A War of Two Halves by Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow, produced by This Is My Story and Nonsense Room: Theatre review


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I am celebrating the centenary of WWI’s Armistice Day with some ‘enthusiasm’.

Peter Jackson’s ‘They Shall Never Grow Old”  which premiered at The London Film Festival got the ball rolling to incredible effect a couple of weeks ago.  It is a must see.

And on Sunday I shall be attending a virtually sold out Far From Ypres at The Usher Hall in which my good pal Gary West will be taking to the stage as part of a celebrated ensemble.

Last night was the turn of theatre in a site-specific production held at Tynecastle Football Stadium.

As a lifelong Hibs fan attending a period drama that ‘celebrated’ Heart of Midlothian’s incredibly altruistic past had a degree of challenge.  It was clear that I was surrounded by a largely partizan audience.  But I’m bigger than that.  If these men could face ‘The Hun’ in the French trenches, I could pay my respect alongside my rivals.

And I’m very glad that I did.

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Paul Beeson and Tim Barrow’s play is a very fine thing indeed.  It was performed on the Fringe and has been timeously restaged in its original form for this monumental anniversary.

One of the potential problems this show faces is the way that some Hearts fans celebrate their team’s mass act of courage as a comparator.  No other team so unselfishly released their players from their contracts in such a way (13 players enlisted together to serve in McCrae’s Battalion, the 16th Royal Scots).

And that’s only part of the story.

Hearts were top of the league, having won 19 of their 21 games, when the mass exodus occurred.  They continued to play for the team, but on the back of strenuous army basic training that included long forced marches.  Their form inevitably slumped dramatically, through sheer exhaustion, and what should have been one of the greatest celebrations in Hearts’ history was dashed.

But what Beeson and Barrow have created is brilliant in this respect.  That achievement is duly noted but not at the expense of the competition.  It is far from vainglorious and largely avoids comparative narrative (indeed the contribution from other clubs is articulated clearly); rather it takes you into the souls of these young lads who fought for King and Country, sacrificing glory on the battlefields of Tyncastle, Ibrox, Celtic Park and Easter Road.

It’s beautifully acted throughout (although sadly no programme was made available so I have no idea who the cast was).

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A central character, one of the players and the narrator, leads us through the build up to the mass enlistment, glorying in Hearts’ impressive form.  This takes place in the new main stand to the sound of radio commentaries of the matches, before we traverse the stadium.  One scene is in the Home Players dressing room, another in the bar, several in the stands themselves before culminating in an achingly beautiful finale underneath the Gorgie Road stand in a makeshift bunker.  The final moments play out by the poignant War Memorial.

I’m sure, for many, this is an intensely moving experience. I found it highly dramatic and sympathetically presented.

There is no tub-thumping in this play.  There is a great deal of humour and the sound design and violin accompaniment by the sole female cast member is excellent and highly redolent of the time.

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Hearts, Hearts, Glorious Hearts features subtly (#HHGH) and is appropriate, without dropping the show’s standards..

The performances are roundly laudable, especially the leads but the ensemble do their part with merit.

This is another must see reflection on the Great War.  It has wonderful provenance, it’s superbly written and directed in what is both a stirring but challenging location.

Highly recommended.  But you’ll have to move quick if you want a ticket.

PS. The Last Days of Making featuring the Tiger Lilies at Leith Theatre (from Saturday) also looks pretty special.

1971. Never a Dull Moment. Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth: Book Review.


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David Hepworth has researched a thoroughly entertaining and rapid-fire read in this paean to 1971.  The title is accurately describes its content which is a cultural contextualisation of why, in his and presumably many others’, view, in 1971, from a musical point of view you’d never had it so good and, as it transpires in Hepworth’s mind, never did again.

He makes a strong case.

It’s fundamentally a pivot year in musical history. Both rock and roll and pop have established themselves and ‘buying records’ is now a common practice.  Indeed it has replaced going to the cinema which is facing the low point in its history as TV and music have replaced the big screen in young people’s affections.

Furthermore the shift has begun to swing from 45’s (singles) to 33’s (LP’s), those beautiful 12″ platters that we thought had been consigned to history until Generation X discovered them to cover cracks in their bedroom walls.

This is a new dawn for music and it’s the year when many genres are emerging or evolving into more mature manifestations of their sixties’ inspiration.

The list of seminal 1971 records is not to be sniffed at (not all of these make Hepworth’s list).  I’ve picked out my own favourites in bold but there is so much to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches:

  • Janis Joplin’s Pearl
  • Tapestry by Carole King
  • The Yes Album
  • Tago Mago by Can
  • Aqualung by Jethro Tull
  • Tanz Der Lemminge by Amon Düll II
  • LA Woman and Other Voices by The Doors
  • War by War
  • Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones
  • The Stones also released their first ever compilation (a new thing at the time) this year
  • Maybe Tomorrow by The Jackson 5
  • Bryter Later by Nick Drake
  • Thin Lizzy by Thin Lizzy
  • Carpenters
  • Relics and Meddle by Pink Floyd
  • Every Picture Tells a Story by Rod Stewart
  • Ram  – Paul (and Linda) McCartneys’ first solo album
  • Marvin Gaye’s astonishing What’s Going On
  • Man in Black by Johnny Cash
  • Home Made by The Osmonds (the first real ‘boy band’ unless you consider the Jacksons as such – certainly the beginning of teen pop.)
  • Joni Mitchell’s seminal Blue
  • Surrender by Diana Ross
  • Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by The Moody Blues
  • Fireball by Deep Purple
  • Shaft Soundtrack by Isaac Hayes
  • Who’s Next – The Who’s best record
  • Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys mark II
  • Aretha’s Greatest Hits
  • Electric Warrior by T Rex
  • Judee Sill by Judee Sill
  • Trafalgar by Bee Gees
  • Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens
  • Hawkwind’s In Search of Space
  • American Pie by Don Mclean
  • Fog on the Tyne by Lindisfarne
  • Reflection by Pentangle
  • Tupelo Honey by Van the Man
  • Zep 4
  • Nursery Cryme by Genesis
  • There’s a riot going’ on by Sly and the Family Stone
  • Muskel Hillbillies by The Kinks
  • Two Earth Wind and Fire albums
  • People Like Us by The Mamas and the Papas – pre-Ham sandwich?
  • Pictures at an Exhibition by ELP (their second of the year)
  • Nazareth
  • Islands by King Crimson
  • The Concert for Bangladesh (live) by George Harrison and friends – the precursor to Live Aid etc
  • The Electric Light Orchestra
  • Wild Life by Wings
  • America

And… on December 17th the greatest recording of all time.  Hunky Dory by David Bowie.

There’s 14 albums in bold there, more than one a month. (And I was only 9 year’s old at the time so I have had to discover every one of them retrospectively).

My Sweet Lord by George Harrison was the top selling single of the year, Imagine by John Lennon was runner up and Maggie May by Rod Stewart got the bronze. (Brown Sugar was fifth).

By any reckoning that’s a powerhouse of music with the emergence of AOR, Prog and heavy metal.  A golden year for folk. Seminal soul records (Shaft and What’s Going on in particular.) And the emergence of ‘Krautrock’ (Can and Amon Düll were contemporaries of Kraftwerk) which was to, in turn, influence the last 30 years’ dance music.

Hepworth tells this story month-by-month, cleverly cross-referencing collaborators, rock histories and using back stories to spice up the drug addled goings on of The Who, The Stones, Clapton and many more.

He drops in other cultural references, from cinema primarily, and peppers it with the politics of the time.

It’s an authoritative read with several eyebrow raising moments.

For real music lovers (like me) I’d go as far as to say it’s essential reading.  Hepworth’s style has its faults but I’ll forgive those for the quality of his research.  I’m not surprised it won 2016’s music book of the year in eight different newspapers.

Highly recommended (for music lovers.)

Footnote.

I don’t actually agree that it’s the greatest year of all time, but that doesn’t really matter.

I think 1979 saw a similar confluence of happenings.  (If you want evidence of that check out NME’s 1979 albums of the year.  It’s jaw dropping – London Calling only made number 8!)

  • The emergence of the new and highly influential post punk movement – Talking Heads Fear of music won NME”s coveted album of the year, PIL’s Metal Box was #2 and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure’s taking the bronze)
  • But with ‘Punk’ also maturing in its own right
  • The end of disco but still at creative high – 3 of the Top ten singles were disco (Gloria Gaynor, The Jackson 5 and Sheila B. Devotion)
  • Coventry Ska
  • Bowie still there
  • The emergence of electronica – Human League made the list with Reproduction

What do YOU think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Shall Not Grow Old: Documentary Review by Peter Jackson.


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It’s only October and I have already seen two Oscar winning films.  This (for best documentary) and A star is Born for loads of things.

Months ago I bought a ticket for this special live (3D) screening of this BFI film from the London Film Festival featuring a post film interview between Peter Jackson (the most modest man in cinema) and Mark Kermode (the most adulatory)

I thought it would be special.

It was more than that.

It was a landmark.

