Eurovision Young Musicians 2018 Semi Final #1 at Edinburgh International Festival.


A major constituent of the magic of Edinburgh in August is the sheer variety of stuff to see.  I’ve done dance, theatre, comedy and music so far.  But this was competition.

Once again it was peacefully protested  by a Palestinian support group – because Israeli Cellist, Tamir Naaman-Pery was taking part.

Presented in conjunction with BBC Arts and broadcast live on that channel and on Radio 3 it was magical.

Three 20 minute performances by Maltese pianist Bernice Sammut Attard, British Cellist vMaxim Calver and Spanish violinist Sara Valencia were all superb but, for us, the stand out was Sara Valencia whose technical excellence was indisputable.  What a talent.

There were six of these.  We only saw one but it was a great hour to spend on a Saturday afternoon.


(The final is on Thursday in the Usher Hall, if it’s not sold out I’d recommend it heartily.)



L-E-V Dance Company Love Cycles: Love Chapter 2. At The Edinburgh Festival Review.

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I’m fat.

And I dad dance.

So I don’t get, but I do love, modern dance.

Ballet?  Meh.

We saw great dance last year (especially the astounding NDT and Rosa Dance) so we are going BIG on dance this year starting with L-E-V, the Israeli dance company.  (Wayne McGregor tomorrow.)

Anyway, this show was just brilliant.  Beautiful, meticulous, mesmerising, long (for modern dance @55 minutes).

A completely black set with uniformly light grey costumes that made it quite androgynous.

The music by techno DJ Ori Lichtik, was so up my street it was unreal.

The show starts in blackness and gradually the drum beat and the lights build.  It’s gorgeous.

Class.  Great start to the official festival.



De Fuut by Richard Jordan Productions at Summerhall.

Big in Belgium, Richard Jordan Productions, Theatre Royal Plymouth, RBC


De Fuut is a bird.  That bird above.

Birds feature thematically in Bastiaan Vandendriessche’s eery, creepy, threatening, really, really scary creepshow.

“What I would really like to do
is go to a desert island with Leda and Emma,
or sail away with the sperm whale
we are lying on the deck
in our swimming costumes
and I tell them stories about
the destruction of the world
about the futility of life
we compose 200 songs together
with the best ironic poetry there is
and I would never hurt them
I would just be very kind and they would too
and we would never go to sleep
they would kiss me on my neck
they kiss me on my neck”

You see, he’s a child molester.  A groomer.  A Sea Scout leader with a penchant for 13 year old girls.  But you know, not just little girls, he’s slept around with men and women.

He’s all cooled out at his desk, telling us of his exploits.  Not boasting, just sharing.  In his green Kaftan, His love of a Scandi solo performer (Ride?) is apparent as he shares his love for him with us.

The set is a shambolic corner of a large venue with us crammed in so he can get close and personal.  A lot of whispering happens in this show.  Sick whispering.  And shouting. Real anger directed at audience members.  This is not for the faint hearted.

It’s an emotional bastard of a piece.

It’s a bit sick, but it’s also a bit brilliant.

Vandendriessche is amazing.  Utterly hateful.  Utterly charming.  Utterly handsome. Utterly Nabokov.

You have to make your own decisions about seeing this very challenging piece of theatre.  It’s not for everyone, in fact it’s hardly for anyone.  But it’s why theatre is important and can challenge society.  It’s uber-Summerhall.  Thank fuck we have this venerable establishment.

Alongside the Traverse, that is pulling no punches with Underground Railroad Game and Ulster American, I have had a Fringe that already has delivered spine-tinglingly challenging thought provocation on a grand scale.  This does it in a very small, very intimate, very creepy, very Belgian way.

Then again, you might just think it’s a thing by a peado. (I didn’t think it was!)

Underground Railroad Game by Ars Nova at The Traverse.

Soho Theatre presents the Ars Nova production.

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The Traverse is ON FIRE this Fringe.  I expect them to win three, maybe four, Fringe firsts at the weekend. (This show, Ulster American and What Girls are Made of, for sure.  I hear great things about others too, including Class and Coriolanus Vanishes.)

But this one troubled me last night.  To say it’s shocking would be an understatement (as shocking as Ulster American?  No.  But very, very challenging).  The two stand comparison because they touch on American political issues with nerves of steel and no apologies for their subject matter – in both cases they are rooted in America’s past, its heritage, its DNA.

What UA does is present that as befuddled birthright to Ireland.

Here too it’s based on a confusion about heritage.  But the much darker heritage of slavery.  America’s shame.

In a society where mixed race relationship, marriage and family upbringing is hardly uncommon, particularly in democratic cities like New York, LA and so on, what this play examines is the underlying racism that says those relationships are actually outliers, that racism is endemic EVEN in those that truly believe they are in touch with their African American side.  No, not in touch with it, IN LOVE with it.

And so Ars Nova have written and perform this shocking exposition of that endemic racism by playing two school teachers, one black, one white who seem to fall in love, set against a backdrop of a participative (and mandatory) school history lesson.  We, the audience, are the pupils playing the Underground Railroad Game.

Any one unaware of this phenomenon should read Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer winning novel The Underground Railroad.  It’s a semi-metaphor for the work of the white  abolitionists who took their own lives in their hands to shepherd slaves into freedom in the north and Canada for nothing other than pity (and perhaps shame).

The teachers are played by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard who wrote the play and what performances these are.  Brave, energetic (sweat drenched), vulnerable, funny and, oh yes, challenging.

So far, so good.

Where it becomes harder to deconstruct is where the humour stops and the hatred starts.  It also challenges the Scottish audience with quite a few North American cultural references I didn’t understand, but you can get over that.

Clearly some of the audience had done their homework better than other because the opening scene in which a slave woman (Kidwell) is discovered in the barn of a quaker abolitionists (Sheppard) both dressed in cliched, almost cartoon, costumes drew howls of laughter whilst the rest of us thought, what’s funny about that?  In the context of the whole and in hindsight it is, of course, funny because this play is about undermining the tropes of slavery.  It’s out there to DESTROY the tropes. To smash the fuck out of them.

In a series of disjointed vignettes the story (as it is, it’s not really a story, it’s a polemic) takes shape and we realise that the protagonists although falling in love do so from different perspectives. White man Sheppard is actually falling in lust, but maybe in love with the idea that ‘a bit of black’ would be a pretty cool thing to experience and would possibly add to his street cred. (Not among the real racists, mind – and if you know Avenue Q you’ll know that “Everyone’s a little bit racist’.)

Black woman Kidwell quickly spots this because seemingly innocent statements made by Rockwell are deconstructed very differently in the brain of a Black African American woman whose ancestors were almost certainly slaves.  And she doesn’t like it.

So we’ve established the premise.  It’s brave enough in its own right.  As an idea.  But to make it sing Ars Nova just go ‘Fuck it, let’s make this thing sing. Let’s not beat around the bush” – yes that’s a deliberate vagina gag).  And so it goes full tilt into DESTROYING those tropes.  I’ll not go into any detail because that really would move me into spoiler territory.

Let me just say that it goes where most liberal theatre fears to tread and for that Ars Nova deserve all the credit they will get.  I personally found it a little hard to follow the narrative thread – I think I was trying to read to much into it at the time – and I found it troubling.

But having reflected on it overnight I am more sure of its message.  An important and brave one.

And so I conclude, not without indecision, that this is a tremendous piece of theatre that should be seen and enjoyed by its sell out audiences.  But do not go to this if you are easily offended – or you will be poleaxed.



What Girls are made of by Raw Material and Regular Music (but forget all that, it’s Cora’s show) at The Traverse.

A Traverse Theatre Company and Raw Material co-production in association with Regular Music.

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I booked my tickets for this months ago.  I expected it to be outstanding (after all Cora Bissett rarely puts a foot wrong and is my favourite Scottish Director).  But that, as we all know, is what jinx’s things.  So I was nervous that this ran the very strong risk of self-indulgence.

But no.  This is not self -indulgent.

Neither is it self- aggrandising (another huge risk as it’s Cora’s story of her sudden burst into fame in her teens as lead singer of Fife band, The Darlinghearts).

Whether it’s Orla O’loughlan’s deft direction, Cora’s beautiful writing, Grant O’rourke’s hysterical interjections in a host of cameo roles (or those of fellow cast, and band, members Susan Bear and Simon Donaldson) it’s hard to say because they all add up to a package that will fill your heart with joy before filling your eyes with tears.

It’s contemporary Scottish theatre at it’s mightiest.  It’s right up there with Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour and The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart.  But where it takes a further step is where it leaves the comedy and the music behind (brilliant as that is) and steps into personal territory on multiple levels.  I won’t say why for fear of spoiling it for you.

It certainly brought out the inner girl in me.  And made me proud to ‘be a girl’.  (When you see it you’ll understand.)

And by the way, Grant O’rourke can pluck a bass guitar like the best of them.

I’m a little surprised this isn’t an NTS show because it, like the above mentioned NTS hits, it could have a long life on the road, unlike its protagonist in her Darlinghearts days. I hope it will anyway.  Not so I can see it again (I’ve already bought another 6 tickets you see).

No, so YOU can see it.  In London.  In New York.  In Kirkaldy.

It’s peculiarly Scottish, but it’s unquestionably universal.

