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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Creed’

Opera

I didn’t get off to a good start with the ENO’s Peter Grimes after a twitter spat over their withdrawal of standby concessions, despite a large number of empty seats. No production will probably ever match Grimes on the Beach, but musically this is top notch, mostly due to the fact that conductor Edward Gardiner, the orchestra and the chorus were as good as it gets.

Though I’ve seen Tippet’s King Priam before, I’d forgotten how challenging it is musically. This ETO production at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio was quality fare, but I found it hard to engage with the story and even harder to penetrate the music.

Death & the Powers is a SciFi opera by the Royal Academy of Music’s visiting professor of composition Tod Machover, so we (staff, students and Friends) were privileged to participate in its global simulcast from Dallas Opera. It’s more of a technological marvel than a musical one, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, including interaction through the specially created app on my iPhone!

I enjoyed the second ETO offering, Britten’s Paul Bunyan, a lot. I’ve only seen it once before, 15 years ago, but preferred this smaller scale more homespun folk opera treatment. It’s not really an opera, more a musical drama with a mythic quality and some lovely tunes. It was a bit cramped on the Linbury Studio stage, but better seen in such an intimate space.

I ventured to Godalming for the first time to see a friend in one of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas I’ve never seen, Princess Ida. Somehow, it seemed completely at home performed by an amateur company (of 43!) in the Borough Hall, even though they were almost falling over each other on the tiny stage! The second act is a bit long, but it’s the usual G & S fun, here with terrific costumes and a proper orchestra of 26.

The trio of operas in my latest visit to WNO in Cardiff were programmed as ‘Fallen Women‘. It started with Puccini’s early and rarely performed Manon Lescaut which had a striking modern production and was beautifully sung and played. Henze’s Boulevard Solitude takes the same source and story and gives in a mid-20th century spin with a surprisingly accessible score and a similar modern staging, again with sky high musical standards. I’d seen this La Traviata before, which is why I wanted to see it again and it didn’t disappoint. It’s elegant and moving, though two intervals and a twenty minute overrun did mar the dramatic flow this time. Three operas, two talks, a programme and a drink all for less than £70; opera at its most accessible.

Classical Music

The English Concert’s Theodora is quite possible the most perfect performance of a Handel oratorio I have ever heard. All five soloists were outstanding and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street sounded gorgeous. It’s not a particularly engaging story, but the music is consistently good and the 3h 45m flew by.

Contemporary Music

Kings Place was the perfect venue for Laura Cantrell, with just another guitarist rather than her band. It was a perfect 75 minute set culled from all of her records, plus some covers, but mostly her lovely new album. Her personality comes over so well on stage, too. Sturgill Simpson, supporting, sounded good when his singing wasn’t too nasal and I liked his songs (though too many covers for a man with an interesting new album) but I couldn’t understand a word of any of them, such was his heavily accented diction!

Dance

I wasn’t sure whether to categorise this dansical, Drunk, as a musical or dance, but the lack of a story as such made me plump for dance! Eight performers, solo, as an ensemble and in different combinations dance scenes about being the worse for wear. There’s terrific music from Grant Olding and the talent on show is extraordinary. It has bags of energy and its slick, sassy and sexy, but it’s also a bit relentless and a bit samey, without much shade to break up the light. Choreographer Drew McOnie’s ambitious and welcoming new company, though, is one to watch.

Film

My confidence in film critics took another dent when August: Osage County turned out to be way better than they led me to believe. It worked as well on film as it did on stage and there were a handful of superb performances, notably Meryl Streep as an absolute monster.

I loved Nebraska, a really heart-warming film – in black & white – with wonderful performances by a cast mostly made up of actors of a certain age. It fired me up for a road trip to that part of the US; watch this space!

Private Lives was the first play filmed live that I’ve ever seen (though not shown live in this case). The ability to see things in close-up added something (I saw the same production on stage) though you do sometimes miss the reactions of other characters and the lighting was occasionally poor. I like the fact that more people can see great productions at accessible prices, but I think I’ll stick to the live experience.

