Apr 222019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Doorways in Drumorty @ Aberdeen Arts Centre

Doorways in Drumorty is loosely based on the writings of a Strichen lass by the name of Lorna Moon who made it big in Hollywood.

Alongside her one published novel Dark Star, Lorna – born Helen Nora Wilson Low – escaped her native Buchan age 24 in around 1910.

Broken relationships and abandoned offspring followed before the talented, and by now re-badged, Lorna Moon took up with the son of Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeMille and forged a successful career as a scriptwriter.

Her short stories, first published in Century Magazine, feature a clutch of thinly disguised Buchan folk and pull few punches. Titles such as ‘The Sinning of Jessie MacLean’ and ‘Feckless Maggie Ann’ did not endear her to the locals and, in true Lewis Grassic Gibbon tradition, legend insists that her books were shunned by the local library service.

Penned by author/playwright Mike Gibb the play explores the curtain twitching mentality of small-town Buchan. Questionable morality, dubious loyalty, fractured community and tightly held family bonds inhabit the tale and through the course of a series of vignettes the reality of a century old Buchan community is revealed warts and all.

A three-hander – Estrid Barton, Fraser Sivewright and Lucy Goldie take on some dozen roles – Doorways is at points humorous, poignant and even tragic.

Neatly bookended by Lucy Goldie’s Lorna Moon in full 1920’s flapper gear the play hits hard.

A heavily pregnant and destitute Bella Tocher is banished from Drumorty to fend as best she can. A new minister unwisely accepts a dinner invitation and is labelled a thief, the local dentist elopes with the postmistress and – following the theft of a chicken – an innocent infant is subject to divine retribution.

Gossip, double-standards and rumour-mongering infest the close-knit community but of course:

“You’re only the gossip on the street until something more interesting comes along.”

Set and lighting are simple and reek of a more austere era. Fast paced, the character changes are at times difficult to follow leaving some of the audience at least lagging behind the action on stage.

However eventually, when it becomes clear that this is not a tale about Lorna Moon but is a tale based on her writings, the building blocks slide into place.
As for the title; there is speculation that alongside revelling in the name Lorna Moon – she had taken up with Walter Moon in around 1913 – Lorna was a great admirer of kailyard authors such as Ian MacLaren and J.M. Barrie.

Barrie’s ‘Window in Thrums’ and MacLaren’s ‘Drumtochty’ provide some clue as to the provenance of the ‘Doorways in Drumorty’ header.

As Lorna, an admirer of Barrie seemingly said:

“I’d rather be Barried than buried.”

This is in essence an important play and seems destined to re-awaken interest in a woman who, although ruthless in her pursuit of career, nevertheless put the likes of Strichen on the map.

Mind you, at the final curtain and despite the loud applause, it was hard to shed the notion that the long-gone folk in the Buchan graveyards were still cockin’ a lug and shakin’ their heids at the pure cheek o’ the lass.

Stars: 4/5
Produced by Andy Corelli and written by Mike Gibb, Doorways in Drumorty will tour 18 venues across Scotland between 18 April – 18 May 2019

Click here for tour dates and tickets.

Words © Duncan Harley. Images © Andy Corelli

Apr 112019
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The Little History of Aberdeenshire’.

Duncan Harley’s fascinating new book is described as a little history of Aberdeenshire, yet covers a 4,000 year time span from the Neolithic when peasant farmers built the stone circles that dot the countryside through to North Sea oil.

Along the way we read about battles, plagues and the arrival of the modern era when Aberdeenshire finally became accessible to the outside world: turnpikes, canals and railways were built.

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

As with his previous book, The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, Duncan throws in lots of quirky and curious facts to liven up the tale.

Did you know that the bulldozers building the Aberdeen bypass uncovered a whole load of new archaeological finds including ninety Roman bread ovens at Milltimber? That it took years to complete the monument to the battle of Harlaw near Inverurie, because of a reluctance to add the armorial shields representing the highland clans?

The expense involved was considered as ‘paying for the arms of the enemy’ (and this 500 years after the battle took place). The shields were finally added in 2011 for the 600th anniversary.

Or how about this? Stonehaven’s oldest building, the Tollbooth at the harbour, was severely damaged during the Second World War when an anti-shipping mine beached next to it.

These and many more nuggets make Duncan’s book an engrossing read. If you enjoyed Duncan’s first book or you are curious about the history of Aberdeenshire, then this is the book for you.

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Apr 082019
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Rick Redbeard.

The multi-million-pound revamp of Aberdeen’s Music Hall, has breathed new life and opportunity into the historical and iconic city centre entertainment venue.
One of the innovative schemes was to create more usable space for concerts and events within the building and it is in one of these spaces – the Big Sky Studio – that an early evening show is taking place.

The intimate room, with seating for around 50-100 people depending on layout, provided a unique up-close-and-personal opportunity to see former Phantom Band members Rick Redbeard and Duncan Marquiss perform short sets for a bargain ticket price (only £8.00) and at a quite civilised post-work Friday time (6pm start!).

Opening proceedings is Duncan Marquiss. His set consists of effects laden, ambient guitar soundscapes and space age blues instrumentals that lift the listener to transcendent realms of bliss.

Duncan Marquiss.

Hunched over his bank of guitar pedals, Marquiss coaxes beautiful textures from his instrument looping himself, manipulating the sound to create a cascading ocean of sound textures.

Using a slide or an e-bow to great effect, he strays into the world of avant-garde minimalism and experimentation, creating new and interesting sounds, with a screwdriver under the strings on one track, or laying his instrument on the ground and using small sticks to drum on the strings.

It’s a beautiful and satisfying experimental set that has the audience listening in hushed silence before erupting in rapturous applause at the end.

Rick Redbeard, better known to his parents and friends as Rick Anthony, offers a more straightforward but, nonetheless, satisfying set that is steeped in folky acoustic heritage whilst remaining topical and forward thinking.

His acoustic guitar strapped round him like a shield, he offers a satisfying nine song set of beautiful, heartfelt campfire melodies.

His intricate finger picking style is flawless and mesmerising, creating space to allow the songs to breathe and for the listener to fully embrace his well thought out lyricism.

Songs from his two previous solo albums – ‘No Selfish Heart’ from 2013 and ‘Awake Unto’, released in 2016 – are given an airing alongside sneak previews of a track or two from his proposed third album which he hopes to release this year.

Between songs he is friendly and chatty, acknowledging his family sitting a couple of rows from the front and discussing Brexit and the irony of his track ‘The Golden Age’ given the current political situation.

There’s a moment where a new song is stopped as, he says himself, his “brain and hands stopped communicating” and there’s a moment of amusement – and bemusement – when the tannoy announces that the show in the main hall is due to start in 5 minutes.

But moments like these add to the intimacy and personal feel of the performance rather than detract.

One can only hope that the success of this show encourages the Music Hall staff to organise more events of this nature – the early start is an interesting novelty that may encourage people to seek out new and interesting music and sounds whilst enjoying a post-work pint at the end of the week.

Overall, the evening proved to be a success – enjoyable music, an appreciative audience and a wonderful atmosphere. Here’s to the next one!

Big Sky Sessions returns to the Music Hall at 6pm on Friday 19th April with Iona Fyfe, Calum Morton-Teng and Ellen Gira.

Then on Friday 31st May with The Dark Carnival : Unplugged (which also includes a free glass of whisky).

Tickets for Iona Fyfe are available here. and for The Dark Carnival : Unplugged, click here.

Apr 022019
 

Review and photos by Craig Chisholm.

The Men in Black returned to the Beach Ballroom for another triumphant performance, albeit one with a few teething troubles including a couple of false starts and one song being stopped half way through.

But, as lead singer Baz says apologetically “it’s only music, only a band” before pausing and adding:

“Not just any band – it’s the fucking Stranglers.”

And he’s right, it’s not just any band. It’s a legendary, critically acclaimed, punk band that scaled commercial peaks, influenced everyone from punks to Britpoppers and still sells out venues across the world nearly 50 years into their illustrious career.

And, as it’s only the second date of their 2019 tour, then any teething troubles can be as easily forgiven as the exuberance at seeing such a seminal act in front of a sold-out crowd.

Before the self-proclaimed Men in Black take the stage, however, there’s an opportunity to see another classic rock act ply their wares as Britain’s premier Rhythm & Blues act, the mighty Dr Feelgood, open the night’s proceedings.

