Archive for March, 2007


A new production of one of David Greig’s first major plays was at Dundee Rep earlier this month, and is making a trip down to the Barbican before coming back again.

This play is set in a railway station at a former border in Europe.   The trains used to stop, but no longer need to do so.    The stationmaster is still in post, but has little to do, except deal with a couple of refugees who turn up to kip on his platform.    Meanwhile, there is trouble at the light bulb factory, and there are unemployed and increasingly intolerant youths looking for trouble.    A heady mix, and typical Greig territory.   The set was widescreen and dark.

I have seen lots of Greig plays, but not this one, so it was a good chance to evaluate one of The Scotsman’s Top 20 Theatrical Moments.

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Black Watch

This was the National Theatre of Scotland’s hit from the Edinburgh Festival last year now touring Scotland, then London, and hopefully USA.    Black Watch is a site specific ‘event theatre’ – a bit like “The Ship” or “The Big Picnic”, and finding venues to suit has not been easy.    This performance, one of the first of a series in Scotland after the astonishing Edinburgh Festival run,  was held in a former hydraulic workshop at Port na Craig, just next to Pitlochry Theatre.   By reputation, it was a ‘do not miss under any circumstances’ production.   

A good chunk of the audience almost missed this, as temporary traffic lights on the bridge north of the Hermitage resulted in unexpected massive northbound queues – the theatre did manage to hold the start for a few minutes to let everyone in, because it was a performance that the audience could not join after the start.

So, ‘Edinburgh Tattoo style’ we sat on either side of a performing area, and there were even tartan rugs to keep our knees warm if we wanted.     The beginning announcement was as if we were on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, and then we were taken on an amazing journey.

Gregory Burke assembled the piece using material gleaned from real Black Watch soldiers, and cast a ‘writer’ doing just that in this piece.      To briefly explain some political real-life background:    The Black Watch is a Scottish Regiment with history going way back.    It recruits from Perthshire, Fife and Angus mainly, and its soldiers very much identify with the regimental ‘family’ organisation.   The Ministry of Defence has controversially announced the amalgamation of all the regiments in Scotland into one, although there are to be identifiers retained.      With the Black Watch playing a major role in the Iraq conflict, a conflict which has not had general approval, the timing of the announcement was unfortunate to say the least.

So, Black Watch told us about the Regiment, its history, how soldiers are recruited, some of the peculiar customs, and what the soldiers thought of what they were doing – in Iraq in particular.    The production by John Tiffany was thrilling, and had some wonderful set-pieces.    The cast had clearly done lots of army drill to be able to perform the parts, but they were choreographed as well.    It is difficult to describe without spoiling it for those yet to see this, but the ‘History of the Black Watch’, the ‘Pool Table’, and ‘Letters Home’ were particularly outstanding, as was the final 20 minutes of the show.

I have to say that I felt mixed emotions at the end.    Angry about the dilution of identity of the Black Watch regiment, upset about the casualties and the Iraq war.  Yet I felt we had been let into a whole other world, and learned something about soliders and the modern army in the process.    It was a thrilling and very overwhelming piece of theatre:   it was enjoyable, but its message was very strong.     

This production will undoubtably go down as a landmark in the history of Scottish Theatre, and people will be talking about it for years.   It will be a benchmark against which other theatre will be measured.    It is very much theatre of its time.     You have to see it.


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Top 20 Theatre

The Scotsman is running a Top 20 theatrical performances in Scotland this week.      It is actually really hard to come up with this, but great to see Blackbird on the official list.

Street of Crocodiles, The Ship or The Big Picnic would be contenders.   I’ll reserve judgement on Black Watch until I have seen it later this week (can’t wait).       Winter’s Tale at Dundee Rep was also very good indeed, but not sure if it is top 20.  

We shall see how the list grows during the week.

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Notes from a Scandal

Notes from a Scandal is a much nominated and award winning film of Zoe Heller’s book about Sheba, a young teacher who has an affair with a 15 year old pupil, and who is caught at it by a lonely older colleague Barbara.    It is an absorbing study of abuse of power:   Sheba’s over the boy, and Barbara over Sheba.

Dame Judy Dench’s performance as Barbara made the film worth going to see, but Richard Eyre’s directing was spot on too.  

Happily, this screen in Perth Cinema was reasonably clean – unlike the midden we had to sit in for our last visit.

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The Unconquered

A new play by Torben Betts performed by Stellar Quines.

I liked the last Torben Betts play, A Listening Heaven,  I saw at the Lyceum in Edinburgh which won Best New Play at the TMA awards, but I really struggled to get to grips with this play, seen at The Byre before going on a national tour.

