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.

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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.

 

 

 

Room by National Theatre of Scotland etc at Dundee Rep: Review.


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Emma Donoghue has now written Room three times.

The novel, the Oscar winning movie and now this, surely award winning, play.

She’s worked it out like.

In tonight’s opening performance at Dundee Rep we witness a bringing together of some of the greatest of British and Irish theatrical, musical and writing talent.  A sort of Harlem Globetrotters of theatre.

Let’s start with NTS: not everyone’s favourite and they don’t always hit the mark, But for me they do so much more often than they are given credit for.   The company has brought us Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, The Strange Undoing of Prudentia Hart, The James Plays, Let the Right One In and Black Watch, all of which are nailed on five star shows.

That deserves extreme respect.

Then There’s Stratford East (just superb) and The Abbey Theatre (Ireland’s equivalent of NTS).

Add to that Cora Bissett.  Time after time after time she presents brilliant theatre with a strong musical strand.

And Roadkill.

Up and coming Scots composer Kathryn Joseph weaves music into this production in a way you would NEVER, EVER have expected from the movie.  She is an utter genius and this showcases her talent brilliantly.  It is NOTHING like her Scottish album of the year winner Bones you have Thrown me and Blood I have spilt, but who cares – it’s a further development.

OK, so the source material is superlative and the movie (featuring an Oscar winning best actress performance by Brie Larson) is really superb, but this takes the whole thing to a higher emotional plane.

Being in a small theatre as this outrageously horrific tale unfolds, with the consequent impact on the protagonists, is a remarkable thing.  Add a musical score to it and original songs that break your heart and you are in theatre nirvana.

(If you’ve ever seen a rape scene deconstruct itself into a beautiful ballad and then transmogrify itself back into a rape then, fine, I’ll agree with you this isn’t completely original.)

And what’s more, it’s two shows for the price of one because one could almost end the show at the end of act one.  The torture over we could all go home happy.  But the torture isn’t over because Ma and Jack’s brutal incarceration had conditioned them.  They were in their own Private Idaho and freedom from that safety net into the “world’ opens a Pandora’s box of horrors.

Imagine the agoraphobia, the media scrutiny, the accusations (the interview in act two with the TV reporter is brilliant, brutal and heartbreaking).

As Ma and Jack’s relationship threatens to break down we too are broken.

Cora Bisset’s supreme directorial achievement here is to cast two Jacks.  The boy (played tonight, by one of three, miraculously by the beautifully named Taye Kassim Junaid-Evans) really is just a boy; maybe 8 years old he is on stage for three hours.  But it is his inner and older self that actually steals the show. Cora casts the stunning, and I mean stunning, Fela Lufadeju as Big Jack.  His performance astounds.  His songs break your heart.  He acts off but never to distraction.  He is the narrative and emotional driver of the whole show and his arrival on stage for the bows was met uproariously.  He is nothing short of amazing.

And then there’s Ma: Witney White.  Simply beautiful.  A performance of great range and, you know, a tough gig.  She has to be compassionate, angry, broken and be able to sing great solos and torch songs.

She pulls it off.

You love her.

I can, and will, go on and on.

This great black cast ensemble, rarely seen in Scotland, has a conservative underscore.  Grandma (Lucy Tregear) and Grandpa (Stephen Casey) have thankless tasks.  For a start they are white (turns out Ma was adopted).  They’re divorced and they’re middle class.  We’re not meant to like them.  Especially Grandpa, the weak sod that left his wife having ‘buried’ his daughter.

But we do.  Much more so than in the movie.

Stephen Casey pulls off a grand larceny in his role.  The bastard of the movie, the utter heartless bastard quixotically transforms the part.  The scene in which he holds young Jack in his arms as he realises he actually loves this bastard son of a monster broke my heart.

The closing number also broke my heart and the emotional walls finally caved in.

One last mention.  the set design by Lily Arnold has to be seen to be believed, both my wife and I agreed it had echoes of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but on probably 5% of the budget. It’s brilliant, particularly in act one.  But how she visually re-represents it in the closing scene is nothing short of genius.

This is very great theatre and you have only four days to see it.

There are seats.

If you miss it and you’re too mean to pay the train fare or petrol to get to Dundee don’t come greeting to me.

I told you, for free, how great it is.

(PS.  I’ve seen Let the Right one in, Road Kill, Sweeney Todd and now Room at Dundee Rep in recent years.  It is a trip but I’ll tell you what, £ for £ this is the best theatre in Scotland.  It constantly punches above its weight and it always disappoints me that the auditorium isn’t full.  Please fellow theatre lovers keep an eye out for their programme: their new season is peppered with brilliance.)

The unimaginable. Roadkill. Pachamama Productions at Dundee Rep.


An image from the 2012 Festival Fringe Production

An image from the 2012 Festival Fringe Production

Whilst most of you were watching the X Factor or Antiques Roadshow my wife and I spent an hour and a half in a damp 15ft x 15ft square squalid bedroom in a run down estate in the North Side of Dundee witnessing a 14 year old Nigerian Girl being repeatedly raped and gang raped to a soundtrack of coursing Scottish electro rock.

We arrived in darkness and were warned to “watch our heads” on the washing lines as we traversed a drying green coursing with weeds and strewn with rubbish.

We left the same.  Heavy-hearted but at least safe in the knowledge that the trauma we had just endured was art.  Not real.

It couldn’t possibly be real.

Could it?

Yes, actually, it could, and Jenny Marra MSP is trying to do something about it, using this astounding production as leverage to debate the scandal that is sex trafficking in Scotland.

So, in response to Marra’s initiaitive, and in support for Cora Bissett’s truly mindblowing vision I urge you to write to Jenny Marra and pledge your support to her proposal for a bill on Child Trafficking in Scotland.

Back to the play…

Cora Bissett is now firmly established in my mind as a national treasure.  This is the second production of hers that I have seen this year. (The last was Whatever Gets you through The Night on this year’s Fringe.)

What Bissett does, like nobody else, is celebrate Scotland’s underclasses in a way that is uplifting.  OK, Roadkill is hard to describe as uplifting but it empowers its central protagonist in a very powerful way, albeit we have to go to hell and back to get there.

I think Ken Loach would very much appreciate Cora’s work.

This play is deeply disturbing, deeply moving but artistically brimming full of ideas; music, animation, special effects, site specific in a really, really good way and, believe it or not, funny (the journey from Dundee Rep to Dundee Wreck was hilarious as the two main protagonists Martha (Lashana Lynch) and Mary (Faith Omole) sought to wrong foot us into thinking 14 year old Mary had left the misery of Nigeria and entered the land of Milk and Honey – when in truth it was the land of Filth and Money).

What follows this gay abandon on the bus is nothing short of harrowing.

But brilliant and ultimately hopeful.

I feel honoured to have been in the same rooms as Faith Omole, Lashana Lynch and Nicky Elliot who played various male roles – worst of all the Polish pimp that struck fear into the audiences hearts only five minutes in to this masterpiece.

I’d say, go see it, but you can’t.  There are only 19 tickets per performance and they’re all sold.

So, really, I don’t know what else to say other than be aware, very aware of this hideous, heinous crime.

PS.  Credit also must go to Stef Smith for her superb script.

Whatever gets you through the night?


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What gets you through that odd time between midnight and 4am (the most common time for people to die in their sleep – and known as the hour of souls)?

That’s what Cora Bissett explores in this part hilarious, part melancholic exploration of life in Glasgow, although it could be any city in the world really.

It came to the Edinburgh Fringe on the back of rave reviews and awards and I can tell you they are justified.

There was no programme handed out so I can’t be sure who was performing but they ranged from a babe in arms to a bunch of thirty/forty somethings.

This band of troubadors included actors, singers, musicians, dancers and gymnasts and feels like a modern day Chaucer’s tales.  It’s all supported by a, sometimes beautiful, video backdrop that blends effortlessly into the action

I counted 22 performers at the curtain call (to  a standing ovation) including the aforementioned Cora Bissett (Roadkill).

This is more of a polemic on life in Scotland and a curation of Scottish culture than a story as such.

And the result is a thing of great beauty.

“Chips and Cheese” a late night drinking song had me rolling in the aisles but the closing number that spelled the end of the night, and indeed life itself, was hauntingly beautiful.

The great and the good of Scottish music were involved in creating the show; Withered Hand, Emma Pollock, Ricky Ross, Rachel Sermani, Errors, Swimmer One, RM Hubbard to name but a few  and it’s nothing if not eclectic.  You might have thought that would make for a hotch potch of styles but it all knits together beautifully.

There are two moments of aerial acrobatics (in very different styles) that are simply breathtaking and in the second case deeply poignant.

Without ever reverting to kitsch or kailyard or tradition of any sort this performance brews up an homage to Scottish culture that is right on the money for the 21st century.  It’s the sort of thing that, on a good day, National Theatre of Scotland embraces so well and this is right up there with the very best of what NToS does.

I eagerly await my trip to Dundee to see Bissett’s very different, and even more lauded, Roadkill in September.