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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Friday, April 25, 2014

Theatre review: The Forbidden Experiment

Published in the Guardian
Enormous Yes at the Arches, Glasgow
Three stars

INCHKEITH is an island in the Firth of Forth, a short distance north of Edinburgh. For a small place, it's had a colourful history. According to the 16th-century historian Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, Scotland's King James IV used it to conduct an experiment into the origins of language by sending a mute woman and two infants to live there in isolation, hoping they would develop a pre-Tower of Babel speech. It was subsequently turned into a colony for sufferers of plague and syphilis, and in later years it was the site of undercover military operations.
All this, in the hands of young Glasgow company Enormous Yes, winners of this year's Arches Platform 18 award, makes Inchkeith a repository of society's neuroses, hang-ups and embarrassing secrets. It's a latter-day Pandora's box, housing all the world's ills and going further by purging them, too. Here, writer/performer Michael John O'Neill cleanses his guilty conscience after behaving appallingly at a party and, here, a couple of US marines seem to absorb the moral horror of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima.
The production is directed by Rob Jones (who also appears on stage), with expressive dance by Zosia Jo and live music by Matt Regan, who melds end-of-the-pier organ with BBC Radiophonic Workshop blips and bleeps and occasional Americana guitar. What starts as a jokey Peepolykus-style mixture of incompetence and inter-company spats builds through a collage of monologue, video projection and animation into a more serious study of transgression and redemption.
The material, by their own tongue-in-cheek admission, is "qualitative not quantitative", but its real problem is that it's not fully integrated into a coherent whole. It's less than the sum of its interesting parts. An enormous yes for a bright and imaginative company and a cautious yes for the show.
© Mark Fisher 2014 
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Theatre review: Cars and Boys

Published in the Guardian
Dundee Rep
Four stars

IMAGINE a bedbound Peer Gynt. That's what Ann Louise Ross brings to mind playing Catherine Miller in Stuart Paterson's free-form poem of a play. It's about a woman stopped in her tracks by a stroke and cast on an epic journey that, due to the disorientation of her condition, blurs the boundaries of past and present, fact and fantasy.
Plays about people at the end of their life often run into the problem of inertia. When all the conflict is in the past, it's hard for the playwright to build momentum. Here, the boss of a road-haulage business may be in a hospital, half paralysed and frequently unable to speak, but like the road that divides the audience in Lisa Sangster's purpose-built set, she still has places to go before she relinquishes control.
Equally, although Cars and Boys appears to be going somewhere, it's not always certain where. Miller is on a quest for resolution, and her head is full of loose ends: lost loves from the 1950s, her grandson's sex life, theScottish independence debate, the future of her business. The confusion is part of the point, but it's hard to know if these disconnected stories have some greater significance.
Paterson's lyricism, playfulness and vigour ward off the impulse to be maudlin or nostalgic. Accompanied by Greg Sinclair's live cello in Philip Howard's good-looking production, it is a dreamlike piece of theatre, more evocation than drama, that never ceases to grip.
No small credit for this must go to Ross, whose hard-as-nails performance reveals a woman who won't easily be dragged down by the ghostly visitations from the past, nor by the attempts of family and staff to stop her being so wilfully herself. As her character ails, Ross remains a dynamic theatrical force.
© Mark Fisher 2014 
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Theatre review: The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Published in the Guardian
Vanishing Point on tour
Four stars

IF THERE was ever an unlikely candidate for a tribute musical it's Ivor Cutler. An acquired taste even in his lifetime, the self-styled "oblique musical philosopher" existed in a hinterland between late-night John Peel, homespun poetry and post-Goons comedy. Seeing him on stage in the 80s, I was always fascinated by a figure who seemed to have invented himself, a performer with neither precedent nor peer.
One of the best things about this marvellous production by Vanishing Point and the National Theatre of Scotland is how it provides the missing context. It's partly the way Sandy Grierson tells Cutler's life story, breaking off for poems, stories and songs en route. He takes us from bullied Glasgow schoolboy to hapless RAF pilot, unfashionably liberal schoolteacher and, after a move to London, his role as Buster Bloodvessel in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. In itself, the narrative is unremarkable – certainly less remarkable than the man himself – but it functions as a convenient structure on which to hang his work.
More particularly, the context is fleshed out by James Fortune's live band, which explores the musical pedigree of Cutler's harmonium, drawing out its roots in Scottish lament, Jewish klezmer, calypso and modern jazz. It shows the work to be even richer than you appreciated, even if, like Grierson's performance, the music rises to a level of exuberance that is out of step with the poet's minimalist persona.
This is no Stars in Their Eyes pastiche and yet Grierson captures perfectly Cutler's emphatic cadences, precise enunciation and tone, which was too dry to be droll and too funny to be petulant. Playing opposite a gorgeously contained Elicia Daly as girlfriend Phyllis King, he shows Cutler as an artist straddling the unsettling boundary between the violent and the whimsical, the existential and the surreal. It is the tribute of a true devotee.
Fittingly, director Matthew Lenton prizes the aural as highly as the visual, switching from the radio techniques of the foley artist to Kai Fischer's striking lighting designs as quickly as he moves from spoken word to rock. The production is rich in quirky metatheatrical detail, not least in a series of cameo caricatures by actor-musician Ed Gaughan, which are tempered only a little by the story of Cutler's dementia prior to his death in 2006. Poignancy aside, the result is a big grin of a show, as funny and idiosyncratic as Cutler and every bit as embraceable.
© Mark Fisher 2014 
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