Saturday, 13 February 2016

Laura Rogers and Charlotte Ritchie - Private Lives

“It doesn't suit women to be promiscuous” according to newly-wedded roue on the rebound, Elyot Chase, in Private Lives, Noel Coward's cynical 1930 dissection of love and marriage. As his ex wife Amanda Prynne so witheringly countered, however, “It doesn't suit men for women to be promiscuous.”

Coward invariably gave his women the best lines in this way, as should be seen when a new touring production of Private Lives arrives in Glasgow next week. While Amanda is played by Laura Rogers, Charlotte Ritchie takes on the less sung role of Elyot's new bride Sybil with a potentially more assertive streak.

“Amanda loves an argument, “ says Rogers during an afternoon off on the Brighton leg of the tour, “and she knows exactly what she wants. She knows how to flirt and how to manipulate her way through certain situations, but she's vulnerable as well, and even though she can bring out the worst in people and the best in people, she can also be like a little girl.”

As for Sybil, when Ritchie first read Private Lives, “I initially thought she was quite weak and quite stupid, but once we started working on it, we decided we really wanted to bring her away from those stereotypes.”

Ritchie has fled to London for the day, and is hanging out in a cafe as she talks

“Elyot and Amanda are incredibly clever,” she says, “so why would they marry someone who was stupid? While Sybil is in some ways very conservative, I try to make her a bit stronger, someone who's clever and has some self-esteem.”

As Rogers puts it, “It isn't as though Elyot has just gone for a younger version of Amanda, but someone completely different to her.”

Ritchie and Rogers will be familiar to Private Lives audiences for very different reasons. Rogers has been seen twice of late on a Scottish stage, both times at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, where she appeared in David Haig's World War Two Set drama, Pressure, and in Laura Wade's audacious stage version of Sarah Waters' novel, Tipping The Velvet.

Ritchie has just been seen in the second series of BBC Three's brother and sister sit-com, Siblings, and is currently on show on Sunday evenings in the fifth series of 1960s set light drama, Call The Midwife. Also due is the final series of student flatshare comedy drama, Fresh Meat.

In Pressure, Rogers played Kay Summersby, the Irish-born secretary and intimate of General Dwight Eisenhower, whose influence on one of the War's most towering figures was vast.

“That was a part that will stay in my heart for a long time,” says Rogers. “Kay in real life was such an amazing woman, and her relationship with Ike was such a tragic story.”

Rogers' fiance gave her a signed copy of Summersby's memoir, Eisenhower Was my Boss.

Rogers describes Summersby's story as “heartbreaking, because I really believe she contributed so much to what happened in the play that changed the course of the war.”

In Tipping The Velvet, Rogers was Kitty Butler, the cross-dressing Victorian music hall star who helps turn the life of young ingenue, Nan Astley, upside down.

“I was able to really indulge in that character,” Rogers says. “It's such an iconic book, and it was so nice to see a piece of new writing adapted from it which had so many strong women in it.

Also appearing in Tipping The Velvet was Kirsty Besterman, who played Amanda in the Royal Lyceum's own production of Private Lives, which played during the same season as Pressure.

“Kirsty and I were at RADA together,” says Rogers. “and when I was offered Amanda we were sharing a dressing room.”

Ritchie first sprang to prominence as Oregon, the posh student desperate to ditch her background for something more colourful in Fresh Meat. In Siblings, Ritchie plays Hannah, whose self-serving pursuit of a good life without graft along with her dim-witted brother manages to cause chaos for them both. Only as rookie nurse Barbara in Call The Midwife does Ritchie get to play someone more grounded.

“I never thought for a minute all these shows would come out at the same time,” Ritchie muses, “but they're all such different characters and the shows have such different audiences that I can't imagine anyone watches them all.”

Both Hannah and Oregon, who returns in Fresh Meat as a power-crazed student president, may lack self-knowledge, but this isn't something that bothers Ritchie.

“I can never understand it when people say they don't want to play a character who isn't liked,” she says. “It's much more fun to play the bad guy.”

Ritchie's performing career began as one quarter of million record selling operatic girl band, All Angels.

