Borostounness Episode 5: The Articulate one.


OK.  As we settle into lockdown Helen and Rab have one small advantage.  Their pals Jeanie and Bill have already had the virus so they can come and go as they please.

They’ve popped round to cheer Helen and Rab up with a friendly game of Articulate.  (The Game in which you have to describe the words you see on cards under the category that your playing piece is on.)

It can be a little frustrating.

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Mouthpiece: at The Traverse by Kieran Hurley


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The tricky disclaimer

I have to first declare my physical challenge with this night in the theatre, one of my favourites, and not previously the purveyor of spasming pain in my right knee.  However, tonight the cramped legroom of Traverse 1 caused me such physical discomfort that I was counting the minutes till the end.

It was probably me, but the seating didn’t help.

The common gripe

This is the second Kieran Hurley show I’ve seen. Square Go by Paines Plough, like this, started brilliantly but seemed to run out of steam.  This less so, but it was a game of two halves for me.  The first pain-free, the secondly most certainly not.

The difficult narrator issue.

Narrated plays when the performers talk about what they are up to as they do it is not my cuppa, I’m afraid.

The describing of structure as the structure unfolds in episodic real time.

See above.

The holding of mirrors up to middle class audiences technique.

Herein lies my real problem with this production.

The performances by Shauna Macdonald and Angus Taylor are both very good and the story is engaging, but it’s about working class (underclass) strife meeting middle class privilege – a bit Pygmalianesque, but trying very, very hard not to be.

This whole ‘theatre-holding-a-mirror-up-to-its audience’ schtick, as we look in on how others live (it happens a lot in black theatre, queer theatre and class theatre) is starting to tire me out.

In this, Hurley intermingles the fortunes of a deprived teenager with a failed but privileged early-middle-aged writer, but in such a way that life starts to imitate art, become art, debunk art and eventually question art to such an extent that I started to run out of emotional connection.

Hurley does his best to take the whole ‘Rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’ cliche and subvert it, so that Mrs Higgins rapidly descends from hero to villain and Master Doolittle morphs from victim to hero to victim to hero so much that I began to wonder if I was really all that bothered any more.  Or maybe it was the knee.

The site-specific thing

If you haven’t seen it you won’t get this reference.,  But it is very clever.  I liked that.

The Martin Creed references.

You know what, I’m moaning a bit here.  This was a good production.  I’m just a grippy bastard sometimes and it had too many flaws for me.

But, at the end of the day…Everything’s going to be all right.

 

 

 

Glastonbury 50. The official story of the Glastonbury Festival: My review.


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The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts celebrates its 5oth anniversary this June and I will be there, for my fourth festival.

In fact although Glastonbury is 50 it’s only the 36th staging as there was a big hole in the 70’s and several ‘fallow years’.

For me it is the greatest music festival in the world, although it is far more than a musical festival, hence its formal name – The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts.

Did you know that at 200,000 attendees (135,000 tickets, 65,000 staff and volunteers) Glastonbury is more populous than Bath.  The site is bigger than my home town of South Queensferry.

These coffee-table type affairs don’t usually interest me all that much, but anyone who has been to, and fallen in love with, the festival will, like me, be drawn into every minuscule detail of the event.  I lost two long afternoons over the Christmas break devouring every single word and every single picture that tell the story in just the right amount of detail.

Performers share their, universally enthusiastic, memories (of course – it’s pure fan boy).

The Eavis’ father and daughter impressarios share their highs and (many) lows and we can be as geeky as we like, as readers, in dissecting the line ups and remembered highlights.

For me, my two all time highlights are described, both as it happens by Emily Eavis.

2012’s Radiohead secret gig on the Park Stage in the pouring rain and 2013’s masterful moment during Stagger Lee by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, pictured below.  I was about 50 yards away from this.

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Here it is in its entirety.  She rises from the crowd at 7’45”.

I love this comment on Youtube.  Hope it’s true…

To let you all know, I was the one that put the girl on my shoulders. My mate had Nicks foot on his shoulder and the girl in white popped up behind me, she was flustered and asked if i would put her on my shoulders, i accepted. When she came down she said ‘you’ve just made my entire life better’ then gave me a kiss on the cheek and disappeared, not my girlfriend, just a random girl that wanted a moment with nick. 🙂

 

 

Present Laughter at The Old Vic: presented by NT Live.


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I won’t dwell too long on this because it isn’t easy to see, although I think an ‘Encore’ screening is happening again in Edinburgh, in December.  if it is You MUST go see it.

We saw an NT Live screening of it in Leith on Thursday, and it is fantastic.

Although it’s described as an ensemble cast this is one thing above all others, Andrew Scott.  (You know, the sexy, sorry girls he’s gay, priest from Fleagbag?)  He is screamingly, achingly, outrageously funny in a performance that must shed a few pounds in weight each night.  He must have slept well on matinee days.

It’s a simply miraculous performance with so many nuances that you simply sit mouth agape at times.  The laughter, by now, being too painful.  This must be in line for theatre prizes galore.

Noël Coward’s writing seems incredibly of now, and yet the play was written in 1939.  It’s aided by the gender-swapping of Helen and Joe Lyppiatt, so that Garry Essendine’s central character becomes bisexual (homosexual really) and it’s this confusion over his sexuality that makes it far more contemporary than it might have been.  Indeed In the 1970s the director Peter Hall wrote, “what a wonderful play it would be if – as Coward must have wanted – all those love affairs were about homosexuals”.

Director Matthew Warchus has to take the credit for manifesting the legendary Hall’s vision and for pulling off a series of performances that, despite being wonderfully OTT, fully engage the audience.  In particular the thunderously rousing assault that is Daphne Stillingon (by Kitty Archer) is simply breathtaking.  In no other circumstances would she remotely have got away with it.

Every moment of overacting (that clearly Garry is guilty of on the stage) has a knock on effect on the rest of the cast (when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle,  a storm subsequently ravages half of Europe).

Most notably Garry’s secretary Monica Reed (Sophie Thomson) is simply hilarious and Suzie Toase as Helen (should be Henry) Lyppiatt.

The one calming influence in all this is Garry”s estranged wife, Liz (a beautiful study in arch wit by Indira Varma).

Amidst all this hilarity it’s clear that, hidden by the bravado, Garry is a bundle of self doubt.  Indeed his surname, Essendine, is an anagram of “neediness”.  I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

A tremendous and exhausting tour de force that deserves all the five star reviews it mustered in the summer.  See it if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol at The Royal Lyceum Edinburgh.


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Ahhhh, The Lyceum Christmas Show is upon us once again and Tony Cownie and his regular core of performers have taken the right decision of NOT descending into pantomime, because the Lyceum doesn’t do panto.  You’ll get that at The Kings.

Instead what he has cleverly done is merged the stories of Greyfriar’s Bobby with Dickens’ perennial favourite, thus giving it a life of its own and a new reason to visit a story that we can all probably recite in our sleep.

And it works a treat.

Bobby is a central character and Cownie gets round the problem of teaching dogs to act by making him (and Tiny Tim) puppets adding a further dimension to an already novel take on the novel.  It’s charming and the puppeteers invest real sympathy into Tiny Tim’s character and zest, bounce and good comedy into Bobby’s.

And because the cast includes Nicola Roy, Steve McNicoll and Grant O’Rourke (pulling off an impressive 13 roles between them and a flurry of costumes) it’s hilarious, with Nicola Roy getting the lion’s share of tasty one-liners. They often feel familiar but are mostly, in fact, new.

He knows his way around a gag does Tony Cownie.  “Aye [Scrooge], he’s so mean if he found a crutch in the street he’d go home and break his leg.”  (Which reminds me of an old favourite of mine: A man sees that dog food is half price in the supermarket, turns to his wife and says “We must buy a dog.”)

Crawford Logan takes the lead as the humbugerous Ebenezer Scrooge and carries the part off with aplomb, transforming beautifully from miser to philanthropist at the drop of a hat.

It barrels along, not allowing any particular sequence to outstay its welcome. The Ghost of Christmas Past sequence is particularly eye-catching and good for the storytelling, Eva Traynor is strong in the role in a spectacular green costume.

It’s all done and dusted by 9pm so time for a few seasonal libations.  Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Rent: by B2 Productions.


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I was unfortunate enough to see Bruce Guthrie’s 20th anniversary production of Rent, at the Festival Theatre in 2017.  So poorly staged and, in my view, performed, that my wife and I left at the interval.  (It is a long first act right enough).  So when I heard B2 Productions was staging the show it wasn’t my ‘news of the year’.

Nevertheless, I went to see it on Saturday afternoon having photographed it on the Dress/Tech rehearsal night.

That combination, and being behind a camera, didn’t really give me a sense of what a show, this production, was REALLY going to be like and so my prejudice remained in place as the curtain proverbially rose.

