Daily Archives: March 28, 2015

Junction 25 – Celebrating 10 Years Of One Of Britain’s Most Remarkable Youth Theatres

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on JUNCTION 25 – CELEBRATING TEN YEARS OF ONE OF BRITAIN’S MOST REMARKABLE YOUTH THEATRES for Scotsman Magazine 28.3.15.
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AS WE FILE IN,  in small groups of four, the main theatre space at the Tramway looks mysterious, yet somehow gorgeous.  In the middle, there’s a great circular swathe of black curtain with, every few yards, an entrance through which we are led into a booth-sized space, to experience one of the ten scenes that make up the show; and along the outer walls, light glimmers soft and gold, showing up the texture of this remarkable space.

The show is 5.9 Million, the latest production by Tramway’s award-winning youth theatre company Junction 25.  The theme – hammered out throught discussion among the 25 11-18 year-olds who make up the company – is the surveillance society in which we increasingly live; 5.9 million is the number of CCTV cameras currently installed in Britain.  And if we add to the CCTV phenomenon the intrusive power of photo-sharing and public chat on social media, then we have the material that drives a series of ten unforgettable short scenes, from the two girls – bully and victim – indulging in an ever-more-cruel online conversation in a dimly-lit bedroom, to the room that only contains a small live camera, and our group reactions to its watching eye.

Then at the end, there’s a brief moment of choreographed relfection on all the precious, weird, unmeasurable, creative, and silly things we do when we know no-one else is watching; and Junction 25 once again leave us with a sense both of something precious in imminent danger of being lost, and of a hugely energetic response to that loss, from the generation most affected by it.

Ten years old this summer, Junction 25 was founded in 2005 by Jess Thorpe and Tashi Gore, two Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduates who wanted –  through their company, Glas(s) Performance – to work closely with communities, including young people; and in the last half-decade, the company has shot to international fame with shows like From Where I Am Standing – about teenagers and their parents –  and I Hope My Heart Goes First, about love and the body.  Junction 25  has been acclaimed by Guardian critic Lyn Gardner as creating some of the finest theatre she has ever seen, and has appeared on the Edinburgh Fringe, in London and Norway, and – recently – in Brazil, where their 2012 show Anoesis, about school exam anxiety, was performed by youth theatre groups across the country.

“I think the key to Junction 25’s success is that unique combination Jess and Tashi first brought to the project,” says Viviane Hullin, one of Junction 25’s first teenage members ten years ago, and now, at 25, the company’s producer.  “One one hand, the shows are absolutely owned and driven by the young company, by their priorities, their thoughts.  Then on the other hand, we reach that amazing point in rehearsal where we just know we have to shape it into a show, with the best possible quality of light, sound, movement; and Jess and Tashi move almost imperceptibly into the role of directors.  And I have so much respect for them as artists, for the sheer quality of work they achieve.”

So how do people get in to Junction 25?  “We only have 25 places, and the waiting list is very long,” says Viv Hullin.  “But it’s absolutely first come first served; we never audition, and it’s all about working with the people who are in the room, some of whom may want a career in theatre, while others definitely don’t.

“And yes, I’m delighted to say our future is secure, for now, thanks to terrific support from Tramway.  So we’re in a position to make long-term plans.  And while we know – from our close relationship with other companies – that this is not the only way to do youth theatre, we feel we’re adding something significant to Scotland’s theatre life; and we’re delighted that we’re in  a position to carry on doing that, with each new generation of performers.”

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And The Beat Goes On

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on AND THE BEAT GOES ON at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 28.3.15. _____________________________________________________

3 stars ***

THERE’S A GRAND metaphor at the heart of Stef Smith’s new threee-handed drama, co-produced by Random Accomplice and Horsecross, Perth; and if it never quite works, in theatrical terms, it’s difficult not to admire its ambition.  The year is 1989; and in the garage attached to a house in suburban America, an emigre Scottish couple, Peter and Lily, are pursuing their strange, intense hobby, which involces rehearsing a Sonny & Cher tribute act, purely for their own pleasure.

Their uneasy harmony is interrupted by the arrival of new neighbour Joan, bearing what seem like traditional American gifts of bonhomie and apple pie; but the story behind all three characters is a dark one, involving a classic American surrealism – with images of dead and lost children – that carries echoes of Albee and Shepard.

In Kenny Miller’s production, though, the play never quite finds the right tone of surreal tragedy, despite the clear links between the false image of marital harmony projected by Sonny & Cher in the 1970’s, and the false suburban peace in which Peter and Lily live.  Instead, two potentially brilliant performances by Johnny McKnight and Julie Brown remain trapped between comic spoof and tragic travesty; and although the play achieves a memorable look of fluorescent strangeness, and one spine-tingling moment when Lily glimpses the solo Cher of the late 1980’s, it too often wanders into a confused space between satire, dark poetry and social polemic, and struggles to find its way back.

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until tonight, Perth Concert Hall 2-4 April, and on tour across Scotland until 24 April.

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Hedda Gabler

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on HEDDA GABLER at the Lyceum Theatre,  Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 28.3.15. _____________________________________________________

3 stars ***

ONCE, AFTER a particularly intense encounter with Ibsen’s great 1888 drama The Lady From The Sea, I had a strange and disturbing dream that revolved around the final scene of Hedda Gabler – the woman, the gunshot, the sudden shift to a different world, where Ibsen said to me, “I used to struggle with the forms of things.  But now, I don’t bother.”

The dream left me very little wiser; but it disabused me forever of the received idea that Ibsen is the “father of realism”, a kind of campaigning documentarist of gloomy 19th century drawing-rooms.  In Hedda Gabler, now revived at the Lyceum, those 19th century conventions certainly allow an intelligent, dynamic young woman to spend her life literally bored to distraction,  in a gilded cage provided first by her father, General Gabler, and then by her unloved husband, the young aspiring professor George Tesman.

It’s to the credit of Lyceum associate director Amanda Gaughan, though, that she fully realises that the surging power of Ibsen’s drama comes from a much deeper place, the place where Hedda is a classic flawed protagonist, and her own worst enemy.  Instead of rebelling against convention, she chooses to obey the rules she despises; and then, in her self-hating rage, becomes an enemy of life itself – of the new creative life that has sprung up between her former lover Lovborg and the brave and loving Thea Elvstedt, and of her own body, burgeoning with a new life she viscerally detests, after her six-month honeymoon wth Tesman.

There is, in other words, a profoundly female grandeur and pathos in Hedda’s struggle with her own despair.  Those are the qualities, though that are precisely absent in Gaughan’s thoughtful but confused production, and Nicola Daley’s brusque and brittle central performance; it’s as if Gaughan and her designer Jean Chan set the scene for the right kind of dreamlike drama, but then fail to find the drama itself.  They’re not helped by Richard Eyre’s light-touch version of the text, which ends up in a kind of unpleasant comic collusion with Hedda’s cruel snobbery against both Thea, and George’s kindly Aunt Juliana.   And despite some strong work from the supporting cast, this is a Hedda Gabler that finally compels us either to sneer along with Ibsen’s conflicted heroine, or to hate her so heartily that we long to shoot her ourselves.  Neither of which is a tragic emotion; or one that takes us to the heart of the huge, visceral struggle between creation and destruction that shapes this bold and frightening play.

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until 11 April.

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