Category Archives: Scotland

Spuds

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Oran Mor, Glasgow
February 28th-Mar 5th, 2019

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“Spuds” is the third show in Oran Mor’s 15th anniversary year, and one that had made a previous appearance at the venue in 2017. The charmingly simple, almost sketch like, set – red seat, window, desk – established the tone for what was to follow; a hilarious take on drug trafficking in a mini musical. The cast comprised Darren Brownlie, Richard Conlon, Dawn Sievewright with Gavin Whitworth accompanying the show, written and directed by Andy McGregor, on the piano.

The “hero” of the piece is one David MacGonigle, in a funk after the death of his wife, with his life collapsing about him. McGonigle accidentally discovers, in a mouldy chip, a new designer drug, Spuds. With theatrical extravagance, the story plays out, opera-like, in music and song. In one farce-like scene McGonigle finds solace in a bottle of Irn Bru which is held up like a revered trophy.

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The Glaswegian characters – neds, drug dealers, hard bitten gangsters – sang in their own thick accents while outrageously and hilariously debating the predicaments encountered by the accidental, and very successful, drug lord. The facts were laid bare – the world he was entering was one of vast conceit. But nothing could stop him as he could only think about making a lot of money. The cost of which was personal to him in the end.

This packed hour was a classically brilliant, vibrantly modern comedic take on the miseries of one man as he is taken high and low, too pumped to recognise the journey he was on. The play was filled to the brim with theatricality that had at one moment an entourage of twenty or more people queuing for those fries and at the finale singing in unison of a world that lacked safety and a future where no-one was safe. A piece of well worked theatre, expertly delivered.

Daniel Donnolly

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All My Sons

L-R. Amy Kennedy, Ewan Donald, Daniel Cahil, Irene Macdougall, Barrie Hunter. Photo credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan..jpg


Dundee Rep
19 February – 9 March, 2019

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Jemima Levick directs an accomplished cast in Miller’s tragic drama of the moral bankruptcy of post-war American paternalism. Miller’s moralising can be heavy-handed at times, especially for an audience cynical of authority. But beyond the clash of father and son, this production shows us a mother, paralysed by grief, desperately trying to mitigate the impact of a truth bursting to reveal itself on a family already lost to each other.

Joe Keller is the model of a self-made man. Everything he has, he has worked hard for. He had two sons. One son, Larry, went missing-in-action in the war and the other son Chris, an army veteran himself, is set to inherit the family business. Powerfully played by Barrie Hunter, Joe is the embodiment of American masculinity – hard-working, respected by his peers and self-assured. But he is concealing a secret. He made a mistake. During the war, pressured by the military hawks, he was responsible for allowing faulty aircraft parts to leave his factory. This led to the death of twenty-one airmen. At the government inquiry he knowingly let his business partner Steve take the rap for his failure. His partner went to prison, leaving Joe scot-free.

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Chris (Daniel Cahill), Joe’s idealistic son, has invited Ann (Amy Kennedy), his missing brother’s sweetheart, back to the family home. He intends to ask her to marry him. However, Ann is also the daughter of Joe’s jailed business partner. Ann’s arrival sparks a series of explosive revelations that will not end well.

At the centre of the action is Kate Keller, Joe’s wife and Chris’s mother. Irene MacDougall gives an outstanding performance as the matriarch of the group. At times wrapped in grief, at others trying to take charge of a situation spiralling out of her control.

L-R. Irene Macdougall as Kate Keller, Amy Kennedy as Anne Deever, Daniel Cahil as Chris Keller. Photo credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan..jpg

Alex Lowde’s design is stark and restrained. The back-yard of the Kellers, where all the action takes place, is a sterile space surrounded by dead trees, even in August it seems. Atmospheric, almost ambient sounds by David Paul Jones deepen the feeling of sterility and mournfulness that pervades the production. The oppressive atmosphere builds with the approaching climax: as Chris and Joe confront each other once Joe’s truth breaks out, the storm that’s been rumbling off-stage breaks into a torrential downpour, cooling the August heat that’s been brewing in the Keller’s garden.

