Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Introducing Grahame Fair and Bertie Cushions (on Hamlet at The Citz)

Eric and Gareth talk Kimmings

Eric: Won't it be necessary for the role model that Kimmings is looking for to be a kind of 1950s' character?

Gareth: How do you mean?

Eric: She seems pretty much conservative - in terms of sexuality. Obviously it is for kids but it doesn't teach them how to deal with the 'next part of life'.

Gareth: You mean that she avoids dealing with sexuality altogether, rather than challenging the models presented by Lady Gaga or Katy Perry?

Eric: Pretty much: but I can see how it is difficult to breach the subject of sexuality at all with kids! There's a lot of red tape around it.

Gareth: The problem is honest conversation over exploitation, perhaps?

Eric: Whaddaya mean?

Gareth: Well, it is difficult to have a chat with preteens about sex and sexuality identity. It is a taboo. On the other hand, they get bombarded with images of sexuality by pop musicians, which turns fashion and sexuality into a product. I think Kimmings is trying to empower young people without engaging sexuality at all.

Eric: She is trying to make their own role models and not have to think about 'that kind of stuff': that chat is not for her to deal with!

Gareth: Yes. 

Part lecture, part dance-off, part ethical debate and part gig, That Catherine Bennett Show is a story about family activism, children's rights and a belief in your own power to change the world which follows thetrue story of Bryony and Taylor’s quest to make Catherine Bennett a world famous role model for the masses. Their tale involves storming the Houses of Parliament, being played on Radio 1 and getting their message right into the CBBC headquarters.

Catherine Bennett is embodied by Kimmings and is totally managed by Taylor. She sings songs about things other than love, fame and money,treats children as the philosophers and question-askers they really areand talks about women’s rights and being an activist at nine years old. This entertaining and educational show proves that an alternative role model for the young is possible and that important issues can be tackled at any age.

Originally commissioned by Southbank Centre as part of Imagine Children’s Festival, That Catherine Bennett Show returns as part of Southbank Centre’s Why? – What’s Happening for the Young? Festival.

For ages 6–9

Eric: Hang on. If it is for kids, why are we talking about it? Isn't that up to the 6 - 9 year olds to discuss?

Hulk and the Vision get Real (Miss Prissy)

Hulk and The Vision Get Real (Ballroom style)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Hey, You, Get Out of My Field.

Awright, Andy? Mad Cyril ear. Been avin a peek at yer foughts on performance critique, and I ain't a appy camper. Ya wanna come up to my manor, ya need to pay ya respects, and, frankly, I ain't too pleased to hear 'the responsibility artists might have for the critical landscape.'

See, the artist ain't got none. They can ave a chat if they like, but their responsibility is ta make some good work. Thas all. Since fawty per cent of feeta is utter shite these days, we don't need a bunch of artists spoutin off abaht what critics ought tabe doin.

Now, I know ya got ya work cut out, Andy, making new spaces for
that poncy live art ya love - good on ya, son, that Forest Fringe seems tabe workin out fer ya. And God knas ya right abaht star raytins, and tha artists ave gotta stop slappin em all ova the shop. 

Ere's where I tell ya to shut it, mind.

I mean artists could and should be writing more about each other’s work. There is no more imaginative, more positive and more practical contribution that artists could be making to changing the way we think about criticism.

Ere's ma first objection: oo are the artists ov whom ya speak, Andy? Are ya sayin that 'critic' and 'artist' are mutually exclusive categories? As it goes, both feeta makers and critics are artists: they jus work in diff'rent genres. While I doan mind a bit of chat between artists, they are only any use as part ov a more general critique. 

Basically, they are eiver gonna be lickin each ova's bums or moanin that the version what they watched ain't how they'd do it.

See, artists watch art to learn ow to make it: there's a version of the show goin on in their noggin as they check it awt on stage. There's no hair in the filter in the camera of the mind's eye, son, and so the version that the feeta maker sees in their ead is gonna be betta than the one the rest of the audience sets its peepers on.

Anyway, ya right about Megan Vaughan, Andy. You missed off Andrew Haydon, though. And as long as you are praisin Lyn Gardner, I won't take ya comments proper serious. Sure, she's good, but biggin up The Guardian to support new approaches to criticism is like saying fish'n'chips is nouvelle cuisine.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Dark Ops on Hill's Hamlet

Hawkeye tells the Avengers He Wants No More Hamlet

Thor and His Girlfriend Discuss Political Engagement

What is Theatre?

The 'cancellation' of Exhibit B has had at least one positive side-effect: I've been introduced to the eloquent writing of Lemm Sissay. It has also forced me to think about why I (instinctively) oppose censorship.

Sissay believes that the campaign to block Exhibit B began with Sara Myer's 'gut reaction' to images of the performance, and fails to recognise the complexity of both the event and the possible reactions. He also worries about the willingness of community leaders to speak on behalf of their communities, as if they are a monolithic unit of thought.

Despite Akala's equal eloquence, I'm with Sissay. Akala makes strong claims about the inherent racism of liberals (I agree with that), but his own work, in The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, is a fine example of how the past can be appropriated for contemporary expression. I find the idea of hip-hop Shakespeare tedious - as a Public Enemy fan, I fear it treads the line of trying to make street art legitimate through association with high art, rather than acknowledging its intrinsic worth: but reading it as a subversion of Shakespeare transforms it into a post-colonial resistance to the presumed neutrality of canonical texts.

