“Be yourself, and others will find you”
“Be yourself, and others will find you”
You know something is good when you keep going back. I’ve seen the show Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, three times. Every time it’s been amazing, due to the stellar performance by Angie Darcy in the lead role. I can’t imagine anyone else depicting the singer’s triumphs and ultimately tragic end.
Janis’s story is told through a mixture of song and theatre bringing her character to life. We hear how she struggled to fit in in her native Texas where she was born in 1943. How she went to California to make music, where she partied hard, how she returned home but found the lure of music and the pull of California too strong and she returned in 1966. Peppered throughout the show are her famous hits including Piece of My Heart, which hit the number one spot, as well as the yearning Mercedes Benz and Kris Kristofferson’s gorgeous country ballad Me And Bobby Gee (a new and welcome addition for this updated version of the show).
Her larger than life character commands the stage where she is backed by an excellent supportive band. But for all the brash confidence, displays of flamboyance, and obvious talent, underneath is a vulnerable woman who harbours a need for love and acceptance.
We see her life sadly unravelling leading to her death, alone in a hotel room in 1970. She was 27.
The play is based on the singer’s own transcripts and as the lights go down, Angie Darcy remains silent, allowing a crackly recording of Janis’s voice to speak to us through the darkness.
The play was originally formed for Oran Mor’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint series, written by Peter Arnott and directed by Cora Bissett in association with Regular Music and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland. It has since gone on tour to win many deserved awards and critical acclaim.
Scottish Ballet’s latest production is an interesting mix of two texts brought to life with stunning results.
Ten Poems (2009)
A chance find by choreographer Christopher Bruce led to this ballet production. He found a CD of Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas’s Ten Poems in his local music shop. He then created this piece in 2009 for German company Ballet Kiel. It has since been revived for this UK premiere for Scottish Ballet.
There is no music during this production, instead the words become the melody. The Ten Poems of Dylan Thomas have an easy rhythm, enhanced further when read by the distinctive voice of Burton. Thomas’s observations about life include the themes of lost innocence, nostalgia and death. We see teenagers lying back enjoying summer, young lives going to war, a hunchback who forms a relationship with an otherworldly looking woman. The dancers fuse and melt easily into each other. The grief of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight and the imagery of And Death Shall Have No Dominion is beautifully expressed by the five male dancers who become shadowy silhouettes against a luminous backdrop.
Based on Arthur Miller’s 1953 play, this chilling tale about the Salem witch trials gets its world premiere. Brooklyn-based choreographer Helen Pickett teases out the themes of suspicion, fear and ignorance. Thankfully witch trials are a thing of the past, but the themes of the play transcend and can be seen operating in other areas of today’s modern world. But for the purpose of this ballet, the themes are based around events surrounding the Salem witch-hunt of 1692, and this is a well known chilling tale of innocent people destroyed by malicious rumours.
The main antagonist of the story is a young girl, Abigail, who has an affair with John Proctor, and his wife, Elizabeth, discovers the affair.
There’s a lot of story to tell in this 40 minute ballet and the opening scene displays a gamut of people. Set in a court room, the dancers before you have to convey who they are, their relationships and how they fit into the story, almost immediately.
This is a brave production with a few surprises. One arresting element is the music. Pickett’s acting background sees her leaning towards the cinematic and the music of Bernard Hermann, which he composed for Psycho and The Devil and Daniel Webster. The score evokes a chilling horror movie. But it’s the inclusion of a dance/techno track by UK producer Jon Hopkins at a pivotal point in the play that catches your breath. It’s the sinister meeting in the woods, where things get out of hand and then accusations of witchcraft abound. The stage morphs into a rave scene, the dancing is wild, demonic, angular and spiky. The dance is disjointed and without any harmony. It’s visually stunning and exhilarating.
And if you don’t know the play, the simple monotonous, continually repeated choreographed hand movements depicting hanging leave you in no doubt of the play’s tragic ending.
Eden Court, Inverness, 30 September until 1 October
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 3 to 4 October
His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 7 to 8 October
Scottish Ballet eat, breathe and sleep whatever production they happen to be working on. And when Hansel & Gretel was finally unwrapped for Christmas 2013, the magical posters, videos and photographs had already been enticing us for months before the big reveal.
So while I was sitting having afternoon tea at Glasgow’s Blythswood Square Hotel at a specially arranged Scottish Ballet bloggers event and having a quick read through their souvenir brochure – it was no surprise to read the words of production designer Gary Harris, who said :
“It’s something I love doing so it’s not like working. It goes right through your life – it’s everything and makes me realise I’m so lucky to do what I do”.
It was also no surprise to find myself sipping a delicious Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail while munching on gingerbread men and carrot cake with popping candy – all created with Hansel & Gretel in mind.
It was a lovely way to spend a wet Saturday afternoon in Glasgow just before Christmas. Blythswood Square became the Clubhouse for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC) from 1910. Now a hotel and spa, it’s a decadent escape from the busy city centre with its throng of shoppers.
Unlike some afternoon teas, this was a substantial one. There was plenty sandwiches, mini scones, little pink macaroons and lots of sweet treats to accompany your tea or coffee.
And sometimes you just have to have a gin in the afternoon, especially if it’s dressed up as a Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail. This concoction was made up of Martin Miller’s Gin with Amaro Nonino, fresh lemon juice, lemon curd and ginger syrup, candied peach puree and a splash of egg white. Delicious.
The hotel is also home to a gorgeous spa with a vast array of treatments as well as a thermal experience. Newly introduced to the hotel is a range of products from the Isle of Lewis called Ishga – a name derived from the Gaelic word for water.
To make us feel really pampered some of the therapists were around to give us a hand and arm massage
We also saw some video clips showing little snippets of what it takes to breathe life into a ballet production.
Then it was time for a chat with some of the ballet dancers. Christopher Harrison and Constance Devernay joined us, alongside Scottish Ballet’s Marketing & Communications Editor, Christina Riley for a Q&A session. Here Constance talks about how to get into the mindset of playing a child.
With our appetites well and truly whetted, it was time to go down to the imaginary woods, and to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal to see the performance. Christopher Hampson has been Scottish Ballet’s artistic director since 2012 and this is his first full-length production for the company. It lived up to its expectations. We were met with a backdrop to the stage that was reminiscent of the works of Tim Burton.
This version of the Brothers Grimm’s famous story comes with the characteristic Scottish Ballet twists. While there’s lots of fun and good doses of darkness, there’s no wicked stepmother. Hampson felt that evil stepmothers are not relevant to today’s world. In her place we have a school teacher who becomes a witch and everything is set in a nameless 50s/60s town. The parents are flawed but adorable and the interplay between them is very funny as they carry out rag-taggle scenes of smoking, drinking and lying on the sofa watching telly. It’s all very playful and realistic.
Meanwhile with their parents attentions diverted elsewhere, the kids are getting up to mischief. They jump over the kitchen table and chairs, clamber around and fight over toys. They are utterly convincing as children.
The witch is a strong female role and after seeing Eve Mutso’s portrayal of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Christopher Hampson knew she was perfect. The witch goes through three incarnations, from gawky, nerdy teacher to the beautiful and terrifying enchantress who eventually unravels to become an old knife-wielding hag. The first transformation is magical, making use of a massive flowing cape, which must give the dancers some difficulty trying to avoid any tangling mishaps.
The Sandman is an intriguing shadowy figure and it would have been good to see a little more of him on stage. The delightful dew drop fairies are as pretty as a fresh flurry of snowflakes floating down from a frosty blue sky.
The costumes are beautifully designed. The parents reappear to the children in a dream while they are lost in the woods. And unlike their usual down-at-heel selves, they have been transformed into movie stars from a golden era. The dress which the mother wears was modelled on a typical Grace Kelly look and was stunning.
Designer Gary Harris has crafted a truly enchanting and breathtaking set which includes a wonderful opening to Act II complete with glowing coloured lollipops brightening the darkened woods. It’s a feast for the eyes. The spectacular setting combined with the clever lighting gives a 3D effect and you feel as if you could wander onto the stage and disappear.
The instrumental score comes from Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera. Using this original score some music was created specially for this production by principal conductor Richard Honner and digital audio editor Brian Prentice. Listen to an excerpt on the Scottish Ballet Website
As well as the darkness, there’s a lot of humour. Constance Devernay mentioned a food fight and it all gets messy towards the end in a macabre room filled with mayhem.
Visually stunning, beautifully and lovingly crafted – it’s easy to see how Scottish Ballet can get totally wrapped up in their work.
There’s still time to see it. It’s touring and has just started a four day stop-over in Edinburgh. For details see below or Scottish Ballet Website
8 – 11 January 2014
Box Office 0131 529 6000
15 – 18 January 2014
His Majesty’s Theatre
Box Office 01224 641122
22 – 25 January 2014
Box Office 01463 234 234
29 January – 1 February 2014
Box Office 08448 11 21 21
5 – 8 February 2014
Grand Opera House
Box Office 028 9024 1919
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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: 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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