Mouthpiece: at The Traverse by Kieran Hurley


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The tricky disclaimer

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

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

The common gripe

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

The difficult narrator issue.

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

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

See above.

The holding of mirrors up to middle class audiences technique.

Herein lies my real problem with this production.

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

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

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

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

The site-specific thing

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

The Martin Creed references.

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

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

 

 

 

PrimaveraSound 2018. The dry year.


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I now have a close relationship with Heineken 0.0.

Having drunk about 30 bottles of the stuff during Primavera 2018 it was certainly the subject of much puzzlement as my 12 middle aged, wine-soaked compadres tried to understand why on earth I could even countenance a full blown music festival without the aid of alcoholic sustenance.

At 4am each morning (my typical home time) I questioned it myself as cat herding is not a qualification I have gained, nor an occupation I particularly enjoy.  and, for example, Mr McCrocodile’s multiple explanation of the changing of the guard between drummer and guitarist 2/3rds of the way through the Oblivions’ otherwise excellent set – which I did not have the foresight to attend – was another feature of late night sobriety being tested to its limits.

Nevertheless, these minor beefs paled into insignificance when compared to the gigantic gamut of gaiety that was enjoyed in the many, many hours that we strode the palisades of Parc Del Forum in Barcelona’s dock district.

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Not for me, this year, the sheer animal magnetism that wearing a Corbyn T shirt would bestow upon me.  Nor the orgiastic pleasure of watching a statuesque 56 year old man stride purposefully through a crowd in pristine white jeans.

No, this year was band (and record label) T shirts and Black Cargo shorts all the way.  The shorts spectacularly framing my unusual patina of varicose veins that decorate my left calf, in much the same way that many of my fellow, younger, audience members had opted for an equally eye-catching decoration courtesy of their local tattoo parlour.

George, too, eschewed societal pressure and was much photographed as he paraded the Parc.

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As is customary, each day began with the, now legendary and hotly contested, Sangria Sessions.  A three hour exploration of musical obscurity based around the theme, this year, of colours in song titles and foreign acts (not US or Ireland – to exclude the abhorrent U2).

The vessel for this quality concoction resembled the colouring of the HMFC stand.  A sort of undercoat pink.

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Quite incredibly, I now realise, Boards of Canada made my list for the second year running.  The only band to suffer this fate and meet, again, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, although they did not suffer the ignominy of a ‘hooking’.  That was reserved in my case for Scritti Politti’s The Sweetest Girl.  The fact that Green Gartside , the singer, has colour in his name met with juristic displeasure.

The Red Army Choir’s rendition of The Russian National Anthem met a similiar fate, not for its non-adherence to the rules but because none of the douche bags in my company had either the wit OR the wisdom to realise that this was irony in fantastical proportions.

Perhaps those in ‘charge’ could have displayed the same degree of Nazism to the repeated James Brown outings.

Anyway, here are my selections… (you will note in the colours list that three of my songs are by foreign bands and one has a foreign country in their name) – genius on my part.

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Day One

Our festival kicked off – after a relatively short, highly disorganised, but nevertheless excellent lunch at Etapes – we again called it E Taps Aff regularly, as is our want – with a politically charged set from transgender American artist, Ezra Firman.  It wasn’t a festival set in that he chose quite a sensitive selection of numbers and chose not to opt for crowd pleasers all the way.

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Consequently one of our group dismissed him thus “Some guy in a pearl necklace and lipstick – fuck off.”

Me, I thought it was a pleasing enough, if marginally underwhelming, start and bestow a 7/10.

Next I stumbled upon a set by Kurws – a crazy avante rock band from Wrocław, Poland.  Noisy but good.  But too short a visitation on my part to rate them.

My first Heineken zero was excellent.  Ice cold and refreshing.  Indeed the bottle was caked in ice.  But my second, and most to follow on the first night, were either lukewarm or unavailable.  It has to be said ordering Cerveza Sin Alcohol is likely to be met with a raised eyebrow followed by a frantic search among the fridges – often fruitlessly.

But Heineken is the drinks sponsor and presumably preach moderation?  So why the poor supply?

