Dunsinane by the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland in association with The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.


The Godfather Two showed that sequels can better their original by walking the same path but more deftly, building on its foundations with style, wit and great, great writing.

Dunsinane, is technically a sequel but could hardly be described as usurping its predecessor (Macbeth) as David Grieg neatly finds a way of avoiding the direct comparison by writing it in something approaching the modern vernacular.

And so, Macbeth is merely a plot device to set up a thoroughly modern parable on the pursuit of power and the appetite that man (and woman because Lady Macbeth, Gruach, is the hub of all the conflict in this extraordinary play) has for eternal conflict.

“Peace is not the normal state, peace is like the days when the sea is flat calm, the prevailing condition is war.” says King Malcolm (I think, and I paraphrase) to the English commander, and star of the show, Siward played monumentally by Jonny Phillips.  And that’s what lies at the heart of this electrifying production; the fact that war is pretty much the need state of those in power, because war makes things happen. And I don’t mean war results in reshaping of civilisation, no, war turns the wheels of industry and is the dynamo for political momentum.  The second world war was what got the world’s major economies booming after all.  The Gulf War revitalised America’s sluggish economy.

Thatcher knew that when she blasted Argie to kingdom come.

Blair thought he did when he catapulted the UK into the single most futile decade of power-mongering.

However, where Thatcher sensed the mood of the nation and used the Falklands to reignite her popularity Blair just stuck his big bloody size tens in and created an absolute shambles around him.  It’s Blair’s approach that drives the narrative of this play because the Post Macbethian 12th Century Scotland is a photofit of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whilst the English may have assumed that Lady Macbeth (Gruach) left this mortal coil alongside her beloved husband, we soon find out that as the saying goes “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me.”  Oh no, Gruach is very much alive and well and, as Queen, she believes her offspring are heir to the throne and by God she’s gonna do her damnedest to give them the chance to take their rightful place – even if that means sleeping with the enemy.

And so, Gruach (a mesmerising, flame haired Siobhan Redmond) emerges as the key political figure in this drama; she calls all the shots and she delivers them in an often tense and powerful dialogue between herself and Siward.  Always on the front foot, driving the poor man crazy with both lust and frustration.

Meanwhile, the King of Scotland, Malcolm quietly (weakly?) surveys the scene with an air of weariness and a large degree of slightly camp cynicism, increasingly frustrated by Siward’s inability to strategically manage the conflict.  His performance (by Brian Ferguson) is initially hysterically funny but gradually turns colder and more focused as the drama unfolds.

Both the directing (by Roxana Silbert) and the writing by David Grieg are breathtaking.  Grieg doesn’t write a script so much as a wholesale political essay on the state of the nation that leaves you almost gasping at its vision and insight. Remember this play was written 18 months before Salmond swept to power in such a way that the state of the Union has never been more open to question in modern times.  Surely conflict is a potential outcome.

And it’s the sheer range of this play that impressed me most.  Starting out, frankly, like a Monty Python comedy (it really did stir up memories of Life of Brian) it moves gradually through a series of episodes to darker territory.  Barely a minute passed in Act One without a chuckle, and often a belly laugh.  Act Two starts as it left off, but only for moments before the real meat of the problem is tackled to almost preternatural effect.

Honestly this play reaches right inside of you.  It moves along like a runaway Express, charged as it goes by a brilliant folk rock trio that inject pace and punctuation that is echoed by a duet of Gaelic singing lassies.  And whilst the ending stutters just a little it’s a lean back moment as the curtain closes and one is transported back into the real world.

Or was what we were watching the real world?

This is Champions League stuff.

I’ve seen several immense performances on the Lyceum stage this year; Stanley Townsend, Peter Forbes and Frances Thorburn in particular, and there have been a number of incredible ensemble casts ; Age of Arousal and Earnest spring to mind.

But this has both.

And this has three, maybe four or five stellar performances; Siobhan Redmond of course, and Jonny Phillips, but so too Tom Gill as the boy soldier, Brian Ferguson as Malcolm and Alex Mann as the hilarious Egham.

Mark my words. They will be talking about this show in hushed tones many years from now.

The Cadburys campaign


This campaign never ceases to amaze me with its utter inanity.

This is the worst yet.

So the “gag” is built around the effect you get from inhaling helium right?

Well helium balloons rise, they don’t fall.

This balloon is full of air.

Absolute crap.

Attack The Block written and directed by Joe Cornish


I love Adam and Joe’s 6 Music show on a Saturday morning.  It’s wickedly funny and brilliantly inventive in its humour, audience engaging and cod songwriting skits (Song Wars) so the notion of Joe Cornish writing and directing an Alien movie was intriguing, if difficult to predict what the outcome might be.  But IMDB liked it so I went for it this afternoon.

Total audience?

Six.

The concept is built around what might happen if an alien invasion started in a council tower block scheme in South London and the band of brothers that inevitably unite to repel the invasion are a bunch of skanky kids and trainee villians.

It’s a nice elevator pitch, particularly when you throw in the fact that the only female in the posse is adopted, much against her will, after being held up and robbed by the bro’s in the opening scene of the film.

But I’m sorry to say it’s a bit of a curate’s egg if I’m honest.

The issue is that it can’t decide whether it’s a comedy (and if so would have been a challenger to Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland – and lost), a social commentary piece or a full-on monster movie (in which case it would be comparable to low budget shockers like Monsters, District 9 or Cloverfield – and lose to all three of them too).

In the event it’s all of these and none of them.  And that’s the problem.

It’s partly let down by casting with most of the performances at best workmanlike and at worst either amateur (which I suppose most of the cast is) or caricaturised.

The special effects are really quite good, albeit done on a budget, but imaginatively so.  In particular the monsters with their ultra-black bodies and fluorescent green teeth (nothing else) are a bit like honey monsters gone bad which gives them an air of the humorous but at times downright creepy.

I wanted to like this movie more and I suspect it’s Joe Cornish’s winning personality that has got him the funding for it and the, mostly, kind reviews.

But the truth is, it ain’t that great.

If you stumbled upon it on the telly I think you’d be pleasantly surprised but for a full ticket cinema admission it’s pushing its luck.

6/10

Who put the Sars into Sarsaparilla?


That's not how you spell Saparilla! Is it?

Following the successful completion of a most difficult crossword in which one clue was “Carbonated soft drink (12)” I had much fun at the weekend asking my friends how to spell Sarsaparilla.

Most (like me) knew it as Sasparilla, the American carbonated soft drink, and indeed that’s what it is, but that’s not how you spell it.

Not a single person got even remotely close to the correct spelling.

Bet you wouldn’t have too.

Scottish Theatre Awards shortlist revealed


Six of the Best for the old lady.

Mark Thomson’s stunning season at The Lyceum has been rewarded by no fewer than six nominations at the CATS (Critics Awards for Theatre Scotland).  That’s as many as the NToS.  He’s up against some tough competition, not least in Roadkill which I fancy will do extremely well.  But many of you will have read my reviews of the two shows in particular that are attracting attention;

Age of Arousal, is a stunning new co production with Stellar Quines.  It has received nominations for best ensemble, best director (Muriel Romanes), best design and best production.  Here’s what I thought of it in February;

Although I said previously ‘Our two leads’ this is in actual fact as ensemble a show as one could imagine…This is a play that is richly and deeply textured; interestingly realised with beautifully subtle sound, video and lighting design and costumes (designed in a third year project by Edinburgh School of Art Students) that for me were the best I’ve seen on the Lyceum stage in a long time….This is an absorbing two hours of entertainment with a feisty and often hilarious script that batters along holding you firmly in its thrall throughout…It’s a gem.

The Importance of Being Earnest .  This was a hilarious theatrical evening and Joyce MacMilllan absolutely loved it, naming it as one of her theatrical highlights of 2010 in her annual round u.  Mark Thomson got the recognition he so richly deserves as he is nominated as best Director.  Here’s what I had to say at the time about Mark.

