Into The Woods. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Assembly Hall, The Mound, review. Edinburgh Fringe 2017.


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Many lovers of Stephen Sondheim’s classic, Into The Woods, were disappointed with Disney’s movie version as it strayed too much off point. Not me, I liked the way Disney popularised a bloody difficult show.

But RCS is big enough, and talented enough, to go back to basics and stage an authentic labyrinthian production with so many characters, so many sub plots, but one whole, that demands a faultless ensemble to deliver (and a faultless band/orchestra).

This delivers.

The show itself is a blockbuster, with many great numbers and much classic Sondheim nuance, noodling and conundrumery.

In the world of musical wordplay Sondheim has no equal.  This is his masterpiece in that respect.

It might not reach the heights of his MUSICAL masterpiece, Sweeny Todd, but it ain’t far behind.

And if you want to put the next generation of Scotland’s (in fact beyond Scotland) best talent through their paces this is an inspired choice.

My one complaint is that the man behind us appeared to be breathing through some sort of oxygen mask and proved a great distraction but hey ho, you’re not going to say ‘Gonnae no dae that?’ to a man in an oxygen mask; are you?

At the interval we perused the situation.  He wasn’t in a mask he was just, you know, a show spoiler.

So we moved to shite seats, with a restricted view and poorer acoustics, but no sub-soundtrack of Holby fucking City.

Anyway, to the show.  Decent design.  Great lighting (whyever not, as Grant Anderson designed is in the chair).  Outstanding band. And brilliantly choreographed.

But, at the end of the day it’s about the ensemble.  There’s essentially 17 main parts and several secondary roles.  In a perfect ITW you need a 17/17.

This wasn’t that, but I’d say 14/17.

And the key parts delivered big style. (There seems, from the programme notes to be some doubling up of parts so apologies if I have called names wrongly and I will correct if need be)

Abigail Stephenson as Little Red Riding Hood steals the show in her skippy, dippy, innocent but vicious rendering of the role. Eu Jin Hwang pulls off the Baker’s role sympathetically.

Philippa Cassar is excellent as Cinderella and I liked Andrew Sowrey’s Steward.

Caroline Lyell is brilliant as the witch.

It’s an absorbing engrossing production in a great venue.  Go see it.

 

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour


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Sometimes you stumble upon an ‘experience’ that is so unique, so damn CLEVER that it takes your breath away.

Guru Dudu has created that ‘experience’: an hour long tour in the hands of a self appointed guru and yoga instructor with a deep love of Disco music.

50 of us congregated in the Grassmarket at 2pm on a busy Fringe Sunday afternoon, right in the heart of thronging Edinburgh touristville. After being given radio controlled earphones Guru Dudu commenced the tour with a bit of dance yoga warm up, meet the neighbours, before commencing the tour. In a fairly tight mile or so loop we danced to Abba, Stevie Wonder, Backstreet Boys, Chic and many more disco and discoesque classics.

We created a Soul train near the University.

We sang Bohemian Rhapsody to the crowd at Greyfriars Bobby.

We air guitared.

We serenaded strangers.

But, most of all, we danced like crazy gradually becoming less and less aware of the fact that this was essentially a public performance with a cast of strangers and a conductor that is also a master choreographer.

“Voullez Vous, Aha” a second before each ‘Aha’ Guru Dudu points out a passing person on the left or right and instructs us to shout ‘Aha’ and point at them in unison. It works every time. You laugh at your innate ability to be a massed choir and dance troupe with absolutely no training. It is miraculous.

And we grinned. Oh how we grinned, from ear to ear for every second of the 45 minute tour.

This is as good a Fringe show as you will EVER perform in. Go on, release your inner Bee Gee.

A remarkable rebrand for Investors in People (IIP) Scotland


Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 15.52.54For some time now I’ve been working with IIP Scotland to help them on their journey through a rebrand that most people agree has had a pretty remarkable outcome. Along the way I enlisted the help of Front Page in Glasgow (website) Studio LR in Leith (identity) and 3X1 (PR) to help make the new brand for IIP Scotland truly remarkable.

