Category Archives: Theatre reviews

Edinburgh Festival – Whatever Gets You Through The Night – August 2013

Whatever Gets You Through The Night - Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013It’s difficult to categorise Whatever Gets You Through The Night, it’s part-gig, part-theatre, but more simply, it’s an experience. 

The time is 4am, an hour considered too early to get up but too late to sleep. So what do people do at this awkward hour? It’s a void waiting to be filled with magical moments or a waking nightmare.

Scotland at night is imagined as a series of vignettes, depicting lovelorn insomniacs to hopeful romantics.

The show was created by Cora Bissett, Edinburgh band Swimmer One and David Greig. It also features contributions from writers such as Alan Bissett, Stef Smith and Kieran Hurley. Songs include Eugene Kelly’s Chips n’ Cheese and Emma Pollock’s Dark Skies.

Whatever Gets You Through The NightThe piano melody of Seafieldroad’s The Palace of Light was accompanied by Jen Paterson performing acrobatics with giant sheets suspended from the ceiling. The material eventually became a hammock as she disappeared to sleep inside a giant silk cocoon hanging in the air. The effect was stunning.

Whatever Gets You Through The Night

 

A young woman, the brilliant Frances Thorburn, was drinking wine and waiting by her laptop for her internet date. This was funny, tender and heartbreaking as her hopes for love faded to disappointment.

Saturday night in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street was played out on film, a repetitive montage to a hazy hallucinatory tune written by Kieran Hurley. And we saw a young lad as he staggered and swaggered along the streets, amid drunken bodies and neon lights.

In another scene, a taxi driver picked up a drunk, young girl and later on there was an ode to Chips n’ Cheese, a song written by Eugene Kelly which celebrates the drink-influenced delicacy of a night out.

Meanwhile further north in Aberdeen, we imaged the sea and the pier, as a woman tried to sell roses to couples romancing in the dark, and case of mistaken identity led to the sweet promise of love.

Paradoxically the darkness can serve to illuminate and exaggerate. Loneliness is exacerbated and in the dark you can feel like you are the only person in the world. It’s a feeling encapsulated by Isabel Wright as she gives birth on her own, taking a solitary journey into an unknown world.

And is the dark a comfort or a curse? A widower travels to Loch Lomond, he’s saying goodbye to his late wife, he’s alone with only thoughts of her and her ghost dancing with him.

It’s difficult to pin Whatever Gets You Through The Night into a genre. It’s a mixed bag, it’s thought-provoking and emotion-stirring.

Whatever Gets You Through The Night

Co-producer/collaborator of the show Andrew Eaton-Lewis, also of Edinburgh band Swimmer One and Seafieldroad says:

“It’s a bit like a circus. A bit like a cabaret. A bit like a party. A bit like a lullaby”.  

It’s a good description.

There’s an album of beautifully crafted songs which includes the sublime The North Star by Ricky Ross and Rachel Sermanni’s Lonely Taxi, 2am.

Buy the album here: Whatever Gets You Through The Night – buy the album through Bandcamp

For more about the creation of the show read this interview with Andrew Eaton-Lewis.

Interview with Andrew Eaton-Lewis

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Theatre: Black Watch, SECC, Glasgow April 4, 2013

Black Watch 2013

Picture credit: NTS

It’s seven years since the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch made its debut in Edinburgh, and it’s still one of the best pieces of theatre you will ever see.

NTS - Black Watch

The story, based on writer Gregory Burke’s interviews with former soldiers from the Fife regiment who served in Iraq, is told with a brutal honesty.

The men were lured away from the boredom of Fife with the excitement of guns, the promise of admiration from girls who love a soldier, the prospect of playing footie with your mates on sunny foreign lands, and a steady job and income.

But if they were bored in Fife, they were equally bored in Iraq, but placed in a foreign land where all is unfamiliar, unpredictable and dangerous. With expletive-laden dialogue, there’s no glamour. War isn’t romanticized.

Stuart Martin, Richard Rankin, Alan McNamara - Picture Credit: NTS

Stuart Martin, Richard Rankin, Alan McNamara
Picture Credit: NTS

There’s a lot of hanging around, waiting in the searing dusty heat. They have time and they have questions. Ultimately it’s not the job they signed up for. To pass the boredom there’s in-fighting and chat about food they miss from home, as one soldier relays the mundane minutiae of his local Chinese takeaway menu.

