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Archive for April, 2008

Nova Scotia – Slab Boys 4

I never know if it is fair to comment on a preview performance, but as long as it is clear that it is a preview, then I think it is probably OK.

This was the first preview – the first time the long-awaited new part of the Slab Boys Trilogy had ever been seen in public.    The Traverse was absolutely jam packed.    Outgoing Traverse Director Philip Howard and new incoming director Domenic Hill were both there in the audience – a good sign.  

And, yes, even in preview, there was a real sense of an event.    The Slab Boys is a much-loved modern classic of the Scottish Theatre, all three plays starting off in the Traverse from 1978.      The theatre put on the whole trilogy in 2003, when we went to see all three in one very enjoyable and exhausting day.    I did not see any of the original productions, but Dundee Rep put them on in the 1980s, where Cuttin a Rug memorably starred Robert Carlisle, Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming.

So, Nova Scotia brings back Phil, Spanky and Lucille all these years on.    The action is set in a house in rural north-east of Scotland – not a million miles from  where Byrne lives now.    Phil is still painting away quietly and has a rocky marriage to the younger Deidre, a video artist shortlisted for the Turner Prize.     Spanky  (now past-it but still performing rock star) rolls up with  Lucille.    I am not going to spoil the story, because there are fantastic unexpected twists and turns.   But throw in a hippy Radio Scotland Arts reporter, a video technican who is covering Spanky’s band – and clearly involved with Deidre, and the mixture really ignites.     Great performances all round – the boys:  Paul Morrow as Phil and Gerry Mulgrew as Spanky and the girls:   Gerda Stevenson as a glamorous Lucille, Meg Fraser as Deidre and Cara Kelly as the Radio Arts person.

The piece itself is amusing, knock-about yet wistful, and Byrne has a large amount of fun with it.   It is a study of friendships over the years and has lots to say about art, ambition and relationships.     There are some genuinely passionate arguments – ones that stay with you after you have left the theatre.    The world around Phil McCann has moved on –  everyone uses mobile phones, yet McCann firmly relies on the wall mounted landline phone in his house.    He has to learn to embrace the New Scotland, Nova Scotia, as all the others in the play have done.   The writing is sharp as ever, and although the pace flagged at points in the longer 2nd half, it held together well, and is a very worthwhile addition to the original Trilogy.    It does stand alone as a play, but those who have seen the others will get most out of it.   

Michael Taylor has come up with an atmospheric set, and like his design for All my Sons at the Lyceum, has real grass – except this time it comes with more foliage, and kids toys, including a spacehopper.  

As with all new writing at the Traverse, the script is on sale, but it is also worthwhile buying a programme too which has stuff from the original Slab Boys, as well as artwork from Byrne and a comprehensive piece from theatre critic and Byrne enthusiast Joyce McMillan.      

Recommended, and may be hard to get tickets for.    Runs to 24th May.    And don’t forget, Lucille was once ‘every Slab Boy’s dream’.    Is she still?    You have to wait until the very end to find out.     Sparky stuff.

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The Scottish Ensemble played the last concert of the season in Perth, and it was the last date of the current tour.    At 3pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon in April, it was actually a big ask to get people to come along, and I could not have bought a ticket in advance confidently.    But there was a gap in the farm work, and I was really glad that I went.

The concert started with Handel’s Concerto Grosso in B flat major in five short movements.     I actually don’t think I have heard the Ensemble play Handel before, and the approach was really different to what one would expect.

Next, Raphael Wallfisch joined the group to play a CPE Bach Cello Concerto.    I was a little disappointed with his playing, which although technically very good, lacked something.     His cello had a massively long spike – roughly three quarters of the length of the body of the instrument.   This resulted in the cello being held almost between the kneecaps and at an angle of about 45 degrees to his body.    It also meant that the instrument remained almost locked static, and perhaps it was this that made for a rather dry performance.    In contrast, Alison Lawrence of the Ensemble had a shorter spike, and a cello angle of more like 60 degrees:   the result was that she and the cello moved as the music took them.   

But the meat of the concert was in the second half with Jonathan Morton’s arrangement of the Brahms String Quintet No 2 taking the Ensemble into full-on romantic mode.    It was teriffic music, and as always with these concerts, so entertaining to watch the chemistry between the players.    Jonathan Morton, leading the group did not just stand there and keep time – he was often up on the balls of his feet in the exciting bits urging on the players with great dramatic flourishes of his own playing.

And they are coming back next season with a really exciting programme – Alison Balsom (seen playing in Soldier’s Tale) among the soloists, and for me, a really exciting concert of modern American music  with Adam’s Shaker Loops, and Reich’s Clapping.    Can’t wait for that one.

 

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Megabus

I have had to travel to Edinburgh for each of the past two days, and luckily, what I was doing fitted in with the Megabus service timetable.     Perth is a Megabus hub where busses cross over and meet, providing express bus services to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.    The busses are large single deckers, and are comfortable.     If I have a grumble, the drivers don’t always get the ventilation setting right, and it can get a bit stuffy at times.

I have to say though that I continue to be impressed.   Although it is trickier to get the rock bottom fares, even booking the day before produces a fare which is cheaper than the cost of my fuel – and my car gets 42 miles per gallon.     And it is pretty expensive to park in Edinburgh these days.    But the Megabus staff are well trained, and there are plenty of them.    On the four busses I took, all the drivers were cheerful and helpful, as were the other Megabus staff.    It is interesting that everyone getting off the busses thanked the driver as they left.

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Ineos, the people who run the large oil refinery at Grangemouth are in a dispute with the Unite union over pension rights.    The Union have called a two day strike next week, but the problem is (so the employer says) that you can’t just turn a refinery off for two days – it takes a week to close and more time to open again.    Ineos say that Scotland could have no fuel next week and shortages for a whole month – because of the two day strike.

I realise that there is some ‘positioning’ going on here, but yesterday’s headlines said ‘Don’t Panic’.   This predictably produced queues of motorists at forecourts, as pictured in today’s papers.    I expect that tomorrow we shall see a picture of a forecourt with a ‘no petrol’ sign.    It has been irresponsible behaviour from the parties involved and the Press in particular.

You see, even with Grangemouth closed for a month, there is enough fuel to go round.     We have 70 days stock.    Grangemouth produces 10% of the UK’s fuel, and with early mobilisation and transport arrangements of fuel from elsewhere, it should be possible to maintain fuel supplies.     It is a message that the Government needs to publically support.

During the last fuel protests, as we watched the supermarket shelves thin, and as we began to drive everywhere much slower than normal to conserve fuel, I think we were 24 to 48 hours away from serious civil unrest before the protest was called off.

I hope that it does not come to this again.    Ineos and the Unite have been urged to keep talking by the Scottish Government, who themselves have started early contingency planning.

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Swallows and Geese

 Just for a few days each year, our two most visible migratory birds cross over:   in mid-April the geese are still leaving in their great V shaped skeins heading north to Greenland, and the first swallows have started arriving from Africa.

Swallows are a mixed blessing:   they nest in buildings leaving piles of mess just where you don’t want it.   They can also mess washing drying outside on the line – we are sure that this is done in pure spite as our cats spend all summer trying to stalk them.   Yet their screeching and swooping on summer days as they eat insects on the wing is one of the features of the countryside.   

Cutting a golden field of oats on a hot summer’s day produces clouds of tiny insects, and large flocks of swallows perform acrobatics in a feeding frenzy.    And of course, at the end of the season, on a cooler morning, hundreds of swallows line up on the phone wires chattering excitedly to eachother.   Then suddenly they are gone.

And the geese are back for the winter.

 

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An interesting piece on Radio Scotland Cafe programme this evening about who to trust when reading a review of a performance?     The professional critic, or the bloggers?

It is a good question.    I do read what critics say, and some I trust more than others.   It is a long-term relationship that one builds:   if you find one critic tending to agree with you over time, what they say can be very useful.    But not always, and I do find myself at odds with the general opinion at times – usually when all the professionals have given something 5 stars.

I do tend to find that the music critics can be especially hard on performances.   It is more complicated than theatre, and the critics do get down to technicalities fairly readily.     If I am giving my thoughts on music, I just tend to concentrate whether it was enjoyable, and if the rest of the audience had a good time.

So:  critics or bloggers?    I suppose both together give a good guide.   It is a bit like using Trip Advisor to find out about what a place is really like.    Although critics will win hands down on experience, perhaps bloggers have it on authenticity.    It’s a close call.

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New licensing regulations have been introduced into Scotland, and they are going down like a lead balloon, particularly in the tourism sector.     The smallest businesses are being hit inappropriately hard by a whole raft of stupid and pointless regulations.

Everywhere that sells alcohol now comes under the new licensing scheme.   The scheme is extremely expensive to comply with, and requires architects’ plans of buildings where alcohol is to be sold.     It has produced some astonishing effects, and the regulations are being interpreted differently depending on who your local Council is.

I was supplying the very occasional complimentary bottle of locally produced sparkling wine for our guests celebrating a special occasion perhaps, or coming to stay out of the main tourism season.     This free bottle of wine now turns out to be a sale of alcohol.    If I am to continue, I will have to get a Personal Licence, attend a training course, and possibly obtain a Premises Licence as well.    Cost was quoted as £577 (one off payment) plus £176 every year.    Not to mention the cost of getting plans drawn up to an acceptable specification.     It is an outrageous imposition by government for businesses  who sell very little alcohol.    And exactly how much training is involved to tell me how to put a bottle of wine in a fridge?

And presumably a plan would have to show the location of the property, the location of the kitchen, and the location of the fridge in the kitchen.    In case the alcohol police look in the washing machine perhaps?    Just how dim are the inspectors?    Perhaps they need a plan of the inside of the fridge to keep them right.

So, no more free wine.    I simply cannot take the risk that my guests will walk half a mile into our local village and hang about causing bother and getting ASBOs left, right and centre after a couple of glasses of fizz.    They will get local honey instead, which is probably OK until the food police turn up.

The new licensing regulations are a nonsense, and a disgraceful performance from a nationalist-led government which was supposed to be lighter on business regulation than the last lot in charge.

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