Monthly Archives: March 2016

Neither God Nor Angel

A Play A Pie And A Pint

Oran Mor


28th March- April 2nd


Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars Performance: four-stars

Warning! If you are easily offended by strong language the first lines of this play are peppered with much effing and blinding, but mainly effing. King JamesVI of Scotland, in Holyrood on the day before he is due to travel south to become James The First of both England and Scotland, has discovered that England, like Scotland, is in financial ruin.

He is now in a quandary, does he stay in Scotland as an unloved ruler, or does he head for the unknown of the English court? After several bottles of wine he’s the worse for wear and to his displeasure he can’t find anyone to bring him more.

Cue streetwise simpleton William who has come into the king’s chambers thinking there might be something worthwhile pinching now that James has gone. Unfortunately he’s a day too early but is luckily spared the chopper as he knows the whereabouts of the last available bottle of booze.

Jimmy Chisholm as the dyspeptic and drunken JamesVI and Gavin Jon Wright as goofy William are perfect comedy foils and play their parts to the hilt.

Written by Tim Barrow and ably directed by Ryan Alexander Dewar, the language is a strange mixture of cod-Elizabethan and Glasgow/Edinburgh patter, but effective in the context of the piece.

The play touches on the familiar themes of the loneliness and fallibility of being an absolute ruler, the financial misdeeds of the banking sector (a major problem even then) and the gap between the haves and the have-nots in society, albeit in a light-hearted way.

Shakespeare it’s not, but it was certainly an entertaining way to spend an hour at Oran Mor. Recommended.

 Reviewer : Dave Ivens


I Am Thomas



23rd March to 9th April

Script: 2.png  Stagecraft: three-stars Performance: 5

I Am Thomas-103 (c) Manuel Harlan - Liverpool Playhouse.jpgHow do you solve a problem like, ‘I Am Thomas.’ Both brilliant & terrible at the same time, one wonders what the hell Thomas Aikenhead would have thought of this theatrical parody of his 1697 Edinburgh trial & execution for blasphemy. Then again, if I think about it a little, I reckon Thomas would have thought ‘what the fu3k was that!’

A few weeks ago I was reading through John McKendrick’s brillliant book on the Darien expedition, & came across the story of Aikenhead for the first time. ‘That would make a wonderful piece of theatre,’ I thought, the story being permeated with a great deal of dramatic tension, whose quaquaversal religious bigotry offered a great chance of relevancy to these our modern times. I Am Thomas,  I believe, has missed a trick, giving us instead something akin to P1-P2 assembly play, but without the tall narrator from P4 giving us an overview of the plot from time to time to keep his straight.

Director Paul Hunter describes his attitude to the pastiching montage of styles that I Am Thomas incorporates into its fascinating fabric, when he told the Mumble; ‘From our earliest development on the project it felt very clear to me that I wanted the piece to have a contemporary feel… there was a range of influences on the piece, from some extraordinary Communicado shows that I saw at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1980s, to the blackly funny & oddly poiganat films of Roy Anderson.’

For me, Hunter’s choices, were ill-thought out & irrelevant, having Archie-Gemmel-era Scottish football commentators catting about the action at various stages in the play was not much better than a P6 Christmas special. But, what does save the play as entertainment are a spankingly charming selection of songs played mummer-like by a brilliantly talented troupe. John Cobbm Charlie Folorunso, Amanda Hadingue, Iain Johnstone, Myra McFadyen, Hannah McPake, Dominic Marsh & John Pfumojena are all multi-instrumentalists & sing sweetly together. Pfumojena’s voice is startlingly heavenly by the way, while the lyrics of poet Simon Armitage are, in the main, top-notch.


Armitage’s best song has the cast singing ‘Thomas Aikenheeeeaaadddd… who the fu3k is that,’ or ‘Thomas Aikenheeeeaaadddd… who the fu3k are you.’ The problem is, by the end of the play, we aren’t really any the wiser, & Aikenhead’s martyrdom towards achieving a reform’d Scottish religious landscape seems nothing but an ugly caricature. Still, as a spectacle “I Am Thomas’ should be witnessed,  you may walk out at the interval shaking your head, or you may you rise in your seats at the surreal finale furiously clapping your hands & proclaiming its brilliance too all who will listen. A unusual piece this, quite groundbreak in its outlook,  the production levels of I Am Thomas are so off piste its ridiculous… or is it brilliant… I still can’t quite make up my mind.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen 




International waters

The Tron Theatre


22nd – 26th March 2016

Script: 5  Stagecraft: 5 Performance: 5

 IW2.jpegGlasgow based coups de theatre and stage crafter extraordinaire David Leddy (who earned the first Scottish practiced based PHD in theatre) is here directing his new multi-faceted production International Waters at the the much loved Tron. Lucky us! A magnificent set design inspired by architects Gehry, De Meuron and Herzog intrigues the audience with its rusty corrugated and mesh triangular components which float above and pave the way for the unraveling of the characters once we see through their superficial gloss.

