Review: Bold Girls, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow



Bold Girls

Citizens Theatre,


Until February 10


Reviewed by Mark Brown

Bold Girls
Lucianne McEvoy as Marie in Bold Girls. Photo: Citizens Theatre

The recent news that UVF “supergrass”, and confessed multiple murderer, Gary Haggarty had received a sentence of just six years in prison seemed like a nasty reminder of a bygone conflict. However, as Rona Munro’s 1991 play Bold Girls reminds us, it’s only two decades since the Good Friday Agreement was signed and Northern Ireland’s uneasy peace process initiated.

Set in predominantly Republican, Catholic West Belfast, the drama follows a group of four working-class women living in the shadow of war. Their men, as matriarch Nora comments bleakly, are “either dead or in the Kesh” (a reference to the Long Kesh RAF base which was redeveloped as the notorious Maze Prison for convicted paramilitaries).

The action of the play takes place in the home of Marie (widow of a slain Republican paramilitary) and in a local nightclub which is prone to raids by the RUC. Marie and her neighbours, mother and daughter Nora and Cassie, seem like a microcosm of an archetypal “close-knit community”. However, behind the “nipping across the road for a cup of tea” bonhomie of the women, there are dark secrets, terrible fears and unfulfilled yearnings.

All of this is expressed by Munro with a sharp, observational eye, dark comedy and a sense of heightened realism. The result is a piece which falls somewhere between soap opera and sitcom.

As it segues between an Irish, female version of Coronation Street and a Hibernian Royle Family, the play is given an element of suspense courtesy of the arrival of Deirdre. A bedraggled teenager, she inveigles her way into Marie’s house under cover of a conflagration with the British Army that has broken out on the Falls Road.

The barbed naturalism and gallows humour of the drama are utterly convincing, as is the brave-faced vulnerability of women besieged by the emotional depredations of the absurdly named “Troubles” and the material hardships caused by the conflict. Likewise, Cassie’s desperation to get out of Northern Ireland before her domestically abusive husband gets out of prison.

There is, however, a structural heavy-handedness in the play that stretches one’s credulity and undermines the tension within the piece. Even if one is prepared to accept the implausible ease with which Deirdre gains access to Marie’s home, one can only be disappointed by the blatant conspicuousness with which, from early in proceedings, Munro signposts her big, conclusive “reveal”.

Which is a pity, as director Richard Baron’s production is admirably sure-footed and humane. Neil Haynes’s designs, complete with a moveable set for Marie’s sitting-room-cum-kitchen (which floats cinematically into view), draws purposefully on the hyperrealism within the play itself.

The cast are excellent to an individual. Lucianne McEvoy, in particular, is utterly compelling as Marie, whose anguish goes much deeper than her bereavement. Deirdre Davis is every inch the long-suffering mother, trying desperately to keep her daughter in-line with the community’s expectations of her as a dutiful Catholic wife.

This is a strong revival of an often engaging play. It’s just a pity that, at its crucial moments, Munro’s storytelling is so lacking in subtlety.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 4, 2018

© Mark Brown


Reviews: The Lover & Achilles (Sunday Herald)



The Lover

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until February 3



Seen at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow;

at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, January 30


Reviewed by Mark Brown

The Lover #2
Yosuke Kusano and Amy Hollinshed in The Lover. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

A dance-theatre piece based upon Marguerite Duras’s acclaimed, autobiographical novel The Lover was a tantalising prospect. Sad to say, however, this co-production (by the Lyceum, Scottish Dance Theatre and Scotland’s women’s theatre company Stellar Quines) is dreadfully misconceived.

There are, in general, too many adaptations of famous novels on the stage. That said, some prose fictions contain more theatrical possibilities than others.

The Lover, published in 1984, would seem to offer much to the stage. In the novel, Duras recounts a love affair between a 15-year-old French girl and a 27-year-old Chinese man in French colonial Indochina. The affair at the heart of the book (which is illicit both racially and due to the girl’s age) is charged with the kind of psychological and erotic possibilities that often make for great theatre.

The trick with any successful stage adaptation of a novel is to find the right theatrical form in which to express the depths and nuances of the fiction. Adapters and co-directors Fleur Darkin and Jemima Levick have come up with a central, interpretative idea which misfires badly.

