Daily Archives: November 21, 2015

Change At Dundee Rep

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on CHANGE AT DUNDEE REP for The Scotsman magazine, 21.11.15.
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THE TRADITION OF ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP goes back a long way, at Dundee Rep. In the 1970’s, the theatre’s artistic director was the writer, actor and director Stephen MacDonald, who went on to run the Lyceum in Edinburgh. And his successors have included the veteran actor-manager Robert Robertson, two inspired producer-directors – Hamish Glen and James Brining, now in charge of the Belgrade, Coventry and the West Yorkshire Playhouse respectively – and the acclaimed former Traverse boss Philip Howard, who became chief executive in 2012, sharing the artistic directorship of the theatre ensemble with Jemima Levick.

Today, though – if you wander up Tay Street to the Rep’s handsome modern building, opened in 1982 – you’ll find that the man in charge is top theatre executive Nick Parr, who left his previous job as Commercial Director at the King’s and Festival Theatres in Edinburgh to become Dundee’s chief executive earlier this year, after Philip Howard moved on to concentrate on directing and touring in Scotland.

“I know that people often groan when they hear about this kind of change,” says Parr, “because they feel that an artistic organisation should be led by a practising artist. And actually, I have a lot of sympathy with that view.

“I do think, though, that boards have to think through what’s best for any organisation at a particular moment, and I think they’ve made the right decision for Dundee Rep at this stage. The Rep is a particularly complex producing organisation – not only one of Scotland’s top producing theatres with its own unique acting ensemble, but the home of Scottish Dance Theatre and a huge range of community work; and I think I’m the first chief executive of this company who’s really been able to focus equally on the dance and theatre aspects of the company, rather than trying to run the whole show with one hand, while also being artistic director of the theatre company with the other.”

And Anne Bonnar of the theatre consultants Bonnar Keenlyside, who advised on the changes at Dundee Rep, agrees. “I think the key point about Dundee Rep is that the organisation has just outgrown the model laid down by Hamish Glen I the late 1990’s. In particular, Scottish Dance Theatre, now directed by Fleur Darkin, has grown to become a leading international company in its own right, rather than a junior partner. So it seemed right, for now, to set up a different structure, with a chief executive for the organisation as a whole, working closely with powerful artistic directors of the two producing companies, Jemima Levick and Fleur Darkin.

“And don’t get me wrong,” adds Bonnar, “I’m absolutely in favour of artistic leadership of arts organisations as a general rule. I was brought up at the Citizens’ Theatre in the early 80’s, so I was trained by Giles Havergal, who was the artistic director par excellence – a practising actor, writer and director himself, but also a superb theatre boss. So it’s not that I want to see some kind of triumph of the uber-administrators – and if you look around the theatre scene at the moment, you can see that the artistic-director-led model has proved much more resilient than some thought it would, 20 years ago. In
Scotland, we’ve got PItlochry and the Citizens’ at the moment – just to give two examples – both being led by artistic directors, exactly the kind of practising artists who can subsume their creative “selfish gene” into the work of a whole organisation; and Vicky Featherstone is another great example, a superb founding artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

“Above all, though, I think the key to success for any arts organisation is to be flexible and to respond to change. And the worst thing that can happen is for any management and staffing structure to become set in stone. Because ultimately what matters is the art, and the structure has to serve that, no matter what.”

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John Gabriel Barclay

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on JOHN GABRIEL BARCLAY at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 21.11.15
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3 stars ***

A SHOUT OUT to all those who care about the Scots tongue; for today marks the final lunchtime performance of an extraordinary experiment in archaic but forceful Scots speech, built around the spine of Ibsen’s 1896 drama John Gabriel Borkman. Ibsen’s theme – reflected in the name John Carnegie gives to his 55-minute adaptation – is the fate of a banker who has speculated with his depositors’ money and lost, spreading ruin through the community. Now, bankrupt and disgraced, he paces alone in the upper room of his house, while his embittered wife Gertrude rages silently below, his son Edward tries to fight off the demands of his vengeful mother, and his former love – Gertrude’s wealthy sister Ellen – arrives with her own set of deathbed demands.

Carnegie’s play is always as much an exercise as a drama in its own right, set in the early 20th century, and therefore barely able to achieve any resonance with more recent banking disasters; it’s also full of debatable linguistic decisions, preferring to revive an archaic-sounding old Scots, rather than invent a new one.

The play boasts a scintillating quartet of performances, though, notably from Isabella Jarrett as Gertrude, and the wonderful Maureen Beattie as a passionate and sensual Ellen, with Peter Kelly in sinister form as John Gabriel himself. And there are moments when Carnegie’s production captures the full poetic weight of late Ibsen, and his wild, dream-like imagination; not least during John Gabriel’s final walk into the snow, with the two women whose lives he has shaped and blighted pursuing him all the way, like the fates or furies they are.

Oran Mor, Glasgow, final performance today.

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King Charles III

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on KING CHARLES III at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 21.11.15
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4 stars ****

THEY SAY THAT people often dream about the Queen; but Mike Bartlett’s strange, dark and playful new constitutional drama – premiered at the Almeida 18 months ago, to an ecstatic response – is something more like a playwright’s dream-cum-nightmare about the eventual accession of Prince Charles, who celebrated his 67th birthday last weekend.

In a bleak semi-circular space like a Shakespearean castle keep, we see Robert Powell as Charles take on the role of king at his mother’s death, a few years hence; and almost immediately plunge Britain’s unwritten constitution into chaos, as he flatly refuses to sign a bill, already duly passed by both Houses of Parliament, that restricts press freedom in order to protect personal privacy. Within weeks, he has commanded the dissolution of parliament and provoked riots in the streets, while the Labour Prime Minister and the more pragmatic members of the royal household – led by Prince William and his ruthlessly ambitious wife – stand around aghast, and beg him to follow the example set by his mother, who “always signed”, no matter what bill was put before her.

All of this is conveyed in a theatrical style that ranges from the daring to the silly, as the cast of 12 enter singing a requiem, and launch into a tragi-comedy that both adopts and parodies the style of Shakespeare’s history plays, with most of the dialogue written in rough iambic pentameters, frequent verbal echoes of Shakespearean scenes, and a special appearance by the ghost of Diana, who cunningly ramps up the conflict by telling both Charles and William that they will be “the greatest king ever”. Robert Powell as the king, Tim Treloar as the Prime Minister, Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden as William and Kate, and Richard Glaves as a thoroughly enjoyable Harry – madly in love with radical art student Jess – all navigate the choppy waters of Bartlett’s bold experiment with terrific flair.

And if Bartlett sometimes displays a bit of a political cloth ear – for example conjuring up the kind of proletarian Labour Prime Minister we no longer have – he is still spot on in his portrayal of the ruthless survival instinct, learned at the Queen’s knee, that finally compels William both to confront his father, and to demand that his brother knuckle under to his royal destiny. The play is often a little daft, but always interesting and timely; and if you see it, you’ll find you have plenty to argue about on the way home – notably what should happen to the ancient institution the Queen has nurtured with such care, once she is gone.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, final performances today.

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