An early start for the 2017 Fringe and Festival. Adam at The Traverse.


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I was fortunate to get an early start to Fringe 2017 with an invitation to Adam at The Traverse last night.  It’s my first of 29 shows (including FCT’s 10 of course).

Conceived by my heroine and my favourite working director in Scotland, Cora Bissett, and written by Frances Poet it really does deserve the adjective, remarkable.

The play is structured around the concept of contronyms (from the same family of synonyms and antonyms) a contronym is a word that can be applied to mean exact opposites.  Bolt is a good example because it can mean to secure or to flee.  It’s a clever writing trick that brings great structure to the narrative of the story of Adam, a young Egyptian Trans man who fled his native Alexandria in search of acceptance as a man in Glasgow.  Not only does the play tackle the whole issue of changing sex but also the trials of gaining political asylum.

What’s more, it’s a companion piece to Eve, Jo Clifford’s journey from male to female.

That really is high level conceptual playwriting by two artists under the metaphorical roof of one company, the National Theatre of Scotland.

NTS is bang on form just now, Room which I reviewed earlier this year (also directed by Cora) was extraordinary.

This is no less so in a more intimate and emotional way.

What makes it so remarkable is that the issue of changing gender is played out by the young man himself (Adam Kashmiry) in his first ever professional acting role and a female actor (Neshla Caplan).  Both put in amazing performances that highlights the difference between men and women without ever resorting to cliche, stereotype or politicising the situation.

Special mention must be made of the set (Emily James) a uniquely clever structure borrowing (on a tiny budget) from aspects of The Curious Incidence of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Please, get a ticket before it sells out.

Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, National Theatre Live: Review.


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Eight hours in a theatre (or in this case my two favourite cinemas; The Cameo in Edinburgh for Part 1 and The Hippodrome in Bo’ness for Part 2) is a daunting prospect, especially when the subject matter threatens to overwhelm you emotionally.

In fact it is a breeze because the writing of Tony Kushner and the direction of Marianne Elliot (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) pepper this doomsday epic with both humour and beauty (in staging, lighting, sound and movement – it’s a technical masterpiece throughout).

The acting is uniformly brilliant with Andrew Garfield in the lead role of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter.  But the support he gets from Nathan Lane, in particular, is astounding.  Core ensemble shout outs also have to go to the entire cast especially Denise Gough, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Russell Tovey.

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Whilst, at times, you might want Garfield to slightly reign in the histrionics (and the fey gayness to be honest) you sit with bated breath waiting for Nathan Lane to go off on vitriolic outburst after hateful rant.  He plays a corrupt, gay bashing (ironic) lawyer who has no limit to what he will do to save himself (he too had AIDS but says it’s cancer, having spent his entire life in the closet, much to the disgust of most of the rest of the male gay cast).  He is the highlight of the show.

Although ostensibly a ‘gay fantasia’ the background of story is built largely on a religious platform.  The AIDS ‘plague’ has clear biblical connotations and the angels of the title are fantastical creations that are there to question morality, justice, belief and whether or not there is an afterlife.

The creation of the ‘main’ Angel played by six dancers/puppeteers and Amanda Lawrence as the angel itself is breathtakingly original and continuously mesmerising.  She’s magic.

I grew up during the ‘AIDS Epidemic’ and my home city of Edinburgh had to deal with an almost unique needle sharing problem, as well as the gay spread of the disease, (It’s well captured in Trainspotting) so, that meant it was as much a heterosexual issue as a homosexual one in Edinburgh,  Consequently, HIV/AIDS was very front of mind in this city.  Another reason that the story strongly resonated with me.

Two of the central characters are Mormons and that particular creed comes in for some pretty hefty slagging although overall you sense that Kushner has deep religious beliefs or at least is hedging his bets on whether there is a God.  The fact that both Louis and Nathan Lane’s evil character are both Jews is also an important part of the storyline and leads to considerable debate about the morals of that belief, compared to Christianity.

Politics, too, feature heavily in the storyline with a clear leaning towards both Socialism and the Democrats that make Reagan (the then leader) an object of ridicule.  Indeed Part Two is subtitled Perestroika with a certain reverence for it’s chief architect Gorbachov in evidence.

One of the lead characters (a gay nurse, Belize) former lover of both Prior (Garfield) and Luois (McArdle) and an ex drag queen is black and proud of it. As he nurses Lane’s character (Roy Cohn) this opens up another topic for Kushner to at times hilariously, at times terrifyingly, exploit; racism.  The man is a pig and it’s all that Belize can do to maintain his dignity and ethical professionalism to tolerate the monster that he tends.  In fact a relationship develops that is, at times, surprisingly tolerant and even tender.

Meanwhile closet gay and Mormon, Joe Pitt (Tovey), married to valium addicted Harper (the superb Denise Gough) is straying into an experimental homosexual exploration of his sexuality with Louis (former lover of both Belize and Prior) this has massive personal  consequences.  McArdle in particular plays a really strong supporting role and has the subtlety to play his part with conviction and sympathy.  He’s the ‘tart with a heart’ but can’t deal with all the consequences of these tumultuous times for the world’s gay population.

It’s complicated.  And that’s why Kushner needs eight hours to unravel the labyrinthian plot and the fundamental BIG questions it tackles, but he does so with great skill and lightness of touch.

The National Theatre are to be applauded for reviving this monumental work.  And it’s to our great fortune that we can experience it (from essentially front row seats) in small movie theatres all over the world.

A production that has wowed audiences and critics alike, I expect to see it pick up many more London Theatre awards.  If you get the chance to see it when NTLive does a reprise, kill for tickets.

Dunkirk: Movie Review.


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It’s almost impossible to explain the extraordinary impact this movie has on you unless you have seen it.

In a movie that entirely engulfs you it’s rather unusual that the acting performances are almost unimportant.  Yes, Mark Rylance, as ever, puts no foot wrong but this is not a movie about acting. This is a movie about visceral experience.

This is a movie about paying double the price to experience it in an iMax.  Pay it man.

Christopher Nolan does not do anything less than 8.0 IMDB movies.  His class is overwhelming.  Interstellar blew me away with its imagination but this is a step up even again.

And one of the reasons for that is his relationship with Hams Zimmer.  This movie’s extraordaryness starts with the music which feeds off the utterly spectacular sound design by ( Help me I can’t find it on IMDB) xxx.

You are overwhelmed by the sound from frame 1.  Remember Saving Private Ryan?  Remember how you winced in your cinema seat.  That was the sound.  Now square that.  Hell, no.  Cube it.

Now, think how Saving Private Ryan Looked.  Think about how you squirmed in your seat.  Cube that too.

Now, think how after the first 20 minutes (if we are all honest her) it got a bit dull.

THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN WITH CHRISTOPHER NOLAN.

Christopher Nolan is the gift that just keeps giving.

This movie gives and gives and then gives a little more.

Costume, photography, sound, SFX (not much in CGI if anything) are all awesome.

This is an actual masterpiece.

I think it will win multiple Oscars, including best movie and director, with the rare distinction of no acting medals. (I hereby predict 10 Oscars.)

It’s a straight 10/10.

 

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland plays Donald Fagen’s Nightfly: Review (At the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival)


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First of all, apologies for the truly awful photo above.

One of my all time favourite albums is Donald Fagen’s post Steely Dan 1981 debut solo album, The Nightfly.  Indeed so much do I love it that I have made the Nightfly my alter ego for my music quiz hosting and the short time I DJed on Jubilee FM.

It is a record of complete perfection with its jazz infused tones and theme and was, for many, Steely Dan fans a step up even from their giddy heights.

Well,  Malcolm Edmonstone has taken the album and arranged it for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland and performs a ‘big band’ rendition from start to finish (with five brilliant vocalists) and conducted by Andrew Bain in Edinburgh’s brand new Rose Theatre on Rose Street (in itself worthy of celebration because its a new small to mid-sized space that offers much potential).

The album astoundingly transforms itself into a jazz ensemble piece and guest guitarist, the venerable Malcolm Macfarlane, is mindbogglingly brilliant as lead guitarist and shares two of his own excellent filmic numbers prior to the Nightfly set.)  One number has interesting nods towards a Sufjan Stevens sound, although I spoke to him after and he didn’t know Sufjan.  (Malcolm, go listen.)

But the stars of the piece are obviously the orchestra (it is their gig after all).  All young, all impressively talented and all bringing a classic album to life (that was recorded before any of them were born) with consumate ease.

The West coast Californian languor of Fagen’s late night radio station vibe is frankly cool as fuck and this makes the most of it.

Only 8 songs, but every one of them cool, chilled, jazzy, soulful and simply brilliant.

Sadly the Rose Theatre have a little work yet to do on their sound mixing but it wasn’t enough to damage a brilliant, classic, unique performance of truly great worth.

Intelligent Finance? I think not.


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I’m an IF customer, have been for 15 years (attracted by their offset mortgage which is the gift that keeps on giving) however one thing that really REALLY annoys me is that when I phone them I use the phone number on their website 0845 609 4343.

Except I always forget and am reminded by a message when I dial that number that it was changed (I’d say, conservatively, 3 years ago) to 0345 609 4343,.

I call infrequently, but every time I do I ask them how they can’t put their own phone number on their website correctly.

“Yes we know and we’ve asked for it to be changed” weary phone operators sigh.

“Yes, but you are called Intelligent Finance”  I always reply, frankly only irritating them more.

“Surely this is a very straightforward IT task to change?”

“Yes, we’d have thought so and we keep bringing it up but nobody does anything.”  Is the common battle-hardened response.

Sometimes I make a formal complaint so that it will be ‘escalated’.

It makes no difference.

Intelligent Finance remain, in my view, exceptionally unintelligent in this very, very simple administrative requirement.

For complainers like me it too remains the gift that keeps on giving.  I’ll be sad in away when and IF they ever change it.

By the way, they also don’t recognise Apple Pay and they don’t have contactless.  For a bank called Intelligent Finance I also find this surprising.

Kamasi Washington: Truth. Even if you don’t like jazz you will love this.


I can hardly believe that only 300,000 have viewed this at the time of writing.

It’s a piece called Truth by Kamasi Washington and please find 14 minutes in your life to watch this on fullscreen at full volume.

For those of you who don’t know, Kamasi Washington is an American Jazz Saxophonist and has worked extensively with Kendrick Lamar (on to Pimp a Butterfly. the best album of 2015) and many others.

It’s the final movement in a five movement piece conceived for the Whitney Museum in New York’s 2017 Biennial called Harmony of Difference and the film was directed by A G Rojas , a Barcelona based film director who’s also made videos for the likes of Jack White.

The centrepiece of the film fits the slow movement, within the movement as a whole, and features the longest, slowest zoom and pan you will ever see.  Orson Welles would be proud of it.

I first heard this on the amazing Giles Peterson show on BBC 6 Music (it’s a treasure trove of beautiful, jazz, jazz influenced and electronica that makes a Saturday afternoon a very fine thing – or listen to his show in download form on the BBC iPlayer).

Incidentally for the sharp eared among you the central six note theme (that’s introduced on the guitar) is virtually identical to Gorgeous George by Edwin Collins.  Not that I am criticising this, but it was nagging away at me as to what I knew it from.

Baby Driver: Movie Review.


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The poster says that Baby Driver is the coolest movie of the summer.  I don’t know that that aspiration is king size but in my view it fails to achieve even those unlofty heights.

It is QUITE cool but it’s reliance on music as a key plot device requires the music to be cool as…

It isn’t.

The anchor song, Queen’s Brighton Rock, isn’t even Queen’s coolest song.  Not by a long way.

The title credits, where our hero (Baby) walks the streets of Atlanta to the sound of Harlem Shuffle is clever as the lyrics pop up as street graffiti, shop names and so on but it’s trying soooo hard.

The car chases are invariably high quality but I felt some of the casting was a bit gash.  Love interest, Lily James, doesn’t cut the mustard and Baby (Ansel Elgort) created no real empathy.

But the biggest crime is the OST.

Come on guys you could have done better than that.

Apart from Hocus Pocus by Focus and Egyptian Reggae by Jonathan Richman it was just kind of meh!  It ain’t no Tarantino soundtrack.

Now THAT’s cool.

Jamie Foxx is largely unintelligible. But John Hamm and Kevin Spacey put in good, professional efforts.

This movie aspires to coolness, but it left me a little cold.

 

Why Damien Hirst may be the most important artist of a generation.


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The critics (generally) loathe Damien Hirst.  They despise his art ‘factory’  They don’t like his populist approach to creating art.

They see him as an arrogant upstart with a pop sensibility.

They mistrust his popularity among ‘consumers’.

I love him.

And I love him even more having made a trip to Venice specially to see his “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.”

