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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Blog Archive

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The sexism of Ratatouille

I wrote this article for The Scotsman at the weekend:


I'VE just watched the new Pixar animation, Ratatouille, and I'm aghast. In a cast of 16, there is only one significant female character: Colette, a chef, voiced by Janeane Garofalo. Although she starts off with a plucky speech against the male domination of the food industry, within a few scenes even she has blanded out into the hero's love interest. What kind of message are we sending to our children when every story is about dynamic boys and lovey-dovey girls?

The problem doesn't stop at Ratatouille. With the possible exception of The Incredibles, which does have two or three juicy female parts, every modern cartoon is dominated by men. Of 45 named characters in Cars, a mere seven are female. We're talking cars here: metal things that have no innate gender characteristics. It was the same in Madagascar, a film entirely populated by animals with roles for just three women.

Unthinking sexism is to blame, as is the film industry's obsession with ambitious sons and dysfunctional fathers. Ratatouille is about a food-loving rat misunderstood by his garbage-gorging dad. Finding Nemo (six women out of 24) is about a timid father summoning up the manliness to rescue his son. Chicken Little (four women out of 24) is about a feeble child proving himself to his macho father. In most of these, the mother figure is written out altogether, giving us one-sided visions of the world that are as short in positive role models as they are lacking in satisfying narratives. I say rats to that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scottish theatre home and away

Feeling remiss for not posting for so long. Sorry fans.

At home the autumn season has started in earnest with Shakespeares at the Citz and the Royal Lyceum and Davey Anderson's Rupture at the Traverse. I'll be at Dundee's Peer Gynt on Thursday and then in Wigtown for the launch of the NTS Ensemble's revival of Molly Sweeney and the new children's show A Sheep Called Skye at the weekend. Check out Mark Fisher's Scottish Theatre Links for reviews as I remember to post them.

Further afield, Black Watch (aka The Best Play Ever Written In This Or Any Universe Ever) is going down well in Los Angles. A perceptive review in the LA Times.

Meanwhile in the real theatre of war Grid Iron's Ben Harrison has been blogging for The Guardian about his experiences in Lebanon.

While you're on the Guardian site have a look at the fascinating discussion arising from blogs about critics by Michael Billington and Lyn Gardner.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland

Someone should write a play based on the meeting when the country's reviewers draw up the shortlists for the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Admittedly you'd want to call it 12 Monkeys rather than 12 Angry Men, but in the passions and politics, the tensions and tantrums, the gags and the gaffes, there'd be all the material you'd need for a hilarious farce if not a gripping drama. Last week's meeting in a Glasgow hotel to hammer out the 2006-07 shortlists even had the perfect nail-biting finish as the assembled critics settled on the final nominations for best production with just two minutes to spare.

Along the way, each critic in turn saw their favourites knocked back and their wildcards supported. Away from the heat of the moment, however, all agreed it was another cracking list of contenders. Those in the running for the ten awards, which will be announced on June 10 at a public ceremony at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, are up against fierce competition. It's testament to the quality of theatre produced over the last 12 months that although the National Theatre of Scotland's universally acclaimed Black Watch has a number of nominations, it by no means dominates the list. Gregory Burke's regimental drama has become regarded as a milestone in Scottish theatre, but the shortlists show it was one of many pleasures over the year.

There are four nominations in each of ten categories. Competing for best male performer are: Liam Brennan, a previous winner, for his role as a father with a job on a production line in Franz Xaver Kroetz's Tom Fool at the Citizens, Glasgow; Sandy Grierson for the title role in Fergus Lamont, the Robin Jenkins adaptation by Communicado; Stuart McQuarrie whose interior fantasises were made flesh in Anthony Neilson's Realism for the NTS and Edinburgh International Festival; and Richard Addison who played the most unlikely have-a-go-hero in Alan Ayckbourn's Man of the Moment at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

In a formidable year for best female performances, Meg Fraser is in the running for her role as the long-suffering wife in Tom Fool (we also loved her cameo in All My Sons at the Royal Lyceum, but that's another story); Irene Macdougall is on the shortlist for a second time for the outrageous Alexandra del Lago in Dundee Rep's Sweet Bird of Youth; Gerda Stevenson is nominated for her heart-rending performance in Rapture's Frozen; and Jill Riddiford gets her second nomination for the Alan Bennett monologue Bed among the Lentils staged by the Tron and Glasgay.

