Review: Blackbird by David Harrower

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Paul Higgins as Ray and Camrie Palmer as Una (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Paul Higgins as Ray and Camrie Palmer as Una (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

The revival of Scottish playwright David Harrower’s taut drama Blackbird is another fine production for the Citizens Theatre. Harrower’s writing is so sophisticated in his examination of an illicit relationship that it raises as many new questions as it answers and it draws you in to a place where you have to set aside prejudices and preconceptions.

Una has found Ray again after fifteen years. Looking out from his new life, she recognises the face though not the name when she spots a photo of him in a trade magazine. Tracking him to a filthy work common room, she is now searching for answers. The last time she saw him she was 12 and he was 40.

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird deals with the aftermath. While recalling their past relationship and the trial, the play looks at how people build their lives again after they’ve been destroyed.

Like a boxing match, it packs a punch. The power swings from one player to the other and at some point each character wants to leave the ring. Our empathy too rises and falls as lies are uncovered.

It’s about identity and the right to a new one. Ray has done his time and served his punishment but does he deserve a new life? With respect? Why didn’t Una, who was stigmatised by the publicity from the trial, have the right to a new identity as she was growing up?

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Blackbird by David Harrower, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with Camrie Palmer as Una and Paul Higgins as Ray (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Harrower has crafted fully realised and complex characters that wrestle with language, and each other, in what director Gareth Nicholls calls a ‘psychological thriller’. It’s beautifully acted too by Paul Higgins and Camrie Palmer. As they quietly sit and drink from the same bottle of water after another heated exchange there’s a surprising sense of gentle intimacy. Una’s monologue is riveting.

Sadly, Blackbird remains as relevant today as it did in 2005 when it first premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival, as yet another high-profile male has recently been charged with sexual abuse. While the meeting between Una and Ray is a chance for both to give voice to what couldn’t be said during the trial, the play’s building tension foreshadows a horrifying end.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until 5 March 2016.

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It’s not just my caffeine fix, it’s my morning pick me up

Ahhhh, lovely coffee machine. Photo by Katy Hanlon

Ahhhh, lovely coffee machine. Photo by Katy Hanlon

“Wendy, your flat white is ready.”

Of all the places in the world where I could be, my mother and I are at the Union Bank Plaza Starbucks in Downtown LA and honestly, I couldn’t be happier. There is no tea in the hotel room, an Earl Grey is seemingly out of the question and my mummy wants a flat white. So within a day of our arrival we are skipping through those green gates to seek our caffeine fix.

As I enjoy my daily tea and morning bun, I reflect on this pseudo relationship which has been formed by the server knowing our name and order and I realise I will leave LA with two things:

1) My awesome Starbucks recyclable cup which I purchased on my third day of holiday, and

2) An appreciation for my own barista, who works at the Counter Culture Coffee kiosk on the Hyndland train station platform right here in Glasgow.

This is because William E. Gladstone, the Prime Minister for Great Britain way back in the nineteenth century, got it right when he said: “If you are cold, tea will warm you.  If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”[1]

Is it any surprise then that we struggle without our morning caffeine fix? When a good day can be based on whether we get our morning coffee, the relationship between barista and caffeine addicted customer can be, well rather important, particularly in the way our barista can anticipate our daily caffeine needs. My barista, Counter Culture Coffee Manager Katy Hanlon, knows my order (London Fog) and my name (Susannah) so it’s no surprise to find out she knows everyone’s orders.

Photo by Katy Hanlon

Photo by Katy Hanlon

“We have quite a few regulars,” Katy informs me. “I’d say that I recognise the majority of the customers we get in the morning. I know what our regulars order as well, down to how many sugars, or whether they take milk or not.”

She’s that good that you don’t even need to order. I used to have a system with Katy’s predecessor Stu: a “thumbs up” on approach meant my usual, a “thumbs down” meant I was going for something different.[2] But now I don’t even need to do that. Only last week Katy saw me striding down the platform and had started preparing my drink before I arrived.

