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Showing posts from February, 2017

Gareth Nicholls - God of Carnage

Gareth Nicholls didn't realise how competitive the world of parenthood could be until he had a child of his own. A year or so on, and taking the reins at various collective activities with assorted parent/baby combos, he has witnessed first hand how easy it is for a keeping up with the Jones' type atmosphere to creep in to everyday affairs.

This experience has been something the Glasgow-based theatre director has been able to channel into his forthcoming Tron Theatre production of God of Carnage, French writer Yasmina Reza's excoriatingly funny play about how two sets of parents deal with an altercation between their children at the local park. While Nicholls himself hasn't had recourse to indulge in some of the extreme behaviour the four characters in Reza's play embark on, he nevertheless recognises how civilised discourse's descent into brattish antagonism relates to a much bigger malaise.

“It's a play that's really about asking how communities can w…

Alasdair Roberts – Pangs (Drag City)

If ever there was an artist you'd least expect to burst into a massed chorus of sha-la-las, it’s Alasdair Roberts. Here, after all, is a singer, song-writer and musician steeped in a Scottish folk tradition forged by his Callendar roots even as he found a kindred spirit in Will Oldham's similarly doleful backwoods laments. Under the name of Appendix Out, Roberts played the indie circuit with an ever changing line-up, and proved himself way ahead of the curve in terms of the embrace of traditional music which has since permeated more mainstream culture.

As the eight albums and other sundry releases under his own name have proved, however, Roberts is no tweed-sporting faux-folk flunky. Rather, his explorations and reconstructions of the arcane have sounded thrillingly contemporary, even as they looked to a more spectral past. Roberts' Oldham-produced 2005 No Earthly Man album may have been a collection of ancient murder ballads, but at times it seemed to channel the Velvet U…

Death of A Salesman

Dundee Rep
Four stars

A woman dressed in black plays the flute as she walks mournfully onto a dust covered stage flanked by rows of ash cans. At its centre, a man is elevated up from a life-size hole in the ground and rises from the grave he arguably made for himself. This isn't the most obvious opening for Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize winning 1949 treatise on how money can literally suck the life out of those barely scraping by. Rather than merely replicate the play's inherent naturalism, Joe Douglas' production rummages deep within the psyche of the play's tormented protagonist Willy Loman to revitalises its tragedy in an even more devastating fashion.
When not in a scene, the nine-strong cast pick out low-end notes on one of two pianos that sit either side of the stage. In the play's key flashback scenes, dialogue is spoken into microphones as if echoes from the ghosts of a past that haunts Willy, as his successful brother Ben and the woman in the hotel roo…

Alan Dimmick's studio archive 1977-2017

Stills Gallery, Edinburgh until April 9th
Four stars

Gazing across the two walls that house more than five hundred photographs by Glasgow photographer Alan Dimmick is akin to skimming through a personal scrap book of a city's entire culture. Witnessed first hand, Dimmick's lens moved through its underground that defined it as its habitués went on to change that city's landscape forever. As Dimmick's archive moves through four decades of gatherings and gigs, art openings happenings and hang-outs, his studiedly black and white images capture a world off-guard and in motion, as his subjects pose for all they're worth, recognising the ridiculousness of the situation as they go.
Presented in defiantly slap-dash-but-not-really non-chronological order, here are several generations coming together to party, play, protest and perform both offstage and on as they make spectacles of themselves en route to making a scene. The images come in all shapes and sizes, and are as muc…

Pink Mist

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Playing war in the school playground is one thing in Owen Sheers' play, first produced in 2015 and now on a UK tour of duty in John Retallack and George Mann's revival of their Bristol Old Vic production. Being on the front-line of Afghanistan is quite another for the teenage boys who people become men too soon, especially with everything that comes after.
This is clear from the opening monologue spoken by Arthur, a lanky Bristol adolescent who, as played by Dan Krikler, becomes a dynamic narrator of his own destiny as well as his best mates. Standing tall while he regales the audience with the sort of free-wheeling verse born of the club culture he and his pals Taff and Hads let off steam in, he is surrounded by both them and the mother, wife and girlfriend they variously left behind. The shapes they throw in unison are a well choreographed routine, but when they speak, we see what they have lost as well.

