Monday, 28 August 2017

Radical Angles with a Cutting Edge - Edinburgh reviews 2

...And the second of the group reviews of both International and Fringe shows was published in the Morning Star on Saturday. It is available here. It covers reviews that I posted in my previous blog post, (Cathy, Out of the Bad, and The Remains of Tom Lehrer), plus reviews of Yo Carmen and Drainage Alley

There will, I think, be a further two compilation reviews in the Star in the forthcoming weeks but a couple of shows that have slipped through the net are printed below. 

John McDonnell MP
The increase of spoken word events in the various festivals, means we need to find a reviewing standard to rate them. John McDonnell MP (*****)may have provided us with a standard in this interview (by comedian and presenter, Susan Morrison).

The Shadow Chancellor, and de facto deputy in the Corbyn leadership can sometimes appear severe and harsh in political interviews. In fact he proved to be an entertaining and engaging subject. He ranged over his life, both political and non-political – not the least of his revelations was that he didn’t want to be a politician – he wanted to be manager of the Co-op! 

Moving from Liverpool to London when very young, and taking a number of jobs after school, he eventually became active via the TU movement. Handling questions well, he seemed to charm even unconvinced members of the audience – while showing an impressive grasp  of economics! A performance that did neither him, nor his interviewer any harm.

In contrast, Michelle Shocked's show - Truth vs Reality (**) will not have helped her career. She is a
Michelle Shocked. pic Chad Batka
great singer, and songwriter, but in this show her undoubtedly pure voice plays second fiddle to an onstage exorcism of her treatment by big business. Nobody has any illusion about the  music industry, but sometimes you can be too close to your own story for others to follow, even (or maybe especially) if it is read from a script!

Friday, 18 August 2017

Asylum. Immigration and Women - Edinburgh reviews 1

Yesterday, the Morning Star published my reviews of four shows I've seen at this year's festivals. It is available here and covers Henry Naylor's new play - Borders (*****), and a new play by a Lebanese writer - Ghalia's Miles (***). Both these plays deal with the asylum crisis in the Middle East. The reviews also cover PJ Harvey's concert - the Hope Six Demolition Project (*****) and Sajeela Kershi's guest show Immigrant Diaries (****).

Of these reviews, only one (Borders) continues on a run (till the 28 Aug). There will be another couple of compilation reviews in the Star to come, but I thought it might be of use if I put other continuing shows here so you can decide if you'd like to see them (or not)!

Cathy Owen as Cathy. pic Pamela Raith photography
One I would clearly recommend is Cathy (*****) Pleasance Dome until the 26. Updating a classic performance often loses something but Cathy, a reimagining of Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home, does no such thing. Written by Ali Taylor and staged by Cardboard Citizens who work with homeless and other marginalised people, this updating places the full horror of homelessness in front of us.  Cathy and her daughter – now 15 and taking GCSEs – experience the trauma - zero-hours work, low wages, eviction, uprooting, family breakup. The performances by all the cast are spot on, believable and affecting in equal measure. The audience were angry – the best result that could be achieved. See it if you can.

On the other hand, there is - The Girl who loved Stalin (*) The Space @ Jury's Inn until the 26. Sometimes it seems that some fringe shows are there only to get the cast a free pass to the festival social life. This would be one of them. The play seems to have no point, the performers have neither ability nor timing, but worst of all – they seem aware of this and don’t care. Occasional asides are the only signs of life in this unfunny and amateurish production. 50 minutes of my life I won’t get back.

Kate Donnelly and Keira Lucchesi

At times poignant, angry, joyous and an unusual way to approach the Caterpillar Occupation of 30 years ago, Out of the Bad (****) New Town Theatre until the 25, is a short two-hander between a mother (who was part of the occupation) and her daughter. Kate Donnelly and Keira Lucchesi deliver the characters with humour and life. Produced by FairPley, and directed by Sarah McCardie it is a short play (50 mins) and leaves us wanting more – which in fact there is in Butterfly (not playing here). A great taster about the impact of major industrial events on the workers. 

Finally, The Remains of Tom Lehrer (****) Gilded Balloon Teviot until 28.  Adam Kay, writer, comedian and performer takes a trip around the history and songs of Tom Lehrer. A child prodigy and maths lecturer, Lehrer started writing blackly comic (and often political) songs to entertain colleagues. While they were never played on the radio, they spread by word of mouth after he issued a self-produced album in 1953. How he got away with songs like We will all go together when we go about nuclear annihilation, or I wanna go back to Dixie  - “where the laws are mediaeval” during the period of McCarthy is unknown, but Kay does them justice. Interwoven with stories about Lehrer’s life (he is still alive) and careers the show is a worthy – if short – tribute.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Edinburgh's International Festival - for the elite, or for the masses?