And I’m not even her best “spot.” That was when she saw a customer who was walking up the stairs on the other side of the Hyndland tracks. “That is definitely the best creepy spot,” she confirms, “and I’d like to point out that it was me who made that spot. I’ve had a few other good ones, like the time I spotted a regular customer standing at the doors of a train as it slowed down to stop at the station. It’s quite fun to see their faces when I hand them their drink as they have just finished ordering it.”

Fuelling customers since 2008, the Counter Culture Coffee kiosk is situated on the Hyndland platform. No, not platform 9¾, it’s between platforms one and two. While it’s not quite Central Station (or King’s Cross), it’s busy enough for a barista, with a number of trains coming and going every hour, translating to customers arriving in waves.

Katy is definitely not fazed. “I’ve being doing this job for just over seven years now so I’ve had a lot of practice at seeming calm when there’s a rush and I’m slightly panicking inside. I just try to be as quick as I can.”

And what’s the hardest drink to make? “Anything decaf! It isn’t that the decaf is harder to make, it just takes more time which can be annoying if there is rush or you can see from the panic on the customer’s face that their train is coming in. The London Fog probably has the most steps to remember but we only have a few customers that order that and it smells so nice that making it is a pleasure.”

The hand that makes my London Fog. Photo (and hand) by Katy Hanlon

The hand that makes my London Fog. Photo (and hand) by Katy Hanlon

Ah yes, there’s nothing like that shot of vanilla syrup to kick-start your day. The thing is, it’s more than just my caffeine or sugar fix, it’s my morning pick me up. Not only do I get my London Fog, I also get a bit of chat which sets me up for my working day and this short daily interaction is just as much a perk as the caffeine itself. It’s like walking into the Cheers bar where everyone knows your name; I’m part of the Counter Culture Coffee community.

I’ve observed that the team get on really well, which seems a big part of it. “I genuinely like everyone I work with,” Katy says, “which is probably the best bit of my job. Most of our customers are lovely so that’s another bonus. The only things I dislike are the early starts and having to be in bed by 9pm the night before.” Ahem, that would be her very early morning starts (5am) which ensure we have the privilege of our daily coffee.

Thankfully she likes us “regulars.” She adds, “it’s nice to have a bit of a chat with them in the morning and find out how they’re doing. It probably sounds odd but I always wonder what they do when they leave the station, what their job is and things like that. I think it’s because I see these people five days a week and get a tiny insight into their lives that gets me curious.”

I think because the kiosk staff kept mentioning each other by name I ended up introducing myself, to discover I had a nickname I better continue living up to. “Yeah, you were ‘London Fog Lady’ for a while,” Katy confirms, “then you were ‘Nice London Fog Lady’ and now you’re ‘Susannah’.

“The nicknames,” she continues, “are usually just based on the customer’s drink order, so nothing insulting. ‘Quadruple shot guy’, ‘skinny latte not too hot girl’ and ‘small skinny latte’ are other drink related nicknames we have. Sometimes our nicknames are based on other things, for example, we had a guy who used to countdown the days of the week: “Monday again”, “Wednesday, halfway there”, “Thursday, just one day left” and so on. He rather unoriginally became ‘Countdown guy’.”

Inside the kiosk; postcards from around the world. Photo by Katy Hanlon

Inside the kiosk; postcards from around the world. Photo by Katy Hanlon

The milk may be frothy but the humour is far from flat. I still grin recalling my enquiry into the delicious sounding Pumpkin latte (available at the kiosk over Halloween). After hearing all about it, I of course reverted to my usual London Fog, what Counter Culture Coffee owner Alan Robertson wryly calls my “own adventurous choice.”

I’m not the only creature of habit though as Katy confirms most regulars do the same thing. “If I creepy spot a customer before they’ve ordered then I sometimes start preparing their order. Although, at the back of my mind I’m thinking I hope they don’t decide to order something totally different!

One new thing I did start last year was using that recyclable cup of mine, which is now paying its own way. Katy says “We’ve been getting a lot more people using their own cups. I don’t know whether this is due to our promotion (10p off any coffee when you bring your own cup) but it’s definitely a good thing for the environment.”

My awesome recyclable cup

My awesome recyclable cup

So what does my barista drink when she is not working? Katy reveals: “Usually in the morning I’ll just have a small Americano with a bit of milk which is normally lukewarm by the time I get to drink it. When it’s not busy in the afternoon I’ll sometimes make myself a mint mocha or a pumpkin latte if I feel like a treat.”

She says, “I honestly think our coffee is better than the big chains so I don’t normally order it from other places. However, the black forest hot chocolate that Costa do at Christmas is amazing. Me and my sister would get one at our local branch every Friday after work in December as well as sometimes during the week. The barista definitely recognised us after a few visits!”

So whether you’re “small skinny latte” or “quadruple shot guy”, it’s just nice to have a place where someone remembers exactly what coffee you like to drink. When I hear Alan double check “that will be two sugars” with the customer waiting next to me on the platform, I just smile. I see the customer nod and smile too. Yeah, they know her order too.

***

I discovered the London Fog because my friend Lisa had tried it out at Beanscene. Then I noticed it was on the menu at the kiosk. Katy says she isn’t daring enough to have invented her own drink yet [I’m giving her time!], but she likes to try out different combinations of syrups in the drinks. I can confirm she adds just the right amount of syrup to my London Fog.  Here’s how to make it, as instructed by Manager/Barista Katy Hanlon (though better yet, trot on down to the kiosk at Hyndland Station and get her to make it for you herself!):

Spot the vanilla syrup for the London Fog. Photo by Katy Hanlon

Spot the vanilla syrup for the London Fog.  Photo by Katy Hanlon

How to make a London Fog (as instructed by Barista Katy Hanlon)
A London Fog is one of our more unusual drinks. It consists of Earl Grey tea, vanilla syrup and steamed milk. I put the syrup in first (if you put it in last then it sinks to the bottom rather than dispersing throughout the drink). Next, I add the Earl Grey teabag and top it up with hot water so the cup is about 3/4 of the way full, it needs a good stir so that the Earl Grey flavour really comes through and I’ll usually leave the bag in while I get the milk ready. Finally, I remove the teabag and top the drink with some steamed milk. It sounded like a really strange combination when Stu first explained it to me but somehow it works. I think it took me a bit of time to get all the quantities just right and I’ve learned (from you!) that sugar free syrup does just not cut it with a London Fog.”

 

[1] To be clear, I think this quote is predominantly to do with tea. I don’t think Mr Gladstone was commenting on the virtues of recyclable cups, as they were yet to be invented. Though to be fair, he was a bit of a visionary when it came to tea, so you never know.

[2] But who am I kidding? When I have ever had anything but a London Fog?

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Well played Citizens

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, with David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

As a snapshot of the human condition, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame paints a very bleak picture.  In a room that looks like a grubby photo negative leached of all colour, its edges curled with age, four characters play out their last day.

And what a game it is they play: their lives of not so quiet desperation are repetitive and farcical. The very pointlessness of it all a prime example of the work by a group of European playwrights predominantly from the 1950s, which included Beckett and was labelled the Theatre of the Absurd.

In Endgame Hamm can’t stand (and is blind), Clov can’t sit and Nagg and Nell don’t have legs and live in rubbish bins.  As their co-dependent relationships play out there’s a sense of the cyclical to the piece, as if this has been performed over ages.

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Chris Gascoyne as Clov, David Neilson as Hamm (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Chris Gascoyne as Clov, David Neilson as Hamm (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

The characters have a theatrical awareness which is very engaging. The dialogue is peppered with talk of auditions, asides, soliloquies and exits. As the events take their course, it’s like the bones of the play are being exposed.

The tyrannical Hamm, forcefully played by David Neilson, is the showman and key storyteller of the piece. Yet despite his dominance, he is as trapped as the rest. He starts the day like every other day before it, but his conviction stutters towards the end, leaving him grasping for words which are then reduced to a series of directions. With the red trimmings on his coat and hat he is a dash of colour in a drab world, but the coat is worn and the hat is reminiscent of performing monkeys.

Despite the gravitas of the situation it’s not all dark.  While Nell comments, “nothing is funnier than unhappiness,” the characters do find dashes of joy in a joyless world. Chris Gascoyne brings a vaudevillian charm to Clov; he moves with deliberate precision, his shuffling movement almost a dance.  Nagg and Nell’s (Peter Kelly and Barbara Rafferty) sweet compassion towards each other ever so briefly transcends their dire circumstances.

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, David Neilson as Hamm, Chris Gascoyne as Clov (Photo: Tim Morozzo)

These moments of sympathy are necessary as it’s not a small amount of commitment asked of the audience.  Endgame is not an easy watch.  For me, the highly choreographed drama distances, rather than moves me. The climax of the play brings no relief.

And yet that is also the point. One of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that life is suffering. In Endgame the gift of life translates to the burden of living and yet the human spirit prevails. Life may be an incurable disease but humans do not give up.

Following on from his excellent 2014 double bill of Krapp’s Last Tape and Footfalls, Director Dominic Hill meets another Beckett production head on. What will he tackle next? I think I’m ready for Godot.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until 20 February 2016, then HOME, Manchester, 25 – 27 February 2016.

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The waiting is over: ZFF2015 best film announced

Nebraska_ticketYes, you can stop holding your breath. ZFF2015 has finished and the results of the best film of the festival will be announced very soon, in fact, check out the end of this blog post.

What a whirl it was. Eight films in seven days, that’s just over one a day (or more accurately one every night except for Saturday where there was two in one day). Two in one day! O The Madness.

Quite a bit of popcorn (both salted and sweet) was consumed, and the mini ice creams from the COOP were a hit. The three-seater sofa was so often full we’ve decided to call this year’s inaugural festival a success. Also a hit were the foreign film nights which showcased the charms of films all-the-way from the Antipodes (one of the films was even purchased and brought all the way back from the New Zealand).

And so we reach the end. The ushers have cleaned up the last remnants of the popcorn from the floor, the dishes have nearly been washed and the organiser is recovering quietly on said three-seater sofa reflecting on some of the things she learnt:

  • It’s quite hard to write blurbs when you haven’t seen the film and you don’t want to read the reviews because you still want the film to be a surprise
  • Everything is ok when there is just an audience of one (obviously not one of the sell out sessions). ZFF technicians experienced some technical difficulties which delayed the screening of The Orator. But as the sole audience member in question decided to make the tomato sauce for the lasagne she was making the following night before the start of the movie, already delaying it, what’s a few technical difficulties?
  • ZFF is actually the acronym for the Zürich Film Festival, which is a shame for us as we really liked ZFF as our acronym. We are now accepting ideas on new hashtag.  How about #ZFilmFest? One idea which sadly uses up a lot of our character allowance but feels quite Prince-like:

#Zan’s Film Festival (or the film festival formerly known as ZFF)

  • And here’s the sum up:

Zan’s Film Festival (ZFF2015)
9 – 15 March 2015

Following hot on the heels (well one week after, that’s pretty quick) of Glasgow’s more well-known cinematic love fest, Zan’s Film Festival (ZFF) is a homely yet boutique celebration of some of the DVDs she’s had on her shelf for some time but not managed to watch. Nothing like giving something a name to ensure that DVD watching will prevail.

To make it easy on her, all films will be screened in her lounge.

OPENING NIGHT GALA – SOLD OUT
The Castle
Lounge 1 | 09 Mar 2015 (19.30)

Strewth, the GFF missed a trick when they didn’t include this movie in their “Films of Oz” season. We’re not bigging our scheduling up as to be perfectly honest it’s only been included because one person said they’d like to see it. (That’s how accommodating we are, but how could it not be included???)

We open ZFF2015 with The Castle, so that Mary Anne can attend both this screening and “Seattle Birthday Week”. This movie makes Zan’s top three films of all time. Like the Princess Bride (sadly not being shown during this festival but incidentally also in Zan’s top three), it’s littered with witticisms that leap screaming into your own personal lexicon.

You’ll either love or hate the humour (though how could you not love Darryl Kerrigan?) but by the end of it you will feel the serenity, know what a pool room is (and moreover what goes in it) and if you’re lucky you’ll also understand the Australian legal system a little bit better than Dennis Denuto.

So sit back, feel the vibe and enjoy this Aussie classic. Oh and bring your own pillow, the sofa seats three and it’s going to be busy.
The Castle| Directed by Rob Sitch| Written by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy and Rob Sitch| 1997

Best in Show
Lounge 1 | 10 Mar 2015 (20.00)

I’m not sure how this film ended up on one of my shelves. It’s a movie about dogs and dog owners and a Crufts-like dog show. I’m wondering whether the owners look like their dogs.
Best in Show| Directed by Christopher Guest | Written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy   | 2000

NebraskaSOLD OUT
Lounge 1 | 11 Mar 2015 (20.00)

This one’s for the older adult clinical psychologists in your life, of which I have two, and both will be in the audience for this one.

I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t comment on it but I’m going to ask for the ClinPsycs (who will probably be the only other two in the room) for a character diagnosis.
Nebraska| Directed by Alexander Payne | Written by Bob Nelson | 2013

Thursday is Kiwi Night (it’s also foreign film night)
The Orator
Lounge 1 | 12 Mar 2015 (20.00)

I don’t know anything about this film, except that I bought it from the Warehouse (where everyone gets a bargain) for only $14.99 because my old Drama school classmate Tausili Mose is in it. Actually, I think she got married as the DVD calls her Tausili Pushparaj. Tausili is a really good actress and she can cry on cue which is hard for those who can’t but I think easy for those who can. So I’m wondering whether she gets to show off this talent in the movie. The flick is called The Orator, so it must be about talking. Though it tagline is “The strongest voice comes from the heart” so maybe it’s something to do with your voice.
The Orator | Directed and written by Tusi Tamasese | 2011

This movie was almost brought to you by Maplin because this NZ DVD only plays on zone 4. As I don’t particularly like watching movies on the computer screen the ZFF2015 team investigated being able to play it on the TV via the computer (I know, fancy!) But no, it was going to cost £19.99 to get the video connection and a further £7.99 to connect the sound. The cost savings of not investigating this option further has been extended to you. *

Friday night Flamenco
Carmen
Lounge 1 | 13 Mar 2015 (20.00)

Carmen da da da da da da da da da! Carmen!

Enough said. Hopefully music is by Bizet as well. Flamenco on a Friday night with Lee-anne (who’s actually studying Spanish!), I cannot wait.
Carmen| Directed and Choreographed by Rafeal Aguilar | 2003

Kids of all ages screening
TMNT – SOLD OUT
Lounge 1 | 14 March 2015 (16.00)

That’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the rest of you. This film is sponsored by John and Lidl. This screening may make up for the fact I couldn’t find my collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle coins when my nephews asked for them last time they were in New Zealand. This treasure was collected for me each week from New World supermarket (First in Food) by my (long-suffering) mother. I’m really not sure which box they are in. Because yes, I did keep them.   Who wouldn’t? Cowabunga dude!
TMNT | Directed and written by Kevin Munroe | 2014

Pride – SOLD OUT
Lounge 1 | 15 Mar 2015 (20.00)

(Not the U2 song). At the time of going to press this film has not been distributed to ZFF operations department yet. Will ZFF2015 suffer the same fate as Toto in Cinema Paradiso (unsurprisingly also in Zan’s top three) when he had to cycle between two towns to get the reel of film for the crowd hungry to see the second half? We’re hoping that the one person definitely booked in to see this movie doth not constitute a baying mob but we have Zan’s ill used bike at the ready in the garage should she need to cycle to Amazon headquarters somewhere in the UK or HMV on Argyle Street to procure this film.

What? It was delivered last week? On time too?   Well then, the only drama you’ll be seeing will be on the big-ish screen. And the film, thanks for asking, it’s about Gays and Lesbians helping the Welsh Miners during the 1984 strike. You’ll love it.
Pride| Directed by Matthew Warchus| Written by Stephen Beresford | 2014

CLOSING NIGHT GALA – SOLD OUT
Sunday Scary Sci-Fi (SSSF)
Under the Skin
Lounge 1 | 15 Mar 2015 (20.00)

This film is on Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw’s “Shoulda been a contender” for a best picture Oscar 2015 so it must be good. The loss of a well deserved Oscar nomination aside, no doubt writer Michael Faber and director Jonathan Glazer will be comforted to know that their baby is being showcased at ZFF2015 as their SSSF movie and closing night film.

On a more personal note, the unread book sits on Zan’s shelf. Will she read it after viewing the film on Sunday? Or will she be too scared to? Who knows? Tune in next week when she turns into a bug, gets shot by a space cowboy and comes back to life as a new alien…
Under the Skin| Directed by Jonathan Glazer| Written by Michael Faber| 2014

***************

ZFF2015 would like to thank Hickford Lodge for the lease of their premises, John for being an usher and Conrad for bringing his popcorn maker to the screening of TMNT – it was most appreciated.

ZFF2015 is also grateful to Rich for spotting the “deliberate” error in the programme. ZFF googled “1884 miners strike” and although there was a strike by Ohio coal miners in 1884, we agree, this was 100 years prior to, and not the subject of the film, Pride.
Congratulations Rich, you get this year’s “spot” prize; there’s a free ticket for next year’s (yet to be branded) film festival winging its way to you now.**

AND NOW, THE MOMENT YOU’VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR:
(Trumpets, drumroll, cue folk music…)

Please bear in mind this was not a democratic process; the concept of the best film was only conceived of by the sell out crowd on day six while watching the crowd pleaser Pride.  Not everyone voted or was even aware that there was going to be a vote, but as I was present at every screening (and it’s my film festival), I get to decide who won.

So Zan’s undemocratic film choice for 2016 was:

Under the Skin

Michael and Jonathan will be pleased to know that the best film trophy has not yet been created otherwise it would be a disappointing blight on their mantelpiece but nonetheless, great film guys. (P.S. this blog post is late because after movie I did read the book).

Well, that’s it for 2015.  Thanks for the memories, missing you already.
From Zan’s Film Festival (or the film festival formerly known as ZFF) 2015 team, who are now off to do those dishes.

*             Tickets for this screening were going to be £27.98 but now they’re a steal at the normal price of £15!
**           Subject to there being a ZFF2016

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Dracula

Jonathan Goddard as Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Photo by Colin Hawkins

Jonathan Goddard as Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Photo by Colin Hawkins

It seems we’ll never tire of vampire stories.  In the past couple of decades alone we’ve been treated to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Underworld  and the complete Twilight series to mention just a few, each with its own set of vampire (vs. werewolf) rules.  There’s even more vampire viewing to be had in the upcoming film What We Do in the Shadows.

But it is the father of all these (admittedly great) imitations, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, that choreographer Mark Bruce returns to in a production which admirably fills the vast concrete vista of the Tramway space, in terms of both size and scope.

A property deal leads Jonathan Harker (Wayne Parsons) to Dracula’s lair, a castle inhabited by a wolfish chorus of chaos and shrieking brides.  Dracula (Jonathan Goddard) haunts the margins of society and the danger he poses doesn’t truly hit until later when he bites Lucy Westenra (Kristin McGuire) then Harker’s wife Mina (Eleanor Duval), unleashing a series of events that reveal everyone as they really are.

Who is human and who is monster?  At times Dracula is benign and humane (with a comic sketch as the performing monkey type), then mercurially he transforms into a monster.  Set in parallel are the men whose determination to save the souls of their wives impels them into acts of monstrosity.

It’s a production that shifts between ballet and contemporary dance.  Atmospheric lighting lends itself to a visual feast of imagery throughout. The first half is slightly weighed down by the narrative though it’s balanced by comedy, but it’s the second half that sings and does what dance does best: physicalise the inner emotional landscape of the characters.

Courted by three suitors, Lucy selects the one with the best (and most comic) entrance.  She is almost cartoonish in her reactions and her heightened response finds its fullest expression in the second act.

Jonathan Goddard and Kirstin McGuire in Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Photo by Colin Hawkins

Jonathan Goddard and Kirstin McGuire in Dracula, Mark Bruce Company, Photo by Colin Hawkins

Dracula’s visitation to Lucy in the second half leaves her in thrall to him.  Their dance is sublime in the sharpness of movement and the rapture it expresses.  Coquettish before, Lucy is now completely sexualised; her transformation into vampire is so ecstatic it reaches the top of her arched toes.  She is magnetic in her seductive posturing and her demise is altogether disappointing as she is easily the most fun character on stage.

Mina in some ways travels further. Her virtuous character is reflected in her duet with Harker in the first act. Soft and gentle, their movements echo the other to combine in harmony.  Her bite from Dracula leads to another duet which is ripe with sensuality.  One thing is for sure, Bruce’s choreography captures the heightened eroticism of vampiric relations.

Tramway, Glasgow, run ended, http://www.tramway.org.

Then touring the UK, Nov – Dec 2014, http://www.markbrucecompany.com/

 

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Up Close with the Scottish Ballet

Erik Cavallari and Sophie Martin in Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Photograph by Andy Ross

Erik Cavallari and Sophie Martin in Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Photograph by Andy Ross

For the uninitiated, the Scottish Ballet’s Up Close provides a fantastic introduction to the delights of dance, and ballet in particular.  Presenting both the new and the old, the first half offers up five very different short pieces by emerging choreographers while the second act delivers a treat from twentieth century choreographer Kenneth MacMillan.

Brenda Lee Grech, Katie Webb, Laura Kinross and Constance Devernay in James Cousin’s Still It Remains, Scottish Ballet, Photograph by Andrew Ross

Brenda Lee Grech, Katie Webb, Laura Kinross and Constance Devernay in James Cousin’s Still It Remains, Scottish Ballet, Photograph by Andrew Ross

I had already seen James CousinsStill it remains during the Edinburgh Festival last year and it still remains a favourite of the Scottish Ballet’s new works.  The opening strains of the violin evoking the Middle East are at counterpoint to the rhythmic exhalation of breath by the four dancers.  It’s a dark little piece full of repeated movement, with the quartet of women seemingly impelled to dance.  Holding, contorting and undulating their ways into standing apart; they fight the dance together and alone.

Victor Zarallo and Sophie Martin in James Cousin’s Jealousy, Scottish Ballet, Photograph by Andrew Ross

Victor Zarallo and Sophie Martin in James Cousin’s Jealousy, Scottish Ballet, Photograph by Andrew Ross

Cousin’s Jealousy was an engagingly intense duet by a couple bathed in red.  A heart monitor beats in the background as the woman entwines herself about the man, at times they are cocooned in each other.  It’s a balancing act which never allows her to touch the floor.

Marge Hendrick and Owen Thorne in Helen Pickett’s Trace, Photo by Andy Ross

Marge Hendrick and Owen Thorne in Helen Pickett’s Trace, Photo by Andy Ross

The piano accompaniment to Helen Pickett’s Trace matches perfectly the longing and the yearning of romantic love expressed in this dance, while some tiny flicks of the dancer’s feet capture the playfulness.

The bill at the Tramway also included Hope Muir’s Broken Ice and Martin Lawrance’s energetic Dark Full Ride.  Each piece contrasted in mood and tone; the programming has provided a real range of dance.

Erik Cavallari and Sophie Martin in Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Photograph by Andy Ross.

Erik Cavallari and Sophie Martin in Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Photograph by Andy Ross.

But it’s Scottish born Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations which is the highlight of the night and a real showcase for the dancers.  Very accessible and laugh out loud funny, Elite Syncopations follows the dancers in some rather loud lycra as they ready themselves for an old-time dance off.  There’s a lot of preening, and that’s just the men.

A few high kicks later and I’m reminded of Scott off Strictly Ballroom and his “flashy, crowd pleasing steps”.  Yes, it is light in tone but there’s depth to the dance and it requires a deft sharpness from the dancers.  Plus it’s a chance for the dancers to portray comic characters which they do relish.

There’s an accomplished duet from Erik Cavallari and Luciana Ravizzi and Victor Zarallo impresses in his indifferent comic duet with a doting Daniela Oddi.  But it’s Marge Hendrick and Constant Vigier as the mismatched pair in the Alaskan rag that really raises the laughter in this one act dance.

Company members perform Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Photograph by Andy Ross.

Company members perform Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, Photograph by Andy Ross.

A beautifully choreographed duet bringing the fun factor to ballet, Vigier is face planted into the chest of his rather tall female partner; when long limbs fly he is short enough to duck them.  For him, their pas de deux becomes an entwinement from which to escape while she continues to dance on despite this.  It makes for a laugh out loud moments and a great end to the night.

Tramway, Glasgow, run ended, http://www.tramway.org then touring October – November 2014, http://www.scottishballet.co.uk/

The Macphail Centre, Ullapool, 28 – 29th Oct, http://www.macphailcentre.co.uk/

Gaiety Theatre, Ayr, 31 October, http://ayrgaiety.co.uk/

Dundee Rep Theatre, Dundee, 31 Oct – 01 Nov 2014, http://www.dundeerep.co.uk/

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Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Vanishing Point, Photo by Junior Aragão

Tomorrow, Vanishing Point, Photo by Junior Aragão

Ever since I saw the brilliant Interiors I’ve looked forward to new Vanishing Point  productions. Their breadth of vision and the imaginative ways they explore an idea are always exciting and their attention to the little details of life can be incredibly poignant; it makes for a compelling theatrical experience. Their new production Tomorrow is no exception.

What’s interesting about Tomorrow, which looks at the issue of care, is its exploration of various sides. From the programme notes, it is the dilemma of the carer – the choice to care – which sparked this new international collaborative production by the Glasgow theatre company. As a result, the play explores what becomes a primary relationship, the relationship between carer and those cared-for, who may not necessarily be related by blood, just as much as it looks at the experience of those ageing.

Tomorrow loosely follows one man’s story.  We meet George (Samuel Keefe) hurrying to see his wife Susan who has just given birth to their daughter.  As a person with dementia, it is this key moment that he returns to over and over in his mind leaving his memories to intersect with the present day.  Weaving in and out of George’s story are the working lives of experienced care workers Maria (Elicia Daly, seen in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler) and Jerry (Stephen Docherty) and new girl Joy (Mercy Ojelade).

With humour and dignity, Tomorrow captures both of the challenges of ageing and caring for those ageing.  Centring on life at a care home which is slowly constructed around George, it celebrates the little moments, the everyday, the ordinary and the oft-repeated.

Tomorrow, Vanishing Point, Photo by Humberto Araujo

Tomorrow, Vanishing Point, Photo by Humberto Araujo

The residents’ lives are at times punctuated with frustration, confusion and fear and manifest in moments of painful vulnerability and sadness which prickle at one’s consciousness.

Having said that Tomorrow is by no means gloomy.  There is humour but it is anchored with a sense of gravity.  Populated with gentle child guides it is also filled with images of haunting beauty.

One of my favourite moments occurred quietly in the background.  After a particularly amusing and uplifting exercise class led by Jerry, one of the elderly people in the care home, Lydia, (Jenny Hulse in a dual role also as George’s daughter Claire), walks around eating a piece of cake.

Was she eating cake for the first time?  Probably not but it seemed so, as her delicate enjoyment was exquisite.  And in watching her enjoy the cake, there was a sense of really seeing her, of glimpsing her true character.

After a shocking climax, the play fades to a close. Whose tomorrow is it? Is it just the characters on stage? Maybe it’s ours as well.  As they say, if we’re lucky we’ll get to enjoy our old age.

Tramway, Glasgow, until 11 October 2014, http://www.tramway.org.

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