Dunsinane by the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre of Scotland in association with The Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.


The Godfather Two showed that sequels can better their original by walking the same path but more deftly, building on its foundations with style, wit and great, great writing.

Dunsinane, is technically a sequel but could hardly be described as usurping its predecessor (Macbeth) as David Grieg neatly finds a way of avoiding the direct comparison by writing it in something approaching the modern vernacular.

And so, Macbeth is merely a plot device to set up a thoroughly modern parable on the pursuit of power and the appetite that man (and woman because Lady Macbeth, Gruach, is the hub of all the conflict in this extraordinary play) has for eternal conflict.

“Peace is not the normal state, peace is like the days when the sea is flat calm, the prevailing condition is war.” says King Malcolm (I think, and I paraphrase) to the English commander, and star of the show, Siward played monumentally by Jonny Phillips.  And that’s what lies at the heart of this electrifying production; the fact that war is pretty much the need state of those in power, because war makes things happen. And I don’t mean war results in reshaping of civilisation, no, war turns the wheels of industry and is the dynamo for political momentum.  The second world war was what got the world’s major economies booming after all.  The Gulf War revitalised America’s sluggish economy.

Thatcher knew that when she blasted Argie to kingdom come.

Blair thought he did when he catapulted the UK into the single most futile decade of power-mongering.

However, where Thatcher sensed the mood of the nation and used the Falklands to reignite her popularity Blair just stuck his big bloody size tens in and created an absolute shambles around him.  It’s Blair’s approach that drives the narrative of this play because the Post Macbethian 12th Century Scotland is a photofit of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whilst the English may have assumed that Lady Macbeth (Gruach) left this mortal coil alongside her beloved husband, we soon find out that as the saying goes “to assume is to make an ass out of u and me.”  Oh no, Gruach is very much alive and well and, as Queen, she believes her offspring are heir to the throne and by God she’s gonna do her damnedest to give them the chance to take their rightful place – even if that means sleeping with the enemy.

And so, Gruach (a mesmerising, flame haired Siobhan Redmond) emerges as the key political figure in this drama; she calls all the shots and she delivers them in an often tense and powerful dialogue between herself and Siward.  Always on the front foot, driving the poor man crazy with both lust and frustration.

Meanwhile, the King of Scotland, Malcolm quietly (weakly?) surveys the scene with an air of weariness and a large degree of slightly camp cynicism, increasingly frustrated by Siward’s inability to strategically manage the conflict.  His performance (by Brian Ferguson) is initially hysterically funny but gradually turns colder and more focused as the drama unfolds.

Both the directing (by Roxana Silbert) and the writing by David Grieg are breathtaking.  Grieg doesn’t write a script so much as a wholesale political essay on the state of the nation that leaves you almost gasping at its vision and insight. Remember this play was written 18 months before Salmond swept to power in such a way that the state of the Union has never been more open to question in modern times.  Surely conflict is a potential outcome.

And it’s the sheer range of this play that impressed me most.  Starting out, frankly, like a Monty Python comedy (it really did stir up memories of Life of Brian) it moves gradually through a series of episodes to darker territory.  Barely a minute passed in Act One without a chuckle, and often a belly laugh.  Act Two starts as it left off, but only for moments before the real meat of the problem is tackled to almost preternatural effect.

Honestly this play reaches right inside of you.  It moves along like a runaway Express, charged as it goes by a brilliant folk rock trio that inject pace and punctuation that is echoed by a duet of Gaelic singing lassies.  And whilst the ending stutters just a little it’s a lean back moment as the curtain closes and one is transported back into the real world.

Or was what we were watching the real world?

This is Champions League stuff.

I’ve seen several immense performances on the Lyceum stage this year; Stanley Townsend, Peter Forbes and Frances Thorburn in particular, and there have been a number of incredible ensemble casts ; Age of Arousal and Earnest spring to mind.

But this has both.

And this has three, maybe four or five stellar performances; Siobhan Redmond of course, and Jonny Phillips, but so too Tom Gill as the boy soldier, Brian Ferguson as Malcolm and Alex Mann as the hilarious Egham.

Mark my words. They will be talking about this show in hushed tones many years from now.

Bassett by The Lyceum Youth Theatre at The Traverse (until Saturday)


This is  Christie O’Carroll’s first, and stunningly, directed show for Lyceum youth and it is blessed with not only a cracking script by James Graham but also a gifted cast; in particular the quite mesmerising performance of Aaron Jones as the central and most troubled teen, Leo.

He’s not alone in deserving acting plaudits.  For a start it’s an excellent ensemble show and cleverly written to give all 14 young actors their moments to shine.  But inevitably there are stand outs.  For me they were the aforementioned Aaron Jones who, although slight of build, puts in a gargantuan performance.  In a smallish but rocket fuelled cameo (it’s much more than that really, but her spell in the limelight is a true short sharp shock) is Lucia D’Inverno as Lucy and throughout the laughs are provided by Hannah Joe Mackinlay as Zoe and on slightly more cerebral level by Tom Palmer as a quietly understated Amid.

The play delivers 40 minutes of changing mood and pace and centres on a school classroom in Wooton Bassett the day that a local hero is repatriated from Afghanistan in a wooden box.  The dead ‘hero’ is Charlie an ex pupil and idol (in different ways) to many of the classmates.  His death and the resulting ritual parade through Wooton Bassett are an incendiary device to the class who are inexplicably locked into their classroom by a particularly inept supply teacher just as the parade is about to happen.  This enrages Leo who gradually winds up his classmates as he himself becomes convulsed by the situation.

This ignites a classroom discussion which covers just about every subject a class of fifth formers would typically cover in their social life; sex, politics, slagging each other off, sex, toilet humour, being gay or not, sex, x box versus PS3, sex and swearing.  Oh, and sex.

It’s laugh out loud hilarious at times but gradually darkens as the mood swings from resentment at being excluded from the parade to bitter political ideological debate about the futility of war, nationalism (racism really), sexuality and religious belief.

It’s a tremendous script.  It’s expertly directed and it leaves the audience really quite shell shocked.  Although I have not yet seen Black Watch live I suspect it has that sort of visceral impact.

I strongly recommend that you see this.

The supporting performance consists of two one act dramas written by young writers on the Traverse’s Scribble initiative.  Tonight I saw “Is this it?” ( a thought provoking and very mature piece by Kiera McIntosh-Michaelis & Alex Porter-Smith) and Bang by Kelly Sinclair, a highly amusing insight into life in a detention class.  These pieces rotate on a performance by performance basis with four other, presumably very short, scripts.  Each are acted (with scripts) by members of Lyceum Youth and both were very enjoyable.

Yes Minister meets Jackass.


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In the Loop is a quite extraordinary political romp.  I say romp because the film does 0 -60 in three seconds and then stays in top gear to the end, smashing through red lights, taboo barriers, and political incorrectness like a deranged Starsky and Hutch.

It’s a political satire, sure, and so in that respect it should be compared to West Wing or Yes Minister, but both of these are so relatively genteel that they occupy very different spaces.

The central character, The Minister for Development played beautifully by Tom Hollander, bumbles his way deeper and deeper into an international crisis that is a nod and a wink to Bush and Blair’s hapless invasion of Iraq.  The star of the movie though, is Peter Capaldi, unquestionably lampooning Alistair Campbell with a ferociousness that makes your eyes bleed.  At one point he threatens to sever hapless Toby Wright’s leg off at the knee, break his shin bone in two and stab him to death with it.

You get the drift?

Capaldi puts in a career best performance as a complete and utter bastard.  Power mad and every second he is on screen is gold dust.

Armando Iannucci’s script is packed full of foul one-liners that serve up belly laugh after belly laugh.  It actually makes In Bruges look restrained.

9 out of 10.

This clip pretty much sums the movie up.  But beware, it is wholly intended to offend and features that C word that many of you find most unappealing.

Or try this.  It’s misogynistic, foul mouthed in the extreme, rude, violent, sexist and with a reference to bestiality thrown in.

Apart from that it’s perfectly innocent.

Charlie Wilson’s War


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This is a very complex film to decode and review. Because the politics are tough.

Should one shout for the Americans when we know just how bullying and, frankly, evil they are as he world’s only superpower?

Should we castigate the Ruskies for (at the time of the events) being equally obnoxious?

Should we feel sorry for the put upon Afghanis who are now considered an axis of evil (by the axis of evil)?

Dunno.

The story concerns Playboy Senator, Charlie Wilson (played brilliantly by Tom Hanks) lobbying congress to fund a covert war on behalf of the Afghanis who had been invaded by the Ruskies and were taking it up the arse big style.

Arms deals are done in Israel with a Jewish arms dealer played utterly ridiculously (laugh out loud ridiculous in fact) by Ken Stott.  Ken Stott? He’s a Jock! And the Ruskies get a right old doing as a result.

In fact, they were eventually sent homewards, tae think again.

The script is brilliant, having been penned by ex West Wing main writer, Aaron Sorkin (I’ve never watched West Wing so can’t coo as much as The IMDB crowd do about him).  It’s actually very funny despite the subject matter. And then there’s Phillip Seymour Hoffman

(“That’s your pal Mark”, Jeana says every time he’s in a movie. Why? ‘Cos I spotted him as one of America’s best actors in Magnolia and was proved right.)

Is it a good film?

Yes.

Is it right to cheer on Hanks as a hero?

Don’t know.

Should you go and see it?

Undoubtedly.

By the way.

Julia Roberts?

Nah.