Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Jackie Wylie - Take Me Somewhere

When the Arches was forced to close down in 2015 following Police Scotland's recommendations to Glasgow Licensing Board that the pioneering club and arts venue should have its late license withdrawn, it seemed to mark an end to a spirit of artistic freedom in Glasgow that the former railway arch so playfully defined.

That freedom had existed over almost twenty-five years, ever since the Arches Theatre Company was founded by its original director Andy Arnold as the accidental progeny of Glasgow's Year of European Culture in 1990. Under the leadership of Arnold and then Jackie Wylie, the Arches became a globally recognised experimental hothouse that nurtured and developed artists, many of whom went on to become a kind of in-house artistic family.

Two years since the Arches closed, that spirit is back in Take Me Somewhere, a three-week city-wide festival of the sort of radical performance work from a younger generation of artists who first cut their teeth at the Midland Street venue. Rather than being confined to one space, Take Me Somewhere looks set to take place in venues ranging from the Tron to Tramway, from Platform to the Glue Factory, the CCA, Gilmorehill and the Citizens Theatre.

The Take Me Somewhere programme contains work by names familiar to Arches audiences. Kieran Hurley and Julia Taudevin revive their Edinburgh Festival Fringe hits, Heads Up and Blow Off respectively. Nic Green and Take Me Somewhere artist in residence Peter McMaster also came through the Arches. International artists such as El Conde de Torrefiel from Spain and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko from the USA will also appear, with Edinburgh Festival Fringe hits such as Lucy McCormick's Triple Threat and High Heels in Low Places by Panti also on the bill. Andy Arnold presents a site-specific tour of the Tron, and there is even a Scratch Night featuring the sort of works in progress which, at similar nights at the Arches, were later developed into era-defining performances.

With many of the producing and administrative team behind Take Me Somewhere also Arches alumni, this is in part Wylie getting the old gang back together. Developed with support from Creative Scotland and Glasgow Life, it is much more besides.

“It's about the spirit and energy of everyone involved really believing that Take Me Somewhere needs to happen,” says Wylie, “and being really determined that it will. As well as working with artists that we knew in Glasgow, we wanted to bring in international artists, so local artists could work beside them, and have a sense of excitement around the city. We spoke to all the other venues in Glasgow, and after going through all the grief after losing the Arches, finding out how we could do work together was really exciting ”

When Wylie talks about the Arches, it is with the language of loss, as if a family had been shattered by cruel events outwith its control.

“It was devastating,” Wylie says of the closure. “For me as artistic director it was devastating, but it was for artists and audiences as well, because what was so special about the Arches was the community and the energy that community created that was part of a virtuous cycle. To have that suddenly taken away was heart-breaking for everybody.”

Wylie is living proof of how the crossovers between artforms presented in the Arches changed lives. Her first experience of the building was as a clubber while a student, a time when she also performed there as part of an ad hoc theatre company. From there, she went on to become arts programmer, and was already in with the bricks when she was appointed artistic director following Arnold's departure to the Tron.

Since the closure of the Arches, and inbetween leading the development of Take Me Somewhere, Wylie has been appointed artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, a post she will take up in March. Between now and then, Take Me Somewhere will square up to a world which has changed considerably since the Arches closed

“It's very political,” Wylie says of the festival. “Not with a big 'P', but a lot of the shows that are on are asking challenging questions that need to be asked. We didn't plan it that way, but artists are going to respond to the situation they're in, and works like Heads Up and Blow Off are already responding to crisis and the socio-political moment in time that we're currently living through.”

Rather than sliding into tub-thumping polemic, there is an intimacy about the Take Me Somewhere programme which again draws its energy from the Arches. This stems in particular from the lingering presence of the late Adrian Howells, whose participatory one-to-one performances became a spiritual touchstone of the Arches before his passing in 2014.

As part of Take Me Somewhere, the Gilmorehill Centre will host The Art of Care-Full Practice, a symposium exploring the ways in which both the self and others need to be looked after in the development of intimate artistic work. There will also be a presentation of a work in progress by Nic Green, the 2017 winner of the Adrian Howells Award for Intimate Performance, set up in Howells' honour. Even here, Wylie recognises that such work can't fall prey to navel gazing.

“One thing uppermost in my mind about the situation we find ourselves in just now is that being loving is as bold and as important as being angry,” she says. “Artists and everyone else need to use both to find a way forward. It's important to huddle together, but you also have to find solutions.”

Take Me Somewhere is itself part of that solution.

“This is an evolution of what the Arches did before,” says Wylie. “It's about looking outwards, and isn't just about what goes on in one building, but is about Glasgow in its entirety and the international perspective that comes out of that.”

Wylie isn't in a position yet to talk about her forthcoming tenure at the National Theatre of Scotland. While her brief as artistic director is something she recognises will be broad, the influence of her experience at the Arches and with Take Me Somewhere is something she will undoubtedly take with her.

“The National Theatre of Scotland supports the infrastructure of Scottish theatre right across the country,” she says, “and collaborative projects are a big part of that.”

Once in post at the NTS, what happens regarding the future of Take Me Somewhere as an ongoing entity will no longer be Wylie's concern. Given the team she has put in place, it is in very capable hands.

“Take Me Somewhere is funded for a year,” she says, “and the existing team are working together as we go into this first festival to consider how it might be an important part of Glasgow's arts calendar as the Arches was before it. In terms of developing and supporting the sort of work that's on in Take Me Somewhere, there is a very clear need for it. The Arches proved that, and given the work that is already going on, hopefully Take Me Somewhere will be able to keep on proving it.”

The Herald, January 31st 2017

Take Me Somewhere runs at various venues in Glasgow from February 22-March 12.


Sunday, 29 January 2017


King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

When a group of brightly-dressed young women walk onstage with pastily made up faces and microphones in their hands, at first glance you could be forgiven for mistaking them for an X-Factor style girl group, desperately aiming to please. Given that the door they've just walked through is a giant gynaecologically inclined opening of another kind, this is the first hint that things aren't quite what they seem in this riotous new version of ancient Greek comedian Aristophanes' radical sex comedy.

Aristophanes penned his knockabout meditation concerning a sex strike initiated by the women of Athens and Sparta in order to bring about a swift end to the interminable Peloponnesian War in 411 BC. In the hands of the newly inaugurated Attic Collective – a fresh initiative from Festival City Theatres Trust to shake up their programme while giving a year-long opportunity to an ensemble of eighteen young actors – director Susan Worsfold's audacious staging looks eye-brow-raisingly current.

Given that Worsfold's production arrived onstage this weekend on the back of the worldwide Women's Marches, this is even more the case in a seventy-five minute show that gets to grips with radical feminism with an irreverent glee that isn't shy of talking dirty, channelling twenty-first century pop culture as it goes. Pussy Riot and a pneumatic Kardashian who puts out as Reconciliation are all in the mix, and the amount of blow-up rubber phalluses being sported onstage by a chorus of horny but ultimately impotent men in suits suggests that Edinburgh's hen night party shops might be in need of a restock.

With so much going on, this is an understandably messy affair, but the cast, led by Cait Irvine as a commanding Lysistrata and Conor McLeod as the leader of her macho opposition relish in every minute of it. Adam George Butler's Cinesias revels in his limp ridiculousness, while Sally Cairns's Myrrhine and Imogen Reiter's Calonice reclaim their power with unabashed cheek. The thrust, as it were, of the story's modern-day political parallels is made even more explicit by some of the placards on display.

As a statement of intent, the Attic Collective's first outing under Worsfold and creative producer Cat Sheridan's artistic leadership is throwing down the gauntlet and ripping up the rule-book about what can be done by a young company on a big stage. This makes for penetrating stuff on every level.

The Herald, January 30th 2017



Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
Four stars

There are protests on the streets, people are starving, and everybody's looking for some scapegoat to blame at the opening of Gareth Nicholls' production of Shakespeare's war-time tragedy, performed here by the RCS' second year BA Acting students. There are chair-bound insurgents, too, who are happy to snipe from the sidelines, wolfing down popcorn as the spectacle is played out, before they too are driven to take direct action.

In one of his most overtly political plays, Shakespeare's fable about a military man who is persuaded into politics by his mother couldn't be more pertinent right now. Seriously out of his depth and prone to headstrong rages and random attacks, Coriolanus treats the common people he is there to serve with contempt, and his reign can't help but be doomed from the start. Even the people's suited and booted tribunes see it coming.

This is an action play as much as a political one, as Nicholls recognises by setting the tough-guy sparring on designer Alisa Kalyanova's dimly-lit landscape of barren top-soil in the RCS' Chandler Studio space. Jack Simpson's Coriolanus is from common stock, a gobby firebrand who's as happy to scoff a Pot Noodle while his Ma' Volumnia tells him what for as he is to slug it out on the frontline with his nemesis turned unlikely ally Aufidius.

This makes for a production that is full of strident confrontation, but which retains a thoughtful intelligence that never takes sides. As the common people sit back and slumber into complacency once more, the death of a tyrant becomes one more public sideshow to snack on as the world collapses around them.

The Herald, January 30th 2017


Inverleith House - One More Victim of the Culture Wars

As dusk fell on October 23rd 2016, Inverleith House, the internationally renowned, publicly-owned contemporary art gallery housed within the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, closed its doors. It was the final day of I Still Believe in Miracles, a thirtieth anniversary exhibition that brought together work by some of the most celebrated artists in the world, who had all shown at Inverleith House during its astonishing artistic life. This wasn’t just a normal exhibition closure, however.

Earlier that week, it had been reported that Inverleith House would no longer be continuing with a dedicated contemporary art programme, and that I Still Believe in Miracles was likely to be the last exhibition to be held in Inverleith House. On the day of the closure, Product published an open letter to RBGE’s board of trustees posing twenty-three questions. These were in response to what appeared to be a lack of transparency regarding a then-unseen publicly funded report, A Future for Inverleith House, drafted by Glasgow-based commercial consultants, Kelly and Company. Amongst other things, Product asked why the staff of Inverleith House had been instructed not to speak to the media.

The questions can be found here – http://www.productmagazine.co.uk/ideas/open-letter/

Three months on, and despite numerous requests to RBGE, no answers have been forthcoming. Product has repeatedly informed RBGE that any answers they give will be published in full. Product has also asked RBGE that if they are unable or unwilling to answer the twenty-three questions, if they could explain why. Again, they were told that their answer would be published unedited. This is to ensure that RBGE is not misrepresented in any way.

RBGE’s press office has assured Product that written answers to the questions will be given shortly. Should they ever materialise, these will be posted in full.

A petition calling for RBGE’s decision to be reversed, initiated by journalist Joyce McMillan, has at the time of writing received more than 10,000 signatories. It can be found here. – https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/prevent-the-closure-of-inverleith-house-edinburgh-as-a-public-art-space

The gallery’s enforced closure itself saw an estimated 700 protestors visit Inverleith House for what was styled by organisers the Scottish Contemporary Art Network as a mass visit.

As the petition grew, another open letter was drawn up. Drafted and signed by more than 200 major artists and high-profile figures including Richard Demarco, Douglas Gordon and Tracey Emin, it was sent on November 8th 2016 was addressed to Sir Muir Russell, the former Scottish Government civil servant who is the chair of RBGE’s board of trustees.

Other signatories of the letter included actors Val Kilmer and Ewan McGregor. As some wag pointed out, if Inverleith House has Batman and Obi Wan Kenobi on side, the not-so-super villains who closed it had better watch out. The letter can be found here – http://www.saveinverleithhouse.com/open-letter.html

In truth, such vital high-profile support is up against a form of cultural vandalism that attacks, not with Hollywood high kicks and light sabres, but with the furtive cunning of middle-managers doing a stock-take.

On November 18th 2016, a redacted version of A Future for Inverleith House was released to several publications, including Product, following a Freedom of Information request from the Herald newspaper. If documents released by way of an FOI are redacted, with some material blanked out, it’s often for reasons of commercial sensitivity. The report was released on the final day of the deadline required for a response to all FOI requests.

At the time of writing, A Future for Inverleith House has yet to be published, either on RBGE’s website or anywhere else in the public domain, as Product was led to believe would be the case.

The redacted version of A Future for Inverleith House report can be found here: A Future for Inverleith House_FINAL Redacted for Issue

Over fifty-five pages, A Future for Inverleith House makes numerous proposals regarding the best ways for Inverleith House to move forward. Some of these are sensible and achievable, others less so. Such is the way of reports like this, which must attempt to cover all bases. At no point, however, is there any recommendation that RBGE should abruptly shut down Inverleith House’s art programme without warning, without any apparent public consultation and without any meaningful statement of intent regarding its future.

Holyrood has been oddly quiet on the subject other than a supportive tweet from Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop and the announcement of a yet-to-be-convened working group. But at Westminster, an early day motion tabled by SNP MP George Kerevan has thus far been signed by sixteen MPs. The motion can be found here. – https://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/712

Meanwhile, in a badly-lit corner next to the toilets of the John Hope Gateway building at the main West Gate entrance of RBGE, an exhibition of thirty posters for exhibitions shown at Inverleith House can be seen. At the entrance of the exhibition, called I Still Believe..., the name of every show seen there over the last thirty years is listed. Its classicist formality gives it the air of a monument.

As autumn turned to winter, the doors of Inverleith House remained closed, and Product’s questions remained unanswered. In December, the 2016 Turner Prize was awarded to painter and sculptor Helen Marten. This was for works that included projects at the 56th Venice Biennale and her solo exhibition, Eucalyptus Let Us In, seen at Greene Naftali in New York.

Although the announcement of Marten’s win largely met with quiet admiration, former UK Cabinet Minister Michael Gove tweeted his disapproval, describing Marten’s work as ‘modish crap.’ Gove had previously commented that the Turner Prize “celebrates ugliness, nihilism and narcissism – the tragic emptiness of now.” Given that over the last thirty years Inverleith House has shown the most Turner Prize winners and nominees outside of the Tate Gallery in London, this brings us back to RBGE’s ongoing closure of the space.

The opinions of RBGE’s senior staff on contemporary art are not on record. Nor is it known what arts-based qualifications are held by the RBGE staff who sanctioned the closure. It is worth noting that Inverleith House’s Director and Curator of Exhibitions for the last thirty years, Paul Nesbitt, is a qualified botanist.

Whatever the views of senior RBGE staff on contemporary art, they don’t justify the closure of a gallery which has been at the centre of Scottish life for fifty years, ever since Inverleith House became the first home of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. It does call into question why anyone seemingly lacking any knowledge of visual art was appointed to take decisions for an organisation sporting an adored and internationally-respected art gallery.

This is the real rub of the sorry saga that has given RBGE more negative publicity than it has had in its entire history, and which has damaged the reputations of those who sanctioned a decision from which they now appear to be back-tracking.

In December, RBGE’s Regius Keeper Simon Milne appeared on TV and radio suggesting that RGBE and Inverleith House will continue some kind of arts-based programme. But what exactly does he mean?

What will any future RGBE visual art programme consist of? Who will curate it? Will it be a curator who is a trained botanist with thirty years worth of experience highlighting the symbiotic relationship between art and the natural world, as is the case with Paul Nesbitt? Or will this once amazing space for thrilling and challenging art be reduced to showing bland job lots designed to brighten up department store cafeterias?

The vagueness of RBGE’s language echoes that used by the property developers currently trying to buy up every patch of public land in Edinburgh and beyond. Similarly vague noises regarding artistic provision in various high-rolling constructions are made, only for them to be mysteriously airbrushed from the blueprint once bricks and mortar are in place.

This is plain from the proposals of the developers and hoteliers currently attempting to turn the City of Edinburgh Council-owned old Royal High School – a shamefully neglected historic site once mooted to become the home of the Scottish Parliament – into an elite hotel. It’s plain too in the ongoing proposals for other hotel developments in Edinburgh in the Cowgate and King Stables Road.

What sort of artistic provision RBGE is suggesting for Inverleith House remains unclear, as does how its dismissal of the A Future for Inverleith House report tallies with whichever way the organisation proceeds. Whether such a seeming contradiction might work within the long-awaited working group remains to be seen.

While the working group will consist of still yet to be named representatives from Creative Scotland and other interested bodies, it isn’t clear yet whether Paul Nesbitt will be included. Given that he has included a botanical frame of reference in every Inverleith House show during his tenure, and that he understands the relationship between art and the natural world in a way that senior RBGE staff patently do not, his presence in all discussions is vital.

Under RBGE’s current management, there is no apparent will for Inverleith House to remain as a committed contemporary art space, and any talk of Inverleith House not washing its face financially is a red herring. Questions need to be asked too regarding any future commercial events already booked into Inverleith House, and what role Sodexo might play in them. Sodexo is a multi-national company based in France who deliver retail catering, restaurant, public cleaning, sales, marketing and events services at RBGE.

The decision by RBGE to close Inverleith House was at best ill thought-out and seriously misguided. It was made even more so by the – to be kind – na├»ve belief that the door of Inverleith House could be locked on October 23rd 2016 without any announcement, and that nobody would notice, let alone kick up a fuss. The decision was also ideological.

Inverleith House is the latest victim of an ongoing culture war being conducted quietly but effectively by managerialists, bureaucrats and social engineers who think only in terms of financial gain, and who would rather shut down all artistic activity that doesn’t act as a pacifier. Anything complicated, awkward or noisy, anything rooted in ideas and truth rather than sentiment or kitsch, or anything that just can’t make a buck, is no longer considered valid for these post-truth, anti-intellectual times.

So when RBGE say that Inverleith House can’t wash its face financially, and when Michael Gove describes Helen Marten’s work as ‘modish crap’, these are the dispatches of a philistine establishment who, as Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Wilde also had plenty to say, incidentally, concerning the relationship between art and nature.

The decision by RBGE middle managers to shut down Inverleith House’s contemporary art programme is the unintended epitome of Gove’s soulless rhetoric regarding ‘the tragic emptiness of now.’ Those who made the decision, and those like them, will continue to rake over stony ground, stamping out any blossoming of artistic life they can’t quite get their bean-counting heads around. It may take a miracle to make it happen, but if Inverleith House is not reclaimed by the public to whom it belongs, those behind its closure won’t be the only ones living in the wilderness.

Blurt – Live at Oto (Salamander Records)

In 2015, Ted Milton's skronk-punk power trio Blurt released their Beneath Discordant Skies album on Salamander Records. After almost forty years on the margins, Milton had grown nostalgic for the days of recording in the cramped four-track studio run by his brother and former Blurt drummer Jake not long after the band had been formed in Stroud, Gloucestershire. This followed Milton's peripatetic career as a book-binder, a poet whose work appeared in the definitive 1960s UK underground anthology, Children of Albion, and an avant-garde puppeteer who had been seen both in Terry Gilliam's film, Jabberwocky, and on Tony Wilson's pioneering arts magazine show, So it Goes.

Some of Blurt's early material appeared on Wilson's Factory record label, since when Milton and various line-ups of his trio have released a plethora of wilfully off-kilter material, with no recognisable indulgences in multi-track overdubs apparent. For their sixteenth album, Milton and co decamped to the three metres square Moriaki Skyway studio in London's East End for a rehearsal free recording in which guitarist Steve Eagles and drummer David Aylward provided off-the-cuff musical arrangements to accompany Milton's skewed poetics.

The band honed the songs on the live circuit over the next six months, and by the time they played their show at Dalston's definitive underground venue in January 2016, as captured on this vinyl-only edition, the set was at a peak of machine-gun ferocity. Not that any edges have been rubbed off. If on Beneath Discordant Skies the songs were straining against the claustrophobic space the band were contained within, here they've burst into the open, gurning, shrieking and squawking, but sounding more urgent than ever.

Blurt frequently sound as if Milton is pushing against some invisible forcefield that will allow him to not just connect with the audience, but prompt them into some kind of collective action. It's like when Blurt played at Optimo a decade or so ago, and Glasgow's late-night Sunday art-rock crowd flung themselves about the room with an abandon that tapped into the band's appositely bass-free groove. More recently, the same year Beneath Discordant Skies was recorded, Milton was co-opted to record authentic free jazz sax for the soundtrack of the Edinburgh International Festival staging of Alasdair Gray's fantastical novel, Lanark.

While these incidents demonstrate how much Milton straddles generations as well as artforms, the odds that something similar to what happened at Optimo occurred at Oto are slim, however much the opening stabbing guitar pattern and metronomic drums of Let Them Be invites it before Milton declaims like some fire and brimstone anti-capitalist preacher at Hyde Park Corner. Milton's voice rises and falls as he lets rip his fractured poetry until words are no longer enough and his saxophone takes over. The guitars are funkier on Giant Lizards on High, a B movie monster flick soundtrack in waiting that channels the vocal theatrics of Adi Newton of Clock DVA, the polemic of Mark Stewart and the Pop Group and – especially – John Lydon on Metal Box-era Public Image Limited.

I Wan See Ella is a jittery, skittery St Vitus Dance of a song, with Milton's quasi-pidgen English utterings reducing language to a bare minimum. It's this clipped brevity that counts in the music as well. This is no freeform freak-out, but a calculated exercise in tautly-strung minimalist expressionism that operates in meticulously precise parameters.

Where's the Blue Gone? begins with a borderline Afro-Beat, fusing continents and cultures as it taps into a primitivist European sense of the absurd. Eagles’ guitar threatens to let rip on Stella By Arc Light with a proggier edge, but instead prowls around the edges, lending texture to Milton's monologue.

Side Two opens with the reggae skank of Fresh Meat For Martyrs, a dark narrative peppered with deranged laughter. Oh Look Who's Out on Parole! features distorted sax and guitar circling the neighbourhood with menaces as Milton gawks with disturbed wonder like a spectator at a 1940s London crime scene. Listen to Me, Shirley! sounds possessed by Captain Beefheart before the album's title track takes control, with Aylward's glam-tastically bouncy drums poundingly at odds with Milton's honking discourse.

To close, They'll be Here Soon! opens with middle eastern shimmy and a military drumbeat before Milton embarks on a mournful tale part Samuel Beckett, part dystopian disaster. Milton's portents of doom veer into a howl before finishing with handclaps and a show-stopping piece of audience participation.

As the five minutes of artfully-shot black and white footage of the show that appears on YouTube makes clear , Live at Oto is crying out for an accompanying DVD release. Blurt aren't just a band. They're an oppositionist abstract-expressionist performance art troupe, and the visual physicality of Milton is as important as the music. The spoken-word section and the apocalyptic Barbie doll puppet show prologue featured on the album cover are essential components of the Milton/Blurt experience, and everyone should bear witness to their power and fury in any way they can.

Product, January 2017


Thursday, 26 January 2017

The Winter's Tale

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The world seems to be looking backwards at the start of Cheek by Jowl's touring presentation of Shakespeare's late period mash-up of light and shade. The homo-erotic locker-room rough and tumble between young kings Leontes and Polixenes that follows sees Leontes attempt to persuade his life-long buddy to hang out just a while longer. This is is a hint of the fall-out to come in Declan Donnellan's modern dress production, which flits between the stately seriousness of Sicilia and the anything-goes back-woods of Bohemia.

Orlando James' Leontes manipulates his own imagination as he moves Polixenes and his own wife Hermione around like statues. In the public trial that follows, it his macho insecurity that fires his jealousy, so his fear of the truth destroys everything he has, including himself. Such is the way with men in power.

Fast forward sixteen years, and Leontes and Hermione's lost daughter Perdita has grown up in what appears to be rural Ireland. At the sheep-shearing that fires the second half of the show's brio, there is line-dancing, a hipster's open mic night and a Jeremy Kyle style confessional, but there is also romance, as Perdita and Florizel's amours are rudely interrupted before events turn serious once more.

A formal depth hangs heavy over Donnellan's production, with the lights dimming red over the wooden shipping container at the back of Nick Ormerod's set that transports us between worlds. The company's youthful fourteen-strong ensemble similarly switch moods, with Eleanor McLoughlin's Perdita as much a life-force as Natalie Radmall-Quirke's Hermione. As for Leontes, reconciliation, when it comes, is made bittersweet in the play's final painterly tableaux by the lingering image of what was so needlessly lost.

The Herald, January 27th 2017


Wednesday, 25 January 2017


The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

Outside a high-rise block , Alice is celebrating her fortieth birthday by having the worst day of her life. The lift is broken, her car's been stolen and she's about to be sacked from her job for being late. To add insult to injury, her ex husband she still holds a cowed candle for has just announced he's remarrying. Only Alice's sensible daughter Ellie is there to keep everything together. When Ellie disappears down the lift shaft with Dave Willetts' avuncular White Rabbit, Alice and her socially awkward neighbour Jack are forced to follow into the abyss.

This isn't the most obvious opening to a musical inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice stories, but this is what you get in composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Jack Murphy's show, with an original book co-written by Murphy and Gregory Boyd. Adapted by Robert Hudson for the show's UK debut following a short Broadway run in 2011, the Wonderland the trio fall into in Lotte Wakeham's production is a multi-coloured kaleidoscope peopled with cartoon grotesques who could have stepped out of a Katy Perry or a Lady Gaga pop video.

While the songs retain a poppy infectiousness that allows for a boy band pastiche, power ballads and everything inbetween, this is an Alice for the Women's March generation, as both Kerry Ellis' Alice and Naomi Morris' Ellie are empowered to stand up to Natalie McQueen's Mad Hatter and Wendi Peters' Queen of Hearts. Ellis and McQueen in particular are in fine voice as they eventually find common ground in a fantastical fable that's about women standing up to bullies and taking control of their own destiny without fear.

The Herald, January 26th 2017


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Caroline Paterson - Cuttin' a Rug

Caroline Paterson reckons she was about seventeen years old when she and fellow students were allowed in to watch rehearsals of Cuttin' a Rug, the second part of John Byrne's Slab Boys trilogy of plays. That was at the Traverse Theatre's old Grassmarket space, which premiered all three of Byrne's plays in productions directed by David Hayman. A few years later, and by now a professional actress of note, Paterson appeared in Byrne's 1950s set play in Edinburgh and Dundee, playing the object of the play's male double act's affections, Lucille Bentley, in a cast that also included Robert Carlyle and Alan Cumming.

More than thirty years on from her first encounter with Byrne's play, Paterson herself is directing Cuttin' a Rug in a brand new production at the Gorbals-based Citizens Theatre, where Hayman directed a revival of The Slab Boys in 2015. Cuttin' a Rug is set a few hours after the first play, which focuses on the thwarted ambitions of Spanky Farrell and Phil McCann, their lust for Lucille and their bullying of fellow slab boy Hector. This pair of fast-talking paint-shop apprentices are desperate to get out of A.F. Stobo and Co's Paisley-based carpet factory and into a world where James Dean was king and rock and roll gave pulse to disaffected youths just like them.

The second play, originally performed as The Loveliest Night of the year and later broadcast on radio as The Staffie, sees the pair swagger into the staff Christmas dance at Paisley Town Hall, where even more drama ensues. As Paterson explains, her early experiences of the play, both as an onlooker and an actress, have left their mark.

“Cuttin' a Rug was one of the first plays I ever saw,” the Kirkcaldy-born actress turned director explains. “I thought it was such a great play, just to hear the language John wrote for it. It's a play about young people, and it was already huge when I saw it, and it's written in a way that I think is still relevant now. Everyone has nights like that, where they don't want to go to work on Monday because they made such a fool of themselves, and I just think John Byrne's our national treasure. To have someone like that who can write and draw and paint, he's a genius.”

Byrne sat in for the first read-through of Paterson's production.

“We were in awe of him,” she says, “listening to all his stories about the time the play is set in. A lot of young people don't know that time, but the period is kind of back. We're putting some movement in it, and for me the play is like a dance anyway. It moves so fast, and the audience are never going to catch every joke, but that's okay.”

Paterson's approach to Cuttin' a Rug is a long way from her first encounters with the play.

“There's a lot of depth in there,” she says, “and I didn't realise that then. I was twenty-four when I was in the play, and I had to be taught how to wear high-heels. I was a Doc Marten's girl. But there's a seriousness to the play, and then John's writing spins all that on its head with a joke.”

Paterson's connections to Byrne's plays go deeper, to a production of the third play in the trilogy, Still Life, which she directed for Raindog, the actor-led company which ripped up the rulebook with a series of shows possessed with a grit that arguably pre-dated the 1990s so-called in-yer-face wave of cutting-edge theatre. Paterson's production was notable not only for featuring company co-founders Robert Carlyle and Alexander Morton in the lead roles, but for featuring scenes from the first two plays in flashback sequences, so audiences effectively saw the entire trilogy in one.

“Still Life is set in a graveyard, and is all about remembering,” Paterson says of the final play, set in 1972, fifteen years after the previous two. “I had to edit it so it all fitted in. We used twenty minutes of Cuttin' A Rug, but it worked beautifully, and I knew that was the one I'd love to do. In Still Life, Phil and Spanky are at Hector's grave talking about him, and in Cuttin' a Rug Hector tries to kill himself. His journey after that is that he ends up dead in a toilet, so there is depth in the play, but you have to look for it. It's not just a comedy.”

Cuttin' a Rug is the first time Paterson has directed at the Citizens Theatre since her 2003 production of John Osborne's play, The Entertainer. She has lived in London for the last twenty-three years. During that time there was a lengthy stint on East Enders, while she later directed episodes of the Raindog produced TV drama, Tinsel Town. More recently she has been working with Acting Out, a London-based theatre company with whom she has helped devise plays with people with mental health issues.

“It's a platform for discussion,” Paterson says of the initiative, “and it feels very worthwhile to do something like that.”

While Cuttin' a Rug and its sister plays may have been huge when Paterson was a teenager, today they are veritable institutions which have spoken to audiences across several generations.

“I think there'll be people who come along to see this production who've seen all three plays, and who hold them close to their hearts” she says. “The plays are like your favourite book in that way, but they completely stand alone, so younger audiences who might not know them can come and see Cuttin' a Rug and totally get it.”

In the first week of rehearsals, Paterson took her young cast on a trip to Paisley Town Hall to soak up the old school atmosphere of one of the most regal looking buildings in town.

“It's very grand,” says Paterson of the Hall, built at the end of the nineteenth century with money bequeathed by thread manufacturer George A. Clark. “I just love the idea of this beautiful hall where all these kids are getting drunk and trying to get a girlfriend, and it all going horribly wrong, because that's what happens sometimes, and it's quite real in that way.”

With Paterson's revival of Cuttin' a Rug arriving onstage at a time when Paisley is bidding to become UK City of Culture 2021, the the play's setting has even more resonance.

“I think all three Slab Boys plays are important,” says Paterson. “I think audiences today will totally connect with the experiences of the people in the play, especially because it's set where it is. I really want to celebrate Paisley and everything that came out of it, and John Byrne is a really important part of that, so it's a joy to do.”

Cuttin' a Rug, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, February 8-March 4; King's Theatre, Edinburgh, March 7-11.

The Herald, January 24th 2017


Monday, 23 January 2017

Katy Dove – Saturated in Sight and Sound

It's all too fitting that Dundee Contemporary Arts' overview of work by artist Katy Dove has moved north to Inverness, where it opened in January of this year en route to Thurso and Wick following its Dundee run. There are few contemporary artists, after all, whose work evokes the playful spirit such wide open spaces can inspire as much as Dove. She may have lived in Glasgow prior to her untimely death following treatment for cancer in January 2015 aged forty-four, but her upbringing as one of five sisters in the village of Jemimaville in the highland peninsula of The Black Isle was key to everything that followed.

This is evident in Melodia (2002), a four and a half minute film in which Dove took a watercolour landscape by her grandfather and breathed swirling life into its skies, seas and other landscapes. It was there too in Dove's series of caravan residencies run on a farm in Balfron, the Stirlingshire village close to the Campsie Fells in conjunction with fellow artists Belinda Gilbert Scott and Sarah Kenchington. Here impromptu performance nights took place in an environment that sounds akin to an arts-based summer camp for grown-ups.

Such a physical and instinctive response to her environment is similarly inherent through the pastel-coloured symmetrical shapes that seem to dance off the surface of whatever context Dove utilised to show her work. That response is at its most powerful in the primal, percussive-based utterances let loose by Muscles of Joy, the sometimes-seven, sometimes-eight-piece band Dove played in with friends, artists and fellow travellers Anne-Marie Copestake, Leigh Ferguson, Sophie Macpherson, Victoria Morton, Jenny O'Boyle, Ariki Porteous and Charlotte Prodger. Whatever Dove created, it seems, was pulsed by a rhythmic musical sweep and a sense of child-like wonder which wouldn't have looked or sounded out of place on Sesame Street.

All of this is abundant in Dove's DCA show, which puts her animations at its centre as they run on four separate loops flanked by more than forty paintings, drawings, prints and music. In terms of timeline, the animations themselves are book-ended at one end by Fantasy Freedom (1999), a ninety-second stop-motion animation made for Dove's degree show while studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee. At the other, the kaleidoscopic shadows of Dove's own hands and legs appear in what turned out to be her final film, Meaning in Action (2013). There is little stillness anywhere in a body of work – and Dove's artistic output is about the body as much as the soul - which, seen as a whole, appears to be moving towards ever more expansive forms of expression.

“It’s still really only a short amount of time since Katy passed away,” says the show's curator Graham Domke, who until recently was Exhibitions Curator at DCA. “It becomes a vastly different undertaking putting on an exhibition without the artist to call upon. I had wanted to work with Katy for a solo exhibition at DCA since I worked with her in 2009 for the DCA's tenth anniversary exhibition, The Associates. It would have been so great to have done a big show with her, but the family made this exhibition possible.

“I took the archive on loan and went through the hundreds of works. I wanted an audience of friends of the artist, new students from Duncan of Jordanstone, and total strangers to get a really positive sense of how Katy had worked. I made a decision to show as much as possible. Katy's work was always adored by children and the DCA show was programmed to coincide with the venue's film festival for younger audiences.

“There has been a really great response to the exhibition from across the board. The family and close friends were incredibly supportive. There is considerable solace and pride in looking at the exhibition and seeing Katy's creativity. I want to stress that it is not a definitive retrospective of Katy Dove's work. I see it as more of a primer.”

Domke first saw Dove's work in early shows at the Collective and Stills galleries in Edinburgh and Transmission in Glasgow. “The work definitely stood out,” he remembers, “but it was in her show at the Talbot Rice in Edinburgh a decade ago that I really saw her hitting her stride on a big stage. Like a lot of other people, I’d learned that Dundee had been producing some of the country's best young artists in the late 1990s. The likes of Kevin Henderson, Cathy Wilkes, Victoria Morton and Graham Fagen were young tutors at the time and there was the inspirational Alan Woods and the journal Transcript, all making the city feel very outward-looking. Ultimately that’s one of the reasons why I came to DCA in 2007, so I could tap into that rich source and show artists who had studied here such as Duncan Marquiss, Scott Myles, Cara Tolmie, Clare Stephenson and of course Katy. ”

Dove was born in Oxford, and after growing up in Jemimaville, studied psychology at the University of Glasgow. Supporting herself by making and selling jewellery, she won a scholarship to Duncan of Jordanstone in 1996. After moving into sculpture, the instinctive immediacy of Dove's already vibrant automatic drawings were crying out to be brought to life. Her first foray into animation, Fantasy Freedom, combined the rhythm of Dove’s breath and the sound of her bicycle with pulsing kaleidoscopic colours in a way that marked the beginning of her fusion of sound and vision.

Active in artist-led initiatives, Dove's involvement with the Unit 13 collective while in Dundee was also the start of an ongoing series of collaborations. This continued when she moved to Glasgow, where she joined the music group, Full Eye, with Copestake and Porteous, both future members of Muscles of Joy. Dove also joined the Parsonage, the Glasgow-based community choir noted for its unique cover versions.

“Katy and I knew each other through both being resident in Glasgow, and through several mutual artist and musician friends,” Copestake recalls. “I cannot remember exactly how we met, but it was some time in the early 2000s. I have footage of Katy on mini DV tapes from that time. I went through occasional phases of taking my little camera with me to things. I know we were also aware of each other as women working with moving images.”

“I think the first time Katy asked me about doing something together was in 2004, and she asked if I would write some text, creative writing, but in some way connected to her work, for a publication to accompany her solo exhibition at Pump House Gallery in London. She had seen a previous piece of writing I had done for a catalogue for Vicky and liked it. They applied for extra funding for this writing from me, and unfortunately didn't get the funding they'd hoped for. It is quite a Katy thing that the writing did not happen then, as she was very hot on people being paid for their work and they only had funding for the more formal writing that had been arranged.

“In all the work or projects that I have done with Katy there have been a few similar qualities forming the foreground or background, whether it be just the two of us or in larger groups. From my perceptions, and from what Katy had said, I think Katy and I found complementary qualities in each others’ way of working that provided a strength in our projects and collaborations - complementary in the sense of enhancing the different qualities.”

“I learned a great deal about harmony and harmonies from Katy, musical and compositional. I really thrived on the exploration and testing out ideas that Katy encouraged in all art forms, and the tendency to not define too early what something was or wasn't, the trait of not attempting to edit and create at the same time. I also really enjoyed and thrived with the, at times, more formal even reserved qualities and suggestions she brought up for consideration.”

“Although we worked quite differently, I think we had a fairly similar approach in the desire to do things - an energy given into doing, trying out, playing, making, as well as an energy given into committing time to these things. One thing we have in common is that we are both incredibly loyal, so I suppose it made sense that we worked or collaborated together pretty regularly, in different formations.”

Copestake's experience of Dove's Balfron caravan park residencies was of “a very generous project. It allowed complete focus on your work, if you wanted it that way, coupled with the experiences of daily life in the caravans on the farm amongst the whole little community there. There was no application process. It was a question of checking diaries. The residencies were hallmarked with the generosity and unforced presence which Katy brought to a lot of her projects. While I was there it was terrible weather. I didn't do the long walks a lot of people did, it was pretty cold and wet. I read, did quite a bit of work, a little music. Small details really stood out in the days and nights.”

Dove's working relationship with the natural world is something Copestake doesn't find easy to define, but speculates from her own observations. “I noticed harmonies, discord, interference patterns, connectedness and disconnect between multiple things over limitless grounds or spaces in her work,” she says “whether that be multiple marks, sounds, movements and repetitions…”

Domke sees the exhibition's transfer to Inverness, Thurso and Wick in conjunction with the High Life Highland organisation as a major component of the show's life. “The work is returning to a spiritual home,” he says. “Katy grew up in the Black Isle and her mother still lives there, so it is really poignant that the work can be shown in first Inverness and then up to Wick and Thurso. The staff of High Life Highland have been great. Dundee is where Katy studied and found her style as an artist, and so the tour combines into something magical.”

As Domke also observes, there is plenty more of Dove's work beyond this show. “We are only showing the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” he says. “There are extraordinary works on paper that I really hope will enter in to public collections and go on show. I made a selection of works that I felt were indispensable for this show but there is so much still to be seen - more psychedelic, visionary, exploratory, literally illimitable! Her whole collaborative approach needs to be celebrated further, from Unit 13 to singing in The Parsonage Choir and playing with Muscles of Joy and Full Eye.”

To accompany the exhibition's Dundee run, DCA hosted a series of one-off complementary events, with improvising musicians from Stevie Jones' Sound of Yell project and choreographer and friend of Dove's Sheila Macdougall responding to the exhibition. These acted as a kind of continuum to Dove's vision that reaches beyond gallery spaces.

“Katy's commission for the BBC Pacific Quay headquarters needs to be revisited,” Domke says, “and then there is all the inspirational work with children, her fascination with computers, a screen-saver for Transmission and an interactive drawing word with Simon Yuill.”

For Domke, Dove's importance as an artist was due to what he recognises as “her holistic approach to art and life. I think it is significant that she had a degree in psychology before she went to Duncan of Jordanstone. I loved her ability to work with everyday materials and to take taken-for-granted utensils like a felt-tip pen or a home computer and produce revelatory, mysterious, enigmatic work with them. Her partner wrote to me describing the DCA exhibition as being 'saturated in the sights and sounds of Katy' and that is an amazingly succinct expression of the work. Even if you didn't know Katy, that magical effect is transmitted from the works on view to the visitors.”

This magic was evident in Dove's everyday life as much as in her art. .

As Copestake points out, “I think in life, and in many working situations, Katy really nurtured people, although they may not have known it or recognised it at the time.”

Katy Dove's DCA exhibition runs at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery until February 25th 2017, then at Thurso Art Gallery and St Fergus Gallery, Wick from March 4th-April 15th 2017. A catalogue published by Dundee Contemporary Arts and High Life Highland features contributions from Graham Domke, Kirsten Body, Laurence Figgis, Neil Mulholland, Victoria Morton and Katy Dove.www.dca.org.uk

Product, January 2017

Friday, 20 January 2017

Daniel Patrick Quinn & One More Grain – A Drink With Bishop Berkeley

To suggest that the musical output of Daniel Patrick Quinn has existed under the radar is putting it mildly. Over the best part of fifteen years, the Lancaster-sired nomad has moved from releasing a stream of albums on his own Suilven Recordings label during a period when he also worked at the National Gallery of Scotland. With his band The Rough Ensemble, he performed what sounded like extracts from an ordnance survey log in a Mark E Smith style address over Wicker Man style psych folk drones.

At a time when he could have easily hopped aboard the then burgeoning nouveau trad wagon, Quinn decamped to London, where he formed One True Grain, combining fourth world funk with anthropological excavations over two genre-melding albums. Leaving a final gift to the world of an expectation-confounding cover of Scarborough Fair, Quinn announced his retirement from music in 2008, and upped sticks to Indonesia, where he studied Gamelan and climbed volcanoes for five years.

On returning, Quinn reconvened One More Grain for the 2015 Grain Fever album, and in 2016, having found himself on Stornoway, released two mini albums I, Sun and Signal Posts. With Quinn ow seemingly resident in Kendal, Cumbria, his prodigal's return has prompted him to give away this twelve-track sampler of solo work and One More Grain material to anyone with curious ears and a download code.

The result is a gloriously wayward set of postcards from uncharted territories that sound culled from a melting pot both arcane and exploratory. The opening Put on the Grass Skirt from I, Sun sets the tone with a drone-led incantatory shuffle which finds Quinn issuing instructions like some colonial mill-owner attempting to build paradise in his living room.

Two tracks from Grain Fever follow, with the treated guitar, funky bass and multi-tracked voices of Dolittle Jig coming on like Eno at his most ethno-delic. Leg Stomper is a furious whirligig of ancient dancefloor abandon, with Quinn a deadpan ceilidh caller over minimalist percussive flourishes. Look and Find, again from I, Sun, is darker, more frantic, Quinn's mantra full of foreboding as a mesmeric backdrop threatens to spiral out of control before after-dark cicadas bring the ceremony to a close.

These tensions between landscapes define Quinn's canon as his voice navigates its way through layer on layer of fractured soundscapes brought together from all points of the global village. Such counterpoints come home to roost o] Scarborough Fair, in which echo-laden swirls of sound and village brass band horns inject Quinn's deadpan vocal with the menace of a rural Mayday march.

From One More Grain's Pigeon English album, released in 2007, Against King Moron is a full-on funkadelic stew of horn-driven primitivism over which Quinn gives full vent to his inner Mark E Smith like the ghost of free festivals past. I Followed My Imagination, from I, Sun, continues in a similar groove with a jittery internal travelogue of David Byrne style self-analysis. By referencing George Berkeley, the eighteenth century philosopher who espoused the theory of immaterialism, the song gives the album its title, sums up Quinn's questing spirit and debunks Aristotle's counter theories en route.

The album's oldest offering, Channnelkirk and the Surrounding Area, has been unearthed from 2005’s Ridin' The Stang album released on Suilven. In its medieaval-sounding mapping of the Scottish Borders town of the title, it becomes a near neighbour of The Fall's similar geographical excavations on Iceland.

From here on in, Quinn's perambulations go ever further out there, not lost in a heart of darkness exactly, but decidedly off-piste. On Dream Hill, another cut from Grain Fever, is a kaleidoscope of twittering toytown synths. Riverbank, from 2014’s Acting The Rubber Pig Redux album, is an impressionistic rhythmic collage of lapping water, whistling winds and noises from the deep overlain by an insistent guitar motif and attention-seeking horns. Walking off the Map from One More Grain's 2008 Isle of Grain release finds Quinn revelling in getting lost.

Goodbye for Now, is taken from 2016's three-track EP, Signal Posts, and is the most recent offering here. With Quinn's mix of intellect and soul-shaking becoming a kind of narrated ritual in search of its own destiny, this final track becomes a wordless epilogue that lets loose everything that has preceded it,

As far as musical life beyond A Drink with Bishop Berkeley goes, according to Quinn it’s “a toss up between heading to East Java for more studying of Indonesian styles, or putting together an album using voice and primitive percussion only...Think tribal Papua New Guinea.”

The world awaits.

Free download codes for A Drink With Bishop Berkeley can be obtained by emailing danpquinn@gmail.com

Daniel Patrick Quinn can be heard at danielpatrickquinn.bandcamp.com and onemoregrain.bandcamp.com

Product, January 2017


Wednesday, 18 January 2017


Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Four stars

All the ladies in the house strut their stuff with the nobility of queens at the opening of this all-female take on Shakespeare's Scottish play, performed in Ian Wooldridge's dynamic production by a cast of twelve second year BA Acting students. This makes for a bold opening statement as they pace the catwalk-styled stage area, dressed almost identically in black, but with key personal motifs, be it for combat, the elements or for the greatest power to come.
Seven performers take on the role of Macbeth over the course of the play's interval-free hundred-minute duration, with four more playing Lady M. Such mantle-passing switches of identity may allow each actress a fair stab at the two main roles, but more significantly it heightens each facet of their ever-morphing characters. While Macbeth is by turns soldier, statesman, monarch and madman, his partner in crime takes a similar journey, from devoted wife to doomed social climber and beyond. Inbetween they take on all other roles, including an ever multiplying tribe of Weird Sisters.

This makes for a thrillingly primal piece of work, in which Wooldridge enables a cracking ensemble to revitalise and reinvent a play more readily steeped in machismo with an altogether different kind of energy. So while Macbeth's henchman go off on their killing spree, it is Lady M who initiates the rutting up against the wall with her husband.

When in the final act Macbeth has his misguided exchange with Macduff regarding“man that of woman born,” the lines are given renewed vigour as the king is pretty much slain by his own words in a final cacophonous melee that gives full vent to the play's female heart.

The Herald, January 19th 2017


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Declan Donnellan and Max Webster - The Winter's Tale

Winter is coming. Or rather, as the turn of the year chill bites deep presumably on track for a white Easter, winter is not only coming thick and fast, but so is William Shakespeare's late-period play, The Winter's Tale. So blessed are Scottish theatre audiences, in fact, that not one, but two productions of it open on opposite sides of the central belt over the next few weeks.

First out of the traps is Declan Donnellan's production of the play for the internationally renowned Cheek By Jowl company, who open the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow's 2017 season next week. Hot (or cold) on the heels of this, next month, the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh open their own production of the play, here directed by Max Webster, currently an associate director at the Old Vic theatre in London.

Not actually set in winter at all, but named after the sort of fireside tales one might be told during the season, The Winter's Tale is is a play of two very different halves. The first, set in the kingdom of Sicilia, sees the king, Leontes, mistakenly presumes his wife Hermione to have committed adultery with his best friend, Polixenes. The much lighter second half, set sixteen years later in Bohemia and Sicilia, focuses on redemption and happy ever afters all round. It is this seeming inconsistency in terms of dramatic tone that in part appealed to both directors.

It’s a play about love, loss, and the difficulty of forgiveness,” says Donnellan. “It’s about how very important it is to forgive yourself and about the uselessness of guilt. The more we worked on it we also realised that a lot of the play comes from Leontes having a breakdown over being abandoned by his fried Polixenes, how he finds he can’t admit or reconcile himself to this, which is just in front of him, so must imagine something completely irrational and destructive as a reason for his anxiety. We all hate being abandoned, but sometimes it upsets us so traumatically that we cannot see it anymore, and although we look quite normal most of the time, we are in fact quite ill. That is Leontes' predicament.”

For Webster, who recently directed Royal Lyceum artistic director David Greig's stage version of Dr Suess' The Lorax at the Old Vic, there is much humour beyond this.

“It's going to be funny,” he says of his production, in which he will be re-locating the action to Edinburgh and Fife. “That shift in tone is quite magical. In the first half it's almost like a contemporary thriller like House of Cards, and then it makes this leap, so it becomes something else again. Shakespeare was a mature writer by the time he wrote The Winter's Tale, and this is an experiment, with language as much a everything else, which he wrote with a real sense of confidence.”

Like Webster, Donnellan names The Winter's Tale as one of his favourite plays, and this new production isn't the first time he has explored it.

Both Nick and myself love the play,” Donnellan says, referring to Cheek By Jowl's designer and co-founder Nick Ormerod. “I’ve seen it many many times in different versions around the world, and had directed it once before in Russian for Lev Dodin in St Petersburg in 1997. That production still plays in rep at the Maly Theatre there. I’ve always wanted to do the play in English, and thought that Orlando James, who’s been with us for a few years now, would make an excellent Leontes. It’s always good to work on a play with a specific actor or actors that you have in mind. That’s not to say it makes it straightforward. You find many interesting and new things along the way that can only come out in rehearsals.”

To this end, Webster's cast features John Michie, last seen onstage in Scotland at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow in Rob Drummond's play, Grain in the Blood, as Leontes. The cast also includes Scottish stage stalwarts Maureen Beattie and Jimmy Chisholm.

While the Lyceum's production of The Winter's Tale marks Webster's first outing on a main Scottish stage, Cheek By Jowl's take on the play sees the company returning to Scotland following the company's Russian language version of Measure For Measure at the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival.

We love coming to Scotland when we can,” says Donnellan. “Our first chair John Scott Moncrieff registered us as a Scottish Charity thirty five years ago. Cheek by Jowl’s very first performance was in Edinburgh at St Columba’s by the Castle on 17th August 1981, Wycherley’s The Country Wife. The Edinburgh Festival is fantastic, our Russian company loved coming over in August. We had such a great response from the people there. Some had never seen Shakespeare in Russian before.

We are personally hugely excited to make our debut at the Citz. We drove up often in the eighties and fell in love with the Citz chutzpah. Never parochial, always international, never navel-gazing about national identity, always throwing bridges across centuries of text, across Europe. Throwing a warm wicked smile across cultures. Never apologising for vision. In these days after Brexit that legacy feels more fragile and precious than ever before.

There was never anything earnest about the Citz, there was always enough of a whiff of sulphur about the work to make the place ambivalent, alive and adult. Never dumbed down, always entertaining. A proper place for adults. Above all there was the physical presence, the humanity of Giles Havergal, there in the foyer, welcoming, mediating the stage with the audience. Smiling and approachable. A giant artistic vision coupled with humble humanity. How totally wonderful. I like to feel that somehow even in some small way we were affected by that, and follow in those shoes.”

Cheek By Jowl opened The Winter's Tale in the United States last year, and visit Glasgow as part of an international tour.

The reaction of the American audiences has been overwhelming,” says Donnellan. “There were some interesting comments about political resonances of the play, but we find wherever we play Shakespeare there will always be political resonances.”

This is something that Webster also recognises.

Today's politics is changing,” says Webster. “There is lots of anxiety about things that we thought were certain, but which suddenly aren't, and that has an impact. This is a play about diversity and community, and it feels very much like an important play for now.”

Donnellan goes even further.

“It shows what politicians dare not speak of,” he says, “the human need to destroy. But it also shows us the possibility of forgiveness, of redemption and hope. I think these are very important and relevant things to consider right now, as they were four hundred years ago, and will probably be in another four hundred years.”

Cheek By Jowl's production of The Winter's Tale runs at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, January 24-28; the Royal Lyceum Theatre's production runs at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, February 10-March 4

The Herald, January 17th 2017


Sunday, 15 January 2017

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars

Joan Lindsay's darkly gothic novel concerning a group of private schoolgirls who vanish without trace on a Valentine's Day outing in 1900 has haunted the Australian psyche since it first appeared in 1967. It was made even more ethereal by Peter Weir's film version nine years later. Given fresh life onstage by writer Tom Wright and director Matthew Lutton, this international co-production between Malthouse Theatre Melbourne and the Perth-based Black Swan State Theatre Company captures the essence of Lindsay's beautifully evoked mystery with a hypnotic staging.

At first, the cast of five women are lined up across the stage like maids in a row, their lives hanging in the balance as each pupil of the Appleyard Academy becomes the narrator of their own destiny. As they take slow-motion steps in unison while they talk, it is as if the girls are possessed by something drawing them beyond the fragile veneer of civilisation they so dangerously occupy.

This is the preface to a rapid-fire series of artfully arranged scenes, in which the acting quintet take on all roles in an atmosphere of looming hysteria played out on the expanse of designer Zoe Atkinson's perspective-shifting interior. As Hanging Rock itself becomes “a carbuncle in this anti Eden” as it is so evocatively described as at one point, the tight-lipped emotional desolation of head teacher Mrs Appleyard is offset by the burgeoning and unstoppable sexual awakening of the girls, led by dreamy Miranda.

The formally choreographed stage pictures at moments resemble something Pina Bausch might have dreamt up. Flashes of wordless shadowplay lean more towards the tricks of Victorian horrors. The splintered score of composer Ash Gibson Greig and creepy noises off provided by sound designer J. David Franzke heighten the mood.

Onstage throughout the play's slow burning eighty-five minutes, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Arielle Gray, Amber McMahon, Elizabeth Nabben and Nikki Shiels become teenage shape-shifters trying on identities for size beyond the walls that contain them. There is much going on here too, about the mysteries of a landscape that has lived several lives more than those who try to tame it. When the girls line the stage once more in a production that is as devastating as it is delicate, it as if they are taking a leap into an irresistible void in an experience designed to beguile.

The Herald, January 16th 2017


Friday, 13 January 2017

Lomond Campbell – Black River Promise (Triassic Tusk)

A brooding melancholy pervades from the opening chord of FOUND vocalist Ziggy Campbell's debut full-length release, which is a world apart from the electronic abstractions of his Edinburgh-sired band. Having fled the not so big city to hole himself up in a dilapidated Highland school-house, Campbell's self-imposed exile has seen Ziggy morph into Lomond. The isolation the move has brought with it has given him space to breathe in a way that has clearly affected this set of seven songs and two instrumentals.

Like a home-grown musical reflection of Henry Thoreau's novel, Walden, and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, this second release on the Campbell co-owned Triassic Tusk label is very much the sound of one man getting his head together in the country. Rather than bask in some wide-eyed nouveau-hippy idyll, this is Campbell, not in retreat, but more in bewildered and world-weary confrontation with himself.

As a scene-setter, Fallen Stag may begin with a low strum and a mournful fiddle, but as it comes blinking into the light, it morphs into a panoramic chamber instrumental driven by a lush orchestral sweep that conjures up wide-open spaces witnessed for the first time. This is the first taste too of the Pumpkinseeds, the glorious ten-piece string ensemble watched over by cellist, member of Edinburgh band The Leg and DIY supergroup Modern Studies and composer in his own right, Pete Harvey. His arrangements embellish Campbell's stark confessionals with a breadth and depth that brings them sensitively to life with a roaring empathy.

Campbell's first words come on the album's title track, a cracked downbeat epic which sees the song's narrator communing with nature. The strings wrapped around Campbell's delivery personify the river as the words meld into the landscape, becoming a part of it much as Campbell's hand-claps and one-man-band bass drum kicks become an extension of his musical soul.

The wild west showdown slide guitar that opens Every Florist in Every Town reveals Campbell as the proverbial stranger, a lonesome cowboy moseying about his business while contemplating the meaning of life, finding salvation and companionship en route. The plaintive harmonica and whining dog that end the song suggests a knowing reinvention of old-time back-woods porch songs.

The plucked metallic guitar and doleful faraway yearning on The Misery Bell sounds like a Highland cousin to to former Pale Fountains and Shack vocalist Michael Head's sublime, strung-out and criminally neglected 1997 album, The Magical World of The Strands. Brutes in Life is jauntier, and sounds like a man reflecting on shared intimacies over a skittery backbeat and plaintive harmonica. The Lengths may be spritely, but it is full of purpose and a call at least for renewed commitment. Acharacle, the second instrumental on the album, recorded, like Fallen Stag, in a five-hundred year old castle, features a moody slide guitar that ducks in and out of view before giving way to wide-screen baroque mediaevalism.

A cover of singer/songwriter Nuala Kennedy's Coal Daughter is possibly the most traditional song here in terms of structure, and Campbell's delivery is raw with vocal grit. It is in the final seven bittersweet minutes of Hurl Them Further, however, where Campbell seems to find closure. Harvey's arrangements fall somewhere between western film composer Jerome Moross and the mournful classicism of Arvo Part, this is Campbell tying himself up in emotional knots one last time. As he pleas for understanding from his sparring, the song's end is the musical equivalent of wandering off into the sunset as if a weight has been lifted on an album that is part purging, part revelation of the most quietly euphoric kind.


Product, January 2017


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Cat Sheridan and Susan Worsfold - The Attic Collective

Cat Sheridan was two days into her new post as Learning and Participation Co-ordinator at the Festival and King's Theatre in Edinburgh when she proposed an idea that would introduce a radical new way of working within the walls of Edinburgh's two receiving theatres run by Festival City Theatre Trust. Sheridan had seen first hand how workshops and other educational initiatives designed for budding theatre professionals were out of the price range for many, while other potential participants were restricted by external work commitments. Too often, Sheridan observed, this meant that only those with the economic freedom to be able to pay for such valuable initiatives could take advantage of them, while those with less disposable income but who were potentially just as talented were unable to develop their skills.

Eighteen months later, the result of Sheridan's proposal is the Attic Collective, a brand new theatre company for aspiring actors aged between eighteen and twenty-six, which will be run by Sheridan as creative producer in conjunction with director Susan Worsfold. From almost 400 applications, a company of eighteen were selected from two rounds of auditions to take part in three full productions over the next year, which will cover classical work, new playwriting and musical theatre.

The first show, a version of Aristophanes' ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata, in which women go on a sex strike in protest at the war, will open at the end of this month. This will be followed in May by the world premiere of War in America, by Jo Clifford, which is set to be performed in the unique interior of the Old Royal High School in Edinburgh. The third and final production will see the Collective take on Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera. As with Lysistrata, this will be performed on the main stage of the King's Theatre.

Each production will be able to utilise in full the artistic, technical and administrative resources the King's and Festival Theatres can provide. This will include free workshops with professional practitioners in a way that will see the Attic Collective function as both a repertory company and a training organisation. So while there are similarities with community-based theatre and youth theatre, especially as the acting ensemble will be working voluntarily, the Attic Collective looks set to be a skill-sharing exercise designed for those serious about a future career as professional actors.

“The starting point for the Attic Collective is very much from the point of view that opportunities to become involved in the arts should be everyone, and that you shouldn't have to pay for it,” says Sheridan. “I see all these amazing theatre companies coming into the King's and Festival Theatres, and the workshops they run aren't always fully subscribed because not everyone can afford them. So it seemed a really obvious choice to offer these resources which these brilliant companies bring into the building to the talent there is in Scotland through something like the Attic Collective.

“To make things accessible we had to negotiate. It's important that the young talent coming in were able to have lives as well. People have to eat and pay rent, and it can be incredibly hard to earn a living in this industry, and that raises a lot of questions.”

Rehearsals for Lysistrata have remained flexible time-wise, with initial sessions taking place on Saturdays prior to the collective working more intensively over evenings and weekends in the run up to performances. While such inclusivity itself makes a political statement, as Worsfold points out, the season itself is even more overt.

“2017 will be the twentieth anniversary of the referendum on devolution in Scotland,” says Worsfold, “so I felt there had to be a political edge to the season. Every play we're doing in the season is about cash, capital, war and women. In Lysistrata, you can see that while we look a lot to Greek society in terms of democracy, the gender politics are still the same, but Lysistrata is a play that's trying to broker peace.”

War in America should prove to be even more of an eye-opener. Originally commissioned by the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh in 1991, the play was subsequently dropped from the theatre's programme after the play's subject matter was considered to be too much of a risk for its subscription-based audience. Having worked extensively with Jo Clifford on plays such as Jesus, Queen of Heaven, Worsfold read the still unperformed script and was blown away by a piece which, twenty years on, seems to have found its time.

“It's a brilliant piece of work,” says Worsfold. “It looked at gun crime in America, it predates The Thick of It by about nine years, and there's a couple in the play who are in a same-sex marriage. When the company read it they got it straight away, and for an older artist like Jo to see a work which had been rejected resonate with a younger generation is an incredible thing.”

Given the funding cuts many professional companies are currently facing, setting up an initiative on the scale of the Attic Collective may seem a risk. With the resources to hand, however, Festival Theatres Trust Chief Executive Duncan Hendry, however, says that in terms of finances it requires “a relatively modest contribution, and doesn't require a huge outlay.”

Hendry had instigated a similar model for a younger age group during his tenure running His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen, and recognises the value of the Attic Collective, which will run for a year before the company members move on as others hopefully take their place.

“I think trying to support young actors in this way is a good thing,” he says, “and I also think it's important to develop this sort of work on the larger stages that we can provide.”

This too is making a statement, as is the name of the company.

“We deliberately chose the name to be a collective,” says Sheridan, “because it's about those in the Collective taking ownership and responsibility for what they get out of it. It;s the same with the Attic Collective as a whole. If you're given an opportunity like this in the way we have, you've got to seize it. We're not an educational institution. We want to work at a professional level, but in a way that young actors have a chance to learn skills as they go.

“This first year is an experiment. All the ingredients are there to make it work in this first year, but but it may all go horribly wrong and we find we have to adapt things accordingly, but what we have in our favour is this incredible amount of support and the wonderful safety net that the Festival City Theatre Trust can provide to make it work. Out of that I hope the Attic Collective can be about absolute access, and become an established enough draw that will help it become a long term project that in turn will make it an established draw. At the moment, anything could happen.”

Lysistrata, King's Theatre, Edinburgh, January 27-28; War in America, Former Royal High School, Edinburgh, May 24-27.

The Herald, January 10th 2017


Friday, 6 January 2017

Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress

The Lighthouse, Glasgow until March 5th
Five stars

For six decades, the typographical work of Darlington-born Alan Kitching has blazed a quiet trail that has given printed matter a visual identity which has defined its various times. To coincide with the publication of a lavishly illustrated 400 page monograph by John L Walters, this major retrospective charts how a trainee compositor went on to create a canon that moved from Jan Tschichold-inspired modernist experiments, to reinventing letterpress with an explosive energy while the rest of the world went digital.

Kitching's work has consistently channelled the vibrancy of its age, even before he combined skewed poetics and monochrome classicism for his poster advertising a screening of Peter Watkins' film, The War Game, at Watford College of Technology. It was during his tenure here that he learnt as much as he taught en route to producing his seminal manifesto, Typography Manual (1970), which the bursts of colour that define his later letterpress work all stem from. Inbetween is a breathtaking panoply of broadsides, maps and polemic, all fired with the same dazzling and forensically crafted force. The result is a vital document that illustrates a very British form of DIY radicalism it remains a part of, turning words and worlds upside down as it goes.

The List, January 2017


Rothko – A Young Fist Curled Around A Cinder For A Wager (Trace Recordings)

Since 1997, Mark Beazley has operated under the name of Rothko in a variety of incarnations, first as a group, then later in duo and solo form. Even as a trio, however, the bass guitar, or rather, several of them, have been at the heart of Beazley's instrumental canon. Having broken cover early in 2016 with Discover the Lost, the first Rothko release since 2007's Eleven Stages of Intervention album, Beazley follows up in double quick time with this stark and startling collaboration with Johny Brown, the restlessly prolific street poet, soothsayer and driving force behind The Band of Holy Joy.

The result is a suite of first person monologues charting the rites of passage of an inner city kid as he searches for something better, finding it in a doomed romance before drinking his pain away until he can move on. Recorded live in one take in July 2016, Brown's social-realist narrative is delivered unadorned by any musical frills other than Beazley's bass, which moves from plucky jauntiness to an echo-laden death knell that sounds like it might explode.

The opening The Mainline Landscape of My Youth sets the scene through a series of spoken word sense memories of brutal youth. These are scab-deep in the unsentimental cruelty of urban urchins scrambling in the dirt inbetween blowing up frogs or putting foxes heads on sticks. The ickyness of summers long since past is at play both here and in the title track in a way that recalls the early fiction of Ian McEwan, only grittier and more pungent. Its nostalgic grit bring Keith Waterhouse's There is A Happy Land and Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills to mind.

As old wounds are re-opened, One Day I Will Get There is a yearning for other worlds beyond the back streets. In We Have Great Fun, the bravura of kids games have given way to the macho bravado of running with gangs. The story's protagonist is painfully aware of 'that feeling that something is missing / I should be writing creating and kissing / When up the garage walls my life I am pissing.'

Salvation comes through a love affair with a flower girl in And Then A Silence For The Soul, which blossoms into something serious in The Rose Grows Tender in the Shade and the domestic bliss of Here I Am With Someone Who Cares. Things don't last, however, and Fabled Women, Transitory Disturbances gives way to the self-loathing and self pity of Because I Just Started Drinking Again. A final parting shot comes in I'll Be Gone Before You Leave before the restless quest out of the wilderness begins again in the closing The Boat Must Sail On.

While this sounds as kitchen-sink as it gets, Brown's first person confessionals become a litany of underclass aspiration delivered with an emotional rawness which, with only Beazley's bass to bolster it, sounds even more exposed. As the narrative darkens, the music clangs, echoes and simmers with portents of doom, yet leaves acres of space for Brown's voice to peal out, impassioned but still vulnerable from the effects of the short-lived joys and broken dreams he's purging.

In this respect, as the past catches up with him, and, accompanied by Beazley, Brown is like a Geordie Jacques Brel styling a set of twenty-first century post-punk chansons. These go beyond the drizzly sentiments of bedsit romances to lay bare a tortured maelstrom of words and music that eventually thunders to the raging calm of a story only a survivor can tell.

Product, January 2017



Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Picnic At Hanging Rock - Matthew Lutton of Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre on Putting Joan Lindsay's Novel Onstage

When a group of teenage girls from an elite boarding school are taken on a Valentine's Day field trip to explore a local landmark, their subsequent disappearance causes understandable hysteria. As the girls remain missing, with no rational explanation forthcoming, what remains an unsolved mystery is invested with a mythology that seems to expose how polite society can be overwhelmed by outside forces not of its making.

If such life-changing events sound like the stuff of sensation-seeking headlines in old time true crime magazines, this is possibly the effect Australian writer Joan Lindsay was going for when her novel, Picnic At Hanging Rock, was first published in 1967. Where a year previously Truman Capote had rendered real life events in novelistic form in his book, In Cold Blood, with Picnic At Hanging Rock, Lindsay flipped things on its head. By opening her book with an ambivalent disclaimer to authorial responsibility and ending it with a pseudo-historical newspaper report, Lindsay hinted that her carefully crafted fiction might have been rooted in turn of the twentieth century reality.

The fact that Hanging Rock itself is a real place has added to a mythology that caught the world's eye by way of Peter Weir's haunting 1975 film version of the book, which was at the vanguard of the 1970s new wave of Australian cinema. Even without the attention Weir's film attracted, Lindsay's story has become a similarly vital text in the country's literary canon, as the new stage adaptation of the book should demonstrate when it opens at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh next week.

“I think the film has put the story into the psyche of a lot of people,” says Matthew Lutton, who is directing Tom Wright's adaptation of Lindsay's book for the Melbourne-based Malthouse Theatre in a co-production with the Perth-based Black Swan State Theatre Company. “But even without the film, there's something there about wanting to solve this unsolvable mystery. There's something alluring about the girls and the landscape, and what happens to them in that landscape. Going back to the novel, we became really taken with the idea that the way Lindsay wrote it convinced people that the story was real. That immediately gave a theatrical aspect to the story, because it had created its own mythology.”

Part of that mythology stems from a more tangible sense of history.

“It's a story of colonisation,” says Lutton. “ Hanging Rock is an hour from Melbourne, and it feels like it's just hanging in mid air. You can quite easily get lost and discombobulated by it. It's also regarded as a sacred site and a place of gathering, but there's a real ignorance of that landscape. There isn't much literature about it, but for indigenous communities, Hanging Rock and places like it are places to mourn death, and Joan Lindsay's story is about our ignorance of that.”

While Lutton's production puts the girls at the centre of his production, the all female cast of five also play all of the other characters they encounter in a show that relies on the audience's imagination just as Lindsay relied on her readers.

“Early on, we agreed that the landscape would be communicated through language, and that we weren't going to put rocks onstage. It's something that's felt, and there's a strong element of horror that comes through. It's certainly the first piece of theatre I've seen that makes people scream.”

This approach tie in with what Lutton regards as Malthouse's status as Melbourne's home for alternative theatre.

“I think Malthouse challenges the status quo,” says Lutton, who has been in post as Malthouse's youngest artistic director for the last eighteen months. “Our work is quite political in terms of the way we retell or repurpose a story, and in how we explore the boundaries of theatre.”

Malthouse Theatre's connections with Edinburgh stem from shows such as Optimism, a clown-based version of Voltaire's novel, Candide, which the company brought to Edinburgh International Festival in 2009, and which was also written by Wright. The connection with the Lyceum came about after Lutton and the company saw The Events, playwright and now Lyceum artistic director David Greig's dramatic response to the mass murders committed in Norway by Anders Breivik. Greig's play saw local choirs appear onstage in the production, a device used earlier this year in Malthouse's own production of the play.

The company's take on Picnic At Hanging Rock isn't the first stage version of Lindsay's novel. In 1987, an adaptation by American writer Laura Annawyn Shamas premiered in the first of several international productions. In 2014, a musical staging of the story penned by writer/composer Daniel Zaitchik premiered at a university in Utah following several years of development. With a new TV adaptation set to air in Australia later this year, Lindsay's story continues to beguile and bewilder.

“I think it's very important,” says Lutton. “It very successfully captures a sense of Australian terror. Australia is a continent where all of its cities are on the coast with a centre that remains largely uninhabited, and many of us still don't know that centre. There are many stories of people entering that centre and going into psychosis. It's a landscape that is formidable and haunted, and I think Lindsay's story comments on what it means to be Australian at a very guttural level.”

If things had worked out differently, Picnic at Hanging Rock might not have left such a ,mysterious legacy. As Lindsay originally wrote her novel, a final chapter tied up loose ends in a way that leant more towards speculative fiction. On the advice of her editor, this chapter was removed from what was published, and only saw the light of day in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock. Lutton, for one, has no truck with it.

“I think it's a terrible ending,” he says. “It provides an answer, and all of the things we've been talking about, about Australians not being able to find an answer, they would have been resolved, quite wrongly in my view. I'm convinced that if Lindsay's book had originally been published in that form so everything was understood, in terms of mystery and mythology, it wouldn't have had nearly as much impact.

“Joan Lindsay holds a very special place in Australian story-telling,” says Lutton. “Most of the stories that define Australia are dealing with the country's vastness, and I think when Australian TV or film try to copy American stories then it becomes urban. But it is in the vastness where Australian stories really connect in a way that you're either obliterated or humbled by it. There's something about the terror of that vastness there as well, and that has sometimes created a lot of cliches, but at their best, stories like Picnic At Hanging Rock are about having the confidence not to have to look abroad, but to help capture our culture, which is a post-colonial culture.”

Picnic At Hanging Rock, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, January 13-28.

The Herald, January 3rd 2017