A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Real men don’t watch, top chick-flick, Dirty Dancing. They may have sat in a room when the DVD was playing but they were not looking. Most probably their thoughts were about something entirely masculine, like the sweaty, raw, grappling, physicality of a scrum at rugby. This could be a problem for Rhoda as she plans the ‘first dance’ at her upcoming wedding, because fiancé Terry is an oval ball enthusiast and a bit of a man’s man, not too keen on Terpsichore. To realise her big day’s dream of recreating the leaping finale in the 1980s film, she seeks the assistance of dance tutor Gavin. His theatrical posturing is not to Terry’s taste and the latter displays his homophobia by directing a shocking epithet at the instructor (cue sharp intake of breath from the audience). Regardless of this, a determined Rhoda will have her way. But there’s another problem, due to their strict religious beliefs, the couple cannot engage in anything involving close proximity, until after they’ve exchanged wedding vows. Adaptable Gavin will have to partner each separately. In this case it takes three to tango; he will be Patrick Swayze’s ‘Johnny’ for Rhoda… and Jennifer Grey’s ‘Baby’ for Terry.
Darren Brownlie’s Gavin is a versatile delight, whether gathering himself in grief, sorrowfully owning the silences, or twisting, flexing, bending (has the man no ligaments) while delivering waspish retorts to any slights. Jo Freer’s Rhoda is the kind of woman who wears the trousers. Not only that, she keeps the Wedding Fund bank card and its PIN number, in the pocket of those trousers. She envisions a precise, fundamental future for herself and the man she hopes to create. Think Lady Macbeth but without the milky kindness. Daniel Cahill’s Terry is caught up in events, struggling with doubts about his upcoming marriage, trying to realise exactly who he is. A solid fortress of a man anxious not to have his drawbridge lowered.
Martin McCormick’s play, a satisfying mixture of the serious and comic, entertains right through to its uplifting conclusion. You’ll have the time of your life.
David G Moffat
West Yorkshire Playhouse
Until Saturday 9th June
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
I approached “The Girl on the Train” knowing nothing about it other than that it was an adaptation of a best selling thriller by Paula Hawkins and that it had already been adapted into a film. I was expecting something of an Agatha Christie style who-done-it by way of Steig Larrson but what I got was far richer and challenging than that.
The play opens onto a bare anonymous space in grey and blue tones as a woman lies in a crumpled heap on the floor. ‘Is she the first victim?’ I wonder but no the dishevelled figure rises and begins to clear up the debris of an apparent party. This is our heroine, Rachel a troubled young woman self medicating the pain away of a difficult break-up with lashings of alcohol. As she teeters on the edge of mental collapse she finds escape from her own drama through the mysterious disappearance of a neighbour.
Rachel becomes embroiled in the investigation itself and finds herself gradually slipping further into obsession as she becomes compelled to discover the truth of the missing woman. Her amateur sleuthing brings her into contact with various characters who are not necessarily what they appear from the woman’s distraught husband, Scott to her condescending therapist, Kamal to her own seemingly kindly and understanding ex husband, Tom. All the while she is trailed in her enquiries by the wryly cynical D.I Gaskill, who though at first dismisses her as a troublesome crank soon comes to suspect her own motivations.
Though it’s plot has the requisite twists and turns one might expect from a superior thriller it soon became clear that this play was far more than that. As Rachel herself refers to her alcohol blackouts’ and lapses in memory it became apparent that for all the guess who fun to be had the play is as much a meditation on the unreliable nature of memory as it is a conventional thriller. All of the characters have something to hide not only from each other but also from themselves as the lies, half truths and unclear memories pile up to reveal how we all twist the past to help construct our identities. The missing woman herself, Meghan appears only in flashback as we see her as a kind of brittle ghost, something of a mystery to even those closest to her. These scenes are beautifully staged, the lighting shifting to a subdued nocturnal blue, the characters standing stock still as the memories are played out and they look on like the audience frozen and unable to intervene.
The production design in general adds a great deal to the atmosphere of the play. There is particularly impressive yet subtle use of sound and lighting throughout which are used to effectively suggest the different environments and moods from the grey starkness of Rachel’s lonely flat to the warm fuzzy light of Scott’s living room. The way the scene changes are signalled by a flash of dark blues and blacks and the accompanied discordant white noise of train-song is also a powerful touch. The colours of the set, all washed out greys and blues are mimicked by the drab colours of the characters outfits which emphasise that we are in ‘any-town’ UK, a place of conformity and blandness which masks a darkness beneath the surface ready to bleed out onto all that sepia.
