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Showing posts from August, 2017

Room 29 - Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales

King's Theatre, Edinburgh, August 24th

You took an actual key from a bowl on the way into the final night of Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales' musical and dramatic peek into the lives and times of Hollywood's iconic Chateau Marmont Hotel. Everyone was welcome. There were plenty to go round.

Already immortalised on record in 2016, Room 29's doors were opened up once more for this Edinburgh International Festival three night stand of a stripped down song-cycle, upgraded here to a stage with a double bed on one side, and a baby grand piano on the other. A screen behind showed footage of some of Chateau Marmont's most famous residents who have passed through its portals, including Cocker himself.

Over two hours, Cocker, Gonzales and assorted guests transformed a solitary experience into the sort of floor-show cabaret one might more readily expect to find in the ballroom of an establishment as grand as the Marmont. Both our hosts’ natural penchant for showmanship mak…

Walker & Bromwich: How do we Slay the Dragon of Profit, Private Ownership and Corporate Greed?

How do we Slay The Dragon of Profit, Private Ownership and Corporate Greed? was an Edinburgh Art Festival Event that took place at the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, University of Edinburgh on Saturday August 12th 2017 from 4pm to 5.30pm.

At the start of the event, a 10 minute edit of the film, The Dragon of Profit and Private Ownership, documenting By leaves we live...not by the jingling of our coins, was screened. By leaves we live... was Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich's quasi mediaeval procession along Edinburgh's Royal Mile, which took place on July 27th 2017 as part of Edinburgh Art Festival.



1. Good afternoon and welcome to Walker and Bromwich's event - How do we slay The Dragon of Profit, Private Ownership and Corporate Greed?, which forms part of Edinburgh Art Festival's Events programme.

My name is Neil Cooper, and I'm a writer and critic, and in a moment I'll introduce you to the panellists today, but first let me give you an idea of what's going to happen…

Virgin Money Fireworks Concert

Ross Theatre and Princes Street Gardens
Five stars

Edinburgh International Festival may have been celebrating its 70th anniversary with a bang this year, but it ended with a first, as the Fireworks Concert preceded its grand finale with a curtain-raiser that threatened to upstage it. Focusing on traditional Scottish folk music, the first half began with a quartet of rousing widescreen dances by Malcolm Arnold. Played with a brio and lightness of touch by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as conducted by Clark Rundell, the infectious bounce and lush romance of the tunes wouldn't have sounded out of place in a panoramic western.

The appearance of Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson was similarly inspiring, as she performed a version of At the Heart of it All, the Sorley MacLean inspired title song from the band's thirtieth anniversary album. The orchestral arrangement by band co-founder Donald Shaw added depth and breadth to the composition, as it did to the Gaelic waulking song, …

Andrew Panton - August: Osage County

Dundee Rep's new artistic director Andrew Panton wasn't overly keen on seeing the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company's original production of Tracy Letts' new play a decade ago. Panton was just off a long haul flight, and the prospect of committing to the three hour dissection of a dysfunctional family in America's Oklahoma set heartland that was August: Osage County wasn't top of the list for a man with jet lag. This was despite the fact that Letts had an impeccable back catalogue of work ever since he first made his mark in 1993 with Killer Joe.

“I didn't know what I was going to see,” says Panton. “A friend had bought me a ticket, and said it was a good meaty three-act play, which being just off a flight was the last thing I wanted to see, but ended up having a great time. The story is fantastic, and you couldn't envisage where it was going to go next. One of the most important things about it was the ensemble acting. Playing a family is one …

Letters Live

King's Theatre
Four stars

The idealised Edinburgh skyline that formed the back-drop to this Edinburgh International Festival edition of the rolling compendium of readings from celebrated bon mots down the centuries was an all too fitting image. Edinburgh, as head of Canongate Books Jamie Byng pointed out in his introduction, was UNESCO's first city of literature, and those steeped in its bookish heritage understand what words are worth more than many. This is one of the reasons why the proceeds of the night were being donated to the Craigmillar Literary Trust and the Scottish Book Trust, both fine organisations that literally spread the word at every level.