A little-known fact of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF), is that it has always included on its board a representative from the city’s trade unionists. Appointed by Edinburgh’s TUC, the impact of this link has had varying levels of influence over the 70 years of the Festival’s existence.
The tensions between ‘working-class’ or ‘peoples’ culture and the ‘highbrow’ culture that the International Festival has sometimes seemed to celebrate, occurred early on and is referred to in this article on the EIF’s history from Adam Behr in The Conversation.
Rudolf Bing, the Festival’s first director, thought contemporary Scottish work unlikely to meet his standards and turned down the successful Glasgow Unity Theatre. They came anyway and performed, along with a number of other companies, on what was to become the Fringe.
The history of Glasgow’s Unity Theatre is worthy of an article (or more) to itself. Formed from a number of working class theatre groups in the city (including the Clarion Players, the Glasgow Workers Theatre group and the Jewish Institute Players) and chaired by ex-shipyard worker and novelist, James Barke, it commissioned and staged a number of important plays, including Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men should weep.
The tensions between ‘elite culture’ and ‘people’s culture’ continues to this day, and it is to immense credit that the EIF that, at the time it is celebrating its 70th year of existence, it is also bringing this debate up front. As part of its ‘Spirit of 47’ season, it is staging Contesting the Spirit of Unity – Whose Festival, Whose Culture? A combination of readings and discussion will be chaired by Director of the Festival, Fergus Linehan and will feature Larry Flanagan – General Secretary of the EIS and Joyce McMillan – theatre critic and NUJ branch chair.
The debate will no doubt continue, but what is significant to me, is the long tradition and continuing vibrancy of people’s culture in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow. It is a tradition that deserves much more attention than it gets, and its continuing work (through groups like Trades Union Councils, FairPley and many others) still receives less than its fair share of artistic subsidy.
Contesting the Spirit of Unity is at The Studio, 22 Potterrow, Edinburgh at 11.00am on 16 August, Details and Tickets Here.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Rich pickings for the Culture Vulture - Edinburgh Festivals Preview

It seems like some time since I posted anything vaguely cultural here, but that is about to change!

Last Saturday our friends in the Morning Star printed my preview of the Fringe at this year's Edinburgh Festivals. This (and the International Festival) started this weekend and I thought it was worth posting a link to it here. Mine is the second of the two reviews posted there.

The International Festival meanwhile is celebrating its 70 Anniversary. The trade union link has been ably dealt with by Ann Henderson in an earlier Star, but it is a pity that much of the ‘Spirit of ‘47’ events are only available online and not in the printed programme.  

PJ Harvey. pic Maria Mochnaz
In addition to the rich classical and dramatic programme dealt with so ably by my colleague Gordon Parsons in the first half of the Star preview, the contemporary music programme features, PJ Harvey, and Anoushka Shankar. Other contemporary music highlights promise to be the eclectic Benjamin Clementine, and Jarvis Cocker/Chilly Gonzalez in Room 29 of the Los Angeles Chateau Marmont. 

The slightly-less-contemporary music scene sees legendary produce Joe Boyd try and recreate
Joe Boyd. pic Andrew Goertler
the Music of the Incredible String Band – very cellular songs, using a range of guest musicians, (yes he does include Mike Heron). Boyd was one of the seminal producers of the ‘60s, working with
Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, R.E.M., John Martyn, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Billy Bragg, and Nick Drake as well as ISB.(An interesting Nick Drake link is the appearance by the Unthanks at this year's book festival. They have reinterpreted the little-known song and poetry of Molly Drake, Nick's mother. Their amazing voices promise an intriguing treatment.)

In the Classical Music side there are as ever, many gems. A spectacular two-orchestra show with the RSNO and the Mariinsky Orchestra marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution.  A flamenco version of Carmen from Spain’s Maria Pages company rubs shoulders with an opera version of Steven Berkoff's resetting of the Oedipus story, Greek. Written by Mark-Anthony Turnage the myth is updated and set in London's east end. Expect references to racism, football violence and industrial unrest! 

I am girding my loins for a busy (but hopefully not unrewarding) three weeks!