Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pere Ubu

Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
Four stars
“Ma body may be broken,” drawls Pere Ubu's vocalist and de facto
director David Thomas to explain why he won't be getting up from his
chair so the people at the back of the room can see him, “but ma miiiiiind
is more dangerous than ever.”

It may sound like a line from a Tennessee Williams play, but having
already thrown his walking stick to the ground en route to an
explanation of Random-access memory, Thomas' seated presence as he
slugs a bottle of red wine inbetween reading lyrics from a music stand
is clearly a bodily necessity.  Mercurial belligerence may have always
been Thomas' thing, but his uncompromising stance is also a knowing
piece of self-reflection as the current Ubu line up play two sets
culled largely from the band's recent Carnival of Souls album.

With no mention of Ubu's recent appearance on the soundtrack of the
latest series of American Horror Story, the first half hour is a
loose-fit alliance of clarinet-led B movie electronics that rebuilds
1980s single Waiting For Mary with theremins and a monologue about how
Thomas is in league with a Martian invasion. It's a piece of comically
retro-futurist hokum before Thomas throws the mother of all strops in
the second half. Painfully in need of the bathroom, a smoke and some
serious TLC, he conducts, blows a horn and yowls with 'ornery intent.

Things get edgier as Thomas grimaces and bears it throughout the set's
remainder. Relieved at last, he returns for a soporific version of the
new album's first single, Irene. After such a thrillingly tense display
of parallel universe sci-fi pop, to see him perk up is a relief to all.

The Herald, November 20th 2014


ends



Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Jean-Denis Leduc and Orla O'Loughlin - New Writing From Quebec

When the Traverse Theatre's artistic director Orla O'Loughlin touched
down in Montreal in September of this year to take part in an
international exchange between Scots and Quebecois playwrights, one of
the first things she saw was a Saltire hanging from a city centre
balcony. A week after the referendum on Scottish independence, feelings
were still raw.

Edinburgh's new writing theatre had spent referendum night itself
presenting their production of John McCann's play, Spoiling, which
imagined the Realpolitik behind an independence win as Scotland's first
minister of international affair prepared her maiden speech. The
Traverse also hosted an informal presentation of David Greig's
independence-themed Twitter plays. As the referendum result became
clear, however, the next night of Spoiling was by all accounts an even
more emotional affair.

It was against this backdrop that O'Loughlin arrived in Montreal with
Scottish writers Rob Drummond, Douglas Maxwell and Morna Pearson for a
weekend of readings at the city's Theatre La Licorne. Drummond's play,
Quiz Show, Maxwell's A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity, The Artist Man
and the Mother Woman by Pearson and Most Favoured by David Ireland were
all seen and heard in new Quebecois translations.

“The referendum was the first thing people wanted to talk to us about,”
says O'Loughlin. “We met people in Montreal who had travelled to
Scotland for what they thought would be a celebration, but who returned
despondent. In that context, some of the plays we took there became
redefined as something political, so with The Artist Man and The Mother
Woman, which is about a domineering mother and her son, you started
thinking about a big nation bullying a smaller one next door, and it
made you think about this relationship in a different way.”

This week, the second half of the exchange will take place in
Edinburgh, when artistic director of Theatre La Licorne, Jean-Denis
Leduc, will similarly present performed readings of three new Quebecois
plays in English translation. The programme will feature works by
leading Quebecois writers, Fabien Cloutier, Catherine-Anne Toupin and
Francois Archambault, which will all be directed by Theatre La
Licorne's assistant artistic director, Philippe Lambert.

“Like Scotland,” says Leduc, “Quebec is a nation next to a big strong
neighbour. We are proud about what we are and what our theatre and
culture is. We have big spaces like you have the Highlands, and we talk
about identity. All of these things are part of our theatre and what
our playwrights talk about.”

The theatrical relationship between Scotland and Quebec has long been a
fertile one, ever since Michel Tremblay's highly poetic works started
being seen in Scots translations by Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay.
While The Guid Sisters was first seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow,
the Traverse produced Tremblay's A Solemn Mass For A Full Moon in
Summer as well as Ella Wildridge and Tom McGrath's translation of
Stones and Ashes, penned by Tremblay's fellow country-man, Daniel Danis.

