Homecoming: Podcast review.


xfv3leflnspluszm1fln

I’m late to this but given that less than 1% of the population probably listen to podcasts I’m betting you are too.

I’m increasingly drawn to the medium of the podcast because they are so absorbing and allow you to do other things while you are listening.

So far this year I have enjoyed:

  • Athletico Mince (for some time now in fact)
  • Desert Island discs (of course – and also for years)
  • Soul Music (from Radio 4)
  • The Media Show (from Radio 4)
  • More or Less (the wonderfully nerdy stats programme from Radio 4)
  • The CoronaCast (from the BBC)
  • Stay Free: The Story of the Clash
  • Slow Burn (the Watergate series – brilliant)
  • Slow Burn (the Lewinski series – Brilliant)
  • Slow Burn (the Tupac series – nah)
  • Thirteen Minutes to the Moon  (Apollo 11)
  • Thirteen Minutes to the Moon (Apollo 13)

But I’m saving the best for last (unless Wind of Change continues as brilliantly as it has started).  That’s the electrifying Homecoming in which Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac and David Schwimmer set fire to your earphones.

It’s been adapted (unsurprisingly as it is so great) for TV by and starring Julia Roberts in Catherine Keener’s role as a ‘caseworker’ in a mysterious military establishment who looks after ‘homecoming’ ex military who are suffering from PTSD.

But the motives of the mysterious organisation that runs the facility in collaboration with the DoD  (Department of Defence) is, at best, questionable.

So sets in motion a 12 part, 20 minute game of cat and mouse (and dog) that is full of twists and turns and keeps you guessing until the, admittedly slightly disappointing, finale.

To say any more would be to stray into spoiler territory, so just suffice it to say, it’s as good as any movie you will watch this year.

It’s gold.

Love it with your ears, then thank me.

 

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.

Screenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.03.43.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.03.57.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.04.05.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.04.17.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.04.26.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.04.26.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.14.04.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.04.43.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.05.02.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.05.17.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.05.26.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.05.35.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.05.44.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.05.55.pngScreenshot 2020-04-04 at 17.06.04.png

Mouthpiece: at The Traverse by Kieran Hurley


8014.jpg

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.


3150098_R_Z001A.jpeg

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.

nick cave glastonbury.jpg

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.


jpg.jpg

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.


ChristmasCarol_Highlights_Box__862x486.jpg

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.


IMG_0980.jpeg

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


GLUEVISRP4I6TDJI6UKJ4WRP3I.jpg

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.

 

My Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2019.


Unknown-1.jpeg

It’s been great.

It always is.

Have I seen a life-changer yet?

Not sure I have, but I’ve seen a lot of class.  (Update, since I first wrote this I have.)

I hate star ratings, but for convenience I have chosen this methodology to save time.

Those in bold are official Edinburgh Festival shows

5*****

The Rite of Spring by Yang Liping’s Peacock Dance Company – This is the life-changer.  A mind-bogglingly beautiful contemporary dance show, weaving together the quiet innocence of Nepalese temple dance with the power and fury of Stravinky’s masterpiece.  Truly outstanding.

Ontroered Goed, -Are we not drawn onward to new erA – I’ve seen this bonkers Belgian political theatre company, from Ghent, before, doing LY£$.  They specialise in Climate Change polemics.

But this was a step up in class.  The entire play is a palindrome; as you will have spotted from the title.  This means it is performed backwards and then replayed in reverse as a film.  How they manage to speak backwards is simply brilliant.  And funny.  And thought provoking

The Patient Gloria – Traverse.  Outstanding theatre about a psychotherapy experiment from the 60’s by Abbey Theatre

Baby Reindeer – Richard Gadd’s masterpiece in the Roundabout at Summerhall.  Awe inspiring performance and story

Efterkalang – The Festival Music strand was a triumph this year.  Few household names but curated with love and real knowledge of quality.  Efterklang closed this year’s offering and they were simply terrific.

Villagers – The best live performance at Leith Theatre. Perfection

This is the Kit – (No this was).  A sublime performance both by TITK and support and beautifully lit by Grant Anderson.  Outstanding sound quality.

The Incident Room – superb story about the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry at The Pleasance

Peter Gynt – outstanding and hilarious take on mid 19th century classic at Festival Theatre

The Shark is Broken – Jaws – the back story at Assembly.  An amazing and very, very funny three-hander by actors playing Robert Shaw, Rod Steiger and Richard Dreyfuss

4****

Anna Calvi – wonderful performance at Leith Theatre

Matt Forde’s Political Podcast – Interviewing Nicola Sturgeon.  (Scotland’s First Minister.)  A delightful hour of Boris-bashing and independence speculation.

Crocodile Fever – tremendous co-pro between The Lyric Belfast and The Traverse.

Fish Bowl – Hilarious French physical comedy at The Pleasance

The Last of The Pelican Daughters – very funny Pleasance show that I had to leave after 30 minutes due to fire alarm

Oedipus – Would have been five stars but for the subtitles. The Kings

Shit – Ultra-sweary, hilarious but deeply moving Ausie show at Summerhall.  Brilliant.

Nightclubbing – Grace Jones inspired Summerhall Performance art.

Kala Kuti Republic – Tremendous dance show about Fela Kuti.  Met, and made best mates with, Bobby Gillespie at The Lyceum

Elgar’s Kingdom – Great tunes from The Halle and Edinburgh Festival Chorus.  Rubbish lyrics. At the Usher Hall

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation – outstandingly original NTS show by Tim Crouch. At Festival Theatre Studio.

Once on This Island – Forth Children’s Theatre. My own company’s show.  A truly beautiful musical with a fabulous ensemble and several great performances .

Tartuffe,  Assemble Rooms – a great Scottish cast performing an abridged version of Liz Lochhead’s classic Moliere adaptation.  Very funny.  Great work from all four in the case (including Grant O’Rourke and Nicola Roy)

3***

The Burning – great performances but treacle-like script, at The Pleasance

Cométe – nice festival opener – pub band that may have gone to 4**** with a bigger audience

Who Cares – polemical Summerhall stuff about the care system but no narrative to properly engage with

The Crucible – too hard a story to tell through dance at The Playhouse

Best of the Fest – mixed bag, not the best of the Fest or it would have been 5*****

Ed Gamble – Work in Progress gig. Great warm up chat but the ACTUAL material was…meh.

Trips and Falls –  The spirit of the Fringe alive in this interesting but poorly cast and largely poorly performed Glasgow Uni production.  The Chief of police and the Granny were good though.

Square go – Started great but fell away, Scottish playground romp at the amazing Roundabout, at Summerhall.

If You’re Feeling Sinister by Avalon and BBC Arts in association with Tron Theatre at The Gilded Balloon.  Thios was always going to be tough to deliver a play about an album by Belle and Sebastiane, but by and large the two hander cast pulled it off .

2**

Teenage Fanclub – Boring.  At Leith Theatre – left after 45 mins.

Twin Peaks – Show about breast cancer billed as a comedy but not funny.

1*

Dynamite – it wasn’t – utter student improvisational crud by Bristol Uni Improv Soc.  Felt sorry for the excellent small girl with a pony tail (Katie) – not enough to save her blushes.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of The Patient Gloria by Gina Moxley and Abbey Theatre in association with Pan Pan Theatre at The Traverse; Edinburgh Fringe.


image.jpg

I’ve seen some cracking stuff this year already; The Incident Room, Shit, Baby Reindeer, Nightclubbing and Peter Gynt (EIF) are all there or there about the 5 star mark, and I expect all to win prizes this year.  There are at least two Fringe Firsts in that bunch.  Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer Summerhall, in particular, left me speechless.

But tonight we went super A-list with the classic Abbey Theatre of Dublin in a co-pro with Pan Pan Theatre Co and Gina Moxley.

It’s a three woman piece written by and starring the diminutive Gina Moxley who is a dab hand at playing male psychotherapists.  She shares the stage and the story with the titular Gloria; a 1964 divorcee aged 30 with a still high sex drive and a nine year old inquisitive daughter in tow.

In an experimental film in 1965 the real life Gloria was a guinea pig in three psychotherapy experiments that were filmed to observe different approaches to understanding Gloria’s motivations and drives.

The play brings these sessions to life against a rich tapestry of theatrical techniques and outrageously brilliant acting from both Moxley and Liv O’Donoghue (the beautiful Gloria).

The two make an odd couple, not least because of the notable difference in height.

They are wonderfully supported by Jane Deasy as the one-woman bass-playing Greek Chorus.

I can’t begin to describe how many moments come together to make this piece of theatre so magical; obviously the script, story and acting are the foundations but the direction by John McIlduff is like a master class.  The set design and costumes are stunning and the sound design an important contribution too.

It’s gripping, thrilling, ballsy feminism at its extreme best.  I’m a feminist so I wasn’t in the least uncomfortable: but bring an ounce of misogyny into The Traverse and you’ll be going home with your ball sack shrivelled inside you.

Catholisisim gets a good kicking (or at least its Irish educational sub divisional torture chamber).

It’s brilliant, inventive, hilarious, thought provoking, visually and aurally stunning theatre at its very, very best.

 

 

 

 

Local Hero by Bill Forsyth & David Greig: My Thoughts.


Local_Hero_Musical-2.jpg

It was announced that Local Hero could be a possibility while I was still on the Royal Lyceum board three years ago and it seemed like a wild dream, almost a fantasy really; that one of Scotland’s most iconic movies could be turned into a stage play, and a musical at that.

Even though it rates only a solid, but unspectacular 7.4 on IMDB, it has been taken to Scotland’s heart.  I only watched it myself, a month ago, in anticipation of this production finally, miraculously landing.  But I wasn’t overly taken with the movie I have to say.  It has dated and I found too many of the performances pretty easy to criticise and that let  it down. So I approached last night nervously.

There was no need to worry.  This is a smash hit in the making.  The buzz around The Lyceum was palpable and the after show party felt like the West End had dropped into Edinburgh.

The Director is John Crowley for God’s sake – he of the Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn: the man who has just directed the most anticipated movie (for me anyway) of 2019; The Goldfinch.

The set designer is Scott Pask – Book of Mormon – heard of that?

And, of course, the music was developed and expanded by none other than Mark Knopfler himself.

The cast is not a Take The High Road reunion, indeed only two of the 15 have ever appeared on The Lyceum stage, and have Girl From The North Country, Kinky Boots, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Les Mis, This House, Wolf Hall , School of Rock and Sweeney Todd, amongst many others, littering their CVs.

This is the real deal.  This is monumental ambition for a 600 seat theatre in  Scotland. (Albeit the Old Vic are co-producers).

So, onto a couple of old upturned fish boxes sidle Matthew Pigeon, as Gordon the hotel-owner and chief negotiator, and Ownie (Scott Ainslie) to conclude Ownie’s accountancy requirements with change from a fiver.  If only Gordon had change.

It’s a quiet start that does not prepare you for the technical wizardry that underpins the first showstopper of the night, “A Barrel of Crude”.  And there’s a laugh right from the off. Light humour that litters an excellent script.

Through the opening half hour the lilting lament that formed the musical motif of the movie slips and slides into earshot before finally emerging fully formed.  It’s beautiful.

The story is pretty much as per the movie, but the morals feels somehow even more upfront as we chart the greed of the locals over the environmental consequences of their signing away their home village of Ferness (You can’t eat scenery though).

The big bad American oilman (played impeccably by Damian Humbley) is a great foil to Katrina Bryan’s Stella and Matthew Pigeon’s Gordon in a love triangle that doesn’t really quite come off (that would be my only real criticism of the show).

I particularly liked the movement in this (directed by Lucy Hind).  It’s a play about contrasting scales (big skies, small villages, small-mindedness and big ambitions) and what she skilfully does is play with that scale through subtle but lovely choreography to bridge scenes and dramatise that juxtaposition of scales.  It’s really nice to see great movement that’s NOT trying to be John Tiffany: again.

The dance movement is slick and light of touch.  With a big mixed-age, mixed-size cast that’s no mean feat.

The band is top notch and excellently MD’d by Phil Bateman on keys.

Although the score is inspired mainly by the Celtic canon it succeeds much more than Come From Away (that I saw on Monday) which too draws from that canon – but does it to death.  Here we have ballads, tangos, a bit of rock and roll and, yes, that plaintive motif.

The light and shade in this production’s musical content, for me, frankly blows the multi Olivier-nominated Come From Away out of the water.  Indeed, on every level this is a much more enjoyable evening of theatre – so roll on the Oliviers 2020.

The comparisons can’t fail be made – both are Celtic musicals set in tiny communities, in wildernesses where big America comes to visit.

The Local Hero ensemble is universally excellent, the direction superb but the showstopper of it all is the scenic design.  You’ll need to see it to appreciate it.  I ain’t gonna do it any justice here.  All I’ll say is this.  You haven’t seen the aurora borealis until you’ve seen Local Hero at The Lyceum.

Bravo Lyceum.  Bravo.

The show richly deserves both its standing ovation and the Sold Out boards you’ll find in Grindlay Street for the next six weeks.

(I did take a peek at the website box office and you CAN get tickets for late in the run.  I’d do it if I were you.)

 

Come From Away; West End Musical Review.


Screenshot 2019-03-19 at 09.21.04.png

This show has been an absolute smash in North America and I can see why.  It has a certain saccharine sweetness that, for me, gets in the way of a more gripping retelling of a charming and heartfelt story.

Maybe there is no hiding from the truth.  It’s just nice.

Also 9/11 happened there and this is one of the few shows that doesn’t mourn it but finds a nugget to celebrate the human positives that emerged.

The actions concern those of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland, (The Rock) home of the biggest airport in the world that no-one ever uses anymore (since jet planes’ fuel tanks got bigger the planes don’t have to stop there for transatlantic refuelling – for the record).

The residents of Gander’s is a modern day ‘evacuees’ act of human kindness, in that they took the 7,000 stranded passengers, strangers, of 38 planes, that couldn’t land in New York, on 11 September 2001, into their community and then to their homes.

But it’s all a bit hokey for me.  The relentless 180bpm Oirish/Newfie folk music gradually starts to do your head in as its one tune relentlessly ploughs a furrow towards your amigdila but in my case bypassed it and hit the cranial nerve instead.

It’s storytelling on steroids.  $ for $ you get more words here than you will anywhere else in the West End.  But it feels too crammed in – too worthy perhaps. just too much.  There’s absolutely no room made to stop and take stock.  No light and shade (or very little anyway).

Sure, it has its moments and some of the subplots are interesting (real). For me the most successful concerns a mother who’s  fireman son is working on the twin towers and she is beside herself with worry.  It leads to one of the few really poignant moments in this marathon jig.

The showstopper numbers; the opener ‘Welcome to the Rock’ and ’38 planes’ are certainly enthusiastic and well received and the finale has significant gusto and was met with the audience leaping to its feet almost as one.

But, I’m sorry, it missed the spot for me, almost completely, and I found myself sneaking looks at my watch despite its 90 minute run time.

One last thing.  The seating in The Phoenix Theatre was clearly designed for Victorians at a time when people were six inches shorter than today.  Horrendously uncomfortable.

A ferocious, brutal and hilarious piece of theatre that will take your breath away. Ulster American at The Traverse Theatre from 20 Feb.


Screenshot 2019-02-19 at 17.19.34.png

I saw this at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  It was the best show in The Traverse’s best Fringe for years.  Gobsmackingly brilliant and it’s back with the same cast.  A bigger venue, but what could possibly go wrong?

At the time I described it as the bastard child of Aaron Sorkin, Frankie Boyle (maybe Jerry Sadowitz) and Martin McDonagh.

I can’t recommend it enough.

But it’s sweary, violent, sexist, outrageous, scary, rude, bawdy.  If you don’t like any of those things you’ll just have to fuck off and watch Strictly.  (You twat.)

Stan and Ollie: Movie Review.


stan_laurel_oliver_hardy_-_h_-_1930s.png

What an unexpected joy this delightful ensemble piece is.  An ensemble, how can it be an ensemble when it’s a ‘biopic’ of arguably the world’s funniest double act?

The reason is because the supporting cast, principally the wives (Shirley Henderson as Mrs Hardy and Nina Arianda as Mrs Laurel) along with showbiz impresario Bernard Delfont, played beautifully by Rufus Jones, all add such colour and magic to what is already two show-stopping performances that the whole adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts.

It’s curiously unfunny actually, indeed it’s the opposite.  It’s a sentimental trip through the sad “where are they now years’ of Laurel and Hardy’s final variety theatre British tour in 1953, 16 years after their final movie in 1937.

The tour opens to empty houses (prompting notions of them being ‘has-beens’ and could have led to mawkish self pity but the writing team avoid that trap).

But the tour gradually builds momentum, through some pretty onerous publicity marketing stunts, and pretty much in the same way as the movie builds in its confidence.

I found the movie hard to get into initially – I think perhaps one is initially overly absorbed in Steve Coogan (Stan) and John C. Reilly’s (Olly) impersonations.  But once you’re over that, and have realised that their performances are actually magnificent, I  relaxed and became immersed in the story.

And, you know, it’s terribly, terribly sad.  Although the tour grows in its success their relationships and their health suffer considerably.

It turns out that Stan has been harbouring a grudge since the late 1930’s, when Olly made a film without him.  Hal Roach having contractually split the pair.  Did this mean they were just doing a job together?  After all it was Hal Roach that teamed them up.  they weren’t a ‘thing’ before that.  Indeed Stan had even performed with the great Charlie Chaplin.

This leads to some momentous moments of real emotion that had me choking back the tears.

It’s beautifully shot, with a lovely period feel, despite its obviously low budget.

The direction, by Jon S. Baird, is out of the top drawer, again surprisingly so because his CV doesn’t suggest this is his kind of thing at all.

The interplay between the two wives is actually the funniest part of the movie.  Henderson is kind and supportive to Oliver Hardy; Arianda is a Russian trophy wife, played for laughs, but contained.  She also has a great affection for her husband, Stan.  They are both brilliant and the movie wouldn’t be what it is without them.

All in all, an absolutely tremendous lesson in acting with Coogan putting in a career-best shift.

Very highly recommended.  Take Kleenex.

 

 

The Favourite: Film Review.


the-favourite.jpg

I am a big, big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos whose two previous deadpan comedic features (The Killing of a Scared Deer and The Lobster) are outstanding movies.

The feature of both of these movies is Lanthimos’ extremely black humour delivered in a unique style.

However, for The Favourite Lanthimos has taken a big decision in abandoning the scriptwriting and handing the duties over to Deborah Davis (her debut) and Tony McNamara (lots of minor TV but no cinema history).  It’s  strange choice of writing team because they don’t bring any previous to the mix, and neither are fresh-faced youths.  But what they bring is an entirely different tonality to Lanthimos’ work and that leaves him to focus on direction, with cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan, who made a big contribution (in my view) to American Honey.  Indeed, the cinematography is a major talking point after the writing.  Gone is Lanthimos’ naturalistic, almost clinical, lighting of the Lobster and “Deer” instead, although we again go au natural, it’s through a gloom of candle and fire light that renders the screen largely black for a great deal of its 2+ hours.

His frequent choice of extreme wide angle (almost fish eye) lens to capture the scale of the huge palace rooms is highly unusual in cinema and is much more like stills photography. One scene, shot in a long corridor, makes it look like a u-bend when in fact it is completely straight – unlike the principal characters!

But the real meat here is this terrific all female star line-up.  In the #MeToo era this is a real vote of confidence in female actors with attitude and sheer quality.  Come March it is entirely possible that all of the leads; Olivia Coleman (national treasure that she is), Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone will be career Oscar winners because Coleman’s performance is quite brilliant.  The other two already hold this distinction and each has a good chance of adding to their trophy haul.

Although, As Queen Anne, Coleman (who gained 2.5 stone top play the gout-ridden Queen’s part) is the designated lead the film is essentially a three player ensemble with some ineffectual men put into bat to be made to look ridiculous and, oh, they do in Sandy Powell’s outrageous costumes and Beverley Binda’s even more outrageous hair and make up.  (“You look like a dead badger’ Weisz tells the Queen as she sets out on a royal engagement.)

The story echoes All About Eve as Queen Anne’s favourite lady in waiting, and lesbian lover, Lady Sarah Marlborough, The Wife of the Duke of Marlborough who is leading the war with France, is gradually pushed out of favouritism by one time lady and now servant girl, Abigail (Emma Stone).  Although she does not go without  fight.

This is where the scriptwriting team get the nod to create a bawdy and vicious rivalry set in a Draughtsman Contract-esque world.

Overindulgence, poisoning and illness leads to all three leads vomiting at least once each, reflecting this world of excess.

The music track is at times intrusive, but to my mind in a good way; it’s a sort of early 18th Century version of Atticus Rose and Trent Resnor’s soundtrack to The Social Network.

What everyone is talking about is the lead performances. Each is supremely talented and each is given so much scope to truly flex their acting muscles that what results is an acting master-class.  In the trailer it seems like a knockabout farce but in reality the movie is actually quite slow paced with moments of true hilarity and enough foul language to shock some of our more prurient audience members.  That said, my wife who abhors the C-word volunteered that it was used to great effect several times in this.

The lesbian relationships Queen Anne enjoyed are worthy of note. In a life that saw her lose 17 children (5 still born and many miscarried) her tipping of the velvet was, apart from a bulimic relationship with food, one of her few pleasures.  Both Lady Marlborough and Abigail are adept in their duty to pleasure their monarch.

Coleman comes steadily into her own as the movie progresses.  The first half belongs to Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone plays a beautifully judged and paced part in which she will do anything to get ahead but in the end it’s Coleman who wins the day with the last 20 minutes belonging to her as she suffers the vagaries of her life.  Her portrayal of Queen Anne as a stroke victim is as good a performance as you will see anywhere this year.

It’s a fascinating movie, although I’m not convinced it’s quite as good as its hype.  That said, for lovers of history and lovers of Olivia Coleman it has to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

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


42ed64ce9e448607fb0e0060189a31e05f958a71-original-LST303654.jpg

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.

45609693_10157260652699305_1280948402321883136_n.jpg

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).

45665818_10157260833554305_6744926494016929792_n.jpg

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.

45743449_10157260957124305_8424924418093875200_n.jpg

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.

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


They-Shall-Not-Grow-Old-still-1024x576.jpg

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.

Cyrano de Bergerac at The Lyceum. Thoughts.


MB2_3637-815x525.jpg

There are two monumental reasons to see this production.

The first is the performance of Brian Ferguson in the title role.  People will be talking about his extraordinary commitment, humour, bravado and energy for many years to come.  It was a pleasure to congratulate him on his performance afterwards.  A complement he accepted with wonderful grace and modesty.

In a dense and complex piece of theatre he carries the show along on shoulders as broad as the Clyde.

That’s not to underplay the ensemble’s performance but the eruption from the audience when he took his solo bow said a lot.

Cyrano de Bergerac | Teaser from National Theatre of Scotland on Vimeo.

The second is the equally extraordinary costumes by fashion designer Pam Hogg.  It looks like this is her first ever theatre commission having dealt with fashion and music – Kylie, Gaga, Siouxsie – for the majority of her much celebrated career.  Some of the costumes in this production simply take the breath away, in particular Roxanne’s, and often they are brilliantly lit by Lizzie Powell to intensify the impact.

They range from the spectacular and dazzling to the brilliantly understated. (When did you last see a Pere Ubu tour T shirt?)

The production is dense, often spectacular, funny, charming and interestingly musical, although unlike the recent Twelfth Night the music here plays a more background role.  I like that in David Greig’s tenure music has moved way up the agenda at The Lyceum.

I’d like to see CDB again because, unlike film adaptations of the play that I have seen, it has far more substance and much more is made of the war which unites the male characters of the cast; the Gascon battalion who are fighting on the Spanish front line.

It’s a five act play (that is often truncated) which means you need to prepare for three hours in the theatre making it something of a feat of endurance – particularly given the fine Scots adaptation, by Edwin Morgan, of what seems almost Shakespearean in its rhythmic verse form.

It’s impossible to catch every nuance and meaning and some of its delight is latching on to Scottish colloquialisms that are entirely out of time and place but wonderfully clever.

This is bold, assured and brave theatre that deserves to be seen.

 

 

 

 

Charlie is my darling.


Can you even begin to imagine the excitement I felt when I popped into Whitespace today and was met with this canvas of our dearly beloved Charlie Robertson created by fellow advertising guru, none other than MT Rainey, herself.

charlie's me darling.jpg

It’s one of the canvases I’ll be auctioning next Thursday at the NABS Art Auction (it has 76 compatriots, with plenty more in transit, many of which have outstanding artistic merit, but none of which quite hit the emotional trigger quite as effectively as this one does, created, as it was, less then ten days after Charlie’s untimely death.)

I’m hoping it will be something of a centrepiece of the auction and that it might attract some fairly hefty bidding.  Indeed I will specifically take bids on it if you email me direct at Markgorman@btopenworld.com.

I’ll let bidders know what the state of play is rather than playing this one out in public.

It’s called “Charlie is me Darlin'” and it’s beautifully printed direct onto the canvas.  The words that make up the image conjure up, for me, the eloquence with which Charlie thrilled and seduced the world of advertising for forty years.

I believe it deserves to be shown somewhere that Charlie’s many admirers might be able to see it for themselves and I hope it can play its part in a memorable night at Whitespace next Thursday 25th October, from 6pm.  There will be a bar and a lively evening of badinage and bidding.  Please let me know if you’d like to attend.

MT.  You’re amazing.  What a superb memory of Charlie’s life.

Slantie.

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


TwelfthNight-700x70.jpg

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.

 

 

 

 

 

De Fuut by Richard Jordan Productions at Summerhall.


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

fuut2.jpg

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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 12.00.33.png

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.

Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 11.38.32.png

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.


Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 11.36.01.png

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.

(Sorry) by King’s Head Theatre


2018SORRY_AAZ.jpg

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 *****.


Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 16.36.37.png

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. ****


Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 01.14.35.png

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.

 

Howard’s End.


sisters.jpg

Our extremely good friends, Will and Ann, have lived in Howard Place for many years and last Saturday they had a leaving do that got a little bit, well, refreshed.

Anyway, as I left I kissed goodbye to Howard Place.

GGTTH.