And it’s a national treasure.  Just like our Cora.




Impact by Fever Dream Theatre at Pleasance Courtyard.

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A one man show performed by Richard Henderson and written/directed by Jonathon Carr this was a chance purchase on our part.  Described as a dark thriller with an opportunity for the audience to participate as they read victim statements from the trial of a man who it transpires has been involved in a heinous crime.

It’s a brilliant hour of theatre in which Henderson mesmerisingly draws you into his warped mind.  Although most will decide the artist is guilty of the crime his exterior is of a perfectly normal and balanced human being looking for meaning in his life.  So far, so millennial.  Where he finds that meaning is also both normal and laudable.  The story is about how once in this place he manipulates those around him to meet his ultimate needs.

The hour passed in the blink of an eye and is up there among the best performances I’ve seen on the Fringe this year.

I imagine most would ask what degree of ‘Direction’ is needed in a one person show but I’ve seen three so far this year and one would have benefited from Jonathon Carr’s hand being on the tiller.

The nuance of this performance didn’t just happen by chance.

Strongly recommended.

A day on the Fringe.

Nice. No, really nice. To spend a whole day with your best pal agreeing, disagreeing, (not fighting), puzzling about plays about homosexual parentage, eco-terrorist mass murder by train derailment, the meaning of life by Karl Sagan and time travel, slavery and the sexual politics it can result in and, best of all; Rock and Roll (indie style), the death of your dementia ridden parents and having a baby maybe just before it was biologically too late. And to meet Coronation Street Stars and Ulster American Stars and What Makes a Girl stars and the Three best directors in Scortland (Orla, Cora and David). To eat good, really quite good street food. To drink a little too much beer, without losing the ability to enjoy any of the above. And then to sleep.

(Sorry) by King’s Head Theatre


Suzy Sillett wrote this one woman monologue, performed by the utterly believable Louise Bereford.  It’s performed in Assembly’s ‘The Box’ which is four containers ‘glued’ together and placed inside a blast furnace.  Well, it’s not the coolest place in the world other than, of course, what is happening on stage.

In three, maybe four, acts the 20-something (23, then 24 to be precise) millenial Louise Beresford shares her shit millennial life with us.  Well, it’s not complete shit; it’s first world shit, but it’s real, proper, been there, seen that, done that shit.  And it’s probably enough to require the support of a therapist (I think maybe the set – a ring of white paper – is a metaphor for psychoanalysis.  We’re not talking suicide watch here – that would be too easy for the highly skilled Suzy Sillet, and would turn what is a brilliant sharing of life stories into a ‘drama’ and would, I think, have ruined its beautiful simplicity.

Instead we hear about dates, shit friends, loneliness, boyfriends, marriage and dying relatives.  It’s all very real and I found it deeply affecting, having a millennial daughter (two in fact) that have been through this.

So, if you’re in that demographic I think you’ll really engage with a proper grown up examination of an uncomfortable age in uncomfortable times without even the merest  whiff of cliche.

That is what makes it so skilled.  Bravo!


The bastard child of Aaron Sorkin, Frankie Boyle (maybe Jerry Sadowitz) and Martin McDonagh – Ulster American @ The Traverse Theatre *****.

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You know those things Frankie Boyle says that few of us even think?

You know the way Martin McDonagh captures the Irish ‘thing’?

You know the pace and eloquence that Aaron Sorkin brings to TV writing?

This is the mash up.  Kinda.

It’s actually a symbiosis of the three:  1 + 1 + 1 = >3

Written by David Ireland (I HAVE to see more of his work), brilliantly directed by Gareth Nichols and impeccably acted;  no, ferociously acted, by Darrell D’Silva, Robert Jack and Lucianne McEvoy.  This is joyous, mind tingling, laugh out loud, sick to the stomach farce, and political machination brought together in an unholy alliance that led to whoops, cheers and a standing ovation from a sold out Trav 2 audience that were simply blown away by total theatre.

90 minutes passed in the blink of an eye and you could have wrung us out after.

By revealing ANY of the plot would be a spoiler but you’ll never think of Princess Diana the same way again.

This will win every award going.

Island Town opens my 2018 Fringe and Festival. ****

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A good solid opener from Wales in the magic Paynes Plough Roundhouse (I think they tour with it) at the incredible Summerhall.  It’s an intimate 150 seat theatre in the round and this talented young cast made sure their story was shared equally with all the audience.

It starts hysterically and becomes gradually more hysterical as the humour of a life of deprivation loses its lustre and the laughs just aren’t funny any more.

I don’t want to spoil it by hinting at the storyline.  Just go and enjoy it.

Three great performances and an amazingly (in a good way) wordy (Sorkinesque) script by Simon Longman.

I recommend it.