Elsewhere, the Stellar Quines company has also focused on Quebecois
drama since their production of Jeanne-Mance Delisle's play, The Reel
of the Hanged Man more than a decade ago. More recently, the company
forged a long-term collaboration with the Quebec-based Imago Theatre
which resulted in Ana, a new bi-lingual play co-written by Clare Duffy
and Pierre Yves Lemieux. The company also presented an acclaimed
version of Linda Griffiths' audacious play, Age of Arousal, in
co-production with the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. Since then,
Stellar Quines have also produced two solo plays by Jennifer Tremblay,
The List and Carousel.

The roots of the Traverse's New Writing Quebec programme date back
several years to Philip Howard's artistic directorship of the Traverse.
This was a period when the theatre's then literary manager Katherine
Mendelsohn forged significant international links which have developed
through subsequent managements, from Dominic Hill to O'Loughlin's
current tenure.

Traverse plays already seen in translation at Theatre La Licorne
include Gregory Burke's debut, Gagarin Way, Passing Places by Stephen
Greenhorn and Midsummer by David Greig, as well as After The End and
Orphans, both by Dennis Kelly. Rona Munro’s version of Evelyne de la
Cheneliere's play, Strawberries in January, meanwhile, was a Herald
Angel winning hit at the Traverse.

“When I walked into Theatre La Licorne's brand new space two years ago
was uncanny,” O'Loughlin says. “The theatre is modelled on the
Traverse, with two performing spaces like ours, and a big long bar.
They have this real commitment to the work of the Traverse as well, so
to see them sometimes programme two plays a year that have been on at
the Traverse first was really quite moving.”

Whatever the bricks and mortar of Theatre La Licorne, for Leduc,
producing new work in a country as independently minded in spirit as
Scotland has been affected by its own political situation.

“Before and during our referendums we had the same feeling,” he says,
“which was one of excitement about change, which was reflected in our
writing. What's happened since the referendum is that writers are
talking about other things, but that feeling is still with us.

“We've lost two referendums, remember, and it's very sad what's
happened in Quebec since then. We were told we would have more
autonomy, but that never really happened, and we're always searching
for our identity. We talk about those times in our plays, but not like
we did before. Now it is more intimate.”

As the Traverse deals with a damaging eleven per cent funding cut by
Creative Scotland which will jeopardise the amount of work Scotland's
new writing theatre can programme, New Writing Quebec is a significant
international collaboration for both parties.

“The will from both the Traverse and Theatre La Licorne to collaborate
is so strong,” says O'Loughlin. “We want to put on Quebecois work here
and see Traverse plays done in Quebec, but there may also be scope for
doing something brand new between us.”

Leduc is equally enthusiastic.

“It will be a meeting and a reunion,” he says of this week's programme,
“and there will be further collaborations, I hope. When we open our
minds like that, we can go further and further. This relationship
between the Traverse and Theatre La Licorne is part of the dramaturgy
we need to do to make great theatre.”

New Writing From Quebec, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, November 18-20.
www.traverse.co.uk

ends

New Writing From Quebec – At A Glance

Three new plays will be presented on consecutive nights in a series of
script-in-hand readings in Traverse Two directed by Theatre La
Licorne's assistant artistic director Philippe Lambert.

Tue 18
Billy (The Days of Howling) – Written by Fabien Cloutier and translated
by Nadine Desrochers, this is piece questions the reliability of
narrators and the complexities of living up to the high standards we
often set for ourselves and others. A rising star in the Quebec theatre
scene, Cloutier is an actor, playwright and author of eight plays. His
first solo show, Scotstown won the Coup de coeur at Zoofest in the 2010
Just For Laughs Festival. The play's sequel, Cranbourne, was a finalist
for the Michel Tremblay Prize.

Wed 19
Right Here, Right Now – Written by Catherine-Anne Toupin and translated
by Christopher Campbell, this play looks at a family coming to terms
with grief. Toupin is a well-known actress in Quebec who has written
three full length plays, and many short plays, which have all been
produced.  She spends most of her time acting, both on stage and on
screen while also working as a script editor for a television show she
created, called Boomerang.

Thu 20
You Will Remember Me – Written by François Archambault and translated
by Bobby Theodore, this play looks at a modern family under pressure
and in search of redemption. Archambault has written more than twenty
plays which have been translated and staged across the world. His play,
15 Seconds, was seen in at the Traverse Theatre in a version by Isabel
Wright, while You Will Remember Me looks set to be adapted for screen.

The Herald, November 18th 2014


ends

Friday, 14 November 2014

Stan Douglas

Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
November 7th-February 15th
When Stan Douglas' play, Helen Lawrence, played as part of this year's
Edinburgh International Festival, its live depiction of a post World
War Two film noir beamed against a a 3D photographic backdrop looked at
the class and racial divides of Vancouver's run-down Hogan's Alley
district, later cleaned up then razed in the name of urban renewal.