Theatre for children and young people remains on a high and there are worthy potential winners in Nicola McCartney's The Lion of Kabul for Catherine Wheels and Andy Cannon's Is this a Dagger? for Wee Stories. The prolific David Greig meanwhile is behind two nominations, the exuberant party antics of Gobbo with Wils Wilson for the National Theatre of Scotland and the harrowing teen drama of Yellow Moon for TAG.

The Lion of Kabul also pops up in the best design category thanks to Karen Tennant's all-encompassing tent of a set. She's up against Naomi Wilkinson and Bruno Poet for their atmospheric work on Dundee Rep's very wet A Midsummer Night's Dream; Francis O'Connor and Chris Ellis for the prison interior of Man of La Mancha at the Royal Lyceum; and Keith McIntyre and Jeanine Davies for the cartoon landscape of The Unconquered by Stellar Quines.

We were spoilt for choice in the best director category, narrowing it down to Clare Lizzimore for Tom Fool; John Tiffany for Black Watch; Martin Duncan for Man of La Mancha and John Dove for All My Sons.

Fergus Lamont, Black Watch and Man of La Mancha crop up again in the best ensemble category. Those impressive teams will be vying with the actors of the Traverse's three-play Tilt series for the award which recognises the contribution of the entire performing company.

One of that Tilt trilogy – Distracted by newcomer Morna Pearson – has been singled out for inclusion on the best new play shortlist. It's up against Gregory Burke's Black Watch, David Greig's Yellow Moon and Torben Betts' The Unconquered.

The CATS also recognise the frequently unsung contribution of the backstage crew. In the best technical presentation category, Communicado's Fergus Lamont, the NTS's Black Watch and the Royal Lyceum's Man of La Mancha crop up again, alongside the ambitious two-company collaboration between Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre on Monkey.

For best use of music Nerea Bello and Galvarino Ceron-Carrasco brought a hot Spanish flavour to Amada at the Arches; Davey Anderson introduced high Scottish romance to Black Watch; Gordon Rigby audaciously filled Oran Mor with a whole orchestra for GBH; and Robert Pettigrew drilled a superb team of actor-musicians in Man of La Mancha.

Finally, we come to the coveted gong for best production, an award previously picked up by Grid Iron's Roam, Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia and Dundee Rep's Scenes for an Execution. In the running this year are Spend a Penny, an intense series of monologues performed one-to-one in the cubicles of the Arches Theatre toilets; Tom Fool, the much admired Kroetz play about a soul-destroying economic system, at the Citizens Theatre; Black Watch, the radical portrait of the ancient regiment in Iraq, by the NTS; and Aalst, the harrowing semi-verbatim court-case reflections on a real-life child murder case, also performed by the NTS.

The Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland 2006-07, June 10, Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

For reviews see Mark Fisher's Scottish Theatre Links.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Blackbird in NYC

David Harrower's Blackbird has a rave review by Ben Brantley in today's New York Times. He says the play by "a largely unheralded" writer (like Knives in Hens never happened) "promises to be the most powerful of the season". Talking of the central characters, he says: "Both Una and Ray have read deep in the psychological literature of sexual abuse, and it doesn’t begin to encompass what they experienced. The miracle of “Blackbird” is that it does."

David Rooney in Variety is slightly cooler, but generally positive: "While it ultimately doesn't achieve the psychological clarity to fully illuminate the moral morass it uncovers, "Blackbird" is a dark, dangerous love story in which the past casts an unhealthy shadow."

Friday, March 30, 2007

New look theatre site

I've done a bit of a re-jig of my website. See what you think: Scottish Theatre Links

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Watch out! It's the Black Watch watch

Black Watch continues to plough a path to theatrical domination as John Tiffany wins best director in the Critics Circle Awards. All the other winners are for productions south of the border: Best new play: Rock 'N' Roll by Tom Stoppard; Best musical: Caroline, or Change; Best director: John Tiffany (Black Watch); Best actor: Rufus Sewell (Rock 'N' Roll); Best actress: Kathleen Turner (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?); Best Shakespearean performance: Tamsin Greig (Much Ado About Nothing); Best designer: The Punchdrunk Faust Company; Most promising playwright: Nina Raine (Rabbit); Most promising newcomer (apart from playwright): Connie Fisher (The Sound of Music) and Andrew Garfield (Beautiful Thing/ Overwhelming/ Burn/ Chatroom/ Citzenship).