“I had a singing teacher at primary school,” says Ritchie, who joined Youth Music Theatre aged eleven, touring Japan in their production of Pendragon, “and she knew this guy who wanted to put together a girl band. Within a month of releasing an album we were playing the Royal Albert Hall, then the next day I was doing double history.”

Her move into professional acting was similarly accidental after her mother met a casting director at an all woman's swimming club.

“She asked my mum if she knew a girl who was aged about fifteen,” says Ritchie, who ended up playing opposite Michael Sheen in short film, The Open Doors, before studying drama at Bristol University and doing a comedy revue on the Edinburgh Fringe.

Rogers' interest in drama was piqued by doing musicals while at a comprehensive school in Swansea.

“I'd never thought about doing straight acting,” she says, “then at sixth form college, this incredible drama teacher did a production of The Tempest. All the girls wanted to play Miranda or Ariel, then my teacher said he wanted me to be Prospero, and to play it as a woman.”

Rogers ended up doing one of Prospero's speeches as her RADA audition piece.

“I think that's what helped me stand out,” she says. “One of the teachers said to me, 'What on earth was that?'

Post-RADA, Rogers was cast in TV drama, The Sins, alongside Pete Postlethwaite and Frank Finlay. An early stage role saw her appear in the Edinburgh International Festival production of Celestina, Fernando de Rojas' fifteenth century romp translated by Jo Clifford and directed by Catalan whirlwind, Calixto Bieito.

“I don't think I've ever worked in the same way again,” Rogers says of her experience on the show. “Calixto's English wasn't good, and he just spoke in expletives, telling us to not to use the script, even though we didn't know the lines. It was really freeing.”

With an array of acclaimed performances at the Royal Court, Shakespeare's Globe and West Yorkshire Playhouse, as well as in Bad Girls – The Musical, the roles Rogers aspires to play next are telling.

“I'd love to do more television,” she says. “I'm a big fan of Silent Witness and Prime Suspect, and I'd love to play a female detective.”

And onstage?

“I'd love to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Every director I work with I tell them that, but I'm still waiting for that offer.”

Ritchie too has aspirations for stage work.

“I think it's a really fun thing,” she says. “Apart from anything else, the hours are really sociable. When you're filming, you have to leave the house at five in the morning, and then you don't get home until 9.30 at night, so it's physically very demanding.”

If the latter statement sounds like something Hannah might say, Ritchie's intentions are more serious.

“I'd really like to do new writing,” she says. “I love seeing new plays at the Royal Court, and there are so many voices out there that need to be heard.”

Amanda and Sybil's voices look set to be heard loud and clear.

“Private Lives is so modern,” says Rogers. “It's not dated, and anyone who is in a relationship, or who's loved and lost, will be able to see past one or two of the lines which maybe are old-fashioned and be able to recognise things.”

As Ritchie points out, “People love seeing what goes on behind closed doors, and they love to see couples rowing. I think Sybil represents the sort of slightly irritating woman who reinforces gender stereotypes, but I think she deals with what happens with great dignity up to a point. I hope she learns something from it.”

Private Lives, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, February 22-27.

The Herald, February 13th 2016


Thursday, 11 February 2016


Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The shapes projected onto the stage floor of the Tron speak volumes about Mike Bartlett's four-sided dissection of the twenty-first century mating game at the opening of Andy Arnold's revival, the first since the play premiered in 2009. A circle, two rectangles and an L shape not only frame the action on an otherwise bare performing area before they morph into a large square that looks like something more gladiatorial. They also suggest something more scientific is at play than just lust.

James Anthony Pearson is John, a young gay man perfectly at home with his long-term partner, but who finds himself falling for a woman in a way that turns out to be about a lot more than sex. He thinks women are like water when you really want a beer. She thinks he's like something drawn with a pencil and in need of colouring in.

Little linguistic flourishes like this are peppered throughout an at times filthily comic tug of love. Determined to keep things civilised, dinner for three is arranged, only to be upended by the arrival of John's lover's father. In the end, three won't go into two, however torn John might be. With all other characters known only by a generic letter, Bartlett's game of metrosexual charades resembles a 1970s TV play exploring whatever passed for the permissive society in suburban Britain at the time.

This is not to its detriment. As Johnny McKnight's M and Isobel McArthur's W spar furiously over John, Vincent Friell's F lends a more obviously macho weight to what is essentially a stripped-down study of what happens when everyday behaviour is driven to extremes.

