Skip to main content


Showing posts from October, 2017

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…

Vic Godard & Subway Sect – Beyond Rock and Roll

October 15, 2016. Onstage at the Wee Red Bar, ostensibly Edinburgh College of Art's student union but so much more besides, the living legend that is Vic Godard is baring his soul. The louche frontman of Subway Sect, whose support slot to The Clash on the Edinburgh Playhouse date of the iconic headliners' May 1977 White Riot tour effectively spawned what became known as the Sound of Young Scotland, has just sung backing vocals to his own song, Ambition, as performed by The Sexual Objects.

The Sexual Objects, of course, are fronted by Davy Henderson, one of those in attendance at the Edinburgh Playhouse show. His incendiary band, Fire Engines, were key figures in Scotland's post-punk renaissance, before morphing into glossy New Pop pioneers Win. Henderson got back to basics with The Nectarine No 9, then embraced all that’s sublime about rock music with the Sexual Objects. And now here they are, playing Ambition while the song's visionary writer takes…

Eve Jamieson - Jean Genet and The Maids

When Eve Jamieson was invited to direct Jean Genet's play, The Maids, at Dundee Rep, it wasn't the regular experience for an incoming director. While Jamieson has more than thirty years theatrical experience behind her, the Rep's ensemble company are a tight-knit group, and Irene Macdougall, Ann Louise Ross and Emily Winter, who appear in Jamieson's production, which opens tonight, have been working together cheek by jowl for eighteen years.

Given that power structures lie at the heart of Genet's play about two put-upon sisters who fantasise about killing their mistress, such existing intimacy might well have thrown up some accidental but hopefully not fatal parallels. As it is, Jamieson has used the close relationship between her three female leads to the show's advantage.

“There's a fearlessness there,” says Jamieson, mid-way through talking about her production the day after the show's first preview. “Normally, the director is the one who brings th…

Sue Tompkins – Country Grammar – A Film by Luke Fowler

The Modern Institute Airds Lane, Glasgow until November 4th 2017
Four stars

Anyone who has ever witnessed a performance by Sue Tompkins will be familiar with her dynamic delivery of fragmented texts, be it solo in gallery spaces or as vocalist with seminal turn of the century Glasgow-based quartet, Life Without Buildings. Luke Fowler's films have adopted a similar cut and paste approach to transforming more straightforward documentary footage into something more poetic.
This second collaboration between the pair sees Fowler filming Tompkins in the recording studio as she lays down a version of Country Grammar, one of her earliest performance pieces, which dates from 2003. Rather than adopt a make-believe verite approach, Fowler disrupts the process in various ways, from having sound and vision exist independently from each other to making the camera appear to be jumping up and down. This echoes the playful physicality of Tompkins' performance, which here uses two different mic…

Hedda Gabler

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

A woman in a dressing gown sits at an incongruous looking piano, bashing out a discordant melody in an empty grey room. The opening image in Ivo van Hove's touring revival of Henrik Ibsen's 1891 dissection of domestic power is either the glistening epitome of Zen minimalist chic or else just, well, empty. A maid sits to one side awaiting instructions, while the floor is loaded with house-warming flowers. Nothing has found its place yet, least of all Hedda, who is trapped in a room most definitely not of her own.
As played by Lizzy Watts, and surrounded by men in suits who only want to mansplain, objectify, control and abuse her, Hedda is barely able to suppress the urge to take charge of both herself and everybody else. All of which is inadvertently close to the bone right now in Van Hove's National Theatre production. Aided by Patrick Marber's lean new version of the play and Jan Versweyveld's ice-cool design, this contemp…

Ivo van Hove, Patrick Marber and Lizzie Watts - Hedda Gabler

When Ivo Van Hove's production of Hedda Gabler first appeared at the Royal National Theatre in London towards the end of 2016, as with much of the Flemish director's work, audiences were left reeling by his reinvention of a familiar classic. Henrik Ibsen's play about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage was already considered radical when it first appeared in 1891, both for its realism and its proto-feminist subject. Van Hove's production of a new version by Patrick Marber takes an even more daring leap into the twenty-first century, even as it remains faithful to Ibsen's original.

