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Showing posts from January, 2018

David Harrower – Knives in Hens

Audiences should make the most of Perth Theatre’s new production of David Harrower’s play, Knives in Hens, when it opens this week in the city’s newly refurbished building. While Harrower’s now more than twenty-year-old debut work about a woman finding her voice remains as startling as ever, it might be a while before you see anything new by him onstage.
Harrower says that, once he’s finished his current theatre commitments, he’s unlikely to write a stage play again. As he continues to concentrate on film and TV following the low-key success of the big-screen adaptation of his play Blackbird, retitled Una, he reckons that will be that.
“I kind of fell out of love with theatre,” says Harrower, “It came out of a couple of years of writer’s block, which was terrifying. It was a real slap. There are still vestiges of it, but I’m working on something now, and after that I don’t see me writing another original stage play ever. I’m slightly obsessed by the fact that I’m not writing for theatre…

Bold Girls

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Four stars
The photographic portrait on the wall of Marie’s living room presents its smiling male subject as a picture of innocence in this revival of Rona Munro’s 1990 Belfast-set play. As the already fragile veneer of domestic calm comes crashing down once Marie’s Saturday night with the girls takes a volatile turn, it proves to be anything but.
The catalyst for this is the arrival of a teenage girl dressed in white who lands on Marie’s doorstep after making poetic reveries in the rain while bathed in the British army searchlight from the helicopter overhead. This is Deirdre, who cuckoos her way into the fold as Marie, her pal Cassie and Cassie’s mum Nora keep up the tragi-comic pretence that everything’s okay.
This is despite living in the occupied warzone of the Northern Irish Troubles, with assorted men-folk either incarcerated in Long Kesh, or, in the case of Michael, the man in the photograph and Marie’s husband, dead. All four women look to different way…

John Barton obituary

John Barton – theatre director, co-founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company
Born November 26 1928; died January 18 2018.
John Barton, who has died aged 89, may not have had the public flamboyance of Peter Hall, his former Cambridge contemporary who in 1960 drafted him in as associate director of the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company. Barton’s effect on post World War Two British theatre, however, was just as seismic. There will be few drama graduates over the last three decades who haven’t come into contact with Playing Shakespeare, the nine-part Channel 4 series filmed in 1982, and which featured a series of extensive workshops on the bard.
Led by an avuncular Barton, whose cardigan-clad image belied his forensic and gimlet-eyed knowledge of Shakespeare’s text, the workshops featured a cast-list drawn from the RSC’s resident company of the time. These included the likes of Judi Dench, Ian McKellan, Sinead Cusack and Patrick Stewart. While watching such luminaries get to grips with…

Anna Hodgart - Just Start Here

Anna Hodgart is sitting in her office at Rockvilla, the National Theatre of Scotland’s now year-old state-of-art canal-side Glasgow home. The former industrial space is set beside Speirs Wharf, not too far from Cowcaddens underground just outside the city centre. As the NTS’ playfully named Engine Room Producer, however, Hodgart’s mind is focused squarely on events taking place this weekend at Civic House, the former offices of the self-styled ‘theatre without walls’ just down the road.
The event in question is Just Start Here, a two-day ‘playground for Scottish artists’ that brings together a compendium of rough and ready works in progress. Taking advantage of Civic House’s confines, this will be delivered in a speak-easy environment where performance, live music, provocation and discussion come together in a great big mash-up of cross-artform collaboration and explorations of marginalised identities.
“We wanted to bring different kinds of bespoke artists working in different areas in…

Mark E Smith - Obituary

Mark E Smith – Born March 5 1957; died January 242018
Mark E Smith, who has died aged 60 following a protracted period of illness that included respiratory problems, was one of the greatest British artists of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. As vocalist and driving force of The Fall, the band he led with an iron if sometimes eccentric fist for more than forty years, Smith cut an imperious and uncompromising dash as he prowled the stage like Nero as played by Gene Vincent or Merle Haggard.
Smith’s early resemblance to a grown-up version of Billy Casper, the back-street schoolboy urchin from Ken loach’s film, Kes, transformed with age so he looked more like a surrealist country and western singer. Dressed usually in smart but casual black and sometimes sporting a solitary leather glove, Smith would by turns declaim, bark and – latterly - gurgle into the microphone over a simple but relentless garage-band chug played by an increasingly terrified-looking band. Inbetween l…

The Lover

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars

From it's opening piano notes to its last declaration of undying love, something very fragile lies at the heart of this impressionistic staging of two novels by French writer Marguerite Duras. Adapted and co-directed by choreographer Fleur Darkin and Stellar Quines theatre company director Jemima Levick, the pair look to both the title book and its reimagining as The North China Lover for their slow-burning re-telling of Duras' quasi-autobiographical story. This involves a teenage girl's erotic awakening as she embarks on an affair with a wealthy Chinese man in an already sultry colonialist Indo-China.