IIP Scotland has been steadily growing its portfolio of services for some time now and is on the cusp of even more innovation. So, with an increasing emphasis on consultancy work, rather than offering only IIP accreditation, allied to the success of the Investors in Young People Award (a Scotland only initiative) and in anticipation of a slew of exciting new consultancy offers, the time was right for IIP Scotland to rebrand to reflect its growing portfolio of client-led services.

I was commissioned by the remarkable Peter Russian (if you know him you’ll know why I use that adjective to describe him) to conduct a comprehensive consultation process that sought the views of a cross section of staff, board members, clients and prospects to identify a clear new proposition for the organisation.

As an interim measure, the website was redesigned, after a pitch, by Front Page.

‘Love your business, love your people’ became the core communication and resulted in a far more engaging site.

On 20th June we witnessed the public unveiling of a new name, a new brand and a radically different look and feel.

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The result is Re:markable. With a colon. (But not in copy.)

The name reflects the fact that Remarkable (the new home for IIP in Scotland) delivers a world-class range of services. It helps organisations become more successful by developing and empowering their people to have increased control in their workplace.

It’s intended to be more dynamic, passionate and authoritative, with supportive and genuine Specialists (consultants).

The name reflects the fact that Remarkable makes a marked difference to the organisations it works with; and offers marks of quality (to include Investors in People in Scotland) and a world-class range of consultancy tools and services.

It’s a mark that recognises they are more able. And that’s remarkable.

It’s bold. That’s partly down to the board challenging us to think big, to be positive and to be radical.

But the marque itself is restrained, classical almost. That’s because we wanted to maintain a sense of authority and too much fuss with typography might just have been a step too far.

We commissioned a full new suite of photography using real people (clients, all of them) by Sam Sills that showed ordinary people doing their jobs remarkably.

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Working with a client that wasn’t willing to accept anything less than statement work was a real delight. And with agencies that gave their all was brilliant too.

An intelligent, thought provoking team that really walk their walk were a real pleasure to do business with and I believe they’ve been rewarded with an outcome that succeeds in completely repositioning their organisation.

And that’s been rewarded with tremendous initial results. The PR alone reached 7.5 million people (with 100% positive messaging), web traffic doubled, new visitors trebled, and I love this quote from the managing partner of one of Scotland’s largest law firms.

“It’s brilliant. It’s clean, fresh, and open to all sorts of innovative branding and marketing collateral. Great job and all the best as you all move forward to the next phase of getting the brand firmly established”


 

 

 

An early start for the 2017 Fringe and Festival. Adam at The Traverse.


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I was fortunate to get an early start to Fringe 2017 with an invitation to Adam at The Traverse last night.  It’s my first of 29 shows (including FCT’s 10 of course).

Conceived by my heroine and my favourite working director in Scotland, Cora Bissett, and written by Frances Poet it really does deserve the adjective, remarkable.

The play is structured around the concept of contronyms (from the same family of synonyms and antonyms) a contronym is a word that can be applied to mean exact opposites.  Bolt is a good example because it can mean to secure or to flee.  It’s a clever writing trick that brings great structure to the narrative of the story of Adam, a young Egyptian Trans man who fled his native Alexandria in search of acceptance as a man in Glasgow.  Not only does the play tackle the whole issue of changing sex but also the trials of gaining political asylum.

What’s more, it’s a companion piece to Eve, Jo Clifford’s journey from male to female.

That really is high level conceptual playwriting by two artists under the metaphorical roof of one company, the National Theatre of Scotland.

NTS is bang on form just now, Room which I reviewed earlier this year (also directed by Cora) was extraordinary.

This is no less so in a more intimate and emotional way.

What makes it so remarkable is that the issue of changing gender is played out by the young man himself (Adam Kashmiry) in his first ever professional acting role and a female actor (Neshla Caplan).  Both put in amazing performances that highlights the difference between men and women without ever resorting to cliche, stereotype or politicising the situation.

Special mention must be made of the set (Emily James) a uniquely clever structure borrowing (on a tiny budget) from aspects of The Curious Incidence of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Please, get a ticket before it sells out.

