Room by National Theatre of Scotland etc at Dundee Rep: Review.


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Emma Donoghue has now written Room three times.

The novel, the Oscar winning movie and now this, surely award winning, play.

She’s worked it out like.

In tonight’s opening performance at Dundee Rep we witness a bringing together of some of the greatest of British and Irish theatrical, musical and writing talent.  A sort of Harlem Globetrotters of theatre.

Let’s start with NTS: not everyone’s favourite and they don’t always hit the mark, But for me they do so much more often than they are given credit for.   The company has brought us Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart, The James Plays, Let the Right One In and Black Watch, all of which are nailed on five star shows.

That deserves extreme respect.

Then There’s Stratford East (just superb) and The Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s equivalent of NTS).

Add to that Cora Bissett.  Time after time after time she presents brilliant theatre with a strong musical strand.

And Roadkill.

Up and coming Scots composer Kathryn Joseph weaves music into this production in a way you would NEVER, EVER have expected from the movie.  She is an utter genius and this showcases her talent brilliantly.  It is NOTHING like her Scottish album of the year winner Bones you have Thrown me and Blood I have spilt, but who cares – it’s a further development.

OK, so the source material is superlative and the movie (featuring an Oscar winning best actress performance by Brie Larson) is really superb, but this takes the whole thing to a higher emotional plane.

Being in a small theatre as this outrageously horrific tale unfolds, with the consequent impact on the protagonists, is a remarkable thing.  Add a musical score to it and original songs that break your heart and you are in theatre nirvana.

(If you’ve ever seen a rape scene deconstruct itself into a beautiful ballad and then transmogrify itself back into a rape then, fine, I’ll agree with you this isn’t completely original.)

And what’s more, it’s two shows for the price of one because one could almost end the show at the end of act one.  The torture over we could all go home happy.  But the torture isn’t over because Ma and Jack’s brutal incarceration had conditioned them.  They were in their own Private Idaho and freedom from that safety net into the “world’ opens a Pandora’s box of horrors.

Imagine the agoraphobia, the media scrutiny, the accusations (the interview in act two with the TV reporter is brilliant, brutal and heartbreaking).

As Ma and Jack’s relationship threatens to break down we too are broken.

Cora Bisset’s supreme directorial achievement here is to cast two Jacks.  The boy (played tonight, by one of three, miraculously by the beautifully named Taye Kassim Junaid-Evans) really is just a boy; maybe 8 years old he is on stage for three hours.  But it is his inner and older self that actually steals the show. Cora casts the stunning, and I mean stunning, Fela Lufadeju as Big Jack.  His performance astounds.  His songs break your heart.  He acts off but never to distraction.  He is the narrative and emotional driver of the whole show and his arrival on stage for the bows was met uproariously.  He is nothing short of amazing.

And then there’s Ma: Witney White.  Simply beautiful.  A performance of great range and, you know, a tough gig.  She has to be compassionate, angry, broken and be able to sing great solos and torch songs.

She pulls it off.

You love her.

I can, and will, go on and on.

This great black cast ensemble, rarely seen in Scotland, has a conservative underscore.  Grandma (Lucy Tregear) and Grandpa (Stephen Casey) have thankless tasks.  For a start they are white (turns out Ma was adopted).  They’re divorced and they’re middle class.  We’re not meant to like them.  Especially Grandpa, the weak sod that left his wife having ‘buried’ his daughter.

But we do.  Much more so than in the movie.

Stephen Casey pulls off a grand larceny in his role.  The bastard of the movie, the utter heartless bastard quixotically transforms the part.  The scene in which he holds young Jack in his arms as he realises he actually loves this bastard son of a monster broke my heart.

The closing number also broke my heart and the emotional walls finally caved in.

One last mention.  the set design by Lily Arnold has to be seen to be believed, both my wife and I agreed it had echoes of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but on probably 5% of the budget. It’s brilliant, particularly in act one.  But how she visually re-represents it in the closing scene is nothing short of genius.

This is very great theatre and you have only four days to see it.

There are seats.

If you miss it and you’re too mean to pay the train fare or petrol to get to Dundee don’t come greeting to me.

I told you, for free, how great it is.

(PS.  I’ve seen Let the Right one in, Road Kill, Sweeney Todd and now Room at Dundee Rep in recent years.  It is a trip but I’ll tell you what, £ for £ this is the best theatre in Scotland.  It constantly punches above its weight and it always disappoints me that the auditorium isn’t full.  Please fellow theatre lovers keep an eye out for their programme: their new season is peppered with brilliance.)

The Siege of Sidney Street. Another great photo from BBC4’s Britain in Focus with Eamon McCabe.


Considered the first ever photojournalism shot, by Daily Mirror photographers.  Very poignant in these days of armed police on our streets.  They were trying to hole out a gang of armed robbers in London’s Sidney Street in 1911.

h_00168553.jpg.Here’s another…

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And another, the killing of three of the robbers resulted in riots.

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Just wonderful quality and such great story telling.

The adventures of a Jeremy Corbyn T shirt.


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When I purchased my JC (yes he walks on water) T shirt earlier this year little did I know that it would become a hit at Primavera.  (The Catalonian music festival than I was at from Thursday 1st to Sunday 4th June.)

To say we had a laugh would be a rather big undertstatement.

Here goes.  For the sake of modesty, and career continuance, some of the names have been omitted.

I guess the festival started quite badly.  But the only sour nate in a symphony of sugar like proportions.  Jimmy (aged 63 – not real name) and Jock (aged mid 50’s) were jumped in the Slayer mishap.  Jock had his arse attacked with a Stanley knife in an attempt to get the wallet out of his back pocket.

Here’s the evidence of the failed ambush.

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Johnny was less fortunate.  His wallet was removed, along with its not inconsiderable financial contents and four credit cards.

There is, of course, a lesson in all this but I don’t think it is not to mosh in heavy mateal gigs in your advanvcing years.  It is to place your wallet in your front pocket and carry only as much cash as you need for the day.

Perhaps the irony of this story is that only a week before Jimmy had, in his own words, lectured his ex-wife on the importance of vigilance in Barcelona, a city notoriously tainted by the scourge of pickpocketry.

One must practice what one doth preach Johnny.

Moving on, let’s return to the sweeter side of this remarkable event.

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First off, the people.

I made so many new friends.  But it was Jeremy that was the icebreaker.  One gorgeous babe ran 100 metres with her arms outstretched and threw herself around me screaming her love for Jezza.  I was merely a vessel for the delivery of her profound political engagement with a national youth hero.

Literally 20+ times a day this happened to me.  It forced me to wear Corby for two dates not the one for which it had been slated.  And because I had a supply of my son’s Lynx it was off passable odorousness.

But, this was not The Lynx Effect in action.

Trust me. This was The Jezza Effect.

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From this, admittedly biased, sample Jezza has a chance on Thursday.  But you young people need to GET OUT AND VOTE.  It is your futures, not mine, that will benefit most from politics FOR THE MANY, NOT FOR THE FEW.  I repeated this line many times over the weekend.

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Indeed David was so moved by my support that he declared his undying love for me in the only way that means anything…

In the words of Juliet…

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

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It made it through the weekend.

Jimmy is a great storyteller.  And not as fond of the Jezz as I am (in truth I was in a small minority in this regard among my band of 50+ Thatcherite, tweed and cravat wearers.

Jimmy’s view on Labour?

“Jezza and Diane on the back of a motorbike travelling across East Germany.  That’s where they learned all they know about economics.”

Jimmy’s elderly mum however has taste. and i unrepresentative of this Tory loving elderly demography.

“When asked to join in on a toast to Margaret Thatcher her response was

“I’d rather drink pish.” (A quality statement.)

Each day started with a dodgy breakfast followed by the Sangria Sessions, a 132 strong playlist consisting of six Scottish songs and six one hit wonders that we had each supplied in advance.

This was my contribution….

Six Favourite Scottish Songs…

Ankle Shackles  – King Creosote

The State I am in – Belle and Sebastian

Bill Well’s Trio – Presentation Piece 1

Music is Math – Boards of Canada

James Yorkston – Tortoise Regrets Hare

Kosmischer Läufer – Jenseits Des Horizonts  (yes, they are from Leith)

Six one hit wonders

Echo Beach – Martha and the Muffins

Der Mussolini – Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF)

O Superman – Laurie Anderson

Rappers – Delight – Sugarhill Gang

The Girl From Ipanema – Astrid Gilberto

Duelling Banjos – Eric Weissberg and Deliverance

I was repeatedly ‘hooked’ for exceeding the 5 minute rule which I am convinced was not communicated clearly.

Now the food in Barcelona is of an epic standard on Thursday we enjoyed Michelin quality dining, Friday and saturday did not reach the heights, although the bills did.  In fact so impressed was our Saturday hostess that she gave us a free bottle of “Scottish” (Alba) brandy.

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And not, as it happens, “cheap pish firewater.” as stated by more than one of our group in a display of ingratitude.  It lasted about 20 minutes.

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I had Paella and tapas all three days.  When in Rome and all that.  (Except we weren’t in Rome.)

On site we, none of us, ate, meaning that the constant 18 hour gaps with over 23,000 steps a day resulted in extreme hunger at breakfast time – Catalonian scabby heided bairns were in short supply by the end of our trip.

Friday’s tapas.  Or ‘Tapas aff’ as we so hilariously described lunches in Barcelona.

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Thursday was T shirt day in which we were each given an ill fitting t shirt that was meant to sum us up.

Mine reflects my occupation.

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But Tim’s is presumably more reflective of his favourite passtime.

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In the middle of the site on a prominent concrete ramp sits the Heineken VIP area.  It provided a challenge that three of us were willing to take.  How to gain access.

Gordon had, after all, been rewarded for returning a lost phone to Lost and Found with two tokens for the Back Stage area the night before, where he and Angus enjoyed free booze and a private gig by the mighty Wedding Present.

We had to trump that.

So we made our move only to be vigorously rebuffed by the Heineken PR representative.

Regrouping after the ensuing Van Morrison gig (not bad) we took a more determined approach.  Posing as a visiting delegation and claiming that we had bought S and N for Heineken we did enough to persuade Maria (a slightly more senior re) to allow us access for a photo and one drink.  “ONE DRINK ONLY”

90 minutes later and best friends with the top dog in Spain we moved on.  Liberally refreshed.  Thank you Heineken it was very kind of you.

The view from the platform of the main arena.

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The Heineken Lager Lovelies with Scotland’s own Lager Lovelies – Smudgerina and I.

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And here’s Smudgerina when she was younger.

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Read more about Smudgerina’s back story here.

Meanwhile back at the festival we had music to consume.  Here is a full breakdown of my consumption and the resulting score out of ten.

Day 1

Triangulo de Amor Bizarro (Spanish for Bizarre Love Triangle) – 8

Miguel. Pish (we lasted one song) – 3

Broken Social Scene – 8.5

We met BSS after the gig at our central drinking HQ.  I kindly shared my nuts with them whilst one of our group questioned guest singer Emily Haines of Metric (part of their 11 strong line up that included, at one point, 6 guitars) on “What’s it like to be Canadian?”  Short indeed was the shrift he received.

I mean.  Would you ask THIS girl THAT question?

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I spoke to her too.  The Jezza factor failed to kick in.

Solange – 8.5

Here’s an excerpt from her performance.  Simply the best lighting, choreography, filming ( a feature throughout of Primavera) sound quality (again constantly outstanding) and costume.

Lord of the Isles – 6 (one man noodling)

Kate Tempest – 9. Quite incredible.  She played the whole of 4:18 in a blind fury that was intoxicating and ended by by calling out “VOTE VOTE VOTE”.  That won’t be her profession of love for Amber Rudd and Co.

Survive – 8  A cheeky wee stumble upon moment.  Very good though and reminiscent of Kraftwerk.

The Damned – solid 7.  Good, but the aficionados felt they were not at their best.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.  9.  I loved them.  In particular their duelling drummers.  Two full kits facing one another and running a constant 180bpm foundation.

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Day 2

Sinkane – 7.5.  Good and more African and Jazzy than I expected.

Mogwai – 8.  An unexpected secret gig in which Mogwai, GET THIS, played the WORLD PREMIERE of their new album in totality.  It comes out in September.

Arab Strap – 9.5 An absolute power House performance by a reunited Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat.  His ability to chug Heineken was unmatched over the weekend.

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Swans – 5.  Just too much hard work I’m afraid.

Seaford Mods – a straight 10.  The lads had real technical difficulties to start.  Primarily no sound other than their baclinre so they didn’t even know we couldn’t herar them.  Gig was stopped, started again, aborted again before finally getting off to what transpired to be one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended.  Even better than November 2015 at La Belle Angele.  This was furious.  And TCR is a classic.

This was my main excursion into the moshpit and I emerged sodden with sweat.

Wand – 6.  Too late.  Too tired.

Day 3

Van Morrison – 7.  Nice, full on Jazz set.  But better stuff was taken over the weekend.

Teenage Fanclub – 8.  My first ever Teenies gig.  It was good.  But not a highlight of the weekend.

Arcade Fire – a straight 10.  Much to my surprise as my two previous experiences of “The Fire’ was anything but burned into my being.  But they are now.  Described rather eloquently (somehow) by one of our number thusly. “The songlist is ordinary (i disagree with that) but so much texture and energy”

Really, this was a display of A list musicianship performed with utter commitment, pumping out their ‘best of’ with verve, gusto and variety.  This is how rock music should be delivered and I hope a lot of up and coming bands were in the audience to see masters at work.

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(I missed Grace Jones.  Drat.)

And, yes, she is.

Haim – 9.  Secret gig.  I wasn’t a fan of Haim despite having seen them before and owning their debut album.  But I am now.  Hugely professional, committed, driven performance.

!!! (chk, chk, chk) – 10.  At 4.15 am I thought this was too late for me but I made it and climbed atop a golf cart for a better view.  It was parked in the centre of the area.

Why?  I know not.

We were also generously supplied for the second time that evening with finest local hashish.  Thank you Amos. Also at Arcade Fire.

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So that’s it. 21 gigs of which 9 I scored at 8.5 plus.  All outstanding gigs worthy of £50+ a ticket.  In reality it cost about £120 total.

Fabulous group of guys.  Great food.  Great drink.  Great Craic.  Great music.  Great flat.

And then on Sunday I went to Sagrada Familia and saw this …

I wept.

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