(In other words, it reveals the hidden assumption that Shakespeare is 'better' than rap, and challenges the morality behind the Bard's poetry, which is, by historical accident, a bit racist.)

However, my cry that 'freedom of speech is freedom or death' turns out not just to be a crib from Chuck D, but a consequence of my understanding of what theatre can be. I know I am in that argument with Plato, and this is subject to change, but it is time for a big statement....

Theatre - like all art - encourages an encounter between the audient and itself. Good comparisons include 'a mirror' or 'a meditation session' in which the audience, through engagement with the Text (script, choreography, production, painting, whatever) can experience the reflection of their identity, and, in a safe space, rehearse responses to situations. 

Arika: Episode 2, A Special Form of Darkness

In Episode 1, Arika continued their escape from experimental music, staging a series of films and discussions that centred around the hidden political assumptions about art and creativity. Episode 2, A Special Form of Darkness delves deeper into the nature of the indivudual self, taking cues from noise music, HP Lovecraft, existential dread and bodily fluids.

"It's to do with the usefulness of nihilism, the positives of doubt," affirms Barry Esson, Arika's co-curator. "It comes out of how we are thinking about experimental music now, to put it in a context that is provocative and really exciting." SFoD features performance inspired by French Grand Guignol – perhaps the most bloody theatre since the Romans used condemned criminals in tragedies – the meditations of literary critic Fredric Jameson, who worries that our very identity has been reduced to a series of tropes defined by advertising and consumerism, De Musicorum Infelicitate, a composition that attempts to express the self-loathing of composer Walter Marchetti through an impossible score and a finale set from Keiji Heino, the legendary Japanese noise musician who will be using just his voice to wail a blues beyond brutality and alienation. Yet Esson insists that there is more to this darkness than just despair.

Discussing one of the weekend's themes, Esson suggests that potential might lie in unexpected places. "Over deep time, human consciousness is absolutely insignificant. Since the Enlightenment, we seem to have spent 200 years scrabbling around to find human meaning," he observes. "It may well be better, as an evolutionary step, to recognise that there is no meaning. Understanding that might allow us to overcome some of our hang-ups."

The works at SFoD, alongside the conversations, discussions and philosophical chats, embody this idea of creation in the face of absurdity and nothingness. Glasgow's Iain Campbell will be wandering Tramway, wondering about how best to do nothing and continuing his journey from maximalist rocker to challenging live artist. On a more academic trip, Thomas Metzinger, an important philosopher of the mind and consciousness, will discuss Being No-one – both his book and the concept.

Esson succintly explains why Metzinger is such a bracing voice. "Metzinger identifies the self as a series of subconscious processes to allow our limited minds to cope with the information around us. They are so transparant that we mistakenly come up with the idea that we have a self. It's a special form of darkness: we stumble around in the dark, we think we are making decisions."

By mixing up immediate, visceral performance and more intellectual approaches, SFoD consciously rejects the model that makes a festival a mere series of consumerist spectacle, rather aiming to provoke as much as it delights. Arika's political episodes – most noticeable in the final Instal, where the event that brought Glasgow The Boredoms and Jandek handed itself over to the audience – struggle with the gap between inclusive rhetoric and the reality of audience participation. This embrace of horror avoids these contradictions and opens up the experimental work to broader audiences. As Esson concludes on the themes of the weekend: "Horror and doubt and scepticism: isn't that everyday British life?

Arika 12, Episode 2 @ Tramway, 24–26 Feb

After a weekend of intellectual argument about the intrinsic horror of the universe – it's hostile, it's too big, and the individual self is either a delusional side-effect of human subconscious processes or a product of capitalism – Keiji Haino's vocal solo conjured up the deep dark in the most immediate manner. Tooled up with effect and loop pedals, he looped his wails and grunts and screams into a sound sculpture that suggested a black hole devouring innocent galaxies, a rotating hell of tormented souls or mysterious rituals straight out of H.P. Lovecraft.

Haino's music – he has spent the last forty years deconstructing rock bombast, defining 'noise music' and treating audiences to gigs that are in that bewildering space between intelligent, imaginative parodies and shrill, ear-drum shattering bullshit – is unashamedly aggressive. Episode 2's gig placed Haino next to artists like Meredith Monk, who use the voice not to sing lyrics but as a versatile, emotive instrument. But where Monk is often full of life and love, Heino sculpts sound into menacing, immersive shapes.

The previous night, Junko tried a similar trick. But where her screaming took the sound of a female in pain and turned it into an improvisation tool – with all the tricksy skill of a saxophonist on a free jam – Haino's intention is clear and brutal. Harsh growls attack his more melodic interludes – claps and breaths are warped into stabs and moans. Layering his voice through loop after loop, Haino builds towards his finale, a soundtrack that shared the scale, ambition and terror of a medieval depiction of hell.

Arika's new direction may be to ensure that work like this has a context – after 48 hours of constant banter about the positivity of nihilism, one man howling up a void makes perfect sense; or it may be to push certain ideas into wider circulation by associating them with well-known artists. Either way, Kaino's gig is devastating, suggesting that apocalyptic art did not disappear when we survived the millennium bug.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Battle of Calder Street.

There has been a great deal of chat about 'political theatre' lately - mostly in my head, but some of it spilled onto Facebook. At the very least, the Referendum encouraged many artists to make a commitment to political engagement.

I am always in two minds about the worth of political performance. Partially because I am having a big row with Plato, again (I am pretty sure he disapproves of theatre as a place for public discussion), but also because I am not sure whether watching art encourages activism. It might operate as a way for audiences to think that they have done something political when they nodded to a play's urgent message. 

However, tonight, I was at the kind of political theatre I can get behind: The Battle of Calder Street. It was odd - I was involved in the events described and recognises the verbatim voices - but on the scale that I can understand. It was about the struggle in Govanhill to rescue the local swimming pool.

I literally did that and got the t-shirt.

As the play makes clear, the Save Our Pool campaign was about community. Sure, the swimming was important, but the community that rose up around the picket line  - and the political lessons we learnt - were crucial. It remains the longest occupation of a civic building in UK history (local people nipped inside and held it from the council for 141 days). 

I am always suspicious of 'big ideas': the pool campaign operated on a level to which I could relate... I met my neighbours, moaned about the government, connected to the area's history and, as I realised tonight, had a real anger towards Charlie Gordon. He was the head of the council who shut the pool.

There are many reasons why the various people who are discussing political art ought to go to see The Battle of Calder Street - and not many are aesthetic. It reveals the history (as well as theatre can, although I know some of the contours of this narrative that were not reflected) of a bold attempt by a community to get power back. Using verbatim, songs written by Alistair Hullet at the time and news reports, it explains the ambitions and atmosphere, and sets out a clear way of addressing politics in theatre. It is also performed in the building where the action happened, which lends a nice resonance.

Most importantly though, it is clear in its political aim: it recalls an action that shook Glasgow City Council, and gave power to a group of people who felt abused by the state. There's no revolution, or restructuring of reality, only a true story that ends in a defeat that can become a victory, if the lessons it offers can be heard. 

And it is a lot more messy than proclaiming on a blog, like I do now, and less glamorous than grandstanding. 

Whinging Women

Coming Soon: Seven Hungers

Vibrating Criticism

Amlet Avin It (with Mad Cyril)

credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Ear's the fin baht Amlet: ee wants a good slap. Carryin on like a geeza, only ee ain't got the stones. Spends arf is time bawlin baht is old man, bottles it when is uncle is dahn on is knees, finally poncin abaht wiv a rapier when it's time fer a shoota. All that actin mishuga, then ee carn't even take dahn a daddy's boy.

Dominic Ill's gotta line on the boy: as im givin it the large one when it's the sorts, but not so much wiv the gaffa. Brian Ferguson's a great comic actor, ain't to see is prince is a joke, but he is joker. Somefin's rotten in Denmark, an this nancy ain't helpin'.

Reckon it's a Glasgow fin, but this Elsinore's a ruff old joint. From the way er old man grapples er, I bet Ophelia's first name's Pete. Nasty business goin on there, this old Leslie Philips double avin a feel of er tits and ass. Then Amlet decides ee wants some - bad enuff he turns up avin a wank in er closet ('his doublet all unbraced,No hat upon his head, his stockings fouled': right.) but then ee jumps er and afta that, I ain't givin this character no face-time.
Credit: Tim_Morozzo

It's pretty clear that Claudius is the ero in this one. Ee's a stand-up guy - did a bit of mischief on his bruver, pumped his wife, but that's ow it goes sometimes. Peter Guinness looks well tasty in his whistle, and that shaved ead earns its respect.

Oi, oi saveloy! Am I Avin It?

I Am Avin It Cuntry Style.


Strange and Wonderful Instruments


Exhibit B

Plato Performance Problem Part Two

Let's apply Plato's objection to two particular plays: Euripides' Bacchae  and Spoiling. One's a classic, the other a recent Fringe First winner from The Traverse.

There's is plenty of mimesis in both of these: actors pretend to be a king and a god, a government minister and a sinister civil servant respectively (the themes of power and corruption are big in both). 

The Bacchae goes into a mythical past - a reality not like the one its audience knows, in which a wine god can get everyone pissed up by magic and soldiers spring from sown teeth: Spoiling is  a mythical future in which Scotland is about to become an independent state (yes, that is still possible...). 

But these are both alternate realities and not the mundane reality of any audience (fifth century Athenians might have had some religious fundamentalists, but we can assume that they knew that they were watching a play).

Okay, that last bit gets close to a tangle. But there is lots of mimesis to spare...

Where Plato is most bold is in saying that the authors do not understand the characters that they represent on stage. Euripides does not know about kings, or gods. Writer John McCann has not ever been a pregnant foreign minister of a fledgling state. The mimesis of these characters must be inaccurate.

That is a tough standard to get past, and worse for a critic. The critic, who might complain that Pentheus doesn't act like a monarch is likely to get hit by the same objection. But even two thousand years after his death, Plato has a point. 

