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.