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Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at The Traverse. National Theatre of Scotland.

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Alan Warner’s hilarious novel, The Sopranos, has finally made it to the stage with a fancy new name and a soundtrack featuring a phalanx of ELO songs plus a stunning acapella rendition of No Woman No Cry.

The six strong female cast and three female instrumentalists vent more filth and spleen onto the Traverse 1 stage in 100 minutes than a score of submariners could muster in a month at sea.

Name a taboo and it’s delivered with gusto; spunk, jiz, shit, spew, piss and blood all make bawdy appearances in a play that makes Bridesmaids look like Play School.

Adapted by Billy Elliot writer, Lee Hall, and brilliantly directed by Vicky Featherstone it bowls along at 100 miles an hour yet pauses periodically to allow the bitter sweetness of the story to take root. It concerns a day trip from Oban to Edinburgh by the school choir of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour to take part in an annual choir competition. Given a day to explore Auld Reekie the six characters we follow go apeshit in an orgy of drink, drugs and sex as a long line of male suitors (also played by the girls) have varying degrees of success in attempting to conquest what look like easy challenges but invariably end in failure.

It’s belly laugh out loud from start to finish but has fantastic moments of poignancy and features a number of outstanding vocal performances in keeping with the girls’ status as high-class choristers

I’ve been waiting a long time to see this and the wait was worth every minute. This is certain to be one of the hottest tickets on The Fringe and predictably is completely sold out even before the preview.

But it’s touring throughout Scotland in September so travel as far as you have to, to see this magical production.



The Play of the remake of the movie of the book

Image: Albert Watson.

Image: Albert Watson.

It starts when you approach the building and Albert Watson’s stunning image of a vampire boy gazes vacantly down on you.  Emotionless, yet weeping tears of blood.  This feels a bit special you think.  When last did a theatre company commission one of the world’s greatest portrait photographers to produce its poster?

It jumps several gears as you walk into the auditorium and have your breath taken away by what is the most beautiful, eerie, atmospheric set you’ve seen in a long, long time (designed by on- and off-Broadway designer Christine Jones).  It consists of a climbing frame set in a snow bound forest of towering (leafless – perhaps symbolically to represent lifeless) Silver Birch trees.  50 of them, perhaps more.

As we settle down members of the cast trudge through this forrest on their way to whatever they’re on their way to.

The curtain metaphorically rises and the scene bursts into life.  Get ready for  the ride folks…

Let The Right One In is amongst my all time favourite horror  movies and certainly amongst my all time favourite love stories.  The much-loved, 2008, Swedish cult classic was swiftly remade for Hollywood and most admirers of the original give it merely grudging approval, not this one – both are excellent.  The book is apparently superb too, although I have yet to read it.  Maybe I will now.

So, what John Tiffany and Steven Hoggett (Black Watch) faced as they put their minds to staging this show was not just a creative challenge, but an audience bristling with “this better be good(ness)”.

It is.

It’s not just good.  It’s exceptional.

I was one of those “this better be good(ers)” for reasons explained above.  But I’m a good guy.  I wanted it to be good, I didn’t want to go there to find fault and I was rewarded for my optimism.

Let’s deal with technical excellence first.  I’ve already praised the marketing and the set.  Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting is also wonderful, especially in the scene on a train that appears as if from nowhere.  But it’s the sound (Gareth Fry) music (Olafur Arnalds) and special effects (Jeremy Chernick) that really dazzle – they have to – this is a horror movie on stage after all.  And, as if in a movie theatre, the score to this play, and the way it weaves in and out of the action, drive the show along relentlessly.  My guess is there will be many, many requests to purchase the soundtrack which is both powerful and dramatic, like Sigur Ros in anger.  Where it has most impact is at the blood takings, but also in several short choreographed scenes that bring small groups of men onto the stage to silently echo the actions of lead characters in such a way as to add an extra dimension that’s rare in non-dance theatre.  And one of the special effects in the show is the best you will ever see in your life.  I mean it.

Tiffany and Hoggett’s vision and orchestration of the whole thing leaves you breathless at times.

