Rhinoceros: Royal Lyceum Theatre


To give you a deep insight into Rhinoceros, here’s a cat.  And three fledgling fascists.

If Theatre of the Absurd kicked off with Becket’s Godot it may have reached its zenith in Ionesco’s work; most famously in Rhinoceros.

It’s not a big stretch of the imagination for the audience to understand the concept that’s being ridiculed in this 1959 play about the pre WWII rise in fascism.

The way in which it overwhelmed an intelligent, educated and huge populace of Germany (in Nazism), but many other European countries too,  does seem, on reflection, absurd but terrifyingly so.

And you’re left in no doubt that this is an absurdist comedy in Zinnie Harris’ epic production, because the word is liberally sprinkled throughout the script.

And you’re also left in no doubt that what was a mid 20th century phenomenon is prescient in these pre-Brexit days where the threat of religious war hangs heavily over us all, tainted as it is with accusations of brainwashing, fundamentalism and all sorts of ‘-ification’.

Ionesco saw 1930’s fascist ideological conformity as abhorrent (and like us he had the benefit of hindsight).  His response was an absurd construct that portrays the emerging nazi’fication’ of Europe as a metaphor.  Ordinary people’s metamorphosis from essentially liberal political belief-sets and world views to the fundamental acceptance of extremes of right wing doctrine was, in his play, like turning from humans into rhinocerii.


And yet it happened.  And, like a plague, the more it became ideologically acceptable the more it became the accepted norm.

Few felt able to challenge and rail against it. And the more the pendulum swung the more

One of the few, in Ionesco’s world, is a simple village drunk called Berenger (played enthusiastically and engagingly by Robert Jack) who simply doesn’t understand what the world is rhinocerising.

His friends (led by the ever brilliant Steve McNicholl) gradually desert him as he becomes a lone voice of not even reason, just questioning.

It’s in parts hysterical, in parts just a bit too full-on to assimilate and in parts beautiful.

The live score by Oguz Kaplangi is mesmerising. (I will go again to see this simply to decode his incredible soundscaping of the piece with music, sound effects and rhythmic underscoring – it’s a gem of a thing).

What it’s not, is logical.  This is theatre you need to engage your brain to enjoy.  I liked that.  And yet it has a simple charm that makes it palatable.  For the most part you can simply enjoy the obvious metaphor and the fun that Zinnie Harris’ ensemble cast bring to the stage.

It’s laugh out loud many times.

And it’s fresh as a daisy.  Albeit one that’s grown through a cow pat.



Slade House by David Mitchell: Book Review.


Those of us who loved The Bone Clocks (my review is here) get a wee Brucie Bonus in Slade House.

Although not billed, or marketed, as such it is, in fact, the follow up.

This time, rather than a six-book, sprawling epic it’s a little addendum (a bit like Michel Faber’s addendum to The Crimson Petal and the White, called The Apple).

It’s a stand alone read in its own right and could be an excellent primer for those daunted by the concept of sci-fi fantasy that was so gloriously explored in the epic mother ship that is The Bone Clocks.

It tells the story of a mysterious House that appears every nine years in a London suburb and draws win a variety of visitors who have to face pretty challenging circumstances (I’ll leave it at that).  It sets out like a ghost story, morphs into sci fi and ends up pure fantasy.

It’s short, sweet and bang on the money.

Another little cracker David Mitchell.

(Just like this review, eh readers!)


Karoo by Steve Tesich: Book review.


I totally stumbled upon this book.  In fact my wife did.

I knew nothing about it or its author Steve Tesich (who it transpires wrote the screenplays for The World According to Garp, Eleni, Four Friends and won an Academy Award for Breaking Away.  He died in 1996 aged 53, just after finishing this novel.)

It’s flawed.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not very good.

First flaw.  It’s pretty long and ekes out a story that might benefit from a fairly savage edit.  At times it becomes, not so much repetitive as just too languid.  The story threatens constantly to burst into action, and yet ever does.  But this is also one of its strengths because Tesich writes in such an engaging way that being immersed in the book is as pleasing as being driven by narrative.

It’s the story of a highly succesful but alcoholic screenwriter, Saul Karoo, who can no longer get drunk and who’s mid-divorce.  In fact he’s not so much a screen writer but a script doctor (or hack as he defines himself.)

He can’t find any way to create true loving relationships with anyone, most notably his adopted son Billy, who was taken from the arms of a 14 year old girl, Leila, straight from birth.

Upon rewriting (in fact recutting) a failed movie by a film auteur (which Saul regards a masterpiece) he realises that an extra in the movie is Leila, tracks her down and begins a relationship with her, planning to introduce her, at some time to his (her) son Billy.

After that it gets a little complicated.

Second flaw. The story becomes a story within a story and that is one of the tricks of the novel.  Sadly, the denouement adds a story within a story within a story, that fails miserably.

It’s funny, sometimes laugh out loud so and it’s skilfully written..  The character of Saul Karoo whilst not lovable is affable enough and his deeply embedded lack of self esteem (despite his brilliant career) often overwhelms him with anxiety and lack of drive and ambition.

He hates Hollywood.  He hates the movie business.  He hates life frankly.

It’s an odd thing in many ways, but I cautiously recommend it.

If after 100 pages it’s too slow for you, ditch it.  It doesn’t go anywhere any faster.



Save Me. Sky Atlantic.


This is brutal TV.

Set in Inner London (Detford?) it’s written by its star, Lennie James, wearing a rather helpful bright yellow puffer jacket throughout, which aids recognition in long shots.  Lennie James has a thirty year acting career but you can’t help thinking, as you immerse yourself in this torrid tale, that this is the part he was destined for.  It will certainly take him up a step or two in the acting firmament.

Credit also goes to a truly brilliant cast of misfits, ne’er-do-wells, cross dressers, alcoholics, hard men, paedophiles, small time crooks, drug dealers, students and hookers.

This is Shameless with a purpose and far fewer laughs.

It’s brutal from start to finish; both upsetting and riveting.

It concerns the abduction of Nellie’s (James) daughter, Jody, from a previous relationship.  He hasn’t seen since she was three but his is the number she calls at the timer of her disappearance.  This immediately makes him prime suspect with the police.

But Nellie’s no child abductor.  He’s too busy maintaining his mildly alcoholic lifestyle which involves his moving from one girlfriend to another (he has four) in his ‘manor’.  Dodging and diving he ‘makes a living’ and spends all his spare time in the local pub where all his ‘family’ hang out and where he brashly lords it.

His ex and the girl’s mum, played extremely convincingly by Suranne Jones, are brought back together in the search for the girl, as the police take on something of a ‘Three Billboards’ type of half-hearted investigation.  But Nellie’s having none of that.  He wages his own investigation that takes him into an underworld of paedophile rings under the cover of his pal Melon, a convicted paedophile, played sympathetically by Stephen Graham.  He pulls off a tough part really well.

It’s a harrowing watch and every character plays their part in making it a too hard to call police procedural with a big difference (no police).  The story avoids cliche and maintains credibility throughout.

It’s tough.  But it’s great. And the loose ending promises more quality in series two.




Annihilation: Netflix Movie Review.



If you have access to Netflix you have a treat in store.

Annihilation is Alex Garland’s second movie as director/writer after the Oscar nominated Ex-Machina and joins his writing portfolio that includes The Beach, Sunshine and 28 Days Later – all Danny Boyle movies.

Starring Natalie Portman (usually pretty bland and fairly much so here) and the superb Jennifer Jason Leigh (who plays it down in this) it’s a full on girl power let’s take on the aliens movie without any aliens.

The story concerns five female scientists who are sent into a strange growing entity called ‘The Shimmer’ on the coast of the USA hat hat has already chewed up and spat out a bunch of marines and inexplicably threatens life on earth.  In its early days it needs dealt with and female scientists may hold the key.

Inside ‘The Shimmer’ we find a world where DNA is ‘refracted’ in such a way that flora and fauna swap DNA and the resultant organisms range from extremely beautiful to hideously malformed.  These along with a breakdown in the scientists’ own DNA and organ tissue (leading to madness) form the threats to their existence as the seek the source of ‘The Shimmer”.

