Edinburgh

Arctic Oil

11/10/18

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Ella (Neshla Kaplan) is a committed environmental activist, currently stranded on the remote Scottish island where she grew up. She and her infant son have been living near her widowed mother, Margret (Jennifer Black) and she has been going stir crazy. So, under the pretext of visiting London to attend a friend’s wedding, Ella has covertly planned to head off to an Arctic oil rig to join a team of activists in a potentially dangerous protest, leaving Margret to babysit her grandson. But Ella has underestimated Margaret, who is wise to her daughter’s plan and determined to keep her out of harm’s way. With this in mind, she lures Ella into the bathroom of the family home, then promptly locks the door and swallows the key.

What follows is a tightly constructed two-hander as mother and daughter argue, debate the future of the planet and uncover old grievances. Margret is quick to point out that the island on which they live is dependent on oil company investment. The industry provided work for her late husband, when he was in dire financial straits; and besides, instead of trying to change hearts and minds, shouldn’t Ella be more concerned with being a responsible mother to her son?

For Ella, it’s all about the future of that son and the doomed planet on which he’ll be expected to exist. It’s about the destruction of one of the world’s last true wildernesses, the inexorable rise of global warming  – and the fact that if nobody takes a stand on this issue now, then its all headed for hell in a hand basket.

There are two strong performances here and, apart from a  few nitpicks – would news of what’s happened to the oil rig protesters reach the mainstream media quite as promptly as it does, for example – Clare Duffy delivers a prescient tale that raises plenty of important questions. Gareth Nichols directs with a sure hand and I love the ingenious set, designed by Nichols and Kevin McCallum, which is built to withstand the onslaught of Ella’s rigorous attempts to kick her way through that locked door.

Perhaps, ultimately, this is all questions and precious few answers, but it’s nonetheless a thoughtful piece, which arrives at a time when the world has been publicly warned of the dire consequences of global warming. But, at its heart, this is far more about the mother-daughter relationship, and the love that underpins all their differences.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Rebus: Long Shadows

09/10/18

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s most famous detective is making his theatrical debut, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how the iconic character fares in his home town. But we spend all day unsure if the play is going ahead after lead actor Charles Lawson was taken ill on-stage last night – the sort of dramatic twist nobody wants to experience. We wish him a speedy recovery. In the meantime, we’re relieved to hear that understudy Neil McKinven has stepped into the role, and that the show will go on.

Long Shadows is a new, original Rebus story, co-written specifically as a piece of theatre by Ian Rankin and Rona Munro. It’s a sensible decision: instead of shoe-horning a complex novel into a two-hour slot, this tale is suited to its form, and pared down, free of the literary clutter that scuppers so many adaptations. It fits into the novels’ time line though: this is retired Rebus, unable to let the job go, still haunted by the ghosts of all the crimes he didn’t solve.

In this incarnation, though, the ghosts are made flesh, with murdered teenagers Maggie (Eleanor House) and Angela (Dani Heron) given a formidably physical presence, a sort of chorus of the dead. I like this device: it gives the girls a voice, makes them real characters instead of mere victims, showing us their combined strength instead of focusing on their frailty. There’s also wit in using these ghosts as stage hands, making the scene transitions seamless, and emphasising the idea that the girls help shape the narrative.

We’re in cold case territory. DI Siobhan Clarke (Cathy Tyson), Rebus’s longterm sidekick, finally has the chance to see known killer, Mordaunt (played tonight by Andy Paterson), pay for his crimes. Technology has improved, and there’s DNA evidence tying him to Angela’s murder, twenty-five years ago. He’s got away with it so far, and Siobhan is determined not to let any loose ends threaten this opportunity to take him off the streets. She visits Rebus to see what he remembers, to see if he has any idea what the defence might have hidden up its sleeve.

Inevitably, all roads lead to Cafferty, Rebus’s Moriarty, played here with great aplomb by John Stahl. He’s exactly as I imagine him from the books, all machismo and panache, charm and thuggery. And Maggie’s death, seventeen years ago, is woven expertly into the mix, brought to mind by the arrival on Rebus’s stair of her teenage daughter, Heather. It’s a clever plot, with twists and turns that keep me guessing. I can’t deny it’s all quite expositional, a lot of telling-not-showing of the past; we’re watching people sit and talk about events rather than seeing them unfold before our eyes. But it’s enlivened by the presence of those ghosts, the gobby teenagers who won’t be shut up, and by strong performances all round.

McKinven does a sterling job. In the first act, he’s faultless: the role belongs to him. He does have a script in the second act, but he doesn’t refer to it often. It makes sense: the first act is much more of an ensemble piece, and McKinven, in his usual multiple roles, clearly knows this section well. But the latter half is essentially a three-hander between Rebus, Cafferty and Clarke; presumably McKinven has habitually spent this time in his dressing room, relaxing, before appearing briefly in the concluding scene. No matter, the script stuffed into his pocket doesn’t look out of place – Rebus is always carrying case files around. And he only seems to need it to place what’s coming next: he’s acting the dialogue, not reading it. And maybe, by tomorrow, he won’t need it at all. Either Lawson will be back, or McKinven will have learned the lines.

The set, designed by Ti Green, is perhaps my favourite thing about this whole production. I love the simplicity of it, the economy. There are no unnecessary props or pieces of scenery; it’s as uncluttered as the script. But it’s wonderfully evocative: Edinburgh’s tall grey walls and winding paths, tunnels and closes, stairs and bridges, all there at once, their purpose and atmosphere changing with the light. It’s almost breathtaking when the streets of the Old Town are turned instantaneously into a glass penthouse on the Quartermile by the stupidly simple method of lighting the side panels from behind. It’s a revelation as remarkable as those related to the crime.

So, a welcome addition to the Rebus pantheon, and certainly a must-see for fans of the irascible ex-detective.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Calendar Girls the Musical

02/10/18

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

As the curtains rise at the Festival Theatre, we can’t help but notice that the look of this production has changed considerably since we first saw it in Manchester in January 2015. Back then, Tim Firth’s latest version of this story was known simply as The Girls, and the set comprised a huge heap of lockers, piled higgledy-piggly one on top of another. Now, we find ourselves looking at a rather fabulous Yorkshire landscape, where a stone wall and a gate overlook a surprisingly convincing valley, complete with woodland and a picturesque cottage. At various points, that landscape opens up wider perspectives, as though stretching itself towards new horizons. The script has been worked on too, though it remains unremittingly focused on a small town in Yorkshire and on the close-knit community that lives there. Calendar Girls is, after all, based on real life.

Annie (Anna-Jane Casey)’s husband, John (Phil Corbitt), is suffering from leukaemia. As he goes steadfastly through chemotherapy, assuring his wife that everything will be fine, she relies heavily on her best friend, Chris (Rebecca Storm), and on the local WI, whose meetings are presided over by the officious Marie (Fern Britton, who – despite never having really acted before – is clearly a natural: funny and charismatic in the role). Marie is strictly old school, a  ‘jam and Jerusalem’ diehard who seems intent on keeping her members strictly in line. But, when tragedy inevitably strikes, Chris comes up with a novel way of raising money for a memorial – but how far are the other members of the group prepared to go in order to back her up?

The truth is, we all know exactly how far: the Knapely WI’s nude calendar was an international phenomenon. So there are no surprises here – but that’s really not the point. What we have is a beautifully articulated tale of humanity: of life and death and love and loss, of generations learning to accept each other, and people working together to support one another, through all the trials and tribulations thrown their way.

There’s a real sense here – more signposted than in the previous version – of transience: the seasons’ passing is illustrated by changing light and blossoming trees; there’s a slow recognition that the current crop of teenagers should be allowed their indiscretions, that time will turn them into adults soon enough; they’ll turn out okay, just like their parents have.  It’s a truly heartwarming piece, with community at its core.

The music complements the story perfectly, illuminating the characters’ lives. And it’s memorable too (well, of course it is: if there’s one thing Gary Barlow knows how to do, it’s how to write a hit song). There are melancholy ballads here – the story demands them, and they’re genuinely emotive – but there’s an overwhelmingly upbeat mood to the whole piece, a lively positivity that means we’re smiling through our tears. Not all of the performers are stellar singers, but it’s cleverly cast, so that the most demanding songs are sung by those who really can do them justice, with AJ Casey, Rebecca Storm and Karen Dunbar (Cora, the vicar’s daughter and reluctant organist) all showing they have exactly what it takes. The choral numbers are impressive too.

This is feelgood theatre at its best – and you’re bound to leave the auditorium humming, with the sound of ‘Yorkshire’ in your head.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Trenchtown

 

29/09/18

Gilmore Place, Edinburgh

‘Good things come to those who wait.’

How many times have I heard that said? The thought crosses my mind more than once as we sit in Trenchtown waiting for our food to arrive. Okay, it’s a Saturday night and the place is packed with hungry punters, so we’re not expecting miracles here, but…. maybe I need to get into the Jamaican vibe a little more. Everything in it’s own time, right? Only, I’m hungry.

We’ve been meaning to try this Caribbean eaterie for some time and tonight, in the company of good friends, seems a propitious time to give it a whirl. We are initially charmed. We like the lively, bustling ambiance of the place, we enjoy the eclectic design replete with vibrant murals and shanty town/beach hut trappings. We enjoy the pulsing reggae music that throbs urgently in the background and the staff are as cheerful and friendly as you could reasonably expect of people who are dashing back and forth trying to feed battalions of diners. But it’s still a good hour before anything more nutritious than Red Stripe lager arrives at our table.

Luckily, the food, when it finally comes is well worth waiting for, simply served on enamelled plates or from stainless steel mess tins. Nice touch. There are four of us so we decide to maximise our options and share a range of starters. There’s fiery fried squid, light and crispy, coated in panko crumb and sprinkled with mango mole, coriander and lime mayonnaise. There’s a bowl of jerk wings, marinated for 24 hours in a finger-lickingly sticky sauce. There are Trinidadian doubles – bara roti flatbreads coated with spiced chickpeas, mango chutney and shredded coconut (these are quite the ugliest things on the table, but have a lovely earthy flavour that more than makes up for their homely appearance). And there are sweetcorn fritters, liberally coated with spiced mango and lime sauce, as light and crunchy as you like, but challengingly spiced, so that even the most hardened of us can’t resist letting out an ‘oof’ when we take a bite. Those who prefer milder things, please take note: these may be too much for you!

So far, so good. For the main course, I have chosen jerk beef ribs and when they eventually arrive, I’m very pleased with the look of them. There are two thick lengths of rib on the plate, thickly coated with meat so tender it’s virtually sliding off the bone. They are garnished with sweet onion chutney, there’s some crunchy lime and coriander chow, a dressed salad and a side of spicy French fries. The latter are a bit ‘meh,’ evidently frozen and sprinkled with paprika, but the rest of it is very nice indeed. Susan opts for the Trini chicken curry, which comprises a chicken breast cooked in coconut milk with mango. This comes with a side of rice and peas. Again, its nicely executed. The meat is succulently tender and the rice is fluffy and delicious. The portions are all on the generous side, so much so that we find ourselves unable to even contemplate a pudding. Which is a rare occurrence but maybe no bad thing.

The bill comes and we’re genuinely surprised at the price, which – with two rounds of drinks – comes in at less than £25 per head. We’ve enjoyed our visit to Trenchtown, despite that long wait for service. Maybe the answer is to visit earlier in the week, when it’s less rammed. Or maybe they need to put on some more staff at the weekends. Or maybe I just need to chill.

Because the food is really very good.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Grand Cru

15/09/18

Hanover Street, Edinburgh

It’s that rare beast: a Saturday where we have nothing particular planned, and a yearning to play out. Just as we’re wondering what direction our day will take, an email pops up, informing us that Grand Cru’s special lunch costs only £8.95 for two courses. Can this be true? We google the menu and it looks pretty impressive; the trip advisor reviews are decent too.

So we decide to head there for a late-ish lunch. And we’re really glad we do. Because, for the price, this is mighty fine.

There’s a friendly, informal atmosphere: a long bar and lots of nooks and crannies. We’re seated in the main area, and it’s buzzing – but even though it’s busy, we’re not too close to other diners and have plenty of room.

Philip begins with a caprese salad of mozzarella, tomatoes and avocado. It’s a generous portion, and the balsamic vinegar it’s topped with is as thick and sticky as can be. Delish! I have mussels in tomato sauce, which are served with a slice of warm, home-made bread. The mussels are perfect: big and soft and so plentiful I have to ask Philip to help me finish them. He’s more than happy to oblige, especially as the tomato sauce they’re in is rich and deeply satisfying. We’re off to a great start!

For his main, Philip opts for classic fish and chips – or, more accurately, angel cut Scottish haddock, cooked in home-made beer batter and served with chips and garden peas. The batter is hot and crispy; the fish perfectly cooked. The chips – often the weak point on a cheap menu like this – are lovely: clearly fresh rather than frozen, exactly as they need to be.

My beetroot and blue cheese risotto is a bit more unusual, but it’s really interesting and I enjoy it immensely. The flavours are strong and it’s very filling; we definitely don’t need the side of mac’n’cheese we’ve ordered to share, which matches nothing else on our plates, but we can’t resist (we never can say no when mac’n’cheese is on offer). It’s tasty and indulgent but quite unnecessary. Oh well.

We’re delighted to see a Willows End New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the menu for a mere £22 and, after polishing it off, decide we’re too full to even think about pudding.

We’re sated; we’re happy; we’ve had a lovely time. And the bill comes in at £43. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be back again.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Ishka

11/08/18

Morrison Street, Edinburgh

Four years ago today, we got married – so we take an evening off from reviewing so we can celebrate (we don’t see fewer shows, we just cram them in earlier) and take ourselves off to Ishka on nearby Morrison Street, where we order a bottle of New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and plan to take things very easy. There’s a card on our table wishing us a happy anniversary, which is a lovely touch, and sets the tone for the friendly service we receive all evening.

There are some interesting flourishes on the menu: the artisanal bread, for instance, comes with tomato butter, which sounds like something we’ll enjoy. Sadly, though, this is a bit of a let down – the butter is nice enough, but the bread has been sliced too thinly and clearly left out for a while, so that it’s dry and unappetising.

Still, we fare better with the rest of what we order. Philip has a pigeon breast to start, which comes with berry jam, a black pudding croquette, diced beetroot candy and a pistachio nut soil. It’s delicious: rich and strongly flavoured, and beautifully presented. I have asparagus and chicken, accompanied by a boiled egg and a lemon and flaked almond dressing; it’s as light and refreshing as it sounds, and I enjoy every mouthful.

Philip’s main course is lamb rump; the meat is very good, but the star of the show is the pearl barley and button mushroom cream broth it’s served on, a robust yet delicately flavoured base. I have Atlantic cod: the fish is perfectly cooked, and I even find myself enjoying the accompanying garlic and coriander poached fennel, although it’s not a vegetable I usually like. The ‘layer potato cake’ is a little dry, but all in all, it’s a decent plate.

The puddings sound more sumptuous on the menu than they are in reality; there’s nothing at all wrong with either Philip’s apple and chocolate (apple compôte, light sponge with crème pat and chocolate ice cream, caramel sauce and nut clusters) or my elderflower and raspberry (elderflower cheesecake, raspberry macaron, muesli soil, peach crisps and peach purée), but nor are they as lip-smackingly, groaningly wonderful as a good pud can be.

We eschew coffee, heading out to the pub instead, for a final drink and a cheers to us. Ishka is a friendly, stylish place, and we’ve enjoyed our evening.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Garrett Millerick: Sunflower

10/08/08

The Tron, Edinburgh

Garrett Millerick is a bit of a favourite with Bouquets & Brickbats. Last year, with The Dreams that Stuff is Made Of, he seemed to be in a very dark place indeed, delivering a set that pulsed with anger and derision. It’s a happier, healthier looking man who steps onto the tiny stage of the Tron, to deliver his latest creation, Sunflower, a title that also seems to suggest we’re in for a brighter experience, this time around. Sure enough, within moments of his very first utterance, the audience is howling with laughter.

Which is ironic when you consider that later on, the show incorporates a moment of such intense personal pain that, for a few moments, we’re literally shocked into stunned silence. The way Millerick expertly reels us back towards the laughs is a testament to his skills as a raconteur. Few comedians can manage to walk such a slippery tightrope quite so effortlessly.

As Millerick is quick to point out, the titles of Fringe shows are decided on long before August – and indeed, it had been his intention to bring something happier this time around. But life has a way of intervening in people’s best-laid plans and Millerick has done a great job of snatching triumph from the jaws of adversity. What he presents instead is a kind of meta-comedy, laying bare the show’s construction, and inviting us to consider the nature of humour.

This show mixes elements of humour and despair with great aplomb. It also features a certain Chesney Hawkes song to great effect. You want to know how? You’ll find the answer at the Tron.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney