Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Shatner's Bassoon

I am not sure whether Mr Shatner is completely aware of the kitsch irony that makes this video such a delight, or if he completely believes in it as a move forward for progressive rock. Either way, in its own way, the new album surpasses the mania of his earlier classics.

Having said that, I think that Chris Morris is behind it. The video has the same classy production and over-statement of Big Ideas that characterise both Brass Eye and The Day Today. Apparently, William and his band - including members of Yes  - are gigging the new album to find out whether audiences are crying out for a world tour.

By the look of him in the video, I am not sure William will manage a series of shows. The video does have some amazing moments (Shatner is obviously no longer using verbs to communicate, but has spent some time studying Lecoq mime  - note the shifts of moods and movements to illustrate the grand ideas he throws about). I especially like it when he says 'logic' in a Spock voice.

Pitch to BBC Scotland

Starring Jim Davidson
I have had an excellent idea for a sit-com. It's called Critical Mass and follows the adventures of a balding and involuntarily celibate writer. Think of Californication meets Seinfield.

The hero - let's call him Gareth - is an ageing critic. In his youth, he wanted to be Lester Bangs, but found himself writing about theatre after getting kicked off The Daily Mail for an incident involving a burlesque dancer and a heroic dose of LSD. After a series of failed relationships, he decides to go back to University to learn about the arts he reviews. Hilarity ensues as he tries to resolve the dynamic conflict between academic and journalistic life.

At the end of each episode, he does a little piece to camera, which reviews the previous episode as if it were a play. It can have a slap-bass soundtrack.

Episode One: The Laugh Riot of Spring (with apologies to Rob Drummond)

Gareth is working in the office, distracting his co-workers with anecdotes about the almost famous people he has interviewed. Later in the day, his University lecturer is coming to visit him about an overdue essay. However, Gareth is trying to complete an article for a magazine about The Rite of Spring. The deadline has passed.

The boss of his magazine emails to say that he is coming over to the office to check on Gareth's working schedule. Of course, neither the University nor the magazine knows about his dual life. Cue much hilarity as Gareth tries to prevent the two from meeting, while he makes up more extravagant excuses for his late work.

The story ends with the three of them watching a contemporary dance version of The Rite of Spring, with Gareth in the middle. Then it turns out to be a burlesque show, because Gareth got the tickets muddled up.

I think it would work if we could get Limmy to play the critic's best friend, and Keira Knightley to play the University lecturer.

Bands, Comics and Toys

Good morning, Glasgow. Recording live from my secret location somewhere in the centre of the city, I wearily poke around in my inbox to make sure that the hipsters of No Mean City can find their daily art hit. Later today I shall be watching a recreation of The Rite of Spring (I have bought a bright red shirt specially as a tribute to the Pina Bausch version) in the CCA - conveniently close to the computer upon which I write these words.
However, that's sold out. So here's a future event in the wonderful CCA.

Unfortunately, I think I have downloaded a thumbnail, and this isn't the best quality image. Fortunately, I had a listen to Monoganon's track earlier. They do sound rather like I would expect a Swedish-Scottish experimental post-rock outfit to sound.
They apparently recorded the album in the CCA, which probably means you can hear me in the background shouting for them to keep the noise down, as I am trying to get the theatre section of The List written next door.
I have spent quite a while looking at this poster and wondering about the relationship between the boy and the ice cream.
Since I am really a theatre writer, I think I ought to hand over the last paragraph to a music expert. Here's Nicola Meighan from a great magazine.
"This introspective, complex collection of psych-folk psalms and alt-pop mantras dedicated to love, and loss and awakening, seeks answers rather than offering them, and it’s all the more poignant, and precious, for it. Inspired by the death of a close relation, Glasgow-via-Malmö singer-songwriter McKenna ponders the meaning, and strength, of relationships and our proximity to those around us, as he explores and draws out the meaning of F A M I L Y ..this is a haunting album that rewards with multiple visitations. Hold it close."

In other news, the mighty Black Hearted Press (purveyors of controversy and humour to the graphic literati) are gearing up for their bi-annual Comics and Toy Fair. Although the complete list of dealers isn't up yet, this is the original and best comic and toy fair in Scotland, and I am sure there will be copies of Laptop Guy available. It's worth going just to get a copy of that. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

I hate Shakespeare

Not really, but the tradition of producing Macbeth every season is as artistically redundant as cutting and pasting press releases in an attempt to keep the numbers up on a cultural blog. So here's a release about a new national project... 

The Theatre Archive Project (TAP) – a collaboration between De Montfort University (DMU) and the British Library (BL) – brings together a vivid collection of reminiscences about British theatre from 1945 to 1968 and has captured more than 300 interviews in 234 hours of oral history recording.

Led by DMU’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dominic Shellard, and the BL’s head of English and Drama, Jamie Andrews, the project has been running for ten years.

The archive holds interviews with one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, Laurence Olivier, which were given to the project, as well as Ian Richardson, star of the original BBC series House of Cardswhich has recently been adapted into an award-winning TV series in the US.

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 2016, the project will now also begin to capture interviews with cast and crew, theatre workers, audience members, scholars and critics who have experiences of Shakespearean productions from 1945 to the present.

This new direction will be unveiled at the TAP’s annual celebration at the BL this week (25 Oct) which is exploring repertory (rep) and ensemble theatre.

[Rep being when a theatre company present different plays every week and ensemble, when a group of theatre artists work together for many years on different pieces.]

Often considered to be older ways of working, these systems have been rejuvenated with The Royal Court Theatre recently reviving the weekly rep method and a number of other theatres across the country reinvigorating the idea of ensemble companies.