Dundee Rep’s production of All My Sons, like most of Miller’s theatre is never light drama, but it’s like the Ancient Greek tragedies that it nods towards – a cathartic experience that goes with you, long after you walk away, satisfied and a little wiser.

Mark Mackenzie

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Berkhoff’s Woman

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The Tron
Glasgow
February 21-23, 2019

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There seemed to be a sense of magic in the air as I arrived the Tron Theatre at Glasgow Cross. I had come to see Linda Marlowe present “Berkhoff’s Women”, celebrating some of the magnificent woman in the early works of Steven Berkhoff, a show which she herself premiered at the Edinburgh Festival 20 years ago, and which came from her own association and friendship with the playwright himself. To be honest, I hadn’t come across the piece before and didn’t quite know what to expect from the evening’s performance. That, coupled with a personal liking for this venue, served to heighten my senses. From the moment when Marlowe, dressed in a trim sexy black dress, launched herself with shocking intensity into the first role, the whole audience was hooked.

A large square of red material served to further grab our attention as she folded and unfolded it, adding yet more depth and significance to every profound and poetic utterance. Attention which never faltered as she wove together the extracts from the playwright’s work, in a continuous stream of honesty, passion, certainty, absurdity. She embraced each character fully and with gusto, holding a torch to the sensibilities of the playwright and his work.

Nothing was held back; strong shocking language expressing and emphasizing strong emotions. Her bond with the audience built steadily as the performance reached its climax. Charged with ironies and terrible conundrums, her voice filled with the words and gestures of her performance caught your very heart sometimes without mercy as she cajoled, then shimmering forth with the look and the message of love to the depth of understanding as a woman who was delivering lines written by a man.

There was a Q&A session after the performance and Marlowe shared some of her feelings about performing this piece again after 20 years, and perhaps a slight nervousness at such an undertaking. Things had, she agreed, changed in that 20 years, both personally and in society. That’s why it is perhaps important to revisit such a work, to process the changes.

Quite simply, Linda Marlow shone in this performance, a single performer portraying a complex cast of characters telling forceful yet sensual stories; universal truths. Her own persona, inspired, sensual and honest, seems to perfectly typify the strong women she depicts here, Berkoff’s women. All in all, one is left with a swelling sense of love for each other, told in poetic tales of devotion and dedication from a strong (yet universal) female point of view.

Daniel Donnolly

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The Dark Carnival

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Tramway, Glasgow
Feb 9-Mar 2, 2019

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The Tramway is one of coolest theatrical venues – a hanger of a space, which retains an excellent sense of intimacy. I was looking forward to watching The Dark Carnival there, a co-production between The Citizens Theatre & the Dundee Rep. It certainly looks fantastic, & sounds completely amazing thanks to the ethereal voice of band-leader Biff Smith. But substance-wise there’s a major flaw.

Writer Matthew Lenton chose to put most of the script into not very good verse, in fact towards the end he admitted through the mouth of one of his characters it was doggerel. So you have a bunch of talented actors chained by having to deliver weak verse, completely restraining their ability to perform. Natalie McCleary, an angel, did employ her lines with a certain rhapsodic quality – I suspect she’s a poet herself – but the others, like I said, were unfortunately held captive by this still-born script. Apart from when we heard ‘Lazarus’ rhyming with ‘hazardous’ – that was quite clever.

So what is the Dark Carnival – well imagine the recent marvellous animated Coco film about the colourful afterlife of the Mexicans. Well, this is a bit like that, but a bit less lively, a lot more morose & a tad more burlesque. The idea is we are all Necropolitans in the waiting room for Dis, our Sibyl being the chief narrator, Elicia Daly. The set is absolutely marvellous, with coffins stack’d higgledy-piggledy, around which the extensive band led by Biff Smith is draped. Above them all is a graveyard, detached & lucidly lit, in which the action of ‘The Still Living’ takes places, with some interaction with those downstairs.