My tweet that outed them as a bunch of useless wankers, that couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, had the desired effect because clearly the CEO of Heineken Spain read it and ordered a mass chilling.  Days two and three were more than acceptably quality controlled.

Next up. Warpaint. If you put to one side that they ache to be the coolest band on the planet and couldn’t muster a smile between the four of them, even if they had a swatch of my Varries, they were pretty decent.  However, they carry the emotional punch of a fire extinguisher and, for that reason, I can’t find a way past awarding them a 6.

Half way through their set they treated us to a feedback crackle/energy surge that was louder than that volcano in Guatemala exploding.  That did crack the ice-maidenly exterior a little but didn’t quite turn their set into an edition of Loose Women.

Warpaint don’t do chat.  They’re too fucking cool for that.

Tupa Tupa were my next ‘discovery’ on my ‘stage of the week’  The Pro North outpost that’s almost in the sea.  It’s tiny but has perhaps the best acoustics in the whole parc.  I’d recommend it for you next year pop pickers.  Lots of eccentric but usually high quality fare.  I visited several times and Tupa Tupa were one of the highlights.  They are so obscure (Polish) that they don’t even make it to Spotify but I thoroughly enjoyed their set.  7/10.

Next up.  The absolutely guaranteed Marmite set of the week.  Bjork.

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Bjork, dressed up as a big fanny.

Essentially this was a treatise on environmentalism and involved Bjork striding the stage in shoes that her maw would warn her against, in case she ‘broke a fucking ankle.’

Most certainly, her maw would also have said to her “Bjork doll, you’re no really going out in that pink slimy dress and head mask that looks like an open crotch vagina are you?”

Nevertheless, she did.   In a ‘Fuck you maw, I’ll wear what I like” sort of way.

The show was a full on sexual metaphor, opening with stunning fast frame footage of flowers (mainly orchids – ooh err) bursting fecundly into life with pollen-laden stamen and pistils shimmering and waiting to drop their load.

Accompanied by 7 flautists in equally garish, but slightly less vaginal, pink dresses she treated the audience to something of a concerto for seven flutes with nary a sop to commercialism to be seen.

We did have the flute version of Animal Behaviour dropped in half way through, but that was it.

Cue mass dissatisfaction and “I told you so” comments aplenty.

Me? I fucking loved it.

Contrary bastard that I am.

True artistry from someone not giving a flying fuck but determined to deliver a set that was both uncompromised and dripping in creativity.  One of the highlights of the week.  8.5/10.

She shared the top of the bill with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.  Slossy dismissed him with a simple ‘Meh” but he was in an obscurist minority.

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He was majestic.  Striding the stage with so much authority.  So much soul,  So much passion. So much anger.  So much skill (his band is indescribably accomplished).

He invited around 100 of the crowd on stage towards the end of his supreme set and one elderly lady burst into tears and threw herself around him.  It was a moment of magic.  He cultivates these.  Some say he stage manages them – but I don’t care.

For me, this is the greatest performer in the world right now, with a back catalogue that could fuel a 5 hour set without dipping into B sides.

Magnificent. Regal.  Straight 10/10.

A guy in the crowd threw a lump of cheese during the Nick Cave set and it hit a girl standing next to me “That’s not very mature” she screamed.

Whoever followed that was doomed to mediocrity and it was Nils Frahn, who was quickly christened Nosferatu by our ‘gang’, who treated us to a slow build up of Jean Michel Jarre-esque keyboard noodling with no fewer than 8 keyboards.  It was like a  demo in a Yamaha showroom.  But no matter his ability to slip-slide his way about the stage the emotionometer failed to engage and he tinkled away to a fairly non-descript 5/10.

I’ll save my ‘Meh’s’ for the earlier set by The Twilight Sad. 5/10.

As we moved into early morning territory we closed the day with a too mellow Four Tet set that failed to engage.  Disappointing. 5/10.

And so, the trek home.  It’s a shite way to end the night.  Especially if you are Doug’s carer. Albeit, he does what he is told.

We had two such evenings trying to hail Catalonian thieves driving black and yellow cabs.  One asked for 20 Euros for the final 2km of our trip back to Caller De Mallorca, the next 45.  A few seconds later we hailed one with his meter on.  7 Euros.