Speakers at the BL event this week will be leading UK director Laurence Boswell, actors Laura Elphinstone and Richard Franklin, and DMU’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Dominic Shellard. The event will be chaired by Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner.

During the event the panellists will discuss whether these approaches to theatre-making still have a future in the UK theatre scene.

Professor Shellard said: “DMU’s collaboration with the British Library continues to evolve and our new focus on Shakespeare marks an interesting and dynamic new direction for TAP.

“In 2016 the British Library will be unveiling a new Shakespeare exhibition and we hope that some of the oral history that we can gather during the next few years will be able to support its curation.”

Zoë Wilcox, Curator of Modern Literary and Theatrical Manuscripts at the BL, said: “This event at the British Library will use some of the fascinating personal testimonies gathered by the Theatre Archive Project over the last ten years to spark debate about theatre practice today.

“We are looking forward to adding further interviews to our freely accessible online collection in future. If you think you may have a story to tell about Shakespeare in performance, we’d like to hear from you.”

The event will take place at the BL on Friday 25 October, 6:30-8.00pm, followed by a wine reception.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Chapter 7.2: Nethy Bridge and The Real

In Nethy Bridge, and my mind is glowing. It's all downhill from here - the trip back to the train station at  Aviemore, the circuit out to the Western Isles. I chase about the tress, seeing the pieces that have been left behind by the community groups who are responding to the Giants in the Forest, and I know. This isn't the primordial woodland that traces its appearance back to a neolithic past. This is what the aftermath will look like: fragments of human activity, evocative and exciting, overpowered by the relentless growth of nature.

I like to pose and say: this is the desert of the real. I stole that from The Matrix. Intoned in the beautiful tones of Morpheus, portentous and serious, and stolen from Baudrillard. I have no idea what it means. Now I remember why I got lost in Falkland Estate. Now I know why I wanted to cycle across the northern passages of Scotland.

I have some vague idea that nature is more 'real' than the city. The desert of the real is the city, all symbols and no depth: too much spice and not enough substance, like those Glasgow curries that are like soup with chunks of meat, no vegetables. I wanted to feel the threat, the terror. I want to be hard up against the danger, the precarious nature of survival.

It's more sentimental nonsense. I posit a duality: between the inauthenticity of my urban experience and the truth of nature. The Giants are offering another standard, another perspective. Here, the clear lines of the plantation mark out how, once upon a time, wood from this forest was grown for export, to be included in the building of ships (fine masts). And the Giant, man-made but from local materials, is a symbol of a more gentle symbiosis, an art that doesn't need to force resolution or tension to make a simple point. As always, I look for the wrong qualities...

More Murder and Added Feminism

Ann Hansen, who inspired Blow Off 
The strange matter of the Jazz Club Murder still unsettles me. I was charmed by many of its salient features, such as the live singing (any rendition of a spiritual will calm my aching soul) or the familiarity of the amateur and very English sleuth. Yet to come upon something that resembled a version of ‘the well made play’, which dominated British theatre before John Osbourne dragged theatre away from the bourgeois drawing room into the (admittedly mannered) working class kitchen sink, shocked me more than a full-bloodied version of Seneca’s Thyestes (a happening all the more likely in a time when Titus Andronicus is vying for status at the top of the Shakespeare hierarchy).

The same day, I saw AJ Taudevin’s Blow Off, which climaxed in a big explosion, like the one at the end of Fight Club. Taudevin’s work-in-progress boasted a punk aesthetic (mentions of Bikini Kill and Howie Reeves rocking the bass guitar), and followed a story that included brutal beatings and an anti-capitalist conscience. While neither Murder nor Blow Off satisfied Aristotle’s definitions of tragedy – Taudevin’s emphasis on character over plot tipped it away from a definitive catharsis – the two plays represent the extremes of contemporary Scottish performance. On the one hand, a polite nostalgia: on the other, a restlessly personal and political dynamism.

It’s dichotomies like this that make the life of a critic in a post-modern age so problematic. There are no real movements in theatre any more, nothing that can be said to be of this moment in history. Taudevin referenced Bikini Kill and other 1990s music: Runcie flipped back to the golden age of jazz. Beneath these surface references are deeper affinities to tradition: Taudevin evokes agit-prop theatre in her format (the monologue and music, the explicitly political content); Runcie goes for a 1950s atmosphere and detective story reveal.

Equally, one play does not comment on the other – both imply a spirit of nostalgia, even ironic distance – unless Taudevin is making a direct appeal for more terrorist actions on businesses. And neither work is unnecessary, or unwanted. They provide their audiences with a level of emotional release, either into fantasies of rebellion, or a time long ago when even murder could be solved by goodwill and British determination.

Neither play deserves to be condemned: indeed, Taudevin is clearly striving towards an emotional theatre that places it at the heart of public debate about the tyranny of big corporations and broken idealism. But my problem may lie at the heart of contemporary theatre itself: does it know what it is supposed to do any more? Is it merely entertainment? Should it have a serious intention? And since the past bears so heavily on the present, is there any way forward for the original voice?

Of course, the real philosophical action these days isn't in theatre: it’s in the ceaseless debate about whether Miley ought to keep her pants on when she is swinging about in pop videos. I've had a crack at that one: unfortunately, my sarcastic response was written before Miley mocked Sinead O’Connor’s mental health. It’s a measure of how alienated the discussion has become, that it didn't immediately end there: whatever the importance of Miley’s conduct on a symbolic level (either liberation or degradation), the moment it became personal, a far more crucial issue was at stake. Real human beings were being insulted. Even if Sinead had set herself up as a symbol (of old school feminist dignity), she did not deserve to have her mental illness held up to ridicule.

Theatre, possibly, has represented both the heights of human creativity and the potential for public discourse to be given an imaginative, artistic forum. Blow Off is striving towards this aim, Jazz Club Murders doesn't seem to be – its morality is so obvious as to be beneath discussion. But there are comparisons between the two that are intriguing. Both lean on music to provide an emotional depth to the script. Both rely heavily on the main character, and a single, determined narrative voice. The chasm between their styles occludes a set of shared assumptions, and both are concerned with building a contemporary theatre through the debris of the past.

I flicker through my thoughts, determining nothing: which play is better? It depends on the demands of the audience. 

Mansfield Park is a must-see for lovers of Jane Austen from the country’s last remaining Regency Theatre.

Unceremoniously uprooted from her humble family home, intelligent young Fanny Price is dropped into the bustling, aristocratic household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, where she finds herself buffeted from one crisis to the next in the company of her cousins and their well-to-do friends. Yet throughout this turmoil one thing remains a constant - her love for the generous, worthy and steadfast Edmund Bertram.

But will this love be her salvation? Or will she be forced to marry the charismatic Henry Crawford for connections and wealth alone? Can Fanny triumph over her adoptive family's demands and follow her heart to acquire the husband and life she so desires and deserves?

The question remains: when I put out churnalism, am I simply expressing my laziness? I am bulking up the blog without having to do too much work, saving my energy for important things, like smoking or shouting at my fellow students.

Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park - brought to vivid life in recent adaptations starring Billie Piper, Frances O’Conner and Johnny Lee Miller - finds a new incarnation in this acclaimed production from the very last Regency-era theatre in the country - The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.

Directed by Colin Blumenau, Tim Luscombe’s sharply drawn adaptation of one of Austen’s most challenging novels premièred to critical and popular acclaim last year, and the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds is delighted to be able to bring this spell-binding production to audiences around the country for the second year running, celebrating 200 years since the novel was completed in 1813.

In this case, I actually like the original novel, and feel that it would be nice for the production to circulate around whatever social media my blog can haunt. Mansfield Park is one of Austen's more quirky numbers: the heroine is so lovely, the love story so beautiful. There's none of that moral ambiguity that confused me in Emma.

A Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Production

By Jane Austen King’s Theatre, Edinburgh: Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 November 2013

‘There certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them’

Tim Luscombe has been described as theatre’s ‘Austen champion’, with Mansfield Park being described as a ‘Riveting adaptation… utterly absorbing’; ‘Created with much love, affection and, above all, intelligence.’

Director Colin Blumenau’s unmatched knowledge of Georgian theatre has led the development of the Theatre Royal’s ‘Restoring the Repertoire’ programme, uncovering the smash-hit productions of this glamorous era and returning them to authentic surroundings, in some cases performing them for the first time in nearly two hundred years.

Of course, I have to slip in a cynical comment: does theatre have to rework classics to get an audience? Does the wry wit of Austen transfer to the stage? This beautiful archive I am leaving for future generations, by slapping my press releases on-line, must have a wee sting in the tail. 

Then again, isn't there a worth in Austen's plots, even detached from her prose. I spent a year trying to act like one of her heroes once. Yeah, that worked...

Press Release Time: The Mighty Zulu Nation

The MZN Theatre Company Announces the Launch of Their New Crowdfunding Campaign to Support Celebrating Our Common Humanity

Providing a powerful cultural experience and promoting positive cultural perceptions without prejudice to the world

MZN Theatre Company, a diverse company providing dynamic education and cultural experiences to schools and communities, is pleased to announce the launch of their crowd-funding campaign on

I genuinely have no idea what I think about crowd-funding. On the one hand, it short-circuits the usual processes of cultural funding - the arts councils, the secret funds set up by philanthropists - and allows audiences to support the work they want to see. On the other, Amanda Palmer used it to make an album that was inferior to her earlier work, and made such a bloody meal of it, I wonder whether it isn't merely a version of X-Factor with money in place of votes.

The campaign went live September 19, 2013, and will continue through November 3, 2013. The company has set a goal of £250,000. Funders are filling the gap between performance fees and expenditures for MZN’s 12-month tour starting in 2014. The funds will help sustain the company’s multi-talented African performers as they visit schools and communities throughout the United Kingdom and share a diverse cultural and educational experience.

But I like to put this sort of initiative on the blog. It might provoke discussion about crowd-funding, thereby saving me the bother of working out what I think. And for all my doubts about the process, I rather like this company.

For over 14 years MZN Theatre Company has been able to widen the perception of students’ minds and take them to worlds far beyond their own. This vibrant show features the dynamic Zulu Culture. Through powerful acting, splendid dance and spellbinding performances, families and students alike receive a truly memorable experience. 

It is the goal of the Celebrating Our Common Humanity campaign to create positive perceptions and understandings about other cultures. They want to teach students how to respect ethnic values while sharing the creative aspects of their background. MZN’s successful track record has led them to perform for Queen Elizabeth II; the inauguration of Lord Mayor of London; and at the Red Cross Association in London’s humanitarian lecture hosted by Nelson Mandela.

Just to make it worse, I don't have much patience for humanity at the moment: in my darker moments, I consider the commonality between people as residing in the ability to do really nasty stuff to each other. On a lighter note, I worry that presenting a culture as cheerful and creative refuses the complexities of every social or political or racial (although I don't believe in race...) grouping. 

Then again, these guys are called The Mighty Zulu Nation. That gets cool points. It's enough to encourage me to put up their press release, and hope that they get the cash to do their educating. 

“Our performers often come from challenged backgrounds and have left their native homes to help us teach the world about culture and diversity,” said Artistic Director Iain Storey. “By contributing we can ensure employment for our unique performers and help contribute to a positive quality of life while still teaching the world how to widen their perception of other cultures.

Contributions from funders, no matter their size, help unlock opportunities for performers and increase the number of children and schools the company can enlighten this year. All contributors are sharing in the dream of creating a diverse, understanding society. There are different contributor levels available ranging from £5 to £250,000. Contributors will receive recognition for their kindness on the company’s website as well as their name on a brick that will go toward building the wall of support.

About the MZN Theatre Company
The Mighty Zulu Nation Theatre Company has been providing services in partnership with Storey Productions for over 13 years. This acclaimed theatre company features dance, music and song, and strives to positively promote racial equality, community cohesion and citizenship to the world. They grow positive perceptions and teach their audience to respect the values of other cultures so that everyone can share a common humanity. Learn more about the MZN Theatre Company by visiting their website at or by visiting the crowd- funding campaign featured on

The more I think about it, the more questions I have. I really like the idea of MZN going into schools and teaching pupils about the Zulu culture, and getting them into music and dance that isn't more MTV blather (showing my age there - MTV doesn't even have music on it any more, yet Miley and all that carry-on get called MTV culture). I also think that, in the age of the Super Information Highway, a pupil who decided to get into it could really access plenty of additional material. 

The MZN might just plant a seed. Plus, I am keen on their vision to 'positively promote racial equality.' I don't believe in race - in so far as I think it is an artificial categorisation of the human species, based on outmoded concepts of superiority and Aristotlean obsessive-compulsive disorder. But racial equality is one of the few phrases that can be translated as 'why don't we all just get along' and doesn't give me hives.  

I guess 'citizenship to the world' is a similar idea, but it is too vague. Where racial equality insists that it's not cool to be prejudiced on the grounds of skin colour, global citizenship sounds like waffle. 

That said, more performance in schools is all right by me. And they have a show called Napoleon Noir that looks amazing.

Chapter 7.1 Giants in the Forest: Lies and ignorance

There are many reasons why Nethy Bridge has become the climax of my tour to chase the Giants in the Forest. It is the furthest north that I am going to cycle - although that is not literally true. It has got a train line that still has steam engines - although there isn't actually a working station in the village. It is a tourist destination (the hotel remains the most impressive building) - although the golden years might have passed.

The small matter of this being the furthest north that I cycled: I am thinking of a metaphorical north. You know, mountains, desolate plains, barren fields, the mythical Scotland that turns up on the posters in America. It's the furthest north in so far as I know that a puncture here is going to be a problem: Forres might have the geographical edge (let's face it, a quick look at the map proves this is more vile nonsense), but Nethy has the atmosphere, the romance...

Besides that, Forres' Heads were in a patch of forest in the middle of a housing estate. It was beautiful, and saying that makes it sound as if I were in a bit of shrub, just off the main road. But even though I did manage to get lost in this patch, I came out fairly quickly into 'civilisation.' I ended up on the other side of the estate, but I wasn't likely to die of exposure.

And this is where the romantic notion of nature comes into my writing. Nature is at its most beautiful when it looks as if it might kill me. I spend an evening wandering around the various paths in the Nethy Bridge forest (quite a few are closed off, as they reset the soil to bear the imprint of other visitors, tramping the wilderness). There are houses in the woods. I feel like I am at the edge of civilisation. Humans are retreating, the trees are reclaiming the land and the grand designs of the twentieth century are slinking back into the woodland.

The grand green set out for the Highland Games, reputedly one of the oldest in Scotland, is like a last gasp of human resistance to the inevitable return of the Green Man. Even I can spot how the valley has been ground out by a glacier, thousands of years ago, providing a flat, wet expanse for the trees to grow. I hunch down, pretending I am a neolithic man. I bet this landscape hasn't changed for thousands of years...

"Here, in the water, you can spot the remains of the water mill. You know, a century ago, this was like a factory, a tree factory. Haven't you noticed the regularity of the trees? And this was all grazing land, too. None of the trees are thick enough to be that old..."

Friday, 11 October 2013

Acid Mothers ARE in Glasgow... (part 1)

There’s a crack through the landscape of my late teaching career. At one end, we have Acid Mothers Temple (the last band that I loved to distraction, at least for a few years). At the other, we have Forced Entertainment. They convinced me, through Bloody Mess, that the energy I had chased in music had migrated into theatre.

Acid Mothers Temple are back on Saturday. Last night I saw Forced Entertainment’s latest. I guess this now counts as nostalgia.

I have never really been that enthusiastic about AMT’s recordings. Part of this is age and equipment: I don’t have the high end stereo to blast out their psychedelic jams at a volume that allows the nuances of riff and feedback and distortion to play out in my living room. I also worry about the neighbours – something my teenage self would not have been too concerned about.

In fact, apart from the triple CD compilation, which includes a sixty minute version of the song that played live every time I saw them, was the only AMT release that I have adored: mainly because it compiled their various alliances and side-projects. I tend to find more joy in main-man Kawabata Motoko’s solo exercises. They fit in more with the minimal ambient noise that makes up my bedtime listening action.

But Acid Mothers Temple in concert… it’s a pleasure too Dionysian to resist. Although the basic template is consistent – they are a loud, rambling yet brutally focused outfit who pastiche 1970s’ progressive rock – the subtle line-up changes made each show different enough to make collecting the set crucial. Maybe they’d add a drummer, replace a vocalist: each change was announced with an additional phrase to the band’s name (possibly referring to an obscure Gnostic idea). But the slight tilt in direction was enough. AMT were finding new ground in an apparently featureless landscape.

I guess they satisfy the two extremes of my soul: the paradox at the heart of the band is the paradox of my own emotional confusion. On the one hand, they appear to be revivalists, harking back to a time when rock valued aggression as a tool to expanding the mind. They evoked the late hippy conflagration, when Hawkwind sketched out ceremonies of outer and inner space, just before musical competence soured into self-conscious displays of technical expertise. They drone, they wail, guitars all so masculine and relentless.

Yet they seem so fresh, as if each bludgeoning drama is being conjured accidentally, from a jazz spirit of improvisation.

Part of my soul is enchanted by the subtle interplay of very loud guitars, and the way they rediscover predictable strategies and cast them in passionate, even original, new directions. It is an erudite game of spectatorship, discerning the nuance of the old and refitting it as new.
The other part of me recognises them as the greatest dance band in the history of rock, a supple funkiness driving on the assault of noise. 

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Jazz Club Murder

It is sadly appropriate that I am reading the assembled criticism of Kenneth Tynan in the same week that I have seen Oran Mor’s The Jazz Club Murder.  While the Murder has the well-mannered aplomb of a mildly ironic drawing room drama – despite the setting, the detective-vicar never loses his Oxbridge charm – it subscribes to a set of values that would, no doubt, have had Tynan plotting to become the first man to say ‘fuck’ on the BBC, thereby setting a bomb under post-war civil society.

There’s some fine trumpet-playing by George Drennan – a man given to whipping out his horn at any excuse, even when playing a pantomime baddie, a winning performance from Paul Dodds as the heroic priest, and even a sexy dual turn from Frances Thorburn, who plays the seductive American singer and teasing society mademoiselle with equal restraint. But from its structure  - mild investigation followed by almost dramatic revelation – to its underlying morality (vengeance corrupts the soul), Mr Runcie’s drama is comfortingly predictable.

To complain that it sentimentalises an era – the 1950s – is to miss the point: the drama depends on stock characters rubbing along happily. The murderer is barely glimpsed before the final scenes – preventing any possible shock or sympathy – allowing the play’s wit to rest on the vicar’s flirtations with the toothsome twosome. Undeniably, it goes for the easy path to the audience’s affection – the packed crowd laughed willingly at the strained jokes stolen from Mae West.

Yet the light irony it beings to its depiction of a London of jazz clubs and underworld villainy lacks any satirical bite: Murder is an entertainment, a light one, that ignores the tragedy of an innocent killed before her time or the journey of her killer from loyal son to condemned criminal. It signifies a past long forgotten, evoking the era more through the mannered conversations and the simplicities of plot: it rarely threatens to reveal the depth of the characters, even preferring to have fun at the expense of the cast’s changes of role.

Moments of fun abound – aside from an unfortunate misuse of the word ‘ball’ (is the jazz singer really asking the vicar to have sex with her, because that is what the word means. Ask Little Richard…), and the repeated phrase ‘catching the milk train back to Cambridge’ which sounds suspiciously like a euphemism after the heroic vicar has spent the evening with two different women – there’s a lively humour in the vicar’s commentary on events. Slight missteps in tone – some of the jazz numbers have a little too much of the Whitney Houston hysteria to convince – are quickly absorbed into a straightforward, facile plot. Drennan, although given little to do, is always charismatic: Doodad wins over the audience and acts both as plucky protagonist and obedient narrator.

But even by PPP’s conservative standards, Murder is whimsical. It seems churlish to attack so slight a piece of theatre (and this is neither tragedy, nor drama), especially since it aims to entertain. Yet Tynan’s ghost haunts me: like Aristotle, like Plato, he recognised the power of theatre as a moral force, as disruptive, as challenging. There’s nothing wrong with The Jazz Club Murder, beyond the occasional dodgy accent. But it isn’t enough.

The Context of Aristotle's Poetics - I wrote it, so it is going up...

The theories of Aristotle about tragedy, as articulated in The Poetics, are potentially valuable both in an historic context – that is, as part of the study of ancient drama – and as a set of standards and ideas against which to judge subsequent theatre and theories of theatre. However, despite Aristotle’s interest in the Universal (citation) both uses can be clarified by a brief discussion of The Poetics’ historical context: the environment from which Aristotle emerges may offer clues to his philosophical positions.

Aristotle was born at the end of a dynamic period of social and political upheaval. As tutor to Alexander The Great, the Macedonian conqueror of Greece and the Persian Empire, he was intimately involved with the events that led to the expansion of Hellenic cultural into the east. Yet a mere century earlier, Greece had been a far more fragile and fragmented entity. Even following a spectacular victory over an invading force from Persia, the basic unit of the Greek state was the city, and rather than a unified nation, Greece was divided into many city states, each one with its own government and cultural concerns.

Traditionally, the two states of Spartan and Athens have come to represent the extremes of Greek politics. While Sparta was orientated to an austere military organisation – with two kings and the Ephors (a group of older citizens) at the top of the hierarchy, Athens was a direct democracy, with all male citizens entitled to vote on matters of policy.

This simple contrast hides a far more complicated history. Athens instituted democracy in 509 BC, following its liberation from a series of ‘tyrants’ (autocratic leaders without a hereditary entitlement), partially through the aid of the Spartan army. In the following century, Athens would become a military power in its own right – through its remarkable naval power – and a hub for artistic and philosophical revolutions. By the time that Aristotle was old enough to decide to pursue philosophy, Athens was the place to be.

The Athenians themselves regarded their cultural supremacy as an inevitable consequence of their political system, which encouraged freethinking and debate. In Thucydides’ version of Pericles’ funeral oration, the great general made a point of connecting the growth of Athens to its spirit of freedom.
The myth of Athenian freedom is, ironically, echoed in praise directed at the Spartan state. The film, and graphic novel, 300, despite its rather imaginative description of the facts surrounding the battle of Thermopylae, captures the spirit of Herodotus’ attitude towards the Spartans, and their own belief that the Spartan state offers freedom. In the aftermath of the Persian Wars, the whole of Greece could see itself as being a haven of individualism and intellectual freedom, by comparing itself to the Persian Empire, with its monarchy and monolithic cultural identity.

Athens, however, does have a solid claim to its beliefs. Even before the triumphant rejection of the tyrants, through Cleisthenes’ revolution, it had made several attempts to create a state based on equality. The concept of isonomia - equality before the law – was considered even in the disappointingly reforms of Draco. In drawing up a new system of punishment for crimes, Draco decided that every crime was worthy of death, leading to the modern epithet ‘draconian.’ While his practice was somewhat extreme, his theory was, at least, guided by isonomia.

A more fondly remembered ancestor to democracy was Solon, one of the ancient world’s great sages – who would also offer a little criticism to Thespis, the first author of tragedy. However, following the overthrow of Peisistratus in 507, the Athenians made serious efforts to expand equality into the political sphere, developing a form of democracy that revolved around regular assemblies that were open to all citizens.
At this point, the traditional note is that, of course, citizens were tightly defined: slaves and women were excluded from the assembly – and the various guiding panels and councils that surrounded it. Aristotle makes it quite clear that he shared the prejudices of this age in The Poetics when he observes that women are inferior to men. However, this glaring omission aside, Athenian democracy, and its legal system, was based on a far more egalitarian system than its neighbours, who might have been ruled by Kings or oligarchies (that is, groups of aristocrats).

That the shining exemplars of democratic leadership came from a tight-knit group of families, who had previously been competing for oligarchic power in Athens, is generally either ignored or approved.  The fundamental principal of Athenian democracy, nevertheless, is considerably more inclusion than the representative democracy that passes for government in contemporary Britain.
Alongside democracy, Athens had another innovation – this time in the arts. Attic Tragedy evolved very rapidly from the dithyramb – a choral hymn, usually to Dionysus – and within thirty years of the institution of democracy, it had become a showcase for Athenian cultural hegemony within Greece. But before the Athenians could boast of this achievement, the fledgling democracy had to fight off an external threat – the Persian Invasions of 490 and 480.

In Herodotus’ Histories, a book that does put the lie to the suggestion that Persian was purely barbarian and culturally monolithic, the invasions by the Persian Emperors Darius and Xerxes did pit two opposing ideologies at war. Persia was a monarchy, with a considerable emphasis on centralised control. Greece was a patch-work of independent city states which, as history reveals, were are happy fighting each other as defending their shared country.

The odds were long against a Greek victory. In 490, Darius sent an expeditionary force, which was defeated by a Greek army, led by the Athenians, at Marathon. When Darius’ son, Xerxes, made a more serious attempt in 480, a holding strategy by the Spartans at the narrow pass of Thermopylae allowed the Athenians to evacuate the city and lead the Greek navy to a stunning victory just off the Island of Salamis. The Persians were sent packing, and Athens begun boasting about its power. The capture and burning of Athens became an opportunity to rebuild, and the spectacular Acropolis that still attracts visitors to this day – even after Lord Elgin stole all the fittings – was the result.

In 470, about the time that Aeschylus was writing The Persians (his earliest extant tragedy and one that bucks the trend of using mythology for the plot), Athens was feeling pretty tasty. In Aeschylus’ trilogy The Oresteia, the finale happens in Athens, and the bloodguilt of the hero is purified by the intellectual logic of the defence council and the inherent justice of the Aeropagus, an ancient tribunal. Athens is even able to overturn the natural cycle of vengeance that has previously passed for justice, through a compromise with The Eumenides – previously terrifying embodiments of revenge, given a new shrine and role as protectors of the city.

While further study of Aeschylus will come when I write my best-seller on the character of Greek drama – it is worth observing that at this time, the politics and principals of Athenian society were reflected in the plays.

Sadly, this newfound confidence went to their heads all too quickly. A close reading of Herodotus reveals that the Persian invasions were provoked by Athenians messing about in the revolutionary activities of certain Ionian cities on the coast of Turkey – then known as Asia Minor and part of Darius’ empire. After the war, Athens became the centre of a Greek naval alliance system, which was supposed to have a shared treasury at Delos. Encouraged by the onion-headed hero Pericles, who would become an Athenian hero, the city decided that this treasury would be better used smartened up its Acropolis than just sitting on Delos as a financial assurance of future military collaboration.

Having spent their allies’ money – effectively turning alliances into tributes – the Athenians decided to meddle in national politics. They went for a period of cold war strategies against Corinth and Sparta, eventually refusing the Megarians access to a particular market. This was one of the factors that encouraged the Spartans to declare war on the Athenians, plunging Greece into a war that would last from 431 until the end of the century.

The nature of Athenian democracy was unashamedly imperialistic. Even during the war with Sparta, they found time to send an expedition to Sicily, which is one of the biggest military failures ever: and during a brief break in hostilities, they sent a warship to Egypt to wind up the locals (and possibly find new trade routes). Apart from drawing a cheeky comparison with contemporary democracies like the USA, who also have a habit of adventuring against nations with non-democratic government, it is possible to suggest that the very nature of Greek democracy encouraged this imperialism.

There is a twisted logic, but the inclusion of the poorest citizens in the decision-making process made Athenian policy vulnerable to populist measures that would provide work for these citizens. A quick trip over to Egypt provided plenty of work for the oarsmen… however, this line of inquiry collapsed at the suggestion of Eric Caroulla that Alexander the Great was also imperialistic, and he didn’t necessarily pay attention to the assembly.

Thucydides’ history of Peloponnesian War is a great attempt to develop a history that is stripped of the anthropology that makes Herodotus interesting but discursive. However, a real good book doesn’t excuse over a quarter of a century of seasonal warfare that would eventually destroy Athens’ power and confidence.

The end of the Peloponnesian War – after a few false reprieves and surprises, such as the Peace of Nicias and a brief period when a group of oligarchs seized the government – saw a Spartan army arrive in Athens again. Fortunately, the Spartans were not enthusiastic about extending their empire and went home – they already had another conquered people, the helots, to oppress and were not hot for ruling a Greek empire.

The democracy reasserted itself, and spent time condemning Socrates to death before making a dumb decision to fight Philip of Macedon, another invader. Philip conquered Athens, and his son went on to conquer Persian, creating a Pan-Hellenic culture that spread as far as Egypt. Indeed, this Greek culture was so important that people forget that Cleopatra was a Greek – part of the Ptolemy family who inherited Egypt after Alexander’s empire collapsed on his early death.

In brief, the Athenian democracy flourished very briefly for around a century. It was always argumentative and had great difficulty avoiding demagogues – populist politicians who would persuade the assembly to do something stupid. In its early stages, during the threat of Persian invasion, it had sterling leaders, like Miltiades, who combined rhetorical and military brilliance. After the death of Pericles, who was a victim of the plague (another factor in their defeat by Sparta), it ended up with characters like Cleon, who was mocked by comic poet Aristophanes for being ill-educated and was killed on an expedition he encouraged, or Alcibiades, who might have cut off the penises of religious statues before defecting to Sparta, sleeping with the wife of the king there, and finally running away to Persia.

There were further controversial debates, including the decision to prosecute a group of generals en masse for a defeat, which was illegal, and the brutal decision to kill everybody on the island of Melos for refusing to join their alliance. Frankly, if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. And the love of a good argument attracted a particular sort of teacher to gravitate towards Athens, which accounts for something of the city’s intellectual atmosphere.

Plato, who was born towards the end of the century, calls these teachers sophists, mainly to distinguish them from Socrates, his hero and a proper philosopher.  But they are better described as philosophers themselves, probably with an interest in rhetoric. They flocked to Athens, and made it the centre of intellectual ferment.

Plato is possibly the most important thinker of ancient Greece – he was the first to write down his ideas in a series of eloquent books, and his influence is such that the whole history of western thought has been described as footnotes to his work. He was a follower of Socrates, who was called the wisest man of the time by the Delphic Oracle, and who preferred dialectic – conversation – to rhetoric. Apart from being mightily annoyed by the democracy that killed Socrates, Plato had a suspicion of the other philosophers, whom he regarded as having wild ideas and placing more emphasis on the quality of argument that its relative truth.

It was Plato who taught Aristotle: after a few adventures that involved trying to persuade a tyrant to use a rational system to govern, then getting captured by pirates, he set up a school, The Academy. There’s a really cool painting that imagines the pair of them in conversation, and sums up their differences in a single image more clearly than all the words wasted in analysis.

Before dedicating some time to Plato, who told the best joke in history, it’s important to note that Athens was full of smart-ass intellectuals. Even the plays were full of arguments. Athenian democracy encouraged debate and new ideas. Now and again, they might kill someone for the new ideas – like Socrates. But generally, Athens was a city that was growing throughout the fifth century, with democracy, theatre, philosophy and the architecture all racing ahead together.

The Trouble With Double

Morality, of course, remains in fashion. The triumphs against the repressive models of moral stricture - such as censorship of the theatre (1968), Clause 28 (rather later than it ought to have been, frankly) - haven't removed the necessity of moral limitations on the arts, but shifted the grounds. While once the representation of homosexuality was either prohibited or satirical - it isn't that simple to reclaim John Inman as subversive - arguments about attitudes towards gender or sexual identity remain dynamic.

It is, however, less fashionable to critique a play on the grounds that it is morally obnoxious. That kind of talk harks back to the complaints of St Augustine (who saw theatre as a distraction from God) or The Daily Mail, which would probably worry about the impact on the children: either that, or it's political correctness gone mad.

I'm probably political correctness gone mad: certainly, my moral parameters are unrecognisable to conservative values. I'd rather see Empress Stah get naked and drink her own blood than see an actress in bra and panties during a lunchtime play - although I can see how, if the matter is simply 'area of flesh exposed,' Stah must appear more immoral.

And finally, I get to The Trouble With Double. It's part of the Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint season. I'm not sure whether to begin with the good things or the bad things. The bad thing is that I would, in fact, ban this play - or at least this production of it.

(Of course, I wouldn't really ban anything. I am committed to a liberal anti-censorship argument: liberal in the sense it is vague. I don't begrudge the cast and crew getting paid, I don't begrudge the audience the cheap laughs or the vulgar titillation. The problems that I have with D.c. Jackson's script aren't really that is represents a serious threat to morality or social order.)

Let's start with the good. D.C. Jackson might be the closest thing that Scottish theatre has to a poet - in terms of word wielding, Jackson has the same fluid facility that marks Russell Brand out from the cornucopia of comics, a dizzying command of alliteration and the well framed phrase and fable. Like a poet, Jackson bombs on the punchlines - many of the gags require only a blast from a trombone to become more obvious than the Conservative Party's duplicity. But he can sling words around the stage with the energy of a cage full of chimpanzees flinging faeces.

And Kenny Miller can direct up a story. Trouble never relaxes, keeps the pace fiercer than Beyonce: despite the weakness of the plot's premise (yes, it's an identical twins farce), it moves sleekly to the inevitable resolution.

Johny Austin and Robert Jack and Louise McCarthy do the business on stage. Jack is a geeky sex-pest, not without charm. Austin is the timid groom to be. McCarthy gets to play both limpid wife and sexpot sister.

If as Aristotle says, the plot is more important than the characters, and both are more important than the ideas therein, Trouble  might get a pass. Sadly, Jackson wasn't too fussed about characterisation. All three actors are playing off the shelf personalities, and when McCarthy strips down to her skidders, a horrible truth is revealed.

This is a pilot for a 1970s sit-com that never happened. The ingredients are all in place: the men are hopeless, driven by insecurity or sexual opportunism. The women are either malicious and sexual or prim and demanding. So much talent is wasted on something that Sid James might lend an ironic bite. To the left, we have a scene from the action. Feminists are quite justified in taking this as a reading for the show's temperature. They are also correct to ask why the woman is dressed in an erotic manner and the man... do I have to be PC Gone Mad to object to this?

It is a sex comedy that is neither erotic nor self-aware. It is dated, trivial and, when it relies on the jokes in the script (that is, when cast or director aren't pushing the funny by their performances), it is like a saucy postcard source book.

Now the critic decides: am I to moralise, or judge the play on its performance? If the former, then PPP are banished beyond the city walls, until they can be more mature about sexuality. If the later, they ought to get a raise.

Will Self Can't Write

I am bitter and I am fierce. I would very much like to have a fight with the editorial team of The Guardian. Perhaps this is old age, frustration at my lack of literary success. Perhaps I am slowly relinquishing my attachment to the liberal icons of my youth.

I have just read Will Self's review of Mark Kermode's book. Now, complaining that Will Self's prose has too many long words is like castigating Facebook for too much Miley Cyrus. However, in reviewing Kermode's book - which is partially an advertisement for Self's new role on The Observer as film critic - I wondered whether The Guardian had finally decided to leave in the place-holder text.

Self has always been a nearly-man of British literature: he was nearly as cool a drug writer as Irvine Welsh, he was nearly a social satirist in the tradition of Martin Amis. Still, he was pretty funny that time he took drugs on John Major's campaign bus (or whatever vehicle it was). And he made a half-decent stab at being a sinister, arch alternative to the usual literati they wheel onto culture shows in the late 1990s.

However, this review is so pompous, so self-regarding that, had I read it in a play, I would have assumed it was another attempt by a playwright to represent mental illness - and whipped off an angry blog about how theatrical madness is an insult to sufferers of mental ill-health. It is as if The Guardian doesn't employ sub-editors.

And this is not a first offence. Russell Brand's piece on his wild night at the Awards Where He Called Hugo Boss out on Genocide had that same 'will this do?' stream of consciousness. Yet with Brand, it's possible to imagine him poncing about the stage in a big scarf and enunciating wryly: the monologue read badly, but Brand was probably thinking of the words as a future routine.

Self is supposed to be a writer, a critic, even. I kind of get offended when other artists think they know how to be a critic (even Andy Field, the man behind Forest Fringe, frustrates me when he turns his hand to reviews). Strike one for Self. Then there is the deliberate over-use of fancy words: the point of writing to make ideas become coherent, comprehensible, not hide them in wraiths of trickery: strike two. Then there is the ultimate simplicity of the content: Self is just saying he doesn't like the book. Strike Three.

Dreadful. Dreadful. Dreadful. Of course, I encourage The Guardian to keep it up. The quicker that they dissolve into debt and uselessness, the quicker the cockroaches on the blogs can survive and replace the monolithic bastions of establishment thought.

Other newspapers are available, and I would have a big fight with them, too. Except the Daily Mail, which just scares me.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Svartvit is a Dutch harsh noise project that was started in 2008 by sound artist Kevin Jansen. Through the years the project has evolved both in presentation and sound. Starting of as a very monotonous study in textural noises it has turned into a direct channeling of anger, frustration and the questioning of modern day society through sound & performance. Svartvit takes influences from a wide spectrum including but definitely not limited to; Vienna Aktionism, socio-political topics, underground punk music, Russian constructivism as well as his contemporaries like Sword Heaven, The Rita, Prurient & Vomir. The result is a very personal and emotional presentation of a troubled mind, overtaking and often physical. Everything is presented with a down to earth approach that takes its ethics from a background in DIY punk culture & anarchism.

Releases have appeared on labels all over the world on both CD and Cassette, some Vinyl is planned for the near future. Through the years Svartvit has built quite a reputation for himself. Aggressive and spectacular live shows that aren’t to be missed, appearing all over Europe, keeping up with a quite fanatical touring schedule.

Elusive experimentalists dwelling in an interzone between dub and Throbbing Gristle-era industrial, Ex-Servicemen's live performances generate soundscapes born of post-industrial geographic displacement and cognitive schisming. The drugs are cheap and everything is on fire.

A new project from Andrew McQuaid (A View From Nihil), channeling blanket-mono channel meditative drone via the edge lands of Tarkovsky's Stalker. This new project is informed as much by Malevich's Suprematism as Andrew's previous immersion in Harsh Noise Wall though preferring volume and texture to distortion abuse.

Feral death jazz trio made up of local underground insurgents Laurie Pitt (Golden Teacher/Ultimate Thrush/Dick 50), Lea Cummings (Kylie Minoise/Okishima Island Tourist Association/Opaque) and Stuart Arnot (Acrid Lactations/Total Vermin Tapes). Senses will be de-regulated.

Hardware sprawl power electronics collaboration between Tom Jenkins (Powderhouse/Genetic Noose), Derek Crozier (Sufferinfuck/Asahara) and David Wilson. Extremism, misanthropy and disgust as staple.