The Play of the remake of the movie of the book


Image: Albert Watson.

Image: Albert Watson.

It starts when you approach the building and Albert Watson’s stunning image of a vampire boy gazes vacantly down on you.  Emotionless, yet weeping tears of blood.  This feels a bit special you think.  When last did a theatre company commission one of the world’s greatest portrait photographers to produce its poster?

It jumps several gears as you walk into the auditorium and have your breath taken away by what is the most beautiful, eerie, atmospheric set you’ve seen in a long, long time (designed by on- and off-Broadway designer Christine Jones).  It consists of a climbing frame set in a snow bound forest of towering (leafless – perhaps symbolically to represent lifeless) Silver Birch trees.  50 of them, perhaps more.

As we settle down members of the cast trudge through this forrest on their way to whatever they’re on their way to.

The curtain metaphorically rises and the scene bursts into life.  Get ready for  the ride folks…

Let The Right One In is amongst my all time favourite horror  movies and certainly amongst my all time favourite love stories.  The much-loved, 2008, Swedish cult classic was swiftly remade for Hollywood and most admirers of the original give it merely grudging approval, not this one – both are excellent.  The book is apparently superb too, although I have yet to read it.  Maybe I will now.

So, what John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett (Black Watch) faced as they put their minds to staging this show was not just a creative challenge, but an audience bristling with “this better be good(ness)”.

It is.

It’s not just good.  It’s exceptional.

I was one of those “this better be good(ers)” for reasons explained above.  But I’m a good guy.  I wanted it to be good, I didn’t want to go there to find fault and I was rewarded for my optimism.

Let’s deal with technical excellence first.  I’ve already praised the marketing and the set.  Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting is also wonderful, especially in the scene on a train that appears as if from nowhere.  But it’s the sound (Gareth Fry) music (Olafur Arnalds) and special effects (Jeremy Chernick) that really dazzle – they have to – this is a horror movie on stage after all.  And, as if in a movie theatre, the score to this play, and the way it weaves in and out of the action, drive the show along relentlessly.  My guess is there will be many, many requests to purchase the soundtrack which is both powerful and dramatic, like Sigur Ros in anger.  Where it has most impact is at the blood takings, but also in several short choreographed scenes that bring small groups of men onto the stage to silently echo the actions of lead characters in such a way as to add an extra dimension that’s rare in non-dance theatre.  And one of the special effects in the show is the best you will ever see in your life.  I mean it.

Tiffany and Hoggett’s vision and orchestration of the whole thing leaves you breathless at times.

The script (Jack Thorne) is great, underpinned with both menace and wry Scottish humour, played out by a strong cast led by first-timer Martin Quinn and the elfin Rebecca Benson.  Sure, it would have been great to have two twelve year olds lead the show but this ain’t Hollywood.  Nevertheless, Quinn’s innocent performance hits the mark and Benson, as the real axis of the show, is haunting.  It’s a mesmerising and engaging performance combining athleticism with quietly contolled menace and empathy.  (What an odd paradox, but believe me, it’s a fair one.)  We love this poor, ancient child from the off and throughout the grisly proceedings.  A bedtime scene featuring the beautifully understated alcoholic mother played by Lorranine M McIntosh and Martin Quinn is quite lovely, totally original and deeply touching.

What Tiffany and Hoggett have achieved is really something rather special – the show that will lead to their future references as Tiffany and Hoggett (Black Watch, Let The Right One In).

And what National Theatre of Scotland has achieved is to be hugely applauded- not just for such an affecting piece of theatre but for having the balls to stage it in Dundee; not Glasgow where it would surely find even larger audiences.

If you don’t take the trouble to travel North, suit yourself, but don’t come crying to me when for years to come your theatre buddies reminisce about “that night in Dundee” when remarkable things happened.

Oh how Baz Luhrmann must have wanted his epic classical recreation to have been this good.

And straight in at number two. China Sewage pipe baby.


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I’m sure this image caught your eye as much as it caught mine, as it did my friend, David Reid, who wrote on Twitter that the headline “China sewage pipe baby” would make for a great band name. I agree.

It compelled me to write the following post on my new business’s blog. (Planet Blog).

Back in the day I was a massive indie music fan.  Still am, as a matter of fact.

I loved the fact that it was possible for outlandishly named bands to have big “indie” hits and stay in the charts for months at a time.

Some of the names they came up were majestic.   Echo and the Bunnymen broke through, despite a fairly ridiculous moniker. So too did pop radicals, Chumbawumba, with their memorable performance at The Brits during which John ‘Two Jabs’ Prescott got a bucketful of water thrown over him.

Polyphonic Spree had a few moments of limelight.  And Lynyrd Skynyrd proved that vowels were no essential constituent of success.  The Disposable Heroes of Hiphopracy  also had a season in the sun.  (A very good one actually with their rather excellent “Television.  The drug of the nation.”)

But it’s amid the failed that the real gems emerge.

Would Simple Minds really have made it if they’d held onto their initial name; Johnny and the Self Abusers?

Is it any surprise that little known Atletico Spizz Energy were so little known.

Impotent Sea Snakes?  They hardly flourished.  Lacking perhaps in the vital fecundity that fertilises the imagination of music journalists.  Or maybe they were just rubbish.

I do like Cindy Brady’s Lisp, even if poor old Cindy was the butt of all her school’s jokes.  (Was she?)

Another bunch of losers (apart from in the nomenclature stakes) was Congratulations on Your Decision to Become a Pilot.  That’s ace that is.

How about Nectarine number 9?  Or Crispy Ambulance?  Or Osric Tentacles? (I own albums by all three.)

But the kings of it all were The Fall, not in itself such an outre name, but check out these album and song titles:

  • Hex Enduction Hour
  • I am Kurious Oranj (note spelling)
  • To Nkroachment: Yarbles
  • Hexen Definitive/ Strife Knot
  • Mexico Wax Solvent
  • Gross Chape l – British Grenadiers
  • Van Plague?
  • Senior Twilight Stock Replacer
  • Open the Boxoctosis #2
  • Last commands of Xylalothep Via M.E.S.  (How Mark E Smith ever got that out I know not.  Ever heard him interviewed?)

Why?

My point of mentioning all this is that ill-considered verbiage and smart arsed writing (which is essentially what a lot of the above represents) are no recipe for success.

To prove my point The Fall’s biggest hit was “There’s a Ghost in my House” a Holland/Dozier/Holland penned R Dean Taylor cover that peaked at number 30 in the UK singles chart.

Even on the indy charts, their biggest success was a number 2 with “Totally Wired.”

So, remember this.  If you find it hard to turn your complex business or technical messaging into compelling, easy to read blog writing, why not give Planet Blog a try?

We can be your Fall guys. (Without the tortuous language.)

Outstanding new TV ads from VW.


The new VW Golf GTi ad made everyone in our house applaud the other night.

Quite simply it is the best ad I’ve seen in months, maybe years, and so true to VW’s personality.  Deeply confident but with a willingness and ability to be so without ever being cocky or arrogant.  Unlike with the door closing commercial a few years ago which made direct comparisons about build qulaity this sets VW up as the gold standard by choosing an amusing metaphor.  But so awesomely resolved, not just filmically but in the audio too.

This is Gold Award at Cannes standard in my book.

And so, you’re sitting around waiting for a half decent ad to come along and two come from the same advertiser in a week.

The New VW Up! commercial draws on classic VW style.  Great (and perfectly relevant) old song, brilliant casting and a fabulous punchline, lovingly telling a great wee story but avoiding the danger of slapstick or exaggeration.  It treats its audience with respect and allows them to work it all out.

The reveal carries a genuinely good product benefit (a good small car for tall people – nothing more, but that’s enough).

And as if all that wasn’t enough, you can see how they made the VW Golf GTi ad too.

Latest listening. Yasmine Hamdan. Ya Nass.


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Take one part Fado singer Mariza, to that add a dash of Shiela Chandra, mix in a decent dollop of Susheela Raman and you won’t even get close to how transfixingly beautiful, evocative and enthralling the singing of Yasmine Hamdan is.

Now underscore with music that comes from West End Musicals, The Pet Shop Boys, Warren Ellis and traditional folk music and again you won’t have nailed Yasmine Hamdan.  If you liked the very best of Ethiopiques I would suggest this will be to your liking.

That probably makes it sound like a pot pouri of ill fitting musical styles.  Don’t you believe it.

This is extraordinary music that has a rare beauty to it.

Now, the thing that nails it for me is, like Tinariwan, who sing with startling ethnic embellishments and words totally unfamiliar, so too does Hamdan, but her source is Arabic, because she hails from Beirut, although now lives with her husband in Paris.

Before a week ago I had not heard of Haman (despite his significant back catalogue under the band name Soapkills) but after seeing her blow away all and sundry on Jools Holland’s show I sent immediately for her debut album.

Rather than a strictly new release it appears to be a Western catch up of some previously released materials that we haven’t yet come across.

She sings defiantly in Arabic because the youth of Lebanon eschew their roots favouring, like many other countries, transatlantic sounding pop.  The result is that this is music I have never quite heard before but is stunningly complex and enthralling from start to finish.

Please don’t approach this as “World Music” which to so many is a pejorative genre definition.  It is just beautiful and no more so than on the albums opening numbers, Deny (straight out of Homeland), Shouie (surely the most plaintive lament you’ll hear in a long time), Samar (with its Indian sounding, slightly syncopated, early Depeche Mode feel) and the monumental Enta fen, again (swooningly beautiful French noir thriller soundtrack material if ever I’ve heard it – Think Diva).

The ship’s foghorn that introduces La Mouch only creates a further layer of intrigue. Nediya is a Morodoresque synth-driven torch song.  (But that only sells it short.)

This is not throw away pop.  It’s truly great contemporary music worthy of any year end top ten list.  I confidently predict you will witness this.  Not least on mine.

Right now?  It’s way out there on its own.