Pressure. Theatre Review. Kings Theatre Edinburgh and Touring.


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Amazingly it’s nearly four years since this play premiered at The Lyceum before transferring to Chichester Festival Theatre.  Written by and starring David Haig it’s a modern day classic.

It tells the story of Dalkeith meteorologist James Stagg and his role as the allies’ choice as chief meteorologist advising on the D-Day operations (overlord) to General Dwight Eisenhower.

What most people do not know is that the weather in the lead up to the operation was flat calm and glorious English summer conditions, convincing his American oppo (Colonel Irving Krick – a bit of a weather celebrity of the day; certainly compared to dour Scotsman, Stagg) that historical precedent suggested almost certain ideal conditions on the day of the attack.

Stagg begs to differ and cites the vagaries of the British summer (four seasons in a day) as reason not to be confident of anything.

What follows is a tussle of intellect, nerve and belief (or otherwise) in the emerging science connected to the then relatively unknown ‘Jet Stream’.

Underscoring the drama is the imminent arrival of Stagg’s second child to his wife, some three hours drive away from the military base in which he has set up his temporary weather station.  His wife is suffering from high blood pressure (see what he did there?) and the experience of their first child’s birth weighs heavily on Stagg’s seemingly inscrutable (some would say curmudgeonly) personality.  Frankly, it’s the last thing he needs in these high stakes times.

And the stakes are indeed high.  Bad weather could kill 50,000 allied troops and calling it wrong would be their death sentence.

The play features 12 actors who represent the allied forces in various shapes and forms, but rotates around what is effectively a three-hander between Stagg, Eisenhower and Eisenhower’s English female driver and assistant (not to mention lover) Colonel Sommersby (the excellent Laura Rodgers).

It runs through the emotions and becomes an incredibly tense thriller with its share of laughs.

But at its heart is a superb performance by David Hare that makes you will the unlikely hero on with all of your heart.

The story contains a few twists that I’ll not share here. It’s on in Edinburgh till Saturday and then on tour before opening in London in late March.

February 1-10, Cambridge Arts Theatre
February 13-17, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
February 20-24, Theatre Royal,Newcastle
February 27-March 3, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
March 6-10, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
March 12-17, Theatre Royal, Bath
March 20-24, Richmond Theatre
March 28-April 28, Park Theatre, London
.

Here’s the original Lyceum trailer.

Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff: Book review.


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Not a political reader?  Read this.

Think Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot?  Read this.

Feeling the February blues?  Read this.

Whilst the focus, in reviews of this epic book, has been firmly on Trump’s shenanigans the reality is that it features a large cast that could probably be described as Dumb and Dumber, and Dumber still, and even more Dumber and so Dumb it doesn’t compute, and those vying for the Dumbest of the Dumb.

Chief amongst them, and clearly living the aphorism that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, is Stephen K Bannon.  A serial schmuck who, at best, scrambled through a career of wannabe jobs before stumbling upon Bob and Rebekah Mercer, father and daughter multi-billionaires who spent vast sums to build a “radical free-market,small-government,home=schooling, anti liberal, gold-standard, pro-death-penalty, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, monetarist, anti-civil-rights political movement.”

The Mercers installed Bannon as CEO of the tiny ultra-right-wing TV network, Brietbart, that overtook Murdoch’s Fox network as the voice-piece of the far right (and the Tea Party) and gave Bannon his way into Trump Towers.

The hold (albeit precarious) that Bannon had over Trump is remarkable.  He became his svengali and, against all the odds, overcame the Clinton Juggernaut to instate Trump in a totally unexpected presidential role.  The chapter on the victory has you howling with laughter.

The book charts the relationships Trump (and Bannon) then forge in the nascent government.  (It was meant to cover the first 100 days but Wolff was having so much fun, and so much unchecked access, that it actually takes us, via a postscript, to October 2017.)

Wolff claims he had dozens of, unscrutinised, interviews with aides and central characters in the book.  He had ‘a seat in the White House’, and was never challenged.

It’s like a fervent 5 set, Grand Slam Final, tennis match of deceit and counter deceit, leaks, backstabbing, plotting, firings, hirings, regret about hirings and various other daily occurrences amongst a team of advisors and departmental heads that had no more experience of US politics than I have.

It starts off laugh out loud funny, and I mean gut wrenchingly so, before settling into a torrid succession of horrendous back stories and tales of who was next for the firing line.

Central to the story are Bannon, of course, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (idiot), and the hilarious construct that is Jarvanka (Jared Kushner, son of a criminal, and his wife Ivanka Trump; Daddy’s Girl).

Jarvanka come in for relentless ridicule; mainly from the mouth of Bannon but there can be no doubt Wolff sees them as a laughable pair of complete morons.

Of course, Sean Spicer gets it in the neck (although we see him as a sympathetic character here, completely overwhelmed by Trump’s madness.)

What the serial womaniser sees in the gorgeous, and startlingly unqualified, Hope Hicks – his closest advisor, is anyone’s guess, but her position is as solid as anyone’s could ever be in this tram smash of a court.

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No idea what Trump sees in the beautiful Hope Hicks.

Startlingly missing are both Melania and Vice President, Pence (who is castigated as even more of an idiot than Trump).

It’s a completely and utterly biased malicious character assassination of a man you wouldn’t put in charge of running a bath.  It exposes, time and again, Trump’s complete incompetence and reliance (100%) on gut feel.

That this man is an idiot of monumental  proportions is no great revelation – we all know that.  It’s the day to day incompetence that makes for the meat and potatoes of a political read like no other.

It’s a must read.

Go on, read it, before Kim Jong-un blows us all up.

 

The Lover at The Lyceum Theatre (until Feb 3rd.)


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This, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a stellar line up of theatrical co-producers; The Royal Lyceum Theatre Co, Scottish Dance Theatre and (clears throat) Stellar Quines.

Indeed, it’s the first time (outside of the Festival) that The Lyceum has staged dance since 1972.  It’s been a long wait.

I’d have to say to begin with that it’s a bit of a Marmite piece; if you’re looking for ribald comedy you’ll have to wait for next month’s production of The Belle’s Strategem, and if in your face, angry drama is your bag this won’t get you going.

Instead, we’re served an extremely original, thought provoking reflection on love (or is it lust), class, race and sexual politics in 1930’s Indo-China-Vietnam – a French colony (interestingly explored in its dying days in Francis Ford Copolla’s brilliant Apocalypse Now – but only in the Director’s Cut).

The colonial setting brings with it an interesting role reversal of what you would expect; it’s about an affair between a privileged, but poor, 15 year old French private school girl and a rich, 27 year old, Chinese man (dancer Yosuke Kusano).

Despite his worth the Chinaman is nevertheless the poor relation because of his skin colour and he is toyed with by the adventurous and lusty young girl (played by dancer Amy Hollinshead).

The play is carried by the girl, now in her middle age, reflecting on her relationship both with the man and her two brothers and mother.

As a woman (played with a calm steeliness by Susan Vidler) she views the relationship and tells the story of how love and money become inextricably intertwined.

Despite their impoverishment the brothers still maintain a life of hedonistic, and at times violent, pleasure that often threatens to invade the lovers’ space.

What makes this such an interesting production is the way in which dance, drama, music and sound combine to present a unique theatrical experience.  The dance is never less than engaging with a subtle snakelike quality to both the sexual relationship and the general storytelling.

It’s the Woman’s narration that is the biggest trick in the bag for Dramaturg, David Greig and co directors Fleur Darkin (Scottish Dance) and Jemima Levick (Stellar Quines). Not only does she tell the story from the stage but she voices (through clever lip synching) all of the characters from her youth (affecting a younger timbre to her voice) but she also delivers large sections on tape and in whispered asides projected from the rear of the theatre.  It’s highly engaging and very unusual.

The slow, extremely deliberate pace of the language is often in contrast to the music bed and the dance.  (At times it reminded me of the extraordinary 2015 puppet movie, Anomalisa.)  Throughout, you could hear a pin drop in an engrosssed audience.

It’s a refreshingly original, albeit languidly paced production with much to savour.  Just remember if it’s action and belly laughs you’re seeking, seek elsewhere.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Movie review.


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You couldn’t get more mid-American than Missouri.  You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the state capital is Jefferson City.  It’s an unremarkable state and Ebbing is an unremarkable town (made up it would seem); it’s not trailer trash, it’s not deep south.  It’s just a nondescript, middle-class, American provincial town frequented by the usual mish-mash of not quite Hillbillys, not quite racists.  They’d have voted for Trump in big numbers; if the place existed.

It’s here that Frances McDormand (just like in the unremarkable town of Fargo) stakes her claim for a place at the top table in the pantheon of greatest living actresses.

It’s here that Martin McDonagh cements his position as the greatest living comedy writer. (As if In Bruges wasn’t enough, he’s got his theatre canon of work to bolster those credentials – The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore are both comedic masterpieces.)

And it’s here that both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson put in career defining (and probable Oscar winning) performances.

To say that Frances McDormand has everything you need to be the complete actress is an understatement; she’s hilarious, brutal, droll, moving, sympathetic, antagonistic, bombastic, arrogant, crazy, vulnerable, arch, facetious and deadpan.  And that’s only in the first 20 minutes. This will unquestionably win her, her second Oscar.

And Martin McDonagh will pick up his second for best original screenplay (14 years after winning best short in 2004) and maybe even his third for best director.  He already has no fewer than four (yes 4) nominations at the BAFTA’s and I expect him to win at least half of them – because this is writing and direction of the very highest order.

He’s moved on since In Bruges.  Sure the C bomb is dropped very early in the first dialogue scene and turns up several times more.  But this is not the full pelt filth that Colin Farrell deployed to intense pleasure in the former.

This is a subtler, equally dark but even more brutal exposition.  Each word seems to have been crafted on a lathe.  I gasped several times at the sheer dexterity of his writing delivered by masters of their craft.

There’s a dwarf, yes.

There’s an idiot, yes.

But I ain’t telling you no more than that.  I saw it without spoilers so you deserve the same respect.

It has a breathtakingly bold finish, I’ll tell you that; spoiling nothing.

This is cinema at its absolute finest.  The best film I have seen this year by far (and I thought Dunkirk was truly outstanding).

Go Martin.

 

Edinburgh’s Christmas Theatrical Blessings.


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We really are blessed in our wee city with theatrical greatness.  The Kings’ Panto (not my cup of tea) is great I’m told.  The Lyceum’s Arabian Nights is extraordinary.  A beautiful musical adventure with a multi cultural cast that grows and grows as the show develops – not your usual Christmas fare I concede, but it is really very good.

And today Jeana and I were again blessed to see a not very busy matinee of the extraordinary ‘How to Disappear’.

It’s not really a Christmas show, it’s really just a show that’s on in December, set in December, but it is brilliant.  Really brilliant.  Three astonishing performances in Morna Pearson’s mental health and government fuckwitterey assault on the bastards that run our asylum.

Owen Whitelaw is full on awesome in his role as a befuddled genius detached from the world because of his mental health issues, his lovely caring sister, Isla,  played so sympathetically by Kirsty Mackay is just delightful and, at its heart, is the bad cop (or is she?), the benefits assessor Jessica (Sally Reid, quite magnificent).

It’s delivered in Doric.  Why?  I don’t know but it’s BEAUTIFUL because of that.

It’s bleak, it’s moving, it’s hilarious.  It’s magnificent.  Please buy yourself an early Christmas present and go see it because you’ll thank me.

A new venture. Spotted by Locals; Edinburgh.


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Look out for my impending travel writing.  I’ve just been interviewed by Bart and Sanne who run Spotted by Locals.  A travel app and website, created in 2008 and reaching over 60 cities, that invites a small group of writers to share their insights into their HOME city.

It’s a great idea because you get insights into cities all over the world from a non commercial perspective and outside of the usual historical or just plain obvious sights.

Anyway there will be five Edinburgh writers when I start.  Looking forward to it.  If anyone has any interesting spots for me to check out do please let me know and I’ll go investigate.