Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Siddhartha - The Musical - Inside Milan's Maximum Security Prison

In a downtown restaurant in Milan, a group of actors are celebrating
the first performance of their new show. As one might expect for a
musical version of Herman Hesse's Buddhist novel, Siddhartha, the cast
for what is an an unashamedly commercial mix of Bollywood and pop video
theatrics are young, beautiful and bursting with post-show energy.

Earlier that evening, the young stars gave a dynamic performance of
Siddhartha – The Musical at a huge theatre complex in front of an
invited audience of friends, family and assorted co-producers of the
show, including representatives of the New York-based Broadway Asia
International. Such serious interest in the play bodes well for
Siddhartha – The Musical's Edinburgh showcase, which opens at the end
of the month as part of the Assembly Rooms Edinburgh Festival Fringe
programme, putting an international spotlight on something which has
already wowed audiences in Italy and beyond.

Overseeing the post-show festivities with equal measures of ebullience
are writer/director Isabella Biffi and producer Gloria Grace Alanis.
Biffi is an Italian musical star, Alanis a Mexican ex model who settled
in Italy. With successful careers under their belt, somewhere along the
way the two women bonded over Buddhism. Together they are a force of
nature, and take Siddhartha – The Musical very seriously indeed.

“It is the message of the performance that is important,” Alanis
translates for Biffi in excitably broken English. “Whatever happens to
you in the world, love and peace are the important things.”

These might sound like lofty ambitions for a commercial musical, but,
as Biffi nods in rapid agreement across the dinner table as the pair
flash the widest of smiles, you get the sense that there really is
something deeper at play here.

The next morning in L'Opera Prison is as far away from the glamour of
the night before as one can imagine. It is here, however, among the
1400 inmates of one of the biggest maximum security prisons in Europe,
where Siddhartha – The Musical began. Ushered into a large, if somewhat
more makeshift theatre space than the lavish arena the play was
performed in the night before, we're greeted by seven inmates, who
perform several scenes from Siddhartha for us.

What we see may be rougher in terms of physical technique, but in terms
of spirit, determination and rough-hewn athleticism, the L'Opera
performance adds a new resonance and depth to a show which is
effectively about one man's quest for self-knowledge as he goes about
the world. In this respect, this version of Siddhartha – The Musical is
theatre at its purest.

When the performers sit lined up across the stage to talk to us, it's
hard to equate these focused, beatific and near evangelical-sounding
men with the crimes they have committed. Given that 1300 of the 1400
prisoners confined in L'Opera are serving life sentences, those crimes
must be very serious indeed. Yet, when the men talk, while there's a
certain understandable swagger to their bearing which isn't that far
removed from the professional actors letting off steam the night
before, they sound transformed. As well they might.

Siddhartha – The Musical was developed by Biffi with the prisoners as
part of an ongoing theatre programme that has presented a series of
shows over the last seven years. With many of the men being involved in
the project from the start, you get the sense that Siddhartha has been
the pinnacle of their achievements thus far.

Many of these former hardened criminals have clearly softened over the
years, and some have themselves become Buddhists. It was the prisoners
too who suggested to Biffi and Alanis that they take the show out into
the world in a way that they will never be able to perform it.

“Before we did these workshops,” says one man who we've just watched
play the Narrator as if his life depended on it, “a lot of therapists
came in, but we are lifers for a reason, and they couldn't get through.
But the workshops opened my heart.”

In the clamour to talk to a rare audience not made up of fellow
prisoners, the same message, again translated by Alanis, comes over
again and again.

“Before,” says a younger inmate, “I was a bad boy, but when I joined
the workshops I became another person. I'm still a boy,” he laughs,
“but I'm a good boy now.”

This is the message Biffi and Alanis were so keen to explain the night
before. As one of the prison performers puts it, “We want to give the
message to the world that everyone can have a second opportunity. When
I get out of prison, I don't want to be seen as a prisoner anymore. I
want to become a good citizen, and do something of value.”