Given that Spoiling  also made a bunch of predictions about the triumph of the YES campaign and the subsequent rise of a woman into power from nowhere, its mimesis is flawed. It is this flaw that makes it less vital after the vote than on the night before, when I saw it.

The Bacchae fares a little better - with no corresponding reality, it is not exposed by history. Plato's more general objection to mythological art - that it represents the gods as a bit naughty - now comes into play. Efforts to the contrary by contemporary directors, The Bacchae has no clear moral... there is the suggestion that Pentheus deserves his punishment, and that it is all about how repressing natural instincts is bad. That's fine, but Dionysus is cruel. Justice is one thing, but wiping out a family is not exactly a moral victory.

To defend both works on this grounds needs something more than an attack on the forms. Plato's statement that art is deceitful wins.

My career is over...

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

into and out of the body: The Vile Arts Radio Hour

Sometimes, it is as if I had a plan: this episode of the Vile Arts Radio Hour - with brief guest appearances from DJ Hush and dramaturg Elliot Roberts - features two interviews: one with Josh Payne, prepping for Out of the Body with Cryptic and another with Barry Esson, getting ready to drop Arika's own episode. 

Between my desperate plugs for my own Uncle Vanya: In Dub and thoughts on why ballet is better than ballroom, both Payne and Esson are articulate and intriguing - and the body, as the place where art happens, comes up frequently. But while Payne is trying to create an experience that gets away from earthly feelings - it sounds like some techno-magic will be happening in the CCA, Esson's selection for Arika is getting jiggy with it. 

Consequently, the soundtrack is a mash of electronica (courtesy of Payne), operatic subversion (M Lamar) and r'n'b (from the first lady of crump, Miss Prissy).

And the theme: essentialism, abstraction and the like. As usual...


Monday, 22 September 2014

Plato's Performance Problem

It is pretty easy to just ignore Plato's thoughts on theatre. Both the printing revolution - which brought his works to international attention - and the internet - which allows clowns like me to give their opinions on them - could be regarded as having changed the relationship between the self and the world to such an extent that Plato's understanding of consciousness belongs to an earlier, and defunct paradigm.

Equally, there are plenty of tricks to get past his objections to theatre: made in his Republic, they are related to his metaphysics of Perfect Forms, a system that has been rejected. Instinctive rejection aside, it is possible to deconstruct the Ideas Realm Plato develops as a foundation for knowledge (I think I am right in calling it an epistemology, a system of understanding) on Plato's own terms. This is a battle that I don't have the correct weapons to wage (like a sharp understanding of Plato's dialectic), but I shall take the possibility on faith.

However, as a theatre critic and someone with a sympathy for Plato's majestic project and ambition (I won't call myself a Platonist, lacking the necessary appreciation of his complex thought), I can't just leave it. It bothers me that Plato, while respecting the skill of the actors, and knowing plenty of the the great classical dramatists' work, would banish them from his ideal state... even if his ideal state is one I would not fancy inhabiting.

Tom Stern identifies three objections to theatre. 

In one: as a work of art, they are detached from the Forms and are just not good enough. If the Form of a chair is the perfect version beyond understanding, the chair made by a carpenter is an imitation - but at least you can sit in it. The chair in a painting, or a poem, or a king in a tragedy, doesn't even fulfil the purpose it was intended for.

In two (and one can be dismissed as a consequence of Plato's metaphysics, which no-one uses anymore): the artist doesn't really know about what they describe, except on the surface.  So they are giving false information.

For bully's special prize: people are stupid and use the arts to define their understanding of life. It's a bit like those people who copy soap opera characters.  Theatre can be a bad influence.

I don't think Plato can be ignored for being a spoilsport. His worry about humans mistaking the surface for depth are consistent in The Republic, and if his belief in truth is a bit old fashioned, it calls to a high respect for human potential. His distrust of theatre is a distrust of distraction - and just like his famous cave story predicts television (sort of), his worries about theatre as deception are trenchant in an era when surface often trumps depth.

On one level, I can imagine Plato's opinions on Strictly Come Dancing. All the celebrity nonsense, the voting, the pairing up of acts, the tacky choreography and the objectification of the dancers would drive him to a rage. He'd hate the false 'liveness' of the weekly event, and decry the artificiality of the project.

But he would be more than a disappointed contemporary dance fan (or, to switch to X-Factor, a fan of Eric Clapton bemoaning the product line of modern pop). He is questioning the notion of authenticity itself itself - and finding it absent in the material plane.
It is a simple step from Platonism to a gnostic vision of reality, in which materiality itself is suspect.

So Plato isn't just picking on theatre: it is a symbol of a problem
with all arts (you can't get off with Botticelli's Venus) and, from here, reality itself. And he is taking theatre seriously: it does change people's minds. In this sense, he respects art more than those defenders of video games who argue that playing Grand Theft Auto doesn't turn players into wannabe gangsters.

The problem is mimesis: theatre is an impersonation of the real. Mimesis - again, as Stern describes - is tough to translate, but includes the ideas of copying and imagination. And Plato is quite correct: the king in a tragedy is not fit for purpose, and can tell the audience nothing.