It was actually a significant night in cinematic history, because what Peter Jackson has achieved here is unparalleled.

We’ve all seen colourised war footage.  It’s interesting, but in reality it’s a bit pants.

This is the real deal.  A step forward in technology driven by heart, emotion, passion, DNA.

In this truly remarkable documentary Jackson brings us footage from the WW1 front line trenches in a way that you can’t even begin to imagine.

First he restored hours of black and white footage to remove grain, scratches, burn marks etc.

Then he graded it.

Then he fixed all the film sprockets so they don’t jiggle about and blur.

Then, get this, he turned it all from a hotch-potch of 10/11/12/14/16 and 17 Frames per second into it all being 24 FPS.

This is not insignificant.

A 17 FPS film transferred to 24 frames needs to ‘find’ 7 frames.  It needs to create them, to fill in the gaps to make film flow as we expect.  How one does that I have no clue.  Frankly, neither does Jackson, but he knows people who were up to it and deliver on the challenge.

So, as Jackson puts it, we don’t see Charlie Chaplinesque war footage.  We see dignified film of soldiers in real time as our eye would compute it.  This is important because it makes it so real.

Then he, frame by frame, colourised the whole lot.

Then he put a team of lip readers onto it to work out what the soldiers were saying when they spoke to camera (in 1914-18 there was no film/sound recording).

Then he recorded both battleground sound effects, by enlisting the NZ army, and the words these soldiers were saying, through actors, and lip synched and background-noised the whole thing.

Then he launched it.

The man is a genius.

The result is beyond words incredible.

On many occasions I gasped out loud, not least when he moved from the first reel, which shows unmodified footage of the preparation of enlistees for WWI, into the reality of war.

In a stunning coup de theatre the screen changes shape.

The audiences audibly gasps.

We are in a new reality.

Now, this all makes it sound like this is simply an exercise in technological show-offery.

No.  this focuses on soldiers.  Poor.  Young.  Men.

With terrible teeth, but with opinion, with humour, with dignity, with resolute spirit.

And not just young British men.

Perhaps the most affecting part of this film is where German POW’s muck in and join the Brits.   It’s clear that in those days this was duty and honour for one’s country, absolutely NOT hatred of the enemy.

This is a truly remarkable film experience.

It’s important.

Find a way of seeing it.

It’s much more than a cinematic landmark.

It’s a historical one, because the legacy Peter Jackson’s 14-18-Now and Imperial War Museum commission gives the world is new technology that will allow all sorts of ancient film archives to become living history.

In this case the 100 minutes that are committed to film are actually backed up by a further 100 hours of monochrome footage that Jackson’s team has restored (free of charge) for his commissioners.

See when international honours are handed out (I think Bono has a knighthood for example) Peter Jackson needs to be number one on the list for this real and important achievement.

I assume a further Oscar is in the bag.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.: Movie (documentary) review


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No ordinary pop documentary, reads the poster, but M.I.A. is no ordinary pop star.

True.

If you’ve not see it before this video for Born Free is a shocking centrepiece to the documentary.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

I have been a fan of Maya Arulpragasam (AKA M.I.A) for over a decade now so this film came as a pleasant surprise.  Allegedly it’s been over a decade in the making and the relationship between Maya and the filmmaker, Steve Loveridge, has been, to say the least, “challenging”.

She’s a bloody difficult woman, as it reveals.

The daughter of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, a terrorist minority resistance group that was formed in 1976, she had to flee her home land of Sri Lanka in 1986 to set up home in London with her mother, brother and sister while her dad fought the good fight in the face of what she claims was ‘ethnic cleansing’.  It was ten years before she met her father again.

Clearly she has inherited her father’s sense of justice and fighting spirit.

Basing her unique style of hip hop on political oppression she has been an unlikely success, rising to top the Billboard dance charts and  performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl where she raised her middle finger to camera and in doing so enraged the NFL so much that they sued her for $16.6 million.

Her right to be angry is, in my opinion, quite reasonable but clearly her detractors think it is a stunt as she has gathered considerable wealth since her politically oppressed immigrant days.

For me, her wealth is irrelevant.

The documentary is a curate’s egg.  Some of it rambles almost incoherently, using found footage on dodgy VHS tape from her childhood, some of it is expertly shot.  Its timeline is also so scattergun as to be quite confusing at times and this jolts the narrative.  At times one wonders what the point really is.

She doesn’t shirk criticism, but the reaction of the NFL on American TV drew loud guffaws from the audience I was in at their petty outrage.  It’s certainly a precursor to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘Taking the Knee’ and a good, if a little childish, one at that.

Madonna was not overly happy.