The set itself is also excellent, built as it is from a series of frames, the outer bright neon cleverly mimicking the rounded edges of a train carriage window the innermost one a modern art painting which draws the eye to the gaping black hole at its centre, a symbol of Rachel’s fragmented memory and the mystery at the heart of the play.
Though this is certainly a dark play tackling complex themes it is not without a sense of humour and the script has plenty of fun ribbing the social aspirations of Tom and his new wife or at times the convoluted machinations of the plot itself.
Though the thoroughly engaging first half of the play ends powerfully- the stage literally dropping back from us as if we the audience are falling into a grave – it is in the second half that goes further into its questions on the nature of identity and memory. Though the script and staging is excellent it is of course the cast who breathe it into life. They do a great job of making their roles believable and naturalistic. Colin Tierney as D. I Gaskill turns what could have been a world- weary cliché into a twinkle-eyed charmer whilst Florence Hall as Meghan creates genuine poignancy from a role which in lesser hands could have been a mere cypher. Yet the show really belongs to the central performance of Rachel by Ill Halfpenny. Played with a humour, charm and sassiness which still manages to capture the sense of rage, desperation and self-loathing bubbling under the surface Halfpenny’s performance is an exemplary study of a woman just about holding it together. It leaves us as the audience rooting for this angry, confused and vulnerable woman as she, through the course of the play grows in strength and understanding gradually coming to terms with the truth of her own past.
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
Imagine you’re in Scotland. The bells to welcome Ne’erday are still echoing across the frosty rooftops when there’s a knock at your door. You answer to see a large man with an avuncular smile wearing a small bunnet. He hands you a twelve inch ruler and says, “Happy New Year, here’s your first foot.” Congratulations, you’re in a Chic Murray joke and there’s a wheen of his gags to be enjoyed in this entertaining comedy, written and directed by Stuart Hepburn.
Maidie, Chic’s wife, is looking through a box of old theatre bills, recalling when she first met the tall droll man while seeking theatrical digs at his mother’s house. Two years later they’re married and encouraged by his wife, Chic starts telling his jokes on stage. Initially a reluctant performer, Maidie gives him advice on technique, pointers on timing and soon his own style of surreal humour is getting attention from rapt audiences… and admiring chorus girls. As TV and film rolls beckon, he and Maidie start to drift apart.
Dave Anderson is Chic, punctuating the accentuated chimes of his dialogue with fractional pauses, delaying the entirely logical denouement that illustrates the absurd. (Obviously he can’t get you mince when he’s passing the butcher’s… he’d have to go inside.) From the arms that dangle as if Chic didn’t know what to do with them, to the narrowing eyes and rakish grin of collusion with his audience, all the Murray mannerisms are on display.
Kate Donnelly is Maidie, a woman keen to encourage and support her husband, willing to swap her successful singing, tap and accordion act to play second fiddle to Chic.
The ensemble is played by Brian James O’Sullivan, a Jack and master of all trades. He acts, sings, plays accordion and piano. His rectus grinning Liberace is a particular delight. The author, cast and Chic’s jokes, create an hour of comedy that gives everyone in the packed audience a lift… which (as the man himself would have said) is of precious little use to those who live in bungalows.
David G Moffat
Birnam Institute, Dunkeld
10th May 2018
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
There’s a story about a farmer who meets a traveller on the road and the traveller asks what the people in the next village are like. The farmer asks how the traveller found the people in the last village he came through. “Oh! They were a rough lot. They were mean and ignorant!” replies the traveller. “Well,” says the farmer, “the people in the next village are even worse!” A little later the farmer meets a traveller coming in the opposite direction to the first. This traveller asks the same of the farmer as the first (this being a folk tale) and the farmer asks the same question as before. “They were the kindest of people” answers the second traveller. “I am only sorry I could not have stayed there a little longer.” The farmer grins, “Well I think you’ll find the people in the next village to be even better than that.” Farmers often embody a wisdom that would seem to be at odds with the ‘fashionable’ ways of the urban world. They literally are a source for playwright Kieran Hurley’s most recent work ‘Six Inches of Topsoil and the Fact it Rains’.
Last Spring, Hurley and Perth Theatre’s artistic director Lu Kemp went round Perthshire interviewing rural people, asking them how living on the land in the present-day compared with how it was twenty years ago. They asked what their hopes and fears for the future were, living as we all are in a time of great political, social and environmental change. The responses were distilled into this entertaining and thought-provoking little one act performance played by Melody Grove and Aly Macrae. In a recent interview with the Mumble, Hurley gave his own take on the research process;
The idea for the show started with Lu wanting to make a piece for and about rural Perthshire. The idea of doing a verbatim play came about because we’d worked together on another verbatim piece, still in development, for a theatre down south and we’d both gotten a lot out of it. Verbatim theatre basically just means a play based on real life materials, usually interviews. So we made this piece about the farming industry, basically by driving around rural Perthshire, following leads and speaking to people. Farmers, mostly. But also food campaigners, journalists, seasonal workers, storytellers… It might sound quite narrow, talking about farming but the amazing thing is becomes a jumping off point for such a broad range of issues. Talking about the food industry means talking about climate change, about Brexit, about how we use and share this land that we all have to live off, how we produce enough food for us all to be able to eat. Really big, fundamental stuff. And because it’s a verbatim play it’s full of this distinctive voices and witty and unique perspectives.
The Birnam Arts Centre was packed out on Thursday night to see Grove and Macrae. The audience sang along to familiar songs and music and possibly recognised some of the local characters Macrae and Grove so artfully brought to life in this wonderfully intimate venue. There was a real sense of a community celebrating itself throughout the performance, hearing itself talking to itself about what, to it, is important.
Macrae and Grove presented a host of voices, explaining what they love about farming, how Brexit will affect their ways of living and what their fears are for how farming will have to change in order to respond to climate change, migration and overcrowding. This was interweaved with songs and music, all performed by the duo. Some of the voices give contradictory opinions and present opposing views of the challenges of the future, and one would expect that from a vox pop style of production. But through the multitude of opinions and stories there was a sense that, thankfully, farmers take the long view. Things will have to change. Our politicians and landowners may have some sleepless nights and difficult choices ahead as we pull out of the EU and have to think about how land gets used to feed a population instead of being used by a privileged few for huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’. However, the relationship to time and to the land would seem to some of those things that remain steady through these changes. “Live as if you were going to die tomorrow” says one of Macrae’s characters, “but farm for a hundred years.”
‘Six Inches of Topsoil’ is travelling round Perthshire venues at the moment. If it is near you and you want an evening that will make you laugh, smile and also think a bit about some serious questions, then make sure you see it.
Review: Mark Mackenzie
Photography: Fraser Band
LEITHEATRE are bringing their production of Harold Pinter’s ever effervescent THE HOMECOMING to Edinburgh this week. The Mumble managed a wee blether with the lady who plays Ruth…
Hello Lindsay, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Lindsay: I was born and raised in Belfast, then moved to Edinburgh to study drama at University and just never left.
Treading the boards, as they say, is not your day job, can you tell us what is?
Lindsay: I’m Marketing and Communications Manager for TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) which is based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. TRACS brings together networks of artists and cultural organisations in collaboration, to showcase and improve the knowledge and practice of Scotland’s traditional art forms. I am lucky to work in a beautiful venue which is welcoming and inclusive, with a wonderful variety of events showcased year-round, plus TRACS presents regional opportunities to engage with traditional culture, live.
Have you found your Celtic roots in Ireland have helped you to slot into the Scottish cultural scene?
Lindsay: Well, my maternal grandparents were Scottish, so a lot of the culture was immediately familiar to me. I was lucky enough to be raised with two siblings amongst a large family unit, with memories of everyone taking a turn on the hearth with a story, tune or dance at weekly gatherings at granny’s, so traditional folklore, music and dance has always fascinated and intrigued me. There’s a shared and intangible heritage between Scotland and Ireland, which is probably why the move across the water was an easy transition.
How do you find living in Edinburgh?
Lindsay: What is there not to love about this city! I could be negative and go on about Tramgate, student housing overload, lack of decent music venues, a Starbucks on Leith Walk and endless road works/closures, but that all pales in comparison to the culture available on your doorstep. I love the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern that makes up Edinburgh’s landscape, the shadow of Arthur’s Seat and the countless pockets of green spaces still available to soak up some nature. You could literally fill every day of the year with a cultural event or activity and that still only scratches the surface of what’s available.
Can you tell us about Leitheatre?
Lindsay: Leitheatre is an amateur theatre group based in Edinburgh, just off Easter Road, that was founded in 1946. They usually produce three full-length productions each year, performing at The Studio and Church Hill Theatre, plus a show during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at St. Serfs. They also take part in the Scottish Community Drama Association (SCDA) One Act Play Festival, with a consistently good record for places and wins in the competition. It’s a wonderful company to be involved with, plus the talent and enthusiasm amongst the members, in all areas of theatre involvement, is infectious.
Do you & the cast socialise outwith rehearsals?
Lindsay: If we aren’t too shattered! It’s a great way to unwind, get comfortable in each other’s company and discuss details of the show that there isn’t time for in the rehearsal room.
You are about to play Ruth in The Homecoming by Harold Pinter. Why this play?
Lindsay: It’s the director Lynne Morris’ favourite play and she’s wanted to stage it for ages. I am a fan of Harold Pinter’s work too, so knew I wanted to audition, and Ruth is an enigmatic character who intrigues me, so the opportunity and challenge of bringing her to life appealed.
That agelessness translates because Pinter never moralises or resolves situations, you’ll leave with questions buzzing in your head about the characters, their past and their future
Its been 41 years since The Homecoming won the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway in 1967. How well has the play aged, especially the themes around the violence and exploitation of women?
Lindsay: I think in a lot of ways Pinter’s work is timeless because he’s a master of studying human interaction through the mundane. He is remembered as an outspoken social commentator, renowned for his witty put-downs, both in his real life and writing. Plus, it was nominated for a Tony for Best Broadway Revival too, showing its subject matter still resonates. That agelessness translates because Pinter never moralises or resolves situations, you’ll leave with questions buzzing in your head about the characters, their past and their future. In regards the views of exploitation and violence, that’s one interpretation but there’s many more scenarios possible in the reading and viewing of the piece. Pinter probes enough to make a conclusion of sexist and degrading or feminist and empowering both valid, the desire being to engage the psyche and start conversations. If anyone thought it inappropriate, I would argue that recent events make The Homecoming even more relevant for a contemporary audience to acknowledge issues of sexuality, exploitation and power. Plus look up Pinter’s own thoughts on the matter.
How will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Lindsay: Well Ruth is a brilliant character to step into and forget being me! The rest of the cast are wonderfully talented, making it easy to play off them and get lost in the action as it’s happening. We’ve had a few rehearsals, with Leitheatre members observing, when everything “clicked” and you can feel the change in atmosphere, so when I sense that tingle, I’ll know the audience are enjoying this fascinating sixtet of characters with very real and often darkly comic traits.
What does the rest of 2018 have in store for Lindsay Corr & Leitheatre?
Lindsay: Leitheatre are straight back into the rehearsal room to prepare this year’s Fringe show, The Steamie by Tony Roper. This affectionately loved and hilarious comedy will be brilliant and the cast are brilliant. I am looking forward to being involved in the chorus for the show. Apart from that, it will be the day job for me, enjoying some concerts and festival events over the summer and making some time to visit my four adorable nieces.
Edinburgh’s Festival Studio Theatre
Wed 16 – Sat 19 May
Tickets £12 (£10) from Festival Theatre Box Office: 0131 529 6000
THE FRINGE IS COMING. After their great success with All Quiet on the Western Front in 2017, Incognito are back with a new play. The Mumble managed a wee blether with its director…
Hello Roberta, so when did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Roberta: My grandmother used to take me to the theatre as a child. I spent most of my teenage years dancing and performing in school plays which all eventually led to studying Drama at university.
When did you realise directing was your thing?
Roberta: I initially wanted to be an actress and went through the whole drama school application process. However, I realised very quickly at university that I preferred creating theatre and working with actors.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Roberta: Commitment to that particular story or form, and true collaboration.
What does Roberta Zuric like to do when she’s not being theatrical?
Roberta: I hope I’m never being too theatrical. Travelling is something that relaxes me.
Can you tell us about Incognito?
Roberta: The rehearsals are always full of energy and laughter. I met the company back when they were 16 and it’s been a pleasure watching them go from strength to strength as a theatre company and evolve their style with so much panache. They’ve got big plans and huge potential as the company expands their associate artists. It’s been a joy being part of their journey.
Last year you guys brought, All Quiet on the Western Front to the Pleasance Dome. How did it all go?
Roberta: It was the second time we were performing that play at the Fringe. The previous summer we had premiered All Quiet on the Western Front and it did extremely well, which led to us taking it to New York. It was a special play and one which we are all really proud of. That production was the beginning of exploring a new physical language we could use to storytelling, one that incorporates filmic elements. Tobacco Road is the next step of that exploration. With All Quiet on the Western Front, we realised very quickly how effective and moving pairing the right choreography with text can be. With that show, we had Remarque’s incredible story to work with so this time we wanted to challenge ourselves with original material and continue exploring the depths of our common human determination to survive.
This year you will be bringing Tobacco Road, how & why was this play chosen?
Roberta: After All Quiet on the Western Front we were chatting about potential future projects and there was a unanimous wish to explore steering away from adaptation. A couple of the boys mentioned their interest in looking further into London’s criminal past and figures like the Krays twins. Then, of course, we were all watching Peaky Blinders and that inter-war period became quite alluring. We knew little about the history of London gangs so we began to do a lot of research and devising “Tobacco Road” through numerous workshops.
What are the play’s major themes?
Roberta: With current youth unemployment levels and the rising violent crimes amongst teenagers, it’s an important time to open up the discussion of how, and if, as a society, we are paving the way for future generations. The glass ceilings of social classes remain oppressive and debilitating to a huge portion of the UK’s young people. Our story is about what happens when those who are marginalised have had enough and decide to take ownership of their own lives and legacies.
With All Quiet on the Western Front, we realised very quickly how effective and moving pairing the right choreography with text can be.
What do you want the audience to take away from the experience of watching Tobacco Road?
Roberta: Primarily we want it to be a really entertaining hour of theatre told through a dynamic and visual form of storytelling. I’d also like the piece to instigate conversation about how young people fall into a life of crime and whether that’s changed much since the 1920s.
Can you sum up the Fringe experience in a single sentence?
Roberta: Inspiring, intoxicating and testing.
What will Roberta Zuric be doing after the Fringe?
Roberta: Keep your eyes peeled because it might not be the end of Tobacco Road…
Aug 1-13, 15-27 (15:15)
A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
It’s taps aff in Glasgow’s Oran Mor. Not the ritual removal of shirts, T or otherwise, due to the arrival of the long overdue good weather but because the bath is full and Annie’s for a soak. She doesn’t like a smelly soak, involving exotic lotions, potions and bath bombs gifted by family and friends (are they trying to tell her something), though she does enjoy a long immersion, with nobody banging at the door asking her to hurry up, as they are needing in.
A solitary woman, her idea of bliss is to leave the splendid isolation of her nice wee terrace, visit the library, come home and spend an hour in the tub with Radio 4 playing on the wireless. It’s a great place to reminisce, remember past exploits, like using her concession card to travel to the East Neuk of Fife, swim the chilly waters along the shore at Crail and lose her clothes. There are other, more philosophical matters to consider, such as her relationship with god and where exactly, she would like to be buried at sea. Her only worry, for the moment, is not to bathe too long in case she suffers pernicious pruning…
Steven Dick has written a splendid play about a woman who has reached a stage in life where isolation is, the not unpleasant, norm. Yet as we hear her expansive thoughts on the state of skin, from exfoliation to rigor mortis, we realise she has tremendous resources of wit and wisdom that really should be shared.Janette Foggo portrays Annie as a woman we all recognise, strong, independent, capable of taking life’s vicissitudes on the chin and getting on with things. The actress mixes stand-up type zingers to the audience with lengthy, humorous, existential monologues and ends her performance by displaying, for our entertainment and enlightenment, an impressive piece of recollection, worthy of the nerdiest schoolboy (or girl). A slam-dunk success.
David G Moffat
Haddington Corn Exchange
3rd May, 2018
The Catherine Wheels Theatre Company & The National Theatre of Scotland have teamed up to bring us an entertaining & innovative play by Anita Vettesse. The Mumble sent in two of our youngest reviewers to see what all the fuss was about…
Eddie and the Slumber Sisters from the start was a charming production. As soon as you walk in, The Slumber Sisters greet you in character, and when everyone is being seated they realise that they themselves are a part of the set, as the slumber sisters put on their show by traveling around the stage and portraying the distinctive characters.
The seating arrangements were very unusual, with an assortment of chairs, stools, armchairs and a bed. Some were lucky and were seated in an armchair, bed, or a plain old chair. However, the others and myself were seated on the less desirable stools; yet this is my only complaint as the acting was on point.
The crew was a key component to the production as there were crucial cues that tied the show together. One of my favourite parts was the slow-motion affect they created with a clever use of lighting. The performers managed to incorporate singing into the piece, yet I would not say it was a musical, which is rare.
As to the acting… absolutely fabulous. They all sell the characters extremely well and sang beautifully throughout. This was a brief summary of my opinions, but I will now pass you over to my 8-year-old sister, Roxana for her thoughts:
I for one enjoyed the singing and the setting was excellent. And the pilot was great. So good. I was a little disappointed with the timing, and felt there should have been a break in between the show. I agree with Ivy that the acting was amazing. My favourite character was Robin.
Reviewed by Ivy & Roxy Oakman
Eddie & the Slumber Sisters is currently touring Scotland, with tickets still available for the following dates only
12 May: Raasay Community Hall, Raasay
14 May: Macphail Centre, Ullapool
18 May: Mareel Theatre, Lerwick
23 May: Clarkston Hall, Clarkston
27 May: Castle Douglas Town Hall, Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival
30 May – 3 June: Edinburgh International Children’s Festival
A new play by Robin Cairns, The Life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, is coming to Glasgow. The Mumble caught a wee blether with its creator.
Hello Robin, so where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m fae Clydebank, I live at Shawlands. I spent my days in Govan.
You ran your immensely popular poetry event in Glasgow – Last Monday at Rio – for ten years. There’s been a sea-change recently. Can you tell us what transpired & why?
The Last Monday at Rio poetry night put more than 1000 voices on the stage over ten years. From total beginners to established names. Almost to a decade after we began though the bar was sold to people who felt they could do without 50 odd paying customers in their place on a Monday night. By chance I was asked around the same time to run events in Waterstones on Sauchiehall Street. So we now do Last Monday at Waterstones every month, with up to twenty open mikers and a headline poet doing a full set.
You are quite a stalwart of the Glasgow artistic scene. Can you tell us about it & how it compares to the rest of Britain?
Glasgow’s arts scene is more grounded than most other cities in Britain. We have people doing literature, art and music who have not necessarily emerged from the university blanding process and maybe have a more immediate sense of life’s precarious vertigo.
You’ve been washed up on a desert island with a solar-powered DVD player & three films. Which would they be?
Three films would be “Under Milk Wood”, “Pinnochio” and “The Warriors”
I know you more as a poet, but the theatre has always been a great passion of yours. Can you tell us about Stage Dialogue, for example?
I drifted into theatre around 1980 after answering an ad in a cafe looking for actors. A couple of years on I started writing and producing shows, in Glasgow, Edinburgh Fringe but mostly London. We had some success with shows such as “John Dillinger, From Sepia to Cinema” (with real machine guns) and a staging of the dram when Orson Welles panicked America with his broadcast of “The War Of The Worlds”. Stage Dialogue was the name of our company, a mix of rather brilliant actors and the pushy, punky, young version of me, telling stories in fractured narratives, always wanting shows to be lively and powerful. I had a loyal bunch who tolerated my idiosyncracies – can’t think why!
You are a classic creative polymath; but today we shall be concentrating on a forthcoming play of yours. So, what for you would make a good piece of theatre?
Good piece of theatre has to tell me plenty I don’t already know, so with the Charles Rennie Mackintosh play I read a shelf on the subject, visited almost all the sites, then read the shelf again. Theatre’s got to be gripping, funny, inspiring, tragic, it’s an entertainment and as a writer you must never, ever preach to your punters.
Can you tell us the back story behind the creation of your new play, The Life of Charles Mackintosh?
I’ve been interested in Mackintosh since I visited The Hillhouse in Helensburgh one teenage day when I had nothing else to do. I read and investigated over the years. People knew I had a fair knowledge of the subject so, when an experienced tour guide wanted to retire from showing bus parties of posh people round the Mackintosh sites he asked me to take over. The research for this galvanised me to write the play. And I wanted to concentrate on Mackintosh’s mentor/enemy – John Keppie. I feel that it is in delving into their relationship that I have added something to the diligent work of all the other authors on the subject.
The venue you have chosen for the performance is interesting. Can you tell us more?
Govanhill Baths is a fine small theatre space – in a building which is a hotbed of knitting, swimming, radicalism and community rescue.
What do you think your audience will feel when they are watching your new play?
I believe my audience will feel fulfilled by a grand scale telling of Charles’ life, but the ending is very sad and there’s no getting away from that. Like all tragedies though you know that the bad thing is coming, it’s just a question of how you hint at it and let the knowledge build.
What does Robin Cairns like to do when he’s not being creative?
I like kayaking. I’ve got a red one and can be spotted at Loch Lomond, Lochwinnoch, The Clyde, The Sea. I wear a hat, usually a homburg.
Will you be returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?
I’m doing a full run of 22 shows at The Fringe this summer. “The Weegies Have Stolen The One O-Clock Gun” – the tale of a posh bloke called Morningside Malcolm whose lovely daughter has married into a family of Glasgow gangsters. I’m at The Outhouse at 6pm each night, Broughton Street Lane. Tickets from The Fringe Office – £7.
You can catch The Life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh at Govanhill Baths, Glasgow
Saturday 12th May @ 7.30pm
Perth Theatre’s artistic director Lu Kemp and playwright Kieran Hurley have created A Six Inch Layer of Topsoil and The Fact it Rains, a lively piece of ceilidh theatre based on conversations with Perthshire land dwellers and owners. It will be starting its rural tour in a few days, & The Mumble was lucky enough to catch a wee blether with Lu & Keiran
Hello Kieran, so what for you makes a good piece of theatre?
KIERAN: Wowzers, I dunno, I feel if I could answer that in one neat answer in a piece of preview press there wouldn’t be much mileage in the artform and I probably wouldn’t be giving my life to it. Theatre’s an incredibly varied thing. I’d say in general I like work that genuinely tries to speak to people, work that values its audience. I don’t like theatre is self-important or self-involved. Theatre’s real advantage over other forms is it’s liveness, and I like to see shows that make a virtue of that – the fact that we’re all here together in the same room.
Hello Lu, so when did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
LU: By accident largely, but I was interested enough in them to find work at The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as one of my three student jobs. I worked on box office with a young bloke – now the playwright Robert Alan Evans – and to kill time we started sending bits of writing back and forward between us. And then we decided to make a play together, which was a terrible idea and complete hell, but somehow it did well and we ended up taking it to the National Student Drama Festival, and then someone offered me a job, and I didn’t have a better offer at the time, and so it goes on!
Keiran, are a relative newcomer to the Scottish theatre scene, but have arrived with a bang. How did you find the success of your Fringe First-winning HEADS UP, played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 and 2017, which also won the Best New Play at the Critics’ Awards 2017 for Theatre in Scotland?
KIERAN: Am I newcomer? Cool. I feel I learn something new about myself every time I answer one of these things. I’ve been doing this professionally for about ten years now, and was just beginning to feel like I couldn’t trade on “newness” any more so I suppose it’s nice to have faith in my relative newness restored. Heads Up was a great experience, though a bit of a whirlwind. We made the show very quickly, and on very little resources. At the time a lot of my work was tied up in commissions or screen work and I really wanted to re-capture the sort of DIY spirit of some of my earlier work and make something that would immediately meet its audience. So we got together the bare minimum of what we needed and just did it, We called it “three chord punk” which was really just a fancy way of saying we’ve got no cash, and to be honest when we opened I had no idea how it was going to be received. I was delighted with the audience and critical response, of course.
You’ve also toured HEADS UP a couple of times, how do you find the experience?
KIERAN: I love touring because I love the chance to take the work to people. As a writer or theatre-maker you really just want the work to be seen widely. When you’re performing you’re own work it can be tricky though. I love performing, but unlike other shows Heads Up toured with just me on the road and that can be a bit of a slog. And I’ve got a family now and that limits how long I can take it out for. So it was very different from any other tour I’ve done in that sense, but no less valuable.
What does Lu Kemp like to do when she’s not being theatrical?
LU: Cycle around.
Lu, you are just about to launch your creation with playwright Kieran Hurley, A Six Inch Layer of Topsoil and The Fact it Rains, can you tell us about the play?
LU: We wanted to make a piece that felt relevant to Perthshire now. Last year, before the theatre opened, we drove around Perthshire meeting lots of people and talking to them about what’s changed in Perthshire over the past 20 years and how they feel about Brexit and what they think is going to happen next. Kieran and I had worked on a similar project about the state of education for the Royal Shakespeare Company the year before. We thought it would be dry as a biscuit and were really surprised by how bloody and funny it was.
Can you tell us something of the research process behind A Six Inch Layer of Topsoil and The Fact it Rains?
KIERAN: The idea for the show started with Lu wanting to make a piece for and about rural Perthshire. The idea of doing a verbatim play came about because we’d worked together on another verbatim piece, still in development, for a theatre down south and we’d both gotten a lot out of it. Verbatim theatre basically just means a play based on real life materials, usually interviews. So we made this piece about the farming industry, basically by driving around rural Perthshire, following leads and speaking to people. Farmers, mostly. But also food campaigners, journalists, seasonal workers, storytellers… It might sound quite narrow, talking about farming but the amazing thing is becomes a jumping off point for such a broad range of issues. Talking about the food industry means talking about climate change, about Brexit, about how we use and share this land that we all have to live off, how we produce enough food for us all to be able to eat. Really big, fundamental stuff. And because it’s a verbatim play it’s full of this distinctive voices and witty and unique perspectives.
Could you describe your working relationship with Lu in one word?
Could you describe your working relationship with Kieran in one word?
Have you grown as a person after the experience of meeting with & talking to so many members of the agricultural community?
LU: I’ve certainly learnt a lot. And it’s made me think about things in a way I didn’t have reason to before. Mostly about milk. I’ve thought a lot about milk recently.
You have quite an interesting itinerary coming up; Perth, Aberfeldy, Birnam, Crieff, Blair Atholl, Alyth , Blairgowrie & Kinross Who is the brains behind the tour, & will they be managing the affair?
LU: We want to be touring in Perthshire as a theatre. Perth Theatre isn’t, and shouldn’t be, just about the venue in the centre of Perth. And we had a ball last year going to all the different venues with And Then Come The Nightjars by Bea Roberts (also about farming). People behave differently in their local venue to the way they do if they come to a theatre, it feels like a community night out.
What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?
KIERAN: It’ll be a really good night out. It’s going to be full of thought-provoking stuff that’ll sure to leave you with lots to discuss and think about afterwards, and all entirely relevant to rural Perthshire. But more than that, it’ll be a braw evening’s entertainment. We’ve two of the finest performers in the country in Melody Grove and Aly Macrae, both incredible musicians as well as being beautiful actors. Spending an hour or so in their company in this intimate setting will be a joy for any audience.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?
LU: I hope it will entertain them, and that there are enough contradictory ideas in the piece that it will make people go to the pub and debate over a drink! Hopefully they’ll go home humming the tunes as well.
These rural tours are a great theatrical asset to this part of Scotland. How well do you think they are received?
KIERAN: Every time I’ve toured rurally in Scotland before it’s just been a joy and a privilege, and I wish I had the opportunity to do it more. The last time I did a proper rural tour was with a show called Rantin for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2014. We went all over the place, and audiences were just so appreciative and warm. It’s long been a part of the fabric of Scottish theatre, rural touring, and really needs people committed to making it happen if it’s going to continue to survive and thrive – which is one of the reasons it’s so brilliant that Lu has committed to touring rurally in Perthshire with Perth Theatre.
What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for Lu Kemp?
LU: Sleep. I hope.
For tickets and info for A Six Inch Layer of Topsoil and The Fact it Rains in Perth Theatre visit www.horsecross.co.uk or call Box Office on 01738 621031. Tickets are also available from the venues.
Wed 9 May: 7.30pm
Aberfeldy Town Hall
Thu 10 May: 7.30pm
Birnam Arts Centre
Fri 11 May: 7.30pm
Strathearn Artspace, Crieff
Wed 16 May: 7.30pm
Blair Atholl Village Hall
Thu 17 May: 7.30pm
Alyth Town Hall
Fri 18 May: 7.30pm
Blairgowrie Town Hall
Sat 19 May: 7.30pm
Loch Leven Community Campus, Kinross