Mogwai played an enjoyably noisy show at Northumbria
University this week. The Glasgow band played a career-spanning set, ranging
from early pieces such as ‘Ithica 27/9’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ to new album
tracks such as ‘Party in the Dark’ and ‘Every Country’s Sun’.
Mogwai have now been around for over twenty years, and even
if some of the newer tracks (such as slightly pedestrian opener ‘Crossing the
Road Material’) are somewhat eclipsed by the earlier ones, they still know how
to structure an entertaining live show.
Moody mid-period pieces such as ‘I’m Jim Morrison’ and ‘Rano
Pano’ stood up well, and helped to bridge the gap between the slow-building
majesty of ‘Helicon 1’ and the more immediate new material.
After a very brief break, 2003’s ‘I Know You Are…’ proved an
effectively subtle lead-up to the noise immolation of ‘We’re No Here’. And then
they were gone in a cloud of dry ice, leaving the audience to stumble out with
the feedback still ringing in their ears.
Max Richter’s Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works
(*****) fused neo-classical instrumentation, ambient sounds and sampled
dialogue in a compelling manner. Norwegian band Ulver performed another
creative volte-face to deliver a consistent set of electronic pop songs in The Assassination of Julius Caesar(****).
Noise musician Ben Frost had a busy year with the release of the Fortitudesoundtrack (***), the Threshold of Faith EP (*****) and its
accompanying album The Centre Cannot Hold
(****). Neil Young’s demo album Hitchhiker(****), recorded in 1976, proved that understatement is often a virtue,
while Mogwai delivered their strongest set in some time with Every Country’s Sun (****). Kikagaku
Moyo contributed further psychedelic noise on Stone Garden(****), while Brian Eno’s most immersive ambient piece in some time
came in the form of Reflection
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross recorded an effective cover of
John Carpenter’s Halloween (****),
alongside Nine Inch Nails’ Add Violence
EP (****). NIN’s classic 1990s releases Broken
(*****), The Downward Spiral (*****)
and The Fragile (****) were also
re-released in ‘definitive versions’.
Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s Blade Runner 2049 (***) score didn’t quite reach the majestic
heights of Vangelis’ original Blade
Runner soundtrack, but still contains some fine work (especially when you
skip the superfluous vocal tracks). Contrarily, Kyle Dixon and Michael Dixon’s
synth soundtrack to Stranger Things 2
(***) might have benefitted from some of the 1980s pop and metal songs used in
Paranoia and dread were potent driving forces in It Comes at Night (****), which features
strong lead performances from Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott.Armando Iannucci's satire The Death of Stalin(****) was as terrifying as it was amusing, with fine performances from an all-star British and American cast. Blade Runner 2049(****)
effectively evoked the atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s original film and featured
some fantastic visual effects, although there were perhaps too may action
scenes and a rather hammy performance from Jared Leto. Michael Keaton was in
fine form as McDonald’s guru Ray Kroc in the entertaining The Founder(****), while Jennifer Lawrence undertook one of her
most challenging roles yet in Mother!
(****) was a tense re-telling of a novel by Nikolai Leskov, filmed in the
north east of the UK, while Rachel Weisz starred in the more lavish period drama
My Cousin Rachel(***). Natalie
Portman was effective in Jackie
(***), while Fences (***) suffered a
little in translation from the stage. T2 Trainspotting(***) had some interesting things to say about memory and
nostalgia, but suffered from some predictable plot devices and an ugly soundtrack.
Manchester by the Sea (***) and The Levelling (***) were both reasonably
gripping family dramas.
brought the Patrick Stewart-era X-Men
franchise to a violent-but-poignant end. The divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi (***) was entertaining in parts but also
overlong, with a reliance on unnecessary sub-plots and CGI critters reminiscent
of the atrocious prequel trilogy.
I didn’t find much time for drama this year, although my
reviews of Hedda Gabbler and Playing Up 4 at Northern Stage can be
found on this blog.
Twin Peaks: The Return (*****) was unpredictable, baffling, infuriating, amusing and at times genuinely terrifying; David Lynch has raised the bar once again. Netflix's The Sinner (****) was a disquieting and absorbing drama exploring repressed memory, while the BBC's Line of Duty (****) was as tense as ever in its fourth series. Stranger Things 2 (***) was an enjoyable sequel to the first season, although not without its flaws. The Handmaid's Tale (***) effectively brought Margaret Atwood's dystopian vision to life – at a time when its lessons particularly bear repeating – although there were a few curious diversions from the source material. Game of Thrones (**) seemed on something of a crash-course this season, with very questionable plotting and some lacklustre performances, although it remains an effective spectacle at times.
The Word in South Shields is currently home to a Ridley Scott-themed exhbition, 'Past Present & Future Visionary'. Degree students from the Cleveland College of Art and Design have recreated props and costumes from Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and more.
Replica Ripley jumpsuit
Signed script and alien egg
Blade Runner display
Voight Kampff machine
J.F. Sebastian costume
The exhibition runs until the 2nd of May. Entry is free.
members are warned about loud gunshots upon entering Northern Stage for the current
production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler;
they are also warned, by means of an added subtitle, that ‘this is not a love
bare table and chairs sit in front of large, tarnished mirror panels which reflect and distort the action on-stage.
Insistent drums, synthesized squeals and discordant piano announce the entrance
of the cast, as maids prepare for the arrival of JørgenTesman
and his recent bride, Hedda Gabler.
Gaughan gives a wonderful performance as Tesman, the shambling, earnest
academic who yearns to satisfy his demanding wife but whose mind is focused firmly
on Dutch cottage industries. Victoria Elliott is also strong as Hedda, strutting around
in a dressing gown as if at a ball, manipulating her companions as a means of escape from the
tedium of married life. Electric
drones and red lights signal the start of ‘rage reveries’ in which Hedda vents
her frustration at those around her: Donald McBride’s scheming Judge Brack, Rachel
Denning’s nervous Thea Elvsted, the oblivious Tesman and his tiresome devotion to his ageing
aunts. It is the return of Tesman’s reformed rival
Eilert Lövborg (Scott Turnbull) to the town which gives Hedda her chance: in a
world where women are refused control, she plots to take charge of Eilert’s
destiny. Equating destruction with the beauty she seeks, she perpetuates his undoing and casts his manuscript into the
the production comes to a disappointing end when Hedda rises from the dead to heckle the
rest of the company, tearing off her corset to reveal the slogan ‘Knowledge is
power’. The abrupt ending of Ibsen’s play, where Brack, Tesman and Thea are
left in total confusion at Hedda’s brutal suicide, is much more subversive: like
Iago, she will never speak a word from that time forth. Neither logic nor
insanity can explain her actions. Hedda Gabbler runs until Wednesday 8th March.
Tickets are available here.
For its fourth
installment, Playing Up relocated to Northern Stage for a sold-out performance
of seven short plays. It may have been trying to snow outside, but the audience
was treated to an infernally hot auditorium. But the play’s the thing…
‘Bingo Wings’ came first, in which pious vicar Peter (Richard Gardner) and
slightly lascivious bingo caller Graham (Kevin Gibson) compete for the
attention of their waning crowds. The performances were slightly hesitant, but
the play featured some humorous turns of phrase and drew a good reaction from
Robertson’s ‘Ganymede’ followed, and was the highlight of the evening. Actor
Francis (Colin Jeffrey) receives a visit backstage from his friend Gary (a
subtly nuanced performance from Alex Blenkey) after a performance of As You Like It, and the two discuss changing
views on gender and sexuality from the ‘fluid’ Shakespearean period to a more ‘defined’
modern world. These were interesting characters, well established during this
short performance, and I wanted to see more.
theatre to the modern office environment: Chris Wilkins’ ‘Cow Juice’ began as a
convincing portrait, featuring stand-up meetings and ‘scrums’, but veered close
to farce in its later stages. Myopic middle-manager Hurn (Chris Iddon) terrorises
his office juniors while attempting to curry favour with his superiors (a
convincing performance from Zoe Hakin as Bridget). Wilkins’ ‘Smile!’ was one of
the highlights of the previous Playing Up, but at times this play felt like an
excuse for the actors to shout and swear. However, the performance generated an
enthusiastic response from the audience, and the withering manner in which
consumers were defined by their supermarket milk preferences was highly
The second half began with Sharon Zucker’s ‘A Moment’, in which Alice
(Sara Jo Harrison) celebrates her female attributes (‘Her Breasts’, portrayed
by Donna Tonkinson). I had reservations about the premise, but the play turned
out to be a moving tale, beginning with a retrospective history of shared
experience (Alice’s body developing physically as she progresses emotionally
through puberty to adulthood, motherhood, and towards marriage). The play then
shifts to a Miami bar, where Alice is faced with difficult choices.
Lewis Cuthbert’s ‘Chad’ featured a committed performance from David
Parker as obnoxious former child star Chad Schweizer, star of the ‘Geek-O-Tron’
and ‘Weenies’ series. Perhaps more of a straightforward satire than some of Cuthbert’s
earlier work (although given Parker’s Woody Allen-esque delivery, there were
still plenty of neuroses on display!) The play’s reliance on pre-recorded voices
was a little alienating, but the main character’s frantic dialogue was warmly
Next the evening took an unfortunately ugly turn with Katie Ann Hunter’s
‘Misophonia’: a grotesque piece about a new mother suffering from a fear of certain noises, as well as apparent post-natal
depression. This short play led
predictably from sleepless nights and domestic arguments to infanticide. A
facile piece of writing which did not explore the complex issues involved, opting instead for archetypal characters and distorted wailing
noises. I'll stick with Eraserhead.
And finally, modern airport procedures in the post-9/11 era: John
Harrison’s ‘Scanners’ allowed the audience to eavesdrop on the egregious
jobsworths at a baggage check-in department. I’m sure that anyone who has
travelled by air in the last 15 years can relate, although this apparently under-rehearsed
piece lost its way when one of the actors forgot their dialogue.
Playing Up 4 benefitted
from Northern Stage’s technical support (the sound was noticeably better than
at Playing Up 3), but the quality of
the writing was variable on this occasion. Perhaps some more time rehearsing
would also help matters, but when Playing Up is good, it is very good indeed.
My fiancée and I co-wrote this pantomime with Bill Miller for the Players of Sacred Heart (POSH) which is being performed at Sacred Heart Parish Hall from Thursday 26th January – Saturday 28th January 2017.
My fiancée is directing, and I am producing, peforming and providing the music and sound effects.
The kingdom is ruled
by Sultan Jeffrey, who is stark raving mad. His sister, the evil
sorceress Jaffa, has been banished to Sunderland, but is plotting her
Meanwhile, Widow Flash is having a tough time running
the city laundrette – and her layabout sons aren’t much help. Aladdin
dreams of being a famous actor and marrying the Princess Jinja, and Daz
wants to be a magician, but his spells always backfire. When Aladdin
finds a magic lamp in the Cave of Wonders, he gets the chance to help
his family and marry the fair princess, but as always, things aren’t
quite that simple…
Tickets are £5 for adults and £3 for children. Ticket price includes a free glass of wine/orange juice or cup of tea.
2016 was a tumultuous year which saw the election of Donald Trump in America, while in the UK a slight majority voted to leave the European Union. It was also a bad time to be famous as David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Andrew Sachs, Richard Adams, Harper Lee and John Glenn all passed away.
David Bowie's unexpected death followed very hard on the heels of his final studio album, Blackstar(*****), a cryptic, jazz-tinged opus which sits among his best work. Norwegian experimental band Ulver's latest album ATGCLVLSSCAP (*****) was a dense and largely instrumental release which fuses many different elements of their 23-year career. John Cale's harrowing 1982 album Music for a New Society(*****) was given a long overdue re-release, accompanied by M:FANS(***), an unnecessary but occasionally interesting set of contemporary reinterpretations of the original songs. Japanese band Mono pushed their instrumental rock to new extremes with Requiem for Hell(****), while Radiohead delivered their strongest set in quite some time with A Moon Shaped Pool(****). Further impressive instrumental albums came from Dextro in the shape of In the Crossing (****) and Russian Circles in Guidance (****).
Some interesting soundtrack work came from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein with their two-part synth score for Netflix's Stranger Things (****), and Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Mogwai and Gustavo Santaolalla teamed up to score Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary Before the Flood (****). Leonard Cohen exited the stage with a short, stark set of songs on You Want it Darker (****), and Nine Inch Nails brought the year to an agreeably noisy end with new E.P. Not the Actual Events (****).
Robert Eggers' debut The Witch (****) was a thought-provoking and haunting tale set in superstitious 17th Century New England. Tom McCarthy's Spotlight (****) chronicled The Boston Globe's shocking exposé of systematic child abuse by Roman Catholic priests, while László Nemes' debut Son of Saul (****) artfully used cinematic techniques to portray the horrors of life and death in an Auschwitz Sonderkommando.
The gloriously escapist Star Wars series gained its first anthology film, Rogue One (****), which deserves as much praise for its storytelling and characters as it does for its technical wizardry. In a year of powerful cinematic debuts, Brady Corbet's The Childhood of a Leader(****) was another strong contender, with a suitably aggressive orchestral score from Scott Walker. Quentin Tarantino returned to form with the slow-building western The Hateful Eight(****), and Jeremy Saulnier portrayed contemporary American neo-Nazism in Green Room (****), which features an alarming performance from Patrick Stewart.
Ciro Guerra's Heart of Darkness-esque Embrace of the Serpent (***) explored man's relationship with nature, which was also a large element of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's revenge epic The Revenant (***). Meanwhile, Louis Theroux drew attention to some of the more ludicrous aspects of Scientology in My Scientology Movie (***).
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen joined forces once again to perform in Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (****) at the Theatre Royal. The Cluny 2 hosted a night of short plays by new writers, Playing Up 3 (***), which featured the excellent 'Smile!' and 'No Response Required'.
'80s nostalgia infused Netflix's new show Stranger Things(*****), which borrows from Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, David Lynch and many others, combining the elements in a compelling manner. The Night Of(****) was an effective exploration of the legal system in contemporary America, featuring strong performances from Riz Ahmed and John Turturro, while the BBC succeeded with its big-budget production of War and Peace (****).
Season 6 of Game of Thrones (****) was a return to form, the multiple storylines developing with a refreshingly fast pace, and plotlines old and new collided dramatically in the third series of Line of Duty(****). Tension was equally high in John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager (****), while the very real dangers of climate change were explored in National Geographic's Before the Flood (****).
Further documentary work came from Louis Theroux in the form of 'Drinking to Oblivion', 'A Different Brain' and 'Savile' (****), while ITV chose to explore the dark side of celebrity in new drama National Treasure (***) starring Robbie Coltrane.
I entered the year reading Frank Herbert's Dune (*****), a monumental achievement in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Truman Capote's challenging 'non-fiction novel' In Cold Blood (*****) was a fascinating read, perhaps as much for its questionable veracity as for the author's painstaking research. Gitta Sereny'sInto that Darkness (****) provided a unique glimpse into the motivations of Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl, despite its occasional journeys off-topic.
I re-read Albert Camus' unfinished final novel The First Man (****), which offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of one of my favourite 20th Century novelists. The short stories in Daphne du Maurier's The Birds (****) are of a consistently high quality, as are the interconnected webs of the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights (****).
Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder (****), which was adapted into a film this year, offered insights into the nature of memory. Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (****) conjured up an impressive host of narrators, while his novel Wild Sheep Chase (****) explored allegorical themes via a slightly more conventional narrative structure. Meanwhile, Tom Wolfe mercilessly satirised the 1980s in The Bonfire of the Vanities (****), and the inspirations behind Christopher Isherwood's Berlin stories were documented in the revealing Christopher and His Kind (****).
The last time I was at The Cluny 2 in the Ouseburn, it was for an outrageously loud screening of Mogwai’s concert film ‘Burning’ – but this evening’s series of plays was introduced by Radio 2 staples Queen and Dire Straits, and a hastily circulated folder belonging to a certain ‘Captain Cuth’.
‘Playing Up’ is a group of local writers who perform their own work at various venues around Newcastle. You can see their blog here.
‘The Many Adventures of Captain Cuth’ was the evening’s first play. Written and performed by Colin Cuthbert, it is the tale of the world’s first Geordie superhero: the crude but well-intentioned Cuth, who vows to protect the streets from litterers (when he’s finished barfing) and lives in dread of his nemesis, ‘the bastard postman’. Colin’s solo performance featured some impressive switching between characters and some witty turns of phrase – but I do worry about the things he was doing to that poor monkey…
Next came ‘The Price of Coal’, written and directed by Peter Sagar. An interesting premise about trapped miners discussing social change was unfortunately lost in translation: the performance was marred by poor casting and technical problems.
The final play of the first half, The IRIRFYS App, was a greater success. John Faust, a slightly obnoxious everyman, discovers a mysterious app on his phone which promises fixed-term happiness; terms and conditions most definitely apply. The highlight of this piece was David Parker’s scheming Mr. Bub (first name ‘Beelzey’) and his ostentatious cigar: a very entertaining performance.
A brief interval allowed time for an overpriced glass of wine and an overheard conversation about a ‘nacho incident’.
Lewis Cuthbert’s ‘No Response Required’ is a disquieting piece about two brothers, one of whom is mute, living in an abandoned building. Their fading ‘Last Action Hero’ and ‘Games Master’ T-shirts reflect how today’s culture is tomorrow’s refuse. The play really came alive in this performance due to some fine acting from Craig Fairbairn and Johnny Porter, who really captured the transition from affable monologue to wild hysteria. Impressive stuff, but ‘No rest for the Wiccans’.
Sarah Gonnet’s ‘Box’ features an infantile teenager and her dysfunctional parents, and treads similar ground to the film ‘Room’. It was nice to hear Slint’s brooding ‘For Dinner…’ in-between scenes, but the play felt a little unfinished.
Chris Wilkins’ highly entertaining ‘Smile!’ brought the evening to a close. A TV gameshow host is trapped on a train with two members of the public and the world’s most sarcastic train conductor.
This sharply written piece raises interesting questions about the role that entertainment plays in our lives, and was complemented by fantastic performances from all four members of the cast. 'It's Dave. It's edgier'.