Cyborg finance, the new cy fi using algorithmic or blackbox trading : essentially systems used by investment banks and pension funds, devoid of human control creates opportunities for malicious acts of cyber terrorism. The accidental glitch in these algorithms which caused the all too real 2010 flash crash or more commonly termed trillion dollar crash is a source of theatrical exploration for Leddy. So is Ronald Wright’s term, ‘progress trap’ and his recent rephrasing of of Marx, ‘each time history repeats itself the price goes up.’ Couple this with Leddy’s interest in philosophers such as Edmunde Burke and his love of the Romantic poets’ notion of the ‘sublime’ and you have a sense of what to expect from this prolific playwright.


Leddy’s characters are named from the passenger list of the Mary Celeste : Sarah Cobb(Claire Dargo) Ben Spooner- actually a bible bashing part owner of the Mary Celeste (Robin Laing), Sophia Briggs (Selina Boyack) and Arian Martins (Lesley Hart) have all paid through the nose for a ticket in the Calliban suite on a ship that reaches a very different destination than the one they thought they were paying for.

If you like puzzles, light farce with deep undercurrents of obsessional neurotic behaviour, ‘isn’t human psychology fascinating?’ then this one is a goer! Sounds are both terrifying with the pumped up volume of a ‘ringing hull of an empty super tanker’ and sublime, ‘Arvo Part’s delicate choral music and Appalachian a cappella gospel.

IW3.jpegThere are references to Satre’s No Way Out,Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest – but International Waters plot isn’t a retelling of any of them, just an additional layer of entertainment if you recognise these as they appear. David explains, “It’s something I come back to again and again … For me it goes back to Julia Kristeva’s original description of what intertext does, which is that it increases the level of resonance in the text because it’s not just the text itself, it’s the other texts that it’s referring to, so you’re borrowing a little bit of their emotional power. I like the fact that if you recognise the reference then that little emotional jolt is added, and if you don’t it should still work. That’s the challenge – creating something where if somebody understood absolutely none of the quotations it would still make sense.

My head sure was messed with! Money, murder, bribery, corruption, seduction, wealth inequality, greed, narcissism,hijacking, drug addiction and misplaced naivety, the refugee crises, new utopias, racial tension and fear. Just some of the themes ricocheting around the Calliban suite with a Life of Pi overtone and a lot of bodily fluids… all executed by an uproarious cast who make us laugh at the most evilest 21st century capitalist avarice.

Reviewer : Clare Crines


Bob (the tragic hero time forgot)

The Wee Red Bar


March 21-24th

Script: three-stars Stagecraft: 5  Performance: three-stars



The Fringe is coming. Its just over 4 months until the behemoth comes stalking Edinburgh’s streets, by which time one hopes every production has been refined to perfection. Clearly ahead of the game are Edinburgh University’s Gin & Tonic Productions, who are just about to  embark on their first European Tour with their ‘brand new Shakespearean tragi-comedy; BOB – the play that Shakespeare would have written, could have written but never got round to writing.’ Highbrow theatre, definitely not, but a damn good, unpretentious laugh – aye, BOB certainly is that.

IMG_20160322_195325407.jpgSet in Finland & concerning the shenanagins that go on in its corridors of power, Lord Bob is played by the charismatic Rufus McGrath, partnered so cheerfully & adroitly by flame-haired Esmee Cook. With them Ben Horner’s Siegfried is shoutily entertaining alongside his brilliantly droll wife, Sian Davies. Bubbly American Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller is charming as newsman Bill Anchor while George Prove plays a variety of parts, including his wonderful turn as a gay secretary & the scandalously-funnily named ‘Epiphany Wellington Smythe.’ In fact, the entire cast multi-part with seamless electricity, romping through their jaunty journey with a handclappy vivada vis animi.


Bob (the tragic hero time forgot), is a vehicle for G&T’s talented troupe, a sketch show-cum-panto that made me guffaw on a number of occasions. A work in progress it may be, but if these six winged cherubs refine their act they could well be one of the smash-hits of the Fringe. It is theatrical art-nouveau at its finest, a combination of the Scandinavian Saga & the British pantomime, & it works. Any longer than an hour & perhaps it wouldn’t have, but the relentless energy of this daft-yet-classic-tale, complete with its entertaining leibmotifs such as the FUN broadcasts (Finnish Understandable News) & the rhuma-rhumba jams, is a joy to watch. For me, however, the highlight of BOB was its stagecraft – the way the play was brought to life through prop-combos, light-trickery & deft soundtracking was quite stunning.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen




A Play A Pie And A Pint

Oran Mor


21st-26th March

Script: three-stars Stagecraft: three-stars Performance: four-stars


Prom, written by Oliver Emanuel and directed by Gareth Nicholls takes us back in time from the future to the class of 2016’s eventful and dramatic Prom Night. Four nameless characters, two male, two female, reminisce about what led up to that fateful night, which has obviously had an enduring effect on their lives.

Ably acted, with some good original songs and dance thrown in, Ryan Fletcher, Helen McKay, Martin McBride and Nicola Roy initially fire some good comic lines back and forth, with a near- capacity audience appreciating the humour as preparations for the big end of term event get under way.

prom3.jpgIt becomes apparent that the quartet are obsessed by another (nameless) male classmate in their year who is physical perfection personified and intelligent to boot, but keeps himself a little aloof. They all want to be his friend but are at the same time jealous of his challenge to their superiority as the “super cool” senior pupils at the school.


The night of the prom arrives and the foursome play a nasty trick on their classmate after he dares to sit at another table with his 4th year prom date. Mayhem ensues with life-changing consequences for all involved including the school goat(!) John Wayne. The play finishes back in the real-time future at a 2016 class reunion.

This play touched on the pain of growing up, envy and deceit but the storyline seemed a trifle forced, slightly repetitive and at times rather far-fetched. A bit of judicial editing would have resulted in a far more satisfying piece.


Reviewer : Dave Ivens


Royal Conservatoire Scotland


 15th March – 18th March

Script: four-stars Stagecraft: four-stars  Performance: four-stars


A good sized stage and various accoutrements such as hanging frames, a desk, a comfy chair and more. Lights dimmed and an actor stood at the stage right. Eerie music was coupled with very little light which set the scene. Lighting designer Simon Hayes helped to create a grey serious place for the play to commence.

Hamlet (Samantha McLaughlin) was dressed in 19th century clothing as were all the costumes. Hamlet’s official status as lord and prince was highlighted when two soldiers in period uniform recalled a ghastly scene with him about war.

Music and light were used to create minute changes with subtle chiaroscuro reflecting the mood. Lofty, American accented Polonius, (Chris Ginesi) had great stage presence throughout. Such a pivotal character managed to convey solitude as he set about his various duties. His touching relationship with Hamlet provided the milk of human kindness that was much needed amidst such treachery. Victorian military and royal costumes replaced the much worn out tights of Shakespeare’s era

Every detail was carefully crafted by the creative team; Gertrude’s character, the Queen of Denmark (Lisa VillaMil) was larger than life in her fluid red dress. King Claudius’s care and consideration for her was evidenced in his choice of vessel silverware when pouring her a drink. Hamlet draws us into his emotions and then kicks us back out.

hamlet piture 2.jpgScenes flew by without unnecessary costumes changes. Drawn in by poetry and philosophy, dialogue switched from public speaking to intimate and damning conversation. Bright colour touches on the actors costumes enhanced the visual atmosphere amid a plethora of grey and white. Ophelia’s immaculate white dress struck a chord complimenting the luxuriant red dress of Gertrude.

Through many speeches the plot revealed some great scenes of theosophical outcries from Hamlet as he mourns his father’s premature passing. Delving into scenes of his solitude and darkness that Hamlet saw clearly sharpened his wit and brought irony to his sense of humor. Hamlet’s conversations in the play helped him work through his grief addressing both actor and audience. He becomes more surer of the course he must take to appease himself of the death of his father Claudius.

Hamlet’s anger and determination is a clear theme for director by Gordon Barr’s who takes the story of Hamlet more and more into his own hands in a steady development. Ophelia and Hamlets clarifying conversation on the impossibility of their love is a prequel to leading to her tragic demise. This and Hamlets prophetic nightmares send Hamlet over the edge.