It’s hard to imagine two more differing worlds, than that of Fife and Iraq and the stage continually transitioned seamlessly between the two. Every prop was used to great effect and there’s the most surprising and innovate uses for a pool table you will ever see. The dialogue is brutally funny, brash and vulgar. One of the most entertaining characters is the pompous and blustering Lord Elgin, and an excellent performance by Stephen McCole.

But cut through the swearing, bravado, and in-fighting boredom, and suddenly one scene sneaks up like a stealth bomber to assault your emotions. The soldiers receive letters from home – the dialogue is redundant. The brash words replaced by silence as each soldier conveys their words and emotions by gentle hand and arm movements. The well-placed music of Yann Tiersen heightens this already tender moment, which renders the audience silent and thoughtful.

Music is put to brilliant effect all during the play and also includes The Flowers of the Forest played live on bagpipes and music from Davey Anderson including the Gallant Forty Twa.

Scott Fletcher and Robert Jack Picture Credit: NTS

Scott Fletcher and Robert Jack
Picture Credit: NTS

Directed by John Tiffany, the play has won 22 awards and played to more than 212,000 people. The 12 strong cast of this production features outstanding performances, particularly from Scott Fletcher as Kenzie, Robert Jack as Sergeant and Stuart Martin as Cammy.

The choreography from Steven Hoggett is visually stunning, with a brilliant display of the proud regiment’s roots told through a series of cleverly orchestrated costume changes on stage.

And an interesting contrast was that of seemingly putting battle to ballet.
The subtleties of movement and dance were almost balletic in their approach, and they were used to dramatic effect to show macho aggressiveness and fighting.

By the final scene there was another battle, that of trying desperately to hold on, with a choreographed finale of tenderness, friendship, caring, as well as sheer exhaustion, futility and sadness.

With Davey Anderson’s Parade played to a swelling swirl of bagpipes, the soldiers proudly and resolutely march side by side. Then with increasing fervour, comes the fighting, the falling, the exhaustion, the picking up, the carrying on, the fighting, the falling …

It’s beautiful, balletic, and amazingly powerful. This scene will stay etched in your mind … and heart for a long time after.

The show is now touring at Norfolk and Norwich Festival before moving to Seattle and San Francisco.

For more information see: National Theatre of Scotland website

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Theatre Review: My Name Is Rachel Corrie, Tron Theatre, Glasgow – February 5, 2013

On March 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she was trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

My Name Is Rachel Corrie cover

My Name Is Rachel Corrie cover

This piece of verbatim drama is based around Rachel’s own journals, letters and emails, which were edited by the actor Alan Rickman and Guardian Editor Katharine Viner.

The play first appeared in 2005, has been seen all around the world, and its first showing at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow was in 2010. Now revisited by Director Ros Philips, it’s part of an extensive Scottish tour via Mull Theatre in association with RT Productions and Sphinx.

Mairi Phillips is also reprising the role as Rachel, and gives an intense and moving performance in this one-woman play.

Mairi Phillips as Rachel Corrie

Mairi Phillips as Rachel Corrie. Photo by Tim Morozzo for Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow

Rachel wanted to make a difference and she wasn’t prepared to watch injustices happen in the world. But this fiery student, who was on her way to becoming a peace activist, was also a young woman trying to negotiate the everyday dilemmas of growing up.

And it’s through the mundane and ordinary world of Rachel, which can be seen interspersed throughout the play, that we get a sense of her personality. The little nuances which made her real and brought her to life

The scene is set upstairs at the Tron Theatre’s Changing House space. We enter Rachel’s world, initially via her bedroom of her home in Olympia, Washington. We see the untidy mess of discarded clothes, underwear and posters pinned crudely to the wall. We see her sitting on her bed taking off her make-up, listening to pop music on headphones and singing out loud. We hear about her student life, her dealings with the sometimes confusing mass of boyfriends, friends and relationships.

But her journey strays off the path of what many would consider “normal”. Not content to just read or hear the news, she wanted to experience for herself what conflict means to those who have to live with it. She wanted show communities living in troubled areas that there were people from other countries who cared about them.

So Rachel’s world changed, the scene moved from her bedroom and was cleverly imagined as the streets of Rafah City in Gaza. We were in the houses she shared with Palestinian families, who gave her shelter and offered her food. The noise and glare of lights from the military were outside the front door, while she was inside snuggled under a duvet with a family watching cartoons on TV.

Rachel posts details of Palestinian life on the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) website, and we are also reminded of the other life she’s left behind, through email exchanges with her parents.

As the play reaches its two hour conclusion, we sense a change in mood, an increase in tension and the fear around the situation seems to escalate.

This thoroughly engaging play will stay with you for a long while after it finishes and make you stop and think.

Touring throughout Scotland until Saturday March 9, 2013. For more details see: Mull Theatre

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Macbeth, Tramway, Glasgow, June 26, 2012

Alan Cumming is brilliant in National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Shakespeare’s murderous play. I sat through the whole 100 minutes mesmerized by his one-man Macbeth performance.

Alan Cumming as Macbeth. Picture credit Albert Watson

Alan Cumming as Macbeth. Picture credit Albert Watson

Set in a Victorian hospital, we are introduced to Cumming, a disheveled wreck of a man, as a male nurse (Ali Craig) and female doctor (Myra McFadyen), take his possessions, strip him, give him pyjamas and admit him to the ward. Then as they part, confined within the high green tiled walls, Cumming shouts in dismay the play’s opener “When shall we three meet again?”

It’s an engaging start and from therein Cumming commands the stage as every twist and turn, slight nuance, movement and intonation sees him shape shift on stage, sometimes in contortions, sometimes more subtly, seamlessly slipping out of one skin into another, through the key characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Banquo, Macduff and witches.

The effect is dramatic, dark and disturbing. Occasionally the doctor and nurse appear to administer drugs, mostly they watch from a window above. There are CCTV cameras and sometimes distorted noise.

As the play unfolded the air was deathly silent. The silence only broken by a standing ovation at the play’s conclusion, when Malcolm (played by a doll), took his rightful place on the throne.

As a concept, it worked. The setting of a psychiatric hospital fitted with Macbeth’s unhinged mind, (“full of scorpions”) and the descent into mental illness, which is also displayed by Lady Macbeth. Having Cumming play all the parts could also be seen to further emphasize mental illness through split personalities and having other people and voices occupying someone’s head.

However, a lot of questions were left hanging in the air and at the performance I attended, Cumming and director John Tiffany conducted a question and answer session chaired by journalist Janice Forsyth.

Cumming has been working out. He’s lean, fit and agile, sometimes arching and twisting with the sly, sleek, suppleness of a cat, especially during a scene where Lady Macbeth seduces her husband. He often appears with a bare torso, he strips off to get in a bath and he is often only wearing pants. It’s showing someone at their most vulnerable.

“It’s the most fun you’ll ever have watching someone wearing grey pants” jokes Cumming. But he admits it’s draining, not only physically (he has new bruises every day) but emotionally.

He admits he’s been in places before where he’s not managed to let some roles go at the end of the night and he’s struggled, but this time all the characters are left at the stage door.

The play is directed by John Tiffany, known for the Black Watch, and Andrew Goldberg. Tiffany has recently won a Tony award for Once, an adaptation of the film starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.

Tiffany was also reminded recently of an interview he gave to a newspaper years ago, when he claimed he would “never do Shakespeare.” On stage Tiffany laughed and explained that as a 14-year-old boy he didn’t understand the Bard’s writings. He felt too stupid for Shakespeare and the experience stayed with him.

There were a few school groups in the audience and perhaps the teenagers related to these sentiments. Some of them seemed quite awestruck at seeing Cumming, a Hollywood star who they’ve no doubt seen in films like Goldeneye and X2: X-Men United. They were eager to ask lots of insightful questions.

Tiffany also concluded that another advantage of their adaptation was that they could cut out the “boring parts” but still retain all the important text and plot, and some characters like Lennox and Scottish lords fell by the wayside.

The identity of the man in hospital caused debate. Initially he appeared as a victim but by the play’s conclusion he was the perpetrator of a heinous crime. Apparently during rehearsals he had the name of Fred.

And during rehearsals the characters seemed to take on their own identities. Tiffany said he would sometimes turn up on set and say “Lady Macbeth isn’t happy with her part.”

During discussions held with various medical professionals and psychiatrists it was revealed that Lady Macbeth is often looked at as an example for students studying OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

One of the interesting parts of the play which Cumming highlighted was the impact of how split decisions can alter your life. In Macbeth, the decision was made to murder, and the eventual and inevitable descent followed.

It seems Cumming is a bit of a workaholic, this was his “break” from his other job, where he stars as Eli Gold in the American legal drama series The Good Wife. Even during time off from Macbeth, Cumming has been giving interviews and appearing on television. And prior to rehearsals he recorded an audiobook of the play as well as Macbeth: A Novel by David Hewson and A J Hartley. Cumming seems to have a problem with sitting still, something which Tiffany joked about.

When asked who would play Cumming in a film, the answer was Cate Blanchett. It must be to do with her fabulous bone structure, something Cumming is also not short of.

Moving on to future work Cumming said he didn’t want other actors thinking – “oh that’s him – he’ll be wanting all the parts for himself.” He laughed “I will work with other actors. I’ve loved doing this but I don’t think I’ll be doing something like this again in a hurry.”

The play has finished its run in Glasgow and moves the Lincoln Center Festival in New York from July 5 – 14.

National Theatre of Scotland

Lincoln Center Festival

Alan Cumming Blog

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Filed under National Theatre of Scotland, Theatre reviews, Tramway Glasgow

Playing With Food, Cranhill, Glasgow, June 21, 2012

Last week I witnessed a food fight. It was messy, nasty and sticky. In the aftermath, red jelly and pieces of cake stuck to the floor in a sad, splattered mess. But this wasn’t some toddler party or some misdemeanor caused by Katy Perry – it was theatre.

Playing with Food

Playing with Food

Playing With Food: Meals And Memories was the result of a year-long collaborative project formed by Glasgow’s Cranhill residents and A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company in partnership with Platform Theatre, and also part of Refugee Week Scotland 2012.

The show was held in Cranhill Parish church, and I didn’t know what to expect. We were ushered in by the cast to a cozy hall. No standard seating here – there were comfy sofas, armchairs, big cushions, throws, tables and dimmed lights from standard lamps, all reminiscent of a large living room.

Once seated, the residents served tea in proper china cups and saucers. This was welcoming and homely. Ok – where’s the cake and biscuits? And that was the problem – empty tins – Annie had eaten them all.

And so the play started – they were going to bake us a cake.

Food and the rituals around eating is a simple, effective and clever way to tell a story. From films like Chocolat to The Waitress and Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Cafe, food can be a focus. It can be used to console and celebrate … as well as a basic means of survival. It has the power to create divisions between the wealthiest and poorest but it can also bring communities together – and this is what Cranhill shared with us – their community spirit.

Waitress

Waitress movie

And so the eight strong cast, residents in the area, with no previous acting experience, donned aprons and one by one sat on a stool in front of us and told their own story of Cranhill.

We drank tea and listened to a series of funny, heartwarming and touching tales. Tales of hope, love, inspiration and things held dear – like a first experience of having a proper inside toilet, with a light. No more fumbling outside in the cold and dark and trying to keep the door shut with one hand.

There were stories about food and cooking, from those who learned to cook watching their mothers and those whose mothers wouldn’t let the kids near the kitchen, to tales of trying to cook onion soup to impress a girlfriend.

The residents wrote their own material. Angie Cunningham wrote a poem and Maureen Hamilton’s recipe for the area was a play on the word Cranhill.

A cleverly choreographed scene where everyone worked in unison putting imaginary ingredients in a bowl and mixing was very effective.

Cranhill Recipe

Cranhill Recipe – extract from Playing with Food

It was all very harmonious – so why the food fight?

This part of the story was told from the perspective of a mother sitting between her “sons” played by Brian Greer and Denis Clark. It was meal time and the story started with “I’d only ever been to one food fight before …” and every course finished with “the food fight didn’t start here …”. The “boys” played up behind the mother’s  back. Denis picked on Brian and made sure he got the blame for everything. Eventually we got to the dessert and the food fight began – all the cast came out wearing waterproof ponchos – jelly and cake was thrown around everywhere.

This was an entertaining and well thought out play and there is a book to accompany it, which I would recommend. It’s only £4 and inside there’s lots of photos of Cranhill residents in their kitchens, people involved in Cranhill Development Trust and artistic staff from A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company. The little stories and comments bring the book to life and there’s lots of recipes, like Annie’s – who can make everything in a mug – even an afternoon teacake.

Playing with Food book cover

Playing with Food book cover

“It wasn’t just one person who taught me how to cook, cooking is just such a big part of the culture when growing up in Pakistan.”
Zamurad

“When I was first married we just had a room and a kitchen. There wasn’t much space at all. Then we moved up to Cranhill and it was a vast improvement.”
Denis

“The intention of this project, co-produced by A Moment’s Peace and Platform, was to create spaces for people to come together and share their experiences, as well as to engage as many people as possible in a discussion about the personal and cultural importance food has within our lives. Along the way new friendships have been formed, memories have been shared, exciting theatre has been made and a lot of lovely food has been described, cooked … and eaten.”

Extracts from Playing With Food: Meals and Memories from Cranhill residents

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