Review: Clear White Light – Live Theatre, Newcastle

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First published in The Times, Friday October 26 2018

Three Stars

The elevator pitch for Clear White Light is certainly attention-grabbing: a contemporary retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher set in a psychiatric unit and featuring the songs of Alan Hull of Lindisfarne.

 

The production — the first to be mounted by the new artistic director of Live, Joe Douglas — is an odd hybrid of enjoyable, if hackneyed, gothic drama, scripted by Paul Sirett, interspersed with dynamically staged musical numbers performed by a live band alongside members of the acting ensemble. The idiosyncratic premise makes sense in the light of Hull’s experiences of working at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle as a trainee psychiatric nurse in the Sixties. He escaped into Poe’s short stories during quiet night shifts.

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Review: Showtime from the Frontline – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Friday February 16 2018

Four Stars

The comedian Mark Thomas is clearly a man who relishes a challenge. The inspiration for this show came to him while he was in the West Bank to promote Extreme Rambling, his book chronicling his experience of walking the length of the Israeli West Bank separation barrier in 2010. Could he, he wondered, set up and run a comedy club in Gaza for one night only?

 

While Hamas-controlled Gaza proved too much of a stretch even for Thomas, the veteran political comedian and his team eventually settled on running a series of workshops in the West Bank city of Jenin with actors from the Jenin Freedom Theatre, culminating in a comedy showcase for the students.

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Review: The Arabian Nights – Lyceum, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Friday December 1 2017

Five Stars

A dramatic reimagining of The Arabian Nights is an intriguing departure from the usual seasonal theatrical fare, even if several of the tales featured in Suhayla El-Bushra’s witty, intricate adaptation – including those of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin and the tales of Sinbad the Sailor – are often discovered by young audiences in the form of Christmas shows.

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Review: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Rio Community Centre, Newport-on-Tay

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First published in The Times, Wednesday June 7 2017

Four Stars

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.

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Review: Death of Salesman – Dundee Rep

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First published in The Times, Monday March 6 2017

Four Stars

It is no mean feat to take a play as endlessly revived and oft discussed as Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece and make audiences feel as though they are seeing it for the first time. Yet this production, directed by Joe Douglas for the Dundee Rep ensemble, offers an abundance of fresh perspectives on a text many people first encounter as high school students.

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Review: The Course of True Love – The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

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First published in The Times, Thursday November 19 2015

Three Stars

 

Over the past decade, David Leddy, the artistic director of Fire Exit, has built up a deserved reputation for innovation. His previous works include a site-specific webcast streamed live from his Glasgow flat and an immersive play, set in Japan, for which the audience was invited to sip white tea while wrapped in kimonos. In this context, his latest work, a two-hander with a single-room setting, looks like a radical departure.

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Review: The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil – Dundee Rep

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First published in The Times, Tuesday September 22 2015

Four Stars

When John McGrath’s landmark political drama debuted in a small venue in Aberdeen in 1973, the effects of the discovery of North Sea Oil on life in the Highlands were only just beginning to be felt. Forty years on, Joe Douglas’s joyous revival for Dundee Rep subtly updates the script to include references to the independence referendum and the current debate on land ownership, but it’s remarkably faithful to the substance and raucous spirit of the original.

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