Dallas Buyers Club was a slow burn, but it eventually repaid its investment with a compelling David & Goliath story with a heart-warming ending. Unquestionably a career high for Matthew McConaughey, who must be in pole position for an Oscar.

Saving Mr Banks was a big surprise; it had much more depth than I was expecting, largely because of the switch between PL Travers childhood and her Disney experience. It was one of those occasions where staying for the titles paid off as you heard the original recordings she insisted on during the script meetings, which proved it was more than a work of fiction.

I enjoyed Her a lot more than I thought I was going to. It’s a bit overlong (and occasionally soporific!) but it feels very plausible, which makes it scary indeed. I’m going to switch off Siri before it’s too late!

Common People is an independent feature film shot entirely on Tooting Common, on my doorstep. It’s a bit slow to get going, but it builds into a charming, warm-hearted slice of life. It’s been showcased in US festivals and now gets a handful of local screenings which will hopefully lead to more because it very much deserves it.

I’m amazed that The Invisible Woman hasn’t had more BAFTA or Oscar nominations. It’s such a well-made film, full of fine performances. I don’t know how true the story of Charles Dickens personal life is, but I was captivated.

Art

The annual Landscape Photography competition exhibition at the NT continues to demoralize me as a photographer but captivate me as a viewer. Some are almost too good to be true, but hopefully the organizers have ways of ensuring there’s no funny business editing-wise!

Martin Creed‘s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, What’s the Point of it?, is huge fun. The man has an imagination the size of the planet and amongst the items on show was a giant revolving neon sign just inches above your head, a room full to the brim of white talcum-filled balloons you walk through and, on the outdoor terraces, a car which comes alive when all its doors open and wipers and radio start up and a video of a penis changing from erect to flaccid & back!

The NT‘s 50th celebrations included an exhibition of its history in cartoons, National Theatre Lampoon, but I only just discovered it before it closes; it’s both informative and funny and they should keep it longer.

I’m going to have to return to David Bailey’s Stardust exhibition at the NPG. It takes over the whole ground floor with over 250 photos and was a bit crowded on my first visit. What I did see was great, with many now iconic pictures from my lifetime.

A trip to Greenwich for a couple of exhibitions was a mixed affair. There were a lot of paintings not by Turner (23, only 5 less) for an exhibition called Turner & the Sea. I didn’t care for the early work in this exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, but it was probably worth the trip for the watercolours, sketch books and late works. Up the hill at the Royal Observatory there was a small but breathtaking exhibition of astronomical photographs. You couldn’t tell the difference in composition or quality between the main prize entries and the young person’s entries, such was the quality of the work.

Spoken Word

I got in touch with my inner Welshman with a celebration of Dylan Thomas’ centenary at Kings Place. Readings by Guy Masterson were interspersed with a potted biography by Andrew Lycett and observations by other Welsh poets Gwyneth Jones and Owen Sheers. I’d have liked more voices for the readings, but that’s a little gripe. As Owen Sheers said, what other poet could pack out a venue 60 years after he died, requiring an overspill room with a video link!

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I missed the first Folkestone Triennial, but I was determined not to miss the second, so off I went on the High Speed Train on a (too) sunny day. There are 19 new art works scattered all over the town and it’s a lot of walking between them; even more if you want to take in the 8 permanent works remaining from the last triennial. Better directions / maps would have helped me see more, but as it is I managed to see two-thirds of both in my four-hour walk, though that included snatches of film works rather than complete films. At its best it was brilliant – A K Dolven’s bell on the beach, Hala Elkoussy’s archive & reading room exploring Egypt’s colonial past, Mikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen’s three-screen film about illegal immigration (his name is an art work of its own!), Zinab Sedira’s multi-screen installation, Hew Locke’s model ships hanging from a church ceiling, Cornelia Parker’s bronze mermaid on the rocks and Paloma Varga Weisz’ sculpture on the tracks of a disused railway station. Amongst the permanent works, Richard Wilson’s beach huts made from an old crazy golf course is a masterpiece. This is a great idea and a fun day out –see you in three years, Folkestone, when I will allow more time!

