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Showing posts from 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recommendations to Glasgow Licensing Board that the pioneering club and arts venue should have its late license withdrawn, it seemed to mark an end to a spirit of artistic freedom in Glasgow that the former railway arch so playfully defined.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 Stree…

Lysistrata

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 …

Coriolanus

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 …

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 Hous…

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 …

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 a…

Wonderland

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 i…

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…

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 artis…

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 ScarboroughFair, 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 re…

Macbeth

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 climbe…

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 firs…

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…

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 fid…

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-s…

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…

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 pl…

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, …