It was a soulful version of Nick Cave's song, Love Letter, performed by Kelvin Jones, that opened a night that focused on standing up to intolerance by way of hand-me-down wisdom. Louise Brealey read Laura Dern's letter to her twelve year old daughter, while Clint Dyer presented James Baldwin's 1963 missive t…

Roddy Bottum - Sasquatch, The Opera

Scary monsters and super creeps may have been in abundance on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the last month, but few looked like Sasquatch, the mythical man-beast brought to life as part of Summerhall's programme by Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum in Sasquatch, The Opera. In what looked like a scaled down hour-long chamber version of Bottum's vision, the now completed run of Ahmed Ibrahim's production cast the forest-dwelling creature as a would-be tourist attraction exploited by a family of drug-addicted hillbillies who dress up their son as a cut-price version who never quite cuts it.

When the family fall out and go their separate ways, the daughter of the family encounters the real thing, only for their budding amour to be nipped in the bud by a crazed pack of meth lab workers. While the daughter is reinstated into the so-called normal world once more, Sasquatch is left to run wild, free and ever so slightly sad.

If the narrative sounds crazed, be sure that t…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 Theatre Reviews Eight - Wild Bore - Traverse Theatre, Four stars / Power Ballad, Summerhall, Four stars / The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Traverse Theatre, Four stars

Now that everyone with a laptop is a critic just as professional reviewing is under threat, it's all too timely for the critics themselves to be critiqued. This is the rude intention of Wild Bore, a manic hatchet job by Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott. These three (dis) graces of comic performance take a very public revenge on those who dissed them and their wares in print and online with a hammed up creative fury not seen since Theatre of Blood hacked off the Critics' Circle.

A trio of bare backsides line up like maids in a row, spouting forth verbatim quotes from real reviews of the performers' own back catalogue. Out of this develops a series of knowing routines that morph into a deliberately outrageous and ever so slightly self-obsessed caper. It's a wheeze, a dare and a giant theatrical raspberry as the trio effectively put two fingers up to critics and audience alike. It's also a meticulously planned assault that reinvents the early co…

Oresteia: This Restless House

Royal Lyceum Theatre
Five stars

When Zinnie Harris's three part reimagining of Aeschyus' epochal family tragedy first appeared in Dominic Hill's production at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in 2016, its scale in terms of staging and imaginative breadth was stunning. More than a year on, this Edinburgh International Festival revival of the Citz's production in association with the National Theatre of Scotland is an even more expansive experience.
This may be partly to do with its condensing of the three plays into one four and a half hour sitting. Largely, however, it is to do with the sheer bravura of the exercise, which sees generations of damaged goods wrestle with the hand-me-down baggage they've slaughtered their way into. From the moment Pauline Knowles' vivacious Clytemnestra vamps her way into the crumbling working men's club that passes for a palace where a Last of the Summer Wine style chorus holds court, the tone is set for a discordant psycho-se…

The Letter Room - No Miracles Here

Dancing can save your life. Just ask The Letter Room, the loose-knit collective of all singing, all dancing twenty-somethings behind No Miracles Here, which kick-starts the day in a show that takes in the highs of Northern Soul nights and the lows of 1930s dance marathons in a musical that squares up to the ultimate downer of depression.

“At it's heart it's a story about endurance,” says The Letter Room's Alice Blundell, one of five actor-musicians who appear in a show that began with the discovery that the suicide rate for men in the UK is highest in the north east of England. “It's about how even though life can set you back quite a lot sometimes, you've got to keep on keeping on. ”

This is done through the figure of Ray, a man at the end of his tether who struggles to keep faith with himself, but eventually manages to step onto the floor and back into life.