Meanwhile, I've got a new blog on the Guardian site about the strange case of the Maltings Theatre in Berwick wanting to charge Scottish audiences more than locals.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Playing at friends

I know it's pathetic to have enjoyed reaching the milestone of 100 MySpace "friends", many of whom I have never met nor even communicated with. But how much lower have I sunk now I'm making friends not with strangers, not with theatre companies, but with individual plays? I'm deeply ashamed to reveal that instead of going down the pub, I know hang out with Black Watch and the NTS Young Company's The Recovery Position. Apparently, The Recovery Position is an Aquarius who doesn't want kids.

In yesterday's Scotland on Sunday you could read me on Star Catchers and theatre for the under-threes. There was also an interview with ex-Lyceum head honcho Kenny Ireland Ireland about a sitcom he's in.

Playwright Stuart Paterson was unusually absent from Scottish stages at Christmas, but he hasn't been idle. Nick Hern Books has just published his recent adaptations of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and Michael Morpurgo's Kensuke's Kingdom.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who watches the Black Watch watch?

Black Watch has won the South Bank Show Award for theatre, giving me a topical way into talking about the building-less nature of the National Theatre of Scotland in a Guardian blog.

Don't suppose it's healthy to write blogs about blogs, but I've been trying to find a place for those Nicholas Hytner quotes since October. Glad they've finally got a home of their own.

Earlier this week, I did another blog about the imminent departure of Paul Gudgin from the Fringe Office.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Big Brother and the theatre

Like the rest of the world, the Scot-Nits email group lapsed into a discussion of Big Brother last week. There was initially nothing to distinguish the comments from those of any other group, but it started to get interesting when people applied the debate to theatre. I've just thrown in my tuppance ha'penny worth with the following:

One area that hasn't been mentioned so far is documentary theatre, whether in the form Jeremy Weller pioneered in the early-90s with the Grassmarket Project, in which roles were played by homeless people, juvenile delinquents or sex workers, or in the form of verbatim plays such as Black Watch, The Exonerated, My Name is Rachel Corrie or Bloody Sunday.

Interestingly, such plays have stirred up a debate similar to a recent exchange here in which someone suggested Big Brother was in some way not real.

It's true that as soon as something real is mediated through the lens of an artist or an editor, it ceases to be real. The editors/directors make so many choices, from the selection of the subject in the first place to the editing of the script, that even the most faithful piece of documentary theatre has to be regarded as subjective.

But taking that as a given, I'm puzzled by some of the comments here about Big Brother that suggested the programme didn't present a good opportunity for actors to study human behaviour. One of the key reasons for the programme's success is that it allows us to watch what happens when a group of people are put together in extraordinary circumstances.

On a literal or metaphorical level it's what theatre is about, whether it's Shakespeare seeing what happens when a bunch of sailors get thrown together on an island in The Tempest or Arthur Miller seeing what happens when a family tries to live together in the face of a lie in All My Sons.

Now, you can make all sorts of criticisms of Big Brother - that it celebrates the cult of personality, that it is cynical in its casting (though surely no more cynical than casting Iago in the same play as Othello), that it doesn't have the dramatic arc of a properly constructed play and, most damning to my mind, that it's rather tedious - but to suggest that it doesn't reflect some aspect of life as we know it is to be worryingly dismissive of the huge audiences that watch it.

If you're subscribed to this mailing list, you probably think theatre can capture the human condition better than Big Brother. Fair enough. I agree with you. But Tom Freeman is right when he says practitioners risk losing touch with their audiences if they regard theatre as an implicitly higher artform. The human needs that Big Brother is catering to are not so different to the needs theatre is catering to.

Some theatre is better than Big Brother. A lot is worse. It'd be a foolish theatre practitioner who dismissed the programme's phenomenal success without analysing why it was so popular.

The fact that theatre has provided us with Black Watch, The Exonerated, My Name is Rachel Corrie, Bloody Sunday and many more suggests that society's recent thirst for "reality" extends beyond Pop Idol and Wife Swap. I'm not saying verbatim theatre is the way forward - my guess is that it's peaked as a form - but the reality format is currently satisfying a deep human need that people are bothered to talk about. Anyone working in theatre should be getting to grips with what that need is.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All My Sons

I was grumbling to myself that the standard 300 words in The Guardian wasn't enough to sum up the Royal Lyceum's All My Sons. Then they phoned up and asked for an extra 50. Not a huge increase, but enough to say how good so many of the performances are. One thing I didn't have space for was the set. I can't quite decide if the realism of Michael Taylor's imposing design, living grass and all, is another case of big-set syndrome – the kind of thing that looks impressive but risks overwhelming the creative life of the play. It works well enough for Miller's back-yard naturalism and in the end I'll give it the benefit of the doubt, but film does this stuff so much better.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Sunshine in January

There seemed to be enough of a buzz about Sunshine on Leith, Stephen Greenhorn's musical using the songs of the Proclaimers, to justify writing about it now even though it doesn't open until April. My article was in yesterday's Scotland on Sunday. A bit like the National Theatre of Scotland's stage version of Tutti Frutti, it's one of those ideas that seems so right, you can't imagine why no one's ever thought of it before. Greenhorn told me he was acutely aware of that sense of expectation, making it all the more important for them to get it right.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Where are the Creative playwrights?

Among the 20 artists shortlisted for the Scottish Arts Council's Creative Scotland Awards is a disappointing number from the world of theatre. Two, in fact. Playwright Peter Arnott would like to spend the £30,000 on a trilogy of plays about how we can live while we're waiting for the end of the world. And performance art maverick Ian Smith wants to develop a multi-media performance lecture based on the significant mischief making artists of the past 150 years.

Although £30,000 is a substantial sum of money, it doesn't go far in collaborative enterprises, which is why novelists, composers and artists apply more readily than theatre-makers. But I wonder why only one playwright has made the list?

This week the Stand comedy club in Edinburgh started a daily lunchtime session with food included in the ticket price. A bargain at £5. Further thoughts about eating and entertainment on the Guardian's arts and entertainment blog.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Scottish actors and writers abroad

Away from home, playwright Stuart Paterson has an adaptation of Michael Morporgo's Kensuke's Kingdom playing at London's Bloomsbury Theatre; actor Alan Cumming has got married; Ian McDiarmid is to star in John Gabriel Borkman at the Donmar Warehouse; and David Harrower's Blackbird will star Jeff Daniels in its Broadway production at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Sing like a Boyd

Yesterday's Sunday Times reported that Billy Boyd is trying to get a musical off the ground. Actually, it made it seem he was "to star in a Gorbals musical" as if the whole thing were all in the bag. Further reading revealed that he's still to have discussions with John Tiffany of the National Theatre of Scotland. If it comes off, however, it could be a welcome addition to the small pool of home-grown musicals. More on Boyd here.

Meanwhile, we await the opening of Stephen Greenhorn's Sunshine on Leith, set to the songs of the Proclaimers and opening in Dundee in April before a Scottish tour.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spring season theatre highlights

Most companies have published their spring programmes now. Highlights of the forthcoming season include All My Sons, Mrs Warren's Profession, Monks and Man of La Mancha at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh; David Greig's Europe at Dundee Rep; The Little Foxes, Humble Boy and Fergus Lamont at Perth; The Bevellers and Angels in America at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow; and the Scottish premiere of Eugene O'Neill's Hughie at the Arches.

At the Traverse, Edinburgh, there are new plays by Alan Wilkins (Carthage Must be Destroyed) and Linda McLean (Strangers, Babies).

For these and other programmes follow the companies links on my website.

Black Watch watch

The National Theatre of Scotland has launched its programme until June. For commentary and reflection on the company's first year see my interview with Vicky Featherstone in Scotland on Sunday.

One of the company's revivals is Black Watch which is among the nominations for this year's South Bank Show Awards.

Happy new theatre year

Oh dear. Got a bit creaky with the blog updates recently. Must do better in 2007. Mark Fisher's Scottish Theatre Links continues to be updated, however. Latest changes include new pages for listings of forthcoming Scottish theatre productions, now itemised by month: January, February and March.

There's also a round-up of 2006, a few pre-Christmas reviews and some blogs I've been doing for the Guardian's expanded arts and entertainment blog pages.