Fired with enthusiasm for art at the seaside, the next day I went to Margate to visit the new Turner Contemporary gallery. From the outside, the architecture didn’t inspire me, but it’s a better on the inside. For a building so big, the display space is small. The works in the opening exhibition were excellent, but I’m afraid it was like having a starter but no main course. There was another exhibition there, which helped justify the 5-6 hour round trip, at the ‘pop up’ Pie Factory Gallery in the old town. It explores the British saucy seaside postcards that were judged obscene (or not) in the 50’s. Some were prosecuted in one town but deemed OK in another and the law was clearly an ass. The exhibition works on two levels – the postcards are retro funny in a carry on sort of way, and the historical perspective is fascinating. Great fun.

Having turned up before the exhibition opened in July, I went back to Whitechapel Gallery to see Thomas Struth’s photographs. They are realist pictures of people in museums, industrial installations, city streets etc., most on a big scale, but they are printed onto Perspex, which gives them a hyper-naturalistic yet surreal quality; very original.

Most things in the Saatchi Gallery’s New Sculpture exhibition are on a big scale, with many sculptors getting a whole room to themselves (and some using it for just one sculpture). It has some good pieces but little is original and some very derivative (notably the lifelike figures of two men which owes absolutely everything to Ron Muek). One day this fabulous space will house something truly extraordinary. How about a Richard Wilson retrospective?

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition is the best for a long time, though I’m not entirely sure why. I think it must be the way it’s curated, as each room is hung by a different RA member (though they’ve done this before). The architectural models fascinated again, but there were lots of lovely paintings and prints too. It may also be particularly good because there’s only one video and no film! Upstairs the small exhibition of 20th Century Hungarian Photography proved that these guys were way ahead of their time, producing insightful and artful shots when many were locked in staged and posed perfection. Quite why Hungary produced so many I really don’t know; maybe they influenced one another. Great to see them all together for once.

I wasn’t impressed by this year’s Serpentine Summer Pavilion. It’s a huge double-walled rectangular black box with a garden inside and tables and chairs around it. Fortunately, inside the gallery there’s an excellent installation called The Mirror of Judgement by the wonderfully named Michelangelo Pistoletto, who has created a 4-room labyrinth of chest high corrugated cardboard with different mirrors and religious references in each room. Very original and fun to walk through.

The Roundhouse’s second summer installation is as good as the first, David Byrne’s Playing the Building. This time local designer Ron Arad has hung a 360 degree curtain made up of 7 tons of translucent silicon tubing which would be 50 km long if linear. A variety of films are projected continuously onto it and though better seen from the inside, its good to spend some time outside too. I stayed much longer then planned and saw a diverse range of about eight original films, including animation, realism and digital abstractions. A real visual treat.

During a theatrical outing to Chichester I popped into their newly extended Pallant Gallery where there were five small exhibitions in addition to their permanent collection. The prime reason for visiting now was to see the Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera exhibition. It’s not that big – just c.20 paintings and c.10 other works – but there are some gems amongst them, particularly from Riviera. Two of the other exhibitions were related; from the same Gelman collections, they have a small collection of Guillermo Kahlo’s (Frida Kahlo’s father) photos and more photos from Kahlo / Riviera friends Manuel & Lola Alvarez Bravo. Butlin’s should use Anna Fox’s highly flattering photos of their Bognor Regis camp in their publicity – they made me smile. Punk rocker Nick Blinko’s somewhat obsessive pen drawings were also fascinating. The permanent collection is heavy on rarely seen 20th century Brits like Graham Sutherland, Peter Blake and the Nicholson’s which makes it well worth a look. The good people of Chichester are lucky to have somewhere like this which much bigger cities would envy.

