Archive for the ‘theatre’ Category

Hoors – Traverse



I suppose, we have all been waiting to see what Gregory Burke would do to follow Black Watch, but Black Watch is a once in a couple of decades iconic event which can’t and should not be followed by anything perhaps.    In that case, Hoors might be seen as the play after the successful Gagarin Way.

We are taken deep into Fife where we meet sisters Vikki and Nicki.    Vikki was due to marry her builder fiancee Andy, but he is already onstage in a coffin, the result of a particulary wild stag do involving very dodgy drugs, a visit to hospital and an attempt on a mile high conquest in a budget airline’s loos.    Wedding day becomes funeral date:   “well at least the church was booked”.   The women are well-to do with money to spend, but their attitudes to relationships is transient to say the least.   As the wedding has been approaching, clearly things were not all rosy in the Andy and Vicky depatment – so much so that Vicky can’t be said to be sorry that things have turned out thus.

Two men roll up, Stevie and (fresh in from Dubai) Tony clearly to say cheerio to their friend, but also to see how far they can get with the two sisters.      Drink and drugs are taken, and the evening’s events take their course.    Let’s just say that neither of the men manage what they earlier had imagined they might.    

I was disappointed and not convinced with this.    Some of the writing was very sharp, and indeed very funny, but the characters seemed too shallow, and by the end, nobody had changed or learnt from their experiences.   Maybe that was the whole depressing point of course.   I rather disliked the four characters and nothing in the play made me care about what happened to them.

The set with its light leather sofa on cerise carpet and huge “Ages of Man” picture worked well enough.   A revolve revealed a bedroom with double bed on the same carpet.    I thought that more use of lighting the front and back could have been made instead of the set going round and round and round again interminably to fit in with the split dialogue.

As the play got into the second half, conversations become more disjointed, and I was longing to see a scene with everyone in the same room again, but it just never happened.   All just a bit pointless where much more could have been said.

Read Full Post »

CATS Awards

The CATS awards will soon be upon us, with a shortlist announced soon – on May 16th.    (They have a spectacularly horrible website with sideways scrolling required – yuck! –  but now fixed for IE users like me – thanks Mark!)

But I wonder what they will choose.    And I also wonder if blogs covering theatre in Scotland should get a say.   I’ll bet that Statler and Waldorf at View from the Stalls  will have seen the shortlisted productions.

Read Full Post »

Be Near Me, a  joint production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Donmar Warehouse reached Perth last week.

Ian McDiarmid adapted this from Andrew O’ Hagan’s book, and he also starred in this disturbing piece.     The story, set in a sectarian west coast community is about Father David Anderton, a very English, Catholic priest, fond of wine, classical music …….. and the odd young boy.

Anderton, for ever scarred by the death of a close friend, Conor, in a car crash while they were at University in Oxford, sought refuge in the Church.    A good administrator, but poor priest, he was taken on reluctantly by the Glasgow Bishop only because he was intelligent, and they were short of priests.    In what was a rather improbable series of errors of judgement, he got a little too friendly with a group of difficult teenagers, including 15 year old  Mark.    Mark  ended up at the rectory, and after drink and drugs were taken, Anderton planted a kiss on the boy’s lips.   

The wider community was well represented by the rest of the actors, mostly present onstage throughout.   In a strong cast, Blythe Duff gave was particularly outstanding as Mrs Poole, Anderton’s housekeeper.    Collette O’Neill played Anderton’s mother – bright, old and wise, and still churning out her books with plenty of sex included.    There was some excellent singing, which under John Tiffany’s direction, added much to the drama.

But ultimately, this was not a comfortable play.    The very English, camp Catholic priest was very much at odds with Ayrshire working class community.      Anderton  reminded me of the English Colonel in Tunes of Glory.   And the sectarianism was present from the old down to the young.   Anderton held very different views to his peers, which we saw demonstrated in a wonderful dinner party scene.

In the end, Anderton was a lost man – he lost his job and had to do community service, but he lost his way in life:   he was challenged about what he had achieved in his church career not only by the young teenagers, but by his agnostic mother.     Ian McDiarmid gave a very convincing performance, even if what we were being asked to believe was less so at times.

And nice to see Perth Theatre very busy, and to see a good sprinkling of other actors and a director in the audience, which is always a good sign.

Read Full Post »

Edward Albee’s strange thrilling play about destructive mind games fuelled by industrial amounts of drink is given an absolutely stunning production at Dundee Rep.

Firstly, the set, designed by Phil Whitcomb extended into the space occupied by the first four rows of the stalls, and in an already very intimate theatre, we were effectively sitting right in Martha and George’s messy living room, which itself was set on a sea of broken glass.       Outside, the rain poured, and dripped off the veranda roof at the back of the set.      A studio space, if you like, allowing the play to build pressure as Martha and George raged at eachother and bullied their guests.

Irene Macdougall and Robert Patterson as Martha and George.   Photo Dundee Rep

Irene Macdougall and Robert Patterson as Martha and George. Photo Dundee Rep

Irene Macdougall as Martha, daughter of the college principal, and Robert Patterson as weak academic George gave just amazing performances, unravelling their complicated lives and playing ‘get the guests’ as the drink took hold.   

Dundee Rep should be congratulated on casting two newcomers as the young couple Honey and Nick.    Barely out of college, Alan Burgon and Gemma McElhinney also gave first-rate performances of which to be especially proud.  

Director James Brinning kept the action  going and wound up the intensity so that the pace never flagged at all during the three hours of play (+intervals).     The music by Ivan Stott added atmosphere, and I loved the dance to Thelonious Monk’s Well You Needn’t .   By the end, as dawn finally broke, and calm descended, actors and audience alike had been through a wringer of a journey.      It is perhaps unfair to single out anyone from such a great ensemble, but Robert Patterson as George was simply outstanding – not in control of his family, burnt out in his career, but finally manipulating the action to his own ends.     His rage was genuinely dangerous and alarming.

Catch it if you get the chance – on until 21st March.   Scottish theatre at its best.

Oh ……..  last time we saw this play at Dundee, a certain young David Tennant was playing Nick.

Read Full Post »

Shun-kin – Barbican – London

Tsukasa Aoki

Photo: Tsukasa Aoki

We were looking for something to go and see during a recent visit to London, and Theatre de Complicite caught our eye.    We have been big fans of Complicite and Simon McBurney ever since they visited Dundee and performed Street of Crocodiles.    They don’t do many performances, but what they do is different and special.

So a play completely in Japanese seemed pretty different from your usual West End show, and we booked to see Shun-kin.

The story is based on two 1933 writings from Japanese author Jun’ichiro Tanizaki:   A Portrait of Shunkin and In Praise of Shadows.     Shunkin was a blind female  player and teacher of a Japanese stringed instrument called the shamisen.   She was stunningly beautiful.    She lived with her servant Sasuke, who became her pupil and then her lover in a complicated often sado-masochistic relationship.     A story then about devotion, expect, as McBurney says, in Japan it is sometimes hard to know what you are looking at.

Shunkin was a petulant child, getting her own way, but her servant Sasuke stayed loyal to her, despite her being unspeakably cruel.    There were children, but these were taken away and adopted – Sasuke never saw them again.    One day, a pupil deliberately burnt Shunkin’s face, causing horrible disfigurement, and Shunkin wrapped up her head in a bandage, determined that Sasuke should not see her in her ugliness.     But Sasuke made a huge sacrifice so that he might stay with Shunkin, and fixed it so that he could never see her again.    With a needle from the sewing room.     A poor man who threw away so much to stay loyal.     Why did he do that?

Perhaps a clue lies in the second text which praises the beauty of darkness and shadow.    The set was very dark, with much use of candlelight, and this was a very dark haunting tale, so beautifully told by Complicite.     McBurney spread the story across the generations, so at the beginning, an old man wandered onto the set with a long stick and explained all about it, and about the graves of Shunkin and Sasuke who lived in the mid 19th century.           The action took place back then, but told through an actress reading the book in a Tokyo radio studio for modern-day transmission.    “Mushi Mushi” she said into her mobile phone to her on/off lover between takes.

And the stagecraft from Complicite was just awesome using movement, sound and video projection seamlessly.    Shunkin’s pet lark was taken out of its box – a flapping bit of paper, then a flock of flapping bits of paper by the actors, and then the video projection took over and the flapping bits of paper became birds flying up and up and across the stage.   Poles became swaying branches.     But the coup de theatre was that Shunkin was portrayed first as a child puppet, then an adult puppet – wonderful work by Blind Summit Theatre – but then morphing into a real actor later on – still with a puppet mask, still moved by puppeteers.       The sound-scape and effects  from Gareth Fry – including the now trademark Complicite effect of a soundtrack taking over from an actor speaking completely seamlessly – was a big integral part.   Fry has worked on most Complicite productions, but also did the sound for Black Watch.

And as a bonus, we got a surprise appearance from McBurney himself:    the play started, and the old man came in and explained in Japenese about his stick, and then introduced another man with a big book.     But the promised supertitles failed to start, and the stage manager had to stop the action, and then McBurney came bouncing on to explain that we really needed them – nice to see him there.

I found the action on stage so mesmeric, that it was a struggle to look away and read the very wordy surtitles at either side of the stage.     In opera, there are far fewer words, making surtitle reading much easier, but this was quite a struggle as it was so text based.

But we really enjoyed this very different evening at the theatre.    Shun-kin is transfering back to Tokyo in March.

Read Full Post »

This was a play, from a book written by Vivian French using her actual experience dealing with pregnant teenagers and directed by her daughter, Jemima Levick.      It was about two 15 year old schoolgirls from very different backgrounds who find themselves pregnant and who go on to have a baby each.

Posh April (Hannah Donaldson) with her designer clothes, perfect hair and snow white trainers and pink haired black lipsticked street-goth Pinkie (Ashley Smith) are recruited to give a talk to a school, clearly to present the message that having a baby at 15 is difficult, and looking after one is an ongoing 24/7 commitment…… and don’t have sex …… ever!    But the stories don’t quite convey the message the authorities want to hear.

The acting and direction was spot-on, but the play fell down on its obviousness, and the themes it never quite got to:    why did posh April’s mum chuck her out of the house, yet Pinkie’s mum allow her to stay at home?    Why did April’s mum continue to have minimal contact after the baby was born.     I was also not completely convinced by the relationship between April and Pinkie, but perhaps that was the point.   And why was there no mention of what it was actually like to have to leave school and school friends early?     And how did pregnancy affect the very different social circles of both girls?

I was not sure what to take away from this play, except that we should not perhaps judge 15 year old pregnant girls too harshly.     Other than that, this was a bit thin.   The two 17 year old girls who came with us thought so too.

But is was good to catch up with actors Hannah Donaldson, seen in Romeo and Juliet at Dundee, and Sunset Song in Perth, as well as Ashley Smith, last seen ankle-deep in water in Nasty Brutish and Short.    And Jemima Levick, who also directed a wonderful Beauty and the Beast at Dundee Rep is a director to watch in the future.

Coming in the week that the UK’s youngest Dad at 13 has been feted in all the papers, and the week that we discover that the 15 year-old mother has possibly been dividing her attentions round the community, the play was certainly topical.

Read Full Post »

Tam O’ Shanter – Perth Theatre

tam-o-shanterRobert Burns’ wonderful and much loved poem was given an amazing stage treatment at Perth Theatre in a production devised and directed by Gerry Mulgrew.    The timing could not have been better coming just on the 250th celebration of Burns’ birthday, and the start of Homecoming 2009.

But how to pad out a fifteen minute poem into an evening’s entertainment?    Retain the poem, of course, and add in some other Robert Burns poems and songs as well as some modern links in a Burns style.    

The result was  a 90 minute show which was a pure delight.    This was Mulgrew at his storytelling best where the actors worked very hard with few props.      As well as the main story, we met all the individuals in the pub, who took the chance to dress up as other characters in an extended party piece session.     Nice turns from Andy Clark as Tam, and Kirstin McLean (last seen in The Lesson) as Meg, Robbie Jack as the Poet and Gerda Stevenson as the Muse.

As well as the excellent acting, the music played a big part here, as Annie Grace, Brian McAlpine and Aly Macrae tackled a large assortment of instruments with great gusto.

Great fun for a cold night in February.   Let’s have more like this in Perth.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Beauty and the Beast - photo Dundee Rep - with permission

Beauty and the Beast - photo Dundee Rep - with permission

I confess to wondering that with the Dundee Rep ‘A’  Team busy wowing audiences across Scotland with their award-winning show Sunshine on Leith, that the ‘B’ Team left at home might be struggling in terms of resources to get on a substantial Christmas show back at the Rep.

I need not have worried:   Beauty and the Beast at Dundee Rep is probably one of  the best pieces of seasonal theatre I have seen for a while, and thoroughly deserves the full houses and five star reviews it has been getting.      Just nine actors tell the story, and with a minimalist and very effective set, they sing, dance and use an endless array of props to tell the story.     And the story is so clearly told – we were immediately in France (the cast arrived onstage singing a French song), and introduced to the Merchant’s lively family.     But when within minutes of the start we went from the hugely amusing light-harted squabbling among the siblings to the death of their mother, handled brilliantly and sensitively with black parisian umbrellas, this was clearly going to a very special night of darkness and light, adventure and sheer magic.

This was director Jemima Levick’s first piece for the Rep.    In many Christmas shows, baddies are often very shouty and come with an array of big sound effects.   But Levick’s answer to this was to adopt a ‘less is more’ approach, which allowed the story to emerge with crystal clarity:   the impossibility of the Merchant’s choice between sacrificing himself or letting his daughter return to Beast’s palace;    the challenge Beauty makes to the Beast after he has rescued her from a wolf attack, and the chilling confrontation between the Beast and his minder, the Witch.       It was a nice touch to pass the actual story book through scenes.   

photo - Dundee Rep - with permission

photo - Dundee Rep - with permission

Karen Maciver’s score – performed live with cellist Seylan Baxter – gave this show an even greater depth, aided by some stunning lighting from Chris Davey.      Alex Lowde’s designs were minimal and imaginative – floating vertical coloured neon tubes for the palace, a whole hall of mirrors, and weather from rain and mud to wind and snow.     And a caravan.

It was just a wonderful evening, and harked back perhaps to the iconic Communicado’s Tall Tales.    This was one of those shows to grab and hold the attention of people new to live performance – what a five star way to start a theatregoing habit of a lifetime.

Read Full Post »

The Traverse and the National Theatre of Scotland have put on 4 new plays this autumn.    I missed Cockroach but caught this double bill as well as Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us.

Both of these new plays were directed by Domenic Hill, and Naomi Wilkinson designed the sets.    The pair have worked together before, notably at Dundee rep for Peer Gynt  and Midsummer Night’s Dream which both won set design awards.    The latter involved a large amount of water, used to great effect.

So, the Dogstone was a two hander by new playwright Kenny Lindsay about a father, Danskin and his son Lorn, set in Oban.    Andy Gray played the now alcoholic father – how good to see him in a serious role, and Scott Fletcher was the boy.     While both performances were very good, I was not convinced there was enough to make this worthwhile, although there were some interesting father/son moments.

After the break, it was Andy Duffy’s Nasty Brutish and Short.    The set was some furniture and piles of magazines placed in about 3 inches of water.    There was en electric bar fire sitting in the water too, and a sort of sparky (in a short circuit way) soundscape.    And the piece was very edgy indeed involving a teenaged couple Mary Jane and Luke (Ashley Smith and James Young) and Luke’s elder brother Jim played by Martin Docherty.     At first the actors wandered in and out of the water, but as things became more animated, water went everywhere, and I found this effective.    But this was a dark, dark tale with a particularly brutal rape scene – yes, thrashing about in the water.   

I generally like a challenge when I go to the theatre, but I did struggle with this.   Perhaps because it was seen in a week when the newspapers were printing the real story of ‘Baby P’ in simply unreadable detail that it threw up more questions than it might have otherwise done.    In the end, I was not actually sure what we were supposed to take away from this, apart from the fact that it lived up to its title.

I like Traverse 1 in the round, although it means that we do see backs of heads for at least some of the performance.    You also get to see the rest of the audience, and there have been some very famous Scottish faces in the ranks.     I also like the fact that Domenic Hill, the Traverse director, is always around somewhere, if not at the actual production, then networking in the bar.    To be fair, his predecessor Philip Howard was also ‘omnipresent’.      A sign of a good theatre.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »