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Showing posts from September, 2017

The Macbeths

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

In a strip-lit room on a messy bed surrounded by hastily discarded clothes, two broken lovers cling to each other. Together alone, they share whispered secrets in their special place, far from the maddening crowd. The bag that sits at the foot of the bed marks the return of a man with a head full of ideas, while the woman who lies beside him eggs him on to take things all the way.
Murder can be sexy in Dominic Hill's stripped down, studio-bound take on Shakespeare's Scottish play, in which, with the aid of dramaturg Frances Poet, the central couple's most intimate exchanges become a form of bonding before they go too far. The result is a sweaty, erotic and breathlessly self-destructive re-imagining that casts the Macbeths as serial killers driven to extremes by their own distress.

A drawer brim-full of never played with toys suggests loss in the cruellest of ways. A tape recording brings further echoes to the fore later on, finally…

Aleksandra Vajd & Markéta Othová: What Is Life?

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow until November 19th
Four stars

Opposites attract in this joint exhibition which forms part of the Czech Season in Scotland, and which has been programmed to coincide with this autumn's 2017 Season of Photography in Scotland. Where Markéta Othová's off-kilter still life studies are writ large, Aleksandra Vajd's images are miniscule in comparison. Just as Othová's pictures are figurative and recognisable even as they flirt with abstraction, Vajd's miniatures play with form, colour and concept. With each artist's work hung turnabout side by side, the pair mark out their territory by way of a spectrum of scale.

Othová takes the seemingly ordinary and, peering at it from awkward angles, choreographs it with a sense of sculptural definition. An isometrically patterned rug sprawls into view. A small plate is placed inside a larger one so it resembles a target. The vast contours of a shadow dappled wheat-field seen from a hillock above …

Spamalot

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Monty Python's public school Dada has become ingrained in the global psyche over the last half century. The veteran six-strong troupe's canon of classically educated sketches and routines have trickled down the generations to influence many of today's would-be absurdists. This may be why Eric Idle and composer John du Prez's stage musical of the team's 1975 big-screen Arthurian pastiche, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, feels so timeless, even as it has become a pension plan for its original creators.
The young cast lolloping through David Buckroyd's production are able to mercilessly ham up the assortment of gormless knights, whose heroism in going off in search of the holy grail is consistently thwarted by the terminally mundane. Throw in a few rubbish villains, a Lady of the Lake akin to a latter day luvvied up diva, and a genuine crowd-pleaser transplanted from another Python movie, and the result is a kind of H…

The Last Hour!

Collective Gallery, Edinburgh until November 5th
Four stars

The sheets of newspaper that cover up Collective's windows may give the impression of the gallery being shut down or else under new management giving it an end of tax year make-over. In truth, the recorded hubbub of bar-room chatter inside begs to differ, just as the light-boxes of half empty (or half full) pint glasses on the wall suggests the doors are open, if not all, hours, then at least as late as licensing laws allow. Look closely at the newspapers, and the windows themselves are mapped out with a series of pointers for what a good old-fashioned boozer, is, was and can be. These are new works by Toby Phips Lloyd and Andrew Wilson, aka Lloyd and Wilson, that form part of The Last Hour! Dreamt up, possibly over a pint, by curator Timothea Armour, and inspired by The Pub and the People, a mass observation study undertaken between 1938 and 1943, The Last Hour! features a series of events to explore pub life and its role a…

Our House

King's Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

There are few bands whose back-catalogue more suits the narrative trappings of a jukebox musical than Madness. This was proven in 2002 when writer Tim Firth took the Nutty Boys' canon of post-music hall social-realist vignettes and turned them into a back-street morality play for its time. It's a time that seems to have caught up with James Tobias' touring revival for Immersion Theatre Company and Damien Tracey Productions, as it follows the two paths its teenage hero Joe could take when he tries to impress his new girlfriend Sarah. Joe does this by breaking into one of the new luxury flats being built in his Camden 'hood, where predatory property developers look set to bulldoze away the street he grew up in.
What follows on David Shields' red brick and rust-laden set is an infectiously honest yarn, in which Jason Kajdi's Joe is torn between paying his dues or else making a Faustian pact with George Sampson's loc…