Fight director Marc Silberschatz turned this old story into a Tarantinoesque contemporary drama. I’m glad I saw this exciting play.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly


Billy (The Days of Howling)

Oran Mor


Play, Pie, Pint

14-18 March

Script:  2.png Stagecraft:  2.png  Performance: four-stars



IMG_3160i.jpgThis a strange play. Disconnected, waffling – it is as if we are led in bed with our three actors after they had drank far too much caffeine after ten o clock. They cant get to sleep & they are just thinking aloud – thinking & speaking aloud. None of this is in harmony, however, until the end that is, when finally the three separate soliloqueal strands fuse together in a sweary & shouty finale. Is this the Howl, one asks, or it more the voice crying into the hurricane, when Ginsbergdeclaimed, ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.’

IMG_3153i Antony Strachan, Rosalind Sydney, Hilary  Lyon.jpg

Billy’s main theme is the chaos that ensues after an adult makes the wrong step in the minefield that is kindergarten playground. In this case, Alice’s mum notices Billy eating & Cheeto — & the rest is history (or for me rather, it should have been left in the historical records.) I wasn’t convinced by this piece at all, although the hour was definitely saved by the spirited acting of Hoary Lyon (admin lady), Rosalind Sydney (Alice’s mum) & the big-boned & bubbly Anthony Strachan (Billy’s dad). Perhaps that is down to translation, not perhaps of the language so much, but more the format conjured by French playwright, Fabien Cloutier.

Before I entered the Oran Mor was in a pretty good mood, but left having something of a personal existential crisis. Perhaps that was the point, I’m not sure, or maybe I am….

Reviewer : Damo Bullen





Get Carter


Citizens Theatre




Script: three-stars Stagecraft: four-stars Performance: three-stars

A dramatic cacophony of bricks designed by 59 productions sets the stage… a dark sinister atmosphere, smoke swirling in the low artificial lighting. A drummer/ ghost brother on the far side.

We are at the brick pit where the protagonist Jack Carter (Kevin Wathen) had spent his childhood playing hide and seek with his now murdered brother Frank (Martin Douglas) and Frank’s childhood shotgun. So now he is back from swinging sixties London and seeking retribution.

This gritty production uses the same recording techniques as would have been used by Roy Budd who famously composed Get Carter’s soundtrack at the age of 23. This new arrangement of songs by iconic sixties Tyneside band The Animals was a collaboration between vocalist Nadine Shah, Ben Hillier and sound designer James Frewer. James explains, ‘Having a live drummer on stage drives the action; it’s very much the mechanics of the piece….as well as dark rhythmic progressions.’

The plot differs in many respects from the 1971 Michael Cain movie. Torben Betts was given ‘freedom’ to interpret Ted Lewis’ book Jack’s Return Home which Get Carter is based on.

Jack attends Frank’s funeral and meets Doreen, (Amy Cameron- Coronation Street,Casualty) his niece; he later implies that Doreen might actually be his daughter.

Victoria Elliott (Holby City,Truckers) puts in the best performance in her double role as Margaret (Frank’s evasive mistress) and buxom Glenda. Jack accuses Glenda of working for crime boss Cyril Kinnear (Michael Hodgson- The One and Only ) and Kinnear’s rival dodgy amusement arcade machine entrepreneur Cliff Brumby (Donald McBride – George Gently,Vera).


Jack encounters old gangster associate, Eric Paice (Benjamin Cawley- Shetland, Dr.Who, Doctors), who refuses to tell who is employing him as a chauffeur but Jack soon discovers he works for crime boss Cyril Kinnear. Confronting Kinnear who is playing poker seems like a dead end but he meets Glenda there. On a phone call to his boss Gerald Fletcher(Ed Gaughan)  Jack is warned against damaging relations between Kinnear and the Fletchers. Back in town, Doreen gives Jack a train ticket to leave …

Enquiring who gave this to Doreen he is given the name “Brumby”. At 2.30 the following morning Jack discovers Brumby knows nothing about him and, believing he has been set up, leaves Brumby’s home. Later, with Glenda in the brick pit, Brumby identifies Kinnear as being behind Frank’s death and accuses Kinnear of trying to take over his business. He offers Jack £5,000 to kill the crime boss, which he flatly refuses and then pushes Brumby off the edge to his death. Next Jack is shown the porn movie of his niece Doreen with Albert and Glenda but Jack doesn’t knife Albert Swift in Betts version of Get Carter, he gets Margaret to suffocate him with a cushion before killing her in a shadow murder almost out of view at the very edge of the stage.The lighting designer Kristina Hjelm superbly sets the eerie atmosphere in the run up and eventual demise of Jack Carter. Eric survives his attempted murder, perhaps because he has a misses and a 6 month old baby? And so does Glenda.

A very different take to the classic movie. This adaptation portrays a less ruthless version of Jack who is shown to be a more caring villain with a murmur of a conscience whom, according to artistic director Lorne Campbell, ‘ is a sick man within a sick landscape.’

  Reviewer : Clare Crines




Some Other stars

Oran Mor


7-11 March

Script: four-stars  Stagecraft: three-stars Performance: four-stars


Recent IASH/Traverse Theatre Creative Fellow Clare Duffy is a playwright exploring dark themes. What if you have a stroke to discover you are in a vegetative state unable to communicate but fully aware of whats going on around you. Meet Ian (Martin McCormick) and his wife Cath (Kirsten Murray) who are having to learn how to live together apart. The set communicates expertly the prison of Ian’s body and he is confined to his vertical coffin like structure throughout most of the play. Innovative and surreal, especially the way Ian’s body is described through inanimate objects cluttering his bed and his wife’s mind.

Despite their desperate circumstances, Duffy still injects humour into her play .


As Cath sets about washing Ian, he is concentrating hard to transport himself to China through his minds eye to see extinct volcanoes and a mirroring sea : he tries to smell the tea and not feel like the car being routinely washed. Cath was jealous of Ian’s relationship with his car believing he, ‘spent more time rubbing her down than you did me.’

Frustration to learn new ways of communication are explored in depth and with comic insight.

Ian’s locked in syndrome isn’t getting better and eventually their child grows up and has her own child. Cath has an affair and considers murder , ‘… death by chocolate ’ because after all, ‘how many ways can you kill your husband and not get caught? ’ The sensory experiences the audience are privy to are plentiful, from eerie screeching interference that best describes the torture going on in Ian’s head to the melancholic sounds of sea gulls in the distance and waves lapping the shore.


Ian’s launching off from his bed in the research centre in Houston where he’d like to, ‘ become a light particle ’ because he’s a ‘ human space man…connecting to my space body.’ Will he keep going never to return? You will have to go to find out!

Reviewer : Clare Crines



King Lear

Pleasance Theatre


March 1-5


Script: 5  Stagecraft: three-stars Performance: four-stars

4A0A5589.jpgNext month sees the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s ending-day. Perhaps he knew his fame would outlive him – but probably not how far the scope & expanse of his genius would penetrate. It is a staple of all the worlds’ studies; his language, human expositions & dramatic dialogue should stand forever as both a teacher & a delight to us all. In this commemorative year, then, the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company has tackled King Lear, a murderous tragedy that wades in blood & guts only second behind the visceral early-crowd pleaser, Titus Andronicus. Touching on themes of family division & the onset of age with its wafting senilty, King Lear is a true classic, whose darkling & depressive mood plunges a sword-point into dankest depths of all our psyches.

4A0A5461In the hands of the EUSC we are presented with a set straight out of Superman II (1980), with the ladies bedecked in evening wear; including rather pointy stilettos. At their heart is Will Fairhead’s grey-haired King Lear, who commands the stage with an increasing cantankerous acerbation. His touching descent into madness wins over one’s suspension of disbelief completely, especially when accompanied by a reddening face after a particularly loud outburst. Of Lear’s daughters, I found Agnes Kenig’s Regan very fluent, very believable, but the Mumble’s main praise must be bestowed upon Olivier Huband. He played Edmund to perfection, his stately soliloquies doing Shakespeare proud, while you actually could feel the electricity as he flirted with Goneril & Regan.


Olivier Huband’s Edmund


So did it work? I would say yes, it did. The cast comblended well together to deliver so complex a psychological montage, & did so bristling with energy. I wasn’t so sure about the accompanying sound-effects; a Dantean soundscape with a deep pulse that got louder as we descended into the mental hells of our protagonists. Perhaps it was meant to get us all nervous, but I just found it a bit annoying. Action-wise, while there was a seamless transition between scenes, the dialogue was at times a little rushed, especially in the mouth of Pedro Leandro’s fool. Saying that, the laddie was engaging all the same, a tantalisingly brilliant breath of fresh air in such gloomy play, composed as it was just after the demise of a more frivolous Elizabethan Age (1606). There really were some great moments of well-played theatre – the death scenes in particular were charged with high drama – while the soul-tortured monologues definitely demanded our attention. I did think at times the production was a little too shouty – Shakespeare’s words are essentially wooden, & it is up to the individual actors & actresses to bring them to life – but perhaps not quite so vividly… a cheeky subtlety here, an un-noticed nuancity there, plus a tension-pricked pause from time to time & this play could have been even better.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen