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Donald – The Blog

Thanks for accessing my blog! Over the last few years I have been visiting theatres in Scotland whilst 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.

Festivals, Festivals…

Wednesday 14th September 2016

Now that the dust has settled and the Tattoo climbed off the Castle that is in Edinburgh, there may be a feeling that we are all festivalled out in Scotland – are we heck as like as they say oop North…

Tomorrow we go straight into a fantastic new Festival that will hopefully become an annual event. The Tramway is playing host in Glasgow to their first unlimited Festival which runs from the 15th to the 25th September. The performance programme, unlike the Fringe, is big enough to mention all in one post. Held over two weekends we have the opportunity to see 15th and 16th September, Hiraeth by the first ever Armenian integrated dance company, 43 percent a multi media follow up to their sold out Dancer in 2014 by artists Gary Gardiner and Ian Johnston and the, The Way You Look (at me) Tonight featuring the fantastic Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis who are using dance, text and music to explore how we perceive ourselves and each other.

17th and 18th September sees Grandad and the Machine with a 100 year old mechanical monster v grandad, HIM looking at life in yer 80’s, MayBe with the Marc Brew Company looking at chance encounters and Liz Carr – her aff the tele – with Assisted Suicide: The Musical – does it need an explanation?

23rd and 24th September has Jo Bannan in Alba all about her experiences with albinism and the Candoco Dance Company with CounterActs featuring disabled and non disabled performers -as they have for 25 years!

Yup this is a truly open and integrated celebration of passionate artists with disabilities, alternate abilities or whatever you want to call it but most importantly the ABILITY to create and entertain. I hope to get along to the tail end of it all but go to the Tramway website for further details.


I was also at the launch, this week past of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. This will follow on from Unlimited and is on throughout October, throughout Scotland. It IS too big to mention it all on here so go and click below… Go on!


Day 4… All coffee and drags…

So we started with the day at the car park and having to park so far away from everything. My young person can walk though and off he went at a fair rate and I followed on. We went up the Royal Mile, turned left at Nicolson Street and headed for KFC for some food. Whilst in there we decided on our first two shows. The first was a muse on World War One using Shakespearean sonnets. Now I thought, this will freak him out but afterwards he said, “That was deep and vibrant.” I double taked…

The thing is that anyone who has had such a tough educational time of it, as he has, should be bored, uninterested and quite frankly pee’ed off that he was being dragged there. He wasn’t! Who knew!? I took off my educationally ignorant and self-congratulatory hat and gave this a review…


Having plagiarised his best line we were at the same venue for show number 2. Based on the life of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy this raised a smile and we chuckled for most of it. Now, because someone else had reviewed it I was unable to do so but my colleague captured it very well indeed here: –


Out of that and some time to kill. Coffee. I fascinate him by drinking wee coffees. Often he berates me for spending so much and getting so little. Off to the only place I know who do ristretto… That’s smaller than espresso… He just shook his head.

From there I bagged a free show which he and I chose together. It was a mini triumph and declared the best of the day so far. I have to admit it was rather good as I say here: –


After we had come out there we walked some more and I took him over Princes Street and past Rose Street over to the New Town. Of course as this an educational trip I was taking him through some historical sites with me singing dates and phrases in his ear but this was also an opportunity to build some stamina in the walking for us both. His pace, at times was blistering, and I manfully kept up.

We then decided on Pizza Hut to eat, wolfed our stuff and he found our next – late night – show. At the Gilded Balloon Teviot, this as an Australian comic who clearly had a following – not necessarily amongst the Kiwis…

Before we got there we hit the late night coffee stand and he got a rocket fuel coffee and you can guess what I got. It was this interaction at the coffee stand that was him talking to some random guy, asking questions and having a conversation that was normal and good that was my highlight of the day. Well apart from his reviews which were erudite and spot on.

We then turned round and got offered leaflets from a group of drag queens. All pretence at being politically correct was dropped and he nearly shot through to Fife. This will become part of what we work on together to ensure gender equality! The queens thought he was hilarious which did not comfort him at all!!!