My ‘every day is a school day’ learning:  How do you make Vegan Cheese?

Take ordinary cheese and throw it away.

Day Two

We were awoken to two earth shattering news stories.

The Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, had been ousted after a vote of no confidence.  But this seemed barely to ripple the surface of the calm Catalonian consciousness.

They officially didnae gie a fuck.

But more significant was the news that…Josh Martin, longtime guitarist for legendary Massachusetts grindcore pranksters Anal Cunt, had died after falling off an escalator.

The band name does carry a degree of respect for its sheer gall and so he was toasted liberally with Sangria.

This wasn’t the only story of death to pervade the week.  Keith ‘I’m a bit of a lassie’ Stoddart was carried sobbing from the Johann Johannsson posthumous tribute by Echo Collective, Dustin O’Halloran and guests playing the late film scorer’s Orphee.

No one else cared a jot, but, as drink was taken, the gig was mentioned on more than a passing basis.

Get over it Keith, man.

On the way into the Parc on the Friday, and as anticipation for the other Marmite gig of the week, The Arctic Moneys (or ‘Monkeys’ as they are now calling themselves) I was reliably informed by George that “Going to an Arctic Monkeys gig is similiar to voting Liberal Democrat, eating sweetbreads and having anal sex.  Things that should only be done once, with the emphasis on only.”

You’ll find out how accurate his prediction was soon enough.

Lunch was a spectacular treat at the superb Mastico.  Outstanding tapas followed by Squid in its ink and meatballs.  Yes, I know, the picture below looks like the aftermath of a vasectomy gone horribly wrong, but trust me; it was superb.

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Superb value, especially compared to the lunch the following day, and we will be back there next year.

Musical festivities began with Josh T Pearson.  My pick, and only mine, but I persuaded the troops to join me and he was a winner, not least because he became a close personal friend of Keith’s, albeit in a state of extreme chemical enhancement.

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Madonnatron make it to Primavera Sound

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Mr McCrocodile in enthusiastic puppy pose.

Pearson’s musicality was enhanced further by his verbal frippery.

“I know what you’re thinking, how can someone this good looking write such sad songs but hey ya’ll – models are people too.”

And…

“Y’all know the difference between a Garbonzo bean and a chick pea?  I’d never let a Garbonzo bean all over my face.”

A 7.5/10 for me Josh.

After Josh’s hilarity we tripped over to Waxahatchee.  The lead singer, Katie Crutchfield, is aptly named because she provides a crutch for her all female bandmates who collectively don’t add up to much of any great interest or virtuosity.  She carried the band too much for my liking and despite some good tunes they were out of their depth on the Primavera Apple Music stage and only mustered a 6/10.

On the way to Father John Misty I picked up another great band at the Night Pro stage.  The astonishing lead singer in ‘Austrian’ band Cari Cari was truly remarkable playing, as she did, in the first 10 minutes of the set; vocals, drums, keys, jaw harp, didgeridoo and, I think, flute. A sweet treat and 8/10.

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Didgeridoo or Didgershenot?

Father John Misty, on the main stage, played a fucking blinder.  Aided by a strangely situated orchestra (downstage left hand corner) which allowed him to handsomely stride the rest of it looking swell but, more importantly, sounding it, and choosing to roll out all of the aces for a banger festival set.  A real highlight.  8.5/10.

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He was followed by The National.  One word to describe the 30 minutes I endured of this audio equivalent of stagnation.  Boring as fuck!  (That’s three words – Ed. ) 5/10.

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Next up, and on my own because the second I mentioned the J word (no, not Jizz George, Jazz) I found no sympathisers.  But Thundercat proved to be truly outstanding with a mesmeric performance from him (on his six string bass), his keyboard player and his drummer.  All of whom had learned their craft from Benny Hill’s theme music composer after a large dose of amphetamines. 9/10.

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Talking of amphetamines, after 16 hours on the lash, and back in the privacy of our communal living space, Mr McCrocodile forcefully informed us, through somewhat mangled consonants, that he could have got any of us anything.  ANYTHING.  We wanted.

(Disclaimer:  Mr McCrocodile neither pushed nor consume anything his schoolteacher, Mrs Mason, would have disapproved of, simply that in late night conversation his imagination ran, albeit slowly, amok.)

Loudly and persistently he proclaimed

“If you wanted some snack, I’d have got you it.”

I’m still not sure if he was referring to Scooby Snacks or heroin.

After Thundercat I made my way back to the Primavera stage for an oddly constructed, but in large part brilliant, set by Charlotte Gainsbourg.  It will definitely make me listen to her latest, excellent album (Rest) more often (in fact I’m listening to it now).  The trouble is she played her best cards in the first half of her set and drifted into her hippy stuff later on.  She went out with a whimper, not a bang, but still merited an 8/10 for her outstanding first half and really good set design.

The night was bubbling up nicely for Idles.  Some of us had already enjoyed their insane leftist rants in Glasgow earlier this year, at The Garage.  But nothing prepared me for what was to follow.

Arriving early I was surprised to make my way to the barrier where I joined Doug in one of his more coherent moments.  Not long after, Stoddart joined the fray.  We were on the rail for what was about to become the biggest mosh pit any of us had ever seen in our lives.

For the next 25 minutes I thought I would die of a heart attack, or trampling following concussion, or blindness because someone crowd-surfing-twat kicked me in the head not once, which would have been fine, but twice.  It was on the second occasion that my spectacles exited face left and found me scrabbling among the gooey detritus of two days of mayhem.

But, as luck would have it, my Gregories survived the trauma and, soon after, I took solace in the sidelines.  Sodden and bleeding profusely from my over-exercised nipples.

“Why don’t you use vaseline?” asked Stoddy.

“I would, but it ruins your T shirts and anyway, my nipples will grow back.” I advised.

(What the fuck are you on about? Ed.)

<< Rewind to 48 hours earlier <<

I’d gone out on the first of my three morning runs in Barcelona.  I was feeling fit after my Edinburgh Marathon exertions of the weekend before and I love running in new places so I managed 5 miles each day in sweltering heat.  As evidenced below.

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The trouble is, as soon as my nipples make contact with wet cotton it’s as if I’m being attacked by a cheese grater.  Blood normally follows.  It did.

On telling my daughter Ria, in Australia, of my exertions she opined;

“Fucking little bitch, you’re the ‘special’ who goes on runs at Festivals.  You’ll be a vegan next.”

>> Fast forward to Idles again >>

So my nipples are gushing like an elephant on its dabs, my head is pounding from a near stamping to death, my near blindness has only just been avoided and my legs are like jelly.

Then they crank up into Mother.

It’s just brilliant.

A straight 10/10

That was enough for one day.

Nah.

Was it fuck.

Confidence Man.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better it nearly did.

Confidence man.  Australia’s answer to Dollar.  Only good.

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Watch the charts folks because they are gonna be massive.

It was late, admittedly – they came on stage at 3am – but I’ve been listening to, and loving, their album since its release in April so there was no way I was missing them.  Mr Peter was in on it too, and Doug.  But Doug had been on something (10 pints of Heineken , a bottle of red wine and an 11th of a bucket of Sangria) that made both knees bend at impossible angles and almost completely fail to support his upper body weight, so he decided instead to sleep from start to finish of this magnificent gig.

I was in no way prepared for just how good Janet Planet, Sugar Bones, Clarence McGuffe and Reggie Goodchild would be (the latter two dressed in black veiled hats like  some terrorist cell from The Marigiold Hotel).

This is proper pop sensation stuff and the Ray Ban crowd went fucking bananas until 4 am when we all crawled back to central Barcelona.

Outstanding.  Another straight 10/10.

On the tram back into town I was chatting to a couple of girls who looked at me open-mouthed.

“Have you been on substances mate?”  They asked.

Merely the drug that is music my dears; merely music.

Day Three

Otherwise known as anticlimax day.

The lunch at the beach front fish restaurant we chose, Els Peixaters for the record, was extraordinary, in that it cost extra and was ordinary.

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Far from put off by price or banality, David indulged in the lobster.  His Amex Card sweating in the sun.

We quickly shrugged this off as the luck of the draw and headed instead towards Parc Del Forum for the final instalments.

First up, former Only Ones’ lead singer Peter Perrett and his two sons and two foxy birds, one of whom, had she have mustered a smile, might have melted our hearts.

By rights Peter Perrett should be toast by now given his well publicised ‘habits’ but he’s still with us and although we had to wait until the last number for Another Girl, Another Planet he treated us to a great set, with a voice that is once again intact and is as distinctive as his stage attire of red leather jacket and red cotton chinos.  A solid 7.5/10.

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Next up, 70 year old Jane Birkin. (She of “did she or didn’t she while recording Je T’aime with Serge Gainsbourg?” fame, and mother of the previous day’s smash, Charlotte Gainsbourg).

In 2016 the FrancoFolies Festival of Quebec commissioned Birkin to create a ‘Gainsbourg Symphonic’ concert with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and it was this piece that she brought to Primavera.  With a full symphony orchestra her performance was electrifying and actually quite moving, although after about half an hour it was boring as fuck and we left. 7/10.

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We then squeezed our way into a pretty rammed crowd for Slowdive who were just great.  However the lead singer needs a word with herself.  Her wardrobe mismatching made me look like Oscar de la fucking Renta.

And it’s proof positive that cool tattoos at 18 look uncool at 40 something.  Trust me, and more importantly heed me, on that one my younger friends. 7.5/10.

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I saw Lorde for about four songs.  Three too many.  She jumped around enthusiastically a lot in a sort of negligee.

It didn’t make her songs any more interesting.  4/10

And the shouty Chilean Rap, jazz, heavy metal combination of Como Asesinar A Felipes lost its ardour after 3 numbers I confess. 4/10

By now I’d been hanging about a bit waiting for Arctic Monkeys (5/10).  Or, as it now seems they call themselves, Monkeys.

(But won’t that just confuse them with THE Monkees? Ed.)

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Monkey drumming.

It turned out to be an unwise use of my time as they were disappointing.  Mainly because I could barely hear them.  Maybe my ears had been broken by that Idles kick in the head.  Maybe some sadistic cunt on the sound desk was hypersensitive to sound.  Anyway the crowd chat was louder than Alex Turner’s so I got out of there and reserved, instead, a good spot for OneOhTrix Point Never (7/10) on the far distant Bacardi Live stage.

Now, OneOhtrix Point Never is not just a challenging name but his music is pretty challenging too.  Nevertheless it was an enjoyable half hour and, I felt, a better choice than enduring the remains of the Monkees’ semi-audible climax.

Plus, it gave me a barrier place for John Hopkins; one of my picks of the week.

It was not to disappoint.  A stunning hour of rampant techno in which the entire crowd (well all the people around me) ‘pogoed’ throughout.

The nipples bled again.

The fourth straight 10/10 of the week.

Brilliant.  And we were treated to the classiest majorettes routine I’ve ever seen.

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And so it ended with Public Service Broadcasting.  Mr McCrocodile on form, setting up Stoddy with a dance (he didn’t want any schnacksch). But we were too far away and too tired/disengaged. 4/10

Day four

Pished with rain.

Went home.

Plane late.

Fuck off Vueling.

 

 

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.

Laurence O’Keefe. My new favourite Musical theatre writer.


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In the past fortnight I have had the pleasure of being in the audience for two Larry O’Keefe Shows.  Batboy: The Musical and Heathers: The Musical.

He is best known for Legally Blonde.

I have yet to see Legally Blonde, but the two lesser shows in his income stream are both outrageous, hilarious, original and compelling from start to finish.

Both productions were university musical theatre society shows (Batboy: Glasgow Uni Cecilians and Heathers: Dundee Uni Operatic Society) and both were triumphs.

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His style is, shall we say, unorthodox and treads in the same furrow as Avenue Q, Jerry Springer The Opera and, I imagine not having seen it, Book of Mormon.

Irreverent, rude, taboo challenging.

If you’ve seen Avenue Q you’ll love ‘Everyone’s a little bit racist’ and that’s a good reference point as in these O’Keefe shows we get zero racism BUT we DO get insights into incest, homophobia, mental health issues, gang rape, mouth sword fencing and a smattering of other ‘uncomfortable’ observations.

Foul language, extreme sexual references and semi-nudity pepper both shows.  They are a delight and I will forever be looking for Fringe and amateur productions in the years to come.

Thank you Larry.  You’ve made me very happy.

 

 

Sunset Song : film review.


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Sunset Song is a classic Scottish novel, part of a trilogy by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and much loved by many, many people (including my wife).

I confess to having not read it, so had no particular expectations when approaching this movie which happens to have been made possible by two of my friends, Bob Last and Ginnie Atkinson.

It will divide audiences because the pace is slow.

Glacial.

But I loved it.

Much media attention has focussed on the casting of supermodel come actor Agyness Deyn (completely contrived name) as a Mancunian playing a seminal Scottish role but I have to say I liked her performance, and her accent.  The scene in which she learns of her husband’s war news is particularly well acted.

Of course this movie is about Terence Davies.  He makes very few but when he does they tend to be statements about British life and, for me, this is another great entry in his canon of work.

Davies could have made a feminist statement through Deyn’s character, had she been more assertive, but he resists the temptation and instead  reflects the male dominance of relationships in the early 20th century (leading up to and including the first world war).

Two and a bit hours, with zero action, and not much dialogue can’t be most people’s cup of tea (much has been made of the regular return to a certain corn field but, you know what, I didn’t care).

It is a languid and lovely observation of a lifestyle that is long past and male dominated.

Special mentions for the ever brilliant Peter Mullan (a beastly father) and a great performance by Kevin Guthrie as the husband of the central character.

 

 

Is modern art rubbish? Robert Florczak certainly thinks so.


In this passionately argued but humungously pompous and highly opinionated (That’s rich. Ed) five minute video Robert Florczak destroys ALL modern art in a sweeping and ridiculous generalisation.

You have to watch it.

https://youtu.be/lNI07egoefc

My favourite section in the video is the bit where he explains, in triumph, about this question he poses to his graduate art students.

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He claims that after they have provided eloquent and highly considered answers he reveals that in fact it is not a Jackson Pollock. It’s a close up of his painting apron.

I don’t believe this story. You know why? Because THIS is a Jackson Pollock painting and it doesn’t look even remotely similar.

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A point worth noting is that these students are studying art under Robert Florczak who teaches at Prager University.

Yes, exactly. Prager University?

And here is one of his ‘paintings’.

Nothing particularly bad about it, in fact, quite the opposite, but it is modern art (in that it was created at a point after impressionism) and it couldn’t hold a candle to a Caravagio.

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Maybe Robert Florczak should be advised to keep his ridiculous generalisations to himself. Or simply stop practicing his art.

The Salt of the Earth : documentary review.


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You may not consider a two hour documentary, that is in large part a slideshow of Brazilian Social photographer Sebastião Salgado’s portfolio, featuring many, many dead and mutilated bodies, a significant proportion of them children and babies would be the recipe for entertainment but, trust me, it is.

This movie, co-directed and produced by Wim Wenders and Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, should be essential viewing for anyone with any interest in humanity, humanitarian aid and politics because the vast bulk of it covers Salgado’s career as a  social photographer who specialised in capturing images of large populations of the displaced and downtrodden or victims of natural disaster and war.  This takes in Eritrea, Rwanda, Kosovo, the Oil fires of Kuwait, left in Saddam’s wake, and the biblical and truly epic nature of his most famous work; the gold mines of Brazil where up to 50,000 men gold prospected in deep pits of mud.

Wender narrates and Salgado Jr and Hugo Barbier share cinematography duties.  That’s no small undertaking as they are filming a master at work and in the flesh, but somehow their cameras are every bit as inspiring as Salgado Sr’s.

As the film develops we see where this fame has taken Salgado, back to his native Brazil where he has established  a conservation project of such dramatic scale that it has been transformed into a natural park.  It’s a remarkable achievement.

Salgado’s photography places him in the most esteemed company in photographic history (with Ansell Adams he ranks as my personal favourite – coincidentally both photograph strictly in monochrome).  What makes this tribute so moving is Salgado’s personal reminiscences of how he witnessed children die and wars that are so utterly pointless.

At one point we see an image of a man placing his dead baby onto a vast pile of dead bodies – of Holocaust proportions.  Salgado says, and I paraphrase, “He turned away almost chatting to his friend so inured was he to the horror in which he was living.”

Towards the end it all gets too much for him, he very nearly breaks down.  The audience is with him the way.

This is a must see film.  Really must see on so many levels.  A straight 10/10.

Winter’s bone


I was looking forward to this, big style, on the basis of the crits I’d read.

I expected it to be dark, brooding and very engaging.

It is dark. It is brooding. But it is not engaging.

It’s boring!

It is shot in a half light that is just plain dull and the performances, throughout, are at best subdued.

The plot is murky and very unclear. The dialogue is, at times, virtually impenetrable.

To be honest I can’t really be bothered reviewing this any more.

Senior by Royskopp.


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I’ve been intermittently interested in Royskopp’s stuff (Alpha Male is a stunning song) but nothing has the depth and subtly of this wholly instrumental and kind of danceable outing.  It’s very retro and borrows strongly from Kraftwerk (more than any other band) but smacks too of early Simple Minds, Air, early Human League (Dignity of Labour is a little known masterpiece), Sigur Ros, Tangerine Dream, Orb etc.

It’s wonderful and is, I understand, a companion piece to its simultaneously recorded sibling, Junior, which came out last year.

The BP Portrait award, now showing at The Dean Gallery in Edinburgh


I was utterly blown away by this today.  I was on my own but kept talking out loud with gasps of admiration.  And it’s free.  If you do not attend you are making a very big mistake with your life.

Huge, HUGE thanks to BP for sponsoring this for 20 years unbroken.

This was the overall winner.  Of course a crunched internet image can do no justice to the magical quality of the picture by Peter Monkman of his 12 year old daughter.  You’ll need to go see it in the flesh.

This is the description the National gallery uses…

Monkman was shortlisted for the first time this year, having been included in the BP Portrait Award exhibition in 1999, 2001 and 2003. Currently Director of Art at Charterhouse School, Surrey, Monkman, 44, studied visual arts at the University of Lancaster, John Moores University Liverpool and the University of London. The shortlisted portrait is part of a series of portraits of his daughter exploring the concept of the changeling, a child substituted for another by stealth, often with an elf. ‘I challenge the fixed notion of an idealised image of childhood and substitute it for a more unsettling, complex, representation that exists in its own right as a painting.’ The initial ideas for this portrait came from photographic studies of Anna playing in woods in Brittany where the light had a magical quality.

Other winners included this stunning photo-realistic painting of his son , Tom, by Michael Gaskell.

And another in the same vein, called Benfica Blue, won best young artist for Mark Jameson.  The detail on the girl’s face.  In the flesh is quite remarkable.

I loved this by Mary Jane Ansell, called Georgie but it failed to win a prize;

But, for me, the best in show went to On Assi Ghat by Edward Sutcliffe.  Yes.  It is a painting.

My next appearance…


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I will be performing on Saturday night at 7.30 in the Forth Adults Theatre Christmas fundraising show which promises to be a right good Christmas heart warmer.  It’s at Holy Cross Church Hall in Bangholm Loan, but if you want tickets best make contact before the night as it will sell out.

My fellow uber-talents will be singing a range of Christmas crackers, but singing solo scares me too much so, perhaps appropriately I’ve decided to scare the audience in a different way. So I shall be debuting a freaky ghost story that is a real chiller.

I’m shitting myself just thinking about it.

Hunger, by Steve McQueen


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1981.

The H block in Belfast’s Maze Prison.

This film captures the development and escalation of protest by the ‘political’ prisoners held here as things moved through ‘The ‘Blanket protest’ onto ‘The Dirty Protest” and finally to ‘The Hunger Strikes’ that claimed Bobby Sands and eight of his compatriot’s lives.

As the end credits of the film show, the enemy, in the form of Margaret Thatcher was ‘not for turning’ and did not grant political status to these men that she considered no more than murderers. They did, however, lead to many concessions – bit by bit.

This astounding movie falls into three very clear sections; the gut wrenching blanket and dirty protest; a long and deeply personal conversation (in one 20 minute take) between Sands and his priest where Sands is asked to justify and then walk away from the impending hunger strike; and finally Sands’ ordeal itself.

Each section has a different pace and personality. Each is desperate in its own way.

This film pulls few punches. The stench of shit is almost palpable in the opening act and the way in which Michael Fassbender brings Sands’ death to the screen is almost unbearable.

But the real triumph of the film is that it takes no political sides and makes no judgements but does not sit on the fence. How? Because it invokes the viewer to do that themselves. Sands is neither a figure to pity or to vilify. It really is quite remarkable that the artist Steve McQueen can achieve this so consistently.

And this is art with a capital A. Every scene is stunningly rendered. The pace, at times snail-like, allows you to consider in real detail the situation these men found themselves in (or created however you want to look at it).

Fassbender’s performance is miraculous.

McQueen though, is the star of the show. One scene in particular when the men slop out by pouring their night’s urine under the doors of the corridor simultaneously is quite beautiful, as is the Hirst-like art that some of them create from their faeces (that’s what makes up the poster image).

Film of the year. No contest.

Incidentally we saw it in the DCA’s Cinema 2. What a cracking screen.

(As we scoffed coffee and fudge doughnuts. How’s that for irony?)

Sam Taylor Wood


In a totally unilluminating South Bank Show I was nevertheless enthused by Sam Taylor Wood’s work.

It is on the money.

This is quite beautiful, and it’s only one of many balletic pieces. Nonetheless some twat on the South Bank Show pointed out that the shadow of her arm didn’t cover the chair.

I guess he thought it was a real insight, actually he came across like a real American… er… wank.

Her response was good.

“Yes, I know, it’s deliberate.”

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You might think this is boring;

I saw it at The Tate Modern in London (I think) and, for me, this is modern day classicism.

It’s really, sorry I’ll say it again, beautiful.

one of life’s great treats


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You know as well as I do that Ansell Adams is a great, really great, photographer. I suspect that the difference between you and I though is that, as of Saturday, I have seen his work in the flesh.

So what, you might say.

So everything I would retort.

Have you ever seen a real life Tission? A Boticelli? A Caravaggio? A Canaletto? Have you ever seen a reproduction of them? If you have you will understand how visceral the experience was of seeing the real thing is in the flesh. So imagine seeing not one but 150 Adams’ in the flesh.

Here, In Edinburgh, for only £4, with no more than 300 people in the gallery.

All of his most famous work is on display (until April). The first surprise is the size of the prints, few are larger than 10 x 8.

The second is the low lighting conditions. (Quite challenging, but these prints need to be protected.)

The third is how gobsmackingly brilliant the execution of these photos is. It’s one thing composing and capturing these brilliant shots, it’s another thing entirely developing and printing to this level of excellence. I actually cannot describe how breathtaking it is. The skies are often black, pitch black, against grey mountains and small pools of razor-sharp, piercing light.

One can concieve, just, how this can be achieved in Photoshop world, but in 1945? Honestly, the techical achievement is unreal. Almost literally.

As for the photos, what more can I possibly add to the huge body of slavvering adulation?

Nothing.

But, for the record, both Jeana and I had these shots as the highlights.

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You simply would not comprehend how beautiful the effect of the moving water is in this image.

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No, not ‘Half Dome’.

Your computer screen will not even remotely do this photo justice.

There is only one way. Get on a plane to Edinburgh.

Now!

PS. He is not perfect. A significant chunk of the exhibition features his experimental work on parchment coloured Kodak paper that, for me, killed his shots. The paper does not hold the contrast of his skies and they appear insipid compared to his silver Gelatin work.

40 years of iconography


One of the greatest iconographic images of all time was created by Jim Fitzpatrick in memorium of Che Guevara’s death 40 years ago today.

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It’s a perfect image and the photographer who took it has a Flickr site that tells you much of the story.

Worth a look if you’re interested. Here

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It’s better than this, but look what it has inspired…

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This too…

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And allegedly Andy Warhol simply ripped it off and passed it off as his own…

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