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



JOYCE MCMILLAN on TRIBES at Cumbernauld Theatre, for The Scotsman, 26.9.15.

4 stars ****

IN AN AGE OF restricted budgets, it’s a thrill to walk into the auditorium for this touring production of Nina Raine’s Tribes, and find the stage set for a full-scale, two-act family drama featuring a cast of six. First seen at the Royal Court in 2010, and now given its Scottish premiere by Solar Bear, the Glasgow-based company specialising in work for deaf and hearing audiences, this beautifully crafted play describes a crisis in the life of Billy, the grown-up deaf son of a bohemian middle-class hearing family.

Billy’s parents, Christopher and Beth, have never been in any doubt that they are doing the right thing in encouraging Billy to lip-read, to speak, and to integrate with hearing society; but when he falls in love with Sylvia, who uses sign language, Billy begins to rebel against his family’s attitudes, setting up ripples of reaction that almost destroy his fragile brother Daniel, who has mental health problems.

All of this is perfectly captured by Gerry Ramage’s powerful cast, led by Richard Addison and Jeanette Foggo as the parents and an excellent Alex Nowak as Billy, with Ben Clifford, Stephanie McGregor and Kirsty McDuff. Jessica Brettle’s domestic set is luminous, shifting and flexible, making plenty of space for projected surtitles. And if the play swerves abruptly away from what seems like a potentially tragic ending, it still strikes straight to the heart of the politics of 21st century deafness and disability, and fleshes out those issues with a humanity that makes Billy’s struggle for autonomy both unforgettable, and completely absorbing.

At Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline tonight, and on tour until 22 October, including Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, 3 October.


The Quiet Land


JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE QUIET LAND at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 12.9.15.

4 stars ****

WHEN DAVID MACLENNAN launched A Play, A Pie, And A Pint, 11 years ago, the first international connection he struck up was with Bewlay’s Cafe Theatre in Dublin; and now here, in Malachy  McKenna’s The Quiet Land, is the latest fruit of that relationship, a show about as far from the cutting-edge of 21st century Irish theatre as it could possibly be, and yet full of a deep seductive charm, and a quiet sense of mourning for lost times.

So as the play opens, we see one of the classic scenes of Irish drama; a field, a broken gate, an old man in a battered, mossy hat, a faint trill of traditional pipe-music in the distance.  The man is Nashee, an old farmer; but as soon as he’s joined by his equally ancient friend and neighbour Eamonn, it becomes clear that this is a very contemporary tale of what happens to the land, and the people who used to farm it, in an age when only cash matters.

Eamonn is just back from a month in hospital after being beaten up by a gang of burglars, a wonderful, spirited old man determined to get his mobility back and battle on; but Nashee, left alone on the hill, has lost his nerve, and decided to give up the fight.  The scenario is simple enough, and Nashee’s reticence about what’s going on a little overplayed.  But Des Keoch and Derry Power deliver a glorious, perfectly-pitched pair of performances in a show seems to promise little, but finally deliver a picture of the world we live in that is sharp, teling, surprisingly complete, and very troubling indeed.

Oran Mor, Glasgow, final performance today.


Kind Of Silence


JOYCE MCMILLAN on KIND OF SILENCE at Platform, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 7.9.15.

4 stars ****

THE WORLD IS SILENT, and music is everywhere; so says the  front cover of the programme for this latest show from Solar Bear, Scotland’s theatre company specialising in work for both deaf and hearing audiences.  And although the word “experimental” is often over-used in the world of theatre, there’s a sense of a genuinely ground-breaking experiment going on in this new response to the legend of Echo and Narcissus, created and directed for Solar Bear by one of Scotland’s leading sound designers, Danny Krass.

On Kai Fischer’s exquisitely-lit stage containing just one cube-shaped room without walls, and a high tree-branch above, performers Charlene Boyd, Jacob Casselden and James Anthony Pearson walk, talk, mime, dance and gesture their way through a modern version of the ancient story of self-absorption and love rejected, while to one side, musician Alon Ilsar uses intensely vibrating instruments – mainly drums and theremin-like “air sticks”,  mediated through a technology that delivers sound vibrations direct into the body rather than through the air – to reflect and drive their actions.

There are times when the show seems a little unsure of its direction, as it makes its way through sequences titled Silence, Music, Noise, and Kind of Silence; some of Chisato Minamimura’s choreographed sequences seem over-extended, even in a show barely an hour long.  Kind Of Silence features three tremendously vivid performances, though, treading fearlessly through the danger-zones of  attraction, intimacy, loss and solitude; and in the end, this fascinating show opens up whole new worlds of possibility, based on the recognition that the thing we call music is written into our bodies, and that even for those who cannot hear in the conventional sense, both rhythm and melody pulse through their lives, creating the kind of silence that is full of shaping energy – heard, unheard, or suddenly made visible.

On tour to Inverness, Aberdeen, Ayr and Greenock, until 19 September, and the Citizens’ Theatre Progression 2015 event, 24 September.


Stones In His Pockets (2015)


JOYCE MCMILLAN on STONES IN HIS POCKETS at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, for The Scotsman, 7.9.15.

4 stars ****

THE USE AND OWNERSHIP of land is one of the topics of the hour, in Scotland this autumn: campaigns are afoot, and later this week, Dundee Rep Theatre opens its eagerly-awaited revival of John McGrath’s great 1973 cabaret-history of Highland land and resources, The Cheviot, The Stag, And The Black, Black Oil.

If you’re looking for a sadder, funnier and more subtly post-modern take on the same subject, though, you could do a lot worse than catch up with the current Mull Theatre touring production of Marie Jones’s smash-hit 1996 two-hander, lovingly directed by the theatre’s director, Alasdair McCrone, through the firestorm of popular protest that has broken out on Mull following the attempted dismissal, by the Comar arts organisation, of both McCrone and Gordon McLean, the force behind the exhibitions and music programme at An Tobar Gallery.

For there are certainly some familiar political resonances in Jones’s brilliantly-told story of a small rural town in the west of Ireland taken over, used, and abused by the management elite of the global movie industry, when a Hollywood cast and crew arrive in town to film a sentimental historical romance about a 19th century peasant revolt against poverty and evictions.  The story is told primarily through the eyes of Jake and Charlie, a pair of middle-aged local extras on the film who both find that life has left them with few other options; but one of the pure theatrical joys of this play lies in the ingenuity with which Jones has the same two actors also play a myriad of other parts, from the film’s gorgeous Hollywood star Caroline Giovanni, to young Sean, the troubled boy with drug  problems whose fate gives the story a profound edge of tragedy and anger.

In McCrone’s fine production, the parts of Jake and Charlie are played with real feeling and skill by McCrone himself, and Barrie Hunter.  And if it takes some time, on Alicia Hendricks’s slightly over-busy  set, to sort out Jones’s galaxy of supporting characters, the story still powers on in fine style, offering a vision not only of a society where the loss of a farming way of life causes profound despair, but of one in which the endless reflection and retelling of these stories, through media with a global reach, is itself fast becoming a factor in the game of power and powerlessness.

Kemnay Village Hall, 8 September; Webster Theatre, Arbroath, 9 September; and on tour in the Highlands and Islands until 24 September.


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



Antigone Arabian Tragedy

Antigone: An Arabian Tragedy
3 stars ***
Greenside@Nicolson Square (Venue 209)

WITH JULIETTE BINOCHE’S performance as Antigone at the centre of the Edinburgh International Festival theatre programe, it’s fascinating to see how this most powerful of ancient dramas, with its image of one young woman’s rebellion against a law she believes to be unjust, also echoes across the Fringe; and nowhere more so than in this passionate split-stage version from the One World Actors Centre of Kuwait, playing briefly in Edinburgh this week. 

Set simultaneously in the contemporary Middle East and in a Celtic Britain with echoes of Game Of Thrones, and based on Jean Anouilh’s 20th century version of the drama, Alison Shan Price’s production uses a fascinating range of techniques to allow for performance in two languages, Arabic and English. Sometimes the actors from the two parallel dramas speak simultaneously, playing the same scenes, weaving their words into other’s silences.  Sometimes the Arabic-speaking actors mouth silently like actors in a silent movie, while the English speakers take over the narrative; then sometimes, they play scenes together, the audience gathering the meaning of one language from the responses in another. 

Always at the core of the drama, though, is Lebanese actress Diana Sfeir’s thrilling performance as the Arabic-speaking Antigone; and a series  of powerful projected images linking what we see to the wars and human rights struggles of our own time.  And if this production often looks more like an interesting and sometimes awkward experiment than a fully-made show, its energy is formidable, and full of promise.          

Joyce McMillan 
Until 15
p. 294