Dominic Hill - The Macbeths

There have been many Macbeths who have moved through the portals of the Citizens Theatre. As with other things in the Gorbals based institution which will soon be undergoing a major make-over, if you're not careful they'll end up hanging round like ghosts. The trick, as the Citz's current artistic director Dominic Hill has discovered during his six year tenure, is to keep moving, to respect the past while creating something new for the moment, with one eye always on the future.

So it goes with The Macbeths, Hill's stripped down take on Shakespeare's Scottish Play, which will be performed in the Citz's sixty-seater Circle Studio. Hill's new take on the play focuses solely on the play's central couple, and how vaulting ambition whispered in the bedroom ends up being the only thing that keeps them together, before the extreme actions that result from it destroys them both.

“It's just about him and her,” says Hill on a break from rehearsing his two-acto…

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of A Guard Dog

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The sound of prison doors clanging shut permeates throughout the auditorium from the start of Helena Kaut-Howson's epic stage version of Russian dissident writer Georgi Vladimov's allegorical novel, first translated into English by Michael Glenny. A caption projected high at the back of Pawel Dobrzycki's stark, steel-grey stage sets out the show's store. A thirteen-strong troupe line up in military formation to be put through their well-drilled paces as a fictitious set of modern day prisoners in Siberia who frame the action. This is in preparation to play-act inmates, guards and above all the dogs who roar through Vladimov's story of what happens to the most devoted servants to the cause once the prison camps are liberated following Stalin's death.
Kaut-Howson charts Ruslan's story, from being unleashed into the world by his master, to ending up on the scrap-heap. Even when he's taken in by an equally displaced fo…

Romeo and Juliet

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Following the cross-dressing high-jinks of Twelfth Night, the gender-blind Merely Theatre's second touring show takes a leap closer to the multi-tasking cast of five's own age range. The result is a very laid-back looking quintet in a dressed-down take on Shakespeare's evergreen tragedy of teenage kicks caught in the crossfire of family feuds and gang warfare.
The Montague boys out on the razz are in uniform grey tops and jeans in Scott Ellis' production, while the Capulets sport several shades of discreetly attention-seeking tartan. This gives the visual impression of a bunch of retro indie kids picking a fight with revivalist hipsters. While hardly mods versus rockers class war, the image does help heighten the air of everyone involved being too young and stupid to know better. This in turn gives things a giddy gush of hormone-fired energy that drives the doomed romance between Sarah Peachey's Romeo and Emmy Rose's …

Twelfth Night

King's Theatre, Edinburgh Three stars

If William Shakespeare was the original gender bender, the current emancipation of non-binary identity politics suggests the world is slowly catching up with him. Enter Merely Theatre, the young company currently working with an agenda of stripped-down, gender-neutral renditions of the bard's finest works. With male and female performers 'twinned' to play a particular set of roles, the boy/girl permutations in Merely's five actor versions of the plays are seemingly endless.
What this means in the first of two productions touring in tandem is a carnivalesque knockabout rom-com, which begins with a sort-of sing-along, as Tamara Astor's Feste takes the opening 'If music be the food of love' line literally. This sets the tone, as Emmy Rose's shipwrecked Viola puts on the mantle of what looks like a sailor on shore leave called Cesario in order to cosy up to Hannah Ellis' local high hid' yin, Duke Orsino. S…

The Coolidge Effect

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Robbie Gordon says hello to every single member of the audience as they walk into Traverse Two's already intimate space at the start of his and Jack Nurse's new show for the fiercely curious Glasgow-based Wonder Fools company. This action alone is telling about what follows in a show that seeks to get beyond the computer screen where internet pornography dominates, and to connect with another human being in a real live expression of physical contact. Over the next hour of Nurse's production, Gordon attempts to draw the audience in even more to his meditations on sex, love and how a new kid on the block, on the web or in a laboratory cage can put a spring back in an otherwise jaded sexual step.
Taking its title from a 1950s scientific experiment by way of an American president's observations of chickens, Gordon navigates his way through what isn't really a one-man show partly by way of an interactive performance lecture. This…

