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Arts Round-Up 2008

It has been another busy year in the arts:

25 plays seen – Jo Clifford’s touring version of Great Expectations from Prime productions impressed, as did John Byrne’s fouth part in his Slab Boys ‘trilogy’ Nova Scotia at the Traverse.     At Dundee Rep, Romeo and Juliet, Les Parents Terribles,  and their wonderful Christmas show Beauty and the Beast  were all very good.    In Perth, Of Mice and Men, and touring productions of Oleanna and Little Otik  stood out.   We travelled to Aberdeen to catch The Bacchae, which was worth the trip.    At the Traverse, Fall was a challenging night out, but good theatre, and David Greig’s Midsummer was great fun and well performed.      Out and out winner was Drawer Boy at the Tron – a gentle tale set on a farm in the Canadian prairie, but intensely haunting.    Great to have support on this from Waldorf and Statler over at View From the Stalls – who manage get out to a lot of theatre.

11 Operas – we enjoyed Scottish Opera’s experiment of Five:15 minute brand new operas at Oran Mor – and we will be going along to the next batch fairly soon.      (Oh and I was counting this evening as one opera – so perhaps that should be 15 operas in all, then).    Scotland’s only Opera School at RSAMD continues to impress, nowhere moreso than in the performances of Eugene Onegin where they collaborated with the Rostov-on-Don Conservatoire in Russia.     On the big stage from Scottish Opera, Scottish composer Judith Weir’s Night at the Chinese Opera was well sung and very interesting,  their new production of La Traviata was also outstanding as was their Edinburgh Festival production of The Two Widows.    English Touring Opera visited Perth Festival and gave us a stunningly good Don Giovanni – just wonderful to hear Mozart in a chamber opera setting.    But for sheer drama and intensity, the performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera The Martyrdom of St Magnus by the Hebrides Ensemble and directed by Ben Twist was very special.     And in 2008 we really enjoyed seeing Scottish singer Kate Valentine emerging from almost nowhere to take key roles in Five:15 and in The Two Widows – one to watch.

13 concerts – for consistently being outstanding, and for bringing interesting guests with them, The Scottish Ensemble takes the honours.   But we enjoyed the RSNO when they brought Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust to Perth, which was an event in itself.    And recently, the Patriachiate Choir of Moscow stepped of a plane direct from Russia and performed unaccompanied orthodox singing, as well as Russian folksongs in Perth – their only Scottish date.     Unsung hero is Svend Brown who is in charge of classical music at Perth Horsecross and who brings people to Perth who would never have come here before.

One major gig this year, which was Elton John in Perth, which was just hours of good fun.

And one ballet:   Sleeping Beauty, which is well worth catching on its current tour.

2008 was a pretty good year.   I do think that 2009 will be challenging, because in credit crunch times, it will be harder for audiences to afford to buy tickets for, and travel to and from live performances.     I hope that promoters will continue to run offers on quiet nights, low prices for under 26s and so on – it does all make a big difference, particularly when we take some youngsters along with us – they are the future audience, after all.    And of course, there is a big question mark over the considerable corporate and private sponsorship which the arts in Scotland enjoy – the Bank of Scotland sponsored Sleeping Beauty being the current example on tour just now.

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A friend is getting married soon, so for a stag activity day, we all went to Go Ape at Aberfoyle.    Go Ape is a high wire ropes course, and the Aberfoyle site has the second-longest and the longest zip-wires in the UK.

We were fitted into safety harnesses and had a fairly lenghty training session, where the safety procedure and the ‘always stay attached’ lesson was drummed into us.    Then we were off, down the second-longest zip slide in the UK, which was pretty thrilling, and very high up.

After that, there was a series of high wire obstacles to complete, including a couple of tarzan swings where you jump off a platform and swing into a cargo net.    I did fine the first of these difficult, and getting up a cargo net much trickier than it looked.    Lots of wobbly bridges in the sky with not a lot to hang onto, although we were well attached if we slipped off.    Some of us took the by-pass round the bigger tarzan swing, and some went for it.   

The finale was the longest zip wire in the UK, which was thrilling.    Normally, you are not allowed to start down a zip wire until the other end is clear, but with this last zip, you could not see the other end!    There was a TV screen at the launch point to show us when  it was clear to go.

Good fun, and most of us did everything, although there were a couple in the party who would probably not do it again in a hurry.

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Picking Brambles

Peter Rabbit famously bunked off family bramble picking to visit the delights of Mr MacGregor’s garden, and ended up being put to bed with camomile tea while everyone else ate fresh blackberries for their supper.

Ever since I can remember, I have picked brambles every autumn.    There is something wonderful about the big black shiny fruits which are so packed with flavour, and something challenging about struggling through jaggy thickets to reach the biggest juiciest berries.

We do cheat a bit these days, because we have trained a bramble along a wall in our garden, and get most of what we need from there.    But I do try and get along a hedgerow or two as well.    For old time’s sake.