Hogan's Alley's 3D remains can be seen in Douglas' remarkable
large-scale image that forms part of his new show at Edinburgh's
Fruitmarket Gallery. Also on show will be Video, which recasts Orson
Welles' film of Kafka's The Trial with a Senegalese woman in the
Parisian suburb of La Courneuve, where some of the worst violence of
2005's Paris riots took place.

“Sarkozy was still Minister of the Interior when we shot the piece,”
says Douglas, “and his office tried to shut our production down, even
though we had made deals with the local mayor and local gangs. The
police were afraid we would start a riot, but in the end we were
allowed to shoot exteriors between 4am and 7am.”

The show will also feature Douglas' Corrupt Files series of “acts of
photographic disobedience,”
as well as his 1997 piece, Der Sandmann, which juxtaposes footage of an
urban garden in Potsdam outside Berlin alongside film of the building
site it later became.

“Der Sandmann came out of being in Berlin a few years after the Berlin
Wall came down,” Douglas explains. “As in Helen Lawrence, the setting
is one in which the urban fabric of a place is being radically
transformed. DDR buildings were being destroyed, Imperial Prussian ones
were being restored and there was an influx of western capital
intending to make nearby Wansee a luxury resort again. It felt like
multiple times were inhabiting the same space and that's what Der
Sandmann looks like.”

The List, November 2014


ends

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Kite Runner

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars
A lone tabla player ushers in Giles Croft's formidable production of
Matthew Spangler's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's best-selling novel
with a frantic overture that points up the turmoil of the story's
Afghan origins. If the images of big city skyscrapers that loom behind
offer up some kind of salvation, the opening speech by the play's
narrator Amir is poetic enough to resemble a Tennessee Williams
monologue.

Worlds collide and cultures clash in far crueller ways over the next
two and a half hours, from the moment Amir plays cowboys with his
father's servant's son and best friend Hassan after watching John Wayne
films in the Iranian cinema in mid-1970s Kabul. Separated by class and
ethnicity, Amir and Hassan's fates are marked by a shocking childhood
event that sees Hassan brutalised, while Amir's shameful acquiescence
leaves him hard to sympathise with, let alone like.

What follows, as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan sees Amir and his
father flee to 1980s San Francisco, is a story of betrayal, identity,
heritage and redemption. Amir seeks only to prove himself worthy to his
father, a metaphor for a greater patriarchy powerfully and evocatively
delivered by Ben Turner as Amir.

Turner is onstage throughout this touring version of a production
originally presented by Nottingham and Liverpool Playhouses, and makes
for a charismatic presence as he leads a cast of ten through a
theatrical assault course of love and war. On a stage awash with images
of east and west, by the end things appear akin to a  Blood Brothers
for the post 9/11 world in a poignant study of emotional and political
exile.

The Herald, November 12th 2014

ends

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Pamela Carter – Slope

When Untitled Projects' production of Slope opens this week at the
Citizens Theatre in Glasgow as part of this year's Glasgay! festival,
both the writer and director of this sex and drug fuelled study of the
love affair between nineteenth century poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud,
will be absent from the auditorium. Instead, director Stewart Laing and
playwright Pamela Carter will be watching a live online feed of a show
first seen at Tramway in 2006 in a production which put the audience
above the stage peering down into the poets' bathroom as if spying on
some of the lovers' most intimate moments.

Slope's new hi-tech approach will further the play's underlying theme
of voyeurism. This originally developed, not out of the script, but
from the starting point of Laing's design.

“All those years ago,” Carter recalls, “Stewart had this design, and
wanted to develop a piece of work using it. It struck me that having an
audience peering down into a bathroom is as voyeuristic as you can get,
and at the time there was a lot of stuff going round about Pete Doherty
and all these badly behaved rock stars, so I applied that to Verlaine
and Rimbaud. It's about realism, and it's about naturalism, and it
seemed to me that the best thing would be to write a very
straightforward play, albeit one in which the room is a character.

“Then Stewart talked to me again about wanting to do the play
specifically in a studio theatre space,  we looked at it again, and
because it's being done in a different space, that dictated certain
structural changes. It's still the same story, with the same three
characters, but for me it's about the spatial relationship between the
audience and the actor. It's not a literary event.”