I/Not I – Christian Boltanski, Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer with Jonathan Meese, Bobby Sayers, Amy Leigh Bird

Lust and the Apple, Temple until December 8th
Four stars

The Midlothian former school that houses one of the most adventurous contemporary art-spaces in the country has been quiet of late due to problems with damp. A reconstituted Lust and the Apple is more than worth a pilgrimage to see new work by a cross-generational quartet of international artists spread across the premises in ways that employ the centre's unique environment.
In the drive-way, recent Glasgow School of Art graduate Amy Leigh Bird's Topophilia, An Archeology puts locally sourced natural detritus in vitrines full of water marked Kelvin (2016) and Temple (2017). Inside, a customised boiler-suit daubed with gold-painted text becomes the work-clothes of Rotterdam based Bobby Sayers, whose performance-based So What Do You Do? attempts to subvert the daily grind with a mixture of work, rest and play. Out in the garden, Square Metres is an ever expanding carpet of twelve inch vinyl records laid down by German no…

Cilla The Musical

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

By rights, the late Cilla Black should have gained national treasure status as one of the greatest of 1960s Brit-girl singers rather than the light entertainment queen she became. This new musical by Jeff Pope goes some way to redress the balance, just as the TV mini series his stage play is based upon did before it. Pope focuses on Black's hectic early years that saw big-voiced Scouse teeny-bopper Cilla White move from floor-spots at legendary Liverpool nitespot the Cavern to recording at Abbey Road and playing the London Palladium. Out of this comes a classic showbiz success story that highlights Black's power and credibility as a singer.
This is made clear to stunning effect at the end of the first act, when an astonishing Kara Lily Hayworth captures the full overwrought glory of Anyone Who Had A Heart, Black's first number one, and arguably the best recorded version of the Bacharach and David ballad by a country mile. Much of what…

How The Other Half Loves

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars

If you can remember the 1960s, so cliched legend has it, then you weren't really there. Such superior-minded myth-making comes to mind watching Alan Ayckbourn's early hit, a suburban pot-pourri of sex and the tired thrill of everyday betrayal. This comes through the confused fall-out of three dead marriages as the so-called permissive society trickles down the class scale.

Alan Strachan's touring revival of his West End production opens amidst the domestic chaos of upper crust Frank and Fiona Foster and the aspirationally with-it Bob and Teresa Phillips. Fiona and Bob have just had a late-night liaison, and must cover their tracks lest permanently befuddled Frank and new mum Teresa find out. As their alibi they co-opt unsuspecting William and Mary Featherstone, who end up having dinner with each couple on consecutive nights.

Ayckbourn's ingenious conceit is to have the action in both houses played simultaneously, so the Featherstones sw…

Boff Whalley - Commoners Choir – Sing When You're Winning

Boff Whalley was still playing with Chumbawamba when the idea of forming a community choir first started to take root. By this time, the Leeds-based anarcho-punk iconoclasts formed in 1982 out of a northern English squatting scene had subverted the pop charts with their anthemic breakout hit Tubthumping. More recently, they had scaled back operations to perform as a largely acoustic ensemble. This highlighted the band's folk origins which had always been lurking behind the punk thrash through the vocal interplay between Whalley, Lou Watts and Jude Abbot.

“Even when we were still playing as an electric band, we'd do vocal harmonies backstage before we went on,” says Whalley, “just as a reminder that you've got to listen to everybody, and that there's no hierarchy.”