But only this month of course, as anyone knows who has tried to eat brambles next month:   the devil spits on them in October.

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Carol Hogel is an American who has been living in Scotland for the past 25 years.    She has been a major sponsor of the arts in Scotland and the UK – to the tune of £20 million through the Dunard Fund which she set up.

She has contributed to the RSNO, most UK opera companies, the National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and lots more.    It is a big list, and adds up to a lot of money.

For Scotland, through her generosity, she has allowed us to be genuinely ambitious with artistic projects, like the building of the Playfair project at the National Gallery, like bringing Peter Stein’s Parsifal to Edinburgh, and so much more.      She helped rescue the Edinburgh International Festival from a financial black hole.   In short, she has made a major contribution to the UK arts, particularly in Scotland.

But now, faced with what she sees as a tax for bringing her wealth to the UK – the Brown/Darling  non dom tax of £30,000 pa, she has announced that she is moving to California, where philanthropists giving to the arts are appreciated.

Shamingly, it was not the tax itself which tipped the balance, but a chippy article written by Robert McNeil in The Scotsman which concluded by saying “The rich are leaving, and good ruddy riddance to them”.   Hogel wrote a letter back accusing McNeil of “taking ethnic cleansing to a whole new level” and calling him “destructive, spiteful and philistine”.    

A civilised country is measured in part by its artistic and cultural status and aspirations.     A vibrant arts sector contributes to the high quality of life we enjoy in Scotland.    It encourages others to visit, and it provides many jobs.

So, this is to say thank you so much to Carol Hogel for her generous contributions.      I am so sad it had to end like this.     NcNeil and The Scotsman should be hanging their heads in shame.

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Displacement Activity

This is a totally mad site:   you create a ‘person’ who then dances on a podium in front of a crowd of similar people to the one you created.

Totally addictive.

http://roxik.com/pictaps/?pid=a393510

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About Tam O Shanter

Bruce Fummey gave a cracking first rate performance of his Edinburgh Festival Show “About Tan O’ Shanter”.    The wee library theatre in Perth was simply packed with folk to hear this show.

The first half was a warm up – little to do with Burns, but great fun, ending with three lovely Burns songs movingly sung by Fummey’s sister.

The main show was inspired stuff – Bruce explained in hilarious detail the story of the poem, and a bit about Burns’ life and times.   He finished with an animated rendition of the piece.   The huge appreciation shown by the audience clearly moved the big man.

Quite a night.

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Comedy Night

On the first Friday of every month, there is a Comedy Night in Perth.      Held in Sportsters, it is an evening with three comedy stand-up acts, compered by Bruce Fummey.     I have been going on and off since this venture started.    Bruce is a very funny man, and has settled into his compere role with some style.    He is a physics teacher by day.   

It is interesting that the funniest comedians are the least rude, as a rule.     Some of Comedy Night performers have been so base that they are simply not funny.    It is probably best to leave your granny at home.

Of the three acts in an evening, usually at least one is very good, and others can be so-so to disappointing.    That is stand-up comedy for you.   The January show actually had two outstanding acts:   Gary Little and Shazia Mirza.    

Bruce Fummey is performing his own show “About Tam o’ Shanter” on the 19th January in the Perth Library Theatre.     It was the show he took to the Edinburgh Festival in 2006 to great acclaim.   His show last year, “The Greek, The Apple and The Time Machine” was very amusing, so I am sure that this will be as good.

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Happy New Year

The weather forced cancellation of big street parties in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh.    A big disappointment for all concerned:   those hoping for a decent party, the bands appearing and the organisers who put in so much planning to make sure the events go smoothly.    It was a very wild night, and to continue would have been unsafe.

The Flambeaux in Comrie went ahead as planned.   The rain stopped and the wind died down before the Bells.    This event is organised by a Committee in Comrie, and although low key, was great fun.    There was a fancy dress parade, and live music for reeling from an accordion and a large mouth organ.

Flambeaux at Comrie New Year 2007

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We are planning to go to Comrie for Hogmanay where there is a procession of flaming torches called Flambeaux.   These are birch poles soaked in the river Earn for six weeks before having tarry sackcloth wired to their tops ready for the procession.    They are lit and paraded through the village with a pipe band leading the way as well as a fancy dress parade.    It is a unique spectacle.

The weather forecast is particularly foul for the 31st – rain and big gales, so we will need to dress up.       Last time we were due to go to Comrie for New Year, the snow came down really heavily from 4pm onwards and blocked all the roads making travel especially dangerous.

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Went as part of a large party to Cinderella Pantomime at the Kings in Edinburgh last Sunday afternoon.

Andy Gray stars with Allan Stewart in fairy costume(s) and Grant Stott makes a great baddy.    It is high energy action from start to finish – really slick and very funny.    

I’ll not spoil it for those who have not been …… except to say that there were some genuinely magic, amazing and wonderful “how on earth do they do that?” moments.   

The show runs until 21st January, so there is lots of time to see it.   Really good fun.

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