Mark Thomson is on fire.

His last six or so productions have not only been outstanding in my personal opinion, but also in that of the critics.

There are more stars kicking around the foyer of The Lyceum right now than in the Milky Way and that is because he, as artistic director, is mounting productions that are great.  Really great.

Earnest is no exception.  Although four acts long (usually three) it passes in the blink of an eye.  Rarely have I seen a show crack along at such a ferocious pace.  You really do need to keep your wits about you to catch all of the gags in this script.

Educating Agnes.  I saw this show twice and my review of Peter Forbes seems vindicated as he is nominated for Best actor.

Peter Forbes as Arnolphe performed as commandingly as anyone I’ve seen on this stage in recent years.  He stands alongside Stanley Townsend, in A view From The Bridge (for me at least), in this respect.

On stage for almost the duration and with at least 50% of the dialogue he never put a foot wrong.  But much more than this, the interpretation he put into poor old Arnolphe’s twisted character, the labyrinthine logic that he applied to the morals and ethics of creating a concubine out of Agnes and the despair that ensues as it all goes horribly wrong is expressed through shrieks, hollers, quasimodo-like grimaces and bodily twists and turns that make you squirm in your seat.

He is epic.

Not bad to have three out of seven shows on the shortlist.  So good luck Mark, Muriel and co at The Festival Theatre in June.

It’s nice to see also that Ria and I chose a goodie when we went to Dundee Rep to see Sweeney Todd because that too has been nominated (no fewer than five times!)

A very mixed bag of performances by Holyrood returning officers.


The returning officer has little to do other than count a few bits of paper and tell folk the outcome.  However I feel a good returning officer has a duty to do so with good presentational skills.

Here are a few examples from last night of good protocol.

The first is near perfection height management, as you’d expect, from Edinburgh.  The RO herself has modestly taken her place out of centre shot.

In this one the Glaswegians show a thorough understanding of the exposition of the craft.

This would have been excellent had the RO not spoiled it all by putting his titchy wee self in the middle.  And the guy on the right was too busy preening to make a really great exposition.

Although creating beautiful “form” this RO from Falkirk mucks it up by taking centre stage.

Here is a good example of returning officer FAIL.  Although the numbers are good and the overall effect is reasonable the guy in the white shirt four from the right and the white haired bloke both totally ruin the RO’s efforts.

The wifey in the ginger wig is also a major aberration.  Not only is she out of height synch.  She’s too far forward and she’s clapping like a performing monkey.

FAIL.

What were you doing on the 5th of May 2011?


If you were Scottish I hope you were voting for a historic moment.

Sadly half of you couldn’t be arsed getting yourself down to your nearby polling station.

Those of us that could be bothered contributed to the sending of one of the most vocal messages in the history of this fantastic nation’s politics.

To see the Liberal vote collapse  was not all that surprising given Nick Clegg’s appalling act of virtual treason by bedding with the Antichrists.

But for the Labour vote to fail to materialise so spectacularly in the face of this ripe political climate (for them) is far more remarkable.

Part of the reason for that was Iain Gray’s utterly hapless presidential performance in the face of a tour de force by Alex Salmond.

This is a MONUMENTAL result.

It is absolutely jaw dropping because the whole voting structure in Scotland, designed by Labour, was intended to keep the SNP out of power.

Not only has it failed to do that but it has returned what political experts deemed impossible.  An overall majority in a PR chamber.

I doubt we will ever see a day as dramatic in politics again in my lifetime.

I doubt Iain Gray will see the week out as Labour leader in Scotland.

I doubt many people will see anything like as effete a collaboration in Liberal Democratic clothes as Nick Clegg and Tavish Scott in their lifetimes. (Total amateurism.  Tavish Scott made Iain Gray look almost workmanlike at times.)

I doubt we will vote for Scottish independence.