Whatever gets you through the night?


437660864_640

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.

An interesting start to the week…


I’m off to the Lyceum for the first read through of the script for “of Mice and men:”.  John Steinbeck’s classic.

Very excited.

It comes to the theatre in mid- February and here is the synopsis as posted by The Lyceum…

Armed with nothing but hope, and the dream of one day living and working on their own land, George and his childishly innocent companion Lennie start work on a ranch.

New friendships are made and at first life looks good, until gentle Lennie, unaware of his own immense strength, unwittingly shatters their dreams in one disturbingly tragic act.

This is theatre at its most powerful.

Cast:

George…………………William Ash
Lennie………………….Steve Jackson
Candy………………….Peter Kelly
The Boss/Whit………Greg Powrie
Curley………………….Garry Collins
Curley’s Wife………..Melody Grove
Slim……………………..Liam Brennan
Carlson………………..Mark McDonnell
Crooks…………………John Macaulay

.

CATS Awards


My tickets came in this envelope. How damning is that - VIP? So nearly a contender, but that little question mark took it all away. Ah well.

It was the ninth CATS Awards held at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh yesterday and the event had a real sense of achievement about it.  Presented by Joyce McMillan and Clare Grogan we were treated to excellent potted reviews of each of the four shortlisted candidates in 10 categories of Scottish theatre by the great and the good of the Scottish Critics.

I got a real sense of us being in a “golden age” of theatre.  So many great shows, my only regret was that I had not seen them all.  In particular I wish I had seen White by Catherine Wheels (which won three times), The Three Musketeers and The Princess of Spain (at the Traverse) which sounded simply hilarious and the overall winner (which I tried to see); Roadkill again at The Traverse.

When you stand back and look at the real influence at work here the Traverse really does stand tall in it all, notwithstanding the fact that my own declared interest (The Lyceum ) has had a season to die for and another on the way and the incredible success of Dundee Rep’s Sweeney, many of the nominees were touched by the Trav, performed there or their writers had made their way through its hallowed doorway.

I know too that not everyone always loves the National Theatre of Scotland but with three different productions shortlisted here (not to mention Knives in Hens which is currently playing at, yes, The Trav and Dunsinane (the Lyceum) which was not eligible, its influence is there to be seen.

Highlight of the day?  Mary Brennan’s (slightly long but wholly hilarious) “performance” as she extolled the virtue of Scotland’s performance in the Children and Young People category which was won by White.

It’s a very great pity that although Roadkill is back for the Fringe again that hardly anyone can see it; indeed it’s already sold out.

The party afterwards, both in the Festival Theatre, but especially in Brass Monkey (A great wee boozer in Drummond Street) was fantastic.

It was so luvvieish that the lack of  Dickie Attenburgh’s presence was about the only thing short of perfection.

Educating Agnes by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company


People often associate theatre as a home for serious intellectual exercise.  A place to be challenged politically, ideologically and linguistically.   But that is to miss the point. Because Mark Thomson constantly espouses his theory that when all is said and done theatre is about entertainment.  Sure big ideas can be shared (take Copenhagen from two years ago for instance) but let’s not forget that for £20 spent on a night out people want to enjoy themselves, not just have a brain training workout.

Few congregating places achieve all of these things so effectively.

In cinema one is limited by its lack of engagement physically.  Cinema, although for many the centre of their art world, is distant, even unattainable.  Art Galleries, although more involving, lack dimension; in most cases the work is done and dusted and we, the audience, come along to wonder at its craft or thinking.  We do not take part.  The church is too often the home for hectoring and instruction rather than involvement.

So that leaves theatre.  Theatre is visceral, real and involving.  In this play there are moments of soliloque and sheers pantoesque interaction that acknowledge the involvement of the audience.  Then of course there’s the collective laughter, cheering and applause.

Educating Agnes is pure entertainment and sits alongside a number of recent balls-out, have a bloody good laugh evenings  in Grindlay Street:  Irma Vep, Earnest and The Beauty Queen of Leenane stand out in this respect.  But none of them had me quite as out of control as this absolute raucous beast of a comedy.  I was literally sweating with laughter.

“Shut up” my wife hissed on three or four occasions, digging me sharply in the ribs,  as I exploded, yet again, with laughter at this script and performance that fit together symbiotically.

It’s part slapstick; and for that to work as well as it does we have to invite Scotland’s finest stage comedy actor, Steven McNicoll, to stand forward.

He only has to enter stage left to have me grinning from ear to ear.  This man is a legend I tell you.  Like a huge Norman Wisdom or a latter day Rikkie Fulton he lives and breathes comedy. Just the way he stands, the way he walks, or the way, in this show, that he uses gaping, inordinately long pauses

to

deliver

a

killer line makes him a diamond.

I don’t know if Liz Lochhead wrote the part with him in mind but if she didn’t there was some divine intervention and certainly the hand of Tony Cownie at play.

To pair him with Kathryn Howden was another stroke of casting genius.  The pair are bawdy and gut bustingly funny from start to finish.  The scene where they attack Arnolphe with a salmon and a string of sausages will live long in my memory.  And, OMG, when the slapstick scene erupts with pantomime door effects I swear I was going to actually micturate.

Now, did you see what I did there?  I mixed OMG with an olde worlde term like micturate, and that is the secret of Liz Lochhead’s success.  She’s our Makar you know, and a Makar is described thus in Wikipedia;

It especially highlights the role of the poet as someone skilled in the crafting or making of controlled, formal poetry with intricate or involved diction and effects.

That description aptly summarises this show.  It’s an epic poem with more wordplays than a session in coalition.  The way Liz Lochhead can drop out of a Scot’s rhyming couplet drawn from 17th Century French and retort with a cool “Whatever.”  The way a heartfelt monolgue on love, loyalty and obedience can be met with a solitary middle finger pointing to the roof rafters is jaw dropping.  It’s also excruciatingly funny.  This is writing like nobody else does and it’s something to very greatly treasure.

But this is not just a Liz Lochhead beast.  She could never have brought this to bear without the utterly brilliant direction of Tony Cownie.  Every line has a nuance and an opportunity to wring an extra laugh out of it by some frm of physical theatre; a look, a posture, a harumph here or there.  It’s these that bring it so explosively to life and was what made Liz Lochhead giggle throughout at her own  creation (I sat behind her last night so saw how much she was enjoying Cownie’s interpretation.  In particular I think she appreciated (as my wife did) the careferee and niaive abandon with which Mark Prendergast literally threw himself into the role of Horace.)

I liked his performance a lot, as I did McNicoll, Howden and Nicola Roy as the eponymous heroine.

But I’m saving the best for last.

Peter Forbes as Arnolphe performed as commandingly as anyone I’ve seen on this stage in recent years.  He stands alongside Stanley Townsend, in A view From The Bridge (for me at least), in this respect.

On stage for almost the duration and with at least 50% of the dialogue he never put a foot wrong.  But much more than this, the interpretation he put into poor old Arnolphe’s twisted character, the labyrinthine logic that he applied to the morals and ethics of creating a concubine out of Agnes and the despair that ensues as it all goes horribly wrong is expressed through shrieks, hollers, quasimodo-like grimaces and bodily twists and turns that make you squirm in your seat.

He is epic.

This show is epic.

This show is stone wall, nailed on five star quality.

If you miss it, and you’ve read this, then frankly I despair.

Aye, away and  boil yer head,  innit?





Another “odd” show at The Lyceum.


Sorry guys, it's not a bodice ripper.

Just as Stanley Townsend playing Eddie Carbone frequently accused Rodolpho to be “not right, just not right” in the previous Lyceum production of A View From The Bridge, so a central plank of Muriel Romanes’ joint production with The Lyceum and Stellar Quines is the notion of homosexuality that cannot be said by it’s name; here Lesbian ladies are merely “odd”.  But it amounts to the same.

In “A View” Rodolpho’s homosexuality was imagined by Eddie as a construct with which to castigate his foe; here it is a celebration of the two lead characters, Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot who despite being a generation apart in age are Victorian entrepreneurs with a taste for each other as more than just business partners.

This could have made for a truly shocking dramatic premise but it’s shrugged off as “odd”, perhaps, but really nothing to get one’s knickers in a twist about.

Although I said previously ‘Our two leads’ this is in actual fact as ensemble a show as one could imagine, they are backed by a chorus of gaggling Macbethian sisters played outstandingly by Alexandra Mathie (truly amazing) and Molly Innes as the older, hopeless spinsters and Hannah Donaldson as the “pretty” sibling with a chance.

“Overbred” by 500,000, out of a population of two million, Victorian Britain needed women to look good if they were to have any chance in a male buyers’ market and the only two women in our cast of six that would have any chance are “pretty” Monica Madden and committed Dyke, Roda Dunn.  The fact that they both fall for the same man makes for intriguing developments as the play unfolds, and surrounded by six women of exquisite talent Jamie Lee as Everard Barfoot has his work cut out to fly the flag for us blokes.  That he succeeds with panache, wit and charm is testimony to his excellent performance.

This is a play that is richly and deeply textured; interestingly realised with beautifully subtle sound, video and lighting design and costumes (designed in a third year project by Edinburgh School of Art Students) that for me were the best I’ve seen on the Lyceum stage in a long time.  Interestingly, my wife hated them.  I’m so much more in touch with my feminine side it would seem.

This is an absorbing two hours of entertainment with a feisty and often hilarious script that batters along holding you firmly in its thrall throughout.

It’s a gem.

And it’s a real thought piece too; at its centre is the debate over the role that “work” played in liberating women from the shackles of domesticity.  The arrival of the Remington typewriter to UK shores, and made centrepiece of this show, both physically and stylistically is a clear metaphor for women’s emancipation.  But is it all good?  Has it served its function.  After all, by the 1960’s the typewriter was the focus for feminist ire as it had created exactly the opposite effect that this late 19th century passport to freedom so obviously delivered.

Motherhood and child rearing is examined too, suggesting that perhaps domesticity is not so bad.  But in the play it’s wrapped up in sexuality and the power women (still) hold over hapless men who can’t see further than the end of that organ that so drives so many of us.

It’s complex indeed (just look at the number and variety of tags I’ve used in this post).  And I’m not sure you’ll get all the answers or unravel all the themes in one sitting  Certainly it’s more than worthy of second helpings.  So, go, indulge yourself and maybe you’ll be back for more.

Odd that!

Confessions of a justified sinner at the Royal Lyceum theatre, edinburgh


A rather amusing “no animals were killed in the making of this smoke” type announcement preludes the opening of this play and then the curtain rises to reveal a dark, brooding, half-lit miasma that remains throughout.

And yes, it’s smoky.

twin-towers1

The darkness is entirely appropriate as this is a tale from the early 18th century when dark deeds were done, folk lived in smogs of half truth, rumour and mountains of religious guilt.  And we’re not even talking Catholisism here.  No, welcome to the dank, scary world of Calvinism.

YE WILL NOT HAVE FUN.  YE WILL NOT FORNICATE.  YE WILL NOT SMILE.  YE WILL NOT DAE ANYTHING THAT THE LORD WOULD FROWN UPON.

Because the Lord, back then, was all seeing, all telling, all rule making.

This was a land of ignorance and powerful religious figures.  The meenister was all.

Sound familiar?

Yep, it’s a fascinating allegory (or is it a metaphor) for our times today where religious extremism, east and west, is a licence for abhorrent and inexplicable sinning.

The early days Obama (Mc)Bin Laden of James Hogg’s novel is played at just the right side of lampoon by the truly terrifying Kern Falconer and he is the axis of evil that the play revolves around.  It’s into his house that the naive Robert Wringhim is brought, with his mother, to “enjoy” a life of strict religious instruction.  And enjoy it he does, to a point, until the Meenister sets out on a campaign to “justify” his pupil.  To make him immune to sin on earth and guarantee him a place in heaven, no matter what.  In time, the Damascan moment arrives and Wringhim is indeed (apparently) granted that place in heaven.

His ticket safely tucked away in his inside pocket the charming young Wringham is now granted the right to exact retribution on all wrongdoers that cross his path; and there are plenty of them.

The central premise of the play then unfolds around this – that if a place in the afterlife is guaranteed, rather than has to be earned, where does one draw the line?

If one can sin and not be called to task then surely sinning will follow.  And if this sinning is not actually considered a sin then the atrocities that might result are presumably acceptable.  Is this not exactly the point that appears to be brainwashed into suicide bombers the world over (because Wringham is essentially Calvinism’s suicide bomber).

Is he mad?  Is Gil-Martin his voice of conscience – or the devil?  There’s certainly a thin line between schitzophrenia and devotion in this play.

The “11th man” of this astonishing performance is the set. It rocks.  Built on a rotating platform the oblique monoliths that seemingly stretch to the sky are variously abstract tables, beds, tombstones and pulpits, but mainly they are dark foreboding skyscrapers of the future.  They are the metaphoric twin towers that I believe this play alludes to.

Ryan Fletcher is stunning.  He does not overplay his quite considerable hand.  Iain Robertson as Gil-Martin nails it.  Lewis Howden is a scream. and John Kielty plays his parts with restraint.  This is a blokes play.  Sure Rae Hendrie carries her part beautifully as the Mother but all the lines belong to the men.

Mark Thomson has to be lauded for both the writing and the direction of this very superior night of theatre.  And I’m certain he will be.

It’s brilliant.  It’s funny.  It’s electric.  It’s dark.  It is an absolute must see.

Hoors


shows_hoors02

A Scottish word meaning ladies of the night.  Not particularly a term of affection and one used frequently in Fife where people refer to one another as “ya hoor ye.”

It’s an appropriate title then for Gregory Burke’s latest play which is currently premièring at he Traverse because Burke is fiercely proud of his Fife-ness.  His first play ‘Gagarin Way’ is named after a street in Fife which, in turn, is rather randomly named after the famous cosmonaut who has, to my knowledge, as much Fife Blood in him as I have Russian.

The Black Watch, the regiment that inspired Burke’s tour de force, are largely recruited from Fife, and Hoors is set in Fife in the aftermath of a calamitous stag night where the bridegroom to be only goes and dies.

We open in the bride to be’s living room as she prepares for the following day’s funeral with her sister; pishing it up.

They’re waiting on a couple of lads.  The ‘brides’ bit on the side and his mate; a right Jack the lad (in his shady past).

The play, literally, rotates between the bride’s bedroom and living room where various debates and revelations unravel themselves over the next hour and a half.

Sex and death.  Or shagging and copping it are the main themes in a show that is peppered with hilarious one-liners and foul-mouthed observations.  But great insights and depth of meaning seemed pretty thin on the ground.  That’s fine by me, as not everything has to carry the burden of enlightenment with it.  But I gather Mr Burke is a bit hacked off with the post-Black Watch expectations which mark this, to some,  as a weak follow up.

I can’t comment.  I’ve read Gagarin Way which I liked very much but I didn’t see the Black Watch.

Both Jeana and I enjoyed this.  But it’s a Chinese meal of a play.  Good at the time but you’re still craving a chippy at midnight.