The script (Jack Thorne) is great, underpinned with both menace and wry Scottish humour, played out by a strong cast led by first-timer Martin Quinn and the elfin Rebecca Benson.  Sure, it would have been great to have two twelve year olds lead the show but this ain’t Hollywood.  Nevertheless, Quinn’s innocent performance hits the mark and Benson, as the real axis of the show, is haunting.  It’s a mesmerising and engaging performance combining athleticism with quietly contolled menace and empathy.  (What an odd paradox, but believe me, it’s a fair one.)  We love this poor, ancient child from the off and throughout the grisly proceedings.  A bedtime scene featuring the beautifully understated alcoholic mother played by Lorranine M McIntosh and Martin Quinn is quite lovely, totally original and deeply touching.

What Tiffany and Hoggett have achieved is really something rather special – the show that will lead to their future references as Tiffany and Hoggett (Black Watch, Let The Right One In).

And what National Theatre of Scotland has achieved is to be hugely applauded- not just for such an affecting piece of theatre but for having the balls to stage it in Dundee; not Glasgow where it would surely find even larger audiences.

If you don’t take the trouble to travel North, suit yourself, but don’t come crying to me when for years to come your theatre buddies reminisce about “that night in Dundee” when remarkable things happened.

Oh how Baz Luhrmann must have wanted his epic classical recreation to have been this good.



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Once again, I declare my RLTC interests before sharing my views on this really interesting night in the theatre.

Abi Morgan’s new play for National Theatre of Scotland and The Royal Lyceum Theatre is a slow burning thought piece.  Over five Acts it gradually unfolds its subtle pickings as it runs through the theatrical gearbox with ease.

Although Maureen Beattie takes marketing centre-stage it’s by no means all about her (although her performance purrs) and, in fact, it’s Nicholas Le Prevost who overcomes a slowish start to increasingly dominate the proceedings.

I’m not going to dwell on the plot because it would be too easy to spoil it by revealing the action.

In some ways the action is not really that important because this is a polemical, rather than plot-based,  play about two opposing “kirks”: science and religion. But it’s obvious that what drives blind science and blind faith is…err…blind belief.  Read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and you will see exactly what I mean.

The need for order, belief, integrity and singlemindedness are every bit as important in a convent as they are in a lab and this play explores deeply the integrity of belief.

It’s thoroughly thought provoking and it is delivered via a totally engaging, and yet, at times, humorous, but at all times riveting script.

The set is astounding.  A brutalist concrete bunker that could at once be a university, the Catholic grotto at Carfin or a business hotel foyer where business has to be done.

And business does have to be done

The cast are great.

I loved Maureen Beattie’s unemotional and consequently hugely sympathetic performance as the convent boss elect.  Her predecessor, the ageing Sister Miriam, played by Colette O’Neil was wonderful: what a part for an actor of a certain age.  And the newbie, the loose cannon that is Audrey, brilliantly builds her character throughout.  I enjoyed Molly Innes’ performance in Wondrous Flitting (for me the stand out performance in that show) and she delivers again as the agent provocateur of the conservative Catholic church.

This play neither belittles nor celebrates religion.  It challenges scientific orthodoxy and as a result weaves a fine line between all camps leaving you, the viewer, to use your brain.

Oh, I nearly forgot.  It’s about Alzheimers disease.

And it’s only on for three weeks.

You, like me, will probably want to go twice, so move it.



And so the festival lies before us…

We saw the Wheel at the Traverse to kick off our festival and next we have the show that FCT is doing; The Chess Game.  I chair this youth theatre and we have 40 excited youngsters treading the boards for the 33rd year in a row at the Festival.

Next, I have Wondrous Flitting, which The Lyceum is staging at The Traverse;  The Lyceum Theatre Company’s first Fringe outing in many years.

Then there’s the shows I’ve booked so far.  I’m seeing Steven Berkoff in action in Oedipus next Friday.  That should be utterly sensational.

But also one of the hot tickets which I have is to see Marc Almond  In Ten Plagues.