It’s a massive piss take on an incomprehensible scale. (194 pieces created by 250 craftspeople in 5 countries)

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As the show notes state (all a lie) in 2008 a vast wreckage was discovered off the coast of East Africa.  A wealthy ex slave, Cif Amotan II, (an anagram of I am a fiction) accumulated a vast collection of artefacts the length and breadth of the ancient world (oh, and Disney).  The treasures were brought together on board a ship called the Apisos (translated from Koine Greek as the ‘Unbelievable‘) destined for a purpose built temple the ship sank in the Indian Ocean and lay there for two thousand years before being discovered in 2008.

Many of the pieces (prior to ‘restoration’) are encrusted in barnacles, corals and other marine life.

The show opens with a video of the plundering of the ship’s contents (in actual fact these are Hirst’s creations dropped onto the seabed for immediate recovery.  It’s all staged.)

Set in two massive palaces (the Palazzo Grassi and the Punto Della Dogana) you are met in the colossal atrium of Palazzo Grassi by the show’s spectacular centrepiece Demon with a bowl.  

It stands 18 metres tall and although it’s made of Resin it appears to be bronze.

Your jaw literally drops.

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Then begins the journey.

Most of the pieces are cast in bronze with painted coral and underwater flora and fauna.  Some of these are simply breathtaking in their beauty.  But there are also pieces made from Jade, Malachite, Gold, Silver, Cararra and Pink marble,

Here we go…

Piss take #1.  How exactly did this appear on the floor of the Indian Ocean in 100 AD?

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This is stunning.

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I mean, at auction these pieces will sell for millions (individually).

This piece is called Andromeda and the Sea Monster and measures 4 metres by 6 metres and is made entirely of bronze.

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It’s mind boggling.

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This is kind of Goofy. (Piss take #3).

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Now he’s taking the Mickey…

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…and here it is being ‘recovered’.

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Just beautiful.

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And again.  (It’s Kate Moss.)

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Unknown Pharaoh in Blue Granite, Gold and white agate.

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Huge.

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Did the Ancient Egyptians wear nipple rings?  I suspect not.

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Two mummies.

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Piss take #4. Look closely.

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Sphynx.

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Nice boobs.

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Piss take #5.  Beautiful Pink Marble torso…

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…but look at the back of it…

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And here’s ‘the collector’

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Look at the detailing in this.

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It’s miraculous, profound, beautiful, funny and the art critics can talk a walk.

Go see it.

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David Franceyism.


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I’m indebted to George Peebles for recounting the story of David Francey who was commentating on a Celtic match in Europe in the sixties.

In a rare moment of non-concentration he missed a goal against Celtic by a Romanian player.

Asking his sidekick for details of the scorer he was met with the response “Fucked If I know”.

His commentary then went “And the scorer was the big blond striker, Fuktifano.”

 

Retina Festival 2017. (Celebrating photography at its very best)


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Get yourself along to Ocean Terminal in Leith to view the outstanding Emerging Talent show at the Image Collective Gallery on the top floor.

Retina is in its fourth year and over that period it has done more to showcase great photography in Scotland than just about anybody else.

This year is no different.  Indeed next Tuesday sees the opening of the Association of Photographers 2016 Photography Awards Show at Out of the Blue.

And there’s a great show by Hellen Van Meene and Bryn Griffiths at Summerhall until the 15th July.

But last night was about the newbies and I had the great pleasure of talking to two of them.  Both delightful human beings. Rod Penn

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In particular we had a long chat with Suzanne whose architectural series called Ethereal Industry multi layers images of beautiful industrial and agricultural units to creat a ghostly world of weird but truly beautiful structures.  She rightly won a BIPP award for this collection.

It’s brilliant.

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The Hungary Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2017. Our favourite.


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There’s much to savour at La Biennale but this was our collective favourite.

Here’s what they say about it.

“Peace on Earth!” by Gyula Várnai and curated by Zsolt Petrányi is a project based on the viability and the imminent need of utopias; it’s about the disillusion we have about the future and about the things that have not come true, but especially it’s a show concerning new technologies, global economies and natural crisis, giving the viewer the chance to make a deep reflection on a future that is growing faster than before.

The entire pavilion is just a stunning display of modern art but this piece stole it for us.

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The rainbow needs closer scrutiny.  Turns out is made up of a kaleidescope of 1960’s pin badges…

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Like this one…

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We didn’t see Gyula Várnai’s neon piece at night but this is how it looks

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The Biennale is incredible.  This won our vote.