On one level this is familiar …

Pet Shop Boys

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Wednesday February 22nd

The atmosphere is already doing a fairly good impression of a 1980s gay super-club before Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe enter the stage for the Edinburgh leg of Pet Shop Boys' stadium sized Super tour on the back of last year's day-glo inclined album of the same name. The CC Blooms friendly techno is playing and projections are throwing Mod-u-like shapes onto what looks like a pair of upended and oversize circular Formica tables that sit either side of theatre designer Es Devlin's space age stage design.
When Tennant and Lowe are seen, it is strapped to the other side of the tables as they're wheeled around in a big reveal that makes for the grandest of entrances. A suited and be-shaded Tennant appears to be crowned with metallic garlands that give him the impression of a science-fiction Caesar, while Lowe's entire head is encased in what looks like a small alien planet. The effect is imperious, abstract and wonderfu…

Usurper - The Big Five (Singing Knives)

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, something is stirring. Or at least it is in the world of Usurper, the
Edinburgh-based duo of Malcy Duff and Ali Robertson, whose sonic missives over the last decade have become increasingly-expansive exercises in performance that go beyond notions of sound art. Through a series of sketches, routines and goof-offs, all punctuated by noises off made by a bucket-load of acquired junk, Usurper's modus operandi falls somewhere between Samuel Beckett, The Goons and Tex Avery by way of John Hurt's experimental sound designer in Jerzy Skolimowski's neglected 1978 film, The Shout.

Following a busy year of monthly CDr releases on their own Giant Tank label, Usurper's cup runneth over, even more on this forty-five minute cassette released on the Sheffield-based Singing Knives label. A sequel of sorts to their 2012 Cdr, The Big Four, which referenced assorted quartets of personality traits, thrash metal bands and coincidence, this follow-up piece…

Julian Cope

La Belle Angele, Edinburgh
Saturday February 18th 2017

Julian Cope doesn't do things by halves. This is clear from the moment he opens the Edinburgh leg of his current tour to promote his latest opus, Drunken Songs, dressed in his long-standing mix and match uniform of army cap, cut-off khaki kecks and leather jerkin. His once boyish face is permanently hidden by a wild-man's long hair and beard ensemble topped off by rock star shades designed to hide eyes that are what he later describes as “piss-holes in the snow.” He looks both ridiculous and heroic, and in the execution of his appearance he is fearless.
“I know I'm dressed as an invader,” Cope says in a plummy burr of middle England and acquired Scouse, “but it's the closest it's been to 1933 in our time.”

Ever since the self-styled arch-drude embarked on a wayward anti-career that saw him elevate himself from the Liverpool post-punk underground to briefly become a wide-eyed teeny-bopper idol with the Tear…

Joe Douglas - Death of A Salesman

When Arthur Miller wrote Death of A Salesman in 1949, post World War Two America was still dusting itself down from the pre-war depression which had ravaged it. Miller's play about the past his own sell-by date Willy Loman's decline into mental collapse was a damning indictment of U.S. capitalism and this cruellest of system's concentration on the need for those on the bottom rung of the financial ladder to constantly hustle their way to the top. As one of life's believers in the American dream, Loman was mere collateral damage of that system's failure.

Almost seventy years on, and with America's new government a volatile pressure-cooker that looks set to explode, Joe Douglas' new production of the play for Dundee Rep's ensemble company attempts to cut through the play's seemingly unbreakable naturalism to lay bare what is going on in Loman's head.

“It fascinates me,” says Douglas, who is currently associate director at Dundee Rep in the run…

The Cause of Thunder

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars

It's more than two years since the Scottish independence referendum, and a lot has changed for Bob Cunningham, the ageing firebrand at the centre of Chris Dolan's solo play, performed with partisan gusto by David Hayman as part of a tour that travels the country over the next month. Bob is seeking shelter from the Glasgow storm, and finds himself washed up in the same bar he was last in before the referendum.
Bruised but unbowed, Bob holds court as he attempts to come to terms, not just with the No vote, but with the pro Brexit result, the election of President Trump and the rise of hate crime that appears to have been spawned in tandem with both. In this respect, Dolan's sequel to his pre-referendum companion piece, The Pitiless Storm, is a kind of living newspaper that heaps iniquity after iniquity onto Bob and the strata of working class west of Scotland society he represents.

Dolan's script is two-tiered in David Hayman Junior'…

Slapp Happy with Faust

Cafe Oto, London
February 10th-11th 2017

The birds are singing on the pre-show recorded soundtrack to the first night of a rare and exquisite weekend London residency by Dagmar Krause, Peter Blegvad and Anthony Moore's international trio of 1970s sired avant-pop maestros. Following dates in Cologne at the end of 2016, these sold out reunion shows also saw the band reunited with bassist Jean-Herve Peron and drummer Werner 'Zappi' Diermaier, aka fellow travellers and doyens of the German underground, Faust. This meant that one of the post hippy/pre-punk era's pivotal underground alliances were playing together for the first time in forty-five years.

Slapp Happy's early history saw them wend their way through unlikely collaborations, not only with Faust, but with then label-mates Henry Cow. The trio's understated brand of soft-focus swing-time baroque has always been a laid-back counterpoint to the more militant bombast of their peers. Four decades on, you can sti…

Rent

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

On the streets of New York, there's a riot going on, everybody's hustling to make ends meet and the cops are beating up anyone who's different. The property magnates are intent on turfing out the arty types who give the 'hood it's character, and the kids are clinging to each other for comfort in order to survive. Sound familiar?
Jonathan Larson's La Boheme inspired pop musical set among a diverse group of twenty-somethings finding out who they are looked like an elegy for a pre-millennial generation who had come of age with the spectre of AIDS when it premiered in 1996. Twenty years on, if it wasn't for the lack of mobile phones, Bruce Guthrie's touring anniversary production could be set last week in any inner city melting pot in the throes of hipster-friendly gentrification.

In a loft shared by Billy Cullum's wannabe Warhol Mark and Ross Hunter's would-be rock star Roger, the pair become the centre…

The Winter's Tale

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

A little boy in a Christmas jumper is the first person you see at the start of Max Webster's new production of Shakespeare's light and shade dramady. Grabbing the spotlight for all it's worth, young Mamillius will wind up book-ending the play in a way that will haunt his parents Leontes and Hermione forever. For now, however, it's the festive season in suburban Sicilia and he can run wild and free in his bear-suit while his mum and dad hold court. Christmas parties being what they are, alas, Leontes' jealousy of his pregnant wife's mild flirtation with his best friend Polixenes sets in motion a train of events that all but destroys the family's cosy existence.
The first half of Webster's modern-dress production is a grimly grown-up affair in which men in suits wield a power that's based on control come what may. So obsessed with Hermione's imagined indiscretion is Leontes that he can't admit the t…

A Judgement in Stone

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars

Valentine's Day massacres don't come much more quintessentially English than the one at the heart of Ruth Rendell's 1977 novel, adapted for the stage by Simon Brett and Antony Lampard in a production mounted by Bill Kenwright's Classic Thriller Theatre Company. The curtain opens on Eunice Marchman, the constantly cowed housekeeper to the opera loving Coverdale clan. Their gunning down in their country pile has seen Detective Superintendent Vetch flown in from London to investigate alongside the local force headed up by Detective Sergeant Challoner.
As the pair survey the scene by way of a series of flashbacks in Roy Marsden's production, the class divide is laid bare. This is shown not just by George Coverdale and his new wife Jacqueline's cavalier attitude to marriage, but by George's daughter Melinda's university dalliance that affords her similar freedoms. Her step-brother Giles, meanwhile, takes his lifest…

Bruce Guthrie - Rent

Bruce Guthrie was already some way into the planning stages of directing a twentieth anniversary production of Jonathan Larson's La Boheme inspired contemporary musical, Rent, when he visited New York. As he was shown around the city by some of Larson's closest friends and collaborators, he saw where the show's community of starving artists, misfits and outsiders came of age against a backdrop of poverty, AIDS and a city in a state of collapse.

“It was a kind of pilgrimage,” says Guthrie, whose production arrives in Edinburgh next week. “I spoke to Jonathan Larson's family, who've seen hundreds of productions of the show, in depth, and I saw loads of places Rent is set in. I saw the diner that only closed a couple of years ago, and I got taken to a couple of places that are still exactly the same as they were then.”

Guthrie was also gifted a very special recording of Rent.

“It was of Jonathan Larson playing an early version of it by himself on a keyboard,” says …

The Bucky Rage – F.Y.I. Luv U (Handsome Records / Northern Cowboy Records)

The labels of this vinyl only 45RPM 12” are a giveaway of sorts of what’s in store on this latest eight track opus from these Glasgow-sired purveyors of garage guitar rumble. On the A side is a close-up mug-shot of 7ft 4 inch French wrestler and long-time scourge of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant. On the flip, a drawing of a ghost-like masked Lucha Libre style figure peers out. Such images act as the perfect trailer for a set of furious lo-fi growlers recorded in one afternoon by a larger than life and potentially dangerous crew of cartoon superheroes.

The hyped-up quartet's onstage image of wrestling masks and German army helmets resurrect the sort of pantomime outrage of 1960s schlock-meister Screaming Lord Sutch and trash-psych merchants The Mummies. Bassist Kyle Thunder, guitar man Handsome Al, drum beater extraordinaire Shug and plinky-plonky keyboardist Pete – just Pete – keep their secret identities close to their chests.

So it goes for more than a decade of WWE inspired ro…

Made in India

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

When you hear a baby crying towards the end of Satinder Chohan's new play, it carries more poignancy than one might expect. The baby is a woman called Aditi's, except it isn't, because Aditi is also known as Surrogate 32, one of a small female army who quite literally make a living in Doctor Gupta's clinic in Gujarat, India's international centre of surrogacy traffic. Into this world steps Eve, an English woman desperate for a child by her late husband. For all three women who occupy Katie Posner's radiant looking production, the situation which has brought them together offers them lifelines of very different kinds. When surrogacy is banned mid-way through Eve's treatment, they are galvanised into action.
Everyone is on the make in Chohan's play, a co-production between Tamasha and the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in association with Pilot Theatre. As Gina Isaac's Eve attempts to communicate with Ulrika Krishnamurti&#…

Evita

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

Given the current state of the world, watching a mob of banner-wielding demonstrators intent on electing a populist demagogue at the close of the first act in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest collaboration is a slightly odd experience. Given too that the mob are singing about how the voice of the people cannot be divided, the effect borders on chilling. It's unlikely this was Rice and Lloyd Webber's intention when they premiered their finest couple of hours on the West End back in 1978. The staying power of the duo's real-life latin-tinged rags to riches melodrama suggests it taps into something that goes beyond the appeal of the show's best songs in Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright's grandiloquent production.
It begins and ends with a funeral, as Argentinian people's princess Eva Peron lies in state beneath a portrait of her still young self. As things rewind, we watch a small-town girl with big ideas, blonde …

Matthew Lenton and Lliam Paterson - The 8th Door / Bluebeard's Castle

It isn't immediately clear what's going on behind the big wooden double doors that lead into Scottish Opera's Glasgow rehearsal room. Inside, it's known that Vanishing Point theatre company director Matthew Lenton is rehearsing his production of The 8th Door, a devised work created with Scottish Opera composer Lliam Paterson in a co-production between the two companies that marks Lenton and Vanishing Point's first foray into opera. The 8th Door forms the first part of a double bill with Bluebeard's Castle, composer Bela Bartok and librettist Bela Balazs' blood-soaked one-act work, which was first performed in 1918.

Outside, in the corridor, all that can be gleaned comes from a dissonant orchestral blare that seeps through the pitch-black that can be seen through the crack left between the doors. Once the music stops and the lights go on, things become more familiar. Two large screens are fixed at one end of the room, onto which are projected the close-up t…

Mark Wallinger - Mark Wallinger Mark

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh/Dundee Contemporary Arts,
March 4-June 4

Making your mark is everything if you're an artist, whichever side you're coming from. This is evident in this expansive body of largely recent work by Mark Wallinger, which runs parallel in galleries across two separate cities. Based largely around the sixty-six works that make up Wallinger's id Paintings, the twin shows focus on a fascination with symmetry that saw him pursue a more instinctive and personalised line of inquiry than his more overtly politically driven works. That period arguably peaked with Wallinger's 2007 Turner Prize winner, State Britain, a recreation of Brian Haw's tented anti Iraq protest outside Westminster. That the twice his height size paintings that resulted are literally hand-made speak volumes about where Wallinger is coming from today.

“The id Paintings grew out of a series of works I call self-portraits,” Wallinger says, referring to the group of paintings consi…

Still Game Live 2

SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Three stars

It's already been quite the year for sequels judging by this month's itinerary of home-grown blockbuster film and theatre. Hot on the heels of T2: Trainspotting comes this second stadium-size outing that puts an extended version of Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan's sit-com phenomenon onstage once more following its predecessor's record-breaking 2014 run.
Whether their return is down to a collective nostalgic need to revisit and rediscover these twin touchstones of popular culture or not, they have more in common than you might think. Both T2 and Still Game are set in an unreconstructed and largely male dominated world. Both too focus on old pals regrouping for one last hurrah. While the point is never laboured, there is something there too in both about ageing and mortality.

So it goes with Still Game 2, which begins with a filmed introduction from Methadone Mick, Hemphill and Kiernan's most recent and most youthful addition to Craig…

Culver – Prisoner of F.R.U. (Know Your Enemy)

The title of this cassette collaboration between two of the most prolific exponents of minimalist drone has the playful feel of an old-school dub soundclash plate a la King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. Such implications may be of good-humoured competition, but the cover's funereal monochrome collages beg to differ. The titles of the seven pieces which the images illustrate point to something darker. It's as if the force behind the music has surrendered control, and is now being held hostage in sense-deranged captivity. The result is filtered through a lysergic fug that moulds it into something amorphous and harder to pin down.

This is sort of what happened when Gateshead-based Lee Stokoe went willingly after sending seven then works-in-progress to Fraser Burnett, the Edinburgh-based sonic auteur who records as Fordell Research Unit, or F.R.U. As Culver, Stokoe has released a slew of material over two decades. With his own Matching Head imprint, he has released more than 200 cas…

Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Three stars

Everybody is play-acting in Richard Norris and Dick Scanlan's stage musical of the prohibition era 1967 comedy film concerning a Kansas City wannabe who moves to the Big Apple to get herself a wealthy husband but ends up with much more than she bargained for. It's there in the way Joanne Clifton's Millie makes all her lifestyle choices from the pages of Vogue magazine. It's there too in the way her wannabe starlet gal pal Miss Dorothy affects even more airs and graces. Most of all it's there in the form of speak-easy chanteuse and society hostess Muzzy Van Hossmere, as the seemingly penniless Jimmy Smith falls for Millie in every way.
Featuring music by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Scanlan, this makes for much archness in a new touring production directed by Racky Plews more than a decade after the show won six Tony awards on Broadway. The songs reference everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to showtime schmaltz. The white sl…