The story is ostensibly told by Susan Vidler's nameless older Woman, whose fractured monologue over the performance's ninety-minute duration reflects on one of the key moments that defined her life. As she watches over her own past, that moment is brought to life by a quartet of dancers led by Amy Hollinshead as the Woman's…

Marguerite Duras – Auld Alliances En Route to An Endless Remembering

Marguerite Duras became a tabloid sensation by default on the back of Jean Jacques Annaud's 1992 big-screen adaptation of her 1984 novel, The Lover, or L'Amant in its original French. For those who associated this most singular of writers with the post Second World War European avant-garde, it was something of a surprise. The headlines may have been going after actress Jane March, the so-called 'sinner from Pinner' who played the teenage girl who embarks on an affair with an older man in 1920s French Indo-China, but for Duras watchers, it was an accidentally telling illustration of the contrary relationship the writer had between her public and private self. 

On the one hand, Duras' deeply personal canon chimed with the sort of experiments with form and content beloved of intellectual seekers of truth. On the other, Duras possessed a hard-nosed ambition to get her work out there. It was like when she rang publisher John Calder, champion of Samuel Beckett, William Bu…

Strangers on a Train

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars
Never let a drunk on a train try to be your best mate when you're reading Plato. If in any doubt of the potential consequences, check out what happens to poor Guy Haines, who, once accosted by terminal dipso Charles Bruno on a homeward-bound express, is catapulted into a life or death situation which could destroy his world. What Haines presumes to be hypothetical bantz in order to allow him to marry his new love Anne, Bruno takes seriously, and now Haines must pay the price.

Craig Warner's stage version of Patricia Highsmith's novel gives much of the wide-screen embellishments of Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 film version a wide berth in a script first seen on the West End in 2013. Anthony Banks' touring production gets to the story's dark amoral heart, even as it sets out its store in the assorted dream homes behind the sliding doors that make up a set by David Woodhead that looks to Jasper Johns as much as Edward Hopper.

A noirish …

Miss Saigon

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
There are two devastating moments in this Cameron Mackintosh-produced touring revival of composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boublil’s Madame Butterfly inspired musical epic that charts the human fallout of the Vietnam War. Three if you count the tellingly unhappy ending. The first comes at the start of the second act, with the use of film footage of Vietnamese street children conceived by American fathers. Accompanied onstage by a group of the play’s statesman-like ex-servicemen singing their hearts out to assuage their guilt, the scene has a similar power to the sort of overblown 1980s charity record it resembles.

The second moment comes when Kim, the young Vietnamese woman who fell for brooding GI Chris three years before, bearing their son in his absence, meets Chris’ American wife, Ellen. Touchingly played by Sooha Kim and Zoe Doano, for a few minutes they are the only two people onstage. It’s a rare moment of intimacy among the…

Rona Munro – Bold Girls

Rona Munro is snowed in. Laid low in the Borders, the writer of works ranging from the James Plays trilogy for the National Theatre of Scotland, Ladybird Ladybird for Ken Loach, and Dr Who for pretty much everyone is talking about the new production of her 1990 play, Bold Girls, which opens at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow this week. Beyond all that, but very much on her doorstep, Munro reckons a foot’s worth of snow fell overnight.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” she says. “Everyone’s got the feeling that something apocalyptic just happened, but in a good way, because everyone’s talking to each other.”
As an illustration of how solidarity can be born from adversity, it embodies both Munro’s own sense of community spirit, and the sort of grassroots collectivism she channelled into Bold Girls.
Set in Belfast during the Northern Irish Troubles, Munro’s play focuses on three women, whose husbands are either in prison or have been killed in the crossfire of the conflict. When a troubled youngst…

Derek Anderson - Company at Aberdeen Arts Centre

Aberdeen Arts Centre can’t get rid of Derek Anderson. This should become clear when the curtain goes up on his production of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical, Company, next month. Featuring an array of West End musical theatre veterans rarely sighted this far north, Anderson’s third show at Aberdeen Arts Centre following productions of Cabaret and The Pillowman marks a prodigal’s return that puts both the director and the venue itself squarely in the spotlight.
“After doing the first two shows, what the Board at Aberdeen Arts Centre liked about Company is that, like the others, audiences will maybe feel challenged by the work in ways that don’t happen so much these days. Company totally fits in with their remit in that way.”
Company first appeared on Broadway in 1970 after Sondheim was approached by actor Anthony Perkins, who asked him to read a set of eleven short plays by Furth. Sondheim in turn passed them on to producer Harold Prince, who first mooted the idea of using t…