Once Chumbawamba ended in 2012, Whalley went on to work as a writer with veteran leftist theatre company Red Ladder. He also ended up working with a scratch choir. This opened Whalley's ears to the possibi…

Sandy Thomson - Damned Rebel Bitches

The weather can turn in a minute on Mull. This is something Sandy Thomson is discovering as she rehearses Damned Rebel Bitches, her new play presented by her own North East of Scotland based Poorboy company in co- production with Mull Theatre, where it opens this weekend before embarking on a short tour of seven venues in Scotland.

It seems appropriate, then, that meteorological extremes were one of the driving forces behind the play. The fact that Hurricane Sandy, the second costliest storm in American history that blew through Manhattan in 2012 shares a name with Thomson may be coincidental, but, like the elemental unrest that goes before her, Thomson is a force of nature. This was the case in Monstrous Bodies, Poorboy's most recent show, which melded the lives of a teenage Mary Shelley, who would go on to write Frankenstein, and a twenty-first century schoolgirl facing up to her own demons.

This time out, Damned Rebel Bitches sees Thomson jump to the opposite end of the age s…

The Threepenny Opera

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

When a lightbulb bursts during the opening massed rendition of Mack the Knife in this spirited production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's 1928 anti capitalist musical, it follows a similar incident last weekend on the opening night of The Steamie. If this initially feels like lightning striking twice, Susan Worsfold's production for the Festival and King's Theatre initiated Attic Collective is far smarter than that. As it runs with what morphs into Poor Theatre to the max, emergency lights and hand-held spotlights are utilised for all to see. The latter is crucial in a show that leaves nothing hidden in its re-energising of Brecht's disruptive roots.
On an otherwise bare stage, a band plays while members of the show's eighteen-strong ensemble pedal away at exercise bikes, presumably powering the show, but getting nowhere fast. While captions and slides are projected, dashing anti-establishment rake Macheath runs rings …

Ugly Rumours – Why Inverleith House Has Yet to Be 'Saved'

Last week, the man who in October 2016 closed down one of Scotland's most internationally renowned visual art institutions without notice or any apparent public consultation, claimed that initial reports that it was no longer going to have any artistic function had been a rumour.
Simon Milne, Regius Keeper of the publicly owned Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh where Inverleith House gallery is situated, appeared to be attempting to rewrite history.

Milne's contention that it was "never the case" that Inverleith House would cease to show art appears to contradict RBGE's own statement published last October which, while making clear that artistic activity would continue in the Garden itself, states: '... Inverleith House will no longer be dedicated to the display of contemporary art, and RBGE is looking at options for the alternative use of the building.'

Since the closure, a public outcry provoked a 10,000-plus petition and an open letter from major artistic f…

Grease

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

All the pink ladies, single or otherwise, are in the house for the touring revival of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's lovingly irreverent homage to the seemingly more innocent 1950s that went on to be the world's biggest musical and a smash movie too. With a fistful of hit songs and a pastel coloured cartoon style staging, David Gilmore's revisitation of his 1993 London production is a dazzling depiction of teenage dreams, where even the bad girls and boys are good. Despite this, it zones in on the heartbreak as much as the highs of the term time romance between tough guy Danny, nice girl Sandy and the gang.
With The Wanted's Tom Parker donning Danny's leather jacket with a knowing swagger, Over the Rainbow winner Danielle Hope's Sandy isn't quite so sickly sweet as sometimes played, and ex East Ender Louisa Lytton's Rizzo is a beatnik in waiting. Set pieces are writ large, from the souped-up thrust of Greased Ligh…

What Shadows

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

The sound and thunder of some very English and very heavy weather opens Chris Hannan's play, that puts real life disgraced Tory MP Enoch Powell at the heart of a debate about whether our differences can ever be reconciled. Powell, of course, was the bi-lingual, classics quoting scholar, whose so-called rivers of blood speech in 1968 was a dog-whistle to the sort of legitimised intolerance which has looked creepingly familiar of late.
One of those who suffered is Rose, the woman of colour who grew up conscious of Powell's demonisation of her kind. As played by Amelia Donkor, Rose turns out to have a few prejudices of her own, even as she forms an unholy alliance with Sofia, the right wing academic she usurped. Moving between the late 1960s build-up to Powell's speech and 1992, Roxana Silbert's new staging of her 2016 Birmingham Rep production frames the action against Ti Green's tree-lined urban idyll and monumental conc…

