Too late to use, have some Edinburgh Fringe reviews!

Silver Lining & Jacksons Lane: ThrowbackUnderbelly Circus Hub on the Meadows (show run done now, dunno if it’ll pop up elsewhere later)

throwback

After having negotiated a bit of street theatre where seemingly random punters formed up and demonstrated the effectiveness of the Roman phalanx with their umbrellas, we went to the circus by accident!

My girlfriend loved it;  I definitely don’t regret it! ’90s pop, a loose charm and acrobatic beauty dried coats + held rain at bay.  I’m not qualified to tell you whether the advertising blurb’s telling the truth when it says this show features rising stars of British circus, but there was plenty of charisma in the room and it worked as well on sodden critics and eager children.

The Elephant Girls New Town Theater, 15.30pm, 25th-28th August

elephant

A solid one-woman play, but given the density of info and clash of class/gender/history/sexuality conjured up in the hour long timescale, is that really all?

I don’t mean to be harsh.  This tale of repressed truths and London gangland girls was well crafted, and revealed itself slowly and steadily.  The only trouble is, it felt like it could have been doing something more.

If I figure out what you’ll know when I’ve scripted a play of my own.

Loud PoetsScottish Storyelling Centre, 21.00, 25th-29th August

lp

Loud Poets can make you hang on a dice roll or hold yr breath for resolution. It all feels like an event. Needless to say, they are all utter bastards.

Shout outs to Tanya Evanson, who was the surprise guest on the night that we saw them, for adding cosmiconscious seasoning into the mix. Her words moved through time and space and when she pointed at me and it felt like magic.

Your guest will bring something else to the table; I hope they will be equally special.

Wil Greenway: The Way The City Ate the Stars Underbelly Med Quad, 16.10, 25th-28th August

city

An uncommonly beautiful juggling act, somehow the viewpoint expands as it homes in on a group of disparate characters heading to the same location. By the end you will be aware that Wil Greenway gives latecomers time/attention. & love.

Fraser Geesin: Jack of All Polymaths48 Below, 20.45, 25th-28th August

geesin

Total guff! When Scottish comics twitter descended on this show the comedian (Dr Fraser Geesin BA Hons) complained that we laughed too much and didn’t mention X-Men once in the ensuing “comedy” set!

For real though, Fraser’s a pal, so I know that he’s worried his stand-up’s too arch.  He shouldn’t be.  Fraser’s a big man with a caramel voice, and he’s not shy about looking ridiculous so the laffs come easy.

#TapsAff all the way big yin – yassssss!

The Recipe

yum

Here,
know what the worst part
of having a panic attack
about provoking a panic attack is?

It feel like performance art.
This thought… doesn’t help.
Hinders.
Makes it all feel like a symptom of an obvious lack.

This sort of chat got us here in the first place though,
head up the arse: nyum nyum nyum nyum!

Really Positive Response (Ltd.)

Okay, so once you get over the hangover/intense sense of mortification, it turns out that standing in the street in a stupid jacket trying to convince people you know how to save the world is fun.

Who knew?

green holyrood

Don’t worry, I’ll slip out of campaign mode in a minute!

First: it’s always important to remember how little political nerd points and twitter beefs matter to most folk, and it genuinely did feel like we had something to say to anyone who wanted a more involved conversation, which was reassuring. If I wanted to “win” at politics on the internet, I’d have stayed a twitter Marxist forever: I’m only bothering to embarrass myself like this because I genuinely think there’s an opportunity to nudge a bit of power back into peoples’ hands, and to build towards a future that’s not totally horrible for everyone.

Anyway, enough blether, on to some of the funnier/less friendly responses!

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High Rise // Ruin Value // Alt Mix

I keep thinking about High Rise and Dredd. It’s an obvious comparison, maybe – as my main man Mister Attack says, it’s there in all the establishing shots – but also a strangely inappropriate one on some levels. We’re dealing with the wrong sort of carnivalesque here, I think, and that makes me wonder: what would it take to establish these soap opera grotesques in a stern action movie context?