…..and so to Edinburgh, which didn’t look good on paper, but turned out better in reality. Our artfest started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One with Tony Cragg. I liked his sculpture much more than I thought I was going to. The craftsmanship is extraordinary (particularly the plywood) and all those curves make you imagine all sorts of shapes as you move around them. In SNGMA Two, Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s photographic work includes some extraordinary B&W lightening pictures. They’re paired with his photos of original Fox Talbot negatives which had a historical interest and a certain ethereal quality, but didn’t really live up to expectations.

At St Mary’s Cathedral they have a modern-day Bayeux in the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry which commemorates the Jacobite uprising led by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. An artist took six months to draw the panels and then 200 volunteers too another six months to complete it. Though it’s impressive, one does have to ask the question ‘why?’.

David Mach has taken over all five floors the Edinburgh City Art Centre (including moving his studio to the third!) where he is showing collages of scenes from the bible and sculptures of Jesus and Satan. It’s an ambitious and fascinating exhibition to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the King James bible. Across the road at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Ingrid Calame‘s obsessive ‘tracings’ left me completely cold. It seemed such a lot of effort for such pointless and unrewarding work. The gallery redeems itself somewhat by its involvement in Martin Creed‘s ‘installation’ which is in fact replacing the Scotsman Steps with new multi-coloured marble ones. A lovely permanent practical work of art.

I didn’t really fancy the Elizabeth Blackadder exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, but something compelled me to give it a go and it turned out to be a delightful experience. I was impressed by the range of subjects and styles and her use of colour. The short videos gave you an insight into the woman; charming & unassuming – I suspect you’d never believe she was an artist if you met her.

At the Open Eye Gallery I wished I was rich as I’d have bought quite a few of the John Byrne paintings and prints on show. I’ve wanted to see more of his work since being bowled over by the picture of his ex-wife Tilda Swinton at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He’s a writer and director as well as an artist and his cartoonish style is playful and theatrical.

Visiting the Phoebe Anna Traquair murals at St. Mary’s Cathedral Song School was a real treat. This Arts & Crafts / Pre-Raphaelite genius is much neglected and this may well be her masterpiece. With one overall theme and much detail it covers all four walls of this rectangular building and it’s breathtaking.

Now that the National Museum of Scotland‘s renovations are complete, they are showing a recent bequest of modern glass, a lovely eclectic collection given a nice light space in the new section. Whilst there, I hunted out the Phoebe Anna Traquair items – a painted piano, enamel items and some drawings. You have to go to three different locations on four floors, but that also meant coming across some Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William De Morgan, Tiffany, Lalique and small Art Deco and Art Nouveau collections.

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Contemporary Music

The Decemberists’ concert at Hammersmith Apollo built on their last at the Coronet and buried the memory of their first RFH disaster; this was mostly due to excellent song selection and ordering. They now have a fine body of material and they’ve learnt how to deliver it live and still have fun without compromising quality. I will forgive them the self-indulgent whale song encore because of the 90 minutes before and the gorgeous final encore.

Within minutes of arriving at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I was regretting it. The traffic was awful and I’d missed most of the intriguing support act, the chatter from people at the back was cacophonous and the sound painfully heavy on base. Then, during his second number, they all shut up, the sound improved and John Grant’s weaved the same magic he did when I first heard his album The Queen of Denmark. He writes very personal songs, sings them with a rich baritone voice and plays piano competently. There’s a second keyboard most of the time and a string quartet some of the time, but no guitars or drums. It’s a rather refreshing sound and live his personality makes for a refreshingly intimate experience. I’d have preferred a venue like the Barbican or Royal Festival Hall, but it was a delight all the same.

Opera

A bumper month!

