Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category

CATS Awards

The CATS shortlist is now out.

Lots of good things to choose from, and of the entries I have seen, I agree with the critics by and large.   Encouraging to see the Royal Lyceum back in the running, joining CATS stalwarts Dundee Rep and The Traverse.

Particularly outstanding was Roadkill, which was different, difficult and challenging and really deserves its several nominations.   Also multi-nominated was Sweeny Todd from Dundee Rep, which completely justifies all of its entries – Sondheim is difficult to pull off, and this production was particularly special.

I do have a problem with the several nominations for Age of Arousal from Stellar Quines, which although stylish and well acted, was let down by its writing and direction.   Good, but certainly not special enough to be award winning.

I had a similar problem with The Unconquered from the same outfit, which also won awards a few years back.   So perhaps it is just me then.

But good luck to all shortlisted entries, including Age of Arousal.  It has been a rich year for Scottish Theatre, and several shows must have good entries, but were pipped to the post.

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Boo!  Boo!  Boo! to Horsecross.   

rotten tomatoes for Horsecross

Rotten Tomatoes for Horsecross

Horsecross which runs Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre has just introduced booking fees after being booking fee free since it opened – apart from touring shows which imposed their own booking fees.

Booking fees are a rip-off tax on the arts, and Horsecross is charging 50p a ticket.    So I have just bought 12 tickets in one transaction for several events which comes to around £180, and I now have to pay an extra £6 “arts tax”.    

It does not cost £6 to process £180.

The lunacy is that if I buy 12 tickets for the same event the booking fee is waived on tickets 11 and 12.    That’s real Alice in Wonderland logic for you, as is the waiving of the booking fee if you turn up in person and pay in cash.

If I go into a supermarket, I don’t have to pay extra for the shop to process my transaction.    Horsecross should be no different.   There are plenty of arts organisations that don’t charge booking fees, and Horsecross should be one of them.

Consider this post a generous dose of virtual rotten tomatoes.

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We tried to get to see Roadkill back in the summer at the Tron ahead of its run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it scooped a clutch of awards, and where we also failed to secure tickets.   We tried again for the recent run at the Tron, and initially failed, but we were put  on a waiting list – luckily we were offered returns…….

We knew well in advance that this was a hard-hitting play about sex trafficking, and that it was to be played out to a small audience in a seedy flat somewhere in town.     As a theatrical experience, it was deeply disturbing, and raised all sorts of questions.


Roadkill - photo, Ankur productions

We got on the wee bus at the Tron, and last to get on was Martha, a young smart Nigerian lady with Mary, a 14 year old Nigerian girl, fresh off the plane, hugely over excited to be starting a new life in Glasgow.   The girl sat across the aisle from me.   We struck up a conversation about farming;   she talked about Glasgow pubs to someone else, and about the lack of people walking about on the streets, and the fact that she had seen few black faces.   

OK, so this was a game which we, the 15 of us who made up the audience played:   Mary was in character of course:   we knew, and she knew.    Making friends with us, her fellow passengers cleverly heightened the shattering impact of this play.

We drove past the Citz and the Tramway, and we all got out at a run down flat nearby.   There was a smashed up loo and basin beside the steps – put there by the company, or just simply ‘there’ in the street?  

Within the space of a few minutes, the bubbly excitable 14 year old had been raped by an Eastern European man who was running the flat of sex trafficked girls, aided by Martha, called ‘auntie’ by the girl.    She was introduced to prostitution, and given explicit lessons on how to cope with clients.     She was cruelly convinced that the money was being sent back home to her family in Africa.     

The performances from Mercy Ojelade as Mary, Adura Onashile, and John Kazek (who played all the men) were quite extraordinary and outstanding.    Real tears.   Graphic detail was conveyed by video projection and soundscape, one part featuring read out entries from a real website where clients post their experiences with various girls in the city, as if putting up reviews up for  hotel rooms on Tripadvisor.   It was grim stuff indeed

It was all very real and horrifying for us in the audience sitting on our small stools around Mary’s room.    What made it bearable was Mary’s inner strength, which she held onto despite what others were doing to her, and in the end offered a glimmer of hope of sorts.  

The location of the flat underlined that this is happening in everyday places we know – not the obvious red light districts.    It really did leave questions of us in the audience who almost felt like voyeurs into a parallel world happening right alongside us – only a short bus-ride away.   It was a powerful theatrical experience, but I feel very uncomfortable walking away from this if that is the only thing I do take away.   And perhaps that is director Cora Bissett’s aim – to highlight the problem, and perhaps galvanise  some sort of action.   In particular, she highlights the relationship between the older woman and the girl as repulsive and intriguing:   how can one woman do this to another?  

The bus ride back to the Theatre was very sombre and thoughtful.

Roadkill is available for touring, so hopefully will be performed elsewhere.

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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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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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Decky Does A Bronco

Looking through actors’ biographies in theatre programmes in Scotland, Decky Does a Bronco is a play which actors are clearly proud to have been in, because it crops up time and again.    

Grid Iron is reviving this 10 year old play by Donald Maxwell.   It has been touring Scotland since June and is currently on the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival.   

The play is set in a swing park, and this production takes a  set of swings with it as it goes.      We caught it on a rather drizzly night at Lochee Park in Dundee and  sat in a circle of about 100 of us on wee camp stools, fairly happed up against a dampish evening with umbrellas at the ready.  

