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Archive for October, 2010

The publicity promised much:  Abigail Docherty’s  new play,winner of the Tron’s Open Stage Competition, given a full production by Andy Arnold and his team.    I wanted to know more about these Scottish women who headed off to World War One battlezones to do their bit.

Land and Sea and Sky at the TronThe play was a great disappointment, and told us little that we did not already know:   the posh and working class girls tumbled together, the horror and sheer overwhelming nature of what they were asked to do when they got there, the chaos of war, the loss of life and the mentally damaged survivors.

Although taken from real diaries, I was surprised by the course language and the complete lack of any organisation in the field.     I had thought that people got on with what they had to do and did their best.    Perhaps that is the version we are supposed to believe  and this was to tell us otherwise, in which case, fair enough  I suppose.     I just can’t believe that the nurse who dragged corpses around with her was not taken in hand by anyone – by colleagues or the person in charge.   This got a laugh (of all things)  in the theatre.

I really wanted to meet Dr Elsie Inglis who set up the field hospitals where the young women were recruited to work.  In taking a bigger view we might have learned more about the aim of the exercise, what was achieved and the failings. 

So, a disappointment all round.    The two rays of hope at the very end were just over contrived.

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Scottish Ensemble – Perth

There was a big political conference in Perth this week closing off the Concert Hall for days, so the Scottish Ensemble decamped to St Ninian’s Cathedral for the first concert this season.   Although the acoustics are pretty good, there is the constant rumble of traffic at the busy junction outside.    And it is draughty.   But if you arrive early and battle the unreserved seating system to get a seat near the front, it is a very intimate venue, and all the more exciting for that.

The music was about as wide a mixture as you could get, with two Vivaldi pieces balanced with music from Finland – Sibelius and Sallinen, and from Romanian George Enescu.

The Ensemble started with a Vivaldi Concerto, with a fresh crisp sound blowing any cobwebs away with the use of special baroque bows.   It was nice to see some new players in the group, as well as a theorbo player.   It is difficult to ignore this massive bass lute instrument which squeezes on stage and demands a lot of space.   It also sounds marvellous.

The specially co-commissioned piece by Finn Aulis Sallinen called Chamber Music VIII The Trees All Their Green was preceded by Sibelius’ Impromptu, and run together to ‘see if the pieces talked to eachother’ over the 100 years separating them.    They were joined by guest ‘cello soloist Pieter Wispelway playing in the ranks in the Sibelius and taking centre stage for the Sallinen.   I liked to think I spotted some links, but the pieces were very different and enjoyable.

Wispelway continued with the Vivaldi B Minor ‘Cello Concerto, winding up the Ensemble to ever greater excitement.   The slow movement with ‘cellos and theoboro provided a beautiful contrast to the faster outer movements.

The second half was George Enescu’s massive Octet which was a piece the Ensemble really got their teeth into with leader Jonathan Morton playing or conducting with his bow.    The music was quite a mixture and complicated, with Richard Strauss type key changes but folky Romanian in parts too.

We went to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven and Brahms a few days before.   It was a very good concert in the capable hands of Donald Runnicles – and how lucky Scotland is to have him back.   But I am trying to work out why this Scottish Ensemble performance was so much more exciting – by a mile.   Perhaps it is watching how the players glance at eachother during the pieces – they are looking for cues, but you can catch big smiles there too.   And that is the clue – the players are really enjoying themselves, no moreso than the leader, up on the balls of his feet and absolutely in charge.

They take the same concert to the Wigmore Hall in London.

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I wanted to catch Corinne Bailey Rae after seeing her on the Abbey Road TV programme a while back – first with Put Your Records On, but then, more interestingly with Harbie Hancock singing River  – the bass player and drummer in that clip were in Jeff Beck’s band when he played at Ronnie Scott’s.

Corinne Bailey RaeFirstly, the positives:   Corinne Bailey Rae is a wonderful singer who has written some seriously good songs.    Not only that, but she really performs them on stage like she means it, and they were both edgy and mournful at times.     The songs cry out to be listened to.   

Sadly, her songs were all too often drowned out by the band.   The mixing desk folk must have had cloth ears – what is it that they actually do?   There was simply far too much noise and the sound was unforgiveably muddy from a crew intent on serving up a heavy rock mix instead of a jazz-type mix which would have allowed us to hear the artist properly.

Bailey Rae should rethink her presentation style, have words with her sound crew, and get them to pay the parking ticket which was on her tour bus outside by way of penance.   This is how the line-up should have sounded.

You see the ad, buy the tickets and ring-fence the date in the diary.   You look forward to it for weeks.    You drive 50 miles to the gig and 50 miles back again, only to have it messed up because someone can’t work a mixing desk.      Disappointing.    We were not the only ones to think so – the folk next to us left early.

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Wilde productions from the south of England brought the first touring version of Alan Bennet’s play since the original NT production to Perth.    I was curious to see this having enjoyed the film when it came out with Nigel Hawthorne.

Madness of King George IIIThis was the third theatre venue of the tour, and the first night in Perth.   Technical problems kept the actors and audience waiting for (count them) 50 minutes.   We were not even allowed into the house, and stood about the extremely stuffy foyer of Perth Theatre while presumably inside the technical people faffed about with laptops.    This was a long show, and quite a few audience left as they realised that finishing time would be after 11pm.   We were never given a proper explanation.

And this production of the play was not as good as the film – not by a long chalk.    Short scenes were played out in front of a series of flimsy curtains, but the momentum sagged in the first half – clearly the actors were not at their best either after studying their dressing room walls for an hour.    However, by the second half, the action moved along better – the King became iller and then recovered.    Simon Ward as the King, Jamie Hinde as Pitt and Kate Colebrook as the Page gave the best performances in what was otherwise a disappointing evening all round.

I can’t leave this without commenting on the odd costumes, topped by the most ridiculous joke wigs you have ever seen.   The Queen looked like she was wearing a tea cosy.    They clearly found some proper wigs for the poster, so what on earth is going on here?     This is a serious play about the monarch going mad, and the political power-playing that ensues – to dress it up like a caricature is to do is a great disservice.   

And why has this play not been taken on by any Scottish house?  This is exactly the play which Perth Rep or Dundee Rep could have tackled, and odds on they would have made a much better job.

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