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)


obama

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.

img_4872

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?

ill-cry-tomorrow-on-flickr-photo-sharing_1230751238822

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.

No one will ever forgive us, by The National Theatre of Scotland at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh


trav-nts-nwefu

Well.

Here’s a one.

I have to declare two interests from the outset.

I am a Catholic.

My cousin (Susan Vidler) is in this play.

So I’m biased.

Paul Higgins, may be the most remarkable new stage-writing talent since Gregory Burke.  It really is written brilliantly, flowing along at 100 miles an hour packed with hilarious one liners, and I believe it’s autobiographical. (Actually it’s very unfair of me to heap this comparative praise on Paul Higgins given my lack of comparative insight; but if he isn’t the best then Scottish Theatre is absolutely booming.)

I urge you to see this play before it is too late. (It was pretty much sold out on a dreich Tuesday in late November.)

It’s a fantastic smorgasbord of Scottishness. As the nation of doom we like to dwell on the dark side and this does it magnificently. I honestly have never encountered a script, in film or on stage, that leaps like Bambi on steroids, between bleak nihilism and outrageous humour, line by line, quite as well as this.

It is remarkable.

The main theme centres on belief 9or lack of it). I suppose the key character in the five person cast is the youngest son who has opted out of the seminary (or is that safe haven?) that he has studied at for seven years because he has become atheistic. Is there a God? Is there a Catholic God (OMG)? Is there a point? Why should I coexist with you? Have I a future?

But, at the gleaming, glowing, pulsating, dangerous centre of it all is the horrific patriarch, Gary Lewis. What a performance. The drunk, child-beating, wife-hating (but actually not particularly misogynistic) husband engulfs the stage with his presence.

It is massive.

The audience howled with tears and laughter and, for me, it was another triumphant National Theatre of Scotland performance. I’ve seen three this year in three different theatres.

They all demonstrated our brilliance.

Something wicked this way comes by The national Theatre of Scotland and Catherine Wheels Theatre Company


I took my 14 year old daughter Ria to see this production at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh tonight and was hugely impressed.

It’s a highly complex story that lends itself more easily to celluloid than the stage but director Gill Robertson and designer Karen Tennent have done a quite remarkable job of staging the (possibly) unstageable.

The show involves incredible feats of lighting and video art (by Jonathan Charles – who I think I know as an ex FCT kid), great and atmospheric music, creepily accompanied by a pianist/accordionist – played in a most unusual manner – and Cellist (Robin Mason and David Paul Jones) and the highly unusual Aerial design as the dust witch flies across the stage .

The tale is interestingly morally and the performances are convincing across the boards; from a hard working and only eight strong cast. Although I have to say in a perfect world I’d much rather Will and Jim had actually been 14. Andrew Clark, as Mr Dark, steals the show as this typically grotesque type of role can, and often does.

Ray Bradbury’s story is quite affecting and deals with issues such as vanity, good versus evil and how we all deal with the ageing process.

The mostly young audience gasped, screamed, heckled and laughed.

Is that not what makes great theatre.

My daughter loved it. Result.

365 by the national Theatre of Scotland


I was privileged to be among the audience at the opening night of The National Theatre of Scotland’s Festival production of 365 -a new play by David Harrower (appropriate name) and directed by Vicky Featherstone, at The Playhouse in Edinburgh last night.

The show was sold out and for good reason.

It’s a polemic piece about the plight of young people entering society after life in care. The show explores, through a cast of about 16, mostly in their teens, what the reality of life is in such a friendless, hostile and downright scary environment.

It’s performed by an ensemble, so no one particular actor stood out. But the technical achievements were noteworthy. Set, sound design, lighting and choreography were all outstanding. Paul Buchanan’s specially commissioned song that forms a central part of the denouement is spine tingling.

The acting is universally good and at times excellent.

But the greatness of the play is all about the writing.

This is very modern theatre and, as such, doesn’t follow a plotline or typical narrative structure and although it’s fairly bleak it’s by no means humourless. Fundamentally though it touches on the very darkest side of society – misogyny, neglect, class, prejudice, sexual orientation, fear and lack of confidence. Essentially it is about loneliness because most of the relationships we witness are a veneer.

Life as a kid with no familial network is not a good place to be and David Harrower brings this into sharp relief quickly and consistently.

I think it could do with a touch of editing but overall this is an important, thought-provoking and engaging piece of work.

I notice it’s playing at the Lyric, Hammersmith from 9 – 29 September. Not knowing the theatre I suspect it will be rather less spectacular than in The Playhouse which, as a stage, offers wide open spaces (and which contributed to the theme of isolation by its very brooding presence).

It’s distinctly Scottish, but the points it makes are universal and you lot in Englandshire shouldn’t struggle too much with the dialect. (You might not like the language though. My god, the National Theatre of Scotland like a fucking swearword do they not?)