Kill Johnny Glendenning - The Royal Lyceum Theatre wiv MAD CYRIL

Gawd luv DC Jackson, but thass one-oh-one stuff. Ya wanna protect the neck ov some hack, you gotta put ya good lads on the case, not a coupla muppets who are frettin abaht gettin shit on their shoes. Nofing I like more than a saucy caper, and that Johnny Gildenning is quite the geeza. Still, ya won't catch me gettin tied up by my business partners. Never go inta the farmhouse alone: ain't ya seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, son?

Kill Johnny might look a bit like one ov those Guy Ritchie numbers - shit gangsters and hard-nosed romance, but it's all west coast Scotchland, innit? The sorts seem to be in charge, even when they're Keif or on the Shawshank, and Johnny boy goes abaht wearin a Ranger's top. Not sure whever he's a football lad or a grafter. As for the gaffa, Andrew... well, I know his type. Smarts suits and more likely to give ya GBH ov the ear ole than a propa slap.

Still, I'm propa havin this: Johnny is a stand-up geeza, like ya want in ya crew. Ready for a bit ov a tussle, knows it's an act and can calm dahn when needed. Tries to keep orff the collateral. Those muppets turn out ta be the main men, kind ov, an it's happy endins all round, long as ya ain't been shot by a granny afta havin a dump, ground up inta pig-feed or burnt alive (betta than gettin ya meat and two sliced, I sppose). It's a laff, innit?

Still, I reckon the fight scenes could uv been a bit more tasty - really see the knife goin in, know what I mean?

Am I havin it? I am havin it SWAG.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Five Performances for a Post-Referendum Scotland

Audience (Ontroerend Goed)
Many critics got upset because the company abused a plant in the crowd, missing the subsequent deconstruction of 'the manufacture of consent' and dismissing the Belgians as shock-tactic nihilists. The last half hour, however, demonstrates how easy mass manipulation can be, and the problems that 'doing the right thing' can bring to anyone who mistakes observation as passivity.

Bloody Mess (Forced Entertainment)
The show that will keep Forced Entertainment on the syllabus of University Theatre Studies until the subject is finally rolled up into the Faculty of Neo-Darwinian Analysis, Bloody Mess  is a glorious fusion of many themes and competing ideas. One especially powerful strand is the gradual revelation that apparent communication is, in fact, just the juxtaposition of individuals following their own journey and accidently bumping into each other. Plenty is said, but no dialogue ever emerges. 

Fall (Zinnie Harris)
Apparently, in the navy, when the tempest rages and men are swept
overboard or eaten by a giant squid, a wily old jack tar will mumble: 'never mind, worse things happen in a Zinnie Harris play.' Miserable dystopias are cheap in theatre, ever since Beckett got chuckles from Godot: it is Harris' attention to detail and broad poetic scope that lift her apocalypses above the mundane. Dominic Hill's direction often found the beauty in the brutality, and Fall's finale renders the end of the world... delicate.

Jesus, Queen of Heaven (Jo Clifford)
Remember how I bang on about the hermeneutical spiral? This is a good reminder of how the event (in this case, the claims for the incarnation of the Judeo-Christian God) is given meaning by the process of rereading and recontextualisation. Note: does not contain fundamentalism.

VSPRS (Les Ballets C de la B)
This rarely needs a reason to be included, but... like Bloody Mess, it has strands to spare and the way that the awkward, the physically unique and the other are capable of moving towards an ecstatic moment of unity probably make it the one of the most vivid and visceral expression of the holiness of all human life (at least in the tradition of European contemporary dance). Plus it had Iona Kewney in it, and a gypsy band playing psychedelic versions of Monteverdi.

How Criticism Changes The World

This article is nominally about the result of the referendum. It's really about theatre criticism, because that is all I understand.

The celebration - and theft from an essay by Rowan Williams -  of the hermeneutical spiral has always been a basic tenet of my radical subjectivity. Apart from having the kind of name that lends a patina of pretension to my theorising, the spiral encourages the inclusion of critical responses within the interpretation of a text, making my job as a critic both creative and integral to the performance event. When I really get going, it can justify statements like 'there is no play, only its readings,' 'the audience creates meaning in collaboration with the artists' and 'the criticism is the event'.

Usually, I like to use a theological example to explain the mighty spiral, but I am being topical. The result of the referendum will serve. 

My hypothesis is that nothing exists in isolation (uncontroversial, I think, and very Buddhist). The result (or the play - like Spoiling at The Traverse which I saw last night) is merely a manifestation of a particular moment, revealing something but, thanks to the wonder of human subjectivity, not everything about itself.

The referendum revealed that the majority of Scottish voters (defined through a civic rather than ethnic national identity) wished to retain the Union. There has been some response already - David Cameron had to get up all early - but the 'result' is seen as some kind of event in itself. I'm sure someone has called it an expression of the will of the people, or a travesty, or something. 

As a critic, the event in itself is meaningless to me: it is just a thing to be observed and reflected, and through the critical process, be transformed. I am sure that this cliche has been used: 'it's not the end, it's the beginning.'