Peter Hall obituary

Peter Hall – theatre, film and opera director

Born November 22 1930; died September 11 2017

Without Peter Hall, who has died aged 86, the theatre world would be a very different place. Not only did Hall direct the first English language production of Samuel Beckett's era defining play, Waiting For Godot, when he was only twenty-four. Before he was thirty he had founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, and would go on to take over from Laurence Olivier at the helm of the National Theatre, overseeing the company's turbulent move to purpose built premises on London's South Bank. For the next half century Hall moved from precocious young mover and shaker to elder statesman, be it at Glyndebourne, where he oversaw numerous world class productions, or latterly with his own Peter Hall Company. He returned to the National for the last time in 2011 to celebrate his 80th birthday with a production of Twelfth Night. His daughter Rebecca played Viola.

Bearded, leather jacketed and polo-…

Holger Czukay obituary

Holger Czukay – bass player, electronicist, composer

Born March 24 1938: died September 5 2017


Holger Czukay, who has been found dead in his apartment aged 79, was much more than a bass player. Whilst with Can, the post hippy purveyors of a form of cosmic free-form rock he co-founded in 1968, the former student of radical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen helped define the band's propulsive and hypnotic rhythmic power alongside drummer Jaki Leibezeit. It was Czukay's work in the studio as editor and engineer, however, that helped shape and focus the band's surprisingly funky sound. His pioneering experiments with sampling, electronics and what came to be known as world music revealed a playful nature that coursed through both his solo and collaborative work.

Czukay was born in what was then the Free City of Danzig, the Baltic port which later became part of Poland as Gdansk. Forced to flee with his parents as the Russians advanced, Czukay recalled arriving in Berlin in 1…

Helena Kaut-Howsen - Faithful Ruslan: The Story of A Guard Dog

The last time Polish theatrical whirlwind Helena Kaut-Howson directed a play in Glasgow, it was a piece called Werewolves. Her 1999 production of fellow Pole Teresa Lubkiewicz's play was for the short-lived Theatre Archipelago company. The initiative was intended as a reinvention of Communicado, which until then had been led since its inception by company founder Gerry Mulgrew. Werewolves was a play about ghosts gatecrashing a remote farmhouse party, and had already been published in 1978 by Kaut-Howson, who had directed productions of the play in Galway, Montreal and London.

Eighteen years on, Kaut-Howson returns to Scotland with another shaggy dog story. Faithful Ruslan: The Story of A Guard Dog has been adapted by Kaut-Howson from the novel written during the 1970s by Russian dissident Georgi Vladimov. It is narrated by an Alsation let off the leash following the death of Stalin and the subsequent closure of the gulags, where, under military supervision, the dog and his pack …

Screening Programme: Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen

Cooper Gallery, Dundee, September 29th-October 7th

In December 2016, Laura Mulvey gave a keynote address at the Cooper Gallery as part of the 12hr Action Group symposium. This was the culmination to Of Other Spaces: Where Does Gesture Become Event?, the gallery's two chapter sprawl through feminist art since the 1970s. This September, the veteran feminist film theorist, who first introduced the notion of the male gaze to cinematic critique, returns to Dundee with her partner in art and life, Peter Wollen, for a series of screenings of some of the key films they made together.
Urgency and Possibility: Counter Cinema in the 70s and 80s will show five films, dating from Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons, made in 1974, through to 1982's Crystal Amazons. Like them, 1977's Riddles of the Sphinx is feature length, while the shorter Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti (1981) will also be screened. The season will open with a screening of the pair's 1980 film, AMY!, preceded by a t…

The Steamie

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Four stars

The Galloway's Mince routine that forms a kind of climax to Tony Roper's relentlessly joyous masterpiece is probably one of the greatest comedy routines to have graced a stage over the last three decades. This side-splitting yarn that sees Roper's quartet of heroines solve one of life's great domestic mysteries was almost upstaged on Friday's opening night of the play's thirtieth anniversary tour by something equally explosive. Whatever technical hiccup caused the loud bang, barely a beat was missed before Mrs Culfeathers, Dolly, Margrit and Doreen dead-panned it to its hilarious conclusion.
Such is the unbreakable power of Roper's play, which sets out its store in a 1950 Glasgow wash-house on Hogmanay, and proceeds to riff its way to closing time. This is done in Roper's own production for producers Neil Laidlaw and Jason Haigh-Ellery with a set of meticulously timed comic turns that colour in an entire society …

A Streetcar Named Desire

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

The plays of Tennessee Williams are the most fragile of things. One foot wrong on their highly strung tightrope, and everything can come tumbling down in a blizzard of over-egged melodrama. In a way, the delicacy of the plays reflects their heroines, a catwalk of damaged goods broken by the love that failed them. This is certainly the case for Blanche Dubois, who, as played by Gina Isaac, sashays into Michael Emans' Rapture Theatre production like a glamour chasing movie starlet on the slide, and unable to deal with her increasingly strained close-ups anymore.
Once she invades the crumbling nest of Richard Evans' set, which looms like a left-over wall in a bull-dozed slum, the fire she ignites in the local community sees her run rings round her sister Stella, given a long-suffering grace by Julia Taudevin. While men like neighbour Mitch fall at Blanche's perfectly manicured feet, only Joseph Black's Stanley, given more intelligence a…

Stand By

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The police radios are crackling even before real life ex cop Adam McNamara's forensic look at life on the thin blue line begins its post Edinburgh Festival Fringe Glasgow run. The audience are wearing ear-pieces, through which can be heard assorted situation reports in need of officers to attend. Onstage, a quartet of Scotland's finest are confined to the back of a van for the night, bracing themselves for action while negotiators attempt to talk down an angry man with a machete in the house next door. In the meantime, life goes on as mundanely as in any other boring job. When things do finally kick off, lives are changed in an instant.
What follows in Joe Douglas' production for his Utter company in association with the Byre Theatre, St Andrews is a warts and all close up of the personal stresses and strains life in uniform can provoke beyond the banter. One minute, Davey and Marty are fighting over the cheese sandwich the last shift hav…

August: Osage County

Dundee Rep
Five stars

Everyone is on different drugs in Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize winning American epic, which receives its Scottish premiere in new Dundee Rep artistic director Andrew Panton's revival, a decade after it first appeared on Broadway and the West End. It's not just the booze and pills that the ageing heads of the Weston clan Beverley and Violet cling to for comfort that makes communication between them so impossible. It's the assorted emotional crutches their three daughters, Barbara, Ivy and Karen alongside their extended family hold on to for dear life that leaves everyone so desperately isolated from each other.
The Westons are reunited on Alex Lowde's revolving open plan set after Beverley disappears shortly after hiring young Native American woman Johnna to keep house and look after an increasingly delirious Violet. What follows over almost three and a half hours is a slow burning tragi-comic explosion of collective dysfunction, with all its s…

Ian McDiarmid and Chris Hannan - What Shadows

“Don't worry,” says Ian McDiarmid from outside a Birmingham rehearsal room, “I'm not being attacked.”

It's an impression the noise from the room next door might easily give the impression of if you were looking the other way. Especially as the Carnoustie born veteran of stage and screen, former co-artistic director of the Islington based Almeida Theatre and some-time cult hero of the big screen Star Wars franchise is rehearsing Chris Hannan's play, What Shadows. The play opens at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh later this month in a production revived by Birmingham Rep, who premiered it in 2016. McDiarmid plays Enoch Powell, the old school Tory politician and Wolverhampton MP, who, in April 1968, effectively killed his career when he made what came to be known as the 'Rivers of Blood' speech.

The speech, made to the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre, a stone's throw from where What Shadows is being rehearsed in Birmingham, was in opposi…