With Ruth Wilson taking the title role during the show's London run, for the UK tour that opens in Edinburgh tonight prior to dates in Aberdeen and Glasgow, Lizzie Watts steps into Hedda's shoes. The production also marks the third time Van Hove has directed the play, following productions in New York in 2004, and in Amsterdam in 2006 with his own Toneelgroep company.

“Some p…

Brothers Karamazov

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

Brotherly love is in abundance in writer Richard Crane and director Faynia Willliams' staging of Dostoyevsky's epic 900 page novel, a philosophical treatise on church, state and family. The spiritual, psychological and emotional consequences of murder on such a terminally dysfunctional clan are also apparent. First seen at the Edinburgh Festival in 1981, Crane and Williams' revived collaboration puts just four actors onstage to tell all this over a mere two hours in a transcendent family reunion.
With all four siblings entering through the auditorium singing, this is about as harmonious as things get, as mercurial Dmitry, rationalist Ivan, youngest and most wide eyed of the brood Alyosha and illegitimate runt of the litter Smerdyakov gather. What follows is a soap opera that also fires a moral and ethical debate en route to some kind of enlightenment.

Set inside a construction that is part bearpit, part lecture theatre, on one level, Wil…

James Ley - Love Song to Lavender Menace

James Ley had never heard of Lavender Menace when he won an LGBT History Month Scotland Cultural Commission award to write a new play. While Edinburgh's pioneering gay book shop that existed between 1982 and 1987 before reinventing itself in new premises as West and Wilde wasn't on Ley's radar, he had vaguely heard of the Gentlemen's Head Quarters, the nickname for the public toilet that existed at the east end of Princes Street outside Register House. He was also half aware of Fire Island, the legendary gay nightclub that existed at the west end of Princes Street in a space that now forms the top floor of Waterstone's book shop.

As he discovered, Fire Island was a central focal point for what was then a still largely underground gay scene in Edinburgh's capital. Alongside the likes of the Laughing Duck pub on Howe Street, Fire Island was one of the few places where HI-NRG music could be heard in what would these days be dubbed a safe space for gay men and wo…


Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

'NO FIGHTING' says a makeshift banner hanging over the upper circle of the Lyceum auditorium as seen from the stage, where some of the audience are seated throughout Wils Wilson's production of Bridget Boland's little seen 1948 play. Set in a Berlin theatre used as a holding centre for displaced persons – refugees caught up in a post World War Two limbo and about to be exiled in alien and possibly hostile lands – the play's depiction of still warring factions in newly liberated Europe is both history and prophecy. The actuality sees Poles, Russians, Serbs and Croats at loggerheads, with a show of unity only emerging out of a crisis before hostilities flare up once more.
Boland's play is remarkable enough in its evocation of a conflict-riven Europe steeped in territorial suspicion and warped ideologies. By using the entire theatre as its stage, Wilson has herself broken through a symbolic barrier that makes for a thri…

Lu Kemp - Perth Theatre

When the doors of Perth Theatre re-open to the public in November following a £15m make-over of the category B listed building, it will be reflecting on its past as much as forging towards a bold new future. Today, as exclusively revealed to the Herald, new artistic director Lu Kemp, appointed in 2016, announces her first season of in-house stage productions.

With a pantomime, a Shakespeare play and a contemporary Scottish classic all confirmed, there is much to whet the appetite of Perth audiences old and new. Beyond Kemp's three productions, a tour of rural venues aims to reclaim a circuit which previously spread its net right across the Perthshire region. There will also be a season of children's work in the theatre's new 200 seater state of art studio space, while an array of renowned theatre practitioners have been drafted in as associate artists.

As for the building itself, “It's beautiful,” says Kemp of the transformation, overseen by Richard Murphy Architect…

Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band

Oran Mor, Glasgow
Thursday October 5th 2017

The last time Michael Head graced Oran Mor's doors in February 2016, his forever changing Red Elastic Band featured just a trumpet player and a cellist. There are no such baroque flourishes this time out, as Head gets back to basics with a classic guitar/bass/drums line-up which more resembles a second generation version of Shack, the Scallydelic nouveau Merseybeat combo he led with his guitar hero younger brother John across five studio albums.

There are echoes of that era from the off, as Head enters sporting a Modern Lovers t-shirt alongside guitarist Danny Murphy, and opens with an elaborately plucked acoustic version of Byrds Turn to Stone. The song, taken from Shack's fourth album, Here's Tom With the Weather, documents the Head brothers’ back room epiphanies as they attempted to learn the chords for all the mind-expanding1960s anthems they'd discovered.

Hearing something so personal without one of its key architects pre…

Wils Wilson - Cockpit

The glass-fronted foyer of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh is piled high with well-worn suit-cases. Wils Wilson seems pleasantly surprised to see them as she briefly escapes from rehearsals for her production of Bridget Boland's little-known play, Cockpit, which opens at the Lyceum this weekend. With window ledges lined with vintage books beside her as Wilson makes her way up the stairs, it's as if the theatre has been taken over by occupying forces. Which, given that Wilson's production won't be confined to the stage, but will sprawl it's way across the theatre's auditorium, in a way, it has.

“It's not a play that anybody knows,” says Wilson of Cockpit. “It did well critically in the West End, but it didn't keep its audience, so it didn't run for terribly long, and since then, according to all our researches it hasn't ever been done again.”

Cockpit premiered in 1948, three years after the end of the Second World War. The play is set in a…

Jury Play

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Stepping into another world is not unusual for an audience attending a new piece of theatre by Edinburgh based site-specific auteurs Grid Iron. Walking into a mock-up of the high court, in which you're likely to be selected to be one of fifteen jurors overseeing a fifty-two day murder trial, as is the case with this new co-production with the Traverse, is a step into a world of class-bound ritual and enough arcane Latin phrases to bamboozle the crustiest of academics.
Ben Harrison's production of a text co-written with legal academic Jenny Scott disrupts proceedings of what initially seems like a cut and dry case by shining a spotlight on the jurors' imagined internal monologues. Recordings of these overlap with John Bett's Judge droning on inbetween declarations for both the defence and the prosecution. The play's authors themselves occasionally get to comment on things.

It is the second act of what looks like it might end …


Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Oxygen House theatre company may have taken a twenty year break since their last production, but the pioneering Edinburgh-based purveyors of dramatic abstraction have retained an inherent sense of style in John Mitchell's production of Sophocles' final play in his Theban trilogy. Presented in association with Acting Out Drama School at the venue where Oxygen House began their adventure in 1987, this regeneration features a largely female cast in Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald's 1938 translation.
Storm clouds seem to gather from the off amidst the blackness of a bare stage heightened by Phil Cooney's swirling soundscape. Into this step a black shirted chorus who turn their back on the action as Antigone pleads with her sister Ismene to help her bury their rebel brother Polynices against the will of Queen Creon. Creon herself is a lady not for turning, whose apparent strong and stable outlook is doomed to failure as…

Grid Iron, Ben Harrison and Dr Jenny Scott - Jury Play

There's anything but silence in court in the North Edinburgh rehearsal room where Grid Iron theatre company are pulling together their latest production. In preparing for Jury Play, the renowned site-specific auteurs' new play by Grid Iron artistic director Ben Harrison and legal academic Dr Jenny Scott, the company are re-creating the everyday spectacle of a jury trial through the point of view of the jury itself.

These fifteen ordinary men and women selected at random to pass judgement in High Court criminal trials may in one sense be a symbol of democracy. As they sit there in silence while evidence is put before them through witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution, they might have altogether different things on their minds. In Jury Play, this is revealed through a series of internal monologues that lay bare a form of truth not necessarily heard in the witness box, and which makes for some lively cross-talk beyond it.
“The way that a trial is delivered in cou…

Damned Rebel Bitches

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Growing old gracefully was never on the cards for Ella, the eighty-something heroine at the centre of this sprawl through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from the Poorboy company in co-production with Mull Theatre. By the time she's caught up in the 1944 Clydebank Blitz with her sister Irene, Ella has already found her voice in the classroom through a fondness for swearwords. Almost seven decades on, the spirit is still within her when she goes in search of her errant grandson in the bars of New York just as Hurricane Sandy is about to breeze into town.
As it flashes back and forth between time-zones, introduced by each of the four cast members through a standing microphone, what emerges from Sandy Thomson's production of her own script is something akin to a female-powered state of the nation historical mini series. This is part love story, as Ella falls for older American soldier Pete. It is also a cross-generational comment…