The latest Guildhall School opera offering is Poulenc’s lovely Dialogues des Carmelites, possibly the most tuneful opera written in the late 20th century! I’ve long been fond of this opera about the martyrdom of nuns during the French revolution and musically the GSMD did it proud. There were some excellent young voices – including a gorgeous Blanche from Anna Patalong, fine turns as the Marquis and his son from Koji Terada and Charlie Mellor and a beautiful Mere Marie from Sylvie Bedouelle. It was great to have a GSMD opera that showed off the fine chorus too. I’m afraid I didn’t like David Farley’s design, where everything was framed by a hole through broken glass, a reference to the opening image of a carriage being attacked by revolutionaries. It was particularly irritating when it framed an opening or closing scene image that about a third of the audience could see.

Back in Cardiff for the WNO late winter pairing of Il Travatore and Die Fledermaus. The former has so much wonderful music that you have to forgive its convoluted and somewhat preposterous plot, and in this production some static staging from Peter Watson and a dark and rather depressing (if clever) series of settings from Tim Hatley. There are so many long scene changes and when the curtain goes up after each of them, you just groan because its just a different configuration of the same giant walls! Welsh boys David Kempster and Gwyn Hughes Jones were both excellent as the Duke and Manrico respectively. Veronica Simeoni sang Azucena brilliantly but couldn’t act for toffee. Katie Pellegrino was technically good as Leonora but it wasn’t always an entirely pleasing sound. The chorus was of course terrific. A bit dull to look at, but a treat to listen to.

Despite the fact I’m not really an operetta man, and certainly not a fan of the somewhat twee Johann Strauss, I rather enjoyed Die Fledermaus, which says much about both the production and the performances. Again, superbly well cast, with some fine singing and acing from Mark Stone, Paul Charles Clarke, Joanne Boag and Nuccia Focile and a delightful cameos as prisoner governor from Alan Opie and actor Desmond Barritt in the non-singing role of the prison warden. It probably benefitted from the affection the ‘old school’ production team have for it – director John Copley, designer Tim Reed and Deirdre Clancy made it fizz with considerable charm and much humour (even though you had heard all the jokes before!).

Rodelinda is this year’s staged offering from the London Handel Festival. It’s one of Handel’s best and musically it shines, with lovely singing from Kitty Whately, Christopher Lowrey, Anthony Gregory and Edward Grint. Susanna Hurrell in the title role was occasionally too loud and harsh and Jake Arditti’s voice was a bit small for Unulfo, but an excellent young ensemble just the same. The orchestral playing, under Laurence Cummings, was outstanding. The modern military setting occasionally jarred, with a particularly tacky ending where royal prince Flavio holds up a flag and gun.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies & David Pountney’s new opera Kommilitonen! is both a coup and a triumph for the Royal Academy of Music. Max had given up on opera because he was fed up of writing operas based in places like lighthouses to find them staged in a toilet (the best put down of director-led opera ever!). Fortunately, he relented and wrote this highly original opera linking student protests in the US deep south, Mao’s China and Nazi Germany appropriately staged by students in a college. It’s dramatically and musically thrilling and the student talent on show is extraordinary.

Peter Brook’s edited minimalist A Magic Flute was a bit of a damp squib. Even though it ran for around half the normal time, it seemed a very long 95 minutes. There were some nice humourous touches, some clever staging and some nice voices, but overall it underwhelmed. In short, no magic!

Film

Submarine is a charming film, and a hugely impressive debut from actor-come-director Richard Ayoade. There were some gorgeous performances and the picture of school life in Wales oozed authenticity. I loved it.

Route Irish is a lot to stomach; it’s a very well made Ken Loach film but it’s very depressing. I don’t know how true this tale of private security firms in war zones is, but if it’s only a fraction true, it’s shameful. I admired it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it – and it made me angry; but I suppose it was meant to, so ‘job done’.

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a peek into French caves first discovered just 15 years ago. The 32,000 year-old cave paintings are extraordinary, shown off perfectly in 3D, but there’s a lot of padding and much of the narration is pompous. Now it’s tourism in 3D at your local cinema; whatever next!

The best was left to last this month, with the wonderfully uplifting and deeply moving Benda Bilili!, a film about a bunch of disabled homeless musicians in Congo. The film allowed the musicians own words and their music to speak for themselves – no narration – which is one of its great strengths. Though completely different, it had the same impact as Buena Vista Social Club. Now, to find the CD….

Art

A bumper Art month too; which tells you how much work I did in March!

Cory Arcangel’s installation at the Barbican projects 14 bowling video games created over 24 years. It’s a fascinating examination of how technology evolves, but it isn’t art!

Eve Arnold’s photos at Chris Beetles’ lovely new gallery were terrific. There are a large number taken during filming of The Misfits and I’d have loved to have bought one of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, but £12,500-£17.500 they were way beyond my price range!

I went to the wrong branch of Hauser & Wirth where there was a video installation of Chernobyl by Diana Thater, which did little for me – worthy though it was. When I got to the right branch, Martin Creed’s paintings also did little for me – until I came across his giant revolving neon ‘Mothers’, which I loved.

The NPG has a terrific exhibition by an early 20th century photographer called Emil Otto Hoppe. His B&W prints of famous political and artistic figures of the time have so much depth; you seem to be peering into their souls. They are shown with some wonderful London street scenes from the same period, with a documentary style that seems to me to be way ahead of their time.

I was a bit sceptical about Watercolour at Tate Britain; I thought it might be one of those ‘excuses for an exhibition’ in order to make money in this new museum / gallery free entry world. It turns out to be an excellent review of c.500 years of the art form with an exploration of the techniques and a diverse range of pictures, including some simply stunning ones. In truth, it does fizzle out in the last quarter (modern stuff, including the usual suspects like the talentless Tracey Emin), but that doesn’t deter from the astonishing highs. In the same gallery, Susan Hiller’s exhibition is fascinating & intriguing, showing off her inventiveness & technical skills – but as art it left me completely cold; admiration but not pleasure.

I keep going to contemporary art exhibitions and come out disappointed and British Art Show 7 at the Hayward is no exception. There were some nice pictures from Alasdair Gray and a clever 24-hour film collage of time references synchronised with the actual time from Christian Marclay (I only sat in for the 5.30pm section!), but it was Roger Hiorns again who was the most creative. When I walked into a film booth (I really do have a problem with film in galleries and tend to stay in each for only a short while) it was just a metal park / station bench. When I came out there was a real naked man sitting on the back of the bench looking at a real fire burning on the seat next to him. Terrific.

Back at the NPG, they’re showing another fascinating photographer I’ve never heard of! This time it’s the 50’s / 60’s B&W portraits of artists, writers and musicians by Ida Kar. They are both fascinating subjects and fascinating pictures.

At the Museum of London, they have a lovely exhibition of London Street Photos spanning 150 years to the present day. They perfectly capture the personality of my adopted city over the years and contain many by even more photographers new to me! By contrast, the Barbican Centre Gallery nearby is showcasing the work of the 70’s New York avant-garde and in particular polymaths Trisha Brown, Laurie Anderson and Gordon Matta-Clark, the latter the only one new to me. Though much of the background work like preparatory drawings left me cold, I was quite taken with Anderson’s interactive pieces (a pillow that plays to you as you rest your head and a desk from which the sound travels through your arms to your ears as you place your elbows on it and cover your ears!) and the two Brown performances I caught – five dancers walking the walls and two weaving in and out of clothes on top of a rope and steel climbing frame. The Barbican is challenging the Hayward in off-the-wall things like this; they sometimes (often?) fail, but you have to admire their nerve in putting on such niche stuff.

I knew nothing about Gabriel Orozco before I went to his exhibition at Tate Modern. It was a very diverse selection of pictures, ‘sculptures’, installations and project descriptions, some of which were interesting and some of which were just dull. The biggest room was almost entirely filled with photographs that he took of a yellow motorcycle he bought and rode in search of identical ones, taking a photo of each pairing as he did. Why? Hardly worthy of a major retrospective, in my view.

I’m not overly fond of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s permanent collection, but they are indispensible when it comes to special exhibitions, particularly by illustrators. Norman Rockwell may be sentimental, twee and sweet Americana, but he’s technically accomplished as this exhibition of c.30 original paintings, c.10 studies, 4 posters and c.300 Saturday Picture Post front covers shows; he’s particularly good at faces and children. It was particularly fascinating to see how the SPP covers evolved over almost 50 years.

Back at Chris Beetles’ new photo gallery they’d swapped the Eve Arnold I started the month with for a terrific set of B&W pictures of actors, models and musicians by Terry O’Neill. I would have so liked to buy a copy of Macca playing piano at Ringo’s 1981 wedding, a picture that comes alive as you look at it, but didn’t have £2000 on me!

I’d avoided the Royal Academy’s Modern British Sculpture exhibition because the reviews were so bad but as I was passing with time to kill and as it’s free for Friends, I gave it a quick look and it was nowhere near as bad as I was led to expect. It was worth a visit for an amazing Adam by Jacob Epstein alone, but there were others to admire, though they did make up less that half of the exhibition. How you can mount a survey of modern British sculpture without three recent titans – Anthony Gormley, Richard Wilson & Anish Kapoor – is however beyond me. We got a less important example from Damien Hirst but were fortunate to be spared a Tracey Emin. Upstairs, it was hard to get excited about Watteau’s drawings, accomplished though they are. There are an awful lot of studies of heads and hands and few finished works.

Phew, did I really do all that on top of 20 plays, musicals and ballets?!

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Well here we are again; I’m not counting but my guess would be something like my 25th year.  It’s a drug and I have a habit. Here’s the story so far (with added star ratings!)…..

This year started very well with Roadkill, a ‘site specific’ piece about sex trafficking.  Fifteen of us boarded a bus outside the Traverse Theatre and were joined after a while by a bubbly naïve Nigerian teenager fresh off the plane, who chatted incessantly, asking questions about her new home city. She was here with her ‘auntie’ for ‘education’. When we arrived at a flat a mile or so away, the meaning of ‘education’ emerged in a series of harrowing scenes that took place in three rooms and the corridors.  It was so believable you could feel your blood boil with anger at the ‘pimps’ and the punters. It was often difficult to watch but this was important theatre covering issues often buried. The staging was outstanding and the acting stunning ****

The juxtaposition of shows often means your next experience is affected by the last, and so it was I think with Penelope, Enda Walsh’s setting of the Greek myth in a swimming pool where four men take it in turns to ‘court’ the one who hates men and whose lives depend on their success. It was clever, surreal, well staged and acted, but just seemed trivial and unimportant after Roadkill; needles to say, the remaining three in the party – for whom it was their first show – rather enjoyed it! ***

Day Two started with a classic – En Route – which I will be talking about for years to come. The day before I received a text telling me where to go and to look out for someone who would be clearly marked. When I arrived there was someone with a hand-written sign which said ‘ Clearly Marked” and that got me off to a smiling start. I was given directions to turn right outside the theatre then turn right again and off I went. Just before I got to the point where I was thinking ‘what next’ another person caught up with me and gave me an I-pod and some instructions and checked my mobile number. I walked alone through Edinburgh receiving instructions by text, calls on my mobile and in a phone box, behind doors, in the racks of record shops and chalked on pavements. The I-pod provided a music soundtrack with occasional dialogue.  I had to take a photo and call a friend (who turned out to be – unexpectedly – in Greece and hence had to incur the not insignificant cost of my call!) and at one point was asked to raise my hand only to find it grabbed by a passer-by who held it as he walked me for a few minutes. I saw parts of Edinburgh I’ve never seen in c.25 years (including a stunning view from the 8th level of a car park) and it made me realise how much you don’t observe when you’re walking. The soundtrack heightens your visual senses and the whole experience was intriguing and thrilling. I don’t know how many of the people I saw en route were part of the experience but you get to the point where you’re convinced they all are. I ended up at a café with a complimentary coffee where the person who gave me my I-pod 90 minutes earlier and three miles away joined me. This is what the Edinburgh fringe is for *****