The manifestation that is currently 'the result' is not yet fully revealed: it is now in a state of becoming, through interpretation... I saw Spoiling last night, a play that has had lots of reviews, won a Fringe First and is 'fixed' in its scripted form. As I was watching it, it spoke of a future in which Scotland was independent, and the foreign minister of the fledging state was up the duff off one of the rUK's negotiators.

Reflecting on it now, it is not the same play. The future it predicted cannot come to pass, there will be no opportunity for over the table nookie between the governments of rUk and Scotland. I am rereading it. Last night, it had a (slightly dark) hope for an independent nation. Today, it is a relic of a moment that never happened. It has changed.

More than ever, the critic is crucial. Shape the result: it only exists in collaboration with its audience. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dr Laura Bissell: Opinions on Opinions...

I was delighted to read Dr Laura Bissell's thoughts on performance and politics over at The National Collective Website. Not only does it draw a nice distinction between Performance (the stuff on stage) and performance (Schechner's idea of all human behaviour being understood as a form of performance), it promotes Joseph Beuy's wonderful image of 'everyone an artist' in a positive, constructive vision.

Bissell concludes, after comparing the hilarious welcome given to the MPs arriving in Glasgow this week to the staid debate staged between Darling and Salmond, that artistry isn't the preserve of those who make things recognisable as 'traditional art,' but an application of a particular attention to an area. It is a beautiful thought, and one that is supported by the more creative political activities of the past few months - if not necessarily in 'the traditional arts'.

Bissell also notes that 'Professional Performance was slow to respond to the referendum.' That '
in the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe less than 10 of the 3000 shows addressed the independence debate' might say more about the composition of the Fringe than the lack of enthusiasm for the subject, but her recollection of Andy Field's complaint against EIF director Sir Jonathan Mills, who tried to place his festival above politics, suggests an anxiety within certain sectors of the arts that 'politics' is a demeaning association.

Fields mocked the pretension of apolitical art: 'Perhaps when he leaves Edinburgh International Festival, Jonathan Mills can try his hand at creating the world’s first food-less restaurant.'

Discussing a production at The Arches - an example of capital P Performance dealing with the Referendum - Bissell (along with director David Overend) worries about the image used for Wallace. The reasoning here is less coherent to me - there is concern about whether the image of William Wallace has been ruined by Mel Gibson, or whether the poster is playing into a stereotypical idea of Scottishness, I think. 

Where I do disagree - but that is probably more about emphasis than anything else -  is with the assertion that Performance has 'left it late' to come in on the conversation. There have been some explicitly Referendum based plays - Alan Bissett left little room for doubt in his Fringe entry, Yestival  was a Big P tour and David Hayman's Coming Storm was unambiguously about the relationship between the Labour party and Independence aspirations. Going back years, Turbofolk  was Bissett dealing with national identity - and the consequences of the Union; Dusinane an intelligent meditation on the history of two nations. I'm not sure that theatre has under-performed in this case (and if it has, there are always the works of Rachel Maclean for a touch of performative complexity...). 

I would say that a few NO plays might have rung the changes though... strange how nothing came out of that.

Arches Live Thoughts

No Emotions, Please: We're Actors

In an intriguing commentary on Ubu and The Truth Commission (Handspring, EIF 2014), Joyce McMillan champions Brecht's insistence on a theatre that plays to the mind, not the emotions. Recognising that Brecht overdoes it a bit (in theory, at least), she is suspicious of those performances at the Fringe that provoked tears - even worrying that emotionalism has become the gold standard of theatrical quality.

McMillan's manifesto is not about promoting cerebral theatre over the emotive: rather, she draws a contrast between those plays that seem to offer a personal, emotional catharsis and others which hint at the possibility of social change. While her analysis of Ubu emphasises the performance's use of alienation (the characters are too unpleasant to encourage identification), she allies the production to political theatre that suggests change is possible.

Of course. there is a context to this contrast: like the Pope and the Queen, McMillan is careful not to be explicit, but the Referendum (c) is lurking in everything these days. The preference for cerebral theatre is an appeal to reason as a higher virtue than emotion. That she ignores political plays that are emotive - or indeed, the dynamic emotionalism of Full Tilt ('Angie Darcy, as Janis, so brilliant and intense both musically and dramatically that it lifts the hairs on the back of the neck') which expertly captured the fury of Janis Joplin's rock rebellion - is not to decry their value, but state that theatre is a place for discussion and reflection. 

Brecht's ideals for 'epic' theatre were an designed antagonism to Aristotle's 'tragic' theatre - the previous gold standard (lasting around two and a half thousand years, through various interpretations). Aristotle is difficult to interpret clearly (first of all, he probably didn't write his Poetics, but they were notes made at his lectures by students), but his notion of katharsis  is all about 'purging' emotions. The odd bit of classical theatre criticism left, aside from Aristotle suggests audience did get worked up (the anonymous Life of Aeschylus says that women miscarried when the Furies came on in The Eumenides), and Brecht's resistance to sympathetic characters was an original approach.

As McMillan points out, Brecht failed, anyway: Mother Courage is often produced as a meditation on either the bravery of Courage's daughter (when she alerts a village to approaching troops at the cost of her own life) or Courage's indefatigable energy. 

Even if there is something austere about rejecting emotional responses - Presbyterian even  - McMillan's thesis does challenge models of theatre that reject the intellect in favour of easy targets...


