, O'Sullivan and Reeve paint their faces with ancient symbols and sport customised shoulder pads that look both seasonally …

Garry Robson, Birds of Paradise and The Tin Soldier

Garry Robson was in Russia when the idea for a production of Hans Christian Andersen's The Tin Soldier first took root. The actor and artistic director of leading disabled theatre company Birds of Paradise was in St Petersburg to do some work with young people, and was taken into an orphanage.

“Disabled kids in Russia by and large aren't brought up in the community,” says Robson, “and tend to stay in orphanages which are housed in old gulags called internats, where the kids stay for life. I was asked to do a workshop in one which was liberal arts based. I did the workshop, and while I was there I realised that most of the kids were never going to leave here. That's the fate of most disabled kids in these places, and who, left ton their own devices, form family groupings with each other, and develop a rich imagination. That struck me as something very powerful, and I wanted to do something with it in a way that would be right for Birds of Paradise.”

The result of this is Mi…

Cinderella

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The giant circular clock mechanism that frames the stage for the Citz's very twenty-first century take on Cinderella suggests that time is moving on for stories like this. As the moon looks down as part of Gabriella Slade's steam-punk style design, it too marks the changes going on below. Here, young Isabella mourns her mother, even as her father weds Irene Allan's ghastly Lady Claudia, inheriting her hideous daughters Claudine and Claudette as part of the deal. As the trio conspire against Isabella, banishing her to the kitchen and christening her Cinderella, they inadvertently secure her destiny by default.
Sinead Sharkey's Cinderella is a heroine full of attitude from the off as she swishes her way incognito through various royal balls inbetween slaving over a hot stove. As her nemeses, Hannah Howie and Caroline Deyga's Claudine and Claudette resemble a spoilt brat mash-up of Strawberry Switchblade and long lost nineties t…

The Arabian Nights

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Down at the very common market the dogs are howling in Suhayla El-Bushra's new family friendly take on the classic Middle Eastern story-book. As brought to life by Ross MacKay's puppets in Joe Douglas' handsomely realised production, the two dogs become a framing device for a Russian doll of a show, in which stories within stories lead to ongoing enlightenment.
Stories, alas, are banned by rule of the Sultan, a bureaucratic NIMBY, who has young Scheherazade's yarn-spinning mum and her fellow stall-holders locked up. Scheherazade proves herself a chip off the old block by blagging her way into the palace, where she regales the Sultan with some shaggy dog stories of her own.

Out of Scheherazade's fantastical imagination pop up a series of universally familiar figures, from Aladdin to Sinbad and a story-book of fellow travellers made flesh in a series of comic turns from Douglas' energetic ten-strong cast. As Rehanna Ma…

Faust

Summerhall, Edinburgh
Wednesday November 29th

It may be twenty years since kosmiche deconstructionists Faust almost caused a minor panic by letting off fireworks and flares in an Edinburgh nightclub as part of their performance, but sparks still fly when they come together. This is evident from the new Fresh Air album by what after forty-six somewhat nomadic years since they formed in Wumme, near Hamburg, is now the band's core duo of bass player, vocalist and self-styled 'art-errorist' Jean-Herve Peron and drummer Werner 'Zappi' Diermaier. It's true too in the pair's first Edinburgh show for the best part of a decade (they brought a cement mixer that time) as part of Summerhall's ever-adventurous Nothing Ever Happens Here programme.

Mid-way through the set, Peron stoops low, so his long grey hair is all you see of him before the crunch of the angle-grinder he wields causes cascades of fire to flume into the air. The sparks are dangerously close to bo…