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Thanks for accessing my blog! Over the last few years I have been visiting theatres in Scotland representing Fringe Review and building up our profile in Scotland before the annual jamboree that is Edinburgh! I shall be recounting tales, telling stories and reflecting upon all things fringe theatre that comes my way through this blog. I hope to be able to promote things and can be contacted through my email on CommuneArts@GMail.com if people wish to take offence, make comment or offer advice! All will be welcomed… In the meantime all opinion is my ain… naebody else’s… You can also follow me on twitter @CommuneArts.

There’s a storm?

Friday the 7th July 2017

There is a quietness abroad just now, like a false dawn. I had realised we had got to July and was sure that it was close to August but did not quite get my head round just how close it is to July until the other day!

This blog has been moved into the Fringe Blog area on our website, the demands for me to go and review things are coming in thick and fast and now I have been asked to sort out my media accreditation; Jings all is ready for the 70th anniversary of the annual jamboree that is… EDINBURGH.

But before we do go and see things cultural in the capital there are a couple of notable events this weekend. Firstly, at the Gaiety in Ayr we have the National Festival of Youth Theatre with Youth Theatre Arts Scotland. This has moved from its home of the last 6 years of Glenrothes and tents are being erected as I type in Ayr for the participants who end up with a camping/performance experience the likes of which will cement relationships or make bitter enemies of those who sleep in them! Usually it is the latter – my son went to for a few years with Deaf Youth Theatre.

The important stuff – the shows – are all at the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr and here for you to peruse – http://www.ytas.org.uk/national-festival-youth-theatre/.  As you might expect there is some really good stuff including The Gaiety Young Company with an original piece of theatre created by The Gaiety’s resident young company; Made in Ayrshire; Lord of the Flies from Centrestage in Kilmarnock; Unconscious by East Lothian Youth Theatre; Buckle Up by Firefly Arts, from West Lothian who have always been an original and unique star on the Youth theatre stage; internationally we have What A Piece of Work is Man by SOPA Youth Theatre of Malta, whilst we can look forward to Project 404 by The Regal Youth Company, West Lothian, Small Talk from Cumbernauld Youth Theatre and finally a highly well regarded group from Falkirk who shall present The Incredible Adam Spark, Falkirk Youth Theatre

You can also catch some very inspiring stuff at the CCA with the Village Storytelling Festival to be found here – http://www.cca-glasgow.com/programme/village-storytelling-festival-2017 I must confess to knowing a lot less about this Festival but it looks the part and at the CCA it is always a challenging mix of things familiar and very “out there!” Truly inspirational at times.

I shall miss both as I am off to Sheffield to see previously mentioned son in Tribes by Nina Raine at The Crucible.

Coincidentally, Ciaran was reviewed last Monday which was the same night I went to see my last performance for Fringe review – I was off to review on the same night as he was being reviewed! It served as a reminder of the responsibilities I undertake by raising the pen, the eyebrow and tempering the curled lip. Fortunately, both were blessed with the smiling review Gods and all was good.

Citizen’s Army

Monday the 27th June 2017

A few weeks ago now, I had the very real privilege of nipping along to see the Royal Conservatoire’s student mini festival – On the Verge. It’s a peak I look forward to each year, not just because my son is now eligible to be in it – in fact if you popped down to the theatre during it, you would have seen his big fizzog on the poster outside. There is, however, one small issue; he is not in any of the shows.

By a quirk of fate, his face alongside two of his colleagues on the BSL/English acting degree (only one in the UK for deaf actors ye know…) is publicising an event where you can catch the other two but not our Ciaran. Why? I hear you not asking… he is away down to Sheffield at The Crucible to star in the latest incantation of Tribes alongside DI Jack Meadows from the Bill…

Anyway, proud daddy moment over, I was down to the Citz to see a couple of the shows not involving the people I know – following our strict review policy – and came away impressed with the performers and sad at the state of my favourite theatre.

Now I know that the Citz is going to be refurbished pretty soon but I suddenly, for a night, became a snob.

The Citizens is just the pinnacle of my career and having directed Scottish Youth Theatre shows there I felt that I had suddenly arrived when I wandered through the Stage Door for final week rehearsals. It was a wonderful thing.

I had seen Laurence Rudic, Glenda Jackson, Ciaran Hinds and so many other actors who formed my view of the classics. I had been confused by Hamlet in a psychiatric ward and entranced by Macbeth in bin bags. Before I knew the names of Robert David MacDonald, Philip Prowse or Giles Havergal I was transfixed and their willing pupil. Get me more I heard my inner voice say and I pursued more until I had a career.

To go into the Citz and off upstairs to the Circle Studio which opened to much fanfare because it and the stalls studio were major expansions in the Citz – they allowed more intimate work to be performed – was a treat. I had seen so much in this little room alongside my kids as I watched Ciaran caught up in Alice Through the Looking Glass, terrified Eilish with the first half of Sweeney Todd (she was 9…) and almost jumped out of my seat during Suddenly Last Summer because that was the film I never knew the name of but loved. In that wee room, I had a similar but different experience to the one I had in the main theatre; it was like rediscovering my favourite place all over again.

I had never thought I would have had my pleasure doubled but here it was.

During the RCS Festival, I saw it in less than its glory. Paint peeling, the strange, long, leg friendly seats gone from round the sides and a down at heel atmosphere that was not what I had remembered. Dowdy is in the DNA of the Citz but this felt neglected.

In the main house was Dance School of Scotland and I remember the days when only and I mean ONLY the main house productions were presented in the main theatre. There was never a thought to hires and certainly not to the commerce that blighted your audience’s expectations of what the theatre produced. I became instantly resentful and similarly quickly – guilty.

I have no idea how good or how bad 9 to 5 by the Dance School of Scotland was but I stood for a wee while thinking – how dare they. How dare the management allow such a slide into the abyss of commercial travelling.

Oh, how snobbish and how awful that was.

The right to the stage is universal. The people who stand before it as I was doing in my head should be condemned and vilified; so I condemn and vilify myself.

But

In my defence.

What a theatre. What a thought. What a shame. What a tragedy.  The refurbishment includes glass and steel – prepare for another rant in a few months methinks…

Festivals, Festivals…

Wednesday the 3rd May

It’s the West End Festival soon – due to start on the 2nd June. Glasgow shall be festooned out west with the cries of arts and freedom throughout that month. Last year there were some doubts over the future of the festival so it is great to see this year it is back and looking pretty good. In terms of theatre and dance there are decent pieces at Oran Mor and the likes but also some programming that could be very rewarding.

We also have Cracked Tiles which I saw last year and we also saw at the Fringe the year before and it was nice to see us quoted on the publicity. There are also a few performances in local churches which have provided a few cracking pieces in the past. What is missing is the Mardi Gras style street parade that was dropped last year and they hoped to bring back this year…

There are 265 events in total, details here – http://www.westendfestival.co.uk/events/

It’s not just out west that there are Festivals, Mayfesto has started at the Tron and the Southside Fringe Festival comes on stream on the 12th May. Mayfesto is packed with good stuff whilst the Fringe down south has a theatre programme with productions from Fonmanu Creative with Inutero, Rent Strike from May 16-29, and Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores, a Baldy Bane Theatre multi-media theatre production in association with Southside Fringe. Now the latter is one I want to reallt see as it explores refugee experiences and what it really means to call a place home. It is on at the Tramway on the 23rd of May.

Mayfesto here: –

http://www.tron.co.uk/whatson/mayfesto/?gclid=CjwKEAjw_6XIBRCisIGIrJeQ93oSJAA2cNtM2Q_SZKWzSm9lR-8_ZlzzXFSwgyMdZmagCS0t5jebgxoCEEvw_wcB

Southside Fringe festival here: –

https://media.wix.com/ugd/746bb7_8a4195ba79ac4dbe869cff23eb66bf8d.pdf

Of late my work with people trying to get qualifications has stopped me from getting out much, including to the Tramway for Dance in Glasgow which has been unfortunate as there are some crackers there too. I do have until the 21st to get out there and am planning to pop in on Saturday with my dance obsessed 9-year-old! Nan Shepherd might also be the one I target before the end of the run at the Tramway!

More information here – http://www.tramway.org/events/Pages/Dance-International-Glasgow0201-6057.aspx

Expectant father in theatre…

Thursday 27th April 2017

And so, I have recently been away down south to see my son in a play. This has been quite interesting as someone who reviews, as it has reminded me of my responsibilities. I did not sit and wait with baited breath for each review to hit the stands or arrive on the internet but it was with very keen interest that I looked out for them and was very nervous at first about what they might say. Not all loved the show, of course…

Let me start with the negative review – yes there was only one…

First a bit of background…

Ciaran performs in a play which is set in 1979 about a community playground, created against the odds of the time and the brakes put on it by authority. Can you guess which national daily newspaper did not like it? 2 stars here from the Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/playground-no-adventure-junkyard-bristol-old-vic-review/

Aside from the fact that people are allowed to have their own opinions AND that I happen to be the father of one of the actors AND beside the fact that I review too… was this a fair review? At the time, I had not seen the play so I was unable to comment but given what it was about…

The Guardian, however, gave it 4 stars, as did The Times and whatsonstage though the Stage stooped to 3. A younger audience gave it a whopping 5 stars towards the end of its run and tour. I think I know what reviews I preferred…

Now we at Fringe Review we did away with all that star stuff a few years ago. Performers and producers as well as venues were none too chuffed. Putting real words on posters rather than stars takes more ink probably and it also detracts from the easy way people can read the things in front of them which, in a nanosecond culture, we presumably need to get straight to the point without messing up the sale of decent work for the poor begotten travellers and audience members.

But audiences should not be reduced to fodder.

They are intelligent and bright when it comes to making decisions about what they wish to view. Many have made such decisions on a weekly basis and the power of a reviewer to influence purchases is less than it ever was. The ability to close or open plays no longer rests with powerful reviewers but the power of the people.

What is highly noticeable is that the publicity has quoted the reviews AS WELL as using the stars. It has allowed them to quote the Stage for example… The Telegraph is noticeably absent though I think, had there been a positive comment they might have been tempted to sling it in. I would have!

Ciaran’s play ends at the tail end of this week and Junkyard may end up being resurrected in the future or will be wrapped in the Nick Hern publication that accompanied the show, only to be studied like a seminal text in the future.

Whatever the future may hold for it, the flyers will fade and the memories strengthen for those who hold strong views. Being the expectant father, once again, has been fun. With an acting child, it does mean I have a fairly singular perspective as a reviewer – they are all someone’s child. In the end and now having seen the piece, I was glad the Telegraph waded in. I heard how the cast discounted it, almost as much as the various and many standing ovations they received throughout their run. The reviews acted as publicity fodder and talking points as the cast did dissect them a little. They then put them away, utilised their own critical faculties and simply got on with the show. And that reminds me… so should I too… Anyone for reviewing…?

A Farce in a Theatre – Who Knew?

As someone who supports and loves the theatre, there are still times when news about the arts makes you feel conflicted. That conflict comes because you happen to support but not without the qualities that mean you support by being a critical friend. There are therefore times when news hits you that makes you sad but others may think that it ought to please you.

And so it was that the news last month that South Ayrshire Council, as part of their “austerity measures”, have decided to cut a 1/3 cut of the grant to the Gaiety Theatre; tis a theatre that has brought sadness and joy in some measure to me in the past.

Any cut of any cash to a theatre is serious business; it’s wrong – then again I would say that! The Gaiety holds some very different experiences for me. I was brought to my first theatre experience there, I was thrown out of there too, along with my mother who was a little less than sober and then I was fortunate enough to take work into the Gaiety of a type and kind that was simply not my favourite – bloody musicals.

As someone who has a specific interest in fringe and challenging theatre, the Gaiety, a variety palace, was also not ever going to be a venue that drew my heart constantly into it.

When it went dark and was closed by the aforementioned Council, I mourned with the rest. It was catastrophic. Then came the race between several organisations that wanted to resurrect it by taking it on as a project and a going concern. The organisation that managed to win that particular war saw the very Council who closed the place down become a part of the community partnership to re open it. There were few who saw an issue.

The Council committed.

It then followed through on its commitment.

All was well.

Thanks to a substantial investment from the Council, the partnership could apply to larger funders and get match funding.

Then the partnership was wrest asunder.

The council last month cut £50,000 from their funding.

That cut will lead to a loss of service, possibly some jobs but more worryingly, further reductions in cash from other funders; the project may falter.

Not a month or so ago, £2.6 Million was spent on refurbishing the theatre.

Having opened it up again afterwards, we face a strange situation. The very organisation that closed it the last time, may have given away the keys to others who could run it but they now may end up closing it once again through their actions…

I swear to God…

You couldn’t make this up…

New Starts, Bright Beginnings?

Monday 23rd January 2017

2017 is now amongst us and I have now managed to review my first theatrical experience of the year. As it stands I am slightly more excited by going to see Black Sabbath tomorrow but we cannot have everything….

The performance that I saw was based in a pub and there were but 4 of us in a very intimate setting. Of course, this begged the old question of site specific or specifically sited theatre? My review shall follow but it was good to get out the house and see something that was pushing the boundaries outside of Edinburgh in the rainy August sunshine.

I am also about to sort out going to see this year’s Into the New by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students who will be premiering a series of innovative new works at the Pearce Institute for the second year running. The loss of the Arches Theatre in Glasgow forced some new thinking when it came to venues for this scheduled series of live student events and many other festival performances that lost a venue when the Council decided to sound the death knell of this wild and creative space.

Of course, the final artistic director of the Arches, Jackie Wylie, shall be installed during the year as the new Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland in a very bold move. Just how bold we shall have a bit of a sneak preview of, when she finishes curating the Glasgow wide spirit of the Arches Festival, Take Me Somewhere, later in the year.

With new starts and latent beginnings come also the close of others. I was told in the early part of last year that this winter was likely to be the last as the Artistic Director of Solar Bear, for Gerry Ramage. For about 7 years I was a Board Member so allow me to be a little dewy eyed. Gerry has been a very good friend to myself and my son and I shall not be alone in missing his wisdom and charm whilst he remained resolute in the face of often very alarming and unheralded criticism. His successor, Jonathon Lloyd takes up the reins of a healthy, vibrant and successful company; I don’t know whose tenure I am looking forward to more – Lloyd’s or Wylie’s. Of either I know we are at a renewal stage and times are about to go a-changing…

Festivals… Bigger? Better?

Wednesday 18th January 2017

For many it is believed that this New Year shall herald new opportunities and get rid of a year before it which saw so many die and so much hope be robbed of life. There is renewal in the air and the hope that we have an opportunity to stride forwards.

Artistically one of the major things to look forward to every January is August and the Festivals which light up the life of all of us involved – whether on the stage or on the periphery.

2017 for them is a massive year.

They are 70 years young…

During the year, Edinburgh is bedecked with festivals whether it be the Science Festival in April, Imaginate alongside the Film and Jazz and Blues Festivals in May to July, the smorgasbord of August with the Art, Book, International, Fringe, Book or Tattoo or in October when it is all storytelling or Hogmanay in December; more Festivals than you can shake a stick at – or attend properly let me tell you.

Of course, with looking forward comes reflection and just a few weeks ago, I got my annual email to tell me a couple of hardy and perennial things – once again, the Fringe was more successful than ever and the totally open – access Fringe shall continue to be … totally open access.

Just when does it hit a peak I wonder and does that totally open access policy work as well in 2017 as it did in 1947 when it all started? Anarchic, refusing to conform to the vision of any one person and totally left field – often performing in one – the Fringe was a marvellous post war concept that Scotland took to like a duck avoiding the winter. Now we see so much activity at the Fringe it is difficult to know what really constitutes quality in terms of its volume.

But hey grumpy – it’s 70 years old – well so are these things…

In 1947 the coal industry was nationalised, silver was taken out of British coins, Earl Mountbatten was appointed the last Viceroy of India before India, New Zealand and Pakistan were declared fully independent, Britain withdrew from Palestine, Ealing comedies were born, BUPA was founded, East Kilbride was designated Scotland’s first New Town, the retail price index was born, Elizabeth II got engaged to Phillip Mountbatten – the Duke of Edinburgh – and then married him later in the year and women were admitted as full members of Cambridge University. Just how many of these treasured possessions would we like to keep?

We also got treated to the publication of Whisky Galore. Other births that year – perhaps a little ominously included David Bowie, Steve Marriott, Elton John, Alan Sugar, Gerry Rafferty, Bernadette McAliskey, David Blunkett, Richard Beckinsale, Gareth Edwards, Brian May, David Essex, Richard Griffiths, Willy Russell, Emlyn Hughes, Tessa Jowell, Marc Bolan, Brian Johnson, Greg Lake and Nickolas Grace.

On the debit side came the deaths of Aleister Crawley, Stanley Baldwin and Will Fyffe.

So, we have some illustrious company for the year in which this Festival all began. It shall be added to – aint it always – by another venue for the August jamboree. Irvine Welsh, he of Trainspotting, shall be spearheading a campaign to save Leith Theatre – hopefully in time for the Fringe in 2017. The Leith Theatre was opened in 1932 but has not housed a public event for nearly 30 years. Up till the 80’s it had been a stalwart venue, mainly for music it would appear, and that may be what is likely to be its role in the very near future.

Welsh has agreed to be patron of the Trust which is seeking £250,000 to make it safe and ready for the future. Many other restorations of once significant venues have happened successfully and there should be plenty of people out there looking to get involved in such a project. It has benefited from the Community Asset Transfer scheme that has allowed communities to take back buildings that were lying moribund under council control. We are now seeing a resurgence in heritage because of this, and with the future plans likely to cost around £13 Million this is not a short-term vision that is being led by Welsh. With some luck the lack of year round and affordable venues in Edinburgh shall be replaced by a building deep in the heart of a community that treasures its outlook and independence despite being amalgamated with Edinburgh in the 20’s; it retains a fairly strong streak of independence within the area.

Welsh and his team shall be hoping that there is plenty of sunshine over them in the months and years ahead.

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