At the final count, it just wasn’t that interesting, like a paddling pool for those who cannot handle a complex narrative. The Dark Carnival was definitely NOT Virgil, nor Dante, taking our psyches to the Underworld! As an immersive experience, however, it was actually quite good; a work of aesthetic beauty, while the addictive, scruffy-puppy music hit like a well-timed xanax to help push the 1 hour & 40 minutes to the finish.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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A Respectable Widow Takes to Vulgarity

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
February 18-23, 2019

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Glorious colours lit up the stage as we arrived at the Venue in the Oran Mor; it all looked very plush. This was the second production in Oran Mor’s celebration season, a welcome return of Douglas Maxwell’s hilarious one-act play, A Respectable Widow takes to Vulgarity, last seen here in 2013 and just as funny the second time around.

The two characters couldn’t have been more different – the well dressed, middle class Annabelle Love (Anne Kidd) and her endearing, if uncouth, counterpart, Jim Dick (Craig McLean). From the moment when the hapless Jim opens his mouth and utters his first swear word, the whole room was shaking with laughter at the sheer incongruousness of the conversation. Easy and effective comedy, and yet also an effective tool for the writer to examine the polar opposition of their lives.

A warmth grows between the pair as Jim’s guttural language reveals his origins and his outlook on life, and the widow strives to emulate him, in turn revealing truths about herself and her late husband’s origins. She finds the foul language somehow liberating and increasingly throws caution to the winds as she tells the young man her intimate secrets and discusses the meaning of the words being uttered, much to his astonishment – his face was a picture! But perhaps the point was that intimacy could grow between this unlikely pair of human beings even though there might at first seem to be no connection between them.

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Make no mistake, the swear words made you blush, and yet the audience loved it and lapped it up. Annabelle Love (a dream of a name!) used them as an inquiry into life, pushing against its boundaries, finding a new freedom. Alongside her was the perfect protagonist who was able to explain relevance of the words as he also insisted upon using them. Their conversation became an insight into reality.

And as they screamed out expletives to the world, so their stories unfolded and their bonding grew. Annabelle expressing her hurt at the loss of her husband and Jim also reflecting on missing his dear father. There was something touching in the way the language brought them together to express their inner feelings, perhaps for the first time. Their moments of silence brought the room to a perfect hush.

You come away from this play feeling deeply moved and with a new interest in brushing away the barriers that separate us so that we can recognise our common humanity. Enthralling.

Daniel Donnolly

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Miss Julie

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Feb 14-23: Joan Knight Studio, Perth 
Feb 27 – Mar 2: The Tron, Glasgow
Mar 6-9: Festival Studio, Edinburgh

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Me & the wife love going to Perth to sample the ‘Horsecross’ contribution to the Scottish cultural landscape. Its a pleasant, unbusy evening’s drive from East Lothian & over the Bridges, where Perth’s shabby chic, warm & welcoming Venue eaterie has just started a new menu. Scottish Tapas. While tucking into our Ceasar Salad with Halloumi, & Tempura Broccoli, we were informed by the staff that David from the Gin Bar had watch’d Miss Julie & had developed a strong opinion on the piece.

Take an old foreign play, take a funky young debut director, see what you get. This, then, would be something like the season-opening Miss Julie from Horsecross Arts. First staged in Stockholm in 1888, writer August Strindberg whisks us to the estate of a Swedish Count – in whose ‘cat-is-away’ absence the drama unfolds. Adapted for the English language by Zinnie Harris, the setting fast-forwards to 1920s Scotland, & the middle of the General Strike. The next link in the chain was director, Shilpa T-Hyland, last year’s first ever recipient of Perth Theatre’s Cross Trust Young Director Award. To Shilpa, Miss Julie is, “a fantastic adaptation which really resonates for me with contemporary issues of intersectional conversation and the moments where we fail to reach each other.”

The Joan Knight studio theatre in Perth is a cubic delight, with a stage deep & wide enough to host quality productions. The play we saw there last night has only three characters – archetypically The Maid, The Butler & The Mistress. The action is wholly set in the working scullery of a stately home, into which struts a drunken Miss Julie – there is a party happening upstairs – to flirt with the butler, John, who has already been flirting massively with Christine, the maid. This, then, is the chief wormhole of the play; the creation, attraction & resolution of the chemistry between a count’s daughter & his chief servant.

I found Miss Julie an unusual piece to judge, it had as many merits as faults; intimations of genius, expressions of vaudevillian amateurism. As a spectacle it was perfectly watchable, there wasn’t a skipped beat for the full ninety minutes, & the idea – when class struggle is subsumed by sexual desire – was entirely engaging. Objectively we were never bored. But the ‘performance’ could have been done better, & when I say performance I mean that of the original playwright & his modern-day adaptor. We are not an 1888 audience.

As for the actors, on her third return to Perth, the ever-charismatic Helen Mackay as Christine was fastidiously wonderful. Beside her, Lorn MacDonald’s smooth-talking, slick-set John was bristling with talent, & together they were scintillating – Scottish theatre at its very best. Alas, Hiftu Quasem was a little too dry, a little too rushed, a little too unbelievable for her part. She was supposed to be playing a sultry, kinky, upper-class psycho, but the steaminess was less boiling kettle & more simmering saucepan. When there are only three characters, a play balances on a tripod, & with one unsteady leg the whole thing may simply collapse.

The whole third scene was like a boxing match, in which Julie & John – a soul-consuming love cloud hanging over their heads – exchanged blows from a constantly flipping emotional high ground. Without any dramatic pauses whatsoever. Then the line, “we have gone through in one night what married couples go through in 30 years,” popped out into the play to titters from the audience. I mulled on it for a moment & then realised that the whole 20 minutes may have been built around that entire gag. In reality, the entire scene was practically needless, or better for being heavily condensed, & I tend to feel that without it the play would have been much improved.

A confused & convoluted affair, like classical Roman theatre, I found Miss Julie sometimes skyrocketingly brilliant, sometimes pitilessly pithy, sometimes hysterically melodramatic. It seems Miss Julie may have lost something in the translation.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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Tartuffe

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
February 11-16, 2019

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It was exciting to be back at Oran Mor for their new season of a Play, a Pie and a Pint. Especially as this year they will be celebrating their 500th production since the whole thing started 15 years ago in 2004. The year got off to a flying start with a revival of Liz Lochead’s wild Lowland Scots version of Moliere’s 17th century comedy masterpiece, Tartuffe. We got an inkling of what we were in for when the lights went up and showed us a solitary figure, a cleaner with a yellow bow in her hair and a broad Glaswegian accent.

Centre-stage was a table whose red and white covering mirrored the floral wallpaper that decorated the room – a domestic setting. The four characters, played by Nicola Roy, Andy Clark, Gabriel Quigley and Grant O’Rourke, used the table to great effect as they danced around it using the words of the dialogue as weapons to deliver the plot, directly to each other and just as directly to the audience – a move that had great thigh slapping potential.

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The costumes had a vaguely 19th century feel and conveyed a certain distinguished quality of a prosperous household. With the wife definitely ruling the roost, as we can see in her encounters with both her husband and the disgraced priest, as she sees her husband being taken in by the treacherous visitor and offering him hospitality, while not seeing that he is trying to pursue both his wife and his daughter. Though the wife can see everything and remains in command of herself and them.

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This outrageous tale seems as relevant today as it was 400 years ago, concerning the sort of big moral questions we are still asked today, concerning love and treachery and honour. No less true for being told farcically in rhyming verse that had the audience in stitches throughout, even when the two male characters reached the extremes of desperation, shouting at each other. The priest in particular ended up praying and begging on his knees. His desperation should have had us in tears but instead there was laughter; even when he whipped off his belt and pretend to berate himself with it.

This was an hour that just flew by in a flurry of sharp delivery and deep truths, moving at speed from one character’s perspective to the next as the vicious story unfolded. We were picked up all unawares and invited to take a look at the circumstance all turned with gorgeous craft into a play with depth of story as well as character. And at the end of the emotional journey, we come, with great satisfaction, to some kind of universal truth – shouted, not whispered!

Daniel Donnolly

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Baby Face

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The Tron Theatre
Glasgow
February 7-9, 2019

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The Tron’s Changing House studio theatre is a delectable wee space, a smaller version of the main affair, compact & cosy but intimate & intelligent. Also compact & intelligent is twenty-seven year-old Katy Dye, whose remarkable contribution to the modern theatrical arts, Baby Face, is based upon her, well, baby face & her delicate, butterfly physique. Katy’s character is also call’d Katy, & thus we enter the passive-aggressive insanity of her self-portrayal more as family members than audience.

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Katy takes us thro’ a snapshot retropsective of her earliest years – from yelling baby to horny schoolgirl – blending discombobulating ballet with the most snappiest & effective of scripts. This is vivid theatre that makes the pulse burst with rawness – encapsulating the core of the paradox of living in a society which continues to infantalise women. As Katy came on to a male audience member sat next to his wife, it was nerve-janglingly awkward, yes, but also a crucial head-out-of-the-sand moment for us all. This is a strange thought-haunted world in which we live, with all its its creaks & bangs & psychic torments.

The show pendulums twyx the fragile fun of quirky cabaret to moments of extreme – tho’ at the same time highly riveting – unpleasantness. There is also a garish sexuality underpinning everything. Each scene is cleverly wrought, with Katy unafraid to slip to her underwear to perform costume changes! Her stage persona is a seething cauldron of moving physicality, quite acrobatic bends & twists; perhaps meant to represent the chaos of a young lassie growing up & going supernova with her hormones.

To experience Baby Face is to be the jaw-gaping anvil upon which Katy’s effervescent hammer pounds her psychic blows. A highly polished, thought-provoking, & brutally honest piece, which left last year’s Edinburgh Fringe gobsmack’d, & continues to hold our attention.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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Holidays

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THE MUMBLE TEAM

Are taking their annual Festive Break

SEE YOU ALL IN THE SPRING !!

The Lying Bitch and the Wardrobe

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A Play, a Pie and a Pint
Oran Mor, Glasgow
Nov 26th – Dec 29th

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Hello there from the 2018 panto at the Oran Mor, Merry Christmas! Is there anything better than seeing a panto? Loudly planted on a tiny stage, the set looked very cute with lively colours and characters. This year’s show was sold out and the bustle of the crowd was loud as they took their seats and enjoyed their food.  Four of those familiar panto characters were to take to the stage including the traditional man in a woman’s costume, Dame Beanie Bumpherton (Dave Anderson, Empress Evil-yin, the baddie (Maureen Carr), Handsome Jack, the hero (John Kielty) and Ravishing Rosie, the female heart throb (Hannah Howie) all of whom were up for making a huge joke of themselves, the plot and anything else that came to mind.

All the classics elements of panto were covered – “oh yes they were!” – with the cast enjoining us “Boys and Girls” to greater and greater efforts as, egged on by them, we cheered, booed and hissed our way through the performance. Whenever they burst into song, which was whenever they felt like it, served to further raise the room into something resembling a frenzy. The plot really came alive when Handsome Jack introduced the Empress and she tyrannically declared that singing would no longer be allowed and that there would be a prison sentence for anyone caught singing. As music and singing are basically the heart of panto, her subjects were not happy to say the least.

With the plot fondly set in Glasgow, author Morag Fullerton had managed to cram in plenty of local name drops and hilarious topical references, all in best panto tradition, with all of the cast taking the p*ss from a great height. In particular, I have to mention Dave Anderson as the Dame, who perfectly balanced his place in the plot with a sort of ongoing stand-up act which was performed as if he didn’t know he was a man dressed as a woman. The sharpness of wit – and rudeness of language – had a genuine appeal to the adult audience, which was something we could have expected from the sardonic title “The lying bitch and the wardrobe” – makes you smile, right?

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The title was finally explained when it came to light that Empress Evil-yin had a dark secret hidden in there – a nemesis in the shape of the one song that would tear her powers asunder. The story unfolded and the plot thickened, with the people of the town afraid to sing a note for fear of what the wicked Empress might do to them. A few timely costume changes later, Handsome Jack and Ravishing Rosie finally broke into Evil-lyn’s house and discovered the one song hidden in the wardrobe, whereupon her power was destroyed and she was defeated, hooray!

In the end all was forgiven with the Empress even joined in the singing as the audience bade farewell to each character in turn. This turned into a big chaotic singalong that we repeated umpteen times till we got it just right. Then they left us with a big cheerio and a big cheer and applause from an audience full of smiling happy faces.

Daniel Donnelly

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