Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from November, 2017

Morna Pearson - How to Disappear

Morna Pearson isn't the most obvious playwright to have her work open in the run up to Christmas. A darkly comic mix of taboo-busting absurdism and social comment with a magical realist twist. How to Disappear is a not exactly everyday tale of a man called Robert, who confines himself indoors, where he has been since Helen Daniels died. That was in 1997, when the passing of Daniels, a fictional character from Australian TV soap, Neighbours, marked the last link with the programme's original cast.

Since then, Robert has spent his days literally tearing his hair out, with his kid sister Isla acting as his carer, and only a menagerie of animals, including an iguana called Scott and a corn snake called Charlene, for company. Scott and Charlene, of course, were the characters played by Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue in Neighbours. Only benefits assessor Jessica, on a mission to prove Robert fit for work, disturbs Robert and Isla's little republic.

“It goes off in a different d…

Beautiful – The Carole King Musical

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

A solitary piano sits centre-stage on a purple-lit mock up of New York's Carnegie Hall circa mid 1970s at the opening of Douglas McGrath's loving dramatic homage to Carole King. The precociously talented Brooklyn teenager churned out pop gems before stepping into the spotlight to help define an era. When Bronte Barbe's Carole breaks off mid-way through So Far Away, from her multi-million selling 1971 album, Tapestry, to reflect on her success, her un-starry kookiness is as Me-Generation as it gets.
Once King's past rewinds in this touring version of Marc Bruni's production, McGrath's script moves into the songwriting factory at 1650 Broadway., where her writing partner and first husband Gerry Goffin compete with contemporaries Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Illustrating King's rise are the songs themselves, performed by passable facsimiles of the Drifters, the Shirelles etc, as if head-lining an all-star variety night.

Legally Blonde The Musical

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There is a moment mid-way through the second act of this UK touring revival of Laurence O'Keefe, Nell Benjamin and Heather Hach's musical adaptation of the hit 2001 film when the fun stops. Five minutes earlier, Anthony Williams' dazzling pink-hued production was a riot of frothy song and dance routines concerning the perils of Elle Woods, the cheer-leading sorority girl who ditches her air-head image to train as a Harvard lawyer after her preppy boyfriend dumps her. The next, just after plucky Elle saves the day, she's warding off unwanted advances from the high-flying legal eagle university professor who drafted her into his team of interns to tackle the case of the celebrity fitness instructor and her murdered husband.
Things have changed a bit since the show first conquered Broadway a decade ago. In the current climate, Elle's refusal to be man-handled in this way looks like a timely and necessary act of everyday defi…

Caroline Deyga - Cinderella, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and Beyond

Caroline Deyga may be playing one of the Ugly Sisters in the Citizens Theatre's seasonal production of Cinderella, but she has already been to one ball this year without any need of a fancy pair of slippers. As one of the high-flying ensemble of actresses who brought Alan Warner's novel, The Sopranos, to life in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of a show restyled as Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, the Carnoustie raised actress was nominated with her onstage colleagues for an Olivier award for best supporting actress. Deyga and chums may have lost out, but former NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone's production of Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall's adaptation went on to scoop an Olivier for Best New Comedy.

“It was a night I'll never forget,” says Deyga. “Going to the Oliviers and living that experience with those girls, it was amazing. Walking up the red carpet, and you sit in your seat, and Brian May's sitting behind you, and Sheridan Smith&…

La Clique Noel

Festival Square Spiegeltent, Edinburgh
Four stars

This seasonal variation on the nouveau cabaret sensation sired in the after-hours sleaze of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins with a Christmas carol. Given the choice is O Come All Ye Faithful, the candle-sporting troupe of dressed-up turns may have other things on their mind.
Running as part of London-based producers Underbelly's take on Edinburgh's Christmas, it's a welcome return to La Clique, hosted with lascivious charm by divine Kit Kat club refugee Bernie Dieter. The parade of acts that follow rattle through assorted bite-size spectacles of excess.

Vicky Butterfly swishes into erotic life with a languid burlesque routine that gets back to nature on several levels. Leah Shelton is delivered onstage in a brightly coloured hold-all, from which her legs run through an equally decorative routine. Teen dream Tim Kriegler transforms aerialism into an artform beyond pure physical spectacle. Heather Holliday shows off he…

Pussy Riot Theatre: Riot Days

The Art School, Glasgow
November 21st 2017

“Be as punk as you like,” says music promoter and producer Alexander Cheparukhin, introducing this live rendering of Riot Days, Pussy Riot leading light Maria Alyokhina's explosive counter-cultural memoir, published in September. Alyokhina was one of three members of the Russian all-female anti-establishment live art troupe imprisoned in full glare of the global media in 2012. This followed their arrest after a forty-second guerilla performance inside Moscow's Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour caught the public imagination. The publicity also highlighted an intolerance of dissent by Vladimir Putin's puritanical regime. Alongside fellow Pussy Rioters Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, Alyokhina,received a two year sentence for 'hooliganism motivated by religious hatred'. Having remained in custody throughout the trial, she ended up serving twenty-one months.

Almost four years since her release, Al…

Douglas McGrath - Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

Carole King never wanted to watch the musical play based on her life. This is what the iconic singer/song-writer who penned a stream of 1960s hits with husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin before recording her 1971 classic album, Tapestry, told Hollywood writer and director Douglas McGrath when the pair first met to talk about the project. McGrath's book would go on to be drawn from a series of interviews with King, Goffin and their song-writing contemporaries Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.

King was happy to sign over the rights of such era-defining pop nuggets as Will You Love Me Tomorrow and the more reflective You've Got A Friend, but she didn't want her presence in the audience to distract from what was happening onstage. Given that some of that would be the breakdown of her marriage to Goffin, the idea of the audience looking at her while this was happening didn't appeal.

McGrath went along with this, and figured that once the show opened she'd soon change h…

Angie Dight - Mischief-la-Bas and Nursery Crymes

When Mischief-la-Bas tell a story, it usually comes out a bit different to most other tall tales made flesh. The Glasgow-based interactive outdoors-based theatre company's long awaited take on nursery rhymes is no different. This should be apparent in Nursery Crymes, a brand new night time promenade performance, which explores the dark underbelly that lies at the heart of some of the world's best known children's stories.

With capacity for audiences of up to 400 in staggered groups, over two nights, Nursery Crymes will move through the back streets of Glasgow city centre. This will see those attending convene on King Street, before taking a trip into the depths of Mother Goose's forest. On an immersive on-set street created by artist/designer Bill Breckenridge, the so-called fun of the fair and other carnival headaches will be explored in the extravaganza of the F***ed-Up Fairground.
As the audience moves in, out and around four zones in the area roughly surrounding the…

Love and Information

Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

When the small screens on which digital captions display both the titles and dialogue of Caryl Churchill's remarkable 2012 work briefly fall prey to technical gremlins mid-way through, without a word, the glitch accidentally sums up everything both the play and this unique production is about. Broken into fifty bite-scenes divided into four sections bridged by artfully riotous scene-changes, Churchill's text strips language down to its bare minimum. This is done by way of a series of duo-logues that show people reaching out for each other, more often than not in vain.
In a world where social media, computer-generated communication and virtual technology keeps everything at an increasingly distant remove, flesh and blood encounters are increasingly brief. As each couple attempts to get to the heart of the matter in scenes sometimes barely longer than a sketch, plenty of room is left for interpretation.

This is certainly the case in J…

David Bates – La Clique Noel, The Famous Spiegeltent and Edinburgh's Christmas

Less than a year ago, David Bates thought he might well be done with Edinburgh. The owner and producer of the Famous Spiegeltent, who had transformed a ninety-seven year old construction into a global brand which in part had come to define the spirit of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, had been told that the site the Famous Spiegeltent had operated out of in St Andrew Square since 2014 was no longer available. Essential Edinburgh, who manage the site, said they wanted the Gardens to return to a “relaxation space,” although the short notice of their decision left the Famous Spiegeltent without a home for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  

All this created a bit of a kerfuffle, exacerbated somewhat by Edinburgh International Festival using St Andrew Square for this year's Standard Life sponsored opening event, the light-based spectacular, Bloom.

Ten months on, Bates is back in Edinburgh even if the Famous Spiegeltent as a physical entity isn't. A different spiegeltent is here, howeve…

Cabaret

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Five stars

Will Young's pasty-faced Emcee pokes his head through the giant 'O' in the word 'WILLKOMMEN' that covers the stage curtain at the start of this touring revival of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb's finest musical hour. Young's peek-a-boo moment shatters through something monumental, even as it hails the coming new order. With Emcee the gate-keeper to Berlin's 1930s underground club scene, Young resembles a malevolent doll in leather lederhosen. By the end of the first act, Young is pulling the strings, as he leads a chilling version of Tomorrow Belongs To Me.
Such are the delicious contradictions of a show originally drawn from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin stories, with Young Olivier nominated when he first appeared in Rufus Norris' West End production five years ago. On the one hand, Joe Masteroff's book is a damning indictment of how austerity culture and mass disaffection is exploited by p…

Tabula Rasa

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Mid-way through this stark meditation on loss, and the care that's required in the lead up to that loss, actress Pauline Goldsmith stands in the swirl of strings conjured up by the twelve musicians who surround her. Up until then, her character has been a kind of hospital ward-bound raconteur, reeling off warts and all yarns concerning the funeral of a friend called Peter, and his descent into death that pre-ceded it. Dressed in scarlet in a world of black and white, Goldsmith's deadpan and unflinching monologues at moments recall the taboo-busting elaborations of 1970s comedian Dave Allen.
In this cross-artform collaboration between Vanishing Point theatre company and the Scottish Ensemble, however, Goldsmith's punchlines come through four pieces by Estonian composer Arvo Part. With the Scottish Ensemble playing them live, as Goldsmith stands among the twelve musicians, it looks like they might have been conjured from her own mind …

David Paul Jones – Something There

When a track from David Paul Jones' Samuel Beckett inspired Something There album was played on the radio, a remarkable thing happened. Jones' contemporary classical suite, performed by the Ayrshire-born composer's eight-piece DPJ Ensemble, had been released by Linn Records, and was picked up by Australia's ABC Classic FM station. The third track, the wistfully named The Sun Comes and Goes in the Land of Woop-Woop, was a particular favourite. Over its nearly sixteen minutes duration, the music's layers of piano, cello and saxophone soaked ambience evolves into a heartfelt emotional meditation made flesh by its vocal arrangements.

When it was played, one listener emailed Jones care of Linn, to thank him for the piece. More specifically, the writer of the email was hospital-bound and in constant pain with terminal cancer. When he turned on the radio and heard Jones' music, however, as Jones remembers it, “He said for that moment, or for the track's duration, …

Mozart vs Machine

Sound Festival @ The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Saturday November 11th

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart stands in peri-wigged triumph. Towards the end of what's billed as 'an electronic essay collage opera', the shades-sporting eighteenth century composer looks every inch the glam-tastic pop star he was, living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful body of work. For the last hour or so, Mozart has been squaring up to Raymond Scott, one of the great-grand-daddies of twentieth century electronic music, whose experiments with gadgets and gizmos saw him invent what he called the Electronium, which was arguably the world's first self-composing synthesiser. The future would have sounded a lot different without Scott's pioneering work, and Bob Moog,who worked with him prior to inventing the epoch-changing Moog synthesiser, cited his former employer as a major influence.

Here, Scott's inventions open up a wormhole in time that sees Mozart take a leap into a future that allows him…

Lampedusa

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

It could be anywhere, the sparse expanse of beach littered with washed-up detritus that covers the stage throughout Jack Nurse's revival of Anders Lustgarten's quietly impassioned plea for humanity. As the title of Lustgarten's play makes clear, it is actually the Italian island that is the gateway to Europe for migrants attempting to flee Syria and other places. It is also where Andy Clark's grim-faced fisherman Stefano is employed to scoop up the drowned bodies of those who didn't make it.

Closer to home, in a northern English town on the other side of the world, Anglo-Chinese student Denise attempts to make ends meet as a debt collector for a payday loan company. Louise Mai Newberry's Denise is smart enough to understand how poverty and prejudice work, but is herself trapped by her mother's incapacity.

As Lustgarten's twin monologues weave across each other, the connections between the two become painfully clea…

Together

Glasgow Film Theatre, November 6th
Five stars


The London East End laid bare in Italian film-maker Lorenza Mazetti’s fascinating 52 minute piece of post World War Two poetic realism looks a far cry from the gentrified hipster’s paradise it would become half a century later. Dating from 1956, the novelty of seeing the film now as part of a UK tour promoted by the Bo'ness-based Hippodrome Film Festival, who commissioned a new live score by contemporary improvisers Raymond MacDonald and Christian Ferlaino, is the presence of the then unknown Leith-born artist Eduardo Paolozzi.

In his only acting role, the then thirty-two year old Paolozzi appears alongside painter Michael Andrews as a pair of deaf dockers navigating their way through the blitz-battered streets. Here, gangs of children mock the men's silence with delighted cruelty, while the pair remain oblivious to the everyday noises of the pub, market and fun fair. As a double act, where Andrews lean-ness reflects his outgoing desi…

Barry Miles and James Birch - The British Underground Press of the Sixties

It was fifty years ago this year that the so-called summer of love burst forth with a wave of hippy idealism played out to a psychedelic soundtrack. In the UK, much of the activity sprang from the coming together of counter-cultural forces two years earlier at the International Poetry Incarnation. Held at the Royal Albert Hall, this iconic event put American beat poet Allen Ginsberg at the top of the bill of some of the finest (male) minds of his generation.

Immortalised on film by Peter Whitehead's short documentary film, released the same year, the IPA subsequently spawned numerous Happenings, where psych-rock bands, triptastic light shows and freaky dancing set the template for high times to come. Barry Miles, who worked at Better Books, where the idea for the IPA was hatched, saw the possibility for a magazine to help disseminate all the alternative ideas that were brewing around sex, drugs and rock and roll. The result of this was International Times, or IT, a playful and p…

Jonathan Lloyd - Love and Information, Solar Bear and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's British Sign Language and English Course

When Jonathan Lloyd decided to direct a production of Caryl Churchill's play, Love and Information, with final year students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's unique three year BA Performance in British Sign Language and English degree, he knew it wasn't an obvious choice. On the one hand, the recently installed director of Solar Bear theatre company had a group of performers who all define themselves as deaf or D/deaf (more of the latter definition later), who would be embarking on their first ever tour of professional venues. This would showcase the company's talents with maximum exposure beyond the relatively safe confines of the academic environment.

On the other, Lloyd had selected a play looking at the information age, but which, over its fifty short scenes, is seriously open to interpretation. With no stage directions or any indication of setting or character names, the result of this is a tantalising production performed by a cast of ten in a mix of Br…

The Wipers Times

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Four stars

When the editorial team behind a mould-breaking satirical magazine go over the top at the end of the first act of Ian Hislop and Nick Newman's play, as heroic gestures go, it's no joke. This is World War One, after all, and the merry pranksters from an ad hoc zine called The Wipers Times are on the frontline of battle in the Belgian town no-one can pronounce. Given that the men are genuinely going over the top and into battle, casualties are considerably higher than the occasional suit for libel.
Led by rebellious officers Fred Roberts and Jack Pearson, the magazine allows a rare voice for good-natured if at times scurrilous dissent on the trenches, and acts as an inadvertent morale booster. The bad guys, of course, are the office-bound pen-pushers and top brass bureaucrats, represented here by Sam Ducane’s cartoon toff, Lieutenant Colonel Howfield.

While it never totally transcends its TV roots, the play's sit-com style scenes are peppere…

Wire

The Mash House, Edinburgh
Monday November 6th

There’s nothing remotely flabby about Wire, the wilfully singular accidental veterans of the so-called punk wars, who recently insisted on Marc Riley’s BBC 6Music A-Z of Punk that they categorically weren’t punk at all. Given that the metal machine music of this year’s Silver/Lead album sounds as driven and as purposeful as any of their initial trilogy of 1977-79 albums, you can see their point.

Live, the band's original core trio of Colin Newman, bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Grey, plus guitarist Matthew Simms, take no prisoners, and never play to type. This is the case from the curiously rock star-like head-wear of Lewis and chief vocalist and guitarist Newman - a flat cap and a trucker’s cap respectively - to the stoic refusal to play almost anything resembling ‘the hits’. As the ipad perched on Newman's mic stand, from which he reads his lyrics suggests, Wire are as twenty-first century as it gets.

This doesn't…

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman - The Wipers Times

Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are used to being in the frontline. As editor and cartoonist respectively of satirical bible Private Eye, they have spent many a year dodging metaphorical bullets from an outraged political establishment. As script-writers too, ever since they worked on revues together while at Ardingly College public school in West Sussex (also the alma mater of four Conservative MPs – so far), they have consistently bitten the hand that feeds them.

While Hislop is best known as long-standing team captain on satirical TV quiz show, Have I Got News For You, Newman's career as writer and cartoonist has seen his work appear in high-end publications such as Punch and The Spectator. Together as writers, they created the character of gormless toff and old Ardinglyian, Tim Nice-But-Dim, for The Harry Enfield Show on TV, and, among numerous radio works, in 1994 penned Gush, a satire based on the Gulf War and written in the style of Jeffrey Archer.

Despite such a collective ar…