For fans of M.I.A. this is a must see, for others I doubt you will be engrossed.

For me, even as a fan, it took a good hour to reel me in.  But once there I was sold.

 

 

 

Twelfth Night. An enigma wrapped up in a conundrum: Royal Lyceum Theatre


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Even the bloody poster’s great: by DO in Leith (http://madeby.do)

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”  Act 3.

I urge those potential audience members unfamiliar with this play (like me) to read the Wiki (or other) synopsis two or three times before you come along to this outstanding production, because it is thoroughly deceptive and even more enthralling than Jed Mercurio’s “The Bodyguard” that is thrilling British TV audiences right now.

It’s a Shakespearian comedy, verging, at times, on farce.  And one can immediately understand why Ade Edmondson was cast as Malvalio in last year’s Royal Shakespeare production.  It’s a high comedy role but needs considerable light and shade to work throughout.  Unquestionably this is achieved in bucket loads by Christopher Green here in Edinburgh (transferring as a Co-Pro to Bristol Old Vic for a month from 17 October), he’s the star turn in a simply brilliant ensemble.

He certainly lives up to his famous line…

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

But my God it’s complicated.  Take this for a start.

In Shakespeare’s original (which this stays true to script-wise if not cast-wise).  Viola cross-dresses as a man to chase (but fall in love with) Olivia on behalf of his boss Orsino.   Viola having been cast adrift from her almost identical looking twin brother Sebastian.

Now, get what Wils Wilson does.

Viola is a black female.  That’s fine

Her identical brother, Sebastian, though, is a white female.  So they couldn’t possibly be mistaken as the same person.

Olivia.  That’s straightforward, she’s a white female.  Easy.

Orsino is a black female, not male.

So the love triangle is now three females, two of colour and the “identical twin”, also female, is white.  That makes the finale tricky if you aren’t concentrating.

Let’s chuck in Lord Tobi Belch.  Not a Lord.  A lady.  Which makes his, sorry her, suitoring of the maid, Maria, very 21st century.

I don’t say any of this to pass judgement because it’s a key constituent of what makes this production so enthralling.  But it’s complicated (as if it wasn’t anyway.)

So we have sex and skin colour deviations from the source material but we also, as you might expect, have a time-shift to deal with.  It’s set in the summer of love (1960’s sometime) at a party, or perhaps in a commune, where the bored or drugged partygoers suggest they “do” Twelfth Night.

That then places the musical ensemble, led with gusto by the one off that is Aly Macrae, in a musical nirvana which is a huge opportunity for composer Meilyr Jones (who also plays Curio).

And it has to be great because, after all, as the bard himself says (Act 1 scene 1)  “If music be the food of love, play on.”

It is, and they do.

In fact the music is outstanding, immediately likeable, tuneful and with a real groove (I loved it) and it gifts Curio, Feste (brilliant performance by Dylan Read) and Auguecheek (Guy Hughes) almost unlimited show stopping moments.

Feste had us rolling in the aisles – at one point we were treated to a Marti Feldman moment that is burned onto my retina.

I cared a little less for Dawn Seivewright’s Lady Tobi as I felt it was just a little too 100% full on, although it is a massive performance.

The set design by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita – try saying that after a few Chardonnays doll – is enthralling and remains beautiful throughout.

The costumes are triumphal.

And, of course, the whole thing would just be a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma without the brilliant direction and vision of director Wils Wilson.

This is gonna be a great export from Scotland when it hits Bristol later this year.  In the meantime fellow Scots, get yersel’ along.

 

 

 

 

 

Nike smash it with Colin Kaepernick.


Watch this.

10 black protagonists (some disabled)

4 female protagonists (two black)

Three white male protagonists.

Not representative, huh?

Colin Kaepernick, the former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback strongly divides opinion in the USA.

It was he who started the black injustice protest of kneeling on one knee during the National Anthem and this has driven white supremasists, such as Donald Trump, absolutely nuts for disrespecting the flag.

And it’s him that’s fronting this commercial standing in a US city street in front of a rippling US flag.

Now that’s what I call brave marketing.

This is what Donald Trump calls it.

 

And he’s right to an extent, there are boycotts from similarly white supremasist Republicans.

But my mate (who doesn’t really like Nike) just bought a White Nike NFL #7 Colin Kaepernick T shirt for £25.

Because this ad moved him.

Sure Nike may lose some customers with this (admittedly a bit Appley) ad, but they’ll win over a lot more than they lose.

Someone at Nike said to a brand manager “Don’t ask if your strategy is crazy, ask if it’s crazy enough.”

I doff my hat.