Scotland’s newest all-male classical vocal group


Winter Gardens, Glasgow Green
Thursday 25 September 2014
6.00 - 8.00pm

Scozzesi is a brand new all-male vocal group from Scotland. This collective of eight, talented, classically trained singers and two dazzling pianists, will make their debut performance at the Winter Gardens, Glasgow Green on Thursday 25 September from 6.00 - 8.00pm.

The group takes its name from the Italian for “Scottish men” and the singers are from Angus, Ayrshire, Fife, Lothian and Glasgow. The group was the idea of Daisy Henderson of Classical Musicians Scotland. Daisy said, “I first heard these young men individually at auditions and was instantly struck by how beautifully they sang. I wanted to bring them together because I thought hearing the quality and tone of their voices in four part harmony would be a powerful musical experience.”

They offer a mix of opera, operetta, songs from the shows, traditional Scots songs, popular songs and a few comic surprises along the way, with new arrangements specially written for the group.

With a total of ten musicians, Scozzesi will normally perform as a quartet of singers plus pianist, but for the launch, all members will take the stage. 


Llyr Williams * Elias String Quartet * Peter Sheppard Skaerved City Halls, Glasgow 
25 – 28 September 2014

Beethoven’s Violinists – a musical lecture 
Peter Sheppard Skaerved (speaker/violin)
Beethoven began his working life as a professional string player, and nurtured close collaborations with some of the great violinists of his time throughout his career. This illustrated talk includes the UK premiere of a caprice by Franz Clement (to whom Beethoven dedicated his Violin Concerto), recently discovered in Norway by British violinist and Viotti Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music, Peter Sheppard Skaerved.
Thursday 25 September, 7.30pm Recital Room, City Halls (unreserved seating)
Tickets: £5
Running time: 1hr

Early Beethoven - Sonatas & QuartetsLlyr Williams piano and Elias String Quartet
Beethoven: Sonatas Op.2 Nos.1–3
Beethoven: Quartets Op.18 Nos.2 & 3
All of the music in this concert was written by Beethoven in his twenties: a young man making his way in Vienna and learning from the masters, Haydn and Mozart, whose influences are apparent in these works. 

Llyr Williams opens his weekend of performances with the first three sonatas Beethoven published (and counterbalances them with the last three sonatas on Sunday). The Elias String Quartet offers a sharply contrasted pairing of Beethoven’s early string quartets.
Friday 26 September, 7.30pm
Grand Hall, City Halls
£15 (£13)
Running time: 2hrs 10 mins including interval

talk: Getting to the Heart of Beethoven’s First Three Sonatas
Join pianist Llyr Williams as he explores Beethoven’s first three sonatas from a pianist’s perspective, questioning what they tell us about Beethoven as a performer.
6.15pm - 7pm: Recital Room, City Halls (unreserved seating)
Free entry to ticket holders of the 7.30pm concert on first come, first served basis

Post-concert event: Beethoven in the Bar
Beethoven loved a drink and conversation in a tavern as much as the next man. Join the artists in the bar to discuss tonight’s music, the great composer and more.
9.45pm - 10.30pm: Candleriggs Bar, City Halls
Free entry to ticket holders of the 7.30pm concert on first come, first served basis

For just £50 enjoy an exclusive pass to see every concert in this special weekend. Please note that these are strictly limited so book now on 0141 353 8000!


Beethoven’s Circle Beethoven’s approach to composition was fundamentally collaborative. He noted in his diary: “Every day, share a meal with musicians, so that you can discuss instruments, and techniques and such”. 

This resulted in a dynamic interrelationship between his music and pieces written by his friends, including Anton Reicha, the Rombergs and the young Ferdinand Ries. Peter Sheppard Skaerved and friends introduce some of Beethoven’s contemporaries and play their music.
Peter Sheppard Skaerved violin/speaker
Neil Heyde cello
Aaron Shorr piano
Anton Reicha: Overture ‘Sappho’
Andreas & Bernhard Romberg: Variations ‘Se Vuol Ballare’
Beethoven: Variations ‘Se Vuol Ballare’
Ferdinand Ries: E flat Sonata
Beethoven: Kakadu Variations
Saturday 27 September, 4pm
Recital Room, City Halls
(unreserved seating)
£7.50, Running time: Ihr

Talk: Getting To The Heart of Beethoven’s Quartet, Op.59 No.1
The Quartet Op.59 No.1 shocked Beethoven’s contemporaries as he strode into new territory - it was even described as ‘unplayable’. Join the Elias Quartet to explore it from the inside out.
6.15pm – 7pm: Recital Room, City Halls (unreserved seating)
Free entry to ticket holders of the 7.30pm concert on first come, first served basis

Postlude featuring Elias String Quartet Beethoven: Quartet No.11, Op.95 (“Serioso”)
A quartet Beethoven considered fit “for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public”, Op.95 is an astounding work – Beethoven’s shortest quartet, and one of his most rewarding. A delightful close to the day.
9.45pm – 10.15pm: Grand Hall, City Halls
Free entry to ticket holders of the 7.30pm concert


