First published in The Times, Tuesday June 20 2017
JM Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was afflicted in later life by writer’s cramp and could only write for any length of time with his left hand. He noted that the work he produced at this point took on an eerier quality, as though his left hand was channelling darker aspects of his personality. Mary Rose, written in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with its portrayal of a young life frozen in time, is strikingly similar in theme to the Kirriemuir-born author’s most enduring and iconic work, though laced through with subtle chills.
First published in The Times, Wednesday June 7 2017
By coincidence, Dundee Rep’s community production of Brecht’s anti-fascist allegory is running at the same time as a major revival at the Donmar Warehouse. Where Brecht’s 1941 “parable play” parodied Hitler’s rise to power through the story of a small-time gangster who assumes control over the Chicago cauliflower racket in the 1930s, the London production, starring Lenny Henry, draws explicit parallels with the campaigning rhetoric and behaviour in office of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The 1956 film High Society was one of the biggest box office hits of the year. Yet the MGM musical is considered a pale imitation of The Philadelphia Story, the play and film on which it is based. Even on its original release one reviewer called it “as dated today as the idle rich”. What one remembers of the musical is the iconic staging of some of Cole Porter’s best-loved songs: Bing Crosby serenading Grace Kelly with True Love on a yacht; Bing and Frank Sinatra teaming up for a cracking rendition of Well, Did You Evah!
First published in The Times, Thursday May 25 2017
John Knox (Jamie Sives) stands at the front of the stage, watching the audience file into the auditorium. Clad in black, with Bible in hand, he is utterly immobile save for his eyes, which roam the stalls, picking out individual audience members and holding them with an unyielding gaze.
It is a discomforting start to Linda McLean’s new play about the 16th century Scottish Reformer – who was credited with founding the Presbyterian Church – and his various exchanges with that other great icon of the period, Mary, Queen of Scots. The feeling of unease provoked by this opening gambit will be familiar to anyone who has passed under the stare of the statue of Knox that is at the entrance of the Assembly Hall on the Mound in Edinburgh – ironically now a major venue every August during the Festival Fringe.
The ability to transform everyday objects into the stuff of magical adventures is the very essence of imaginative play. An empty cardboard box becomes a pirate ship. A nailbrush zooms along the side of the bathtub, becoming a train speeding along the track. A courageous wooden spoon takes on a fire breathing washing up bottle in a battle for dominance over the kitchen table.
It is hard to conceive of a time when electronic music was not a significant part of the soundtrack to our lives. Yet, back in the late 1950s, the establishment of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which created sound effects for use in programming, was so controversial that its founders, Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe, found themselves operating on a miniscule budget out of two dingy rooms at the corporation’s Maida Vale studios.
When, a year ago, the National Theatre of Scotland unveiled the first instalment in its proposed trilogy of plays addressing the forgotten voices of World War I, the company effectively created a bespoke theatre space in a vast barn on a Perthshire farm. This follow-up, again written by the playwright Olivier Emanuel, with music by Gareth Williams, shifts the focus from a trio of men shot for cowardice or desertion during the Great War to women munitions workers, pacifists and suffragettes. The production, directed by Jemima Levick, has a stripped-back, intimate feel, and is being toured around smaller venues the length and breadth of Scotland.