Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Greatest Little Republic (In The World!)

Mull Theatre
Three stars
On the vague off-chance that anyone has woken up in Utopia this
morning, it might be worth visiting the fictional town in Chris Lee's
new play for Mull Theatre to find out the extent to which such
Shangri-las can be spoilt. Loosely based on Andorra, by German writer
and contemporary of Bertolt Brecht, Max Frisch, Lee gives this epic
yarn a contemporary spin that goes way beyond his source's analogies to
his own era's cultural prejudices to capture something utterly current.

Ushered in with the sort of triumphalist fervour 
that would make a VisitScotland ad look understated,
Alasdair McCrone's production sets Lee's play in a walled city which,
while looking like an ancient Greek ruin, also oddly resembles McCaig's
Tower in Oban. Here a former war journalist drowns his sorrows while
his adopted daughter Anissah, seemingly an interloper from a land
regarded with suspicion, works the local bar. Forever close to her
brother Johan, played byJames McKenzie, Anissah is lusted on by a
mutual friend, though only when they leave school and go out into the
world do their opposing ideologies become clear.

With suicide bombings and wars on terror both in the mix following a
deceptively chipper opening, immigrants are demonised and scapegoats
abused in Lee's increasingly dark scenario that could easily be set in
apartheid era South Africa or in the Middle East ght now. Helen
McAlpine as Anissah leads a big ensemble cast in this bold outing
produced by Mull's increasingly ambitious umbrella arts organisation,
Comar, which remains a grown-up and thoroughly serious look at how
popular movements can cause empires to crumble.

The Herald, September 19th 2014


Still Game

SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Four stars
Given that it was the over 60s demographic that swung the victory for
the No camp in this week's Scottish independence referendum, it's
something of a surprise that Scotland's most curmudgeonly OAP double
act, Jack and Victor, didn't lay their cards on the table last night in
the first of their twenty-one night stadium-sized stage version of Ford
Kiernan and Greg Hemphill's scurilous TV sit-com.

In the end politics didn't matter  much in a show that started off
simply enough as a series of routines were played out across Navid's
open all hours corner shop and the legendary Clansman bar where Gavin
Mitchell's bar-man Boabby held court to Winston, Tam, Isa and Navid.
Once we're ushered into Jack and Victor's front room, however, things
take a turn for the meta, as Kiernan and Hemphill take full advantage
of the live arena for a series of self-referential gags that resemble
something Pirandello might have written if he'd concentrated on
popular pantomime produced on the scale of a WWE Smackdown show.

That this involves a loosely strung-out plot involving Jack and
Victor's adventures with an ipad, a home-made bionic leg and a
hallcinogenic Bollywood finale involving Isa's very special mushroom
soup and a massed take on the Slosh, and Michael Hines' production
becomes even more surreal. While one may long to see the show in a more
intimate Fringe environment beyond the big screens the action is
beames on to, Kiernan and Hemphill's writing is as sharp as ever and the
ensemble comedy playing aided by Mitchell, Paul Riley, Sanjeev Kohi, Jane McCarry
plus a couple of guest stars superb in a night that gives the audience
the best of all worlds.

The Herald, September 20th 2014


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Vote For Me

The Arches, Glasgow
Three stars
“By taking away my choice,” Marcus Roche soft-soaps his audience at one
point, “you've given me my freedom.” Such sentiments may sound like
they've been crafted by the snake-oil salesman this writer, director,
performer and self-starting multi-tasker extraordinaire resembles.
Given that Roche was actually preparing to flog off his vote for
today's Scottish independence referendum as he toadied up to us with
such gloriously contrary platitudes, however, he's pretty much on the
money whatever the result.

Of course, as with the real-life ebay shyster who attempted to sell his
vote online, no back-handers were actually pocketed in Roche's
one-night only extrapolation of just how much money talks when politics
is involved.  Darting from laptop to lectern beneath two opposing flags
of convenience in his contribution to the Arches' Early Days Referendum
Festival, Roche does his bit for internationalism by way of soundbites
from French and Russian rock-and-roll economists. As soundtracked by
cheesy 1980s pop, they might have stepped straight from a special
referendum edition of Eurotrash.

Flogging off a Cornetto to the highest bidder is just a warm-up to the
reverse auction of Roche's polling card that follows, however, in a
show that, like his previous work on Risk and The Agony and Ecstasy of
Steve Jobs, mines the conceits of the lecture circuit to become a piece
of live art stand-up. It has serious intentions too, as a largely young
audience tell all about how they'd like things to go after today's vote
with clarity and candour. As borderline illegal exercises go, it's a
whole lot more honest than anything any politician ever did, and much
more fun besides.

The Herald, September 18th 2014


Arika - Episode 6 – Make A Way Out of No Way

Tramway, Glasgow, Sept 26th-28th

When the Arika organisation took a side-step from curating experimental
music festivals in a now booming scene they laid the groundwork for
with their Instal and Kill Your Timid Notion events, the more
holistically inclined series of themed Episodes they embarked on seemed
to chime with a renewed hunger for ideas and seditious thought. While
Episodes still featured performances and screenings, they were
consciously not made the centrepiece of events that involved
discussions and debates which questioned the relationship between
artist and audience, and indeed the structures of such events

In Episodes 4 and 5, Arika concentrated on the musical and political
liberation expressed by the black community through jazz, and a similar
state of transcendence found for the Queer and Trans community through
the House Ballroom scene. Episode 6 in part fuses both experiences in
Make A Way Out of No Way, which over three days looks beyond the
nuclear family conformity of a prime time mainstream to the deliberate
political and artistic choices required to do something more
rebelliously wayward.

Artists taking part in Make A way Out of No Way include radical black
poet, Fred Moten, queen of black working class dance form, Krump, Miss
Prissy, and operatic diva M Lamar's performance of queer black requiem,
Speculum Orun: Shackled to the Dead.

“Race is an invention and a fiction,” says Barry Esson, who, alongside
Bryony McIntyre, have run Arika since the organisation's inception
thirteen years ago. “Sex is an invention and a fiction. All sorts of
these definitions are used to normalise us and control us. This Episode
is looking at that, and how different communities come out of that and
learn to express themselves within that landscape."

The List, September 2014


Claude Closky – 10, 20, 30 and 40%

Summerhall, Edinburgh until September 26th
Three stars
They could be pages torn from an art-zine, an architect's portfolio or
a sketch-pad given to pre-schools on a rainy day, such is the playful
but matter-of-fact show-and-don't-tellness of French avant-savant
Claude Closky's new series of pen-and-ink miniatures. Spread across
four rooms in ascending or descending numerical order depending on
which way you go at it, a series of black ball-point pen lines mark out
assorted patterns on white paper sheets that fade into the background
of barely-there clip-frames or matching white wooden ones that form a
kind of camouflage in which even the bare floorboards seem to be in on
the act.

The lines themselves sit side-by-side by Closky, or form squares,
curves and triangles that could have been inked on using an old-school
Spirograph set or else Etch-a-Sketched into being to make up end-of
term games of Noughts and Crosses, Battleships and Hang the Man.  The
percentages themselves, scrawled at the bottom of each sheet like an
exam mark, hint at what's missing, with either 90, 80, 70 or 60%
presumably beyond the frame and occupying somewhere bigger. With brown
wrapping paper and green card cut-outs the only colours of the spectrum
beyond neutral on show, they're not the only things here that aren't
black and white.

The List, September 2014


The Mousetrap

Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Three stars
Sixty-two years is a frightfully long time to keep a secret. Where
Agatha Christie's evergreen whodunnit is concerned, however, keeping
schtumm has transformed an inter-audience conspiracy into a global
institution which not even social media and the internet has betrayed.
With this in mind, there will be no spoiler alerts in what follows,
except to say that, in its depiction of how cruelly children can be
treated, this touring production that first flew its London coop two
years ago looks oddly current.

Set in a mansion turned guest house just opened by the increasingly
furtive Mollie and Giles Ralston, these refugees from the big city find
themselves fully booked with a house full of guests seeking shelter
from the storm, all of whom come clad in regulation dark overcoat,
muffler and face-concealing fedoras. A murder has been committed in
town, and, according to the game Sergeant Trotter, who skis into this
TripAdvisor nightmare in waiting, every one of this pot-pourri of
eccentrics, busybodies and mysterious men and women with pasts may be

It's far too flip to be the best of Christie's canon, and is somewhat
understandably all played rather archly in veteran Mousetrap director
Ian Watt-Smith's production (he also directed it in its thirty-eighth,
forty-first, fifty-eighth and fifty-ninth years). A set of energetic
performances expose the twisted nerves of each  character as it is made
explicit exactly how they came to be damaged in such a way. It is this
mix of pop psychology with a common touch which has kept generations of
Christie devotees complicit in the play's conceit for six decades. But
shh. It's far too late to give the game away now.

The Herald, September 17th 2014


Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Brian Ferguson - Playing Hamlet

One could be forgiven for thinking that Brian Ferguson has just seen a
ghost. As he takes a lunchtime break from rehearsals for Dominic Hill's
new production of Hamlet, the actor playing the title role looks
suitably haunted and not a little drained from the experience.

“It's so big to do,” a breathless Ferguson reflects. “I didn't really
know, as a part, what it actually meant. Obviously every actor knows
the name Hamlet and the character of Hamlet, but I wasn't very well
versed in the play. I haven't seen many productions of Hamlet, so that
kind of cracking it open has been mind-boggling, really, to get the
opportunity to crawl around inside it has been incredible.”

Ferguson won't be drawn on Hill's approach to the play, nor to what his
own interpretation of Hamlet may end up as. All he'll admit to at this
stage is that, as the publicity photograph of him backed into a corner
sporting a contemporary dark suit on the show's flyers suggest, “It's
not done in period, but we're starting from the text, always from the
text, and I think that's one of the things to discover about how
incredible it is as you start uncovering what the text is doing, the
pictures that it's painting, and what it wants of a scene in terms of
the relationships.

“We're playing with the form a fair bit, we're playing with sound quite
a lot, and we're being quite bold, I suppose, in how far out we're
going in terms of trying out ideas. So the world that we have created
isn't set in any particular time. There's no strict concept on it, and
we've kind of gone the other way, and are being quite imaginative in
how we are exploring it, and allowing it to suggest whatever it
suggests. I still don't know where it's going yet, but the flavours
that Dominic enjoys as a director are great for this, and are very much
the same places that I like to go as an actor.”

Ferguson thinks long and hard before he chooses his words. He doesn't
want to give the game away about the production, and, as he's already
indicated, he's probably not entirely sure what that game is yet. When
he does find the right words, they sound like poetry, and what comes
through them is just how much he is relishing exploring such a rich and
complex play as well as the equally intense character he's in the thick
of finding out about.

“The time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, there were these big changes going
on in society,” Ferguson observes. “The chivalry of Elizabethan society
and the knights were giving way to trading companies. There was also
this big change in religion, going from Catholic to Protestant, and
going from God being almighty and powerful to thinking about reason.
The idea of Heaven and Hell was still very real. Heaven was up in the
sky and Hell was beneath your feet, and what that does to your
imagination, and how colourful and vivid that makes the world of the
play, is really exciting.

“One of the challenges of doing Shakespeare, and one of the things
that's most exciting things to someone like me, whose done a lot of new
writing, is coming into this alien world where there's no subtext. It's
all, all, all in the language and the pictures he paints with words,
and the journeys that make you want to go on. So it's a very different
process. It feels like a more physical process as an actor. Heaven and
hell are things that I don't have a connection with today. I was
brought up an atheist, and there are things in Shakespeare that, 415
years after it was written, don't mean as much, but sometimes you have
to make your peace with the fact that the words you're saying might not
be understood.”

This isn't the first time Ferguson has appeared in Hamlet. Aged
seventeen, he played Polonius in a Scottish Youth Theatre production.
It was while at SYT, which his mother had taken him to, that Ferguson
decided he wanted to be an actor. While at drama school, he made his
Citz debut playing bit parts in Stewart Laing's production of Mae
West's little-seen drama, Pleasure Man. His
first professional job was also at the Citizens, in the theatre's
former artistic director Giles Havergal's production of Frank
McGuinness' play, Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The
Somme.  After a year out of work, Ferguson came into his own in Davey
Anderson's  debut play, Snuff.

“I felt like I'd grown up a bit when I did Snuff,” he says. “I guess it
felt more immediate and important to me, which was important to me as
an experience and a compass. I suppose after a year out I had more of
an idea of what it was that I was excited about as an actor. The things
that I felt strongly and more passionate about had been put to the

Ferguson appeared in Poorboy's site-specific show, Bridgebuilders, in
Dundee, and shortly afterwards was cast in John Tiffany's production of
Black Watch for the National Theatre of Scotland. This high-profile
appearance in a show that became a phenomenon opened even more doors
for Ferguson, who went on to appear in Dunsinane, David Greig's sequel
of sorts to Macbeth. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company,
Dunsinane was one of several plays Ferguson worked on with director
Roxana Silbert.

Ferguson first worked with Hill at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh,
on Zinnie Harris' play, Fall, and The Dark Things, by Ursula Rani
Sarma. Ferguson has also worked on more left-field work, including
Clare Duffy's interactive piece, Money, and a recent stint at the Royal
Court with Tim Crouch on a piece about two conceptual artists, Adler &

Such diversity, he says, “It's my lifeblood,” and acting in general is
a serious business.

“It's about seeking a deeper connection,” he says. “It's a place where
I get to move at the pace that I enjoy moving at, and get to ponder
over things and play and discover things. It gives me that space, and
to do that with other people in that space, to explore and be in that
place together, that's the point.”

Hamlet, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, September 19-October 11.


Brian Ferguson – A life onstage

Brian Ferguson grew up in Glasgow, where he studied at RSAMD (now Royal
Conservatoire Scotland).

While still a student, Ferguson appeared at the Citizens Theatre in
Stewart Laing's production of Pleasure Man by Mae West, and made his
professional debut there in Observe The Sons of Ulster Marching Towards
The Somme.

Ferguson appeared in Davey Anderson's play, Snuff, at the Arches,
Glasgow, which was later seen at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.
Ferguson also appeared in Poorboy's production of Bridgebuilders in
Dundee, and was one of the original cast of Gregory Burke's play, Black
Watch, with the National Theatre of Scotland, with whom he also
performed in another Davey Anderson play, Rupture.

Ferguson went on to act in The Drawer Boy at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow,
and, under Dominic Hill's direction, Fall and The Dark Things at the

Ferguson appeared in Earthquakes in London at the National Theatre, and
in David Greig's play, Dunsinane, produced by the Royal Shakespeare
Company, with whom he also appeared in Shakespeare in A Suitcase,
Richard III and The Aztec Trilogy.

Ferguson has also appeared in Clare Duffy's Money, and, at the Royal
Court, Tim Crouch's play, Adler & Gibb.

The Herald, September 16th 2014