An illustrated talk: Getting To The Heart of Beethoven’s Last Three Sonatas
A musical journey like no other, Beethoven’s last three sonatas were written concurrently between 1820 and 1822. There is plentiful evidence to suggest that he viewed them as a cycle – ideas pass from one to the other and create an immense musical canvas. In advance of his performances of all three sonatas in the evening, join Llyr Williams for his personal insights and perspectives.
Sunday 28 September, 3.30pm
Recital Room, City Halls (unreserved seating)
Free but ticketed
Running time: 45 mins

Beethoven - The Late Quartets Elias String Quartet
Beethoven: Quartet No.12 in E flat, Op.127
Beethoven: Quartet No.13 in B flat, Op.130

Beethoven wrote his late quartets to commission, and often their gestation and composition overlapped. This was far from uncommon with him, but when it comes to these works, both completed in 1825, the miracle is how utterly different they are.
Sunday 28 September, 4.30pm
Grand Hall, City Halls, (reserved seating)
£10 (£8)
Running time: 1hr 50 mins including interval

Beethoven - The Last Three Sonatas
Llyr Williams piano
Beethoven: Sonatas Op.109, 110 and 111
Beethoven’s last three sonatas over a towering climax to his cycle of 32. Each is a great work in its own right, but grows in stature when heard as part of this cycle of three. There is plenty of debate regarding whether or not Beethoven intended them to be performed together like this, but it is indisputable that they make an epic musical journey.
Sunday 28 September, 7.30pm
Grand Hall, City Halls (reserved seating)
£10 (£8)
Running time: 1hr 15 mins with 2 short pauses

Middle Beethoven -Sonatas & Quartets 1801-08 
Llyr Williams piano Elias String Quartet
Beethoven: Sonata No.12 in A flat, Op.26
Beethoven: Sonatas Op.27 No.1 (Moonlight) and No.2 (Quasi una fantasia)
Beethoven: Quartet No.7 in F, Op.59 No.1
The music of Beethoven’s ‘middle period’ is dominated by maverick departures from the classical heritage of his youth. Unpredictable, ceaselessly inventive, this spirit of adventure and experiment manifests itself in innumerable ways, but most obviously in the freedom that he increasingly allows himself formally, harmonically and melodically. This concert offers a flavour of the sheer range of his output in just seven years, from 1801-1808.
Saturday 27 September, 7.30pm
Grand Hall, City Halls (reserved seating), £15 (£13)
Running time: 2hrs 10 mins including interval

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Arches Live previews: FK Alexander

Scots are more passionate, more experienced and better kissers than their English counterparts

After finishing my dissertation, I am trawling my in-box to see what I have missed. Important stuff, apparently. I'm surprised no-one had thought of using this angle in the referendum debate. 

11th September 2014
A poll commissioned by AshleyMadison.com comparing Scottish and English men has revealed that Scots are more passionate, more experienced and better kissers than their English counterparts.

More than 1300 members of AshleyMadison.com, the leading extramarital dating site, responded to the survey.

Oh, it's them again. Ironically, extra-marital sex is one of the few practices that the vilearts does not endorse. 

Ahead of the Scottish referendum next week results reveal the Scots coming out on top with an overall grade of 7.7 compared to a measly 6.2 grade for the Brits. Scots really know what they're doing with those bagpipes!

I think they missed a pun here... something like 'this explains why all those people are shouting 'yes' all the time'.

As well as being ranked as more romantic, funnier and better kissers, the Scots obviously also know how to use what’s under their kilts, as the results revealed them as having more stamina in bed, more passion and more experience.

I have really gubbed this referendum. I say I want to see engaged
theatre, but when there are loads of political plays I sat back and said that I wouldn't discuss my political position. I'm like one of those cricket guys who say 'politics has no place in sport,' only I didn't even say that much.

The two areas English men ranked highest were in the looks department and for being massive party animals...why would Scotland ever want independence from that? 

It's probably because, like Harold Hobson, I am not convinced by political theatre - the answers I seek are existential. Tynan said everything is political, but he never really got the absurdists. 

“The result on 18 September may remain uncertain, but this poll is absolutely clear Scottish - English relations could not be better – at least in the bedroom!” Said Christoph Kraemer. “It looks like English men could learn a thing or two from the Scots, before the ladies start searching for their own Loch Ness monsters!”

About AshleyMadison.com
AshleyMadison.com was founded in 2002 by Noel Biderman, known as the “King of Infidelity” in international media. It offers married people a 100% safe and anonymous alternative to look for a discreet affair. Currently the leading extramarital dating site has more than 1 million UK members and 28 million members overall in 41 countries around the world.

Participating female users: 1.397
Which grade from 1 to 10 (1=not even worth a yawn,10=mind-blowing) would you give lovers from Scotland vs. England in the following categories?
                                       Scotland          England

Romantic                                  9                    5

Sense of humour                       8                    6

Best kisser                                 9                    6

Best looking                              5                    9

No, too bored, now. I'm sure the rest will turn up in The Scotsman or somewhere. 

Stamina in bed 8 / 5

Party animal 6 / 9

Experienced 8 / 6

Passionate 9 / 5

Generous 8 / 5

Sexiest accent 7 / 6

Final grade 7.7 / 6.2