“We become his band,” says Blundell. “We're called Ray and the Raylettes, and we play this mix of N…

Real Magic

The Studio
Four stars

“Sometimes the answer to your problem is right in front of you,” says one of the three performers in Forced Entertainment's black humoured study of being trapped in a hell of one's own making. By this time, Jerry Killick, Richard Lowden and Claire Marshall have spent the best part of an hour jumping in and out of dancing chicken costumes as each takes it in turn to try and guess the word one or the other is thinking. With canned laughter and taped applause under-scoring their efforts, at first it looks like classic prime time showbiz fodder for the masses, who might go willing to hail any act that's thrown in front of them, no matter how rubbish they might be.
As they attempt to bludgeon their shtick into submission ad nauseum, the trio's efforts become louder, more frantic and increasingly desperate, even as the solution to all their problems is staring them in the face. Like Samuel Beckett's assorted double acts, they only have their routine…

Jenny Hval

Summerhall, August 20th

“So that was our warm up,” says Norwegian polymath Jenny Hval following the electronically pulsed opening number for her show as part of Summerhall's Nothing Ever Happens Here programme. Throughout the song, Dutch dancer/choreographer and cover co-star of Hval's 2016 female vampire concept album, Blood Bitch, Orfee Schuijt, has been putting herself through an aerobics workout. Hval gamely joins in with this when not breathing her spectral and funereally paced vocals into the microphone. To one side at the back of the stage is a big leather sofa, on which she and Schuijt intermittently sit or sprawl when Hval is not at a flower-strewn keyboard. On the other side, and at a more functional level, a black cloth covered table is loaded with assorted electronic kit from where most of the music emanates from as operated by Harvard Volden.

“We tried to make the stage very cosy,” says Hval, “like an old theatre or play, because we lost all our costumes and an ins…

Tim Etchells - Real Magic, Forced Entertainment and Edinburgh International Festival

When Tim Etchells and the Forced Entertainment company began to make their most recent show, Real Magic, they didn't know what they would end up with. This is par for the course for the Sheffield-based company, and has been since they first got together in the mid 1980s to produce a very English form of avant-garde performance that bridged live art and theatre. As Real Magic took on a life of its own during a painful devising process, it looked to the cheesy schmaltz of TV game shows, complete with looped applause, canned laughter and a botched mind reading game that looks like it might never end.

“It's about people who are trapped in something,” says Etchells, as he reflects on the show prior to its EIF dates, “and whether they can change that structure that they're trapped in. It's also one of those shows from us where we take something very frothy and light and sort of trash in a way. We work it and work it, and make cracks in it, and try and turn it into something…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 Theatre Reviews 7 - Party Game - Wee Red Bar - Four stars / What Would Kanye Do? - The Space - Three stars / How to Act - Summerhall - Four stars

The gang are all here in Party Game, the latest communal experience from Canada's Bluemouth Company and Necessary Angel. As the audience enter Edinburgh College of Art's student union and musical institution transformed here into a lo-fi function room, the chairs are out, Bruce Springsteen's playing on the stereo and our hosts are rounding us up to surprise a very special guest.

Instead, as the four performers and in-house backwoods band welcome us over the threshold, co-opting us to shift furniture, pour wine and hang bunting, we get to eavesdrop in on a series of intimate exchanges that hint that all may not be as fun as it initially looks. Anecdotes turn into bittersweet deliberations of regret, and all that's left are the most private of memories.

Bluemouth last appeared in Edinburgh in 2011 when they brought the self-explanatory Dance Marathon to town. This new work is a more personal and infinitely sadder affair that taps into a sense of shared loss and collective …

Had We Never

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, August 17th 2017

Given events in Charlottesville, Virginia over the last week, the symbolic significance of statues couldn't be clearer. Virginia, after all, was one of the key points of the global perambulations of the nineteenth century slave trade. It was also the state where confederate general Robert E Lee commanded his army. More than a century on, the proposed removal of Lee's statue in Charlottesville became the alt.right/fascist mob's main battleground.
In the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, meanwhile, John Flaxman's 1828 white marble statue of Robert Burns stands centre stage tall and proud at the centre of the Grand Hall, not giving an inkling of the national bard's own flirtation with the slave trade. Burns made plans several times to embark on a ship to the West Indies to become a slave driver. In the end he never set sail, but the intention was there.
As part of Edinburgh Art Festival, the Scottish National Portra…

Very Cellular Songs - The Music of The Incredible String Band

Edinburgh Playhouse, August 17th 2017

“Welcome to 1967,” says Robyn Hitchcock at the opening of Edinburgh International Festival's all-star celebration of the group whose seminal albums, The 5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion and The Hangman's Beautiful Daughterepitomised getting-your-head-together-in-the-country hippiedom. The Incredible String Band's central duo of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson also pursued the strangest strains of Caledonian psych-folk whimsy en route. Hitchcock is acting as a kind of MC as controlled chaos reigns amongst a cross-generational cast list that includes Barbara Dickson getting back to her folk roots, Scritti Politti's Green Gartside, Karine Polwart and Alasdair Roberts, among the vocalists. The far more together musical back-line features guitarist Neil McColl, world music maverick Justin Adams, penny whistle player Fraser Fifield and legendary bass player Danny Thompson amongst its line-up.

The gaggle of singers and players ha…

Gary McNair - Letters to Morrissey

Gary McNair is standing on the edge of the River Clyde gazing up at the Glasgow sunset. As inner city idylls go, it may not be in the same league as a monochrome Manchester canal, but McNair is basking in the poetry of the moment anyway. In terms of scene-setting preparation for Letters to Morrissey, McNair's latest piece of solo stand-up theatre that charts his personal liberation through sending real life epistles to the now largely deposed pope of mope, it's perfect either way.

Following on from his previous semi-autobiographical solo shows, Donald Robertson is Not A Stand Up Comedian and A Gambler's guide to Dying, as the title suggests, Letters to Morrissey is a look back in languor at one of McNair's musical heroes. The singular former Smiths singer turned hit and miss solo artist isn't some everyday musical hero, however. Notwithstanding some of his more distasteful political pronouncements of late that were the latest in a long history of controversy, Morri…

Milly Thomas - Dust and Brutal Cessation

Milly Thomas was about to go onstage when she first read the script for the pilot episode of Clique, BBC3's online only Edinburgh set university thriller created by Skins alumni Jess Brittain. The twenty-something actress and writer has been put up as a possible writer on the glossy six part drama by Balloon Entertainment, who she'd worked with on a writers room development project, and who thought she'd be a perfect fit. Here, after all, was a dark thriller that dragged The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie's concept of the crème de la creme into the twenty-first century to look at the power games that can be played among an on-campus elite of young women desperate to make the grade. Thomas was initially sceptical, but after her dressing room read-through, she was smitten.

“Twenty minutes before I was due onstage, and I couldn't stop thinking about it,” says Thomas, as she prepares to bring two original plays to Edinburgh, one of which she will be performing in. “I though…

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 - Theatre Reviews Six - Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story - King's Hall - Five Stars / Lilith: The Jungle Girl - Traverse Theatre - Four Stars - Foley Explosion - Cameo Cinema - Four stars

A steel shipping container stands at the back of the stage at the opening of Old Stock, Hannah Moscovitch's moving personal history of how her descendants left Romania for Canada and carved out a life for themselves. When the container opens, it reveals a cluttered world occupied, not just by Chaya and Chaim, the couple who form the play's heart, but on a four-piece junkyard orchestra, who punctuate the play with the songs of Ben Caplan. Caplan narrates proceedings as The Wanderer, a top-hatted master of ceremonies who represents an entire Jewish community's sense of exile, as well as providing levity and a driving live score.

Christian Barry's production for the Nova Scotia based 2b Theatre Company is a joy. Moving between a comic courtship and the everyday hardships that shape Chaya and Chaim's future, both Mary Fay Coady as Chaya and Chris Weatherstone as Chaim play instruments inbetween conjuring up a much bigger picture of how the world was built on immigrat…

Martin Creed's Words and Music - In Conversation and Un-cut

Martin Creed's Words and Music is a late night show taking place at the Festival Theatre Studio as part of Edinburgh International Festival. On showings so far, Creed's performance resembles a cross between Billy Connolly, Albert Einstein and a friendly Mark E Smith.

In June 2017, Creed came to Edinburgh to look at the space he was due to be performing in, and took part in an interview with Neil Cooper for the Herald newspaper. The full transcript of the interview is published below unedited in a way in which Creed's speech patterns seem to reflect the structures of his work.

Creed is probably best known for winning the 2001 Turner Prize with Work No 227: The lights going on and off, in which a light went on and off at five second intervals in an empty room. This provoked a mixture of controversy, ridicule and acclaim, with one visitor to the exhibition throwing eggs in the work's empty room. Creed has confounded and amused ever since, with every work meticulously catalo…