I needn’t have worried.

The show is a bit of a period piece, set in Alphabet City, in New York’s Lower East side, and centres on a group of ‘squatters” certainly they are rent evaders, although they remain connected to, if not best friends with, their apartment owner, an ex student friend turned property-owning tycoon.  He’s changed.

The flat is a hang out for a bunch of entertainers and would be’s that variously date as boy to boy, girl to girl, boy to girl and, I’m sure if written today, would have numerous other configurations.

Critically it’s the tale of one year, Christmas to Christmas, at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the mid 1980’s, and numerous cast members have various degrees of affliction of the dreaded disease.

Coming togethers and breaking ups proliferate over the two hours of the show with a wall to wall score that gives everyone in the ensemble cast a chance to shine – and by God do they do that.  I counted eleven soloists among the cast, each of whom performed miracles with a libretto that is in places quite thin but that adds up, when performed as well as this, to far more than the sum of its parts.

Before I talk about any of the cast, and the incredible band, I need to put this in perspective.

The venue, Leith Theatre, is golden.  It’s an emotional experience just walking through the front door, never mind having the chance to perform on its treasured boards.  It’s an iconic place.  Everything about it is anti the establishment.  It’s not Edinburgh.  It’s not funded or cared for by our government.  It’s a community project of monumental scale.  It needs to be supported.  B2Productions is part of that.

The next thing is THE RENT SIGN.  It was created by Craig Robertson, but I believe Black Light need considerable thanks too.  It dominates the proscenium arch and is a constant reminder of what we are watching, but also it’s the centre-piece for the stunning lighting design by Grant Anderson.

It’s a visual triumph.

So, to the cast, who could do nothing without the direction of Claire Stewart, the movement of Natasha Rose and the magisterial musical direction of Kerry-Anne Dougan.

The performance I attended brought my fellow audience member to a sobbing wreck during Act II’s I’ll Cover You by Charlie West.  Extraordinary.

Sarah Innes, Ronan Rafferty, Hayley Scott, and Daniel Umpleby (an amazing Angel) and  Ben King all make this a truly great musical appreciation.  But may I just mention a few others?

The duet between Mark Smith and Mellisa Jay blew my mind.

Eilidh West showed amazing emotional range.

And to finish off, our guide through this kind of emotional wreck was the understated. but constantly engaging, Gregor Robertson.  A beautiful performance that, for me, finally smashed it in ‘What you own‘ – a rage against America.  It could be now.

I’m biased – of course I am.  But I honestly disliked the professional performance of this (above) so much that I couldn’t see it out.

This, I couldn’t approve of more.

 

The Lehman Trilogy by The National Theatre, directed by Sam Mendes


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Thank you NT Live.

I’m not in London so this was never going to make it onto my ticket list and after 45 productions in the Edinburgh Festivals and Fringe last month neither my wallet nor my body could have managed a trip to the big smoke.

So it was a great and lovely surprise when I saw this show pop up as an encore screening at my local Vue Cinema in Edinburgh.  (By the time I took my seat it was sold out.)

NT Live has pro’s and cons.

On the plus side, it gets so close into the action that you can see in extreme close up the power of performance, in this case exceptionally so, by three astounding actors; Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley.

The downside of that is it does have the effect of transposing the experience to cinema rather than theatre and, on this occasion, the negative side of that is that many of Es Devlin and Luke Hall’s simply majestic set (and set pieces) were slightly lost.  I’d like to have seen them as they designed them, in panorama.

At times the monochromatic combination of wardrobe, lighting, set and video makes for some of the most stunning tableaux you will ever see in a theatre.

I’m surprised this show won no Olivier’s (particularly when you see how many the distinctly average Come From Away walked off with) but that is not to diminish this monumental theatrical achievement by Sam Mendes.

Over the course of three and a half hours we see 150 years of the Lehman Brothers’ (and hence industrialised America’s) history presented by the three brothers, their heirs and a supporting cast of dozens of minor characters, all played, largely in third person narrative, by the three actors – apart from their principal roles they cover everything from screaming infants, to coquettish muses to an ageing Rabbi.  It’s remarkable.

The evolving set, whilst intriguing is, at times a little intrusive and this becomes irritating but at other times it’s a work of genius.

The piano music is described as the fourth character and that is so true, played as if in a silent movie throughout, almost completely underscoring the play, by Candida Caldicot.

This is a tour-de-force.  A remarkable production and a must see.  Despite the flaws it comes highly recommended from me.