Author Archives: yodamo
Oran Mor, Glasgow
March 16 – 21, 2020
This week’s wickedly lovely play, the Beaches of St.Valery, came from the pen of the excellent Stuart Hepburn. The show was making a welcome return to Oran Mor, with the original cast (James Rottger, Ron Donachie and Ashley Smith) reprising their roles. We were introduced to young Callum (Rottger) all dressed up in his smart army uniform, and soon caught up in the horrors of WW2. We watched as he and other Scottish soldiers of the 51 st Highland Division dealt with the reality of wartime.
The play effectively dealt with themes of duty and loyalty, as depicted in the character of Sergeant McGregor (Donachie), an old soldier with a lifetime of army and war experience. We also saw how the youngsters grew from being reluctant conscripts to embracing the idea of duty and service, no matter what it took. And it took a lot, especially for the Sergeant who had to give the terrible orders. The action took us right to the battlefield, using effects such as a castle backdrop, lights, explosions, the sound of planes flying overhead, radio reports, recollections. We followed them through well-choreographed manoeuvres as they fought, then retreated on the beach. We joined them as they huddled together in a bunker for warmth and Calum found love with Catriona (Smith) in the midst of all the turmoil. Somehow the fact that there was a smaller audience for today’s play (we are in Coronavirus territory after all), only made it all the more poignant. In the slightly eerie atmosphere no-one really wanted to laugh at the one small joke.
The author has thrown a light on the less well known fact that while thousands of British soldiers were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk, this Scottish division was left to defend St Valery to the last man. Many died, many surrendered. The play wasn’t about anger at this apparently desperate situation, only the touching sense that though they were more than willing soldiers all they wanted really was to go home to their loved ones. An impressively well put together drama, with writing and craft that directly touched the heart and sent you home with a huge sense of compassion for those who had lived through it. It seems a fitting tribute to them and is well worth a visit.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Mar 9 – 16, 2020
Paring Off, by Alma Cullen, is this week’s Play, Pie and Pint offering, and opened with pals Murdo (Tom McGovern) and Kenny (Steven Duffy), sharing a pint and enthusiastically discussing their team, St Mirren. Turned out that Kenny was the manager, and Murdo, a butcher by trade, had a vested interest in the shape of the club pie contract.
Enter Kenny’s girlfriend Mimi (Gail Watson) looking professional in a white dress. Mimi owned Happy Feet Chiropody and had come to treat Murdo who had terrible trouble with his feet (hence the “paring” of the title). It didn’t take us long to realise that Mimi and Kenny’s relationship involved a lot of high voltage quarrelling. However, she spread a towel on her lap settled down to her task of massaging Murdo’s feet while he lay back in utter bliss in a gorgeous looking leather and wood chair.
The men were feeling optimistic and excited about the future of their team as they chatted about the various signings and prospective victories that were coming up. Then the mood abruptly changed when it was mentioned that one of the new signings was gay. Kenny immediately showed his revulsion, saying that it was wrong and against the law. Mimi denounces Kenny for being uptight just as she was drawn to Murdo’s more relaxed reaction.
An attraction that grew as Murdo and Mimi become more than enamoured with each other and ended up sleeping together. Mimi confided that she sometimes needed sex to sleep well and that she had a wonderful night with Murdo, enjoying his cavalier attitude towards the whole thing. So when Mimi discovered Murdo’s own secret – given away by the state of his feet – in the shape of his very own pair of women’s dancing shoes, it was all part of a highly charged romantic exchange that ended in Mimi appearing in a sexy red dress and a long dance sequence that left the clumsy Kenny standing on the sidelines.
The music was lush, the action endearing and highly charged, catching you up in an intricate dance between the three characters. Funny and intense, it nearly set the place on fire…
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Mar 2 – 7, 2020
Today’s play, named simply “Daniel”, by Isabel Wright, had an intriguing set, simple but effective – a screen lit with a violet light. This one man show began with Daniel (Jack Tarlton) on the floor of what turned out to be a toilet – a striking image to start the story with. His trousers were round his ankles as he came to and roused himself into discourse, reflecting that the life he was living could be likened to waking in a toilet. It seemed like the beginning of something dark and macabre.
We were soon set straight in the next scene where Daniel stood tall in clothes that no longer made him look like some down-and-out about to shoot up. In darkly comic short scenes the tale of Daniel’s travels in London and Edinburgh began to emerge, peopled by off-stage characters that illustrated the different stages of his life. With more than enough on his shoulders, Daniel was shown on the one hand to be pathetic and yet also able to show resilience as he recounted his feelings for his father, his dog, his true love, Katie Watkins.
The action was punctuated throughout by silences and blackouts, adding impact to Daniel’s weird and wonderful take on life and inviting us to laugh, sometimes guiltily, as his forthright dialogue hit home. All delivered with a quiet physicality that held the room and somehow enlarged the comedy. One scene entirely consisted of him hilariously downing a bottle of Irn-Bru, just that, leaving us exposed in our silence.
Isabel Wright’s play made use of theatrical techniques to create a kind of bottomless comedy that felt new, reflective and powerful. As we followed the protagonist on his journey’s highs and lows, we were taken first into darkness then light where there was love and care, then back to darkness again. It wasn’t a linear journey, but if you took it in your stride it somehow all made sense. As an experience it was enticingly funny, brave and concisive, well worth seeing.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Feb 24 – 29, 2020
The set for today’s play, Lessons in Love, included a green backdrop with a plush looking couch and cushions, plus a table and chairs. This comedy starred writer Kate Donnelly as Sarah a woman on the hunt for spirituality and co-writer Clare Hemphill as her friend Jackie. The two were long-time friends as indeed was Hammy Hamilton, played by Garry Sweeney, who loved to gamble and was a big football fan.
Sarah strode onto the small lunchtime stage in joggers and slipper boots, doing her Qigong and spouting forth about her long-held attitude to life and its wonders. Joined by Jackie, the two soon engaged in what was their familiar ongoing conversation about their shared life experience; all of which being filled with the passions they shared. Before long Hammy was mentioned, revealing that in fact that Jackie was engaged to him.
Hammy’s entrance transformed the room to laughter as he made his appearance dancing a little jig to music. It transpired that Hammy had once ditched his fiancé to go and see the Scotland football team play Brazil – in Brazil! Hammy had always and still did defend the importance of the match (it was a world cup qualifying game). In an emotional scene he also admitted to have gambled an amount of money that he had borrowed from Jackie who now desperately needed it back.
Jackie confessed to Sarah that she’d been intimate with Hammy and felt that the love she bore him was big enough to forgive him, somewhat to her friend’s dismay. But the two women decided to have some fun with him first, with Jackie prancing around the stage in sunglasses and a neat leather jacket. Hammy revealed more and more of himself to us in his conversations with Jackie and as they sat together it was clear how familiar they were and had nothing to hide – in fact despite everything they had nothing but love for each other.
There were no definitive lessons learned here, but perhaps that was the lesson in itself; that we never really can know how and why things will turn out. With vivacious performances from the cast of three, this endearing play explored the intimacy between people and the sometimes surprising way relationships work out.
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Feb 17 – 22, 2020
This week’s offering from a Play, and Pie and a Pint took place in a school room, where English teacher, Penny (Jo Freer) was at the heart of Catriona Duncan’s comedy, “When the Penny Drops”. As Penny pondered the highs and lows of her career, she was joined onstage by Michele Gallagher and Calum Moore playing multiple roles – involving multiple costume changes – with increasing manic energy that had the audience in fits of laughter.
We found ourselves entwined in Penny’s thoughts and feelings, despair and joy, as she shared with us a lifetime of teaching children and dealing with fellow staff and parents, all of whom were capable of engendering frustration to the point of pulling hair. All ably illustrated by the cast of characters who engaged with her in a series of fast moving mini plots which at times spilled out into the aisles. Penny’s formula for coping, she told us, was complete disengagement, the ultimate safety net
The play spun its web in a marvellous mix of action and comedy, drawing you ever further towards the ultimate turning point where Penny was faced with the profound reality of the crossroads she was facing. The moment of clarity when “the penny drops” came like a slap in the face as Penny’s theory disintegrated. But really, she – and we – always knew it was going to and the penny dropping turned out not to be the catastrophe we may have expected. In our hearts we always knew she cared!
Written by a real teacher who knew what she’s talking about and with wonderful direction by Angie Darcy, this play took us on a rapid trip through human endeavour. Teachers will recognise themselves here as will all of us who have striven for clarity and honour in our lives. An impressive hour, not to be missed!
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Jan 10-16, 2020
It was a pleasure to come back to the Oran Mor for the first play of A Play, A Pie and A Pint’s 2020 season, Camino. The stage was a welcome sight not only because of the weather (Storm Ciara was raging outside) but also because of its wonderful design. At the back was a kind of wooden blind with a bunk bed and some chairs and table making a kind of perfect space for conversation.
Sean Hardy’s story took us half way up a mountain in Spain where two couples were making their way to the summit. Mo and Donald (Kim Gerard and Lewis Howden) seemed to be the perfect couple, celebrating 25 years of marriage and addressing each other with endearments. Helen and Ken (Irene Allan and Keith Fleming), the younger pair married 10 years, were in complete contrast – passionately arguing and fighting at every turn, not to mention finding the lovey dovey pair a bit too much to take.
Things unravelled a bit as the four struggled for survival on the perilous journey – or was it the perils of marriage? Perhaps both. Certainly the four characters encountered many dangers and challenges both physical and romantic, and dealt with them in a fast moving plot that took them here and there across the stage, opening doors and closing them as their difficulties were exposed. Again and again the same issues would come up and somehow as they climbed they found the strength and courage to confront their problems.
There was a very entertaining stand up element in all of this which had the four characters standing in a row like an ensemble and, telling their stories in quick fire succession, drawing us in and then letting us go again. There was a sense that they were dealing with the essential things in life, things to be taken to heart, but there was more laughter than silence in the audience because it was the jokes that prevailed. As they said, when you’re climbing a mountain far from home, as with marriage, things could take any turn at any time – “What could go right?” An intriguing and laugh-, not to say thought-, provoking start to the season – well worth a visit!
Just as Shakespeare toured Italy as a prelude to the writing of his Italian plays, when deciding to compose a conchord on Gaston Dominici, I thought a story-hunting trip to Provence in order to commune with the ghosts of that most famous of 20th century crimes would surely help my craft. The crime in question is the 1952 roadside murder of nutritionist Sir Jack Drummond, his wife & their 10 year old daughter. They had camped for the night near a farmhouse owned by Gaston Dominici, a 75 year old patriarch in whose barn was kept the WW2 carbine which shot Sir Jack & his wife, & then clubbed to death little Elizabeth. A shocking case which brought the world to the Durance Valley & also sucked to the surface old family quarrels & familiar local feuds which in the end saw Gaston sentenced to death. In the clear light of seven decades it seems likely that the perpetrator was Gaston’s grandson, 16 years old & probably drunk at the time, Roger Perrin.
Last Thursday myself, Spud, Victor Pope & ex-Tinky Disco bandmate Al Roberts all made our bleary-eyed ways to Edinburgh airport for a 9.45 AM flight. Me & Spud always get wound up by Al leaving his house in a slow-shabby fashion, so opted to get to the airport ourselves – I took a tram & he the shuttle bus. Vic & Al shared an Uber without any mess-ups, which surprised us & proved a good omen to our week together on the road. As we stepped onto the tarmac to board our plane, the Scottish chill was fully raging & I was very much looking forward to a respite from the seemingly endless Caledonian winter.
A handful of hours later we were in Marseille & checking into our Air B&B right beside the Old Harbour, or Vieux Port. This was the spot where in 600 BC a guy called Euxene arrives from Phocae (an ancient part of Turkey) just in time for the local king’s daughter’s ‘choosing ceremony.’ In short, among a group of gathered suitors, Euxene was the one given a goblet of wine by princess Gyptis, who would later change her name to Aristoxenus. Euxene & Aristoxenus, now that’s already got the hallmarks of a conchord, I thought to myself, in the same way I thought that Gaston Dominici has a Motzartean ring about it. Looking at the Gyptis story at that point, tho, it unfortunately seemed a bit weak to make a conchord out of…
Marseille with the lads was fun. Kicking back with a smart TV & cheap beer in the hypermodern flat or on the balcony overlooking the harbour, with the pointed cathedral rising on the central Marseille hill beyond. On the smart TV, we watched Netflix, played all our music videos, while Al could send to it our recent recordings – an album called the New Truth. I couldn’t help but notice the technological advancement of the species – the last time I was in Provence was 20 years ago & for fun me & my pal, Bryn, ended up making a chess board out of paper & stones. Here’s an extract from my journal of that time.
May 10th, 2000
We woke up proper spangled, but a quick dip in the exquisitely cool pool proved enough of a respite from our frail noggins & we were able to pack & head out to Cannes. It was the first day of the festival & full of noisy Yanks, so we soon got out of dodge, striking inland on a bus to Grasse, a lovely town stacked high against the hillside. We had a couple of hours to kill so wandered around a bit & to our delight found it very swell, with lovely narrow streets & great prospects of the Cotes d’Azore in the distance.
After sending off our postcards we hopped on a bus north along La Route Napoleon. The view was spectacular as we climbed & wound thro’ the mountains, each one clad in trees giving a baize effect, & I could imagine Napoleon & his column following the same road. A rapid mist descended, however, followed soon after by heavy rain which showed no intention of letting up as we were unceremoniously dumped in the wee hamlet of Seranon. We dived into the only bar around for shelter & refreshment, obtaining a few funny looks off the funny looking locals.
Eventually we found out the bus north didn’t leave til the morning, so we were stuck. We didn’t fancy putting the tent up in the rain so opted for a hotel. A friendly couple drove us a half mile down the road to their mate’s hotel, which was closed. Luckily the mustached madame opened it up for us (a whole hotel to ourselves), but we were forced to share a double bed (with pants on obviously). As soon as we paid our 15 francs the sun came out & we heaved a table up to the roof, bought wine, cheese, bread & sausage & had a most pleasant supper among the mountains. It was cool, me musing & Bryn sketchin’ & it felt nice to be doing spot of real travelling, the only sound being the constant chuckle of crickets. Bryn very correctly brought up the point we were stuck in a one horse dive & had less than two days to get to Venice, but I re-assured him all would be reyt. We made a chess-board out of paper & stones & played to the setting of the sun, before all the wine & well-thought-out moves took their toll & sent us both a-slumbering.
Fastforward to 2020, on our first full day in France – Brexit day as it so happened – we enjoyed a daytime riviera stroll, followed by a wicked night out at bohemian La Plaine – a very funky part of Marseille. Drinking & dancing & downing tequilas, we met an English busker called Charlie, & his Slovakian girlfriend. The gods had answered our pleas, & he actually had 3 guitars. ‘Don’t worry, we won’t steal them – it’ll be too expensive to check them into our flights back,’ put him off from coming round for a jam, but he agreed to meet us the next day for a wee busk.
It was more than a joy the following afternoon to find ourselves all jamming together by Marseille harbour to the infinite delight of the locals. Our immediate audience consisting of an annoying kid who kept banging the guitars, a Czech street lassie & a Parisenne rock-chick who finds Marseille a cheaper place to live. Before then, I’d taken a solo morning mission up to Allauch, a hilltop village right on the edge of the Marseille conurbation. It was at the old castle, even higher still, that I filmed the following Pendragon Poetry post, talking all about Conchordia.
I was up in the hills as I’d read that a possible Gyptis object had been found in a hillside cave nearby. The curator of the slick local museum begged to differ, but I said I’m a poet & I didn’t want the truth to get in the way of a good story. Yes, a conchord was being born & on the way back to the appartment I googled a few Greek myths & found one, which I felt I could use – Alcyone and Ceyx. Basically, they offended the gods by calling themselves Hera & Zeus, & ended up being drowned & then turned into birds. A little creative furnace-burning later & I’d transmorped the myth into Euxene & Aristoxenus being turned into the the islands of Pomègues and Ratonneau which lie off the mouth of Marseille harbour. Like the Phaecean ship which carried Odysseus to Ithica being turned to stone.
Compositionwise I only managed a few speeches from VIRIATHUS in Marseille – the second Senate scene – in the early morning before the boys woke up, mainly at a cafe by the harbour. I usually compose on my morning East Lothian walks with Daisy, accompanied otherwise only by nature and the essential headspace needed to really zone out. Not so easy in a busy city as ever. There was no way I was going to achieve my goal of finishing Viriathus on this trip & then starting ‘The Flight of the White Eagles, ‘ – my conchord about the retreat from Moscow – the notes for which I worked intensively on before I set off. Still, they are all in the bank & Viriathus should be finished within days. I’ll be recreating the antics & dashing chit-chat of Seargant Bourgogne soon enough!
We left Marseille the next day, the sunshine heating up, arriving by train at the Durance valley & the station which serves La Brilliane & Oraison. The River Durance patches its way between them on a hugely wide stony river bed, with hills framing the scene on either side, & the snow-capped Alps closing the vista far to the north at Digne. Public transport round these parts is pretty neglible, & with it being Sunday afternoon no shops were open. Of that first of the two matters, we soon hit paydirt. After walking over the bridge to Oraison, beyond the frustratingly closed intermarche, we came to a carpark where I asked a lovely fella could he take us to Dabisse, & he agreed gladly.
Dabisse is a wee village with a bar & a bus stop kinda thing. The bar was well busy, tho, its car park full of temporary pebbledash for a meeting of the region’s petanque teams. It was a really serendiptous, masonic, monastic moment listening to the clink-clinks & murmours of the play. Getting a carry-out together we went back to our villa & gorged on the food previous Air B&B-ers had left behind – a severe stroke of luck for a hungry bunch on a Sunday. I’d reminded Victor Pope of that time in Calcata, Italy, on another day we couldn’t buy food – the Day of the Dead. Here’s the account from my ‘Marching on Parnassus‘ blog.
NOVEMBER 1ST, 2011
We reach’d Calcata from Rome on a train & a bus (paying a euro each in total) & they both immediately fell in love with the place. There is a certain magic to the wee town & its citizens, & our arrival could not have been timed better. Twenty years ago the town was practically deserted, but suddenly a bunch of hippies & artists moved in, opened galleries & restaurants & the place is now thriving. I’d met an American here last time, the dance teacher of Greta Garbo among other famous Hollywood dignitaries, who I was sad to hear had passed away last year at the age of 88. I’m not surprised, tho’, he was smoking & drinking wine like crazy when I met him. I got the news by popping round to his house to borrow the same guitar that I used to borrow, from another American, Pancho. Being American he’d instigated some Halloween festivities in the town a few years ago, a festival not normally celebrated by the Italians, but one they have taken to like crazy in this wee pocket of the world.
Pancho told me to see Bruno, the long-haired owner of the only bar in town, where we were intercepted by an English photographer called Stephen, who took charge of the situation & led me off through a world slowly Halloweening up with ghoulish decorations. At Bruno’s the magic of Calcata kicked in, & an hour or so later, being passed around from house-to-house & person to person, we had a fuckin’ gig for Halloween in the piazza! The Saraswati reunion was on! Our main help came from Terril, a thirty-ish New Yorker who’d shacked up with an older Italian guy called Oswaldo.
She found us guitars & a place to practice in this Dutch ladies theatre-cum-gallery complete with a beautiful grand piano on the stage. Waiting for the gig we spent our days lazing outside the 2,500-year old Etruscan caves we were camped by. I’d even found a bed & moved into one of them, while a much larger affair had been turned into something like a Hobbit-house, where we cooked on an open fire, the smoke billowing from a chimney somebody had hewn from the rock.
It was time for the gig itself. The warm up was cool, watching the kids in fancy dress trick or treating while I consumed copious amounts of red wine: you can get a litre of the stuff – that’s a bottle & a third – for 65p. After blagging guitars off the main band – a cover-chomping rockathon all in the English tongue – we went on stage to about 3000 people, who were all wandering through the narrow streets or bustling in the main piazza.
Somehow we pulled it off, with Victor dancing about like a hippy-Bez, blowing wild notes through his melodica. Up front Paul rattled confidently through a great set which had the piazza jumping, driven on by a drummer – Allessandro – who’d joined us half way through the set. It was there that I felt another of those cycles grow to a close. I guess I began my singing career on the streets of Burnley when I was about 8, plucking up the courage to knock on some old granny’s door to sing a rendition of ‘Halloweens coming.’ Roll on twenty-odd years & I had to do the same again, only this time the crowd was 3,000 rowdy & random Italians.
At the end of the gig a few folk even gave us cash – which as I write today is proving hard to spend. It’s All Souls Day, y’see, & Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve. To the Protestant traveler that means all the shops are shut & the restaurants are charging £30 for a seven course meal. Not expecting this, after we raved it up last night, including a wicked djembe session where I tamborined myself into wine-soaked bliss, we came back to our caves & gorged all the food, except for a bag of pasta & an apple.
Improvising, however, in proper Bear Gryls style, I cooked us some nettle-pasta, beefed up with the apple. Honestly, it was pretty tasty, spiced up with pepper & oregano it went down a treat. It was at this moment that Victor showed his middle-class roots, & had already made his mind up that anything with nettles in just had to be awful. I dont think he realised that up until about 100 years ago, nettles were an important part of the British diet. Anyhow, he sampled one pasta tube, declared the whole thing tasteless & plumped for a ten-pound chicken dish later in the day… which was so meagre & unsatisfying for him I even gave him a quarter of my later-day takeaway pizza to fill him up! He should have had the pasta methinks!
Ah, the good old days! Roll on a nigh decade & I found myself composing Viriathus, drinking wine by the pool of a plush villa in Provence. We had a look at the pool, but soon covered it up again – early February means a bit of algae & no need for pool-use, I guess.
The fridge was now full. We’d hitched a lift to Oraison in the morning off the lovely John Christmas (real name Jean-Noel), stocked up at the supermarket, then caught a taxi back to Dabisse for the day. And what a day, far from the Scottish chill and ended by a walk with Al for a sunset view over the Durance valley.
Some of those 21 degree sun-soaked, Senate-based Viriathus lines composed by the pool read like this ;
Senators of our majestic city
& many other regions in its stride,
This treaty is, in the highest degree,
Dishonorable to all we stand for,
Staining Servilianus’ career,
Viriathus is a craved barbaric,
Beheading, disembowelling at will,
A bandit on an unsubsistive soil –
To him a border is a line to cross
To empty beaten innocents of blood
& topple pillars, pillaging obscene.
Obscene? Objection! You paint him monster,
Humanity, his high ascendency,
Distributes unifying spiritus
That never in the passage of this war,
In armies of tribal variety,
Was ever spill’d sedition, all obey’d,
All fearless in the presence of danger –
As statesman he was neither humble-knee’d
Nor overbearing in leagues & treaties,
Faithful, exact, aequis, veritable,
Vir Duxque Magnus, ancient ideals
Penetrated atoms of existence,
& as the adsertur of Hispania
Let us assert our honour to his will
Make good his claims to the fame of the world,
Too many lost already in that place
We owe him our respect
We owe him death
The retributive slew for youth hard lost.
So to yesterday – the ultimate object of this mission & a trip to La Grand Terre, the farmhouse of the Dominicis. It began in fine fashion with me & Spud arguing about how to get to Lurs – it was a case of his gammy leg versus my abundant energy & in the end the lads got a taxi & I walked the muddy Durance-side fields down to the bridge & back up the other side. I got to Lurs scrambling up its rocky slopes & arrived at its medieval core to see the lads waiting at the entrance. Once reunited we hit the old goat tracks down to the road, & using a little satnav orienteering came out at the very spot where the Drummonds were murdered. The poignant teddy bear shrine is testament to the locals’ indignation at the death of a child.
After La Grand Terre, I’d got it in my head that we could ford the Durance – Dabisse was more or less facing us on the other bank. The lads humoured me & watched me make tentative efforts on a scouting mission in the shallower bits – but the plan was soon aborted & we caught a taxi back. That night I ruminated in a Pendragon fashion on the Drummond murders & got a pretty plausible idea of what went on that night – which I’ll use in my composition.
The next day we chilled in the sun til 2PM, caught a taxi to the station, then a train to Saint Antione, conducted a wee walk to our Air B&B off La Pennes Mirabeau, then caught the Rangers-Hibs game over beers. At 6AM we hired a lift off our landlord to the airport & we were finally in Edinburgh by 9.30 AM. On the flight I pretty much worked out the structure of the Dominic conchord – 4 acts with a cliffhanger ending each one – & began sketching it out on the inside cover of an Agatha Christie book I was reading on the holiday- A Pocketful of Rye. Just like Agatha I was going backwards from the ending, & there’s a chance I could have a wee Mousetrap on my hands if I get mi ‘ead down. With bangin’ tunes & Shakespearean blank verse, of course!
THE CONCHORDIA FOLIO
“Its worth a pop, right, to try & knock that Shakespeare
Off his feffin’ perch!”
Until the 15th February, 2020
‘This happened,’ says Robert Pickavance as Dr Korczak in Leeds Playhouse’s Bramall Rock Void. This is no ordinary performance space. It has been recently dug out of the ground beneath the Playhouse, it’s walls comprising of exposed rock and brick. Tonight it felt as though we were witnessing something that had just been unearthed, as though we had just been escorted into the bowels of the earth to be reminded of something very important, a slice of the past that should not be forgotten. Pickavance stands amidst piles of bricks and dust hangs in the air as he attempts to sweep away the debris.
This production of Dr Korczak’s Example has been specifically timed to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day. This isn’t a sanitised past of which we are being reminded. We are being grabbed by the collar and forcibly shown the wreckage. And through this performance, the three strong cast – Pickavance, along with Gemma Barnett as Stephanie and Danny Sykes as Adzio – show us exactly what came out of this wreckage.
Dr Korczak’s example is the story of Dr Korczak, a Polish Jew, who ran an orphanage in Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. It’s a simple story, rooted in small moments and the excellent cast sell these moments with ease. Adzio is rescued from the streets of Warsaw by Dr Korczak, who takes him under his wing. In his first few minutes in the orphanage, Adzio chases around the room, spitting chewed up pieces of paper at a fly in a vain attempt to end its ceaseless buzzing. As he does so, the other two members of the cast mischievously buzz at him as he grows increasingly agitated. It’s a small moment, seemingly inconsequential, but it cuts right to the humanity of the story and generates a playful atmosphere that continues throughout, despite the heaviness of the subject matter.
This is Danny Sykes’ debut professional performance, not that it shows. He delivers a strikingly assured performance that switches from aggressive and angry with the world in which he finds himself, to vulnerable, to full of the excitement and hope that Korczak and Stephanie instil in him. I would say that he is the beating heart of the production, but that is true of all three cast members, whose performances draw us in with their warmth and humanity. We feel their joy and fear; we share in their anger as they hurl pots across the stage to shatter on the wall.
At other points, however, we are pushed away in order to gain some valuable distance and perspective on the events being acted out. Pickavance breaks up the action with a series of conversations with an unseen German soldier, although it feels as though he is talking directly to us instead. We are all that one German soldier, and as darkness begins to gather around the orphanage, these one sided conversations grow increasingly angry and accusatory. We haven’t merely been invited into this space to be told a story, we are being very deliberately implicated these horrors.
It all feels uncomfortably timely – the increasingly vicious demonisation of a religious minority; empty promises made by the authorities that the characters blindly trust, whilst simultaneously understanding that these promises will be broken in the most horrendous ways; the public both accepting and enabling the shifting political climate. Draw your own conclusions, but on leaving the auditorium, it was impossible to not only feel moved, but to also utterly ashamed.
The simplicity of this production is the source of its power and it is a credit to both writer (David Grieg) and director (James Brining). There’s an awful lot going on here, it’s just that the working parts are hidden so well beneath the small moments (catching a fly, sharing an apple etc). The same extends to the fantastic set/ prop design.
At the centre of the stage sits a table littered with small wooden figures, lit from above by spotlight. These are used throughout the performance as stand ins for the other characters in the story and are both delightful and hugely effective as Pickavance, Sykes and Barnett inhabit these other characters via these models. They recreate huge historical scenes in miniature, giving us a birds eye view of events, whilst at the same time, we are huddled in a tiny room beneath the earth, wrapped up in those same events.
It ends as it began. ‘This happened,’ we’re reminded, before we leave the room to be presented with a leaflet entitled, The Rights of the Child, the UN Convention inspired by the beliefs of Dr Korczak himself, a reminder to take out of the theatre and embrace in our daily lives.
Until the 15th February, 2020
Night of the Living Dead Remix is imitating the dog’s take on George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic, a film that used the horror format to examine race politics and to document an America tearing itself apart. With an interest in marrying narrative with technology, imitating the dog have set themselves the mind boggling task of creating the original film shot by shot onstage as the original version plays alongside their own version that is projected on a second screen. The company refers to this production as a task that they sometimes complete successfully and occasionally fail with unintentional, yet thoroughly welcome results.
So how does this remix work? It’s somewhat of a challenge in itself to put this into words, however at its most basic, Night of the Living Dead Remix comprises of three separate performances running concurrently – the original film, the results of their recreation and the actual act of recreating the film that takes place on the stage below the two screens. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a YouTube video by Red Letter Media in which a group of film critics watch three of Michael Bay’s Transformers films at the same time. Ostensibly, this is a satirical video that seeks to prove the point that these three films are exactly the same, with identical plot points, camera shots, character stereotypes etc. However, part of the appeal of this video is derived from watching a group of men suffering from a barrage of noise and information overload. For the duration of this production I felt as though I was partaking in a similar exercise, as my attention was drawn from screen, to screen, to stage, to watch with great interest as each individual shot is (amusingly and imaginatively) created. In the digital age, we are increasingly familiar with this barrage of information, as mobile devices sit alongside TVs in our front rooms, as any film, television show, video game and/or song sits at our fingertips. This visual onslaught seems to both fit the modern mindset and comment upon it at the same time. Are we information driven zombies? Is this remix a slap in the audience’s face, a reminder to wake up and slow down?
More importantly, is this “task” successful? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Regardless, this is a thoroughly enjoyable production. It’s just that the enjoyment is occasionally too much, and perhaps it should also take the time to slow down. Breaking down the three separate performances even further, there are many individual elements at play: the stage is awash with projections – elements of the film, hand painted backdrops, news footage, slogans; there are wonderful sections featuring miniature sets and characters that play out like a recreation with children’s toys; the onstage action is endlessly fascinating, surreal and hilarious as the cast members play the same characters in different parts of the set to different cameras; there are additional (remixed) scenes that address the historical context of the film – the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. And Robert F Kennedy; the music and lighting assault the senses as scenes build into chaos. Each element is superb taken in isolation. It just continuously poses the question: is this too much?
The standout performance here is from Morgan Bailey as Ben, on whose shoulders rest the main action of the story, without any support from any on stage doubles (more on that later). In this remixed version of the film, Ben’s character builds up to a fantastic pay off that allows Bailey’s performance chops to shine. The other performances remain fairly basic, but this appears to be the intention as the production openly acknowledges the stilted, campy and frankly outdated nature of the film’s dialogue to excellent comic effect. Matt Prendergast, in particular, relishes the opportunity to ham up his performance as antagonist Harry Cooper. The seven strong cast are given the difficult (dare I say even unenviable?) task of portraying several characters throughout the duration of the production, rapidly switching between them from one shot recreation to the next, from one piece of precise blocking to another, portraying the same characters from different camera angles. As all this is taking place, they also need to sync their actions and dialogue the onscreen counterparts in the film that plays above the stage. Not to mention taking over camera duties and continuously reshuffling the scenery – including a flight of stairs – to suit one shot after another. It’s a logistical nightmare that they handle with great aplomb under the keen eyes of co directors Quick and Brooks. It just rarely results in performances that have any emotional resonance.
However, the real stars of the show are: Simon Wainwright, whose projections wash over the backdrop, switching from black and white recreations of the film’s sets to colourful bursts of news footage and graphics. At times the backdrop is unobtrusively abstract – enough to conjure up a graveyard or a cellar – and at others, it lights up with colours, marching soldiers and text that underlines the wider themes of race and civil unrest addressed within the story. James Hamilton, whose electronic bursts of noise provide thrilling counterpoint to moments of more traditional orchestral soundtrack. As a graduate of Leeds College of Music, his jazz background is evident in the questing and chaotic noise that fills the auditorium during key set pieces. Matthew Tully, whose crowd pleasing models deliver many of the production’s delightfully comedic high points, as miniature cars drive along roads and toy zombies (or ghouls as they are referred to in the film) dance around fiery sets.
I thoroughly enjoyed Night of the Living Dead Remix, I’m just left simultaneously wanting less and yearning for more. Perhaps there’s too much Living Dead and just not enough Remix here. It’s telling that when the individual elements diverge away from one another – stage, film and live projection – the production manages to coalesce into a much more compelling and coherent whole. We’re treated to the original film on one screen as news broadcasts on the other provide flavour, context and emotional sparks. The audience’s attention is no longer divided, but fully focused and engaged. At these moments, the projections switch from minimal monochrome sketches, to splashes of vital colour and the soundtrack switches from a conventional orchestral score to exciting electronic noise. Perhaps the novelty of these sections is exactly what gives them their power, however there’s the nagging feeling that the entire production would have massively benefited from this more layered approach – rather than three slightly different versions of the same story competing for our attention and ultimately detracting from the overall narrative. In these superlative moments, the separate elements complement and deepen the impact of the story and its social commentary.
Dundee Rep Theatre
Sat 23 November – Sun 5 January
Get your dungarees on and spike up your hair for bucketfuls of songs, laughs and good traditional fun as Scotland’s own comic superhero makes his musical theatre debut at Dundee Rep this Christmas. Wullie’s appeal spans the generations. He’s been around – and been ten years old – for eighty years now, doing his scallywag thing in the town of Auchenshoogle. Accompanied by his best mates Soapy Soutar, Fat Boab and Wee Eck, a real slapstick trio if ever there was one, Wullie makes good-hearted mischief in the way young boys used to before the internet and Xboxes, dodging the long arms of PC Murdoch, Teacher and the slippers of Ma and Pa. Christmas without an Oor Wullie annual is like turkey without stuffing, or indeed the eponymous hero without his bucket.
That’s just the problem – someone has stolen Wullie’s bucket. As a result of this calamity, the comic-book coloured Auchenshoogle and the real world are getting mixed up. Expect high-jinx abundant. Can Wullie and his gang and new found friend Wahib retrieve his bucket from our world before his mortal enemy Basher McKenzie turns Auchenshoogle into a richt stramash?
Always bringing something special at Christmas, Dundee Rep have excelled with this year’s production. Bright, colourful and exciting from start to finish, it’s sure to appeal to young children and nostalgic adults alike. The songs are fun and the tunes catchy enough for folk to be humming them on the way out. Take children or don’t – you’ll love Oor Wullie. It’s good wholesome fun for the children in all of us.