Fine actor Susan Vidler appears on-stage as The Woman, the narrator of her own story, remembering, many decades later, both a tumultuous love affair and the extraordinary city (Saigon) in which it occurred. However, her live speech is intercut, in fact overwhelmed, by recorded narration and dialogue.

Four actor-dancers represent The Girl, The Man and The Girl’s brothers (who are spoiled brat products of colonial entitlement). When they speak, they mime to a recorded female voice.

This makes a certain, conceptual sense. It reminds us that the story is being told from the perspective of The Woman later in her life, and, therefore, carries with it all of the potential embellishments, omissions and other creative alterations that come with memory.

However, in performative terms, it is nothing short of disastrous. It is truly amazing that Darkin and Levick did not realise that having dancers mime to recorded speech, not occasionally, but continuously, would be ridiculous, in visual terms, and absolutely distracting to the audience.

The choreography itself is a mixed bag. Although occasionally evocative and executed with technical accomplishment by the dancers, it is often too literal in its visual metaphors.

In an evening of mangled opportunities, the central sex scene is particularly silly. Playing in mock naked costumes (or fake nudes, if you will), Amy Hollinshead (The Girl) and Yosuke Kusano (The Man) are fighting a losing battle as they attempt to evoke the powerful erotic connection between the lovers.

Vidler’s almost heroic performance aside, the production’s only other saving grace is Leila Kalbassi’s set design. Exhibiting a subtlety which is otherwise entirely absent in the show, it takes its inspiration from the famously delicate visual arts of East Asia.

Dance-theatre is a genre (exemplified by the great London-based company DV8 Physical Theatre) which makes a seamless connection between choreography and live drama. Frustratingly, this staging of The Lover is all seam and very little connection.

Ewan Downie performing Achilles. Photo: Company of Wolves

Achilles, a new, solo work from Glasgow-based physical theatre group Company of Wolves is no less ambitious than Darkin and Levick’s offering, and considerably more successful. Performed by the Wolves’ co-director Ewan Downie, the piece is an example of a theatrical form which is familiar to some in the Scottish audience, but rarely practised by Scotland-based artists themselves.

Downie and his co-director Anna Porubcansky (who is dramaturge and composer on this piece) stand in a rich, Polish tradition (developed most famously by the great theatre master Jerzy Grotowski). Downie is a former member of the acclaimed Polish ensemble Song of the Goat, which has illuminated the Edinburgh Fringe with such great shows as Chronicles: A Lamentation and Songs Of Lear.

Company of Wolves is a welcome attempt to bring this profound artistic form into Scottish theatre practice. Achilles is an admirable step on that journey.

Downie is simultaneously the expressive, Homeric narrator of the piece, and also the performer of its drama. At the outset, he paints for us a colourful word picture of Troy, a functioning city living in dread of its siege.

Then, he turns to the story of Achilles’s and his vengeful anguish when his beloved friend Patroclus is killed by the Trojan warrior Hector.

Lying on his back on the floor, Downie begins to sing a Greek song of lamentation, his limbs moving slowly in an affecting expression of Achilles’s insufferable moral pain. Then, as anguish turns to rage, we hear of the Greek hero’s preparations for war.

Achilles’s ensuing bloodlust is, first, recounted in unsparing, gruesomely poetic detail, and, then, re-enacted, with muscular, visual eloquence. The spasmodic death agonies of a Trojan soldier, whose spine has been skewered by the Greek warrior, carry an unflinching truth.

The three songs in the show (two, like the music at the heart of Song of the Goat’s Chronicles, from the folk traditions of the Epirus region of Greece, the other from the Byzantine Christian liturgy) carry a powerful spiritual resonance, and are performed by Downie with real depth of expression. The simple designs (set and costume by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, lighting by Alberto Santos-Bellido) are tailor-made.

The shifts in tone required of Downie, between narration, stylised physical performance and emotive song are not easy to sustain across the work’s 45 minutes, and the piece does lose its rhythm from time to time. However, there is much to admire in the attempt.

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 28, 2018

© Mark Brown

Opinion: Creative Scotland funding announcement has caused outrage

The world of Scottish theatre is outraged at Creative Scotland and here’s why…

Mark Brown argues it’s time for a radical overhaul of arts funding policy

Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise theatre company is to lose its funding. Photo: Colin Mearns

Another funding announcement by arts financing quango Creative Scotland (CS), another general outcry. Although specific decisions within Thursday’s announcement of its three-year funding grants seem baffling, even outrageous, the fact that CS has put itself at the centre of another national controversy is depressingly predictable.

CS seems to enjoy being flagrantly contentious. So much so that one playwright suggested to me this week that the handsome remuneration for CS’s senior management team (which ranges from £55,000 to £120,000) might be “flak money”.

And flak there has certainly been over the last few days. In particular, Scotland’s theatre artists (I have yet to hear a single voice in CS’s defence) are outraged that two leading children’s theatre companies (Visible Fictions and the world class Catherine Wheels) and major disabled theatre groups (Birds of Paradise and Lung Ha’s) have been shoved out into the fiscal cold. One might add to that unique street and site-specific theatre company Mischief La-Bas, who have been rewarded for their brilliant, critically acclaimed recent show Nursery Crymes by having their financial support removed.

Leading theatremaker Cora Bissett speaks for many when she expresses herself “disgusted and appalled by the short sightedness” of CS’s latest funding decisions. “If what they are doing is trying to ‘meet the strategic needs of the sector’,” she continues, “I’d really like to know what the hell those needs are.”

I’ve heard it suggested this week that CS might have “something up its sleeve”, a possible “sugaring of the pill” for at least some of the excellent companies who have been stripped of their cash. Even if that turns out to be the case, it would not invalidate the criticisms of the quango. In fact, it would reinforce the perception of CS as an organisation that takes a perverse pleasure in its power to play with the livelihoods of people working in the arts.

CS’s defenders, if such there are, might argue that the allocating of public funds to arts organisations is always going to involve winners and losers. Arts funding is, they might say, an inherently controversial business.

However, the rights and wrongs of specific funding resolutions aside, it should be obvious to anyone concerned with the arts in Scotland that it doesn’t have to be like this. Arts funding does not have to be what I call “an annual carousel of cheers and tears”.

Creative Scotland’s senior management do not have to appear like a bunch of overpaid, self-important bureaucrats who wouldn’t know a coherent arts funding strategy if it knocked on their door wearing a fuschia pink frock and singing “coherent arts funding strategies are here again”.

Of course, we need an organisation, at “arms-length” from government, that takes responsibility for the allocation of public funding of the arts. However, the current alternative to direct political control, namely, a quango led by the “great and the good” (disproportionately, if one takes a glance at the personnel on the CS board, private sector management types and “consultants”), has proved time and again not to be fit for purpose. CS’s relations and communications with artists are extremely poor. As an organisation, it appears to be arrogant and unaccountable.

The very fact that CS is so often in the headlines is proof of its failure. A successful arts funding quango would be one that was little known to the public, because it would be quietly going about its business, running a light-touch funding regime and working closely with artists.

What would this mean in practice? Firstly, it would mean that artistic excellence, rather than CS’s opaque, ever-shifting “strategic priorities”, would be to the fore.

This is not at odds with a commitment to the much-vaunted “social inclusion” agenda. As a working-class teenager, having the opportunity to see top class productions of Shakespeare and Beckett did far more to engage me in the theatre than any well-intentioned, social realist attempts to “show me myself on stage”.

A genuinely responsive Creative Scotland would have permanently open channels of communication with artists, so that perceived problems in the artistic output could be addressed, rather than suddenly punished when funding decisions are announced. It would be able to offer both stability to the best, established artists and opportunities to emerging artistic talent.

The late theatre director and actor Kenny Ireland used to advocate “endowment funding”, whereby established, high-quality artistic companies (such as, I would suggest, Catherine Wheels) would be given a block grant big enough for them to live off the interest. This would not be indefinite, of course, but certainly more permanent, and more stabilising, than the current three-year model.

Such ideas would, I’m sure, be dismissed as unaffordable and/or impractical by CS and the Scottish Government. However, with a concerted political will, there is no reason why our arts funding quango cannot be brought much closer to artists. We need, and urgently, a funding body which will introduce strategies that are coherent, consistent and responsive to the needs of artists and audiences alike.

Mark Brown is the Sunday Herald’s theatre critic

This article was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 28, 2018

© Mark Brown

Review: The Lover, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Daily Telegraph)





Reviewed by Mark Brown

The Lover
The Lover. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic

Since he took the reins as artistic director at the Lyceum in 2016, renowned dramatist David Greig has received merited plaudits for the boldness of his programming. However, brave and ambitious though it is, it seems unlikely that The Lover, a dance-theatre adaptation of Marguerite Duras‘s award-winning, autobiographical novel, will go down as a high point of his tenure.

The piece is a co-production between the Lyceum, Scottish Dance Theatre and Scotland’s women’s theatre company Stellar Quines. It is adapted jointly by its co-directors, choreographer Fleur Darkin and theatre director Jemima Levick.

Stage adaptations of famous novels are much too common in British theatre. That said Duras’s story of a love affair in French colonial Indochina, which is illicit on grounds of both age (the girl is just 15) and ethnicity (she is white French, he is Chinese), should offer more to the stage than most prose fictions. After all, there is in the novel the atmosphere of colonial Saigon, and the powerful psychological and erotic dimensions of the affair, as seen by the girl later in her life.

Between them, however, Darkin and Levick (and Greig, who is credited with “dramaturgy”) have conspired to squander the dramatic possibilities Duras offers them. The piece is not so much a combination of dance and theatre as an unholy collision.

The delicate beauty of designer Leila Kalbassi’s set, which is inspired by the calligraphies and pastoralism of East Asian art, stands in embarrassing contrast with the clunking dreadfulness of the co-directors’ decisions. As the ever-impressive Susan Vidler takes her place on-stage as The Woman (the narrative voice of The Girl later in life), her live narration is intercut, irritatingly and distractingly, with recorded narrative.

Worse-still, the actor-dancers who perform the various roles (including The Girl and The Man), mime their dialogue to exclusively female recorded speech. The intention, no doubt, is to emphasise both the female perspective of the story and its status as memory. The effect, however, is to bury the narrative under the agonising awfulness of the mime.

The dance itself is variable, but too often literal in its metaphors. The crucial sex scene is rendered unintentionally comic by its decidedly unerotic, faux-naked costumes.

Poorly conceived, and even more badly executed, this deeply disappointing offering does no favours to a classic of 20th-century French literature.

Until February 3. Details:

A slightly abridged version of this review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 24, 2018

©Mark Brown


Review: Juan de Marcos Afro-Cuban All Stars, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow





Reviewed by Mark Brown

Afro Cuban All Stars
The Afro-Cuban All Stars. Photo: Gordon Hotchkiss

Celtic Connections, Glasgow’s annual festival of traditional and folk roots music, is currently celebrating its 25th year. It is testament to the programme’s high international standing that it continues to attract major global artists such as the Juan de Marcos Afro-Cuban All Stars.

It is more than 20 years since musician and bandleader Juan de Marcos González shot to international fame for his work with the global phenomenon that was the Buena Vista Social Club. Since then he and his band the Afro-Cuban All Stars have been at the forefront of popularising Cuban music around the world. This Glasgow show, the 64-year-old maestro tells us, came within three days of gigs in Los Angeles and Vienna.

As if to emphasise the musical breadth of the Celtic Connections programme, the All Stars were supported by Scottish jazz quartet New Focus. If you like your jazz as mellow as a creamy coffee on a quiet Sunday morning, you might want to check them out.

The All Stars’ themselves, a 13-strong touring ensemble which includes the bandleader’s wife Gliceria Abreu and his daughters Gliceria and Laura, gave a veritable masterclass in Cuban music. González jokes that he was once the youngster of the Buena Vista musicians, but he is now the oldest. He is clearly aware of his role as the keeper of the flame, as a heartfelt rendition of Miguel Matamoros‘s Cuban classic Black Tears (complete with superb clarinet solo by Laura González) attests.

Song after song, one feels increasingly as if one is in Havana during the 1950s Golden Age of Cuban music. There are dedications to major figures in the nation’s remarkable 20th-century heritage, including the great Arsenio Rodríguez.

However, perhaps the greatest moment of the evening comes in the performance of Chan Chan, the famous opening number on the Buena Vista album by the late master Compay Segundo. “It is exactly 20 years and nine months since I first recorded this song”, González remembers, “and I still love it.”

The enthralled audience loves it, too. On an evening when they were also treated to fabulous solos on the drums, the bongos and, from González himself, acoustic guitar, the Glasgow crowd was only too happy to take up the  maestro’s invitation to end the show by dancing in the aisles.

Celtic Connections continues until February 4.

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 23, 2018

© Mark Brown

Feature interview: Lu Kemp, artistic director, Perth Theatre

Letting the light in

Perth Theatre’s artistic director Lu Kemp talks to Mark Brown about her plan to illuminate the revamped playhouse with a bold new programme

KnivesinHensRehearsalPic #
Jessica Hardwick and Michael Moreland rehearsing Knives in Hens. Photo: Pam Dochard

If you approach Perth Theatre from Mill Street these days, you could be forgiven for thinking that the famous playhouse has not so much been redeveloped as demolished and rebuilt from scratch. What was previously the unremarkable back of the playhouse is now the highly-modern facade of the newly renovated theatre, complete with sliding doors and a huge screen advertising coming attractions.

Inside, the playhouse, which reopened in November following a four-year, £16.6 million overhaul, is transformed utterly. Natural light floods into the building from various angles and splendid cafes spread across two floors.

The main auditorium retains its Victorian splendour, complete with proscenium arch stage, but has been lovingly restored, right down to the comfortable new seating. However, the grand old lady now has bright, young offspring. The expansion of the building in many directions has enabled the addition of a well-proportioned and versatile studio theatre space on the second floor.

The artistic director who has inherited the splendidly restyled theatre is Lu Kemp. Appointed director in 2016, in the midst of the redevelopment work, she is a woman with a strong grounding in Scottish culture.

Lu Kemp. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Hailing from Watford, she was a trainee director at TAG Theatre in Glasgow between 2000 and 2002, and a BBC Scotland radio director from 2002 to 2007. There followed training at the movement laboratory of the famous Jacques Lecoq school in Paris and the Saratoga International Theater Institute in New York.

Kemp’s breakthrough production on the Scottish stage was Abigail Docherty’s beautiful children’s show One Thousand Paper Cranes in 2009, which entranced young audiences at the Imaginate International Children’s Festival in Edinburgh, among other places. She also made a lasting impression with her visually stunning presentation of Sue Glover’s Bondagers at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh in 2014.

Now installed in the redeveloped Perth Theatre, which she reopened with her bold and raucous pantomime Aladdin, Kemp is about to embark upon her first full season of work. Including famous singer-songwriter Karine Polwart’s celebrated theatre piece Wind Resistance, as well as work by new associate artists, including acclaimed theatremaker Kieran Hurley and dance theatre company Curious Seed, it is an impressively ambitious programme.

The most significant markers to be laid down, however, are in Kemp’s choices of the headline plays, which she will direct herself. Scottish playwright David Harrower’s modern classic Knives In Hens (February 1-17) and Shakespeare’s tale of vaulting ambition Richard III (March 17-31) are suitably exciting dramas for the director’s inaugural season in the Fair City’s renewed playhouse.

“I wanted to do the great Scottish work”, Kemp tells me when we meet at her theatre.

Harrower’s play, she continues, has resonated with her ever since she saw it at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh (where she ushered while a student at Edinburgh University) in 1997.

“It got me somewhere [inside]”, she remembers. “It got me on a guttural level and I had a fascination with it that is not necessarily logical.”

Anyone who knows Harrower’s extraordinary play (for my money, one of the finest ever written by a Scottish dramatist) will know exactly what the director means. The piece, which is set in an unspecified, pre-industrial society in which an unnamed Young Woman comes to an intellectual, emotional and sexual awakening with a literate miller, is a thing of sparsely poetic, mysterious beauty. Like all of the most truly profound stage dramas, it leaves one feeling more than one understands.

The paradox of Knives In Hens is that, whilst it is recognised as a modern classic of Scottish theatre by critics and scholars, it is still not a play with which the majority of Perth Theatre patrons will be familiar. Kemp is seeking, she says, to find “doorways”, points of identification which will draw local people into her theatre.

“Although Knives In Hens is set in a mythic world, it’s a rural world”, the director comments. “I’m really interested in Perth Theatre being local and celebrating the fact that we are a rural community.”

Whether it be Harrower’s play, Polwart’s delightful piece (which, in many ways, is a paean to the Scottish countryside) or Hurley’s planned first work for her (a ceilidh-theatre show based upon his interviews with farmers and other local people), Kemp cannot stand accused of neglecting Perth Theatre’s place within a broader, rural community.

Encouragingly, however, she is not seeking an easy or populist route to audience development. The director likes the model of the V&A museum in London, which she describes as “a really great cafe with brilliant art around it.”

She wants something similar for Perth Theatre. “If we can make this space as welcoming and inclusive as possible, I think people will go with us.”

Kemp is confident that the revamped building itself will help her in her quest to bring in a wide and socially diverse audience, often to see theatre works with which they are not familiar.

She hopes that patrons will share her love of the new building’s openness to the light outside. “It pours into the space”, she says, “and it also brings the air in.

“We live in a strip here, from Perth up to Dundee, that is all about light. The light changes all the time here, and it blows me away.

“It just seems appropriate that, in a place that is about changing skies and light, the building should be so responsive to the light outside.”

For details of the Perth Theatre programme, visit:

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 21, 2018

© Mark Brown

Preview: Clown Cabaret @ Manipulate Festival, Edinburgh, and Manipulate highlights

Send in the clowns

The 2018 programme of Edinburgh’s annual Manipulate festival boasts a special edition of the Clown Cabaret. Mark Brown spoke with one of the Cabaret’s creators, actor-director Tim Licata

Arabian Nights - Tim
Tim Licata (foreground) in The Arabian Nights. Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

If you have been an observer of Scottish theatre over the last 20 years, the chances are you will have encountered Tim Licata. Hailing from Chicago, the actor, teacher and director has appeared in numerous performances by erstwhile theatre company Benchtours, as well as in the work of his own physical theatre group Plutot La Vie, which he established with fellow artist Ian Cameron in 2002.

Most recently you might have seen him manipulating a flatulent mongrel puppet and playing the ill-fated merchant Abu Hassan in the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh’s acclaimed Christmas production of The Arabian Nights.

The actor settled in Scotland (Edinburgh, to be precise) in 1995, with his Austrian wife Magdalena Schamberger, who is acclaimed for her work in hospital clowning (particularly as former artistic director of Edinburgh-based company Hearts & Minds). He and Schamberger met in Paris in the 1990s, while studying with the great French performance teacher Philippe Gaulier (who was himself a pupil of the theatre master Jacques Lecoq). It was there that Licata also met future collaborators in Benchtours, Catherine Gillard, Peter Clerke and John Cobb.

I meet Licata in a cafe on Broughton Street in central Edinburgh, to talk, not about his exceptional career as a performer, but about his central role as a director and curator of the Clown Cabaret. The Cabaret, which started in Edinburgh in 2013, is about to make its debut in the brilliant programme of the Manipulate festival of visual theatre.

I suggest to Licata that Manipulate plays a crucial role in Scottish theatre in providing a platform at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre for art forms that tend to be somewhat under-represented on the national stage. “I think that’s true” he says. “Manipulate absolutely does that.

“It’s been interesting to watch it over its 10 years. It started out with even more of a puppetry and puppet manipulation focus. It’s developed and grown into wider areas of visual and physical theatre. I think that’s great.”

Manipulate is, the actor-director continues, “a real flagship [for visual theatre in Scotland]… a platform, both in terms of bringing international artists here and featuring a lot of Scottish artists.”

Over the last 50 years Scottish theatre has developed an interesting tension and connection between its literary/textual roots and its embracing of the more visual aesthetics of leading European theatre artists such as Lecoq and the Polish master Jerzy Grotowski. However, this European strand has suffered in recent times with the controversial closure of The Arches venue in Glasgow in 2015 and the reduced profile of Tramway (the programme of which has, sadly, been neglected by its owner Glasgow City Council).

Ruxy Cantir. Photography - Rich Dyson (2)
Ruxy Cantir in Clown Cabaret. Photo: Rich Dyson

However, as Licata points out, while some doors have closed (partially, if not entirely), others have opened. Scottish theatre companies such as Vox Motus, Company of Wolves (who present their new show Achilles at this year’s Manipulate) and Licata’s own Plutot La Vie are producing work which is very clearly inspired by the techniques of European theatre.

Clown Cabaret itself is enjoying larger audiences and increasing prominence. Now based at the Roxy Art House venue in Edinburgh, it presented a special edition as part of last year’s Surge festival of street arts, physical theatre and circus in Glasgow.

The brainchild of Licata and co-conspirators Saras Feijoo and Melanie Jordan, the Cabaret runs regular scratch nights in which selected clown artists present their new and developing work. In the special editions, such as that during Surge last year and Manipulate next month (Traverse, February 3), some of the more successful pieces from the scratch nights are selected to be showcased. The Manipulate showcase will star artists such as Ruxy Cantir, Andrew Simpson and Bec Phipps.

Clowning in the theatre is, Licata explains, a very different proposition from clowning in the street. “You can do really subtle things in the theatre, but it needs the focus that artists get with theatre lighting and sound.”

Although, while growing up in Illinois, Licata loved circus clowns, he understands why so many people in the US and the UK are afraid of clowns due to the impression they received when they were young. “People know clowns from the circus”, he comments, “with all that white face make-up and big, painted-on smile. Up-close that can be really off-putting and scary.”

It was Lecoq, he says, who “rediscovered the clown. “He called it ‘the personal clown’.”

Lecoq’s deeply considered approach to the clown is very profound, Licata observes. “It can be incredibly freeing for a performer to be able to comfortably accept and, then, share what they might think are their limitations.

“Suddenly, when they are able to share their inadequacies, when they engender pleasure in an audience, those supposed weaknesses become dramatic strengths.”

Licata hopes that the evolution of Clown Cabaret, including its forthcoming showcase at Manipulate, will help develop the understanding of clown theatre in Scotland. “One of the things we’re particularly pleased about is that Clown Cabaret has given people a better understanding of personal clown. Hopefully, by taking it into Manipulate, we’re getting that out to a broader audience.”

The Manipulate festival runs at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, January 27 to February 3:



By Mark Brown


Fighting Modernists

Saturday, January 27

This fascinating programme of short animated films made under censorship in the countries of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia between 1961 and 1978 is programmed and introduced by award-winning Estonian animator Ulo Pikkov. Followed by a Q&A, it promises to offer real insights into how artists have used (and continue to use) subtle and metaphorical techniques to make unwanted political comment.



Wednesday, January 31

Superb Scots-Singaporean theatremaker and performer Ramesh Meyyappan (creator of the lovely piece Butterfly) performs his solo show about Joe Kilter, an obsessive man who is struggling to maintain his sense of himself. Everyday objects seem to conspire against Joe in this humorous, humane, beautifully executed piece of visual and physical theatre. The work is performed without spoken dialogue and is suitable for D/deaf audiences.


The Frog at the Bottom of the Well Believes That the Sky is Round

Friday, February 2

Acclaimed French company Velo Theatre offer us an intriguing guided tour in this work of total theatre. Combining performance, object theatre, installations, film, music and soundscapes, the show contemplates the great emotional and psychological resonance of our memories of our first home. In this case, it is the very unusual house of the great collector Monsieur Brin d’Avoine.


Sleeping Beauty

Saturday, February 3

Another Gallic work, but with a distinctly Scouse twist, as Liverpool-born artist Colette Garrigan, longstanding founder and director of French group Compagnie Akselere, retells the famous fairytale. Set in the Kingdom of Liverpool, which has been ravaged by hunger and joblessness, the piece is performed by Garrigan, with help from a variety of puppets, everyday objects and clever lighting. Expect an inventive performance which plays very much with the darker elements in the fairytale tradition.

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 14, 2018

© Mark Brown