But my aching hollow in my chest is for Dance Marathon.  Who will go with me to this experiential play in which the audience dance for four hours in a real life “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?’

There is more…all at the Traverse at the moment, a site specific piece in Edinburgh’s Medical Hospital which is about death and the afterlife called “What Remains” and David Greig’s reputedly wonderful “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” with its promising Kylie Minogue finale.

You’ll notice I am not doing the Fringe Cancer; Comedy.

I may do Dave Gorman, and I’ve been invited to The Stand opening night pre-fest jolly with CBS, but I don’t do comedy because I’m a miserable Quantas flyer.

Oh, and a snob.



Knives in Hens at The Traverse (National Theatre of Scotland)

OK.

This is a hard one to review for a number of reasons.
First, it stars my cousin (Susan Vidler) so I have to declare an interest.

Second.  It stars the son of my most inspiring school teacher (Owen Whitelaw) Son of Walter Whitelaw, the man that made me gain a biology degree. So I have to declare an interest.

Third.  I didn’t really understand a fucking jot of it.

Now. to the business end and taking account all of the above.

It’s absorbing.  It’s intriguing. It’s empathetic.  It’s in some ways remarkable. Because it feels like an important piece of theatre that (actually) maybe I did “get”.

But it’s obtuse.  It’s difficult.  It’s ANNOYING.

The performances rock.  Every single one of them and let me not leave out Vicki Manderson or Duncan Anderson because this is actually a four header ensemble piece.

So, what is it about?

My take, and it’s only mine is that it’s a kind of human condition observation (Susan told me that directed in a different way it would obviously be about the Industrial revolution and I can see why because it’s a tale of old meets new (Plough v Mill).

It’s highly sexual and very existential.  God features heavily and Manderson’s Character in particular pulls that together as she plays a part human, part mare, part.

What is she?  Mare or madam?

I say mare.

It’s this year’s theatrical cryptic crossword and I say go and figure it out for yourself because I failed on 1 across.



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.



That was 2008, that was. (the year of Barack Obama)

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As I head off to enjoy the Hogmanay celebrations it’s time to bring the 2008 blog to an end.

Looking back on the year it was a good one overall. No-one got hurt. Nobody died. We had several achievements as a family. I continued to pay the bills. Barrack Obama got into power.

My blog has hit 340,000 views in the year. Considering I only had 31,000 in 2007 that represents reasonable progress. I hope you enjoy it. And those of you who read but never comment, come on, open up a bit in 2009.

The Hibees were a joke in 2008. Very dissapointing in many ways, in fact Scottish football, full stop, came crashing back to earth after the heady highs of season 2007/8. Our clubs in Europe were pitiful and they became unrequired viewing the more the season progressed. Celtic are unbelievably bad and yet they are easily the best team in this country. God help us.

As The Hibees set off in pusuit of the Scottish cup for the 106th time since we last succeeded we face Hearts in Round 3. That could be a momentous occassion and who’s to say we won’t do it, after all we only EVER play good football when we are up against it. Last week against Kilmarnock totally summed Hibs’ season up… 2 – 2 at half time at home against only 10 men and we lose 4 – 2. That’s unprofessional.

Work was very rewarding and I enjoyed helping out Pete and Iain at 60 Watt in particular, in tough times it has to be said. I also won fabulous projects from PoppyScotland and The Black Watch. My work with the SMA was challenging but I’m pleased with the way it has developed. I suppose the event I led at Parliament in March has to be a professional highlight, but working on behalf on the industry can be soul destroying when people back off. I also did a lot of work with Golley Slater for which I am very grateful and ended the year with a hatrick of new commissions for stv, Ampersand (a stable of Advocates – yes indeed) and Whitespace. During the year I also enjoyed projects with Corporation Pop, as a mentoring programme for nmp, and have been asked to do more work with them in 2009. Story, Spider Online and Graphic Partners also gave me work in 2008 for which I am extremely grateful

I was delighted to be made a board director of The Lyceum in September and have taken on a fundraising role for FCT as well as taking part in the FAT Christmas show and rehearsing the 2009 Easter Show which is a ‘Best of FCT’ over their first 30 years. It promises to be simply stunning. I’m also chair of the Ferry Fringe but it is proving difficult to really get this rolling for 2009 despite the commitment of a small core of volunteers. Watch this space.