Well the Australian comic got the benefit and with his best joke being about teaspoons and dwarfs we ended our day.


It took a while to get him home and then me home too but it taught me a very valuable lesson – books should neither be read nor judged until you have the evidence to do so; and no matter how cool we think we are, we can still be an ignorant judgmental eejit.

Day 3… The weans deliver their verdict…

As the ringing of are we nearly there yet faded when the Grassmarket came in sight, I knew we might just be on a winner. Both Cerys and Freya seemed as excited as a Pokemon hunter who has just seen a Pikachu. We got to the car park and started the climb… To the Pleasance.

We got there in plenty of time and I must say, seeing the T shirts with Thing 1 and Thing 2 on them was fairly tempting – though which one would have been Thing 1 and which Thing 2 might have been a fight…

We queued, we saw, they conquered. They were giving it so many thumbs up I was beginning to think they had 8 hands each but my assessment was a little less enthusiastic…


And so afterwards off we went in search of something that the adults could eat, the kids would eat and would not force us to sell one of them to pay for it. We ended up leaving and getting a burger based tea on the way out.

Before we left the city I got a text from my son, Ciaran, who was looking for a lift. Working in the Forest Fringe today as an artist, he was in the vicinity of the BSL day though not part of it and was ready to bolt to get ready to go out that evening in Glasgow! The Forest Fringe is a great idea – have you heard of it? If not then you are not alone – I just don’t know how effective it has been over the years… This, I have no doubt, is not down to a lack of effort. I wonder if it needs a bit of a boost from somewhere…



Now today being Monday I am back with another young person who is quite excited to go and see Edinburgh at night. Long day ahead? Not a bit of it, this is a really good one of our young people, turned his life right around so he has so I am especially interested at his take on culture… More to follow!

Day 3… The weans have their say…

And so it is time to harness the jalopy and head East for Edinburgh once again. Today it is the turn of my guides being shorter than 4 feet and harder to please than anyone I know. Last year I took my daughter Cerys to see a show that did not leave her with much of a positive impression of the Fringe, of my choices, of me… Today she has picked the show and we are taking her and her cousin, Freya. Wish me luck…

Day Two… it continues

Wednesday the 10th August

So this Fringe my first 4 visits shall not be alone….

First one I had a great partner from the young people with whom I work, this time round it is my long suffering partner… Now she had a great day – she caught a Pikachu…

I swear….


Now we got into Edinburgh and parked the car, advertised my kidney along with a couple of kids for sale so we could pay the parking and off we went to finally find Fringe Central.

I quite like it…

Now one of the big issues for me is always going to shows as a couple when there is only 1 press ticket available. I tried to get out of that conundrum this year by joining the Fringe Society who have a plethora of 2 for 1 offers. Off I go to the Greenside @ Infirmary Street and… if I used the app right there and then whilst standing at the box office I could get the offer but the box office just couldn’t do it themselves… I bought 2 and not for the price of 1…

The day therefore started with Lorna picking the first 2 shows and then I was to pick 2. Now one of her massive bug bears is me starting the day in A1 on the Fringe map, then trying to get to F6 30 minutes after the end of the first show before having to get to A2 thereafter and so on. This time round we got to sit in a cafe on Nicolson Street, fire up the EdFringe app and find out what was on nearby that had a 2 for 1 offer! Her first pick was reasonable enough but we decided on a bit of comedy at Just the Tonic at the Caves to follow. Jolly japes it was too as we are both old enough to remember the hideousity of Enid Blyton so this was great fun! The atmosphere in the Caves was loved and seeing former Orkney and Shetland MP Jim Wallace in the crowd was nice and added to my own nerdiness without Pokemon!

Pick 1 – http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2016/burnt-sugar/

Pick 2 – http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2016/five-go-off-on-one/

It was now my turn – nae pressure but make it close I was warned. Off to the C venue and an improvised murder mystery with actors well versed in the whole genre. An absolute cracker it was and I felt like Christmas was mine to toast!

Pick 3 – http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2016/murder-she-didnt-write/

Next could we get any better – now the day before I had said that I would review a show that had been good enough to allow their man in his pants to have his photie took with my young person! So off to C Nova to see a good piece of theatre all about breakups that was very decent indeed – decent fayre from a decent bunch!

Pick 4 – http://fringereview.co.uk/review/edinburgh-fringe/2016/a-series-of-unfortunate-breakups/

It was now getting closer to pumpkin time but we decided one more; this was making my first five shows this year. And here came box office fail number 2 of the day.

By now the weather was Scottish. It was wetter than a wet thing on a wet flannel in a wet puddle in the middle of a wet sea. We went down to Jury’s Inn for some sketches to be met with – sorry guys if you have booked through the Fringe Box Office you need to go up to the High Street to collect your tickets. I looked outside at the rain. I looked at these poor box office people. I said, if I go out in that, I am going to get my car and I am going home. Leave it with us they chimed and 10 minutes later any problems they might have had were swept aside quicker than anything slightly damp outside in the rain and we were in. Unfortunately the best box office did not the best show provide… There’s always Saturday…

Day One… continued…

Tuesday 9th August 2016

I arrived at our home for just after 9am and left with my young guide for the day just after 1pm. It was always going to be hit or miss if we got to see anything as she surveyed the brochure and must have felt totally overwhelmed by it. I got that impression as she looked at me and gave it, “Can we not just go and pick something when we get there?”

To be fair, there was no reason at all and off we set.

An hour or so later we got to the Grassmarket and I had hoped it would be busy, bustling and filled with street theatre. It wasn’t and I got the “is this it?”

Parking in Edinburgh can be a bit of a nightmare, especially the cost and when I quipped that it feels every time like I have to donate a kidney and sell a couple of kids to pay for it, she looked at me and asked if I had indeed sold one of my kidneys…

This was going to be a day of honest assessment and nae bull. Though the bull’s backside hanging out of the Just the Tonic building got the first belly laugh of the day. The second was reserved for a man in a skirt…

Working with young people is a leveller. You can be as articulate and intelligent as you like, they will sort you out. This was also an opportunity for the artistic endeavours of the Fringe to prove it had current currency – did she get it.

Overall – aye she did. The weather turned sour as we walked round and it had a negative effect. There was no shows visited but the street theatre was great. She stood and watched for longer than she stays with me to learn and study so that was a bonus. She found it highly amusing when the most pierced lady in the world drew me daggers for taking photographs as she charges a fiver – “She’s pure growling at you by the way.”

By the end of the day we got into the car and she was dead happy, saying that we should come again and see stuff. It was what I was looking for as she gave an opinion, made sure she was honest and took the baby steps needed. The most interesting show she wanted to see was The Ladyboys of Bangkok. Oh and could we take another one of the residents with us – a male. “I pure want to see his reaction”! another hit… another sale … another convert? Who knows – perhaps the photograph with the half naked young guy who was pure fit was the memento we should all be taking away with us. Due to his willingness to have the photo taken – rather than growling – his show gets a review from me if someone has not already picked up on it from our team as a thank you!

Day One….

Tuesday 9th August 2016

And so it is time for me to depart work and go and get my Fringe media pass… The madness is about to begin? Oh yes it is… This is day 1 of 3 for this week and in all 3 I shall not be alone… I have no need of carers but today a young person form one of the homes is coming with me to help pick up the pass and pick some cracking shows. I also have my Friend of the Fringe membership to help with any funky offers that may be out there – wish me luck…

And we are off!!!

Friday the 5th August 2016

And so as I type this, IT has begun. Two Olympian feasts with a similar start gun – one in Rio, the other on my doorstep. I have been in training, have eaten packed lunches whilst moving without spilling (too much) yoghurt on passers-by and typing semi legibly in the dark so that I can ignore my notes later. I have answered pleading emails, taken pity on those that were flattering, been intrigued by those that were curt and polished up my polite smile when asked for my opinion.

What I have not done is plan my shows. I took a view a little while ago that this was something I did every year and it never worked. I would pick about 100 shows and find myself not getting to go and see about 75% of them. This year I am asking the Fringe Gods to guide my pace.

I am also going to the Fringe this year 4 times with other people. I am bringing my long suffering partner, my long suffering weans and two people with whom I work in the Young Person’s homes in which I work. This shall give me new perspective at least in a couple of areas if I struggle to find new things to say about old ideas. Let me be clear, these are people who have nae need to sharpen pencils or their opinions before coming. They shall be forthright and with 3 visits in the next 7 days it might well be a bumpy ride!

But buckle up as I get ready like Usain Bolt for the Marathon, we are all ready to ruuuuuumble!

The Fringe, the Fringe..

Tuesday 21st June 2016

Last week I opined on the issue of awards and now the CATS awards are done (The Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland). Those who got the boost from their efforts being nominated are no doubt nursing hangovers and unfortunate losses or hangovers and exuberant wins. The ceremony was last Sunday past at the Lyceum in Edinburgh as the great and good gathered to doll out awards and celebrate some of the very best in Scottish theatre. The next stage in the development of the company, no matter the result of Sunday’s declarations, began the following Monday – such is the fickle nature of this business.

It was but a few short years ago that I watched a Sky Channel programme where one West End show closed not long after winning a West End award; awards do not success guarantee!

It is with this heavy thought that I picked up the programme for this year’s Fringe. Now I am heartened that there is less but am sure there shall still be the variable quality that annoys me. I have hurt my head too often trying to work out how to continue the democratic nature of the event, diversify the demographic nature of participation, remain true to the spirit and ensure longevity – all at the same time. It may have grown like topsy and I just think we may have to live with topsy and try not to invite turvy to the party.

It leaves me with the annual conundrum – what shall I pick? Now over the years I have set myself targets – 10 plays in a day, 10 venues in a day, 40 plus shows over the entire Festival. All of these I have achieved and managed to see fewer duff ones than you might imagine. There have been some absolute crackers for the disorganised, the frankly weird and the bizarrely dreadful. In amongst them there have been some gems.

It is when you find one of them at say 5pm on a wet Thursday then your heart sings. When you drag your sorry backside in for something at 10am and it is guff, then your heart drops but the sheer volume makes your choices and your life almost impossible. As we are a good Fringe guide, of course the responsibility is twofold. To the performer be true and to the reader, be truthful. Every year I think I see about 2 or 3 I would not recommend. The rest I would but there is a huge number that I would just recommend, a lot less that are thoroughly recommended and a 2 or 3 that gain the accolade outstanding.

Of course what recommending a show for Fringe Review does is place the 3 star back on the poster. Gaining 4 stars was the new public poster threshold and it meant a lot of decent shows were missing out. Now we have a recommended button it can be used by some decent shows to promote them – who wouldn’t go see a show that was recommended by a critic right???

One of the things I like to do – partly to help narrow the choices – is, where there are decent programmers, is to ask which shows have not been getting reviewed. I might be able to slot a few in and I may not be but I often think there are some great ideas behind the curtain suffering from a lack of flyers or slick publicity.

Already this year I have had 3 publicists in touch. Will I go and see their shows? I am certainly more likely to but I shall not publicly highlight which ones they are. I know that the arts are now on a slope towards summer and rehearsals for the Fringe and it means my theatre going is a bit curtailed at the moment. We shall see just how long THAT continues…

You can’t come because it is full!

Monday the 13th June 2016

It’s not often that, as a reviewer that you get that told that and instantly feel good about it. But last week I did! Let me explain

Two years ago I reviewed a fantastic piece of theatre at the 2014 On The Verge Festival. The Festival is run by Royal Conservatoire Students and is a mixture of work in progress and work that is near completion. The show I loved – How To Sing It.

As a good Fringe Guide what I love about Fringe Review is that we shall not publish nor rubbish any work that we would not recommend. Two years ago I loved this piece and had no hesitation in telling the world. What was bizarre, as this was a Festival in the Arches that kept providing theatre after theatre, was that I then went in to see a piece straight after that I thoroughly disliked; my son ended up dating one of the actors… #awkward…

Seeing a piece of theatre that you initially liked, being developed and amended, sorted and redone, can be frustrating from a distance. Not being able to see it because so many other people want to see it is not at all frustrating! Trust me! I am gutted I couldn’t go but I was offered the chance to squeeze in. I demurred and gave my ticket over to someone who had maybe not seen it – they could spread the word alongside me…

With a Creative Scotland grant, Tron Theatre backing and a performance that has no room for free loaders – Happy to have been a part of it…

Now mark my words, theatre maker Isobel McArthur is a name you should keep handy for the future.

Right now, as I write this, the Creative Arts Theatre Scotland (CATS) are being announced in a ceremony in the Lyceum. Not being a part of the panel – it’s made up of theatre critics in Scotland – is no sore point for me. I don’t think I see enough in a year to qualify as a fine enough judge. I also tend to go see the things other reviewers don’t see – theatre makers TAKE note.

Now I have no problem with awards – have won a few in my time. In the past it could have been suggested that such ceremonies for Scottish theatre could have taken place in the smallest Tardis in the world but now we have ceremonies in big places – like theatres. It shows the vibrancy of the arts and theatre in particular in Scotland. That there are a few up for awards that I have seen this year is fantastic. Do I agree with the choice made? Well that’s the thing about awards, they are all about opinions…

It’s here! The Fringe programme has arrived. Nice and shiny and glossy it is too! And slimmer. Slimmer than last years – hallelujah! Of course it shall still have too many things to see and too many choices to make but hey – it’s here….

Artistry, Directors and Festivals…


And … Ah the sound of a departing Artistic Director…

You can hear the rest of us starting to feel the apprehension over that phrase “departing comments”. I have had occasion over the last few weeks to consider this phrase over some people who are departing or have already departed from the artistic scene in Scotland. Laurie Sansom has been “announced” as leaving the National Theatre of Scotland in June – has it really been three years!? His departure follows the great and frankly fantastic Graham McLaren who is also going from his post as the Associate Director.

Just as the doors were swinging behind that announcement came that the organisation was looking to restructure itself. Looking to streamline and sort out the senior management by gorra. Saints preserve us but please let it NOT be a call to put in an administrator with a fancy new title and call it an artistically led vision with many eyes. The suggestion would then be that they were looking to replace the Artistic Director’s post with many artistic directors, employed on a sessional basis as and when the vision became clear – wouldn’t that be fab? NAW!

That such visions would be set by the market research and the “engagement” with audience leaves my blood running cold; in fact, it leaves my artistic pulse throbbing in apoplexy. I had long left Borderline before it too got itself embroiled in such nonsense. That it went through what could best be called the Wilderness Years is testimony to what losing artists from an artistic company does…

As for McLaren, his departure has been a far more low key affair and I am a tremendous fan of his work. At times there has been a few bits and pieces – like the garden shed that was the Tin Forest – that flattered a little to deceive but overall I would say he hit far more than he ever missed. I was also able, at the end of the Shakespeare 400 performance, Dream On, at the University of Glasgow to tell him my tale of how my son saw his Ibsen, loved it at the Citz over a decade ago and was now onstage being directed by him – he gave me a hug…

Also on her way is the simply superb Maggie Kinloch. Now she may not be an Artistic Director, though she filled that brief brilliantly at the Byre in St Andrews but she is leaving her post as head of drama at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Her fearless support for the work of Solar Bear Theatre Company that sees 8 deaf actors on a unique full time acting course at the RCS is one element of her vision for a truly inclusive artistic world. Hardly had the door been opened to let her out before she was engaged to direct at the Fringe – good folk do not always go to waste.

So who next to step up to these spinning plates? The National is a hot topic as we have never had a Scot at its head and now would seem the apposite time to correct that. We are fleeing culturally and hoching wi talent so it oulght tae be yin o us… sharely?

It’s been a hectic time for me so visits to either Mayfesto and the Southside Fringe have been negligible. The West End Festival has now begun and I am looking to try and get some visits in there. The loss of the Carnival is not a good thing and there are plans and requests for help to revive it from the Festival organisers. This would be great for 2017 as I think the lack of this massive mass participation event which brings the Festival into the streets of the loyal population in the way that only big scale parades can is more than just worthwhile; for many it defines the Festival.

One Festival I was able to visit last week was the excellent On the Verge Festival run by the students of the Royal Conservatoire – lots of Festivals… A showcase for the creativity of the students it was a joy to jump in and out of Sloan Pub and Restaurant to capture theatre that is very Fringe like. I was interested to see what the loss of The Arches would do to the Festival and it was an interesting development for all.

Firstly, the production team, a blend of students and staff, did themselves proud by managing to support and programme a number of challenging pieces. Finding such a great wee venue was, in itself, a major feat as the Festival draws in as many types of performance as it does performances. It was however the venue that stifled, in my view some of the pieces.

When presented in a theatre, theatre is accepted by the audience as a venue. When you take drama out of a theatre, it then becomes less confident in its form. That led, in my view to there being a lot of “traditionally” theatrical pieces. The joy of this Festival and Into the New – the other RCS Festival during the year – has always been its ability to be slightly whacky. When you are out of your comfort zone, clowns apart, it can be difficult to feel you can take people with you quite as readily as when you are in your comfort blanket.

It is also a Festival where you could miss it. If you went on a spot the drama student gig then you would know there was something going on as there were plenty out and around Argyle Street, far enough away from the Tron to signal “an event”. The vast majority of performances had friends, family and other students as audience and this may not be a criticism but an observation. I have seen some rubbish in my time. Most of it charged up to and beyond £10 for each show! There’s plenty in here that could sell itself to the general public and get the punters involved in an event that shows the vibrancy and confidence we ought to have in our creative pool of young performers.

I shall be sending up my reviews over the next day or so of individual shows but this was an overall experience that worked more than tolerably well and I am looking forward to the new session and what comes next.

And the Fringe brochure is out on Wednesday the 8th… Is it nearly here yet?

Ah the Arches… 


The last week or so I have been given clear occasion to remind myself why the loss of the Arches is quite simply… a disaster. A year on and the effect is still being felt.

The main reason is the excellent second Festival of the Year run by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students – On the Verge. We have already had Into the New presented at the fantastic Pearce Institute in Govan and whilst there aint nothing wrong in going out into the community to perform… there is a reason why students study theatre…

The week ahead sees On The Verge in Sloans pub, under that archway in Argyle Street in Glasgow and another great venue – to be sure…

The wonderful way in which the Conservatoire allows its students to practice their craft and experiment in holding mini festivals with hunners o product is to be admired. That it shall be patchy and uneven is not to be condemned but to be embraced. There are people here who have studied for quite long enough and need to get out more and those performance ideas need a fresh airing and an opportunity to hear if they make as much sense to other people as they do to themselves. It’s just great. If the quality wavers, the enthusiasm never dims.

Both of these mini festivals –as well as others – belonged in The Arches. It was a venue designed to be un designed and therefore gave areas and places that just worked for things that didn’t meet in any kind of middle. The muddles that came up got untangled as audiences went yeah and people went aah!

It was also the week before a show which I reviewed in 2014, as part of On The Verge at The Arches, How do you sing it? is due onstage at the Tron in a fully funded production! How good is that? The girl behind it, Isobel McArthur is great and has gone on to forge a great fledgling career as an actress while still having this wee idea that she thought would make a great show. I thought it would and now Creative Scotland have joined the chorus that shall see it onstage in the Tron the following week.

I was then thrilled to see that O is for Houlet was out on tour – another show I reviewed BUT another product much promoted by The Arches. Winner of The Arches Platform 18: New Directions Award 2014 it is fantastic theatrical proof why the theatre and Scots language deserve each other.

Ah The Arches…