Angels in America Parts 1 and 2, National Theatre Live: Review.


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Eight hours in a theatre (or in this case my two favourite cinemas; The Cameo in Edinburgh for Part 1 and The Hippodrome in Bo’ness for Part 2) is a daunting prospect, especially when the subject matter threatens to overwhelm you emotionally.

In fact it is a breeze because the writing of Tony Kushner and the direction of Marianne Elliot (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night) pepper this doomsday epic with both humour and beauty (in staging, lighting, sound and movement – it’s a technical masterpiece throughout).

The acting is uniformly brilliant with Andrew Garfield in the lead role of AIDS sufferer Prior Walter.  But the support he gets from Nathan Lane, in particular, is astounding.  Core ensemble shout outs also have to go to the entire cast especially Denise Gough, James McArdle, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Russell Tovey.

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Whilst, at times, you might want Garfield to slightly reign in the histrionics (and the fey gayness to be honest) you sit with bated breath waiting for Nathan Lane to go off on vitriolic outburst after hateful rant.  He plays a corrupt, gay bashing (ironic) lawyer who has no limit to what he will do to save himself (he too had AIDS but says it’s cancer, having spent his entire life in the closet, much to the disgust of most of the rest of the male gay cast).  He is the highlight of the show.

Although ostensibly a ‘gay fantasia’ the background of story is built largely on a religious platform.  The AIDS ‘plague’ has clear biblical connotations and the angels of the title are fantastical creations that are there to question morality, justice, belief and whether or not there is an afterlife.

The creation of the ‘main’ Angel played by six dancers/puppeteers and Amanda Lawrence as the angel itself is breathtakingly original and continuously mesmerising.  She’s magic.

I grew up during the ‘AIDS Epidemic’ and my home city of Edinburgh had to deal with an almost unique needle sharing problem, as well as the gay spread of the disease, (It’s well captured in Trainspotting) so, that meant it was as much a heterosexual issue as a homosexual one in Edinburgh,  Consequently, HIV/AIDS was very front of mind in this city.  Another reason that the story strongly resonated with me.

Two of the central characters are Mormons and that particular creed comes in for some pretty hefty slagging although overall you sense that Kushner has deep religious beliefs or at least is hedging his bets on whether there is a God.  The fact that both Louis and Nathan Lane’s evil character are both Jews is also an important part of the storyline and leads to considerable debate about the morals of that belief, compared to Christianity.

Politics, too, feature heavily in the storyline with a clear leaning towards both Socialism and the Democrats that make Reagan (the then leader) an object of ridicule.  Indeed Part Two is subtitled Perestroika with a certain reverence for it’s chief architect Gorbachov in evidence.

One of the lead characters (a gay nurse, Belize) former lover of both Prior (Garfield) and Luois (McArdle) and an ex drag queen is black and proud of it. As he nurses Lane’s character (Roy Cohn) this opens up another topic for Kushner to at times hilariously, at times terrifyingly, exploit; racism.  The man is a pig and it’s all that Belize can do to maintain his dignity and ethical professionalism to tolerate the monster that he tends.  In fact a relationship develops that is, at times, surprisingly tolerant and even tender.

Meanwhile closet gay and Mormon, Joe Pitt (Tovey), married to valium addicted Harper (the superb Denise Gough) is straying into an experimental homosexual exploration of his sexuality with Louis (former lover of both Belize and Prior) this has massive personal  consequences.  McArdle in particular plays a really strong supporting role and has the subtlety to play his part with conviction and sympathy.  He’s the ‘tart with a heart’ but can’t deal with all the consequences of these tumultuous times for the world’s gay population.

It’s complicated.  And that’s why Kushner needs eight hours to unravel the labyrinthian plot and the fundamental BIG questions it tackles, but he does so with great skill and lightness of touch.

The National Theatre are to be applauded for reviving this monumental work.  And it’s to our great fortune that we can experience it (from essentially front row seats) in small movie theatres all over the world.

A production that has wowed audiences and critics alike, I expect to see it pick up many more London Theatre awards.  If you get the chance to see it when NTLive does a reprise, kill for tickets.