However, on a sad note, the demise of 1576, the company I co-founded, in February was a real shock and a truly sad moment. I’m glad to report that all who sailed in her appear to be in gainful employment and moving on; including both David and Adrian.

I’ve already crowed about my golf in 2008 which was my best ever and I really enjoyed it. I threw far fewer clubs about but still had my moments.

Amy’s Highers Grade results were very good and she was unlucky to miss out on her English which is focussing her mind as we go into 2009. We’re all desperately hoping she’ll get into Duncan of Jordanstone to study Art and she’s taking a Portfolio Course at Telford to help in that ambition. Here’s hoping.

Tom’s golf continued to improve and his handicap overtook mine during the year as he went from 21 to 15. He also got a hole in one in August, something I’ve never done, and won quite a few medals – but none of Ratho’s ‘majors’. I’m hoping that when he gets to 14, as he surely will, he will play against me in the men’s medals at Dundas Park. That’ll be really exciting

If he is not an Olympic Champion at X Box 360 by now he ought to be as he has put in unstinting effort. Shame we can’t say the same about his homework.

Ria continued to improve in her gymnastics but the elusive merit continued to evade her, still, she did master the bridge kick over at last and she was brilliant in Perth in November when her first vault was amazing (we’ll overlook the second one shall we?) She works really hard does Ria and that is showing up in really great results and a huge bunch of really nice friends. She deserves them because she is such a genuine young person.

Jeana won yet another award for South Queensferry in the Summer’s Britain in bloom competition with a Highly Recommended award. The village continues to progress under the Greenferry team’s amazing dedication. She also started her own blog which you can find here and whooped with joy about two weeks ago when she got her first ever comment. She’s not far short of her 1,000th view so get reading.

I had a sloppy evening at Cath’s 80th that constituted the Bad Hair Day of the year.

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In books Cormac McCarthy’s The Road simply blew me away and was my favourite read.

In music it had to be Dig Lazarus Dig by Nick Cave but I am growing increasingly interested in African Music and Amadou and Mariam’s new album, Welcome to Mali, is lovely. But check out Je Pense a Toi and Dimanche A Bamacko too (the latter is stunning and their best to date).

And my movie of the year? Not my busiest ever year at the movies so it’s hard to choose a best but I guess it was going to be No Country For Old Men (also based on a Cormac McCarthy book) until Hunger (by Steve McQueen) came along. A really outstanding and breathtaking movie.

TV show of the year? I loved Gavin and Stacey, but my most anticipated show each week was Later with Jools Holland which seemed to find a much more interesting mix this year than of late.

Best theatrical experience, amongst many, was my cousin Susan’s show at The Traverse; Nobody Will ever Forgive Us, which was a stunner.

My gadget of the year was unquestionably the sublime Canon G9, what a wonderful wee camera this is. I also got myself a much more muscular beast – a Canon EOS 400D which is fab too and this has been reflected in my continued devotion to Flickr. I love Flickr. Undoubtedly my find of the year on Flickr was Snailbooty. I mean, look what he just posted today. How good is that?

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My man of 2008, was unquestionably Barrack Obama.

Best day out was Alton Towers in the pissing rain in July. It rocked.

Result of the year? Terry got the all clear from his cancer and joined me at the School BBQ in June.

Wife of the year? Jeana Gorman. Again.

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

And so to 2009.

My hopes?

Hibees win the Scottish Cup. (LOL. That is so stupid.)

Tom gets down to a 10 handicap.

Tiger Woods comes back and kicks ass. It wasn’t the same without him.

I win something, anything, at Dundas Park

Amy gets into D of J. (And enjoys it.)

I am healthy throughout.

The FCT 30th Anniversary show is as good as I hope it will be.

The credit crunch doesn’t ruin everything for everyone.