Sunday, 30 November 2014

Back from France....

Good grief, Scotland. I go to France for three days and come back to bickering about whether Liz Lochhead ought to be allowed to remain as makar now that she has joined the SNP (quick answer: yes. It's not like anyone reads poetry any more). 

Anyway, while Scottish culture was going through this tumult, I was watching Belgian artists covering themselves in shaving foam, being taught French by teenagers and occasionally supporting their critical processes. Just so we are clear: I am in demand all around the world. Watch out Scotland: I might emigrate if I don't get loads of respect and money. 

As regular readers will now, I only start boasting like this, I am feeling insecure. This time, it is the brilliance of the teenagers with whom I worked in Lille. During our sessions on critical thinking, they managed to work out the function of theatre as 'rehearsal' for social behaviour and a challenge to expected ways of thinking - ideas that it took me eight years and a post-graduate study at Glasgow University to even consider. Rather than worrying that modern youth has been dumbed down by the growth of social media, I am worrying that I am about to be replaced by a generation of texters. 

Friday, 21 November 2014

More Nudity and More Berger

There has been another bout of nudity in performance. Slope, a very fine look at the tangled mess of French poet Verlaine's love-life, featured the protagonist and antagonist rolling around in the skud, and I saw the lot. I felt quite insecure at the quality of my own physique in the aftermath. 

Berger on Cixous

Today, at Glasgow University, Cara Berger explained, as part of a lecture on 'the feminist politics of the post-dramatic', Helene Cixous' vision of an Écriture féminine. With clarity and precision, Berger marked out the idea that a 'female writing' could examine, and take apart, the habitual way that the world is discussed and understood. Rather than a masculine language of ownership, Écriture féminine offers a vision of the world that is led by touch rather than observation, that knowledge is gained through interaction with the environment.

This vision suggests that the way in which the world is understood determines the way in which humans interact with the world. A 'female writing', which Cixous associates with the social definitions of feminity rather than biological, offers an escape from the tyranny of objectivity and the commodification of nature - and ultimately, the human.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has released another microplay. This one points out that mix-tapes can bring back memories. It also challenges notions of space-time, proving that five minutes can be a very long time in which nothing happens.

Still, at least they kept off the politics, this time. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Beating Individuals, Failing Everyone

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bad Political Theatre

Ah, The Guardian.

Given my political opinions, I ought to love The Guardian... and I do. I have been worried that Scottish political theatre is naive, but today's Micro-play from The Guardian reveals that The Royal Court has same aesthetic sensibilities as the team behind #ArgosLive.

Ignoring the optimism behind the announcement that 'Britain Isn't Eating is the first in a series of plays made in collaboration between Guardian journalists and Royal Court theatre-makers' (it isn't a play if 'liveness' is any part of the definition), Britain Isn't Eating is an object lesson in how to make bad political theatre. While it is unfair to attack art on the ground that the money could have spent on the NHS, when a script comes on as self-righteous as this one, the question 'how much did this cost and would it have been better used, like, buying food for food banks?' becomes pertinent.

There's no need for a spoiler alert: if you can't guess what line a Guardian micro-play about a government minister and food banks is going to take, I've got a bridge I want to sell to you. The lady politician made a nasty comment about people not buying food (some bizarre idea that it will destroy the high street if there are food banks, which I hope has not been taken from Katie Hopkins' twitter). She receives a sharp lesson, on a TV cookery programme, by a winsome, handsome young media type. 

For a seven minute special, there's plenty of pissing about - a silent introduction, cuts to different angles (which you don't get in plays, but films and TV shows), use of double screen, a slow build up to a lazy punchline. When I see work this bad in the theatre, I try to mention that the actors were okay. And they were, although they didn't have characters to perform, but a series of thoughts based on what liberals think a conservative would say...

Of course, this being a Guardian production, there's a twist. One of the collaborators is Jack Monroe, their food columnist who spends some time exploring the politics of food (and became famous for her outspoken opinions on the poverty that she suffered), and some time writing up recipes for The Guardian. Since recent treats have included star anise and orange ice-cream and prawn bibimbap (the later including a note to check the provenance of the prawns), it's safe to say Jack's not on the breadline anymore. Her recipes do look tasty, though.

However, it's all part of the same pornography of food that Laura Wade's script aims to attack - there are some subtle camera angles that make the MP look like Nigella. The Guardian, being a middle-class worry-wart, does all it can to assure its readers that it cares about the important things, while ignoring its own complicity in the making of culture and spending time slapping at easy targets rather than helping ameliorate the problem. 

WWI Plays Triple Bill @ Adam House

Book online at


Does Political Theatre Matter (part 3 again)

Does Political Theatre Matter (part 2, again)

Does Political Theatre Matter? (part1, again..)


I am fairly convinced that the Southbank Centre is trying to tempt me back to London. Either that, or my sister has a hand in the programming and knows what can entice me south to visit the family.

Highlights of this season include:Six world-class shows from award-winning UK and international artists as part of the 39th London International Mime Festival

Improbable's The Eldership Project, a new Southbank Centre work in progress commission exploring 21st century attitudes towards elders

The world premiere of The Spalding Suite, a new Southbank Centre commission by Inua Ellams featuring a beat-boxer and five male dancers who all have some previous experience playing basketball

The London Premiere of HUG, Verity Standen’s choral sound bath for 25 singers and 25 audience members

English National Ballet presents its annual competition, the Emerging Dancer Award

Opening Night, an improvised work by Les SlovaKs ,an all-male dance collective from Slovakia

Two Scottish Dance Theatre productions choreographed by Fleur Darkin – Innocence, a piece for young children inspired by the poetry of William Blake, and Miann, inspired by the Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis

Company Chameleon explore masculinity in Beauty Of The Beast

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Damien Jalet, Luc Dunberry and Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola present the UK premiere of d’avant as Sasha Waltz & Guests

Vocalist-beatboxer-musician-comedian-improviser Reggie Watts returns to Southbank Centre with a new show

I shall get into the details of this later - and, as much as I like Company Chameleon, I'm okay for any further explorations of masculinity through dance. And I wonder whether SDT fancy having an embedded critic when they head down to The Smoke. 

I know all the cool night-spots round that area...

Get in touch

Over on Facebook, there has been a suggestion that an online publication would help 'underground theatre companies'. I am always delighted when more critical debate about theatre is promoted, and would be excited to see another outlet for emerging writers.

However, it has also reminded me of a personal frustration. I have been writing this blog for a few years, doing a radio show, been the theatre editor of The Skinny and made a conscious effort to support theatre-makers who are not on the radar of Creative Scotland or the mainstream media. 

Go back far enough, and I can find the first reviews of many artists who have gone onto greater things either in this blog, on my radio show or in The Skinny blog (I like to boast that I was the first person to play Golden Teacher on the radio, but that was thanks to Fielding Hope, not my talent-spotting skills).

However, I am disappointed that I am still having to chase performers across twitter and Facebook to get information about their shows. Without naming names, I have come across several events that could have been promoted on my blog - or even listed in the listings of The List (which has a function allowing creators to make their own entries). Yet I found out about them too late. 

While I think Anthony Sammeroff's idea for a new publication is exciting, there is no reason why 'underground companies' can't make their presence felt in the existing media - with a bit of effort. Asking someone to send off a press release isn't impossible. It may feel like an extra job for a small team, but it has the following advantages...

The mainstream media does not need to come to you. There are plenty of things streaming into their inboxes without them having to chase after a solo show running for one night in a basement. However, if enough press releases turn up, it starts to look like a thing.

A preview, or review, or anything, can help a company move from 'underground' to mainstream. It can be quoted on posters, put in funding applications. Personally, that isn't why I am a critic, but I know this helps.

A good critique is like free dramaturgy.

I shall invite anyone who is doing something to come and chat on my radio show. 

Glasgow Film Festival! 18 February – 1 March

In an attempt to beat the rush, here's a few comments on Glasgow Film Festival...

This year, they have divided the programme into clear strands: this makes it much easier to plan my programme, and to write about films collectively...

Glasgow Short Film Festival: 11–15 March
Scotland’s leading short film festival returns, this time in March and extended to five sublime days of screenings devoted to petite and perfectly-formed movies. Alongside a wealth of exciting new talent competing for the Bill Douglas Award for International Short Film and the Scottish Short Film Award, GSFF will stage unique events and parties in venues across the city, including a celebration of Finnish underground film and music, and a guerrilla cinema walking tour screening films in some of the city’s overlooked public spaces. The full programme will be announced in January 2015, with some special events announced in December.

Glasgow Youth Film Festival 6­­­–8 February
GYFF has a new look this year. Now one weekend-long, the festival will focus exclusively on films which look at teenage and young adult life. As the younger child-friendly films graduate into GFF’s Modern Families strand, the youth programming team (all aged 15-19) are pulling together an issue-based programme. Industry insiders (and a few starrier teen heroes) will offer masterclasses and advice to young people who want to make a career in film or TV. GYFF are also venturing into pop-up cinema this year, with a mystery closing event at a yet-to-be disclosed location as part of Glasgow’s Green Year 2015. Full programme announced early December,

New programme strands for 2015

Strewth! As Glasgow hands over the Commonwealth Games to the Gold Coast, we celebrate Australia’s home-grown film industry, from some old favourites to a showcase of the excellent new films coming up from Down Under. The duality between broad, empty outback and the increasingly sleek metropolis, ever-present racial tensions, particularly as they relate to land ownership, and jet-black humour that occasionally veers into a gritted-teeth sense of camp, are themes that run through the last three decades of Aussie cinema, and come together in the films in this strand. Ripper, mate.

Modern Families Packed with gorgeous films which have found new, imaginative ways of telling stories to and about children, and their families. The festival has been somewhat remiss in catering to younger audience members in the past: with family-friendly screenings throughout festival weekends we’re hoping to make up for that. This strand will offer a range of perspectives on the tricky business of growing up, in animation and live action: you don’t have to bring a child with you to enjoy them, either!

Nerdvana Hey, remember when Judge Dredd creator John Wagner came to GFF? When Joss Whedon charmed three cinemas’ full of loved-up fans and the gigantic signing queue outside? When comic book legend Mark Millar took on gamer icon Robert Florence in a battle of the fans, or that time the red carpet was packed with Game of Thrones cos-players out to meet the Hound? Yeah, Glasgow Film Festival’s geeky streak is at least a mile wide. Nerdvana is a new programme consolidating all of our alt-culture interests, from gaming to comics to cult film, in one handy strand.

Cinema City The culmination of our four-year Cinema City project, this strand celebrates Glasgow’s enduring relationship with the flicks. In the 1930s, the ‘cinema city’ had more cinemas per head of population than any other in the world; and now it regularly acts as a backdrop for Hollywood blockbusters. Films and events will look at both the history of cinema-going within the city and notable Glasgow-set films. The centerpiece of this strand is our Cinema City exhibition, to be held at the Mitchell Library, comprising of memorabilia, archive footage, and oral testimony from film lovers across the city, aged from 19-92, about their memories of the movies.

Pioneer GFF has been steadily gaining a reputation as the place to catch the best filmmakers of tomorrow. We’ve screened early work by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the 2014 Cannes’ Palme D’or winner for Winter Sleep, Ben Wheatley, Lena Dunham, Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), and Palme D’or nominees Zhangke Jia, Xavier Dolan and Asghar Faradi, to name but a few. Pioneer celebrates emerging filmmakers – directors and writers on their debut or second feature who we think might go on to do even greater things.

CineMasters Previews and premieres of new works from the biggest names in international cinema.

Here’s Looking At You, Kid On the centenary of her birth, GFF’s retrospective strand celebrates the luminous Ingrid Bergman, tracing her career through ten of her best films. Bergman is now most famous for Casablanca (1942), but she carved a singular figure throughout sexist, code-neutered Hollywood, tending to play serious, intelligent roles: career women (psychologists, Mother Superiors), political figures (revolutionaries, spies); women of honour and decency like Joan of Arc or Casablanca’s Ilsa Lund. This strand follows her from her early days in Sweden, through three Oscar wins, to the last cinema film she made before her death in 1982.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Notes on Nudity (1)

In the past week, there has been a surfeit of performance featuring the naked body. Go back three or four years, and the naked body seemed to be the fashionable prop for any artist wanting to make a statement - perhaps because of Nic Green's Trilogy, which imagined the naked female body as a feminist tool, or perhaps because the annual National Review of Live Art had relaxed everybody's inhibitions. However, the display of breasts and bottoms had slowed down in the past few years, and getting a week with three shows that depended on (at least partial) nudity was a surprise.

The important word is 'depended on': these weren't the equivalent of those sex scenes in Hollywood movies, which usually provide a break from the excitement of things all blowing up and that. Nic Green's Fatherland concludes with a topless highland fling, Ron Athey began Incorruptible Flesh laid out and naked, while Mouse at The Art School... well, she started off with a little bit on, but that didn't last. And Penny Chivas, in Cryptic's These Delicate Things stood in a cabinet wearing some great head-gear and not much else.

The danger with stage nudity is not that it is likely to corrupt, as the ancients feared, but that its use becomes meaningless. Rosana Cade has made nudity a tactic in much of her work (including bursting forth naked as the baby Jesus in A Gay in a Manger), and uses it as a provocation, following the example of Nic Green's naked bodies in Trilogy. But in both These Delicate Things and Fatherland, the nudity becomes just a thing: in the former, an echo of visual art's use of the female body as form; in the latter, a recognisable trope that marks Fatherland as a Nic Green production.

This use of nudity is the most problematic: Ron Athey would struggle to do the first part of Flesh fully clothed, and Mouse would have trouble squirting water from her ass in underpants. But Nic Green's dance could have been done fully clothed and while her body forces questions about gender and bodies and how a father relates to a daughter (in the context of a piece based on her meeting with her absent father), it is possible that her aggressive undressing from a masculinely tailored suit takes it too far. If there is something about her throwing off her constrictive clothes to find freedom, or a revelation of her natural state, challenging objectification, then fine. But perhaps Fatherland  has not entirely earnt the nudity.

Chivas' 'neutral' nudity presents similar problems. It might be prudery, but is nudity ever neutral? Certainly, neither Chivas nor Green are objectified - Green's dance is a rebuff of Sartre's ideas that pornography is the untamed female nude. And there is nothing erotic in their presentation. 

Bondagers interview revisited

Having seen Bondagers at the weekend - and caught between my enjoyment of the show and the mysterious claims for its 'relevance' that turned up in the reviews, I decided to revisit the interview with Lu Kemp that I edited for The List...

Bondagers is a play that is frequently cited as an example of the growth of a political Scottish playwriting tradition: and it seems to sit on a line between a politics of national identity and feminism. How have you approached the script, and what reading have you given it?

Bondagers arrived in the early 90s as part of a vibrant surge in Scottish playwriting, with Scottish playwrights wrestling (as playwrights have always done) with big political questions. It embraces the rich, oral storytelling tradition and poetic language of Scots, and celebrates a lost moment of Scottish history. 

But the Bondaging system was not exclusive to Scotland – it stretched across the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. To my mind Bondagers is not so much a play about national identity as about our relationship to the land we stand upon, and the tension between bondage and freedom, which is true of humans everywhere no matter what their nationality. 

The play articulates a forgotten moment of female working history and gives strong voice to six women. But is, arguably, a powerful play about humans, who happen to be women. The reason we label it feminist is because a play with six women on stage, or, indeed, which places women as the heroes of the piece, is still, even now, unusual. The question this immediately proposes is: are we content with the status quo?

The status quo here seems to be the status quo of theatre, and the lack of plays with a variety of good roles for women. Now - that's another problem caused by the amount of Shakespeare that gets produced: most twentieth century writers, after Beckett, weren't shy of a good female character... and Kemp isn't obsessing over the gender politics but noting it as part of a humanist reading. 

What is it like, as a director, to take on a play with a reputation like this - a contemporary classic isn't an unfair description?
An accurate description I think. It’s a testimony to the play that it is
as precise and relevant today, twenty-five years after it was written, as when it was first produced. It endures.

It’s no exaggeration to say the original production was a huge success, and beautifully directed. But the script shifts in relation to the world it sits within, so we're not working on the same script, we're working on that text now responding to our times - we're not taking on a classic, we are having a conversation with this audience. 

Aha! Relevance rears its head. Kemp doesn't define what she means by this, but merely says that it has retained its relevance from the first production... her comments on the play as a'classic' are far more illuminating. And she goes on to tell me even more interesting things...

And the obvious question: what attracted you to it?
Obvious answer: it’s a brilliant piece of storytelling. The characters are beautifully drawn. It gives lots of room to the creatives. It is a play which allows me to cast six women in leading roles, and we have a force of female acting talent in Scotland.

Would you locate it in any particular tradition of theatre?
One of the remarkable things about Sue’s script is how open it is.
Drew Farrell
She is very clear that it is not a historical document, it is a living, breathing, theatrical proposition. It embraces a panoply of styles seemingly referencing Greek theatre, abstract theatre, modern dance. It’s a very generous piece of work. 

Yes! That's what makes it worth doing - and the way Glover shifts between genre is subtle, giving the script a fiery pace and allowing on of the most organic plot developments that I have seen. It's far from naturalism - the women dance and sing, do physical sequences representing their work in the fields - but the way the drama emerges from their daily life is cunning. 

You have worked in radio as well as for the stage. Is there much cross-over between the two media in terms of direction?
There’s always cross over. In essence you are finding a way to work with a group of people to bring a story to life with clarity and force. But the way you direct for radio and for theatre is very different. A writer once referred to radio direction as a benign autocracy, whereas theatre (or what makes good theatre to my mind) is a deeply collaborative process. If one person in the room was changed for someone else, the outcome would be different.

What makes the Lyceum the right place for this production?
Drew Farrell

The Lyceum has fantastic depth as a space, and most of the time we don't get to see that – sets bring the actors downstage and towards the audience. This play is set in a world where you walk outside and see for miles. It’s about women who, by hand, turned over field upon field of earth. It’s about the horizon being way ahead in the distance and the land stretching back behind you. We can play that in any space, but the Lyceum gives us the depth of image to work on.

What is it about theatre and live performance that draws you back to it?

There’s a power to the exchange between performer and audience that can change us. I think we feel it in the body, that connection. And for me, asking us the audience to engage physically, instinctively, rather than respond intellectually, is a very powerful way to engage. It’s a brilliant medium to open up new conversations and to challenge the dominant narrative.

And can I ask quickly - how does your approach as a director differ from your approach as a dramaturg?

When I work as a dramaturg, I am not the lead artist. I am there to facilitate the clearest lines of communication between the idea, the artist(s) and the audience. As a dramaturg I can happily work with artists I admire, but whose taste I do not necessarily share.

As a director, I think my job is to articulate the direction of travel, and to enable everyone in the room to be creative and collaborative within those parameters. Ultimately, what I put on stage as a director, will expand upon an idea and a vision of the world that I, and the company, would like to propose to an audience.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Mouse @ The Art School

...there was a lady and she was dressed up like a dog... well I don't mean a full suit of hair or anything just a collar because she was like doing this burlesque thing... and it is three days later and I am still wiping bits of dog food from my clothes...

...she was racing about to some heavy electronic music... I think it was drum and bass and it skittered with an excess of energy... she jumped down from her platform and found some things... a bowl, like a dog would eat from, a washing bowl, some sparklers and a big tin of dog food...

So, at this point, the inevitable questions arise. Is this a statement of feminist intent, parodying the control fantasies of pornography and patriarchy, challenging with casual nudity... was not what I would call casual nudity as she was racing around the room... water spouted outwards, then she threw the dog food at the audience and then she pulled out a t-shirt from a place where I would rather not say...

The sense of danger was palpable - not in any abstract sense but quite literally when she waved burning sparklings across her body and squirted water from her bottom onto the audience. And a large chunk of dog food hit me on the shoulder with some force...

Does Mouse adapt the burlesque comfort with nudity and weaponise it? Does talking about a naked woman necessarily have to consider feminism?

finally funding


Are you still relevant?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Hey! Thank you!

The Life of a Critic Chapter 87


Fatherland @ The Arches

It's tempting to describe any Nic Green performance as an event: after her Trilogy became a shining example of a new wave of feminist theatre that has emerged in the past five years, her influence on theatre in Glasgow - specifically on performance that tends towards live art - has been huge. Feminism, and redefining female nudity on stage, have been defining issues for much work that has come from the Royal Conservatoire, Green's alma mater and her approach, combining down-to-earth observations and an expansive, environment focussed philosophy is distinctive and accessible.

Certainly, this one-off presentation of Fatherland has attracted a large crowd and the enthusiastic applause reflects Green's popularity. 

However. Green does not seem to be chasing the grand statements that marked TrilogyFatherland is far more intimate, and short. With only a drum beat for backing - and a bagpipe solo in the finale - Green is alone on stage, in circle, reflecting on a single meeting with her biological father. She develops her fleeting memory of this experience into a wider meditation on Scotland (via a Scottish fling dance) as a fatherland, and evokes masculinity's tropes through a very smart suit and the chanting of the audience.

Green adapts the movements of the fling to her own body, building towards a finale that celebrates its energy power (arms held aloft, like The Monarch of the Glen's horns). Whether Green is evoking Scotland's landscape to become her father, or recognising that it has nurtured her as an artist in the way a father shapes a child, Fatherland  is a personal ritual, an artist testing what masculinity means for her - she removes the suit gradually, finding freedom from the constriction of shirt and trousers - and suggesting meaning in the traditional Scottish elements of dance and the whisky (free to the audience). 

The format, ironically, shies away from the big event or statement. Like Ron Athey, she confounds expectation and offers allusive references to grand ideas without settling on fixed meanings. For all the enthusiasm of the audience, it is an introduction to a conversation (designed to fit perfectly within a festival, short and pithy), to engage with other works, other ideas, a starting point rather than a conclusion.

Notes on Dowry @ The Arches

...a long veil which covers the female body but also connects us across a long room...

An uncovered female body, pale in the darkness of the room, beckons and entices. The passing of a yoke, both erotic and an exchange of power, becomes a symbol not just of marriage but more sensual unions.

We stand together, reflected in the mirror, as a couple.

I am given a chain which is both jewelry and a symbol of enslavement. I am adrift in a featureless room, floating through a sexual transaction.

The erotic is not the pornographic as the pornographic is sexuality
define by politics...

...politics being power relationships...

An immersive silence, as if these actions are too weighty for more words...

Play only possible when the political is excluded. Discuss.



Body as commodity.

Innocence compelled.

Innocence and naivety discarded.

I am still thinking.

We are both yoked.

Yoked together by external forces.

Beyond our power.

Ritual is erotic, or at least...

physical, embodied.


This January, Glasgow’s Tron Theatre will be launching The Tron 100 Club, a brand new professional development initiative allowing one hundred arts practitioners the opportunity to engage in a year-long programme of master-classes, workshops, panel discussions and professional opportunities with a network of established arts professionals from all sectors of the creative industry.

The first initiative of its kind in Scotland, the Tron 100 Club aims to engage with the increasing numbers of creative graduates and professionals at various stages of their careers around the country. The 100 Club will aim to utilise the facilities and networks of the Tron Theatre— as one of Glasgow’s leading arts venues— to provide a supportive creative environment to professionals, to introduce them to Scotland’s vast and varied arts networks and provide them with a structured programme of practical, professional advice and skills.

Over the space of a year, sessions for the one hundred successful applicants will include workshops, master-classes and panel Q&As, facilitated by theatre, television, radio and film professionals, addressing both the creative and business sides of the industry. Professionals already confirmed as part of the 2015 programme include Jimmy McGovern, Simon Callow, David Greig, Rona Munro, Cora Bisset and Matthew Lenton, with many more names to be announced throughout the year.

Director of the 100 Club scheme, the Tron’s Development Producer Lisa Nicoll, feels passionately about the initiative, having worked as a playwright and filmmaker for the last ten years and with personal experience of the highs and lows artists face in various stages of their careers:

“The most important thing for an artist throughout their career is keeping their passion, momentum and ambition alive, especially in such a competitive industry.”

The Tron Theatre’s Artistic Director Andy Arnold added:

“It has always been my ambition for the Tron to be not just a place to see shows but also a creative meeting place and natural home for local artists and theatre makers. The Tron 100 Club provides the perfect vehicle for this process and I'm really looking forward to seeing what impact it will have in this theatre and the wider Scottish arts industry.”

Membership of the Tron 100 Club will be on an annual basis, with applications for 2015 opening on Tuesday 11 November 2014. Membership will be £100 and can be paid up on a monthly basis through a subscription scheme. 

Q&A Industry Panel Sessions:

Jimmy McGovern, David Blair, Simon Callow.

Workshops Facilitators:

Matthew Lenton (Vanishing Point), Cora Bissett, David Greig, Steven Greenhorn, Kate Sagowsky, Nina Steiger (Soho Theatre), Louise Alexander Stephens (Royal Court), Rachel Sheridan (Rachel Freck Casting), David Ian Neville (BBC Radio Drama), Lauren Humphreys (Old Vic), Linda McLean, Rona Munro, Michael Hill & Rosa B Omarsdottir (Voice Hub), Jeanette Hunter (Shepherd Management), Sean Linnen (Paines Plough), Lovatt Logan, Scottish BAFTA, BBC Writers Room.

Many more names and workshops to be announced.

Taiko Drumfest

The John Byrne Award

Now in its fifth year, The John Byrne Award invites sixth year students from across Edinburgh to express their values by producing any creative piece of work in response to a given stimulus. This year, students from 26 schools took up the challenge.

The competition presents students with a stimulus that relates to a world idea or movement. This year, the stimulus is comprised of a report from Oxfam, and a report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: the former discusses the implications of rising global inequality; the later debunks three myths that they claim block progress for the global poor.

This year the judges include Alex Wallace, former Headteacher at James Gillespie’s High School; Richard Holloway, writer and broadcaster; Florence Ingleby, Director at Ingleby Gallery; Hamish Matheson, senior geologist at Cairn Energy, Stuart Ferguson, non-executive director for a number of engineering companies around the world and Michelangelo Mulholland, 2013 JBA winner.

The 2014 award ceremony will take place on Saturday 22 November in The Sculpture Court at Edinburgh College of Art, Lauriston Place from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. Guests will include supporters of the award, arts and education practitioners, friends and families and will be a dazzling, fun evening enhanced with music from Shooglenifty and some spectacular surprises.

The winner receives £2,000 to spend on their personal development and £5,000 to spend directly on anything that will improve their own, or someone else's, community. The three commendation prize winners will get £1000 each, for their personal development. All of the 10 shortlisted team's pieces will be on show in the Upper Gallery of the Sculpture Hall.

John Byrne, world renowned Scottish artist and playwright, and special guests will announce and present the prizes to the winner and the commendation prize winners. The winner will also announce where they are going to donate their £5000 prize money.

“This Award is even more important to me this year - as well as garnering more entries from Edinburgh schools, it has really taken off in the South Africa, resulting in a flying visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer where their show Township Voices was a total sell-out over four days at the Assembly Rooms, providing urgently-needed financial help for woefully underfunded township schools in and around Durban - plus the fact that even stronger links were forged on a personal basis with so many pupils from Edinburgh schools. To watch black and white teenagers linking arms and singing at the top of their lungs and laughing uproariously all the way along George Street after the concert was a sight I will never forget - an absolute joy!” John Byrne

Alex Wallace, Chair of the judging panel said: "The stimulus for this year's John Byrne Ward is a complex one; the optimistic views of Bill Gates that poverty is declining in contrast with Oxfam's view that the inequality gap is ever widening. But the students have risen to the challenge, producing deeply insightful responses in every medium. Sculpture, painting, essays, poetry and drama show how important it is to give young people challenges, especially in values, morals and ethics."

Michaelangelo Mulholland winner of The John Byrne Award 2013 said: “From start to finish, The John Byrne Award has been a truly thought provoking experience for me. It allowed me think about values that are important in every day life and gave me the opportunity to express my thoughts and feelings on a topic that I maybe wouldn't have written about normally. The John Byrne award has given me the ability to think about my music more openly and has given me knowledge and an ability to look more closely at things that inspire me that I still use today in my writing. It was a truly enriching experience.”

The 10 shortlisted entries are: Juliette Lemoine and her painting entitled, 'Solving Inequality'; Samke Nene and her autobiographical essay, 'Breaking Free'; Miriam Seddon and her collage, 'Bliss'; Andrew MacDonald and his play, 'The Treatment'; Walter Kemp-Bruce and Christopher Connarty and their sculpture, 'Caster and Pollux'; Jeehan Asherbrook and her poem, 'From a Window'; Caitlin Carbury and her painting, 'Providence'; Katie Booth, Cara McDonald, Gemma Gorton, Stephanie Gregoriou, and Anna Snell, and their sculpture 'Foundations', Elaine O'Donnell and her poem, 'What Is', and Emily Hopkins, and her painting 'It's Cold Outside'.

Derrida Chat Show

deconstructed ghost by yeremaia

I am delighted that for this episode we do have the real ghost of Jacques Derrida. As you may remember last time, a Greek wrestler tried to convince us…
If I can stop you there: the notion of individual identity is hardly verifiable. Whether the soul of Jacques remains French or is partaking in a conglomeration of collective consciousness is a matter upon which we must remain silent.

But you are Derrida, not Wittgenstein?
That is a matter of subjective opinion.

Oh Jesus.
That is quite a different tradition: He would guarantee post-mortem individuality, for the most part.

Racing away from the metaphysics of personal immortality, and back to aesthetics… we hoped you'd be interested in adding to our discussion of performance.
And you would like me, Derrida, to perform Derrida?

Yes. Please.
I can give it the old British try. Although I hear that is very much a contested national identity now.

If we can briefly touch on your friendship with Plato… we were surprised to find his respect for the post-modern.
Death has a way of changing perspective. Besides, post-modernism recently arrived in shaol and has quite a cachet.

Hang on, postmodernism is dead?
Yes. It took sick after the retrospective in Manchester, and then died when the Scottish Referendum revived a politics that took ideas like civic nationalism and socialist idealism with a pinch of salt. Of course, these are unpalatable without ironic distance for any serious thinker, but the Referendum was a reminder that the postmodern rejection of the meta-narrative was no longer respectable.

The Yes campaign was a meta-narrative, you mean?
So was the No campaign. Only it was shit.

You are a Yes voter?
I am Jacques Derrida. I am a maybe.

Moving on… I'd like to ask you about deconstruction now you are decomposing. Did death provide the final answer that you always deferred?
Alas, it reunited me with the great philosophical traditions. And there were issues… I am no longer allowed to be called the father of deconstruction. I was taken to an angelic tribunal by Nagarjuna for breach of copyright.

The Mahayana Buddhist?
Indeed. He claimed that I plagiarised his analysis of being. Fortunately, the tribunal rejected his plea that I be erased from existence, on the grounds that Nagarjuna had tried that on before, and Jehovah was still annoyed about it.

This was Nagarjuna’s famous deconstruction of a creator god?
More his deconstruction of being itself. I must admit, while I was content to problematise signifiers of language and undermine the odd concept – say when I linked the ancient Greek ideas of poison and remedy in Plato’s Pharmacy and said they were the same word for the same thing – Nagarjuna took on the individual self. Not so much Death of the Author as the death of the human.

Is deconstruction broken, then? Another victim of history…
If you see deconstruction as a philosophy, yes. But it never was. It’s like minimalism. People thought it was a movement, but it was a technique… deconstruction is a methodology that has no ontological conclusions.

It’s just about breaking shit?
Well, to put it too simply… the reason why a certain broad-shouldered gentleman has become so close is that he sees it as a tool to challenge a certain royal tutor’s epistemological hegemony.

In English: it is a way to break down the preoccupation with categories in the tradition of Aristotle?
Indeed… the more… shall we shall… Unitarian… no, non-dualistic thinkers… find common cause with anti-capitalists. On one level, I suppose, they see categories as a method of commodification. Aristotle is unpopular with them because he provides a legitimate foundation for capitalist ideals of the individual and the object.

You are saying that consumerism is based on Aristotle’s theories?
I am saying some thinkers could see it as a rationale for capitalism. Filtered through a scientific fundamentalism…

I think I understand. Aristotle’s project was to place things into categories, allowing them to be discussed and defined. It is like they become the objects of desire… the subjects of the will… Aristotle’s description of reality as a series of discernable things transforms the universe from a holistic phenomenon into an order of discrete objects that can be used… and thence given an economic value.
Heidegger had a crack at that, too. My deconstruction – which does have much in common with Plato’s dialectics and, as I am contractually obliged to mention, Mahayana Buddhism, challenges the artificiality of these categories. If Plato was all about the divine one, with a bonus opposition that encourages a dialogue, Aristotle was a pluralist. And I am a pluralist who sees the one in multiplicity.

I think I liked the mimetic version of you better. But before we break… if Plato is a monist, how does dialectic work?
Ah, that is very simple. Where you see one plus one as equalling two, Plato regards one plus one as equalling one.

ArgosLive: Capitalism Cracks it

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ron Athey @ The Arches (3)

Tindered Up

Tinder Hooligan

Ron Athey @ The Arches (2)

Ron Athey @ The Arches

Music Theatre Magic Moments

As a prelude to this week's Cryptic production These Delicate Things, I am mulling over some magical musical moments. In our conversation about his show, Josh Armstrong was sceptical about my claims that 'post-visual theatre is the next vital wave of performance' and polite enough not to punch me for confusing musical theatre (jazz hand, jukebox selections, maudlin sentimentality and hands-in-the-air triumphalism) and music theatre (carrying a message through the relationship between music and... theatre, and no jazz hands). So here are a few moments from the past year that exemplify how music can carry the meaning in a theatrical context.

Al Seed moves against the jazz (Oog @ The Arches)
Although I have mentioned Guy Veale's soundscape before, the particular moment when he drops Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra (1920s jazz action) into the mix is a devastating juxtaposition of the music's sensual optimism and AL Seed's character's desperate situation. Crackling and distant, Goldkette may sing of love but within Seed's survivalist drama, it becomes a harbinger of decay and despair.

David Pollock and Sita Pieraccini get busy (Make a Hoo @ The Arches)
Sita Pieraccini mostly abandoned words for this physical drama, but Pollock's score gave the work a tight, oppress focus. By framing her movements within an oppressive mesh of urban sound.

Ballet in Real Time (Still It Remains @ Tramway)
credit: Andrew Ross

It is no great surprise that an evening with Scottish Ballet would feature music as an essential part of the proceedings, but James Cousins' choreography had an almost unfashionably intimate relationship with the Kronos Quartet's Mugam Beyati Shiraz. An all female quartet are relocated from the stage into an imaginary and desolate and arid plain through the Quartet's evocation of the Middle East - yet are saved from a mere orientalist fantasy through the stringent strings and movements. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

More Musical Theatre and Music Theatre and Musing

Rock and Roll and Music Theatre

Hey Everyone! I have an opinion on Dapper Laughs, too!

Also, if you are trying to insult Dapper - fair enough - please bear in mind that using a word synonymous with the female reproductive system as an insult is counter-productive. I use 'bell-end,' 'rape apologist,' 'arse' (gender neutral!) or 'cock'. Suggesting that his persona's misogynist obsession with sexual conquest hides a fear of his own homosexual desire might work, but remember that being gay in itself is not a bad thing, and if Dapper and Eminem do come out, we ought to congratulate them.

Postcard Reviews? I'm Havin That

Skeletor on Ron Athey

Goodbye to Russell Brand

Sadly, the time has arrived when Russell Brand and I must part company. Rather than leave matters in the air - my rewrite of Parklife  and  Welcome to the Terrordome did go buck-wild on his ass, somewhat - I'd like to draw a conclusion that reflects not a dislike for Randy Brandy, but my more ambivalent feelings.

Having reached the end of Booky Wook 2 - which concludes with Russ in the arms of Katy Perry as the entire narrative suggested it would - my feelings have not changed about his attitude towards women. The final sequence, in which Russell attempts a threesome with two women he calls 'Curious' and 'Dusty' (the latter designation somewhat racist, in my humble opinion) affirms his commitment to objectification, and renews my concern that his current political posturing is founded on a type of egotism and sexism that is all too common in left wing politics.

In recent days, Brand has scored two palpable hits: a promise to give away his future earnings, and taking on the mockery of his statements by recording a version of Parklife. And despite the chorus of disapproval he has received - mainly on the grounds of hypocrisy - his political positions are valid and an important intervention in a media culture that has not challenged the lazy greed of the political classes. I want Brand to become what he thinks he is: a gadfly on the buttocks of representative democracy.

My hypocrisy is equally bad: I understand Brand's compulsive need for intimacy, and I am sure that I have used obnoxious language to make a satirical point. But I think the last thing that anarchism needs a big man shouting about his sexual conquests. 

I have struggled with how I would term Brand's behaviour. He is
clearly a sexist, since he gives less agency and identity to most of the women in his autobiography than to the men. I consider misogynist a powerful term, and only appropriate when it describes a system that encourages the marginalisation of women. Benny Hill, for example is sexist: the Catholic Church's exclusion of women from the priesthood is misogyny. 

I have made mistakes myself: I once accused a play of expressing supremacy. It was pointed out that the word is cognate with 'supremacist' and implies fascist sympathies. I didn't mean to say that - far from it - but the slippage of language's meaning insists that I can't defend my use of the word, because it was open to interpretation...

I am sorry I wrote that. 

So I don't want to call Brand a misogynist. But his description of his behaviour at the Edinburgh Fringe reads like a deliberate cultivation of an environment wherein women were reduced to a commodity. 

Obviously, I don't believe Booky Wook 2 is a true story - it's a myth about an entity called Russell and has a determined narrative arc of the hero's journey (it's like a celebrity mash-up version of The Odyssey), and I doubt many individual women have come to harm due to his antics. The hatred he inspires in The Daily Mail would have ensured a few more kiss-and-tell stories. They demonstrated that the spirit of investigative journalism still survives in the speed with which they attacked the 'feminist t-shirt' campaign. 

Anyway, I've had enough of him now. I'm sure Revolution will be in plenty of second-hand shops after Christmas, and then I shall look at his plan for changing humanity. But I need a break from the yabber, the occasional good line, the potential he suggests that he is far from fulfilling. He's like most performance art: a work in progress. 

Here's a video clip that sums him up for me. Kicks off with some zingers before descending into rambling. 

Not like me at all, then.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ron Athey, dating and me

TUE 11 + WED 12 NOV, 7.30PM

Tel 0141 565 1000
Tickets £15 (£10 conc)

The fourth installation in the Incorruptible Flesh series, “Messianic Remains”, is a solo performance commissioned by Performance Studies international, debuting at Stanford University in June 2013. Returning to the laid-in-state-sexualized corpse scene presented as a static image in [Dissociative Sparkle], the messianic impulse/prophecy is activated. Dressed in vestmental finery, a funeral procession draws its pulse from Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, and Athey arises from the viewing into a walking meditation. As in earlier works in the series, Athey rides the grandiose myth of enlightenment that only the face of death may reveal.

The concept of the Incorruptible Flesh series took form a year before the three-therapy HIV drug treatment would give hope by halting the numbers of AIDS deaths. In a research residence at the CCA Glasgow in February 1996, Athey and collaborator, Lawrence Steger studied the lives of saints, the relics and in particular, the display of the ‘incorruptible’ bodies, most of which are wax sculptures with a corpse inside. Applying the status of ‘incorruptible’ upon their own dying HIV+ bodies, Athey and Steger wove solo actions into interactions – including “The Trojan Whore” which Athey performed at the memorials for Leigh Bowery in 1998. 

 The final action in the piece contained the image of the living corpse on display: Athey laid out on a simple plank, tended to by Steger (with monstrous special affects makeup suggesting decomposing). The live AIDS body, on-display, anointed (greased), bathed in golden light marked the glorification of the live AIDS body, which in future performances in the series, “Dissociative Sparkle” and “Perpetual Wound”, became the more esoteric post-AIDS body. Lawrence Steger died in February 1999.

“Dissociative Sparkle” was performed in February 2006, exactly 10 years later, for the National Review of Live Art in Glasgow and was later repeated at Artists Space in NYC . Athey presented his first durational piece – a 6 hour solo performance. Honouring the anniversary of his collaboration with/and the loss of Steger, Athey used the static, martyred image of his body, suffering on a rack. The audience were allowed to take the role of Steger and anoint Athey’s body in grease. As in “The Trojan Whore”, the body was enhanced; tortured, but not vulnerable. Invaded by hooks, bat and rack, his skin was bronzed and shining, genitals inflated to grotesque size with medical saline.

For “Perpetual Wound”, 2007, Athey worked in collaboration with a younger artist, Dominic Johnson, and focused on this trans-generational relationship mythologically, characterizing Sophocles’ pairing of Philoctetes and Neoptolemus. Philoctetes (Athey), in exile for possessing a stinking weeping wound that would not heal, was seduced by Neoptolemus (Johnson) into returning to battle and directions to receive healing. This reality comes to fruition during the start of a dance, wherein a sheet of glass on a stand is used as a prophylaxis, protecting the younger man from the shared wound.