The Herald, February 12th 2016


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Lyn Paul - Blood Brothers, The New Seekers and How Bill Kenwright Changed Her Life

Lyn Paul never expected to be appearing in Blood Brothers again. Then again, the now sixty-six year old actress and singer never expected to represent the UK as part of pre-Abba boy-girl band The New Seekers at the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, held at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh.

While Eurovision is now just a memory, almost two decades after she first played back street matriarch Mrs Johnstone in Willy Russell's street-wise musical, Paul can be seen in Edinburgh this week on the latest Blood Brothers tour.

“We thought it was the end,” Paul says. “I went back for it's final dates in the West End in 2012, and we thought that was it, but now here we are.”

If things had worked out differently, Paul might not be here at all. Having formed her own girl group aged thirteen, Paul graduated from Manchester's working men's club circuit to international pop stardom with The New Seekers. She only considered a move into musical theatre in 1997 while playing the Cockney Cabaret club on London's Tottenham Court Road.

“Carl Wayne came to see me,” Paul remembers, “and he was the one who suggested I should try out for Blood Brothers.”

Wayne was the former singer with The Move, who went on to sing You're A Star!, the theme song for 1970s TV talent show, New Faces. He'd also done six years in Blood Brothers playing the Narrator.

“I don't know what I was expecting when I went to see it,” says Paul, “but when I came out, I knew I wanted to do it.”

Not knowing how to go about it, Paul took advice from her mother.

“She told me to write to Bill Kenwright,” she says of her first approach to one of the biggest producers in the business, who still looks after Blood Brothers. “I said to her I can't do that, and she said, why not, I've seen him on the telly, and he seems like a very nice man.”

Paul received a letter from Kenwright by return, went to meet him, and was cast as the woman she affectionately calls Mrs J, following in the footsteps of Barbara Dickson, Kiki Dee and Petula Clark.

“It was frightening,” Paul says of her experience onstage at the Phoenix Theatre three weeks later waiting for rehearsals to begin. “I'd never acted before, and Bill Kenwright had taken an enormous gamble on me. I just stood there thinking, what have I done?”

The answer came in the fact that she has returned to the role of Mrs J several times, both in the West End and on tour. This includes being asked back for the show's final West End dates in 2012, having been voted the definitive Mrs J. Doors were also opened for Paul to explore an acting career which has seen her appear in Boy George musical, Taboo, do a tour of Cabaret and appear as a regular character in TV soap, Emmerdale. All of which has seen her inhabit Mrs J with increasing confidence each time she revisits her.

“I'm a northern girl,” Paul says, “so I can relate to her. Perhaps there's a new depth to Mrs J that maybe wasn't there before, I don't know, but I've had lots of highs and many lows in my life, so I just thought I was her.”

Born Lynda Belcher in Wythenshawe, Paul was dancing from the age of three, and by the time she was thirteen, had formed her own girl group, The Crys-Do-Lyns.

“I read in the paper that there were no girl trios,” Paul remembers. “It said America had The Supremes, but where were our girl groups? I went off to dance class and said why don't we form one?”

Paul's dad drove the girls, not just around the local club circuit, but around Europe, where The Crys-Do-Lyns entertained the troops in Germany. When she was seventeen, Paul joined The Nocturnes, who initially featured the Perth-born Eve Graham in a line-up that would tour the Mecca circuit. The value of such spit and sawdust exposure was invaluable.

“It kept you grounded,” she says. “That's where a lot of people on the talent shows miss out these days. They don't have the experience of what to do if someone's ordering a round of drinks or eating fish and chips in front of you when you're in the middle of a song.”

With Graham having already made the move to The New Seekers, Paul joined her a year later. Within a year, the group, now made up of three men and two women, would go on to sell twenty-eight million copies of I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing, a song first heard on a global village embracing TV ad for Coca Cola.

“It was the biggest song in the world,” says Paul.

With such a profile, The New Seekers were the obvious choice for Eurovision '72, and showcased a new song each week on Cliff Richard's Saturday night TV show. Beg, Steal or Borrow was selected following a public vote.

“We didn't realise how big it was,” says Paul. “We were doing thirteen-hour days on Cliff Richard's programme before the show went out, and at that time, which was before Abba, having boys and girls in a band was quite a novelty, so we were getting all this attention.

“By the time we got to Edinburgh it was mad. Kids were screaming, trying to rip our clothes off, and they broke down the door of our hotel.”

With Paul featured vocalist, Beg, Steal or Borrow came second, losing out to Luxembourg's entry, Apres Toi, an epic ballad shot through with package-tour mariachi horns. As sung by Vicky Leandros, the English language version, Come What May, reached number two in the UK charts, the same position as Beg, Steal or Borrow.

Following The New Seekers release of an incongruous version of The Who's Pinball Wizard, Paul sang lead on 1973 single, You Won't Find Another Fool Like Me. The record went to number one before that incarnation of the group fell apart.

“I was just getting to do the oohs and ahs,” Paul says, “but we had a marvelous time. If I could remember any of it,” she adds. “I enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have. I was a home bird, and was always on the phone to my mum and dad.”

Paul embarked on a solo career that saw her work with the likes of Jack Jones and Liza Minnelli. She even tried out for Eurovision again in 1977, as did Carl Wayne, with both losing out to Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran's song, Rock Bottom.

While Paul still enjoys watching Eurovision every year, “it's different now,” she says, “and I think it's a shame it can't go back to how it used to be, getting someone already established to do different songs in the way that we did.”

Today, with Paul recognised more as an actress than a singer, her working life might have worked out very different if she hadn't taken her mum's advice.

“The New Seekers gave me a wonderful platform,” she says, “but writing to Bill Kenwright changed my life again. He took a big chance on me, and gave me a brand new career aged forty-seven, and it's a career I'm still enjoying aged sixty-six. So if Bill Kenwright tells me to jump on that shovel, I'll be jumping on that shovel like a shot.”

Blood Brothers runs at Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday, and tours the UK until November.

The Herald, February 10th 2016


Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Blood Brothers

The Playhouse, Edinburgh
Four stars

An unreconstructed Liverpool skyline may hang over the action throughout the latest tour of Willy Russell's working class tragedy, but what follows could have happened in any post-industrial UK city that has had its heart ripped out of it over the last thirty years or so. That Russell's musical fable concerning the very different fortunes of two Scouse brothers separated at birth remains both phenomenally popular and damningly relevant after almost thirty years since its premiere speaks volumes about the state we're in.

Much of the show's appeal comes from the sheer heart of Bob Tomson and Bill Kenwright's production, which heightens the action without ever losing its common touch. The latter comes through in the pop poetry of Kristofer Harding's funeral-suited Narrator as much as in the back-street demotic of Sean Jones' Mickey and Danielle Corlass' Linda. This counterpoints the more educated tones of Joel Benedict's Eddie to entertaining effect. Most of all it shines through in Lyn Paul's heartbreaking turn as the twin boys' mother, Mrs Johnstone.

There is nothing abstract in Russell's depiction of class division, the enforced break-up of communities and the psychological and material consequences of extreme poverty. In this respect, Blood Brothers is arguably the first large-scale anti-capitalist musical, which, despite the contradictions of its own success, has subverted the mainstream like no other.

While Russell's musical compositions are far from subtle, some of the overwrought bombast of previous productions has been jettisoned for something more restrained and almost mournful in delivery. Even so, the show's final five minutes remain one of the most emotionally draining theatrical experiences likely to grace a stage anywhere in recent times.

The Herald, February 9th 2016


Monday, 8 February 2016

The James Plays

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

There's never any peace in Rona Munro's epic trilogy of imagined Scottish history, revived for a brief Edinburgh run following its 2014 Edinburgh International Festival premiere before embarking on an international tour. This is plain to see on both a sweeping political level as well as something more intimate in all three parts of this co-production between the National Theatre of Scotland, the National Theatre of Great Britain and EIF itself.

The fact that the first all-dayer coincided with the kick-off of the Six Nations Rugby Union tournament may have been coincidental, but a similar sense of hand-me-down tribalism was inherent from the off in James I: The Key will Keep the Lock. With a section of the audience seated on a semi-circular platform onstage, a gladiatorial arena flanks a giant sword embedded into a floor on which the pathways of light form a Saltire.

With Steven Miller playing a poetry-loving James I, Andrew Rothney an emotionally damaged James II and Matthew Pidgeon a feckless James III, all three monarchs have their demons to slay, and it is their female counterparts they look to for inspiration as much as comfort.

As James is gifted back to his people after eighteen years in an English prison, the only reason he toughens up is to impress his queen Joan, played by Rosemary Boyle, who ingeniously segues into James II's French bride Mary in the second play. Blythe Duff's increasingly demonic Isabella Stewart, too, is an over-riding influence, while Malin Crepin's Queen Margaret in the third play is savvy enough to recognise her image as others see her while offering others a form of liberation as well.

As the most stylistically adventurous part of the trilogy, James II: Day of the Innocents is also the one that has been reworked the most. Where the psychologically traumatised six year old boy-king was previously personified by a puppet, now Rothney plays James throughout, leaping in and out of boxes as he goes.

The play now appears more direct if just as insular in its portrayal of James' nightmares. Even more dysfunctional is Andrew Still's William Douglas, a loose cannon desperate to prove he's a tough guy in a bromance that increasingly resembles a contemporary gangland tragedy.

The energy of a younger generation rebelling against their bullying elders is paramount here, to the extent that Rothney came a cropper during the second act football match. While he heroically continued to the end of the play, David Mara took on his roles script-in-hand in the trilogy's third part.

James III: The True Mirror presents a seemingly more civilised and thoroughly modern society in the
most subtle, considered and quietly powerful of the three plays. The end, as the next generation in the form of Daniel Cahill's future James IV tries on for size the baggage of his forebears almighty mistakes, feels less certain than first time round. As James steps out to face the future, however, the possibilities are endless.

The Herald, February 8th 2016


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Linder and Rachel Maclean - British Art Show 8

At first glance, the regal-looking pink love heart framed around a blue-eyed and smiling princess peering out from the flagship image for British Art Show 8, which arrives in Edinburgh this month, looks every inch the child-friendly image of a Disney princess to die for. Only the fact that the cartoon creation appears to have a bag over their head while wielding a frowning bauble and miming shooting itself in the head jars somewhat.

The image is from Feed Me, the new hour-long film by Rachel Maclean, which was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Hayward Touring, and is is being screened as part of BAS8 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Like the film, and indeed much of Maclean's back-catalogue, the image takes familiar pop cultural tropes and subverts them with a cut-up narrative in which an unrecognisable Maclean usually plays all the parts against a candy-coated green screen backdrop.

From the Lady Gaga and Katy Perry coloured fantasias of LolCats and Over The Rainbow to state of the nations mini epics, The Lion and the Unicorn and Please, Sir, which mashed up Oliver Twist, The Prince and the Pauper and Britain's Got Talent, Maclean's films have explored notions of identity in terms of class, nation and gender. The image for Feed Me, with its grown-up take on kid's stuff and a dig at the monarchy to boot, conveys an anarchically punky spirit that gets under the skin of its subject even as its surface cutesiness draws you in.

“It's looking at childhood and cultures of happiness,” says Maclean. “I've always been interested in the fantasy of childhood compared to how it actually is. I'm also interested in the infantilisation of adulthood, and how big companies like Google have a ball pit in the workplace, and how Starbucks serve drinks in spill-proof cups, like it's a baby's cup.

“Children's TV likes to imagine childhood as something that's innocent and sealed off from adulthood with it's own separate world. There's a trope of horror movies as well, where children are so cut off and so different that they can talk to dead people or animals.

“In Feed Me there are two worlds. There's this world of a Barbie style Disney princess, and there's this other space that's grubby and full of urban decay, and these two worlds mix. I was thinking as well about Britney Spears, and her transition from a child to a young adult, and how her career began to unravel, with all the contradictions she had to endure. That's interesting in terms of the roles young woman have to have, and how they're not allowed to mix. That's typical of Disney princesses as well. In the films Disney princesses are always about fifteen or sixteen, and are on the cusp of becoming a woman, and that's a fetish I think we have in society.”

All of which suggests an affinity with the work of Linder, the iconic punk-sired artist whose Diagrams of Love: Marriage of Eyes, a rug commissioned by the Edinburgh-based Dovecot Studios, also appears at the SNGoMA as part of BAS8.

For the last four decades, Linder has subverted the mainstream in a similar fashion to Maclean through a series of taboo-busting photo-montages that began with her artzine, The Secret Public, co-created with writer Jon Savage, and which fused images from porn magazines with pictures of domestic appliances. Linder created record covers for Manchester contemporaries Buzzcocks and Magazine, while her collage aesthetic was applied through singing with her own band, Ludus, and more recently through increasingly expansive performance-based work.

The latter arguably began back in 1982 when Linder wore a dress made of meat during a Ludus gig at Manchester club, The Hacienda, during which she peeled back the dress to reveal an oversized strap-on sex toy. In her film, Light and Fuse, Linder performed in drag as Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western anti-hero, The Man With No Name. She reprised the role in her four hour performance, The Working Class Goes To Paradise, in which she also took on the mantle of Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker movement, alongside dancers and three bands playing simultaneously.

For Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2010, Linder presented The Darktown Cakewalk: Celebrated from the House of FAME, a thirteen-hour physical and musical meditation on fame that featured troupes of Lindy-hoppers, jumping jivers and northern soul dancers. For BAS8, seven dancers from Northern Ballet will perform Children of the Mantic Stain, a new work inspired in part by the writings of surrealist painter Ithell Colquhoun and her lively St Ives social circle. As well as featuring choreographed portrayals of Colquhoun, Barbara Hepworth and sculptor John Milne, Linder's rug plays a key role as the ballet's 'eighth dancer.'

“I like the hallucinogenic quality in both Colquhoun’s writing and paintings,” Linder says of the inspiration behind Diagrams of Love: Marriage of Eyes. “Whilst I was in the midst of my research, I stayed in the artists flat above Raven Row gallery. The flat has never been changed since the last occupant, Rebecca Levy, passed away in 2009 aged 98. I was mesmerised by Rebecca’s choice of carpets, which are a triumph of 1970s design. I used to stare at the carpets in the half light and they would play all sorts of tricks with my optical nerves, I’d start to see things that weren’t there, 'mind pictures' as Colquhoun might have said.

“For the rug design at Dovecot, I created a photomontage of two of Rebecca Levy’s carpets and added all seeing 1970s Glam Rock eyes so that as one looks at the rug, the rug looks back at you. The dancers from Northern Ballet call her The Diva and are very respectful to her. They say that she definitely takes the lead. When I first met the tufters at Dovecot Studios, I talked about liberating carpets and rugs from the floor, and how I wanted to be able to choreograph textiles through space.”

While the rug itself was made at Dovecot in collaboration with Jonathan Cleaver, Dennis Reinm├╝ller and Kristi Vana, Children of the Mantic Stain is choreographed by Kenneth Tindall, with fashion designer Christopher Shannon providing the costumes and composer Maxwell Sterling the score. In this respect, rather than dive into the dressing up box, Linder describes herself as the “walking talking Pritt stick, glueing everyone together,” while the dancers “ventriloquise on my behalf.”

Both Linder and Maclean's work is driven by a political root as much as a performative one,

“My motivation for making art comes from being angry at something,” says Maclean. “I'm really interested in looking at fairytales to explore class and gender politics, but displacing them in a way that's historical but which brings it into something contemporary.”

For Linder too, a political engine is “always ticking over. I don’t deliberately set out to make political work but it always turns out that way, sometimes more so than for other artists who use scale and sloganeering to make their point. Generationally we cut our teeth on handouts and fanzines, paperback books, 7” singles and 12” albums, so debate then emerged from a very tactile and intimate experience of listening and reading. A touch screen can never deliver in the same way.

“I often work with that which has been discarded, a 1964 copy of Playboy for instance or a Good Housekeeping cookery book from 1948. The prevailing sexual and economic politics are embedded in every halftone dot on each page, just as they are in every pixel on the screens that we stroke each day. It doesn’t take much to mess it all up. As Carol Hanisch said in her “personal is political” essay in 1969, women aren’t messed up, they’re messed over. We’re still all messed up regardless of gender, so I rev up the engine and hijack the images around us, taking them somewhere that they’re not meant to go. I make things right by making them wrong.”

This chimes too with Maclean, who grew up on “girls magazines, MTV, Disney films and computer games, and that feeds into my work, but it becomes warped somehow.”

Linder's increasing use of dance in her work too stems from her childhood.

“I’m sure that it’s purely autobiographical,” she says. “I grew up in Liverpool at the same time as the Merseybeat scene was happening, then my family moved to Wigan just as Northern Soul was being birthed. As a student I saw the Bowie/Ferry fandom make way for Punk’s brats, then I disappeared into Manchester’s Black clubs to dance to Greg Wilson’s electro funk mixes in 1981. Music and dance have always been a part of my life,and The Darktown Cakewalk was one way of letting all of these experiences reach meltdown and to then cool off and congeal into different configurations.”

In terms of performance, while Maclean says she'd like to work with actors more, “It's fun becoming all these different characters for a day. I quite like the oddness of it all being me, especially with using prosthetics in the way we've done in Feed Me, with these different layers of masks.

"Using green screen as well is a bit like painting, and allows me to put in a lot of ideas, and use a lot of still images so it's like a photo montage. I quite like the film being this big thing with lots of different ideas.”

While Maclean's films are deeply theatrical, as yet she has not worked in the live arena.

“I think it would be fun to do something live at some point,” she says. “I don't think I could theatre-act, but if I was to do something I'd like to get loads of people on board and do something Busby Berkleyesque.”

Similarly, while Linder's performance work has been documented on film, usually by Daniel Warren, film as a medium in itself is something she has yet to fully exploit.

"I recently collaborated with [French fashion house] Maison Margiela in Brussels and I made a film then,” she says. “It features a dancer dressed in a MM coat made of blonde wigs but she barely moves in front of the camera.

“I love film. I remember the huge cinemas in Liverpool that my parents used to take me to in the 1960s before the multiplexes took over. I saw ‘This is Cinerama' in1964 and I thought that I’d died and gone to heaven, especially when I heard the first 'stereophonic sound' demonstration in Act II.

“It’s not just film that I was in love with. I was also in love with the ceremony attached to going to the cinema. My family always dressed up when we went out. We wanted to mirror the stars. From Hollywood to Huyton didn’t seem such a long way then, but now the cinema screen has been replaced by the tiniest screens imaginable, so that we can hold in our hands what was once projected in Picture Palaces throughout the land. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about all of this, so I make work about it instead.”

Feed Me by Rachel Maclean and Diagrams of Love: Marriage of Eyes can both be seen at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, as part of British Art Show 8, February 13th-May 8th. Children of the Mantic Stain will be performed by Northern Ballet Dancers at Dovecot, Edinburgh on March 30th.

A shorter version of this article appeared in The List, February 2016



Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

On a table-top size desert landscape, a solitary egg sits in the spotlight as the sound of the tide ebbs and flows around it. By the end of Julian Crouch and Saskia Lane's thirty-five minute epic that formed part of the Manipulate visual theatre festival's Wednesday night programme, all life will have stemmed from it. As the egg bursts open as operated by Crouch and Lane with concentrated diffidence, a brown bag blows in, unfurls itself and puts flesh and bones on an ever morphing creation that slowly finds its uneasy feet. From a stumblebum gangle to an imperious stride, this ever-expanding new-born sheds skins and grows stronger with every wobbly step.

At first glance this all seems a far cry from Crouch's large-scale spectacles as a designer and director with Improbable Theatre on the likes of Shockheaded Peter and the company's collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland on a staging of Neil Gaiman's The Wolves in the Walls. Lane, meanwhile, is best known as a musician who has worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Beyonce and the Kronos Quartet inbetween co-leading the band, The Lascivious Biddies. In their first collaboration as duo puppeteers, however, the pair have created a work of intricate grace and beauty.

In a show commissioned by the New York-based VisionIntoArt and National Sawdust organisations, and with support from several other producers including the Henson Foundation, at times Birdheart's crumpled protagonist is a lonely Lear left in the wilderness, at others an equally solitary Canute watching the waves. The light shed on what lies within him enters the realms of magical realism before he finally takes flight, completing the evolutionary circle as he goes in beguiling miniature.

The Herald, February 4th 2016