The nearest comparison with such a set-up is with Barlinnie, the
Glasgow prison that set up a radical art-based rehabilitation programme
in the 1970s. That scheme transformed convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle
into an artist and became something of a cause celebre before being
quietly wound down. In Milan, however, under Biffi and Alanis'
guidance, the message of Siddhartha – The Musical looks set to go on.

Future plans include touring the show to twenty-eight prisons in
Europe. A docudrama is also being planned to tell the story of how
taking part in the prison theatre project changed the men's lives as a
group.

How any of this will translate to audiences watching the professional
staging of Siddhartha – The Musical in the hurly burly of Edinburgh in
August remains to be seen. Whatever happens, it has arguably already
achieved its goal.

“We are so grateful to have been part of this community,” says the
inmate who plays the Narrator in the L'Opera prison version. “We're
aware that we've done bad things in the past, but now we are a part of
this, we can enjoy a new life.”

Siddhartha – The Musical, Assembly Rooms, July 31-Aug 24, 6.10-7.20pm
www.siddharthathemusical.co.uk
www.arfringe.com

The Herald, July 22nd 2014




ends

Monday, 21 July 2014

Under Milk Wood

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

As with all the best soap operas, it's fitting that the pub should be at the centre of Gareth Nicholls' staging of Dylan Thomas' seminal radio play concerning the bustle of life in a day in the imaginary hamlet of Llareggub. Presented as part of the Tron's Home Nations Festival of poetic drama that forms part of the Commonwealth Games' arts programme, Nicholls takes full advantage of the Tron Community Company's resources to put quaking flesh on the rich bones of Thomas' big, rambunctious symphony of inner yearning, shattered dreams and hidden hopes that the play evolves into.

With the narrator's lines split three ways between the bar staff of Charlotte Lane's wood-lined howf, the rest of the townsfolk either prop up the bar or else sit in repose at a floor of tables until they spring into life to lay bare their hearts desires. At one point in what at times looks and sounds like the physical evocation of a saucy seaside postcard, the entire sixteen-strong ensemble get on their feet for the sort of dance routine that only ever fully lets rip in an after-hours lock-in situation.

The musicality of the piece is accentuated even further here by a new chamber pop score by Michael John McCarthy, and performed live by a guitar, bass and percussion trio who provide a sublime set of arrangements for the songs of the ever fertile Polly Garter. These are sung with clarity and grace by Jacqueline Thain as Polly in a version of the play that grabs lustily at its libido-driven heart that pulses an entire community in all its topsy-turvy glory.

The Herald, July 21st 2014

ends




Henry 1V / Henry V

Royal Botanic Gardens, Glasgow
Four stars
War is everywhere just now, both onstage in the numerous commemorations
of World War One's centenary year as well as an increasingly ugly real
world. The centrepiece of this year's Bard in the Botanics 'What  We
May Be' season, goes forth with three of Shakespeare's history plays to
tackle both the personal and political consequences of conflict.

Bard in the Botanics director Gordon Barr not only condenses both parts
of Henry 1V into just over two hours, but has it played in the catwalk
of the Kibble Palace by just three actors. It's a version full of macho
swagger that charts Prince Hal's wild years from estrangement from his
father and slumming it with Falstaff to finding out where his true
loyalties lay.

There's an acerbic edge to both James Ronan's Prince and Tom Duncan's
Hotspur, while Kirk Bage lends emotional depth to Falstaff as well as
the King. As Hal takes the throne and leaves the gang behind, the
play's final image is of a rejected Falstaff sitting alone, his meal
ticket lost forever.

What Harry did next can be seen across the gardens in an open-air Henry
V adapted and directed by Jennifer Dick, whose concept frames the play
around a school fete circa 1915, with the pupils and teachers sat
either side of a wooden assembly hall stage flanked by stalls. This
set-up allows the parallels between Agincourt and Flanders to be made
plain, with between-scene interludes flagging up letters from the
school to the families of fallen former pupils. Henry's 'Once more into
the breech' speech, meanwhile, becomes a rabble-rousing dispatch from
the front-line delivered by a man of action over a soundtrack of
gun-fire and bombs.