I should have rested, but a couple of exhibitions nearby proved too tempting. Impressionist Gardens is really one of those (seemingly frequent) ‘excuse for an exhibition’ exploiting the British’ insatiable appetite for anything impressionist. There were some lovely paintings but it was so much of the same that it was overpowering *** Just because it was free with the combined ticket, I took in an exhibition of an early 19th century Danish artist I’d never heard of called Christen Kobke and it was a revelation – I admired the quality of the portrait painting, but it was the landscapes, and particularly their light, which bowled me over. A surprise treat****

The same now happened as it had the day before, of course – disappointment to follow. Freefall is again a clever and well staged & acted play set at the moment after a stroke where the patient is rapidly reflecting on moments from their life. I was by now very tired so it was hard to get into it and I’m afraid as much as I admired the craftsmanship it never really engaged me; yet again, the other two members of my party for whom it was the first show of the day enjoyed it a lot more. ***

The Day ended with one of those things you book because it sounds so intriguing. Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul was billed as theatre meets art meets taxidermy…..and they weren’t wrong! Two people inhabit an office where they seem to have little to do so end up employing those diversions we all at some point do to kill time. Their world collapses around them as plants and animals (stuffed!) rapidly appear and grow all over the place. It gradually becomes more and more absurd with the plants invading like triffids and the animals getting bigger – what starts with a rat ends up with a bear and a deer. It’s a surreal and absurd combination of slapstick and physical theatre and it made me smile and laugh ***.5!

Sunday started with a cracker called Speechless from Shared Experience / Sherman Cymru (makes you proud to be Welsh!) at the Traverse. I knew something of the story of the silent twins Jennifer and June Gibbons (I’ve seen the opera!) and this play focuses on their early life – until they are committed to Broadmoor. It was gripping from the start and the performances from the girls were positively mesmerizing. Their mother, and the boy who they befriend and who exploits them, were also brilliantly played. This was a fascinating psychological drama and high quality theatre indeed****

More art followed with Martin Creed’s quirky stuff at the Fruitmarket Gallery, the best of which was the staircase wired for sound*** Across the road at the City Art Centre there are two contrasting photographic exhibitions. At first, I thought I’d find the dressed up /posed dogs of William Wegman distasteful but they made me smile and the relationships between the pets and the photographer meant it wasn’t really cruel*** Early 20th century photographer Edward Weston covered a broad range from still life to landscape to portraits to nudes and though it was clearly technically very accomplished, there’s little more than historical interest almost 100 years on***

Oedipus at Colonus sounded like a brilliant idea – Greek tragedy (though a rare one where no-one dies!) as an African-American gospel oratorio.  There was an ancient building backdrop (used for projections) and steps for the performers. The music was very good and the costumes gorgeous. The problem was it didn’t work turning Oedipus into a Christian Everyman who is redeemed by repentance and setting it ‘inside’ a church service just wasted time and dented the impact. The projections were of dubious taste and reached their peak when Oedipus rose to heaven to be replaced by a rainbow; I’m afraid we laughed***

The day ended on the high on which it had started with the Frantic Assembly / National Theatre of Scotland co-production of Beautiful Burnout. I’ve lived my like until this year without a play about boxing, then two come along in quick succession. I think Roy Williams’ Sucker Punch at the Royal Court is the better play, but this production is simply stunning. You’d never think that Frantic Assembly’s stylised choreography and boxing would mix but they turn out to be made for one another. The energy is extraordinary and the performances stunning. I can’t say I approve of boxing, but you get caught up in the excitement at the same time as being horrified at the hurt. We left exhausted but exhilarated****

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