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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Theatre Review: Cinderella/A Million Miles Away

Published in the Guardian
Cinderella/A Million Miles Away
His Majesty's Theatre/Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
THREE STARS
NO ONE would doubt Elaine C Smith is good casting as Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. As well as her star charisma (these days, as much from her run of HMT pantos as her role in Rab C Nesbitt), she brings maternal warmth, cheery rapport and wholesome good humour. 

Plus she has a pair of lungs on her. Whether she's leading a small army of Rod Stewart lookalikes in leopard-skin leggings, tartan scarves and blond wigs; doing a turn as Gladys McKnight singing Midnight Train to Huntly; or reworking the James Bond soundtrack as a big-haired Adele, she can match the best of them note for note.

But throw in Jordan Young as a loose-limbed Buttons, Alan McHugh and Iain Stuart Robertson as benign Ugly Sisters and Barbara Rafferty as a malevolent Demonica, and there's scarcely any room for poor Cinderella. In the lead role, Gillian Parkhouse shares two things with Ross William Wild's Prince Charming: an ability to belt out the chart hits and a cardboard cut-out character. We see little evidence of her exploitation, still less of her poverty and, when things start looking up, no sense of her nervousness at the ball nor wonder at her miraculous transformation.

The perfunctory treatment of this central story means that, for all the life and bonhomie in the performances, good gags about Donald Trump and old-fashioned light-entertainment values, there's not enough at stake for the happy ending to move us.

Elsewhere in Aberdeen at the Lemon Tree, Frozen Charlotte is taking a younger audience on an island adventure in A Million Miles Away (until 24 Dec). Its story about a girl getting to know her eccentric uncle is of little consequence, but it has a likeable home-made aesthetic and a touch of magic when it releases a sky-full of twinkling stars.
Mark Fisher
Until 5 January (01224 641122). Details: www.aberdeenperformingarts.com
© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Theatre review: A Christmas Carol

Published in the Guardian
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
THREE STARS
With its hard-working cast, outbreaks of yuletide song and line-up of larger-than-life characters, this staging of the Dickens classic is as rich as a plum pudding. With its drive to race through the story, enthusiasm for the author's poor-but-honest sentiments and its general eagerness to please, it can also be as sickly sweet.

As portraits of Victorian illness, poverty and exploitation go, Andrew Panton's production is on the chirpy side. There is a suggestion it might not turn out to be so in the chainmail curtain that sweeps around Alex Lowde's set, glittering like the iciest of nights and preparing us for the cruel chains that bind Jacob Marley to the dark recesses of hell. Panton uses it to project wintry silhouettes and spooky animations, not least the outline of Christmas Yet To Come, the most chilling of Scrooge's ghostly visitations.

But for all that, it's a production disinclined to dwell on the dark side. Using the admired adaptation by Neil Duffield, it subjects Christopher Fairbank's Scrooge (suitably cantankerous and suitably chastised) to the minimum of supernatural torment before exposing him to the good honest values of community, friendship and plentiful carol singing. He has reason to learn his lesson, but he gets off lightly.

The actors tear into it with gusto, despite occasional discomfort with the English accents. They’re forever picking up instruments, swapping characters and pushing around the furniture for seamless transitions between scenes. They make bright, brisk work of it and their heart is clearly in the right place, but the most memorable part of the evening  comes after the tale is told. With Dickens dispatched, the ensemble joins in a stunning medley of carols spliced together by musical director Claire McKenzie as snow floats down on the auditorium. The audience shouts its approval and heads buoyantly into the night.
Until 4 January (0131 248 4848). Details: www.lyceum.org.uk
© Mark Fisher 2013 
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A Gay in a Manger preview

Published in the Scotsman
If you were trying to irritate a devout Christian, calling your festive entertainment A Gay in a Manger would be a good place to start. Confrontation is not, however, the intention of Laurie Brown, Rosana Cade and Adrian Howells, the team behind the Arches' semi-improvised adult revue. Rather, it is to provide a home to all the waifs and strays who feel neglected by the mass of family-orientated shows that dominate the theatre schedules at this time of year.

"It's a fun play on words and it gets across the tone of the show but it certainly isn't meant to be offensive," says Cade. "You're only going to complain about it if you're homophobic – and homophobia is wrong."

She adds: "We're definitely not anti-Christian, but we are offering an alternative way of looking at Christmas. In general, Christmas is very heteronormative and capitalist, and we're trying to create something outside of that. Everything around Christmas can be so sweet and this is something that's not sweet at all."

Cade, a self-styled queer artist, and her good friend Brown are known on the gender-bending cabaret scene as Tranny and Roseannah, roles they're reviving here. Brown, meanwhile, has the extra challenge of starring by day in the Arches' festive show for younger audiences, The Night Before Christmas, and by night in this X-rated alternative. "We're doing it on the same set, which is quite funny," says Cade.

Completing the trio is Howells, best known for a string of solo performance-art shows that have explored the nature of intimacy (in one, he gave each audience member a bath in moisturising milk and essential oils). "Adrian pushes Laurie and I to be a lot darker," says Cade. "He's got a very dark sense of humour."

Described as "John Waters hosting a festive Noel’s House Party," the show promises a cosy night in at Tranny and Roseannah's where the yuletide singalongs and festive storytelling are given an extra helping of camp. A team that thinks panto isn't camp enough already is clearly hardcore.

"It's dirty, trashy camp," says Cade. "We're using references from every kind of Christmas show imaginable, which does involve the Nativity and various pantomimes, but the style is queer outrageous cabaret. You'll find everything you'd expect in a Christmas show but done in a slightly different way than normal. It's a Christmas show for people who don't want to go to a pantomime."

A Gay in a Manger, Arches, Glasgow, 12–21 December.
© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Rachel O'Riordan interview

Published in the Scotsman
RACHEL O'Riordan always knew Cinderella would be the last show at Perth Theatre before it shut down for a two-year refurbishment. That was why, when she commissioned playwright Alan McHugh, she asked him to set the classic fairy story not in a stately home but in a theatre. It means Cressida, the evil stepmother, is now a reckless manager running her theatre into the ground, while Buttons is employed front-of-house as an ice-cream seller. 

"I wanted to reference the fact that we were closing our doors," she says. "I wanted to remind our audience they were in their local theatre and they'll need to come back to it. Cinderella is also about transformation, and the transformation of the theatre is another reason I chose to do it now."

What O'Riordan couldn't have foreseen, however, was that Cinderella would mark the end of her own three-year reign in Perth, a tenure that has earned her considerable acclaim, not least in the annual Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Come February, she'll be packing her bags for Cardiff, where she is to take over the Sherman Cymru theatre.

It means this farewell pantomime will have a special resonance for her. "I love this theatre and I've had three brilliant years here," she says. "The fact I'm going means it does feel particularly on the nose and poignant."

She'll be sorry to go, but she's proud of what she's achieved. "I've done some of the best work I've ever done in my life on this stage," says the director whose hits have included the hostage drama Someone Who'll Watch Over Me and the supernatural soul-searching of The Seafarer.

With Cinderella, she'll be bowing out on a lighter note. The rags-to-riches story comes with all the requisite songs, dance routines and panto paraphernalia as Helen McKay takes on the title role, while Barrie Hunter and Michael Moreland play the Ugly Sisters. And, after O'Riordan's recent male-dominated Macbeth, it's a chance for her to explore her feminine side.

"It's an archetypal story about young women and finding strength," she says. "With the evil stepmother and fairy godmother characters, Alan McHugh has done something really interesting about women and power. I'm quite sympathetic towards Cressida and her desperate desire to survive! Then you've got this other kind of power that comes from the fairy godmother who is entirely altruistic but nobody's fool either. They are fabulous counterpoints to each other."

Cinderella, Perth Theatre, 6 December–4 January.

© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Peter Panto preview (Tron)

Published in the Scotsman
IF they had sweepstakes about the season's most promising pantos, the smart money would be on Johnny McKnight. For one thing, backing the multitalented entertainer is a good way of spreading your bets. In Stirling, he is writing, directing and starring in Beauty and the Beast, a traditional romp that promises to be "part Grease, part Downton Abbey", while in Glasgow, he is the author of Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, the latest in a long line of wittily subversive pantos at the Tron that dates back to the days of Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming and beyond.

Sitting in the director's chair is Kenny Miller, who was the designer of McKnight's Aganeza Scrooge last year and several Tron pantos before. He's been having a whale of a time. "It is hard work but if you have the right cast, then it is good fun," he says. "And I've got a great cast."

He certainly does. As well as the quick witted Sally Reid and Anita Vettesse (recent stars of McKnight's production of Blithe Spirit at Perth Theatre, another Miller design), there's the talented Helen McAlpine and Darren Brownlie, two more Tron panto veterans. There's also an all-new set of songs by Ross Brown. "You can't help but have fun when you've got a line-up like that," says Miller. "And also it's a Johnny McKnight script and they are just genius fun. It's brilliant ending the year off with something as mad as this. It’s so nice to go into a rehearsal room and laugh every day."

One of the pleasures of the Tron panto is in its small-scale intimacy and hand-knitted charm. The cast have to work hard and the audience have to use their imaginations: don't expect to see too much magical flying in this Peter Pan. It also gives the team a chance to upturn a few preconceptions. With Vettesse playing Captain Hook – rechristened Captain New Look – this is a panto with a feminist agenda.

"It's interesting to be able to work in the rehearsal room with a lot of women – and really talented women at that," says Miller. "Having a woman playing Captain Hook brings a different energy to it. By mixing those things that you normally get in pantomime – Dandini being played by a woman – and putting it into such a strong character as Captain Hook, it completely alters the energy of the story."

Peter Panto and the Incredible Stinkerbell, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until 4 January; Beauty And The Beast, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, until 5 January.

© Mark Fisher 2013 
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A Christmas Carol preview

Published by the Scotsman
IT'LL come as no surprise that a show staged by Susan Boyle's vocal director is big on music. Working on his Royal Lyceum production of A Christmas Carol, Andrew Panton is in raptures about Claire McKenzie's arrangements. 

"She's reworked traditional carols and songs in a very interesting score," says the director, taking time out from his day job as associate head of musical theatre at Glasgow's Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. "There's something about live music in a Christmas show that's really important. It allows you to communicate visually, through the text and through the music's own language. Recontextualising these familiar carols is really exciting."

But Panton has more strings to his bow than music. In his time, he has worked as a choreographer and movement coach, while his stints as a director include assisting on the National Theatre of Scotland's globally celebrated Black Watch. Consequently, he promises his Victorian-set production of the Dickens classic will be an all-hands-to-the-pump piece of ensemble theatre with a strong storytelling ethos.

"It really is multifaceted," says Panton. "The actors are playing instruments, singing and doing a lot of physical work, so it's very integrated."

With Auf Wiedersehen Pet star Christopher Fairbank learning his lesson as Scrooge, alongside a multitasking cast that includes Lewis Howden, John Kielty and Pauline Knowles, Panton says the adaptation by Neil Duffield (seen a few years ago at Dundee Rep) does tremendous justice to Dickens. "It's very loyal to the original story and takes as much of the detail as it possibly can, but it keeps moving and tells it in such a way that it's like a car chase at the end. There's no baggage on it; it's absolutely lean."

For all the pace ghostly atmosphere, the moral power of Dickens's novel is undiminished. Panton is in doubt of its continued appeal. "The story of a man who made mistakes, was given options and chose the wrong one and then is given this other chance to look back, reflect and make different choices has a universality of emotion," he says. "It's a universal story, whether it's a Dickensian character in London or your next-door neighbour. The question of choices could not be more relevant to young people today because they're being exposed to much more coverage of what's happening in the world. Life is all about choice now and that's what this piece captures."

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 28 November–4 January.

© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Nikolai Foster interview Jungle Book

NIKOLAI Foster hasn't had much sleep since he got to Glasgow. For the past few weeks, the theatre director, born in Copenhagen, raised in Leeds, has been kept up at night thinking about his production of The Jungle Book. 

On one level, what's been bothering him is just the responsibility of putting on a good show, one that could turn out to be a defining experience in some young theatregoer's life. Like any director, he's determined to get that right.

But on a deeper level, it's about Rudyard Kipling's story itself. Look properly at this classic tale and you'll find a fable that is rich in the kind of themes that get under your skin. That's why talking to Foster is like interviewing an actor haunted by playing Hamlet. He's become possessed by this 120-year-old story and, whether it's aimed at a family audience or not, its serious ideas have been keeping him awake.

"There are lots of outsiders in this play and I find that very moving and upsetting," he says. "Mowgli is an outsider, the snake is an outsider and Shere Khan is an outsider. They've all be ostracised because they're different. That's one of the things that attacks me personally."

If the director is sleep deprived, however, he's not showing it. Over lunch in a rehearsal break, he seems to have drawn energy from Stuart Paterson's adaptation. He talks animatedly about a staging that aims to be both true to Kipling's spirit and tuned in to 21st-century urban life. With a nod to the past, he has worked with Paterson to reinstate the author's original poems. With an eye on the present, he is setting them to the kind of rhythms more familiar to fans of hip hop and rap.

Compared with the script's first outing in Birmingham in 2005, which came complete with a set of songs by BB Cooper and Barb Jungr, this version offers us more of Kipling's verse, as well as the upbeat arrangements of Sarah Travis, a Tony Award-winning orchestrator. "It feels like a more complete whole," says Foster. "We're asking our actors to do parkour, free running, hip hop, body locking and also play instruments, so we've gone for a garage band sound with found objects, bins and dustbin lids."

The music chimes in with the approach taken by Takis, the award-winning Romanian designer, whose set has as much in common with inner-city skate parks and concrete underpasses as it does with the wilds of Kipling's jungle. It might sound a surprising choice, but Foster says it's in keeping with the spirit of this pioneering theatre. "The Citz is renowned for creating challenging, exciting and anarchic work," he says. "So I thought, stuff the jungle, let's make it an urban, contemporary jungle, let's make it a playground. It's a world where we suggest a jungle."

In Foster's production, Jake Davies plays Mowgli the man-child, who is brought up by wolves before encountering Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther and Shere Khan the tiger. As this feral boy approaches adulthood, he must decide whether to stay in the animal kingdom or enter the domain of his fellow human beings.

For many people, the story is inextricably associated with Disney, but the director hasn't watched the animated version since childhood and has made a point of avoiding it. When it popped up on a shop's TV monitors recently, he swiftly walked the other way. He'd rather put his own stamp on the story than be inadvertently influenced by such a famous retelling. "What we are blessed with – and I mean truly blessed – is Stuart Paterson's adaptation," he says. "It's brilliant. It's uncompromising, straight-forward and direct, and it doesn't patronise the young audience at all. It's a serious coming-of-age drama. It's about boy to man. It deals with birth, rites of passage, being educated, being adopted, the challenges we face as adults and the decisions that define us."

The ideas don't stop there. He sees Kipling's story about men intruding on the animal world as a metaphor for colonisation. He hears many resonances of Shakespeare: King Lear in the death of an empire; Richard III in the limping Shere Kahn; and The Tempest in the story's magical elements. And he is fascinated by the author's theme about adoption. "There is lots of talk in the news about how a child's nurture is affected if it is adopted by somebody of a different religion. What The Jungle Book does so brilliantly is to suggest a child, regardless of race, culture, religion, background and class, if they're brought into a new environment and given love, they can achieve anything."

When it comes to representing the jungle creatures on stage, the director has some useful experience. Five years ago at West Yorkshire Playhouse, he directed an adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm and was faced with a similar challenge. How do you get people to play animals without looking silly? His solution is to avoid attempts to walk on four legs and to underplay the animalistic mannerisms, focusing instead on character. In that way, the audience focuses on the drama instead of the pretence.

"When an actor creates a character, it is an imaginative and psychological response to who that character is, and when the actor starts to get a sense of that, their physicality changes," he says. "I learnt on Animal Farm that we didn't need to have sticks to make them into quadrupeds, we just needed an extension of the same methodology. The animal world is exciting to play because the stakes are high and it's very immediate. You take the physicality you would normally use two or three steps forward. The more human these animals are, the better because it's a human narrative. It just needs a subtle shift in the way they move."

He adds: "This is a very complex story told very simply. If we tell it with clarity, flare and movement then the audience will start to challenge themselves with the complexity of what Kipling was writing about."
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 30 November–5 January


© Mark Fisher 2013 
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Limbo at Edinburgh's Christmas

Published in the Scotsman
SAY what you like about contortionists, but there can't be many who took up their profession after ditching a high-flying academic career. That's what happened to Jonathan Nosan. Today, you'll see him bending over backwards with astonishing suppleness as one of the big-top turns in Limbo, a thrilling circus spectacular taking residence in Edinburgh for the Christmas season after an acclaimed run on London's South Bank. But back in 1994, he was a dedicated young graduate in geography and Asian studies who had recently embarked on a Fulbright scholarship in Japan. 

He was there to study the "design of sacred space of new religious movements" and looked set to pursue a bookish career sat behind a desk. Settling in for a year living in a wood cabin in the northwest mountains of Kyoto, he had little in his background to suggest he might run away with the circus. But when he went to see Canada's Cirque du Soleil, which was in Tokyo on a world tour, something clicked. Almost over night, he committed himself to a life of acrobatics. Out went the textbooks and in came the painstaking task of transforming his body into the rubber-limbed phenomenon we see today.

"I was on a PhD track," he says, sitting in London's evening air after another sell-out performance. "I had spent 15, 20 years strengthening the brain muscle and I felt it was time to do the other muscles."

He embraced circus skills with the same obsessiveness he had applied to his academic studies. In Kyoto, he learned butoh, the high-precision form of Japanese dance; in London, he trained with physical theatre guru Philippe Gaulier; and in San Francisco, he developed his contortion skills. Whether he was exercising his mind or his body, he recognised no middle ground. "They're both extreme things," he says. "The whole nature of where I come from is delving into things extremely. I've always been attracted to the more esoteric realms either of academia or circus. Contortion is on the brink, it's pushing things to the extremes."

To get a sense of how unusual this is, you need look no further than his Limbo co-star Danik Abishev. This master of hand balancing has been performing in circus since the age of four, initially in his native Russia and more recently in Australia where his family emigrated. For Nosan to wait until he was 24 before starting to develop his physical skills meant he had decades of catching up to do. Yet, despite having no double-jointedness or even any special aptitude that would set him apart from the rest of us, he has become one of the best in the business. His skills have landed him stuntman roles in Big Fish, The Bounty Hunter and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

"I didn't have a natural flexibility," says Nosan, who was a keen juggler and magician as a teenager. "There's nothing natural about what I do. It’s all trained – and trained well. When Cirque du Soleil was in Tokyo, it was a brand new thing at the time. I went and saw it, especially the contortionists and, even though it resonated in my body, it seemed slightly impossible. I met one of the performers afterwards who told me about Philip Gaulier's physical theatre school in London and a month later I got on a plane and spent a year with him."

Did he discover any native talent? "Not really. I really sucked! It's really hard. It took me three years to get a straight handstand which is the essence of Chinese contortion. To properly do a cartwheel, it took me a year. There wasn't a lot of natural feeling, but the more I did it, the more I wanted it. I have a laser-like focus."

Performed in a Spiegeltent with the audience nestling in at close quarters to the raised central stage, Limbo is at once steeped in end-of-the-pier tradition and held together by a very 21st-century aesthetic. Like all great circuses, it has fire eating, backflips and breathtaking trapeze (sometimes right over the audience's heads), but it also has a tremendous live score that manages to embrace everything from oompah to hip hop. There's magic, sword-swallowing and tap dancing, as well as a ringmaster who holds everything together without saying a word.

"This show is very different from 99% of circus shows," says Nosan. "My piece, for example, is not typical circus. It isn't a Spandex leotard ta-da act. None of them are. There are subtexts and sub-narratives and things that are happening beyond the trick. The stillness that's between the tricks sucks people in and keeps them there. It has a more theatrical element than ta-da circus."

It is the oddball mix of talents that appeals to director Scott Maidment, a former Shakespearean actor who became transfixed by the energy of circus. He didn't want just any old acrobats, but multitalented performers with extra strings to their bows. "I could name a 100 people who can do a Chinese pole act," he says. "But in this show, I can say, 'Yes, you can do the Chinese pole, but the reason you're in Limbo is you can also beatbox, play the guitar, sing, dance and be a clown.' I spent a lot of time talking to the cast about what else they can do. I found out the aerialist could play the piano accordion and she was a singer and dancer. That's more attractive to me because what I like when I see a show is to go, 'Those people can do anything!'"

The same principle applies to the three musicians who, between them and the other performers, get through over 50 instruments in each show. "The first ingredient I wanted was some great live music," says Maidment. "Then I wanted something that would be close to the audience and would be around them and not just on the stage. I wanted some great people to look at and some great skills. I had all these ingredients and all I needed to do was mix it up and cook it."

He sees the appeal of circus as being akin to that of sport. As a species, we love to see a performer, whether athlete or acrobat, pushing the human body seemingly beyond what's physically possible. "One of the beauties of circus is that they've got two arms and two legs just like I have – we're essentially just the same, except they're doing extraordinary things. They don't need gravity. That's the buzz: everyone thinks, 'They're just like me but I can't imagine standing on that pole, handstanding or doing a backflip.' That's what creates the electricity in the air."

Holding Limbo together is a theme about the terrain between heaven and hell, but Maidment is happy for the audience to make whatever sense it wants out of it. He and the performers have a way of talking about the show in terms of the journey each of them goes on, a broad narrative that gives Limbo shape and atmosphere, but it's not important for anyone else to know about it. "If you want to, you can read lots of things into this," he says. "Or can you just sit there and enjoy the amazing bodies, the great skills and the great music."

Limbo, Edinburgh's Christmas, 22 Nov–5 Jan
© Mark Fisher 2013 

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Christmas show round-up 2013

ABERDEEN: HIS MAJESTY'S THEATRE
The show:
Cinderella
The story so far: Once the reigning queen of the Glasgow panto, Elaine C Smith moved her court north in 2009 and was duly embraced by the good citizens of Aberdeen. Since then, her shows, with top-quality scripts by Alan McHugh, have gone down a storm.
What to expect: Traditional panto values plus much mirth as Barbara Rafferty plays the Wicked Step-Mother opposite Smith's Fairy Godmother.
Dates: 30 November–5 January.
If you like this, try: Sleeping Beauty, Eden Court, Inverness.


DUNDEE REP
The show
: The BFG
The story so far: The Rep has a tradition of family-friendly Christmas shows with a strong narrative drive – and it's business as usual in this first winter season under the eye of joint artistic directors Philip Howard and Jemima Levick.
What to expect: Joe Douglas, star of his own Fringe hit Entertaining Ronnie, directs the Roald Dahl favourite in an adaptation by David Wood. Puppeteer Ross Mackay brings a special perspective on the outsize adventure.
Dates: 28 November–31 December.
If you like this, try: The Little Mermaid, Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy.


EDINBURGH: FESTIVAL THEATRE
The shows:
The Selfish Giant and Irving Berlin's White Christmas: the Musical
The story so far: The EFT's chic new studio theatre should be a perfect fit for Wee Stories, one of Scotland's most gifted children's theatre companies, while the mainstage has a history of offering classy seasonal alternatives.
What to expect: Oscar Wilde's story about a giant whose garden remains in perpetual winter has a haunting power and a poignant moral. In this stage adaptation, actor/director Iain Johnstone promises music, magic and "some pretty extreme weather". The forecast is not quite so severe in the Berlin musical, which should prove one big romantic treat.
Dates: 3–24 December and 29 November–4 January.
If you like this, try: The LicketyTale of Molly Whuppie, North Edinburgh Arts Centre.


EDINBURGH: KING'S THEATRE
The show
: Peter Pan
The story so far: Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott have built up an unassailable reputation as the panto A-team, producing one of the country's most successful – and funniest – shows. Lest complacency set in, they're pulling out all the stops for the 2013/14 season.
What to expect: With a new creative team behind the scenes, this swashbuckling panto version of the JM Barrie classic promises a few surprises alongside the boos for Stott's Captain Hook, the cheers for Gray's Smee and the swoons for Stewart's Mrs Smee.
Dates: 30 November–19 January.
If you like this, try: Sleeping Beauty, Brunton, Musselburgh.


EDINBURGH: ROYAL LYCEUM
The show:
A Christmas Carol
The story so far: The Lyceum has built its festive reputation on high production values and strong narratives – and they don't get much stronger than Dickens's seasonal morality tale.
What to expect: Susan Boyle's vocal director Andrew Panton takes his place in the director's chair promising "lots of music and singing" alongside the fast-paced drama. Christopher Fairbank (Moxey in Auf Wiedersehen Pet) plays Scrooge.
Dates: 28 November–4 January.
If you like this, try: It's A Wonderful Life, Pitlochry Festival Theatre.


EDINBURGH: TRAVERSE
The shows:
Ciara and The Polar Bears Go Wild
The story so far: Never certain whether to go down the Christmas route or stick with the new writing it does best, the Traverse has taken to offering one thing to the adults and another to the kids.
What to expect: For the grown-ups, it’s a second chance to see Blythe Duff on exceptional form in David Harrower's Fringe hit about the daughter of a Glasgow gangster. For the under-fives, it's a chance to catch up with a much-loved Arctic adventure by Fish and Game first seen in Stirling last year.
Dates: 3–21 December and 5–21 December.
If you like this, try: The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling.


GLASGOW: ARCHES 
The shows: The Night Before Christmas and A Gay In A Manger
The story so far: Specialising in bijou fairytales for younger audiences and left-of-centre alternatives for the grown ups, the Arches keeps that underground vibe going for all ages.
What to expect: Much enjoyed on its first outing in 2009, Rob Evans's tale of a girl who has to help a lost elf get back to Father Christmas should delight the under-sevens. Catering to a somewhat different market, Tranny and Roseannah's X-rated romp is billed as "John Waters hosting a festive Noel’s House Party".
Dates: 4 December–5 January and 12–21 December.
If you like this, try: The Uglies, Oran Mor.


GLASGOW: CITIZENS
The shows:
The Jungle Book and Bauble Trouble
The story so far: It's a panto-free zone at the Citz, where seasonal storytelling theatre is the order of the day.
What to expect: Stuart Paterson, once ubiquitous on the Christmas-show circuit, has adapted the Rudyard Kipling favourite about a boy hanging out with the animals for this production featuring acrobatics, hip-hop dance and rap. The under-sixes should head to the Circle Studio for silly songs and slapstick.
Dates: 30 November–5 January and 4–29 December.
If you like this, try: The Snow Queen, Cumbernauld Theatre.


GLASGOW: KING'S
The show:
Aladdin
The story so far: One of the best-cast of the big-city pantos, the King's stands on a reputation for traditional glitz and daftness that goes back decades.
What to expect: With Karen Dunbar as the Slave of the Ring and Des Clarke as Wishee Washee, there'll be no shortage of laughs in this year's romp – that's when we're not cowering at the sight of Gavin Mitchell's Abanazar.
Dates: 6 December–12 January.
If you like this, try: The New Adventures Of Pinocchio, Pavilion, Glasgow or Dick McWhittington, SECC, Glasgow.


GLASGOW: TRAMWAY
The show:
Red Shoes
The story so far: Usually too busy with contemporary art and cutting-edge performance to think about the festive season, the Tramway has undergone a Scrooge-like conversion with its first ever winter show.
What to expect: Pitching at younger children from non-Christian backgrounds, singer, dancer and actor Judith Williams plays Judy Two Shoes, a girl caught between duty and instinct as she wanders between city and forest.
Dates: 29 November–21 December
If you like this, try: The Edibles, Platform, Easterhouse.


GLASGOW: TRON
The shows:
Peter Panto And The Incredible Stinkerbell and Remember December
The story so far: With a 25-year history of self-referential panto playfulness, the Tron has, of late, widened its remit to offer something for younger audiences too.
What to expect: Even though Johnny McKnight is playing the Dame in Stirling, he's found time to turn out this Glaswegian take on the JM Barrie classic which, safe to say, will be none too reverential. Meanwhile, the under-sixes can share the dilemmas of a girl who forgets to post her letter to Father Christmas.
Dates: 29 November–4 January and 30 November–24 December
If you like this, try: Beauty And The Beast, MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling.


PERTH THEATRE
The show:
Cinderella
The story so far: Final show before the theatre closes for a two-year refit and the last to be staged by artistic director Rachel O'Riordan before her departure to Cardiff.
What to expect: Written by the talented Alan McHugh, a veteran of the HMT panto, this rags-to-riches panto stars Helen Mackay in the title role being bossed around by Barrie Hunter and Michael Moreland as Luvvie and Darling, the ugly sisters.
Dates: 6 December–4 January.
If you like this, try: Pinocchio, Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline.
© Mark Fisher 2013 More coverage at theatreSCOTLAND.com Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND updates Sign up for theatreSCOTLAND discussion 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Blithe Spirit, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Perth Theatre
Two stars
GHOSTS, as we all know, are pallid creatures. Not so in this revival of Noël Coward's supernatural comedy. In contrast to the transparent drapes, pastel fittings and twinkling chandeliers of Kenny Miller's 1940s set, Sally Reid's deceased Elvira is a blood-red apparition whose fiery tresses and scarlet robes project the image of a woman with more pulse and passion, dead or not, than any of the delicate human beings she has returned to haunt.

At least, that's how it nearly works in Johnny McKnight's production. It would be easier to see Elvira as a life force from beyond the grave if the director hadn't relocated this most English of plays to a Perthshire village. Coward's very particular brand of humour depends on an emotional repression and, crucially, a restraint of expression that translates awkwardly from the home counties to upper-class Scotland. When subjected to the warm conversational delivery we get here, his clipped, performative language, with its heavy irony and aphoristic wit, is not as funny. Only Anne Lacey as the eccentric medium Madame Arcati consistently strikes the right note of brittle indifference. Everyone else is too human – although it's noticeable that the more intense the marital rows, the more convincing they sound.

As a result, many of the biggest laughs come from the theatrical interventions, whether that be the pratfalls of Scarlett Mack's housemaid or the flamboyant mincing of Billy Mack's Dr Breadman. They can be funny, but they're not really what the play is about.

Lurking behind the silly story of dead wives and seances is a more thoughtful study of passion, love and commitment. It's one we see too little of. Sure, we get a cheery show that jollies the audience along, but it's a ghost of what it could be.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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The New Maw Broon Monologues, theatre reivew

Published in the Scotsman
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
SINCE 1936, Maw Broon has suffered the indignity of being two dimensional. As the stock mother in a comic strip, she is a figure without depth or hinterland. In this, as poet Jackie Kay sees it, she has something in common with a generation of women whom emancipation passed by and with the nation itself, torn between couthiness and modernity, dependence and freedom.

In a show first seen in 2009, now revamped to embrace the referendum debate, Kay presents Broon as a woman bereft of an identity, struggling to escape the confines of her picture frame by means of reality TV or a crash course in sex, politics and body-image debates. Played by Terry Neason, she is all stiff limbs and jings-crivvens catchphrases, until Suzanne Bonnar shows up as her consciousness-raising doppelgänger.

It’s a promising premise and, with songs by Alan Penman and Tom Urie (the highlight being the soft jazz dreaminess of Maw Broon Looks at the Moon), it makes for popular political cabaret. In its vision of a woman waking up to her own oppression it recalls Isn’t It Wonderful To Be A Woman in The Steamie.

Throw in the national dimension and it could have been incendiary, but the show is jovial more than funny, topical more than polemical, so Liz Carruthers’s Glasgay production is a gentle diversion, not a radical call to arms.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Dragon, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Seen at Eden Court, Inverness
Four stars
THE THREE framing arches of Jamie Harrison's set have a touch of the Looney Tunes logo about them. And there's a cartoon playfulness in the way he makes two spinning wheels suggest a bicycle, a fridge door suggest a kitchen, and a table-top globe suggest a geography lesson. But behind the clever transformations lies a darker theme. Dragon, a collaboration between Vox Motus, the National Theatre of Scotland and Tianjin People's Art Theatre, is no Bugs Bunny caper but a serious study of emotional inarticulacy after a traumatic loss.

The premise is a familiar one. Scott Miller's Tommy is a teenager whose mother has died. His father sinks into a depression before finding new love with the next-door neighbour, while his classmates subject him to a campaign of low-level bullying.

What elevates the play into something more than a commonplace story of adolescent alienation is its presentation. That Oliver Emanuel's script is without language is an entertaining novelty, one that reaps dividends when Tommy finally finds his voice, but the real power of the show is in the way it manifests the boy's inner turmoil.

From the moment the lamp-post outside his bedroom window reshapes itself into the head of a dragon, he finds his emotional state reflected by a series of serpentine monsters. At turns these creatures are protective, aggressive and as reassuring as one of Philip Pullman's daemons . Sometimes, they are cute and threatening at once, especially when the excellent orchestral score by Tim Phillips offers us music-box sweetness and fearful roaring at the same time.

The beguiling production, directed by Candice Edmunds together with Harrison, is not just a masterpiece of stage management, but a subtle examination of the way we can all rationalise our most primal emotions by slaying our dragons one by one.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

In Time o' Strife theatre review

Published in the Guardian
Pathhead Hall, Kirkcaldy
Three stars
TS ELIOT called him "the greatest Scots poet since Burns".Yet not only is Joe Corrie hardly a household name but, as a coal miner who wrote his best-known play during the general strike of 1926, he had little in common, politically or socially, with the author of The Waste Land. Eliot notwithstanding, Corrie was always coolly received by the establishment, which is why he dedicated the best part of his creative career – some 50 plays – to Scotland's amateur stage.

It is director Graham McLaren's contention that even In Time o' Strife, a landmark play staged by Corrie to great success in the late 20s, was dramaturgically underdeveloped. That's why, in this National Theatre of Scotland production, he has seen fit to play fast and loose. He has gutted the script, dropped characters, reordered scenes and inserted borrowed material from elsewhere in the Corrie canon. The tale of a Fife mining community buckling under the strain of a seven-month lockout now features gutsy folk-punk renditions of Corrie poems by Michael John McCarthy and tense dance sequences choreographed by Imogen Knight.

The meeting of music, dance and drama is frequently exhilarating and, with the costumes nodding to 1984 – the year of the last big strike – as much as 1926, the production has a rare political anger. But despite McLaren's success in jolting the play out of its period setting, he finds it harder to resist its pull of domestic naturalism. With a design that exchanges a miner's cottage for the fluid space of a community hall, the production calls for the operatic. Instead, the director encourages an introspective style of acting that leans too heavily on the play's pathos. Given the theatrical flair elsewhere, it makes for an evening that is as uneven as it is charged.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Monday, September 30, 2013

Interview with Paul Michael Glaser, Fiddler on the Roof

Published in the Scotsman
I’M not exactly expecting Paul Michael Glaser to jump over the bonnet of a red Ford Gran Torino and pull up the collar of his chunky-knit cardigan as he walks over to greet me, but neither am I quite ready for the man who comes down the stairs at the London Welsh Centre. 

It’s not that he’s looking his age – you’d never guess the Starsky and Hutch star was 70 – it’s just that his full head of grey hair is now accompanied by a voluminous beard and you have to look beyond the glasses to spot that old familiar twinkle in his eyes.

It’s there, of course, as is the boyish enthusiasm for the job and a wonder at the weird way his life has turned out. Here he is in rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof, doing a big mainstage tour of the UK, and he can’t help thinking back to 1971 when he was the heart-throb star of the famous movie version. 

Back then, in his first film role, he played Perchik, the earnest young firebrand determined to introduce modern ideas to his traditional Jewish community, to overturn the inequalities of Tsarist Russia and, this being a musical, to get the girl.

Now, more than 40 years later, Glaser has acquired the status of elder statesman. In a production directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood of Strictly Come Dancing fame, he is taking the lead role of Tevye. Where once he called for revolution as Perchik, now he is the upholder of tradition, a well-meaning patriarch trying to ensure his daughters uphold the Jewish faith as they come of age. 

That’s why today he is looking more like the avuncular Topol, the actor who made the part his own, than the idealistic 27-year-old he was in his pre-Starsky and Hutch days. It’s a transition he’s happy with. “Not since Starsky and Hutch have I felt this comfortable in a role,” he says. “When I did Starsky, I could play anything: silly, funny, serious, tragic, angry. I had the whole gamut of emotions to play with and that’s what Tevye has. He’s this amazing mix, which is necessary because he’s a bit of an everyman.”

An awful lot has happened to Glaser in the intervening period. It’s astounding he hasn’t been ground down by it. In 1985, his wife Elizabeth was diagnosed with HIV. She had been infected by a contaminated blood transfusion four years earlier when she was giving birth to their daughter Ariel. This was the early days of the virus and, by the time they realised what had happened, she had given birth to a second child, Jake. Both children also had the virus. Ariel died in 1981 at the age of seven; Jake is now in his late twenties and continues his mother’s charitable work.

Before her death in 1994, Elizabeth set up the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which operates in 16 countries and aims to prevent and treat childhood AIDS. Her husband served as chairman of the board for six years and is now honorary chairman. 

In addition to his campaigning work, he donates the profits from his self-published children’s book, Chrystallia and the Source of Light, to the foundation. The story is a fantasy adventure about a brother and sister whose mother is terminally ill and whose world is falling apart. It could be a metaphor for what he has gone through.

“I really wanted to share with people what I’d learned about helplessness and fear,” says the actor, who also has a 15-year-old daughter, Zoe Anne, from his subsequent marriage to producer Tracy Barone, which ended six years ago.
To come to terms with the loss of Elizabeth and Ariel, he consulted a specialist (he prefers the word “teacher” to “therapist”) and developed a philosophy from which he drew strength. 

“I can see now how I can use fear,” he says. “Fear is a natural state of the human condition. It’s there. One can ignore it, suffer from it or try to use it. The mind doesn’t want to cope with helplessness. It doesn’t want to deal with the fact that it has no power over mortality.

“We always use the words, ‘I am scared,’ but that’s not really what we mean. What we mean is a part of us is scared. We can even look at that part, give it a perimeter, give it a colour, and that means we can also perceive parts of our body that aren’t scared. When we can acknowledge that fear, we can say, ‘Good for you for having the courage to carry on, to seek faith and to live in hope in the face of this helplessness.’ You find courage and you find compassion for yourself. The purpose of fear for me is to remind me of my conscious self which can then choose my heart.”

It’s a philosophy that gives him a perspective on many of the world’s problems. He observes, for example, that the racist politics of the Russian authorities who threaten the Jewish village in Fiddler on the Roof are also motivated by fear. “We hold on to bigotry and racism because we are afraid. We don’t want to deal with our fears so we blame someone else. We delineate a difference between us and them. That makes us feel valid, powerful and like we are not helpless.”
That the story of Fiddler on the Roof continues to connect to audiences, irrespective of their religion, gives him great cheer. Now, taking on the part of Tevye, in a show produced by John Stalker, the ex-director of Edinburgh’s Festival and King’s theatres, he finds himself being fascinated by the character’s uncertainty. He is a man trying to uphold tradition but, ever willing to see another point of view, constantly overtaken by change. 

“He is all of our voices,” says Glaser. “He’s not being clever, he’s not being anything but very human and very fallible. He’s trying to find himself – and that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
• Fiddler on the Roof, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, tomorrow until 5 October.

© Mark Fisher 2013
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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Theatre review: Dark Road

Published in the Guardian
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Three stars
IT HAS been a while since the stage has had much truck with genre fiction. Not since the days of weekly rep, when Agatha Christie was reigning queen of the whodunit, has there been much space in the theatre for plot-driven mysteries and thrillers. Those forms have proved better suited to novel and screen. That's why the theatrical debut of Ian Rankin, with a play co-written by artistic director Mark Thomson, is at once familiar and strange; the genre is everywhere, but we rarely see it on stage.

In manner and appearance, Dark Road plays by the rules of the modern TV cop show. Thanks to Forbrydelsen, Broadchurch and the adaptations of Rankin's own Inspector Rebus novels, all of us are up to speed with the idea of the troubled detective, a figure whose intuitive gift for sleuthing is threatened by inadequacies in their private life.

Thus we have Isobel McArthur, played with characteristic gutsiness by Maureen Beattie, who would be happier about her completion of 30 years' police service and her accolade as Scotland's first female chief constable if it weren't for her dysfunctional relationship with her 18-year-old daughter and the nagging doubt that her most high-profile conviction was made possible only by dodgy 1980s forensic techniques.

In this sense, Dark Road is less a whodunit than a did-he-really-do-it? Alfred Chalmers, played by Philip Whitchurch with a creepily believable mixture of anger and geniality, has spent 25 years in a psychiatric hospital for the murder of four young women, all of whom had sought abortions in the hospital where he was an orderly. The aging detectives who got him banged up are instinctively convinced of his guilt, but have conveniently lost the one flimsy piece of evidence that clinched the case. The killer's mind games that so unsettled them in the past are taking hold again.

Thomson draws out a set of ferocious performances in a pacy production that papers over the more implausible corners of the plot and the clunkier passages of exposition. What's harder to transcend is the hermetic nature of the genre: when everything rests on solving the mystery, there's little room for metaphor. Rankin goes some way to dealing with this by developing a theme about living with the consequences of guilty secrets and half-remembered mistakes, but by the end, when the play lurches into Victorian melodrama, we're left with the empty feeling of a story which, however well told, lacks resonance.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Theatre review: Macbeth

Published in the Guardian
Perth Theatre
Four stars
WE are in a relentlessly masculine landscape. The towering, grey edifice of Kenny Miller's set looms over an all-male cast dressed in muted colours, their clothes looking as bruised as their battle-worn faces. Even the witches in Rachel O'Riordan's formidable production are played by men. Gaunt, angular, hard as nails – they are weird sisters indeed.

Keith Fleming's Macbeth is tough, plain-speaking and austere, which is why Leila Crerar's Lady Macbeth makes such an impression when she appears in an off-white shawl, bathed in the glow of Kevin Treacy's majestic lighting. She is – and will remain – the only woman on stage.

She is also arrestingly young. Swinging her bare legs in the air, Crerar's Lady Macbeth is a child on the cusp of womanhood, one for whom adolescent thrill-seeking rather than steely forward planning drives her ambition. She can be stern, but she can also be carelessly superficial. Crerar says the line about being made bold by drink like a teenager who is giddily under the influence.

Until Lady Macbeth's mental health deteriorates, Crerar's flippancy contrasts sharply with Fleming's sober thane. Wild eyed and sweet voiced, he is as uncomfortable with his accumulating power as he is with his bloody crimes. He is a man possessed, and distressed, by some bigger force. When the final assessment – that he was a tyrant and she a "fiend-like queen" – comes, it rings false. These Macbeths are less sociopaths than impulsive victims of circumstance.

Both stars give lucid, driven interpretations, but the show is not theirs alone. O'Riordan brings forth clear and intelligent performances across the board. From the magnetic stillness of Richard Conlon's Ross to the bottled-up bitterness of Michael Moreland's Banquo, they seem not so much angry as sadly let down by the once-golden couple.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Theatre review: Victoria

Published in the Guardian
Dundee Rep
Three stars
DAVID Greig has already demonstrated his range this year with the premieres in close succession of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the West End Dahl musical, and The Events, a study of life after a Breivik-style massacre. Now, for the first time since its RSC debut in 2000, Victoria gets an outing and, in a long, ambitious and rewarding evening, we find the playwright showing yet more versatility as he channels the spirit of Robert Lepage. 

Like the Québécois wunderkind's Dragons' Trilogy, Victoria is an epic journey across time that conjures up echoes, reflections and mirror images as it straddles the generations. Unlike Lepage, however, Greig has a political motive. In contrasting the same Highland community in 1936, 1974 and 1996, he traces the way the mood of the times mutated from the socialist/fascist conflict of the inter-war era to the hippy/capitalist strands of the 70s, to the post-Thatcher exploitation/environmental activism of the 90s. 

The more we see the greed-is-good mantra of the free-marketeers taking hold, the stranger the idealism of the Spanish civil war volunteers becomes. At the same time, Greig suggests such cultural tensions are the norm, whether it's landowner v servant in the 30s or businessman v resident in the 90s. The philosophical justifications mutate, but their essential character (Nietzsche v nature) remains the same. Tying a loose thread through all this is the figure of Victoria. Played by a cool and understated Elspeth Brodie. Now servant, now US geologist, now tycoon's daughter, she is a restless life force, forever torn between the pull of the land and the urge to escape, always searching for a moral purpose that may finally root her. 

Philip Howard's debut production as the Rep's artistic director is marred by an inelegant design and lopsided staging, but it feels like a bold statement of intent: large in cast, epic in scope and challenging in intellect.
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Theatre review: Crime and Punishment

Published in the Guardian
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars
DOSTOYEVSKY'S great philosophical novel is like Shakespeare's Hamlet in reverse. Early in the story, the fatal deed is done; the procrastination, self-analysis and madness follows thereafter. There's little rationale in the double murder by Raskolnikov, the student drop-out, and it takes the bulk of the story for him to come to terms with it.

Thus, with the bloodbath dispensed with in this powerful staging en route to Liverpool and Edinburgh, we find Adam Best's Raskolnikov facing out to the audience, his body stooped, near-crippled, as one hand rises neurotically above his bare head as if to grasp a solution to his existential predicament. Only by subjecting himself to a purgatorial punishment will he find redemption. Until then, it'd be no surprise if he broke into "to be or not to be".

In Dominic Hill's production – stark in presentation, rich in detail – this is a journey shared by the whole community. The 10-strong cast lurk on stage, emulating the teeming streets of an impoverished St Petersburg. Their babble of voices echoes the confusion of Raskolnikov's thoughts; their percussive bumps and scrapes (an excellent score by Nikola Kodjabashia) are a reminder of the city's buzz. Much as Raskolnikov would like to see himself as superior and independent, he is inseparable from his society.

It's a society beset by a brutal want of cash, a theme underscored by Colin Richmond's set of mismatched chairs, bare walls and springless couches. His poor-theatre aesthetic reminds you that the drinking, prostitution, tuberculosis, hunger, perhaps the murders themselves, all have their roots in poverty.

To find a theatrical structure, adaptor Chris Hannan roams freely through the novel. He turns interior monologue into direct address, thins out subplots and reconfigures the sequence of events to fashion a fluid route through the story. It's one the vigorous ensemble tells with drive and authority.

© Mark Fisher 2013
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Theatre review: A Little Bird Blown Off Course

Published in the Guardian
Three stars
 
Last month in the Edinburgh international festival, the Bang on a Can All-Stars used field recordings as a jumping-off point for a series of modernist compositions. In most cases, the new scores were less interesting than the source material which, even worse, was exoticised in the process. No such complaint here in the Outer Hebrides, where singer Fiona J Mackenzie is evoking a living tradition of Gaelic song in a production by the National Theatre of Scotland and the Blas festival.

The little bird blown off course was Margaret Fay Shaw, an American woman who took an unexpected migratory path from Pennsylvania to South Uist in 1929. While at school in Helensburgh, she developed a passion for Gaelic song. Having travelled to South Uist to do some research, she dedicated her life to the preservation of an oral tradition that would otherwise have been lost. Here and on neighbouring Canna, where she lived with her folklorist husband John Lorne Campbell, she built up an invaluable archive of photographs, cine films, recordings and scores, until her death in 2004.

The stage world inhabited by Mackenzie is consequently one of scratchy 78s, crackly phonograph cylinders and black-and-white images of sheep shearers, fishermen, crofters and guisers. Accompanied by a superb four-piece band, playing Donald Shaw's bright and inventive arrangements, Mackenzie runs through a repertoire of work songs, laments and lullabies, her voice soulful, melodious and pure. As a musical experience, one with deep and considered roots in the culture, it is exquisite.

Theatrically, however, the show is under-developed; it tells us little about Shaw and nothing that isn't already in the printed programme. It is honest in its excavation and celebration of the island's culture, but makes no pretence to be dramatic: splendid as an enhanced gig; too cautious as theatre.

© Mark Fisher 2013
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Yael Farber, Edinburgh Festival Fringe interview

Published in Scotland on Sunday
IT'S BEEN quite some year for Yael Farber. Twelve months ago, the South African playwright and director was fretting over Mies Julie, her reworking of the Strindberg play set in a post-Apartheid country where racial and sexual tensions still prevail. She was uncertain if it would strike a chord with audiences on the Edinburgh Fringe and feared the worst. "I had no idea at this point of the year," she says. "Three or four performances in we were still struggling to make the piece work in the venue. Slowly, we ironed different details out and the press started to arrive as we were starting to pull it together. Until that moment, I actually thought we were going to do quite badly."

Fate was on her side. Mies Julie was the big theatre hit of 2012, picking up five-star reviews, winning a Scotsman Fringe First and receiving invitations to play everywhere from New York to Finland. It is still on tour now, with dates scheduled in Canada, Hong Kong and Austria.

To capitalise on such success, the cautious thing to do would have been to return to Edinburgh with some tried-and-tested production from South Africa or perhaps Montreal where Farber is now living. The Fringe, however, is no place for caution. Not only is Nirbhaya freshly minted, but this time last year, the terrible event that inspired it had not even taken place.

The play came about after Bombay-based actor Poorna Jagannathan read Facebook comments Farber had made in the wake of the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who was attacked by six men after she boarded a bus in Munirka, south-west Delhi, on the night of 16 December 2012. So horrific were her injuries that she died 13 days later, fuelling further the international outcry.

Jagannathan knew of Farber's experience scripting testimonial theatre, plays in which the true-life stories of the performers are turned into polished pieces of drama. The actor sensed that the anger aroused by Pandey's ordeal had created an opportunity. For the first time, women were speaking about things that had happened to them at the hands of men. It seemed to Jagannathan that the victims of sexual violence were ready to make their voices heard more widely. Her hunch was that Farber would be just the woman to help them do it. She invited her to India.

"We didn't know each other at all, but we knew our responses were both very deep," says Farber, who also won a Fringe First in 2000 for Woman in Waiting and a Herald Angel in 2003 for Amajuba. "Even with the best consciousness about sexual violence, you do develop a shell of protectiveness and numbness around the statistics. There's something about what happened to that young woman that just perforated that. The details bruise you and you walk around feeling it all day."

To make an artistic response seemed to be a matter of urgency. That's why, only seven months after Pandey's death, Nirbhaya is premiering on the Fringe. "Strategically, there are so many other projects I could have done, but when something like this comes along, you just have to put all vanity, all strategy aside. My feeling is, this time next year, we will have developed a strong reflex against what happened. My question is always, 'What will it take the next time?' It's a bit like the shooting of those kids in America. You think, 'For sure now, they'll get it about guns.' And when they don't, you ask yourself what will it take to break the sound barrier next time? The moment for that case is now. Already, indifference is rising, so there just didn't seem to be a choice."

Nirbhaya uses Pandey's rape as a way of contextualising the true stories of five of the seven performers. One of the women was a "dowry bride" whose husband and family tried to kill her. She bears the scars on her face where she was burned. None of the others had previously spoken about their experiences. By coming forward with their testimonies of sexual violence, they hope to end the feelings of shame that many such women feel.

It is, of course, charged material and Farber is sensitive to the ethical questions raised by putting it on the stage. "I absolutely expected the Indian press to ask why I, as an outsider, was coming in there and making a comment on a society," she says. "It's such a delicate thing to finesse. After the death of the young woman, there was definitely a neo-colonial response from people in the western countries. In societies that consider themselves more enlightened in terms of misogyny and patriarchy there is a reflex where we locate sexual violence elsewhere. So a story like this can become dubious because you can pour all the subtext of your own society into 'what Indian men do to their women.'"

It would have been understandable if people in India suspected Farber of being some kind of patronising missionary determined to save them from themselves. As a white woman who has created a lot of testimonial theatre about Apartheid, she is very familiar with the charge of exploitation and accepts that people have valid concerns. Putting real survivors on stage in front of a paying audience could be seen as, in her own words, "grief porn". The challenge, she says, is to make the audience witnesses rather than voyeurs. For all the potential pitfalls, however, she has found people in India to be surprisingly receptive. "There's no sense of questioning, but more, 'Thank God somebody's doing this.'"

In addition to the pressures of creating a show in six weeks (over-night writing sessions and all), Farber has had to cope with the distressing nature of the women's stories. This, though, has not been as traumatic as you would expect. "The piece is soaked in pain and tragedy, and it's their lives," she says. "But if you're talking about how you survived sexual abuse in your home because your brother, every time it happened, just looked at you and said, 'I know that that's happening to you,' that story can be about the love for your brother. Every one of those women in that room at some point has had that, otherwise they wouldn't be able to be in the room. We focus a lot on that. Also the women are extraordinary, vibrant, funny human beings and we have to bring that to this work."

It is the act of reclaiming their stories for themselves that transforms Nirbhaya from a statement of the obvious (sexual violence is bad) to something with political weight. "We know it's bad, but where does the guilt or the shame reside?" she says. "Where is silence encouraged so that the fact gets erased? Whose honour has been broken? Who has brought shame upon themselves? Yes, sexual violence is bad, but there is an intrinsic shame that comes with it across societies. It's complex to be a survivor of sexual violence because there are all kinds of conflicting emotions that are encouraged by patriarchies. It is a very profound way of controlling. By speaking, the women take a distance from culpability."

Nirbhaya, Assembly Hall, 1–26 August (not 12, 19).
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Made in Scotland, Edinburgh Festival Fringe profile

Claire Cunningham in Ménage à Trois Pic: Kenny Mathieson
Published in Arts Professional
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf

THE mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009. Call it coincidence, but Sansom is now the artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

It's surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It didn't help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it wasn't the only reason.

All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of Made in Scotland. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians.

It is supported by the Scottish Government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their "global competitive edge" and encourage international touring. The fund totals £3.2m in 2012 and 2013, of which £550,000 a year goes to Made in Scotland.

"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August," says Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."

Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's portfolio manager for festivals, touring and dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."

The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, artistic director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they're names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."

Mainland agrees: "The Made in Scotland programme has such substance to it now and it's become a thing that people trust."

As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and backup when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."

For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, portfolio manager for music and IP at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about, 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international market place."

The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests the scheme is working. Even companies not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in. It was very exciting; it genuinely felt like the world was White’s oyster."

With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, the company was able to respond quickly in the knowledge it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.

Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped established relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.

Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival, Romania," she says.

Such stories have impressed the Scottish Government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."

Made in Scotland, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1–25 August, www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf
© Mark Fisher 2013
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