Such shadows of doom hang even heavier in the second half, with the
cast marching on like a public school cadet force. The men's uniforms
become gradually more up to date, so by the time Henry mouths his 'We
happy few' speech, he may still sport the crown, but he's also wearing
the khaki of an officer in the trenches.

As played here by Daniel Campbell, Henry may have become a statesman,
but you can still see the unruly lad within. Robert Elkin's Boy Chorus
is a crucial figure, from igniting the audience's imagination, to the
way he, like Falstaff, sits to one side, the black arm-band over his
uniform counteracting any triumphalism elsewhere.

The Herald, July 21st 2014

ends

Friday, 18 July 2014

Random Accomplice - News Just In

News just in. The 2014 Commonwealth Games about to open in Glasgow is
not beyond satire. This is the case, it seems, despite the now
abandoned plan to demolish the city's iconic Red Road Flats as part of
the Games' opening ceremony. Neither does the derision from some
quarters which greeted the unveiling of Team Scotland's official outfit
seem to have deterred further parody.

Both incidents, in fact, look set to be given a nod in News Just In,
the new nightly, hot off the press portrayal of an imaginary TV
news-room from Random Accomplice that forms part of the Commonwealth
Games' Festival 2014 arts and culture strand. Set among the presenters
of the fictional Tartan Tonight show, News Just In will highlight the
show's larger than life presenters both on and off air.

Your hosts of Tartan Tonight – named, incidentally, a good six months
before STV's new Scotland Tonight show first aired - will include
newsroom anchors Fergus Butler and Delta Barker, played by Jordan Young
and Random Accomplice co-director Julie Brown, Margo the short-shorted
sports reporter, played by Rosalind Sydney, and Ross the Weatherman,
played by Brown's creative other half, Johnny McKnight. Then there is
Jan and Sam, who, as played by Julie Wilson Nimmo and Gavin Jon Wright,
will become two completely different characters each night depending on
what the script requires.

“It's mental,” explains Brown, blinking into the Glasgow light after
spending just that little bit too long in the windowless bowels of the
Arches, where the show is being pulled together. “We're all a bit
shell-shocked and in a little bit of denial about what we've taken on,
because every single show is different. Not just the text, but all the
technical stuff as well, because we genuinely don't know what we're
going to be doing.”

Dovetailing between what is effectively a back-stage soap opera and
what goes out onscreen, News Just In will feature material by a team of
thirteen writers, who will meet daily to respond to events, not just in
the Games, but on the streets of Glasgow and beyond. As well as Brown
and McKnight, contributors include Douglas Maxwell, Morna Pearson,
Lynda Radley and Stef Smith as well as actors Martin McCormick, Anita
Vettesse and Mary Gapinski, all Random Accomplice regulars.

“When Johnny and I first started thinking about doing something for the
Commonwealth Games eighteen months ago,” Brown recalls, “at first we
were just going to write a show, but then we decided that wasn't
ambitious enough. It's such a one-off occasion for the city that we
decided we had to go for it big style.”

While such unabashed chutzpah is admirable, it nevertheless begs the
question which any real life current affairs show must sometimes face,
of what happens if it's a particularly slow news day and the writers
don't have anything to work with?

“I know,” says Brown. “We're basically asking all these people to be
funny on demand, but there are safety nets. We story-boarded the soap
opera part of things in January, and we've said to the writers that as
long as they hit certain points, they have carte blanche. Then the
daily writers can come in and see how the characters are developing and
respond to that.”

Taking the rise out of media folk has become a staple of TV comedy. In
America, both Saturday Night Live and the Chicago-based Second City
Revue have used sketches based on chat shows, game shows and soap
operas. In the UK, Drop The Dead Donkey similarly attempted to combine
up to the minute topical references with news-room based inter-personal
shenanigans. More recently, Twenty Twelve was an inspired mockumentary
style sit-com based around a fictional team behind the London 2012
Olympic Games.

If the show's mix of boardroom absurdities punctuated by meaningless
management-speak and PR buzzwords hit home, a sequel, W1A, which moved
the action to the BBC, who commissioned the programme, looked a tad
toothless.

Random Accomplice, however, aren't interested in biting the hand that
feeds them for the sake of it. As Brown puts it, “We're not trying to
be horrible about things. We want to have fun with them. The Red Road
flats and the Scottish athletes outfits will absolutely get a mention,
but it will be done with warmth in what is very much a celebration of
the Games.”

With Rod Stewart, Lulu, Susan Boyle and more signed up for the
Commonwealth Games' accompanying festivities, chances are they too will
make an appearance in News Just In's rolling storyline. When exactly
that might be, however, will be a surprise.

“People could go and see all ten shows if they wanted to,” says Brown,
“and see how it changes from night to night depending on what happens
in the Games. We're not doing Chekhov, which is fine. We might go close
to the knuckle with some things, but like everything Random Accomplice
does, it's all done with a cheeky wee smile.”

As News Just In's hosts might put it; Bring. It. On.

News Just In, The Arches, Glasgow, July 22, 24-26, 28-31, Aug 1-2. A
brand new show will be performed each night at 9pm
www.thearches.co.uk

ends


TV Funnies – Shows that made the headlines.

Second City – Originally founded in Chicago in 1959, the Second City
became one of the first improvisation-based performance troupes in
America. Basing their satirical sketches and songs around events of the
day. Second City later opened a theatre in Toronto, which later led to
Second City TV, a sketch show based around a TV station in the
fictional town of Melonville. The show ran from 1976 to 1984, and
featured spoofs of game shows, soap operas and contemporary films, with
the likes of Rick Moranis and John Candy in the cast.

Saturday Night Live / 30 Rock – Beginning in 1975, sketch show SNL has
become a comedy institution on American television, and has spawned
successful film careers for the likes of Chevy, Chase, Bill Murray and
Eddie Murphy. Mike Myers also created Wayne's World for the show before
adapting it for the hit film of the same name. This was the first
successful breakout movie since John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd had made
The Blues Brothers more than a decade earlier. In 2006, Tiny Fey
created 30 Rock, a sitcom based around the back-stage antics of a
fictional sketch show and based around her experiences as head writer
on SNL.

Drop The Dead Donkey – Running between 1990 and 1998, Andy Hamilton and
Guy Jenkin's sitcom was set in the news room of GlobeLink News, a
fictional TV station owned by media mogul Sir Roysten Merchant, whose
initials may or may not have alluded to Rupert Murdoch and/or the late
Robert Maxwell. Recorded close to transmission in order to reference
breaking news, the show combined satire with off-screen rivalries
involving reporters, editors and on-screen anchors.

Running for six series, Drop The Dead Donkey made stars of Haydn
Gwynne, who played assistant editor Alex Pates Neil Pearson as deputy
sub-editor and office lothario Dave Charnley, and Stephen Tompkinson,
who played action man field reporter, Damien Day.

Twenty Twelve – John Morton's inspired sit-com ran for two series in
the run up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, and focused on a fictional
team led by Hugh Bonneville's Head of Deliverance, Ian Fletcher,
responsible for organising and overseeing the Games. Framed as a
mockumentary with narration by David Tennant, the programme followed
Fletcher through the build-up to the games with the likes of Head of
Brand, Siobhan Sharp, played by Jessica Hynes.

There were several parallels with real-life events, including problems
with the 1000 day countdown clock, and a conceptual artist character
who proposes people to play as many instruments as possible to coincide
with the Olympic opening ceremony in much the same way Martin Creed
proposed that everyone should ring a bell at a specific time. Twenty
Twelve was followed up by W1A, which saw Bonneville's character
decamped to the BBC.

The Herald, June 15th 2014
ends



John Byrne - Dead End

It's sometimes easy to forget that John Byrne was a painter first, long before he became a playwright. While he has earned a living as an artist since 1967, only latterly, it seems, has the Paisley-born author of the Slab Boys Trilogy and TV drama, Tutti Frutti, received the acclaim for a body of work equally rich in baroque, multi-hued narrative as his stage and TV writing. With Byrne's mural for the auditorium ceiling of the King's Theatre, Edinburgh cementing the importance of his criss-crossing relationship between the two mediums when it was unveiled last year, two major exhibitions this summer should remind audiences of the instinctive and audaciously good-humoured flourishes which possess his paintings.

While Sitting Ducks, a collection of some fifty, largely unseen works from private collections that forms the body of a long overdue show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is already up and running, it is the twenty-odd brand new pieces that make up Dead End, Byrne's Edinburgh Art Festival show at Bourne Fine Art that should reveal where Byrne is currently at.

On a Tuesday morning in Edinburgh's Filmhouse bar, the now seventy-four year old Byrne appears to be in the rudest of health and even ruder humour. This despite his recent labours being briefly frustrated by a bout of flu. His immaculate checked three-piece suit and elaborate beard may give Byrne the air of a Bohemian dandy dating from anytime between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bloomsbury set and 1950s Soho, but such apparel can't hide the rough as sand-paper but still gentle baritone of his unreconstructed Paisley patois, nor the twinkle of wonder and mischief that frequently lights up his piercing blue eyes. It's a twinkle that may well be the product of a mis-spent youth at the dawn of rock and roll, when the austere black-and-white post-war world turned technicolour. The painting that gave Dead End it's title is a give-away.

“I painted a big watercolour, which is twice the size of this table,” Byrne says, nodding at where we're sat. “I had no idea what I was gonnae do, and I painted two teddy-boys in big close-up, with exaggerated hair, and then I put in a cinema behind them, the Astoria. Outside is a car parked, it's a Riley, my Riley from 1957, and there's a guy dancing on the roof of it, and there's people running across the edge of the roof of the cinema. There's a guy in a close nearby who's about to stamp on a cat who's looking out on us, blissfully unaware that there's a family up the stairs watching him, and there's a guy on a motorbike under the bridge that they're standing on.

“The film that's showing is Dead End, which was a Broadway stage play, for which they built a huge gable-end on the stage. It was a made into a film with Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Kids, who became the Bowery Boys, and they were our heroes when we were growing up in the 1950s.”

This impressionistic auto-biographical streak is key to Byrne's work dating right back to The Slab Boys, in which lead character Phil McCann was a teddy-boy who, like Byrne, worked in Stoddard's carpet factory in Paisley during 1957 while trying to get into art school.

“Well, why not?” says Byrne. “I lived that life. I lived the life of a teddy boy in a complete slum, and it was so exciting, and every new day was a joy, a total and absolute utter joy. So why would I no' do that? Writers do it. Writers use their own life, but very few painters do. I mean, they use a part of it, part of their psyche or whatever it is and try things out, but it's no' that entertaining. Also, I want to entertain myself, and keep myself alive and thinking and constantly surprised. Unless you're totally engaged, it's pointless. It's a fucking hobby. A lot of artists these days have other jobs, but how boring is that? If you're going to paint, you need to do it full time and live it.”

Other paintings in Dead End feature “a whole lot of narratives, which you'll have to decipher, because I don't start off with a theme. If you plan too much, you cannae wait to finish the bloody thing, and you get annoyed, whereas if you're exploring it as you go along and things are revealing themselves, it becomes very entertaining, and you cannae wait to see what happens next. I trust my unconscious to do all that, though I didn't start out that way. It's a good thing not to have any thoughts in your head, and just be fucking knackered the whole time, because that's when you're unconscious takes over, and you're just the robot who does it. It sounds fanciful, but it's true.”

Byrne's conversation is unguarded, discursive and occasionally scurrilous, and in the main is peppered with little gurgles of laughter. Beyond an amused scepticism where conceptual art is concerned, only occasionally does Byrne appear mildly affronted, like when he talks about how one half of an eight-foot diptych of Billy Connolly which has been on loan in perpetuity to the Peoples Palace in Glasgow since it was first painted in 1975 was discovered to be missing when the curators of Sitting Ducks came to look for it.

Then there are the sketches for a mural of a gable end in Partick which Byrne painted around the same time, and which were found in a skip at the side of the old Third Eye Centre on Sauchiehall Street as the pioneering arts centre was being emptied in preparation for its transformation into the far glossier Centre of Contemporary Arts.

“I'm sure the National Gallery will be more careful,” Byrne deadpans.

Growing up in the rough Ferguslie Park area of Paisley, Byrne appears to have lived in a permanent state of wonder that transcended his surroundings, even as he sought out worlds beyond them. Exposed to art at an early age, he fell in love with Titian and Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross, which has hung in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum since 1952, and which Byrne calls “an extraordinary painting.”

Byrne lapped up the part works of the great masters serialised through the Daily Express, and spent hours in his local library

“And there was life itself,” he remembers, “because you were playing out or in the house all the time, inventing things, and the wireless was a great pictorial aid. I remember hearing Christopher Fry's A Phoenix Too Frequent on the Third Programme when I was twelve or thirteen, which was absolutely spell-binding. That sort of thing, poetic drama, is dead in the water now.

“My life was crammed with all this stuff. Then there was the life around me. We knew everyone in the entire street, and every one of them was a phenomenon. You didnae need to write anything. It was ready-made. I went to so many schools, and I loved every one of them. Then when I was about fourteen or fifteen, I had this unformed and unconscious realisation that I had all the information I needed to last me an entire life. I couldnae put it into words, but my heart leapt with joy at the prospect of that. I was delighted and thrilled and astonished on a daily basis.”

After studying at Glasgow School of Art, Byrne had his first show in 1962 at Bytheswood Square Gallery. It would be another five years, however, before he would find real acclaim, under the assumed name of Patrick, with works Byrne somewhat fancifully claimed to be by his imaginary naïve painter father. This was an idea that came about after reading a piece on self-taught artists in a Sunday newspaper colour supplement.

“You needed a hook,” Byrne says. “Like if there was a murderer who'd come out of prison or something, their work would get attention.”

Byrne's mischief worked, and in 1968, conscious of being feted for great things, his next show was
photographed by David Bailey for a piece written by Marina Warner, “who took me round the corner and bought me a packet of fags. I was enthralled. It was very showbizzy. You met anybody and everybody.”

Byrne painted album sleeves for Donovan and his Paisley-born friend and contemporary, Gerry Rafferty, and moved into stage design, working with Scottish Opera, the Royal Court and on the West End.

“That was the only time I could get to meet any other playwrights,” Byrne says, “by designing their shows.

Two iconic designs were for The Great Northern Well Boot Show in 1972, and John McGrath's 7:84 production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil a year later. While the latter pretty much changed Scotland's theatrical landscape as we know it, with Byrne's pop-up book set a major feature, the former is remembered as the show that made Billy Connolly a star. Byrne designed the banana boots which Connolly eventually had made when he went out on tour.

A move into play-writing was inevitable

“It just seemed natural to me,” Byrne says. “I always went to the theatre. I slept through every production at the Citz, because I was always so knackered from painting. But I enjoyed that. I took it in by osmosis. They were always doing such wonderful things, a lot of which I couldn't get a handle on because they were so obscure, but they were always great shows, with Phillip Prowse's design. They were never laid-back or unimportant. They were always the most important thing, so I got a great education at the Citz. I actually sent The Slab Boys to the Citz, but Giles Havergal said they couldn't do it, because they only had one Scottish actor in the company, but why didn't I send it to the Traverse?”

Byrne's first play, Writers Cramp, was a hit of the 1977 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and led to the Traverse eventually picking up The Slab Boys, which itself was something of a landscape-changer. Byrne's rich, pop culture derived dialogue was delivered with a music hall flourish that showed just how vibrant the Scottish dramatic voice could be in much the same way his paintings had and indeed still do.

“I couldnae not do the two things that I do,” says Byrne, “and I'm blessed that I can do the two things that entertain me. People who don't know me at all say don't you think of retiring. You mean die? People think like that because they hate their jobs, but that could never happen to me. I was never a conformist, and I couldnae wait.”

Beyond Dead End and Sitting Ducks, Byrne has several theatre projects pending which he can't talk about yet. He's also just directed a video for American band, Merchandise, who are about to release a new album on 4AD Records. With music playing such a big part in Byrne's work, it will be fascinating to see what he brings to a contemporary act like Merchandise. One shouldn't, however, expect anything too obscure.

“I love populist art,” Byrne says, “genuine populist stuff like Norman Rockwell, who I adore, and popular music. I've always loved it, but populism is totally under-rated, even though when it's good there's a real intelligence to it. There's no point in being obscure for the sake of it. The big thing is whether something's alive and does it speak to you. If it isn't alive, what's the point?”

Some new writing, Byrne says, is also on the cards.

“At the moment I'm all painted out,” he says. “I've been painting morning till night seven days a week, and I need to give my mind and my imagination a break from all that visual stuff. But that won't last. It's when I'm working that I feel most alive.”


Dead End, Bourne Fine Art, Edinburgh Art Festival, July4th-August 30th; Sitting Ducks, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, June 14th-October 19th.

The List Edinburgh Festivals Guide, July 2014

Ends






The Neutrinos - KlangHaus

Despite it's name, the new show by dark-hearted art-rock ensemble The
 Neutrinos is about much, much more than mere music. By keeping the
audience in the dark of Summerhall's already atmospheric Small Animal
 Hospital and utilising an array of slide projectors beaming out
 home-made slides created by artist Sal Pittman to play with the early
 evening light, KlangHaus (it translates as House of Sound) becomes
what the Neutrinos describe as a 360 degree immersive experience.

“It explores extremes of performance,” explains Neutrinos vocalist
Karen Reilly from the band's spiritual home of Berlin, where the
seeds of KlangHaus were sired. “With the slides we can really shape-shift
the room, so your perception is altered, and because the room was a small
 animal hospital, the idea of anaesthesia keeps returning.”

Reilly and co are currently drawing some last-gasp inspiration from
visiting Teufelsberg (Devil's Mountain), the artificial hill built in
 Berlin out of World War Two rubble on which an American listening
 station was built. Some of what they hear may end up either in
 KlangHaus or else in little sonic installations which Reilly
describes  as “sound graffiti” placed around Summerhall.

 “Music can be ground-breaking,” Reilly says, “but when you go gigs,
the format is really conservative. It's always first band, second band,
 encore. We wanted to break out of that, so we started listening to
 rooms, and pulling out what we could hear. It's like the bones have
 gone, but the songs breathe on.”

While one might presume that KlangHaus might work best after dark,
Reilly seems to prefer the Neutrinos tea-time slot.

“To be doing something like this so early in the evening, and then to
have the rest of the evening to do other things, it gives people a
strange feeling,” she says. “It's like having a really good afternoon
 nap.”

KlangHaus by The Neutrinos, Summerhall, Aug 1-24, 4pm and 6pm.

The List Edinburgh Festivals Guide, July 2014

 ends

Luke Fowler - The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott

Scottish National National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh until November
2nd
Four stars
Luke Fowler's ongoing fascination with icons of radical thought has
extended from film-works on punk band The Homosexuals and composer
Cornelius Cardew to his Turner nominated dissection of
anti-psychiatrist RD Laing. Each of these has cut-and-pasted
sound-and-vision collages of archive footage and newly filmed work to
create a set of suitably world-turned-upside-down narratives. Like
them, this 2012 study of Marxist historian and CND activist E.P.
Thompson's involvement with the Workers Educational Movement is both an
impressionistic portrait of its subject as well as a timely reminder of
a vital figure all but airbrushed out of official history.

For this sixty-one minute piece originally commissioned by the
Hepworth, Wakefield, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Film and Video
Umbrella, and now shown in Scotland for the first time as part of
GENERATION, Fowler slows things down to play with form even more. As
Cerith Wyn Evans intones Thompson's grimly poetic litanies over images
of red-brick Yorkshire towns that move between the black-and-white
bustle of the past and the barren back-streets and To Let signs of
today, the film becomes both oral history project and living newspaper,
complete with Brechtian captions and reflections of Fowler in assorted
windows. As a conduit for working class autodidacts, the WEA has vital
umbilical links with the free university movement and today's
autonomous zones. The Great Learning goes on.

The List, July 2014


ends