It’s a very different Dr Feelgood that started in Canvey Island 1971 and became mainstays of the then burgeoning pub rock scene – long gone are original members Wilko Johnson, The Big Figure, John B Sparks and late, enigmatic frontman Lee Brilleaux.

Instead, present members Kevin Morris, PH Mitchell, Steve Walwyn and Robert Kane have been keeping
the band’s name alive as a going concern for a few decades now. 

Between them, they provide a competent, nostalgic and talented run through of some of the band’s finest moments – ‘Down by The Jetty’, ‘Milk and Alcohol’ and
a cover of ‘Route 66’ being stand out songs of their all too brief set.

The Stranglers themselves have a few line up changes over the years too and the only remaining members from their early years are bassist JJ Brunell and keyboard player Dave Greenfield – although drummer Jet Black is still part of the band when recording in the studio but no longer touring due to ill health.

It’s a typically eclectic set from the band that stretches back to their 70s beginnings right up to their most recent releases.

Chart hits such as ‘Golden Brown’, ‘Peaches’, ‘Always the Sun’ and closer ‘No More Heroes’ are well received by the adoring crowd as are fan favourites such as the pile driving ‘(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)’ which, as always, gets the crowd going wild only three songs in.

Humour is never far from the band – whether it’s JJ’s huge grin throughout the set, or lead singer and guitarist Baz Warne’s between song banter.

But the comedy moment of the night surely belongs to their poor guitar roadie, tonight celebrating his 40th birthday and getting the opportunity to dance topless on stage whilst wearing a tutu. Quite a sight, to say the least.

The Stranglers return to the Granite City in October as primary support to Alice Cooper in an eclectic three band bill that includes the surviving members seminal rockers The MC5, celebrating 50 years and billed on the night as The MC50.

It’s sure to be another unmissable night of live music that, one suspects, won’t feature any false song starts, early tour teething troubles and, most importantly, dancing roadies in skirts! Miss it if you dare.

Mar 282019
 

Suzanne Kelly asks a rather obvious question which seems to have gone unnoticed:  If President Trump is not supposed to be involved with his former business interests while in office, then what is the TIGLS spokeswoman’s husband doing posing at the White House and with Air Force One? 

With Aberdeenshire Council soon to vote on whether or not to approve the latest amended plans for Trump International Golf Links Scotland – is Trump breaking strict American emoluments laws? 

A social media account raises the question.

Upon becoming president, Donald Trump had to resign from several Trump business ventures, including Trump International Golf Links Scotland. 

Sarah Malone Bates is the spokeswoman for the controversial venture; her husband is Damian Bates, former Aberdeen Journals Limited executive and editor with responsibilities at the Evening Express and Press and Journal.

On April 17, 2018 Mr Bates posted photos of himself in front of Air Force One and The White House.  What exactly was he doing there?  Even his friends wanted to know, with one asking ‘What are you up to??’

Damian replied ‘Ssshhh.’

Another friend replied ‘Some of us know – but Mums [sic] the word Shssh.’

Click on Image to enlarge.

Together with George A Sorial, the lawyer responsible for ensuring compliance by Mr Trump with the relevant emoluments clauses, Mr Bates is penning a book about how Mr Trump ‘won’ in Scotland. The book is due out 11 June.

Aberdeen Voice contacted Mr Sorial, but has not yet had a reply as to the potential for overlap between a Trump employee’s spouse being chosen to co-author a biography and being at Air Force One and the White House. 

Any reply received will be published in full.

The Press & Journal and sister paper The Evening Express under Bates’ management decreed it would not print any material from the protest group Tripping up Trump, declaring the group was not ‘bona fide’. The group is made up of residents of the Menie Estate, people in Aberdeen City and Shire, and has members further afield. 

Aberdeen Journals also failed to disclose the relationship between Damian Bates and Trump spokeswoman Sarah Malone to readership of the Evening Express and Press & Journal. 

Aberdeen Voice broke the story that the two were married while the paper printed favourable articles about Trump International Golf Links Scotland without disclosing this fact.

The Press & Journal also published a column by Mr Trump while he was running for office.

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Mar 282019
 

Duncan Harley reviews ART @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Admirers of the work of Yasmina Reza will not be disappointed by this three-hander comedy.
Despite the unassuming title, ART is a masterful and at times powerful study of prejudice and tolerance among friends.

Using as a focus a completely blank canvas, purchased by Serge for a not insubstantial sum, the dialogue portrays the complex relationships between three friends as they attempt to maintain an equilibrium in the face of the imminent death of their 15-year association.

Battle lines are drawn and the dusty baggage of the past emerges to challenge each in turn to explore what binds us together.

Unequivocally proud of his purchase Serge demands approval of his expensive work of art. Feelings escalate when Marc describes the painting as ‘a piece of white shit tarted-up with a couple of white stripes’. And, when drawn into the fire, the normally compliant Yvan must take a stance. A fist-fight ensues and blood is drawn before, in a splendid scene involving a conciliatory bowl of olives plus a measure of posturing, all becomes well.

This is a fast-paced piece of theatre performed in some twenty short sections over 90 minutes, mainly in dialogue form although at points the actors directly address an audience who very quickly realise that this is not a play about modern art.

Set and lighting are simple and effective. Delivery is crisp and flawless and who would expect anything less from Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson.

Appropriately perhaps there is no interval, after all why would anyone wish to take a break from this unrelenting piece of thought-provoking comedy to partake of an ice-cream or even a glass of the red stuff.

Written by Yasmina Reza and Directed by Ellie Jones, ART plays at His Majesty’s Aberdeen until Saturday 30th March.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5

Mar 072019
 

Aberdeen Voice contributor for the past 8 years, Suzanne Kelly aka Old Susannah has been writing about BrewDog since before the Aberdeen flagship bar opened.  She’s just back from a trip that she won on the BrewDog Airlines maiden voyage and tells us what it was like.

Flight Club – a brew designed to be drunk at high altitudes with extra flavour.

BrewDog shareholders, some 200 strong, invaded Columbus Ohio last Thursday.  Beer lovers, some in kilts; many in BrewDog regalia, took to the streets, the breweries, the pubs, the hotels and the city arena in an orgy of love for the art of drink.

Perhaps no brand of beer has put the love and the art into their product and into pleasing the many ‘Equity Punks’ shareholders who made all of this possible.

Winning a place on the trip (thanks to doing a lot of buying, trading, and giving stickers away), I found myself at Stanstead Thursday afternoon waiting to take off. 

The infectious, happy, perhaps zany atmosphere of the shareholders, staff and founders was there from the start and reached frenzy at points.

The plane was a private hire (with a remarkably friendly team) – in bespoke BrewDog livery.  BrewDog blankets, toothbrushes, snacks, eye masks and antimacassars) awaited each passenger.  We drank to our hearts’ content of BrewDog beers, its lovely gin and American style whisky. 

Then, as an in-flight treat we tasted Flight Club – a brew designed to be drunk at high altitudes with extra flavour to compensate for slight changes to the senses at height.  We toasted; we cheered, we laughed; we drank – to the point the toilets were at capacity – something the pilot said he hadn’t seen in 25 years of flying.

After a few or many beers at the hotel or in town, we assembled the next day to tour the brewery and hotel in smaller groups.  I knew it was large (42 acres), but like everyone else, the complex on the outskirts of Columbus bowled me over. 

I once thought the Ellon Brewery with its artwork and state-of-the-art systems was a Willy Wonkaesque fun factory; BrewDog’s Columbus premises is all that – on steroids and with a hotel.

We toured the brewery, meeting half a dozen operatives along the tour; the cannery and its hyper-enthused canner was smashing; the nerve centre control room was science faction as computer graphics illustrated what valve needed turning or what needed heating. 

photo by Suzanne Kelly

BrewDog’s chartered plain was filled with luxuries

The hotel is everything we were hoping for; some of us stayed for a night or two in the rooms which were named after some of the beers, lagers, stouts and IPAs BrewDog’s created. 

A giant bed, a neon sign over it, two beer fridges (one for your bathroom by the shower no less), and an option to put a draft of your choice on tap in your room and views to the fields and into the brewery:  heaven. 

When I got to the Hinterland room for the last night of the 4 night epic adventure, I was too tired to go out – and was deliriously happy staying in the giant bed with its fluffy pillows.  It should be noted the shampoos, soaps and lotions were made with a BrewDog concoction ‘Elvis Juice’ – a nice citrusy, tart delight – these will, I hope, be offered for sale sometime soon.

Revelling in this fun city, many of us went to the Columbus Blue Jackets ice hockey match on the Saturday. 

Despite having a nearly equal shots on goal position, the Blue Jackets outclassed San Diego 3 goals to nil.  The second was beautifully capitalised on from a chancy shot; the goalie had a certain style and an amazingly cool head. 

After the game, many wandered to BrewDog in the Short North part of town – a very vibrant area with shops, no shortage of places to eat and drink, and a lovely fragrance bar called The Candle Lab, where you choose fragrances to make your own candles, soaps, body sprays and room sprays. 

The Short North bar was heaving; but the zingy staff got everyone drinks quickly.  There was a delightful, filling ‘Donut Drive By’ coffee stout that had been made with donuts; It was like being a cop on a stakeout in terms of flavour. 

There was a deceptively 11% IPA (I think) called Diabolical Dream State.  One of those was all I needed; I’d walked for miles that day to BrewDog’s Franklinton bar and the city’s German town.  And I’d attended a hugely impressive tour at 451 Distillery. 

Founder, distiller, creator Chad told us his story, explained in detail but perfectly simply how a distiller starts to distil, when they ‘cut’, and what they can do to ensure they get out all the alcohol from their mash. 

He then gave us thimblefuls of a heavenly absinthe (which he’d explained to us very well), a remarkable mescal, rum, whisky and… a rosemary-heavy gin, Clawfoot’ – which I simply had to have.  He can’t send his products to us alas – not yet anyway.

BrewDog Franklinton had a lovely roof terrace, but its appeal was not for this cold weather.  The food was lovely, not least fresh hot pretzels served with mustards.  The root beer float was tempting, but I opted for a traditional (non-alcohol) crème soda. 

The trip saw us given lots and lots of goodies, drink, and opportunities to take tours (a bus trip to Cincinnati’s bars and breweries was offered, but I wanted to visit The Candle Lab).  Even the inflight food was delish – with the vegetarian options putting other airlines to shame. 

But what made this trip?  Things did go wrong – there was a power outage, and one Cincinnati bus driver proved a bit less than clued up – but none of these were BrewDog’s fault. 

What made this trip?  The BrewDog team.  The founding fathers James Watt and Martin Dickie kept us amused on the flight over as you would expect, but the crew from the UK and the Columbus crew worked tirelessly and yet somehow effortlessly. 

The staffies make this company, as do the shareholders.  I’ve never had such enthusiasm for a brand, for entrepreneurs; and I’ve never found anyone making beers as inventive, unique, delicious even audacious as BrewDog does. 

I’d go on about the tour, about how the sour beers are made, about what the bars were like, and how much fun Columbus is.  However, I’m well over my word count and can picture my editor pulling his hair out long before now. 

Slate me if you will, but I am a proud shareholder who saw something great for Aberdeen city and shire in James and Martin from the first day I drank their beer, and as much as I’ll shout about what’s going wrong in the area,

I’ll equally shout about what’s going on that’s great.  And that’s BrewDog.  Cheers.  And thanks to the wonderful person who traded me the sticker I needed.  You rule.

 

Feb 272019
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘Calendar Girls, the Musical’ at His Majesty’s  Theatre, Aberdeen.

All they ever really wanted to do was raise some cash to buy a settee for the local cancer ward but when word got out that Rylstone & District Women’s Institute were planning a Pirelli style Christmas calendar, things soon spiralled out of control.

It’s a well-worn tale. A bevy of rural friends decide to publish a fund-raiser for cancer support following a death.

John has died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and wife Angela’s pals at the Rylstone & District Women’s Institute set about creating a calendar as something for her to focus on during this most difficult time.

However, instead of the familiar Women’s Institute images of sheep infested landscapes, ecclesiastical spires and cricketed village greens, they decide to bare all.

The 1998 launch of the raunchy publication attracted widespread press coverage and very soon the print run reached into the tens of thousands. A book and a film followed along with international fame. Described as a group of ordinary ladies who achieved something extraordinary, the originators were initially awarded the dubious accolade ‘Oldie Exposure of the Year’.

In the fullness of time however, the semi-naked ladies were appearing at media-inspired events up and down the country including an appearance London Fashion Week and on a Thames TV cookery programme where they were requested to bake a dish of invitingly innuendo laden Spotted Dick.

There are few extant nipples within this musical interpretation of the tale but there is plenty of humour embedded in this take on the Yorkshire events which launch the grieving ladies of Knapely onto the international stage.

All in all, this is a commendable comedy musical classic. England’s Green and Pleasant Land does feature here and there, but the essence of this play within a musical is a powerful exploration of the various stages of grief, from denial to acceptance and moving on.

Little specks of Alan Bennet – If Jesus had maybe had kids then maybe the bible would be quite different – shine through in this Barlow and Firth creation and even Larkin’s This Be The Verse gets a look in with a resounding:

‘They fuck you up your mum and dad, they may not mean to but they do.’

Songs, and there are some 20 of them, include Spring Fete, Mrs Conventional, What Age Expects and the quite poignant Kilimanjaro. Then there is Ruth’s splendidly revealing love song My Russian Friend And I.

Calendar Girls is no Full Monty.

For starters the brashness is largely absent and the bare-all scenes are all done in the best possible taste. Be sure to take along a man-size pack of tissues though. If only to soak up the inevitable tears of both laughter and sadness.

Cast on Press Night: Fern Britton, Anna-Jane Casey, Sarah Crowe, Karen Dunbar, Pauline Daniels, Rebecca Storm, Denise Welch, Richard Anthony-Lloyd, Isobel Caswell, Danny Howker and Phil Corbitt – all good.
Stars: 4/5

Directed by Matt Ryan with Comedy Staging by Jos Houben, Calendar Girls the Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 2 March.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

Jan 242019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fiddler on the Roof @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Fiddler on the Roof plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 26 January

Anti-Jewish pogroms in the not-so-far-off days of the Russian Empire were quite common and reached new heights during the period 1903 to 1906 when a series of state-sponsored ‘demonstrations’ affected many settlements in the Ukraine and in Bessarabia. Thousands of Jews were reportedly killed and many more thousands displaced as a wave of violence backed up by harsh laws targeted Russian Jews.

Tsar Nicholas II was not known for his tolerance of either dissidents or minority groups and in the political turbulence of the times the Jews made for a convenient scapegoat.

Married to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria he was referred to by Trotsky as having been “more awful than all of the tyrants of ancient and modern history”. Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Magazine was more succinct when, during a state visit to Balmoral it reported that:

“When the Tsar is at home, we do not hesitate to call him a tyrant. Then in heaven’s name, why – when he visits his grandmother-in -law, should we play the hypocrite and fete he whom we at other times curse.”

The cruelty of the pogrom is one of the central themes of Fiddler on the Roof. Adapted from the Sholem Aleichem short stories about Tevye the Dairyman, Fiddler is set in the fictional town of Anatevka at the high-point of the early 20th century Tsarist inspired anti-Jewish demonstrations.

Alongside struggling with his shrewish wife, Tevye – played by Kevin Haggart – struggles with his deeply held belief that tradition should triumph over sentimentality. Faced with the spectre of five daughters who pretty much refuse to embrace arranged marriage and the spectre of a rising anti-Jewish normality he gradually has to adapt to the inevitable erosion of religious and cultural traditions in a changing world.

Finally, and this is no spoiler, the reality of pogrom rears its ugly head and the tight-knit villagers are forced to leave Anatevka for an uncertain future.

Alongside the piety and the angst there is some comedy

With a simple but effective set, and yes there is indeed a rooftop fiddler, some fifty or so players tread the boards as Kevin’s Tevye breaks open that fourth-wall to do battle with his principles and speak directly with both God and the theatre audience.

Essentially the mainstay of the whole show, Tevye has the unenviable task of marrying off his five daughters none of whom seems likely to listen to a blind word he says.

With iconic numbers such as Matchmaker, If I Were a Rich Man and the poignant Tevye/Golde bedroom duet Do You Love Me, Fiddler seamlessly blends sadness, joy and the sufferings of humanity into a memorable musical mix of hope and despair.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Alongside the piety and the angst there is some comedy. For starters there are immortal lines such as ‘If you want hair, you should marry a monkey’ and Ryan Bruce’s Rabbi has a humorous but irreverent take on the Tsar. For my money however the aptly-named Bottle Dancers take the high-road humour-wise.

Worthy of panto, the famous five – Tony Barron, Ian Baxter, Chris Cormack, Adam Huckle and Kaz Robertson – take bottle dancing to an entirely new and athletic level which has to be seen to believed

Cons, and there very few, include a couple of minor prop failures on first night plus maybe a need for a sterner and less apologetic policeman. Pros, and there are many, include fabulous choreography, splendid period costumes and a musical performance which might leave many professionals on the back-foot.

And of course, this Phoenix Theatre production of that ever-so-Jewish tragedy takes place during the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day (Sunday 27 January).

Stars: 4/5

Directed by Liz Milne and Clare Haggart, Fiddler on the Roof plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Saturday 26 January

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley. Images © HMT

Dec 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘And I Am You’ – the new novel by Judy Mackie.

Layla is a splendidly timeless song penned by Eric Clapton and co-songwriter Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos fame.

Inspired by an Arabian love story – Layla and Majnun – Clapton’s song made 27 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and won a Grammy in 1993.

Clapton was of course in love with Patti Boyd – the wife of his friend George Harrison.

Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry for a few years and Layla – the song not the lady – would become ranked amongst the greatest rock songs of all time.

They all remained friends. In fact, Harrison attended the Clapton and Boyd wedding and gave his blessing to the unlikely pair.

Lyrics include the immortal lines:

‘Let’s make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.’

And now, some decades after the release of Clapton’s Layla, North-east author Judy Mackie, inspired perhaps by the lyrics, has penned a novel deeply rooted in those far-off but timeless events.

In this exquisitely penned Gothic tale a lonely lady, recently abandoned by a long-time lover, examines her life and finds herself in another person’s body.

Judy is of course well known for her stewardship and editing of Leopard Magazine and her love for all things North-east comes through strongly in this, her dark debut novel. And I Am You is set variously along the North Sea coastline with locations as diverse as Cruden Bay, the massive blowhole of the Bullers of Buchan and the tarry-sheds of Fittie.

Betrayed and abandoned by her husband and with a career in the doldrums thirty-eight-year-old academic Layla Sutherland longs to escape her shattered existence while half a world away, Australian journalist Stevie Nightingale is desperate to shed her identity.

A ground-breaking procedure developed by an Edinburgh neurosurgeon, Professor Blunstone, offers both Layla and Stevie salvation in the form of not just an identity swap, but a full-blown body swap.

The eccentric professor has discovered a previously unknown portion of the brain which, when transplanted, offers the subject the possibility of switching bodies whilst retaining consciousness within the new host.

His discovery of the ‘Me Gland’ throws up both moral and ethical dilemmas but, in the true traditions of eccentric scientist tales, nothing can halt the pursuit of knowledge and once the taboo of using humans for experimental purposes is broken, there is ultimately no easy way back from the unspeakable brink.

“He’s not mad and he’s not evil,” says Judy,

“he thinks he’s furthering human knowledge.”

And I Am You, aside from being set in Bram Stoker territory, has all the elements of a contemporary Gothic thriller. A vast baronial mansion occupied by an obsessed researcher hides a secret hospital wing within sound of the Buchan coastline while two damsels in distress agree to help him crack the age-old secret of the seat of consciousness.

What could possibly go wrong and what might be the ultimate cost of tampering with our sense of self?

As medical ethics go out the window, Layla finds herself inhabiting Stevie’s body while retaining her own identity. Likewise, Stevie inhabits Layla’s body. At first all seems smooth and, alongside a practical exploration of the reality of the situation, elements of conflict creep in.

Layla for example meets up with errant spouse Calum, but in the body of the blonde-haired Stevie. Things, to say the least, become complicated.

Will Buller the dog sort out who is who? What will the subjects experience when, or perhaps if, the body-swap is reversed? Who, or what, is the mysterious stalker?

Blunstone makes clear early on that:

“Quite clearly, body swapping is not for everyone. But for those of a certain mindset the opportunity to occupy someone else’s body is surely the most profound experience a human being could have.”

As I raced towards the final pages of Judy’s novel, I began to wonder if the eccentric professor’s premise that body swapping is not for everyone might be slightly off the mark. After all, who amongst us hasn’t imagined what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes?

And I Am You – by Judy Mackie (289pp) is available for download from Amazon Kindle at £4.99