There seems to be a permanant military coup going on.   There is a couple in a house with a rebellious daughter who rants on about everything very loudly.    A soldier bursts in, rapes the daughter.    Forward to pregnant daughter and soldier now a capitalist businessman who now wants to marry daughter, to father’s delight.    It does not have a happy ending.

Black and white cardboard set, black and white cardboard props (including cardboard guns), black and white costumes, black and white make-up and wild dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards haircuts.     It was a caricature.        

The Unconquered was flagged up in the press as a challenge, and I tried really hard with this.    But I am afraid it was a deeply tedious evening in the theatre.    The worst for a while.   

Why is it that the weakest Scottish Theatre gets to tour, and the best enjoys limited runs?    

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Superb concert in Perth by the Scottish Ensemble.    They are truly a world class outfit.

Favourite of the night was Elgar – Serenade played stunningly well.   And Introduction and Allegro tackled head on.    Just when you thought that you knew a piece inside out, this group come along and add completely fresh ideas.   Normally played by an entire string orchestra, here only 17 players brought an entirely new energetic and light approach.

 I was not sure about the Takemitsu pieces – he is a film composer, so perhaps it would have been better with some images to look at!    They were very well played, but never really went anywhere.

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Strangers, babies

Interesting new play from Linda Mclean at the Traverse called Strangers, babies.    It is a series of double handers between a woman, May, and 5 men in her life.  

Liam Brennan draws a short straw by having to assemble a flat-pack chair on stage every night, but is excellent as May’s husband.    May visits her father in a hospice, meets an internet date and looks up her estranged brother.    There is a very dark secret, only revealed near the end of the play, and explains the last man – a social worker.

The trouble was, it did not flow as a piece, and I had to read the script to find the clues about ‘the secret’ – they were there, but hidden away in the oddly styled dialogue.    Gillean Kearney, playing May, was strangely detached throughout, given what had gone on in her past.    A bit more passion from her character would have turned this into something better than it was. 

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Pruning Climbing Roses

We have a few climbing roses here, and very wonderful they look in the summer.    We have heavy soil, which roses like.   But it means that they grow big and strong – so big and strong that the shoots can get up underneath the slates unless drastic action is taken.

This is a good time of year to really sort them out, and this year has seen the need for major surgery, as they were too stemmy at the bottom and flowering 12 feet up.  (and the rest).       (I also need to remove huge shoots post first flowering).

So they are now tied in to the wires lower than they were, and have had quite a bit taken away.     It is a bit of an acquired skill, and I am a complete amateur at this.     It is funny how drawings in gardening books and on websites show perfect roses which are so far from the jungly things I am attempting to tame it is laughable.

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Bus Journey

I took the Megabus the other day to Edinburgh.     It was really windy, so no double deckers were allowed on the Forth Bridge.    Happily, we were a single decker.   

But what was this?    A crabbit battle-axe woman in a dirty yellow fluorescent jacket with megabus.com on the back (like that exactly) marched down the bus and told us it would be windy and that we had to fasten our seat belts.    She marched back up the bus checking we had done them up too.   Airline style.    What did she expect?   Turbulence?    Take-off?

The seats were not too wide and I had a window seat.     A  large woman in a great big puffy anorak had wedged herself in beside me, so I just didn’t bother with a belt.    I was really wedged, and certainly was not going anywhere until she moved first, and she was belted in.   

We got going.    The driver turned the heating up to max.    The anorak next to me stayed firmly on.    I was beginning to find it rather hot and stuffy.    The driver clearly was beginning to find it hot and stuffy, and opened a lot of window – remember, it was too windy for doubledeckers – and it got pretty blowy inside the bus.     Perhaps the bus only had an ON and an OFF for the heating.   We got there on time, and luckily, the anorak got off at the same stop as me.

The bus back should have been a double decker, but was in fact an old tatty single decker service bus clearly drafted in from Carlisle going by the notices stuck on the windows.   The driver tried to dial up M90 INVERNESS on the electronic sign at the front of the bus, but clearly this was not in an English bus’s vocabulary.   He went off and got a mate, and between them they eventually managed to find  “Stagecoach”.    The driver sighed and then went off and came back with a blue sign M90 INVERNESS and carefully blu-tacked it to the windscreen.

Above my head in the bus there, there was a vent thing to give you air, a reading light and a button with a woman on it.      Press for a woman?  The last time I went on a megabus, the buttons had men on them.    Just an observation.    

It is only £1 each way, express service (plus 50p booking fee) – so mustn’t grumble.     I do like busses really.

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