Joyce McMillan online…

All my writing on theatre and general social/political issues is available online here.

Everything on the site appears in date order, below, beginning with the most recent column or review.  Most of these pieces are commissioned by, and first appear in, The Scotsman. Ultimate ownership of copyright remains with me, and is asserted here.

If you want to search the site for something specific, type your key word(s) into the space on the right, and press return.

To come back to this main page at any time, just click on “joyce mcmillan – online” at the very top of the page. Enjoy!

© Joyce McMillan 2011

Scotsman Fringe First Winners 2015

Here are the winners of the 2015 Fringe First awards.  Congratulations to them all!


Week 1

THE CHRISTIANS      Gate Theatre at the Traverse
A GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING       Gary McNair at the Traverse
GOING VIRAL      Dan Bye at Northern Stage@Summerhall
SWALLOW      Traverse Theatre Company at Traverse Theatre
UNDERNEATH     Fishamble at Dance Base

Week 2

CITIZEN PUPPET   Blind Summit Theatre at Pleasance Courtyard
THE GREAT DOWNHILL JOURNEY OF LITTLE TOMMY     Theater aan Zee & Richard Jordan at Summerhall
LABELS   Worklight Theatre at Pleasance Courtyard
LIGHT BOXES    Grid Iron at Summerhall
RAZ   Assembly Festival and Riverside Studios at Assembly George Square
TAR BABY   Desiree Burch and Platt Productions at  Gilded Balloon
TRANS SCRIPTS     Paul Lucas Productions at  Pleasance Courtyard

Week 3

A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING   Corn Exchange, Dublin at Traverse Theatre
OUR LADIES OF PERPETUAL SUCCOUR   NTS & Live Theatre, Newcastle, at Traverse Theatre
PENNY ARCADE: LONGING LASTS LONGER     Penny Arcade at the Underbelly, Cowgate
A REASON TO TALK   KunstZ, Big In Belgium and Richard Jordan at Summerhall
WHAT I LEARNED FROM JOHNNY BEVAN     Luke Wright at Summerhall



The Merchant Of Venice (2015)


JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 1.8.15.


THANKS TO THE weather, it’s been a rough voyage for this year’s Bard In The Botanics production of The Merchant of Venice; almost as rough as the one that sees the wreck of all Antonio’s ships, and helps shape the plot of this most complex and ambivalent Shakespeare comedy.

So it’s good to report – on this last weekend of the Bard In The Botanics festival – that Gordon Barr’s fine production finally brings a rich dramatic cargo home, after a few rocky moments and brushes with danger.  Dressed in 1930’s clothes, and punctuated by 1930’s smart-set cabaret songs, the production at first seems a shade uncertain about its approach to the blatant racism, anti-Semitism and arrogance of the show’s young, gilded Christian characters; the heroine Portia’s foreign suitors are mocked relentlessly, and without apparent remorse.

The show has a fine, understated Shylock in Kirk Bage, though, and a magnificently complex Portia in Nicole Cooper. And by the end – as the skies darken over the gardens – we’re left in no doubt about the rottenness that underpins the elegant froth of the play’s romance; not only the brutal destruction of the Jew, whose daughter closes the play with the infinitely haunting sound of an old Hebrew lament, but the lies and silence surrounding the hero Bassanio’s relationship with Antonio, which as the play’s final tableau suggests, make a mockery of the marriage vows between men and women, and turn them into a poor substitute for a bond that is both more powerful, and infinitely corrupted by the secrecy and hypocrisy that surrounds it.

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, final performance tonight.


Gallus In The Gorbals: The Citizens’ Company Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary, And 50 Years Since The Founding Of The Close Theatre


JOYCE MCMILLAN on GALLUS IN THE GORBALS – THE CITIZENS’ COMPANY CELEBRATES ITS 70th ANNIVERSARY for the Scotsman Magazine, 25.7.15. _____________________________________________________

TO ANY OTHER ARTS INSTITUTION, these could look like grim and testing  times.  After a decade of standstill funding, the Citizens’ Theatre Company is leaner and poorer than it was in the days when it was run by the legendary triumvirate of Giles Havergal, Robert David MacDonald and Philip Prowse; and there’s the additional problem that without a massive rebuilding programme, over the next four years, parts of the much-loved old theatre in the Gorbals, first opened in 1876, would – in the words of its artistic director Dominic Hill – “simply fall down.”

Yet there’s something about the Citizens’ Theatre – the shape of its famously welcoming auditorium, its location, and its brilliant creative history – that encourages a cheerfully dauntless spirit in the face of practical difficulties.  Plans for the rebuilding project are already well advanced, thanks to generous support from Glasgow City Council and others; and the Citizens’ is preparing for its autumn season in fine fettle, as the theatre celebrates both the 70th anniversary of the Citizens’ Theatre Company at the Citizens’ – brought there by James Bridie in 1945 –  and the 50th anniversary of the legendary Close Theatre, the Citizens’ studio which opened in 1965 and fast became a west coast equivalent of the Traverse, before it burned down in 1973.

“Our aim this year,” says Dominic Hill, “has been really to celebrate the Citizens’ relationship with Glasgow and the West of Scotland.  So in the spring, we staged our new production of John Byrne’s Slab Boys, and then Douglas Maxwell’s terrific new Glasgow play Fever Dream: Southside; and in the autumn, we’re both co-producing the new version of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark that’s about to premiere at the Edinburgh Festival, and then creating a brand-new mainstage musical – by playwright and actor Paul Higgins and Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue – which is called The Choir, and reflects on ideas about community and harmony in the west of Scotland now.”

The theatre’s mainstage autumn programme also includes the revival of Vox Motus’s superb young people’s show Dragon, which also appears at the Edinburgh Festival, and a Christmas version of the legend of Rapunzel.  Just as interesting, though, is the autumn Up Close season of three shows in the Citizens’ Circle Studio, which features a Slawomir Mrozek double-bill directed by Matthew Lenton of Vanishing Point, and plays by Howard Barker and Sam Holcroft staged by young Cits directors Debbie Hannan and Gareth Nicholls; and is designed to celebrate the legacy of the Close Theatre, which stood on the same site.

“This idea really came out of me reading up a bit more about the history of the Citizens’, and realising just what an influential space the Close Theatre was in the development of Scottish theatre.  So we wanted to celebrate that; and also to give a final burst of life to our Circle Studio, which is scheduled to be pulled down next year, in the next phase of our rebuilding project.

“And yes, we are aware of Giles Havergal’s comment that when the Close burned down, it actually helped the Citizens’ of the 1970’s find its focus, because all that experimental energy just poured onto the theatre’s main stage.  In the end, though, we decided that in order to do what we want to do in supporting other companies, and providing opportunities for young theatre makers, we really need to have a studio space.  I don’t want ever to be staging shows there that we really should be doing on the main  stage.  But for our wider relationship with theatre in Glasgow and beyond, a studio space is a huge asset; and so we’re looking forward to opening up our brand new studio theatre sometime before the end of 2019, when our  building project should be finished, at last.”

Lanark at the Citizens’ Theatre 3-19 September, Dragon 1-10 October, The Choir  24 October – 14 November, the Up Close season 3 October-7 November, and Rapunzel from 28 November.


Richard II


JOYCE MCMILLAN on RICHARD II at the Botanic Gardens Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 25.7.15.

4 stars ****

IN HISTORIC TERMS, Richard II is the opening drama of Shakespeare’s great history cycle, the sad tale of how the last Plantagenet king was defeated and deposed by his more vigorous cousin Bolingbroke, and a play entirely shaped by Shakespeare’s visceral horror at the idea of an anointed king being robbed of his throne.

In this bravely rethought version, though – staged in the elegant setting of the Kibble Palace, lightly camped-up by designer Gillian Argo – Bard In The Botanics associate director  Jennifer Dick judges that Shakespeare’s agonising over the fate of a king who wasn’t very good at the job might be of less interest to the audience than the story of Richard’s relationship with his friend Aumerle, the closeness of which was one – although only one – of the causes of Richard’s unpopularity.

So what she gives us, over two hours, is a full-blown gay romance, complete with arresting modern score featuring Morrissey and others.  Robert Elkin is a bruised and fragile Richard in tight leather trousers, who sometimes rushes the formidable poetry attached to the role, but is capable of extraordinary flashes of steely royal fury; Adam Donaldson is tender and vulnerable as Aumerle, Emma Claire Brightlyn fiercely  emphatic as a female Bolingbroke, and Finlay McLean in fine voice as the play’s elder statesmen. And if the overall effect of this tightly focussed production is uneven, and sometimes oddly repetitive, it still makes for a fascinating evening; not quite Marlowe’s Edward II, with its clear-cut portrait of a king killed by homophobia, but something much more like it than Richard II is often allowed to be.

Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, until 2 August.


The Importance Of Being Earnest


JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for The Scotsman, 25.7.15.

3 stars ***

OSCAR WILDE was many things in his short, brilliant and   scandalous life – playwright of genius, dazzling social wit, the most famous man ever to be prosecuted and imprisoned in England for his homosexuality; and also, like many thinking people of his time, something of a socialist.  The Importance Of Being Earnest – first seen in London in 1894, and now revived in a lively, lavish, and slightly over-the-top production at Pitlochry Festival Theatre  – is Wilde’s brightest, lightest and most perfect comedy, a frothy tale of budding romance  between two strikingly camp young men, and two fiercely intelligent young women.

Yet it also contains his most famously lethal portrait of the upper classes protecting their own interests at all costs, in the shape of the terrifying Lady Bracknell, whose governing passion is to marry off her younger relatives to partners who combine social acceptability with loads of money.  And it’s striking to note how, in a new age of trustafarian excess and stark inequality in the UK, the upper-class attitudes displayed here once again sound strangely familiar, as the characters chastise the lower orders for “showing a want of thrift” by having too many children – more than two, perhaps – and Lady Bracknell divulges, to ironic laughter from the audience, that her daughter Gwendolen has been attending lectures on “the influence of a permanent income on thought.”

Richard Baron’s new production is a bold, full-tilt account of the play that struggles, here and there, with problems of tone.  Margaret Preece’s Lady Bracknell is memorably clear and witty, and Reece Richardson is just about right as the play’s pompous young hero Jack Worthing.  Elsewhere, though, the performance style is often just a shade too much; Algernon is too exaggeratedly camp (as Baron strives to expose the play’s gay subtext), Canon Chasuble excessively doddery, and young Gwendolen so openly satirical that she seems to be sending the play up, rather than actually performing it.

And the point about Wilde is that all these minor imbalances have an effect on the momentum of the comedy; overall, this production is more gently amusing, than perfectly hilarious.  The production values are impressive, though, and Ken Harrison’s sets and costumes as gorgeous as ever.  And even in a production that sometimes fails to hit its stride in terms of comic rhythm, Wilde’s play remains a thing of inimitable brains and beauty; the sharpest of social satires, wrapped in the most perfect of gossamer-light romantic comedies.

In repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 16 October.


The SNP Has Been Enjoying Labour’s Leadership Election Meltdown: But The Same Confusion Awaits Any Social-Democratic Party That Fails Radically To Challenge The Right-Wing Language And Assumptions That Now Shape Our Politics.


JOYCE McMILLAN for The Scotsman 24.7.15.

LET’S NOT MINCE WORDS: for many of the political opponents of the Labour Party, there has been plenty of pure pleasure, this week, in watching the party’s leadership election spiral downwards into something like a total meltdown of Labour’s image as a coherent political force.

That the three “mainstream” candidates for the leadership were a strikingly uninspiring bunch had already been widely noted, of course.  All terrified of the assumed rightward drift of public opinion, and incapable of uttering a sentence not riddled with the most deadly political banalities, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham are hard to like, and even harder to imagine winning a UK general election; particularly following their craven failure, this week, to oppose the government’s latest round of cruel and incoherent welfare cuts.

Now, though, this lacklustre leadership campaign has been galvanised by the apparent popularity, among individual party members, of the fourth candidate, veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn.  Cue panic among the long-dominant right of the Labour Party; and the sound of many prominent party figures dismissing Corbyn’s candidacy in the kind of high-handed, bullying and dismissive establishment language of which we have recently heard far too much in European politics.  Small wonder that the SNP has been visibly revelling, this week, in its apparent emergence as the only party at Westminster willing to oppose the present government with any vigour.

In truth, though, only the Tories, and their allies, have much to cheer  about in this story of Labour confusion and disintegration.  All across Europe – and even in those hugely successful countries where social democratic systems stll prevail – the cause of social democracy is on the ropes, caught between a hugely powerful global financial system mainly run by people who embrace a strict anti-state neoliberal orthodoxy, and an electorate who, even when they express a broad preference for centre-left solutions, often seem to have little faith that they can actually ever be implemented.

Hence the paradox of Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy, apparently now supported by more than 40% of Labour Party members.  Polls show that a majority of British people actuallty share many of Jeremy Corbyn’s views, on subjects like tax, Trident, and a real living wage; but his opponents are probably right to suggest that whether they agree with him or not, voters will not actually support a Corbyn-led Labour Party, because they will see its aspirations as “unrealistic”.  This paradox closely mirrors the experience of Syriza in Greece, which succeeded in winning an impressive 60% majority for a rejection of austerity, only for the EU to insist that, in the “real world”, no alternative would be permitted.  And it also mirrors experience of the SNP in Scotland, which lost last year’s referendum to an alliance of the fearful, the cautious and the comfortable which dismissed the idea of a fair and prosperous independent Scotland as a mere pipe-dream, far too risky to pursue in reality.

So what has gone wrong, for parties that try to speak for reasonable social justice, jobs, decent wages, and the kind of social decencies people in western Europe generally took for granted, for 40 years after the Second World War?  Last week in the House of Commons, the Edinburgh East MP Tommy Shepherd rightly pointed out that more than 63% of those who turned out to vote on 8 May, across the UK,  rejected David Cameron, his party and their austerity policies.

Yet it’s in the insidious division and disempowerment of that non-Conservative majority that the true success of the new right political project has lain, over the last generstion. There are the barrages of divisive propaganda which demonise the poor, the unemployed, immigrants and the disabled, and stop people from seeing the truth that these people are not “others” to be shunned and starved, but part of their community, mirror-images of their own past and future selves.  There is the annexing of ever greater proportions of our national wealth by the super-rich, and the growth of a tax system which offers them generous concessions, throwing the burden of paying for public services onto hard-pressed ordinary workers.  And there is the steady undermining  of security, both in employment and in housing, which tends to corrode generous attitudes, and to make people cling fiercely and defensively to what little material security they have.

And it’s this ugly climate of opinion that needs to be challenged, if we are to see any real revival of successful centre-left politics in the west.  What is hugely difficult, though, is to transform the occasional glimpse of an alternative future into something credible, sustainable, and backed by a serious and well-organised popular movement.   The SNP’s success in achieving this in Scotland has so far been striking.  But the difficulties ahead are formidable, as the party’s often vague social-democratic aspirations begin to hit the rocks of Scotland’s relative economic powerlessness; and it’s sometimes difficult to see how the SNP, half a decade down the line, can  avoid the same bitter split that now plagues the Labour Party, between centre-right system politicians, and serious social democrats.

And as for theLabour Party – well, who can imagine any of its three mainstream candidates even beginning to address and challenge the unpleasant cultural climate that underpinned this year’s Tory victory?  Every time Labour Party speakers echo the idea that the world can be divided into “workers”and “shirkers”, every time they frame immigration as a “problem”, every time they talk as if they could not represent both benefit claimants and ‘aspirational” people – as if no-one who is unemployed ever aaspired to better things, as if all aspiration was purely material  – they reinforce the divisive right-wing ideology that leads to their defeat.

And until all our centre-left parties understand that, and can produce 21st century leaders with the imagination, the language and the vision not only to challenge the policies of the right, but to expose, transform and argue out of existence the ugly and divisive ideological ground on which those policies rest, then their attempts to win elections will lack conviction; or  their victories, when they win them, will mean far less then they should, to the lives of the great mass of ordinary people they claim to speak for, to care for, and to represent.