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.

The Hurt Locker directed by Kathryn Bigelow


noun. A figurative place where someone is said to be or will be, if they are getting or expect to be getting hurt or beaten.

You may not agree with the politics behind the invasion of Iraq (I certainly didn’t support its invasion and will, forever, despise Tony Bliar [sic] for his misleading of the parliament) but whatever your stance one must surely support the troops that operate there.

This film takes a rather too pro-American stance in that it positions most Iraquis as “the enemy” in a fairy broadbrush way.  But that is about its only flaw, and if you can overlook that we are talking epic war movies here.

The film draws you in from the get go as we follow the episodic adventures of a team of bomb disposal experts filmed (documentary style) on the streets of an unnamed Iraqui city.

The insurgents will go to any extremes (hence why they’re known as extremists I guess) to ply their dirty trade, most gut-wrenchingly by creating a human bomb out of a murdered 10 year old boy (maybe it should have been called a cadaver bomb).

It’s pretty much a three man performance but the acting plaudits go principally to Jeremy Renner, a died in the wool adrenalin freak, and his more considered  colleague, played by Anthony Mackie.  I am not familiar with either of their work previously but both deliver measured and moving performances.

The central axis of the film is around Renner’s character SSgt William James who has defused over 800 bombs and approaches the task with a bravado that terrifies his more conservative collegues.  (In fact the movie’s opening line essentially captures his ethos; “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” )But he always gets the job done in the most difficult situations.  He’s positioned as a cold and callous redneck but, as often in these movies, the cracks begin to show and an entirely more human soldier emerges which revolves around his relationshp with a cheeky young Iraqui market trader (perhaps the only sympathetic Iraqui character in the movie).  This ends with a delicious twist that I’ll not spoil here.

There is no question that Bigelow deserves her place at the top table come Oscar time and might even win.  It would be amusing to see her put one over on ex-husband James Cameron who is propbably also in the running for Avatar.

This is a grown up movie with a really powerful hit.  It powerfully captures the emotion of war and sense of place that few war movies do (Thin Red Line by Terence Malik being an exception as well as the excellent made for TV movie, Occupation, made earlier this year with James Nesbitt; and also set in Iraq).

A big fat 9 out of 10 from me.

Yes Minister meets Jackass.


images-1 images-2

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.

Wassup 2008.


Thanks to Will Atkinson for providing me with this gem.

Not only is this very funny and a genius pastiche but it is a very true take on our current zeitgeist (yeah I know but it’s the right word.)

For those of you who don’t remember the vernacular hogging original it was truly the talk of the water cooler in 2000.