In many ways the concept is pretty close to standard fare but it is treated intelligently. (Too intelligently, it seems, for the US test cinema audience who didn’t ‘get it’ and so it was released straight to Netflix.)  Portman’s back story adds interesting colour and fleshes the movie out without intruding.

Maybe they tested int in the heart of Trump country because it’s not that tricky.  Anyway, cinema’s loss, your gain.  It’s a cracking yearn, well acted, well scripted, clever and stunningly shot.  My wife, who doesn’t go for sci-fi ordinarily, loved it.

Garland is a great ideas man and is already a gifted director.  This is a sound addition to his canon of work and I highly recommend it.



You Were Never Really Here. Movie Review.


First.  A gripe.  Why does everyone (reviewers, pundits, friends) call Joaquin Phoenix, Joaquim, with an M.  That’s not his name.

It’s important, because he is.

He is about to assume a place at the altar of greatness, and this is the start of it, thanks to the high priestess of film making, Lynne Ramsay.

I have followed Ramsay’s career with close interest given that she is Scottish and I was privileged enough to be invited to the world premiere of her debut, Ratcatcher in 1999.

That particular movie met with dismay with one of my fellow guests, the Marketing Director of VisitScotland, who was despairing of the Scots’ film industry’s penchance to make depressing (his word) movies about my home country, and his product.

The journey has had few stops in the intervening 19 years.  A movie every half decade has not make her a household name.  But if you care even a jot about cinema she must feature high in your list of the greatest living directors.  Every frame she has committed to celluloid is crafted perfectly and Morvern Callar (an astounding book given a 10/10 treatment by Ramsay), We need to talk about Keven (ditto) and the aforementioned Ratcatcher (her own original screenplay) are all simply great movies.

Every single one of her films (and two short films) have been recognised at Cannes – reflecting her status as auteur in the cinematic world.

You Were Never Really Here is no exception, nominated for the Palm D’or, it is a continuation of Ramsay’s faultless performance.  What will catch the headlines (small as they may be) though, will be Pheonix’s performance, as Joe.  It’s highly redolent of Javier Bardem’s in the Coen Brothers’ magnificent No Country for Old Men in which they both play mysterious hitmen with little to say.

His pursuit of justice for the young victims of a New York paedophile circle is cold blooded. Some of the extremely violent acts of retribution captured in this would turn your stomach were they committed to screen, but Ramsay opts instead to deliver them via a series of quite original set ups (for instance on CCTV) or chooses instead to share the aftermath and not the moment (think Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs in which you think you see, but don’t, the ear removal to Steeler’s Wheel, never to be the same, Stuck in the Middle.)

Phoenix is frankly, awesome in this.  His, often topless, performance reveals an ageing body, moobs and all, that tells a million stories. The scars, bruises and lumps are each the souvenir of some untold act of revenge in which he escaped less than Scot-free.

His back story is told in tiny scraps.  Clearly he suffered an abused childhood, protected by his still living, and loving, ageing mother.   The trauma has shaped his career and although the back-story is never revealed in detail, only suggestion, we get the point that it has traumatised him so much that he often has to breathe into polythene bags, covering his head, to replace his panic-attack-driven hyperventilation with a dose of CO2.  The auto suffocation this suggests is not so.  It’s his way of coping.  Of living.

The narrative of the story revolves around the rescue of a New York Governor’s abducted daughter – the beautiful Ekaterina Samson (Nina), whom he rescues from a Chelsea apartment in a trail of blood.  Stupefied with drugs, she has little more to contribute to the proceedings than Phoenix, and this becomes the start of a gig that’s about to go awry.

Really, the story is not that important.  We get it, but it’s tricky to follow as it pursues a complex narrative (not that there’s much spoken dialogue) structure.

What matters is that Phoenix’s delivery from his personal hell is increasingly tied to Nina’s own safety. His mother too (a lovely performance by Judith Roberts) features heavily in the plot as she appears to be the only real love in the callous Joe’s life.

Ramsay has delivered yet another perfect movie.  Hideous, beautiful, cold but engaging.  She might not be box office gold, but she’ll keep her fans baying for more.

Roll on 2023.