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Showing posts from 2018

Steven Sater – Spring Awakening, Burt Bacharach and Shirley Manson

Andrew Panton’s new production of Tony award winning musical, Spring Awakening, was a triumph when it opened at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow last week. It was probably co-incidence, but the first night of this ambitious co-production between the RCS and Dundee Rep also coincided with the twenty-second anniversary of the Dunblane massacre, when a lone gunman went on a shooting spree, killing sixteen pupils and their teacher.
As the show’s young cast of musical theatre students prepare for this week’s run at the Rep itself, it may be worth considering the fact that writer Steven Sater and composer Duncan Sheik’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s study of troubled youth has its roots in similar tragedies. Following the recent shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Sater and Sheik’s play also has a renewed resonance.
“When I began the show in 1999, it was in the wake of the terrible shootings at Columbine High School,” Sater explai…

Three Sisters

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars
Things seem initially jolly at the start of Lung Ha Theatre Company’s new look at Anton Chekhov’s piece of end of the century ennui, presented in co-production with the Helsinki-based folk music department of the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts. This is despite the aching void that hangs over the increasingly empty house that provides the nearest thing to a social whirl of the army occupied town. It’s young Irina’s birthday, and her big sister Olga is going to make it as fun as can be, even if their other sibling Masha would rather sprawl herself on the sofa with studiedly bored intent.
Adrian Osmond’s new version of the play manages to pare down the sprawl of Chekhov’s original to a ninety-minute meditation on the meaning of life and the seeming lack of it in Maria Oller’s wide-open production performed by a cast of twenty on Karen Tennent’s wood-lined set.
Emma McCaffrey sets the tone as a perennially buoyant Olga, off-set by Emma C…

Joseph Arkley – Richard III

Joseph Arkley was never meant to be a man who would be king. If things had gone to plan, the former politics student would have embarked on a respectable career which could have led him to a ringside seat in the offices of power. Now here he is, about to take the stage at Perth Theatre in the title role in a new production of Richard III, Shakespeare’s slyest and most complex of charismatic villains.
According to Arkley, Richard is also “one of the great stand-up comics. He’s somewhere between Malcolm Tucker and Limmy. That’s what’s coming out at the moment. He’s a sociopath, but you love him.”
The influences on Arkley’s interpretation of Richard are telling. Both Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi in political sit-com The Thick of It, and real-life comedian Limmy combine a driven ferocity with unfettered hilarity. They are key as well to an approach which aims to remain faithful to the play, but with extra added drive.
“It goes at quite a pace,” Arkley says of Perth Theatre artisti…

Spring Awakening

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow Four stars
The facts of life come fast and hard in Andrew Panton’s expansive rendering of writer Steven Sater and composer Duncan Sheik’s 2006 musical reimagining of Frank Wedekind’s nineteenth century template for angst-ridden teen TV. As classroom radical Melchoir Gabor, his first love Wendla and the rest of the gang come of age with all the pains that go with it, a frighteningly familiar set of psychological scars are exposed. Sexual abuse, suicide and under-age pregnancy are all in the mix, brought to flesh and blood life by a mighty cast of 18 musical theatre students, with Ann Louise Ross and Barrie Hunter from Dundee Rep’s ensemble company playing assorted grown-ups with grotesque relish.
Played out on designer Kenneth MacLeod’s testosterone-charged gym hall set, when actors aren’t in a scene, they either sit on benches in single-sex rows like they’re at a school disco or else drape themselves across vaulting horses and desks as they lusti…

Maria Oller and Adrian Osmond - Three Sisters, Lung Ha Theatre Company and Creative Scotland

Maria Oller was in the midst of rehearsals for her new production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters when the news came through that Lung Ha, the learning disabled based theatre company she has been artistic director of since 2009 had lost its main funding from Creative Scotland. Up until then, Lung Ha had been a Regularly Funded Organisation (RFO), which gave the company three-year’s worth of security to plan ahead. For a company as unique as Lung Ha, such security was vital, as it was with any of the theatre companies and arts organisations who had also had the rug pulled from under them.
“The hardest part for me was telling the actors,” says Oller. “We were in the middle of Three Sisters, and they were working so hard, so to let them know that our work isn’t considered to be worth regular funding was difficult.”
The response of Lung Ha’s large ensemble, who had been working on the show for months, was telling.
“They were active straight away,” says Oller. “They pulled together and said we’re …


Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Three stars
Winners and losers are everywhere in Johnny McKnight and Anita Vettesse’s new play with songs for a co-production between Grid Iron and Stellar Quines theatre companies. It’s bingo night, and hopes are high for the regulars who flock to the local Mecca. Desperate thirty-something Daniella especially has her fingers crossed after a financial mess of her own making looks set to catch up with her. With her hatchet-faced mother Mary and her best pal Ruth in tow, it’s eyes down for an all or nothing game to end them all.
As it stands, Jemima Levick’s loose-knit production tugs in so many directions it’s as if those creating it got bored with their own initial idea and decided to ramp things up to preposterous proportions in order to make things more interesting. One minute it’s a girls’ night out style feel-good romp; the next it’s a turbo-charged fantastical sit-com, barely based in reality and peppered with potty-mouthed one-liners, pink-stetsoned stand-…


Tron Theatre, Glasgow Three stars
One kiss is all it takes for everyone to understand each other in Catriona Lexy Campbell and Mairi Sine Campbell’s new play. Linguistically that is, as ancient and modern are brought to rollickingly intimate life by the Gaelic-based Theatre Gu Leor (Theatre Galore) company in the Tron’s Vic Bar en route to an extensive cross-Scotland tour. The set-up is the sort of ghastly tartan-draped corporate function whose perma-grinning hostess Lisa makes bogus claims of preserving culture while blatantly intent on flogging it off to the highest bidder. Think McWetherspoon by way of Trumpageddon.
With the audience ushered into a cabaret table arrangement by Lisa’s step-daughter Eilidh and serenaded by Eddie’s oh-so-couthy accordion playing, the dirt from Harris is unearthed along with a bottle of David Beckham-branded whisky. This causes the corporate shindig to be disrupted on an epic scale by seventeenth century poet Mairi Ruadh. Which is when both the kissing an…

The Motherf***** with the Hat

Tron Theatre, Glasgow Four stars
Ex-con Jackie says it with flowers when he’s reunited with his addict girlfriend Veronica at the start of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ bleakly funny 2011 play. That’s about as sweet as it gets, however, in Andy Arnold’s new production of a piece seen here for the first time in the UK outside London. When Jackie spies a stranger’s hat amongst the debris of Veronica’s apartment, any hopes of a loving reunion are turned upside down as he lets off steam, first to his seemingly squeaky-clean AA sponsor Ralph D and his wife Victoria, then to Cousin Julio, who gives him some healthy if funny-tasting food for thought.
What follows over the next 100 minutes of this co-production between the Tron and the Cardiff-based Sherman Theatre is a series of potty-mouthed rapid-fire exchanges, with Jackie falling off the wagon en route to discovering some painful home-truths. This makes for a series of street-smart verbal riffs soaked in downbeat New York gallows humour which Arno…

Muireann Kelly – Ceilidh

Imagine a ceilidh that could wake the dead. That’s exactly what Gaelic-language-based theatre company Theatre Gu Leor have done in Ceilidh, a new play by Catriona Lexy Campbell and Mairi Sine Chaimbeul, which the company take out on an extensive cross-country tour from this week as its biggest work to date.
Despite the implications of the show’s premise, the dead are only stirred from their celestial slumber to reclaim a once spontaneous social gathering which has been hi-jacked by big business types. Such shameless profiteers are intent on shoving out the local villagers on Harris to make way for luxury bothies and an exclusive golf course to entertain the high-end tourist trade. Only flame-haired 17th century poet Mairi Ruadh, it seems, can stop such cynical efforts to co-opt culture as a means of gentrification and social cleansing.
“In the Gaelic landscape she’s pretty much an icon with legendary status,” says Ceilidh’s director Muireann Kelly of Ruadh Mairi Ruadh, or, to give her f…

Rachel Maclean – Spite Your Face

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh Five stars
Pull back the gold curtain and you’re in another world for what might be a never-ending screening of Spite Your Face, Rachel Maclean’s troublingly incisive thirty-seven-minute film-based fantasia, which comes home to Talbot Rice after first being seen in Venice last year. Drawn from The Adventures of Pinocchio, the Italian folk-tale charting the adventures of the little puppet-boy whose nose grows every time he tells a lie, Maclean’s dark reimagining is as shockingly un-Disney in its depiction of greed-induced brutality as the moment when Bambi’s mum got shot.
Maclean focuses on the rise and fall of Pic, a shell-suited urchin who buys his way into a blinged-up wonderland of glam-tastic delights, only to discover his celebrity lifestyle is on credit, and has been built on the flakiest of falsehoods.
All of Maclean’s pop-cultural tropes are intact, from its candy-coloured kids’ TV animated back-drops, to its ugly excursions into Shopping Channel h…

Anita Vettesse - Bingo!

Last week’s unprecedented snowmaggedon may have caused Edinburgh to resemble a ghost town in what was pretty much a locked-down country, with shops and schools closing early, and public transport at a minimum. Anyone frequenting Meadowbank retail park, however, will be aware that at least one institution remained open for business. That was the local bingo hall, whose regular patrons can be found day and night taking a breather in-between games, usually shrouded in a fug of cigarette smoke.
The image of such a gaggle of frozen gamers is a pointer as well to some of the thinking behind Bingo!, a new musical comedy which sees Grid Iron and Stellar Quines theatre companies team up to present what promises to be a riot of extremes penned by Johnny McKnight and Anita Vettesse, This is clear from early rehearsals in a church hall on the fringes of Edinburgh’s New Town, where director Jemima Levick and composer Alan Penman oversee the ensuing mayhem of what happens when a group of women attem…

Jo Beddoe obituary

Jo Beddoe Theatre and arts producer Born August 7 1944; died February 20 2018
Without Jo Beddoe, who has died aged 73 following a long battle with cancer, there are several now thriving artistic institutions that would probably be closed. Beddoe’s straight-talking, no-nonsense approach to getting things done and tenacious and visionary way of managing organisations which others might have ran a mile from has left its mark, both on the organisations she helped transform, and on everyone she worked with. This was the case whether navigating 7:84 Scotland through troubled waters, establishing the Centre for Contemporary Arts as a major force, or else bringing Liverpool’s Playhouse and the Everyman theatres back to life.
In an expansive and nomadic career, Beddoe was a pioneer of female-led artistic management. Beyond high profile ventures on the West End and Broadway, she was steeped in a grassroots sensibility that those she worked with found inspirational. This was no doubt borne from her …