The original production of Slope was Carter's first collaborations with
Untitled, since when she has scripted the company's twenty-first
century reworking of Marivaux's La Dispute, An Argument About Sex. More
recently, Carter penned Untitled's hit collaboration with the National
Theatre of Scotland, Paul Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner.
The latter show has already toured to Sweden and Ireland, and is lined
up for several international theatre festivals in 2015

As a dramaturg too, Carter has worked on many of the most vital pieces
of theatre seen in Scotland in recent times. She has forged a close
working relationship with Vanishing Point, with whom she has worked on
Interiors, Saturday Night, and, most recently, the haunting Tomorrow.

As a playwright, Carter has written What We Know for the Traverse
Theatre in Edinburgh, which also hosted Carter's own EK company's
production of Game Theory. Carter has also worked with the National
Theatre of Scotland, Tramway and the Finborough Theatre.

Yet, despite such an impressive string of credits, it is not Carter's
name one readily associates with such works as Interiors and Paul
Bright's Confessions of A Justified Sinner, and it seems at times that
she simply isn't getting the credit she deserves. While much of this is
down to the collaborative nature of her work, it is also in part down
to how it is contextualised. If judged in terms of a visual art or live
art context rather than a theatrical one, perhaps her profile might
appear higher.

“A lot of literary managers find it hard to read my work,” Carter says.
“The vocabulary of my work is non-literary, and the working
relationships I've developed have all been based on friendship and
trust as artists, and I get to work with people I really like as
artists. The reason I ended up in Glasgow was to do my Ph.D. in visual
art and performance, and I taught on the Contemporary Theatre Practice
course at what was then RSAMD.

“It's a fairly niche place I operate in, but I can't bash my way
through a TV script just to make money. That makes things financially
difficult, but spiritually and artistically I'm probably richer. I have
friends writing for TV, and they talk to me about all the compromises
they have to make. For me that's the opposite of what art is about, and
you just end up with this lowest common denominator thing. But do I
feel hard done by? Of course I do.”

Given that Untitled Projects has just been turned down by Creative
Scotland for three-year Regular Funding, a move which may jeopardise
the company's future, Carter may well have good reason to feel hard
done by.

In the meantime, she has commissions for the Traverse and the National
Theatre of Scotland ongoing, as well as work with the Yard Theatre in
London. Carter is also about to embark on a course to learn about
writing for opera.

“I'm interested in form,” she says. “I've been thinking about opera for
a while, and it's a chance to learn about something new. I'm always
looking for some new challenge.”

This is evident in Carter's ongoing work with Swedish conceptual art
duo, Goldin + Senneby.

“They're very much against the idea of the artist as author,” Carter
explains of a project that looks at the nature of financial reality by
way of alchemy and algorithmic trading. “They're interested in
financial and tyrannical structures.”

Again, context is everything for Carter in work which is as much at
times an exploration of herself  as the ideas that stem from that.
Given just how much she doesn't make life easy for herself, what drives
her to work in this way?

“A difficult childhood?”she suggests. “I've been reading the
psychologist, Adam Phillips, and he talks a lot about not getting it. I
make work that some people don't always get, work that, if it doesn't
make me feel uncomfortable, then I'm not that interested in it. I'm
half Chinese, and was brought up by my father, but was surrounded by
the Chinese side of the family, who would all be talking to me, or at
me, with me not having a clue what they were on about. So I'm kind of
used to not getting it, and as much as I can work in the mainstream if
they'll have me, maybe I've deliberately put myself outside it.”

Slope, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, November 12-22; Traverse Theatre,
Edinburgh, November 26-29. Slope will be live-streamed at
www.kiltr.com/slope. Signing up to the site is required.
www.citz.co.uk
www.traverse.co.uk


Pamela Carter – A life in theatre

As a writer, director and dramaturg, Pamela Carter has worked in
Scotland and beyond for more than fifteen years.

Between 1998 and 2004, she was a lecturer in cultural theory and
performance at what was then RSAMD (now Royal Conservatoire Scotland)
on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course.

From 1998 to 2002, Carter was Research Associate with Suspect Culture,
the theatre company led by director Graham Eatough, writer David Greig
and composer Nick Powell.

In 2004, Carter founded her own performance company, EK, for whom she
directed Habitats (2004), and devised and directed Soul Pilots (2004)
and Plain Speaking (2005) for Tramway in Glasgow. She also co-wrote and
directed Game Theory (2008), which was nominated for the
Meyer-Whitworth award.

As a dramaturg, Carter has worked with Untitled Projects, the National
Theatre of Scotland, Coney HQ and Malmo Opera House. With Vanishing
Point she has worked on Interiors (2009), Saturday Night (2011) and
Tomorrow (2014).

Carter's plays include What We Know for the Traverse (2010) and Teatro
Circulo in New York (2013) and Wildlife for Magnetic North (2011).

Skane was first seen at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs (2011), and won
the New Writing Commission at the Berliner Festspiele Stukemarkt
(2012), and received its German premiere as In Der Ebene at Theatre Ulm
(2014)

Carter has also written Fast Ganz Nah/Almost Near for the Dresden
Staatsshauspiel (2013) and the Finborough Theatre (2014).

With Untitled Projects, Carter has written Slope (2006), An Argument
About Sex – After Marivaux's La Dispute (2009) and Paul Bright's
Confessions of A Justified Sinner (2013). The latter, a co-production
with the National Theatre of Scotland, has also been seen in Ireland
and Sweden.

Carter also works with Swedish conceptual art duo Goldin + Senneby on
The Nordenskiold Model, an ongoing investigation into algorithmic
trading and the nature of financial reality. Scenes have been staged 
in Bucharest, Vilnius, Rotterdam, Stockholm, New York, Aachen and
Copenhagen.

Carter was the IASH/Traverse Theatre Creative Fellow at Edinburgh
University in 2012.

The Herald, November 11th 2014


ends

Monday, 10 November 2014

Symphony

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Three stars
There's a slick but laid-back rapport between the overall-clad
four-piece band playing a punky overture at the top of this ménage a
trois of lo-fi mini musicals from the nabokov company and Soho Theatre.
They address the audience as they enter the theatre, setting a casual
tone to what follows as they step into character and costume for each
playlet.

Proceedings open with Jonesy, Tom Wells' tale of a sports mad asthmatic
boy who can't finish a netball match without a brush with death, but
still finds music in his heart. Ella Hickson's A Love Song For The
People of London finds two solitary travellers adrift in the big city
catch each others eye with tragi-comic results, while My Thoughts On
Leaving You is a quick-fire run through a relationship, as boy meets
girl in a nightclub toilet before playing out their everyday urban
melodrama in song.

While the first piece is essentially a fleshed-out monologue, the
following two are old-school rom-coms with a slightly cynical twist
that captures the modern-day dating game with the theatrical equivalent
of an arched eyebrow. All of which makes for sixty-five minutes of some
pretty serious fun.

As the cast of  Jack Brown, Liam Gerrard, Iddon Jones and Katie
Elin-Salt swap instruments and roles with the joie de vivre of
children's TV presenters, something slight but irresistibly sweet
emerges in Joe Murphy's production. With all three plays driven by Ed
Gaughan's live score for guitars, keyboards and drums, this taps into a
DIY aesthetic that is a twenty-first century  reinvention of fringe
theatre's original shoestring approach rebooted for the age of the
pop-up venue with considerable charm.

The Herald, November 10th 2014
ends

The Fundraiser

Salutation Hotel, Perth
Four stars
In the banqueting hall of the oldest hotel in Scotland, a very special
event is about to take place. The party tunes are playing, and the
stage is swathed in sparkly scarlet tinsel designed to match the oh-so
OTT outfits of our glamorous auctioneers, Tina and Rachel. They are
here to raise money, spirits and a smile for Tina's heroic
cross-channel swim following a near brush with death after an asthma
attack.

Once the audience have been escorted to their tables with bidding cards
and raffle tickets in hand, what follows in Robert Jack's production of
Lesley Hart's new play at first looks like a kitsch and slightly camp
dissection of the toe-curling spectacle which a well-meaning but
misguided fund-raising event can easily end up as. The bad gags, rictus
grins and awkwardly staged amateur hour routines are all grotesque
enough in the hands of the double act of Sally Reid as Tina and Claire
Knight as Rachel in something which initially resembles a Saturday
Night Live style satirical routine.

When the pair are upstaged by an uninvited guest while the supposed
special guest star fails to show, however, the stakes are cranked up
considerably for a troubling piece of dark comedy made all the more
effective by its deliberate localism in this contribution to Perth
Theatre's Out and About programme. Reid and Knight, accompanied by a
blousy Libby McArthur, provide a perfect balance of light and shade in
Hart's blackly comic look at familial dysfunction. If it doesn't quite
know how to end things yet, no matter. This can easily be developed
once Jack's production is hopefully revived to play function rooms
across the land.

The Herald, November 10th 2014


ends