Maybe an unsubtle political joke? One you might find in a narky, anti-authoritarian kids comic? One that might work better in 2000AD than it does in a J.G. Ballard adaptation?

Enter the voice of Lady Thatcher, invoked by an unfussed child who has spent the whole movie straining to glimpse the future through the carnage, those withering tones broadcasting over a makeshift radio, talking about market capitalism and the triumph of individual freedom:

Well, okay, that’s from Hellblazer #3 by John Ridgway and Jamie Delano, but you get the idea.

Wheatley, Jump, Hiddlestone and co perform a series of demolitions in High Rise, all of which are more effectively executed than certain real world efforts in my neck of the woods have been – if less slick than others.

In the source novel, Ballard collapses Royal’s vision of building as crucible into Laing’s professional purview: social space blurs into inner space, and is transformed into a strange parody of the workings of the mind // a testament to its capacity for destruction. Wheatley and Jump collapse Ballard’s vision into something far grubbier, a lower order of unreality, one full of League of Gentleman-esque grotesques, slow motion dance scenes, and moments where it seems that the audience may yet dream their way into a Benny Hill sketch. Some viewers have been repelled by the film’s deliberatelydated bacchanalia, but this sort of discord is Wheatley and Jump’s speciality.

I’ve not seen Down Terrace but Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England are equal parts mystical England and mysteriously persistent bowel complaint, and so it proves with the urban alienation of High Rise. The big ideas are still there, in other words, communicated in the Gilliam-edged simulation of period details, in matter of fact dialogue that matches Portishead’s cover of Abba’s ‘SOS’ for manic joylessness, and in cuts that don’t so much jump as flicker (like failing lights // firing neurons?).

Why, then, does the movie need to underline its demonstration of the way grand modernizing plans and atomized/liberated living condition can act as multipliers of brutality by gazing out at the audience and saying “A bit like Thatcher, innit?”

These flaws are built into the foundation of the work, in the occasional Watchmen-esque dialogue that doesn’t so much ask as demand that the viewer see double – Laing is “finished” at the start of the movie, and concludes it by explaining that he has been talking “to the building” in case you hadn’t realized that you were already living there. Like the final flourish, these elements feel like they belong in other modes/media. To keen to make a case for their cleverness, they somehow make the film feel trashier than it otherwise might, opening up the path to Dredd ramping in on his Lawmaster, or the Attack the Block crew stepping up to defend the whole mess from getting even worse.

These are the only things that you can build on these shaky foundations: enjoyment of a lightly ironized authoritarianism, or the thrill of finding a sort of desperate camaraderie in the ruins. I’ve thrilled at less before and will again, but honestly, it’s not enough and you know it.

If High Rise has any true value it’s in reigniting the urge to rip it up and start again.

In the end, this is one program of urban regeneration I can actually get behind. Better to demolish High Rise than to continue to live in it, and even if I don’t want to pretend that my aesthetic critiques – critiques of weaknesses so tantalising that I could fill them with fan fiction, small textual insecurities that show me the ways I find to survive here a little too clearly – are a substitute for new social thinking, this combative mode is more promising than Laing’s sense of equilibrium in chaos.

Look outside: the future’s already here // already ruined. What are you going to do with it?

Five Questions for the Future of Scottish Politics – an update!

Back in October, I asked five questions about the future of Scottish politics.  The idea was to look at questions that would be pertinant over the next few years, but a lot of my thinking was based on the EU referendum being held in 2017 rather than in three months’ time, so this gives me a reasonable excuse to look at these issues again.

What can I say, as much as the 2015 general election took it out of me, I didn’t foresee this horror:

garage

Once you’re done applying the mind bleach, let’s have a look at those questions again and see if any of them have been answered or otherwise made redundant…

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One from the notepad

I found this poem about my dad while I was clearing out some old notes last week.  As far as I can remember I decided not to do any more work on this because I thought the concept was a bit too sentimental, but I’ll allow myself the indulgence in the circumstances.

‘Remember that time at Universal Studios?’

“There I am, just walking about!”
So strange now that my dad’s mobility
Is confined to old VHS tapes
A relic of dead technology.

Forget about the new stuff, the chair
The hoist, the lift – nah!
If you want to get back up the stairs
You’ll find a black box there to do the trick.

Fast forward, rewind, up and down he goes:
Fuck starring in Star Trek, this is magic!

Eric Sturgeon Allison RIP

dad

My dad died in the early hours of Friday 19th February 2016, and while I’m glad to be able to say that his last moments were peaceful, nothing can fill the absence he leaves in the world. Having been delirious last weekend, he snapped back into focus on Tuesday and seemed to be recovering well by Wednesday evening. While this means that this morning has come as a brutal shock to the family, I’m grateful that we had the opportunity to speak to the man properly this week, to experience the weirdness of his brain one last time, to discover fresh examples of its dark humours (“I’m on the bottle, your mother’s shooting up – some parents”), and to let him know that we had been there for him throughout it all.

He told us that he would never tire of having us there to visit. I only hope that he knew how much he was loved in return, not just by his family but by everyone he met.

Let’s not fuck about: multiple sclerosis made the last couple of decades of my father’s life a constant struggle. It’s been hard on him, and on my mum, and on everyone who’s watched him lose his strength and once ample capability. He never lost his charm or determination though, never stopped trying to do things, whether that meant working from home or washing the dishes or latterly just feeding himself. My dad’s been more in demand at parties than me for a while now, and rightly so – given the choice, I’d definitely rather speak to him than myself.  I know he was frustrated by his inability to keep up with computer technology as everything moved to a touch screen format that was no use to him, but my weekly battles with this desktop computer have been a testament to his determination to keep learning how to do new things.  We should all be so tenacious.

My dad made new friends everywhere he went.  You can count how many people in any social gathering have met my dad by how many of them are asking after him at every opportunity.  He will be missed.

tin

To be selfish for a moment: this man made me, not just literally but spiritually.  He read me Lord of the Rings when I was a baby and inflicted Richard Thompson and King Crimson on me throughout my childhood, thus dooming me to a life of baroque, grumpy fantasy and reactions against the same.  I can’t think of a better upbringing, even if I did cringe that time he blasted ‘Yankee Go Home’ as we drove a rental car down International Drive. (This memory of his over-enthusiasm comes bound up in another one, of his creative kindness, of him comforting me as my ears popped on the return journey by putting on a sketch about a drunken ET as we landed. I hope I never forget this; I doubt I ever will.) He also made time to learn how to play Magic the Gathering with his awkward lump of a teenage son – no easy task for a busy adult! – and to challenge me when I was taking ridiculous pride in some petty victory, or allowing the opinions of idiots to define me, or being a total fanny about filling in job applications (I had principles, maaaaan).

To be less selfish: I do not think that I have ever seen anything as beautiful as the attempts he made to comfort my mum this week while he was clearly in a lot of pain.  Those of you who know my family will know that my mother’s health isn’t exactly sparkling, and there are stories of my dad looking out for her that are plainly heroic.  Once, when he realised my mum was dangerously far along a diabetic hypo in the middle of the night, he rolled out of his side of the bed and pulled himself round to the phone on her side of the bed using his one working arm.  They subsequently moved the phone beside him, a choice that removed some of the potential for high drama from their lives, but made life a hell of a lot easier for him if he had to call an ambulance in the middle of the night.

young eric

My words can’t conjure my dad as he was, and as I wish he still could be.  I don’t know enough about his life as a tax inspector or as a guy you’d play football with or as a son or a brother to do him justice.  I helped him print off a booklet full of in-jokes for his pals’ golf outing but I wasn’t there to see him earn the booby prize. All I know is that I love him, and that his memory will burn bright in the mind of all those who knew him, rendering all of the above unnecessary.