To bronco a swing you stand on it, worky up to the bumps, level with the bar, kick the swing over your head and jump beneath it.     This play is about a group boys growing up on a Scottish council estate, and their changing relationships as they grow older.     To be able to bronco a swing is a sign of acceptance – all the lads can do it – except Decky, who is just too wee, and therefore the odd boy out – a social ranking that leads to a tragic conclusion.

Decky Does A BroncoThe play is performed by six adults, three playing the younger selves of the others.    It held together engagingly by David, played by Martin McCormick who narrates the story.   There are  some thrilling acrobatics on the set of battered but carefully strengthened swings, and an atmospheric soundtrack adds to the piece.

The subject matter here has been dealt with in many plays and books, and I am not sure it all worked here.  In particular,  I really wanted to hear all of the writing, but at times words became lost in the background noise of traffic going past, despite the actors being miked up.    But it was a powerful piece, well acted, and we were really glad we saw it.

Catch it at the Edinburgh Fringe at the King George V Park at the bottom of Scotland Street.    Beware though …….. being it’s Edinburgh in August, the prices are well racked up:   we saw this on a Saturday night in Dundee:   2 adults @ £8 and a student at £5 is £21 all in.   To see the same thing in Edinburgh on a Saturday night would have  cost us £19 per adult + a £15 student which is £53.      Excuse me, but that’s a massive increase, way beyond what is reasonable for a show like this, which comes in at just over the hour.     The Traverse is being a bit greedy methinks.

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I enjoy Arthur Miller plays, but had never seen The Price, so a visit to The Lyceum’s new production was a must.   Especially as director John Dove had done such a good job of Death of a Salesman and more particularly, All My Sons.

The play is set in the attic of a New York apartment, stuffed full of ‘good’ furniture piled high, well realised by designer Michael Taylor, who once again teamed up with John Dove.

We have two brothers:   Victor, a New York cop nearing retirement, who might have had a brilliant career had he not devoted time to looking after his aged (now dead) father, and Walter who chose to leave and is now a well-respected surgeon with a hospital named after him.    Well, it is actually never as simple as that of course, and as the play develops, we discover a complicated story, and the reasons why the brothers have not spoken for many years.

What brings them together is the forced sale of the furniture, as the building it sits in is due for demolition.    The furniture belongs jointly to the two brothers.  And as the aged furniture dealer Gregory Solomon says, his services are usually required at divorces and deaths:   there is always a story.    Victor’s wife Esther thinks that Victor deserves the lot, but Victor is not so sure.

Cast of The Price

The Price is the price for the goods on sale, but the play is about the price of friendships, sacrifices made, and ultimately, the price of family relationships.    You choose your friends, but have to live with your family.

All performances were strong and measured.   Greg Powrie and Aden Gillett play the two brothers, and Sally Edwards as Victor’s wife, Esther.   James Hayes plays the old, wizzen and wise furniture dealer, spinning yarns and telling us about his history, and his philosophy on sales of furniture.      He is so old, there is always the question hanging throughout that he might die as the family squabble, with no deal done.

Miller’s tale is well told.   We saw this on preview night, and felt momentum was lost a little in the complicated second half, where there is a lot of story to get across, but this is bound to improve as the production beds in.   It is a good start to 2010 playgoing year, and is recommeded.

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It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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That Face

That Face is a play by the young playwright Polly Stenham, given its first Scottish outing at The Tron.    Moved to a Glasgow setting, it is a play about a broken family:   alcoholic mother Martha living in a filthy (think Tracy Emin’s Bed) bedsit with her son Henry.   Daughter, Mia, is at boarding school, paid for by father, Hugh who is in the Far East with a new lady and baby.

That Face

That Face

When Mia is sent home from her school for forcibly giving pills stolen from her mother to a 13 year old girl in a boarding school  initiation ceremony, her father gets on the next flight home, and the scene is set for an already fragile family to unwind in style.

Sitting in the second row, we were  completely drawn in to this compelling drama.   The performances from all the main characters were just superb, with James Young as Henry and Kathryn Howden as Martha taking the honours.     Andy Arnold’s direction was perfect, and we loved the multi-level set from Adam Wiltshire which retained the cramped bedsit as a core, yet broadened out to include a vast Glasgow skyline.

One could probably unpick bits of the play, and the relationship between mother and son did not quite ring true at times, but the tears at the end were real enough, onstage and in the audience.

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Preview of the Last Witch

Getting to things in the Edinburgh Festival is always difficult because it coincides with farm harvest. We really wanted to catch The Last Witch – a new play by Rona Munro, directed by Domenic Hill, so we travelled to the Citizens to see the very first performance ever.

In 1727 Janet Horne was tried as a witch and burnt in a barrel of tar at Dornoch in Sutherland.    She was the last witch to be burnt in Scotland.

The Last Witch

The Last Witch

It is probably not fair to review this, as there is a good week or so before it opens in the main Fesitval in Edinburgh, and there may be changes – there was certainly no script available.

But let’s just say we were impressed. Good story, great acting all round from a strong cast, and a production that builds the tension nicely to a frightening climax.

The first act sets it all up, but the second act really makes it. The packed house was very enthusiastic.  

It will be interesting to see how this does in the main Festival.    It is completely sold out already.

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