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Hidden: Lyceum Youth Theatre. Review

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(Picture Credit:  Douglas Shirlaw)

I have to share my congratulations with the Lyceum Youth Theatre.  I’ve seen many of their productions in my time as a board member of The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company but none have been as absorbing and original as this.  Conceived and developed by the company themselves and boasting no fewer than four directors (Mark Thomson, John Glancy, Christie O’Carroll and Amanda Gaughan) it’s a showcase of Lyceum directing and producing talent past and present and a fitting way for our amazing theatre to celebrate its 50th anniversary as one of the stars of this site specific production is the theatre itself.

We get to see dressing rooms, the undercroft, behind the bars, a now unused Victorian staircase and the dusty old ‘Gods’ as we are ushered around the building by a series of guides, one of whom turns out to be a performer in disguise.

What the production itself consists of is four ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ that are anything but dreadful as they spookily explore the mysteries of the Lyceum’s Victorian building, its ghosts and the secrets it may contain.  Particularly affecting is John Glancy’s contribution in ‘The Gods’ in which a group of animal-masked performers summon up demons and appear to sacrifice the biblical Abel.  The disused and peeling Victorian stairwell gives Mark Thomson a fantastic canvas on which to paint a picture of ghostly Victorian trauma with a number of particularly creepy vignettes.

The back stage area was used effectively to show a group of actors preparing for their stage performance in pale white light casting effective shadows in the gloom, and the undercroft hosted a particularly effective scene with three Cheshire Cats (or were they dastardly rabbits) that whirled the audience of only 25 about their space demonically.

The scariest moment was reserved for the bar area where we passed through another Victorian Bedlam.  Pity the poor lady audience member who was first in, as she was met by a shrieking madman, caged to her left, in a moment redolent of Silence of the Lambs.

The dressing room sequence also had some particularly Kubrikesque moments that would not have been out of place in The Shining.

Throughout the hour long performance the young cast were entirely inscrutable as they delivered their otherworldly creepshow to perfection – not easy to keep up this degree of deliberate underplaying so consistently.

All in all a superb theatrical experience that had all of the audience laughing nervously as they approached each play within a play within a play full of trepidation.

Excellent.



Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped off at The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

OK.  Before I write anything I have to declare my interest as a director on the Lyceum board.  If that invalidates my thoughts in your mind dear reader then I understand.  So be it.  I speak with honesty not nepotism.  Take it or leave it.

So, the opening of The Lyceum’s new season (in collaboration with the wonderful Dundee Rep) has been highly anticipated in this particular household having seen the original production of this fabulous play in the 1987 when it was premiered by Communicado, and performed at The Lyceum.

The first and most important reason that we were so excited about it is that Liz Lochhead wrote it.  And boy can our Makar write.  I was in tears of laughter at Educating Agnes which the Lyceum staged in the spring, and although this production has many moments of humour it’s not a comedy.

Instead it is a breathtaking ensemble piece which firmly nails Lochhead’s views on the union between Scotland and England through the insanely close relationship between two cousins, both queens, one a virgin, one almost a floozie.

The queens in question dominate the action and of course we all have to have favourites, mine was Mary played with a beautiful gaelic/french lilt by Shauna Macdonald.  Flame haired and feisty she was nevertheless in the thrall of the more dominant but deeply self absorbed Elizabeth played by Emily Winter.  Whilst MacDonald has a steady and absorbing presence that grows with the play Winters’ is more stacatto, punctuating the play with many of its high points, especially when she brainwashes Darnley before his trip north to seduce and ultimately marry Mary.

The play, both modern and historical in one, is directed with real verve and gusto by Tony Cownie and the design by Neil Murray is well observed and funny.

It’s great.  Not just because of the fantastic script, but in the performances of the whole cast in particular the aforementioned queens and Liam Brennan who really is at the top of his game as a snarling, spitting John Knox that makes many a Catholic squirm uncomfortably in their seat.

Whilst Ann Louise Ross has been pulling rave reviews as Corbie (the Crow) narrator I preferred Myra McFadzean’s performance in Communicado’s original production.  I also thought her performance in Age of Arousal trumped this.

A resounding yes for this production although for all of our group its resolution was probably the weakest point.



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.



Marilyn at The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
March 19, 2011, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Arts, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

Fame will go by and, so long, I’ve had you, fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experience, but that’s not where I live.
Marilyn Monroe

I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.
Marilyn Monroe

I have feelings too. I am still human. All I want is to be loved, for myself and for my talent.
Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe. Not just a dumb blonde.

Marilyn Monroe, is perhaps the most famous woman in the world, ever!

OK,  she may have been beaten to it by Mary, the mother of Christ, just as her son pipped John Lennon to the male crown.

Fame haunted Monroe all through her life and her complex personality, as demonstrated by the quotes above, confused not just the public and her biographers, but the lady herself.  Just how dumb was she?  It was hard totell at times.  And the drugs didn’t help.

Her background as an abandoned orphan was a great driver but also a disturbing nightmare that she used rink and drugs to escape.

This lack of grounding no doubt contributed to her demons and dreadful lack of self worth.

So, put her in a hotel wing with Europe’s dazzling blonde intellectual arthouse love, Simone Signoret; the brainy blonde,  on a trip to the US in March 1960 where she was about to win best actress Oscar for her role in Room at The Top, (the successful blonde) and what could possibly happen?

That’s the premise of this very interesting triple header directed by Philip Howard as a co production with the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

But Signoret wasn’t there just to pick up her Oscar.  She was accompanying her husband (the lucky blonde), Yves Montand (unseen) who was performing as male leade alongside Marilyn on the set of Let’s Make Love. (Not a career high, despite Cukor’s direction).

Meanwhile Monroe’s third Husband, Arthur Millar, types furiously away off stage as their marraige disintegrates (they divorced 10 months later).

Of course, Monroe gets the hots for Montand, which hardly helps matters as Signoret is deeply in love with Montand and remained married to him until her death in 1985.

Circling the cage is Monroe’s one real friend (it would seem, certainly in this context) her hairdresser and colourist Patti (played by Paulie Knowles).  She acts as a compere of sorts in a similar way that Alfieri did in Millar’s View from the Bridge earlier this season.

The show is a mix of mirth (“The Communists ; they’re the poor people aren’t they” quips Monroe) and misery as Monroe’s grip on reality gradually unravels, thanks mainly to her terrible insomnia fuelled by endless bubbly and a cocktail of prescription drugs.

It’s sad to see, but subtly realised.

And realisation is the real strength of this show which is built around a startling performance by Frances Thorburn in the title role and ably abetted by French actress Dominique Hollier.

A knowledge of the period is useful for one’s enjoyment as the McCarthy Witch Trials provide subtle, but important, background noise to the events on stage.

The wardrobe of authentic period couture that Marilyn parades through several costume changes is a particular delight too.

Four stars. Boo boo bee doo.




2010. In hindsight.

Not a bad vintage actually.

Work wise I was run off my feet once again and almost literally in December which proved to be extraordinarily challenging due to the shitness of the weather and the fact that I was researching all over the country.  It was a real struggle, very stressful indeed.

Some great clients which include STV, Ampersand, Corporation Pop, 60 Watt, nmp and LA Media from last year.  But added a few too including Gill’s Cruise Centre, Paligap, and The Usability Lab.

My golf stank pretty much from start to finish and I had a poor Arran and a poor St Andrews.  However one highlight was an Eagle 3 on the par 5 second in the club championships first round.  I won that but went out in round two.  However Forty years of failing to Eagle were finally over. (Tom got about 6 last year alone).

Musically it was a big return to form after very poor shows in both 2008 and 2009.

I’ve already posted my tracks of the year elsewhere which will give you an idea of my top ten albums, but for the record, these are they…

I’m New Here by Gil Scott Heron

Band of Joy by Robert Plant

The Courage of Others by Midlake

Queen of Denmark by John Grant

The Suburbs by The Arcade Fire

Sky at Night by I am Kloot

Elektonische Music Experiment – German Rock and Electronic Music 1972 – 1983

Write About Love by Belle and Sebastian

The Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green

Seasons of my Soul by Rumer

My blog had a record year, just, with 340,000 hits, up 45,000 on last year and beating 2008 by only 1,000.  As a result I hit the million mark last week and raised over £1,000 for St Columba’s Hospice in the process.  Thanks to all who contributed.

I did two music quizzes (one in Edinburgh and one in Manchester) for NABS and these raised £3,500

The Hibees were a farce from year start to end and our Scottish cup hopes look less plausible than for a very long time.  Looks like we’ll be going at least 110 years before winning it again.

Theatre again played a big part in my year.

My role as a director of The Lyceum developed and I thought Mark Thomson had a vintage year.  Every show was a hit in some form or other and the highlights for me were The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, The Price and The Importance of Being Earnest.

FCT had another good year, my first at the helm and I’d like to thank the fab committee for their support.  Two great shows in Just So and Guys and Dolls and another ENDA award.  Annie’s next but no decision yet on the festival.  Our away day in October was deemed a great success.

Amy started at Uni and is working hard as she has done all year at Dakota.  She bought a virtually new car herself ( a Toyota Yaris) and I was really proud of her for being so focussed to be able to do this.  Ria is working hard at school and did really well in her standard grades.  Tom isn’t and didn’t.

Tom’s golf continued to improve and his handicap went from 11 to 7.

Sadly Jeana’s blossoming work at Suntrap came to an end when the funding was pulled.  She was devastated and I suspect still is.

We holidayed in California and it was a tram smash of a holiday from start to finish, summed up by this video…

http://www.youtube.com/v/E5lc8c9EsXg?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1

In books I didn’t read much.  I am enjoying Freedom by Jonathon Franzen but the best of the year was the Red Riding Quadrilogy by David Peace.

fantastic series of horrific police brutality .

And my movie of the year? Well, I saw over 20 movies at the flicks this year and a lot of real quality.  But I plump for The Social Network.  A Prophet was great as was Monsters and The Road, but David Fincher surpassed himself with an amazing script by Aoron Sorkin.

TV show of the year? No Question. Mad Men (we’re playing catch up and only nearing end of season two but it’s fabulous).

In reality TV The Apprentice continues to kick ass.

Digital gizmo of the year?  My iPad… but also my Canon 450 D.  An up and down year on the camera front but happy with my lot and looking for a Canon 5D Mk 1 and a new 28mm prime lens to move on a level in 2011.

Idiot of the Year?  Won hands down by Nick Clegg.  Only cos he sold his soul to the devil.  But he was run close by those fools that lead our government.  You know who they are.  Tony Blair continued to make a right fucking dick of himself and the legacy of Kenny Macaskill is not away yet with Magrahi in the rudest of health.

Sadly I lost a number of friends during the year; Myles, Kathy and Jim, I’ll miss you all.  God bless and love to all of your families.

Wife of the year? Jeana Gorman. 21st year running.  How can she bear it?

Put it this way. I couldn’t live with me. Still.

And so to 2011.

My hopes?

Hibees win the Scottish Cup.  (That’s just stupid.  Ed.)

Tom gets down to a 4 handicap.

I win something, anything, at Golf.

The kids do well at school and uni.

I am healthy throughout. (And lose rather a lot of weight.)

Both Cath and Jean stay healthy too

The credit crunch doesn’t get worse again.



Romeo and Juliet – Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

It’s the thing these days to reinvent Shakespeare to the point that the Shakespeare inside is barely recognisable. The Lyceum don’t do this.  Two year’s ago the Lyceum’s Macbeth was heavily criticised for this but I really enjoyed it.  This year’s Romeo and Juliet by contrast has been lauded by the critics, partly for its lack of denial.  Again I really enjoyed it.

What this production does is, for the most part, let Shakespeare’s language wash over you like a spa treatment.  Enveloping you in a warm bath of language that’s part familiar, part alien.  It’s a very compelling and quite riveting experience.

Blessed with a cast of great quality, director, Tony Cownie makes them sing from the off.  Liam Brennan stands out as a monumentally great actor and Will Featherstone is superb as Romeo.  Others I cared for to slightly lesser degrees and sadly Juliet was, for me, a bit of a disappointment – not that Kirsty Mackay didn’t put her heart and soul into the performance, she just didn’t engage me.  It’s a difficult call as act two is an endless lament on her part and so it’s very easy to overstep the mark to the point that Juliet wails once too often.

She did.

Sorry.

Aside from that, this is a truly beguiling theatrical experience.  Pjhilip Pinsky’s music was, as ever fantastic , and I thought I recognised the central motif which I’m sure was a nod to Craig Armstrong.  Like I said earlier, one feels drawn into a different world that doesn’t need a “message for today”.  And it hasn’t got a great deal to say metaphorically, politically, socially; it’s just a great piece of theatre deftly and engagingly handled.

Highly recommended.



New season at the Lyceum edinburgh

Ahhh. The grand old dame!

It was the first board meeting of the new term today and I’m immensely proud of the season we are about to put out in the next 9 months. Shakespeare opens on Saturday with Romeo and Juliet, followed by The Importance of Being Earnest (a very rare 4 act performance) and then The Snow Queen for Christmas.

There after the season opens up with a mix of classics (another Miller – the last in John Dove’s immense series) and premieres.

And to end?

The RSC come to town with Dunsinane! Bring it on!