Aug 112017
 

Duncan Harley reviews The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – at HM Theatre, Aberdeen.

The last time I reviewed Curious I was over the moon.
A complete blast from beginning to end, the production enthralled, captivated and amazed.
Intense doesn’t even begin to describe the audience experience.

It’s more of an immersive introduction to the reality of not being able eat the yellow portions of a Battenberg cake – the pink squares are OK –  and finding that the toilet is out of bounds because a complete stranger has used it.

Based on the book of the same nameThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time highlights some of the issues faced by those who come into contact with those who differ markedly from the norm and of course many of the issues faced by those who are by nature quite different.

The book’s author Mark Haddon comments that:

“Curious is not really about Christopher at all, it’s about us.”

He may have a point.

Christopher, played by Scott Reid, exhibits what can really only be described as mind-blowingly challenging behavioural traits. He cannot bear to be touched, he becomes unbearably swamped by external stimuli, he cannot use a stranger’s toilet, he cannot tell a lie and takes everything completely literally – the list goes on and inevitably ticks all of the diagnostic boxes.

The play presents as a reading of Christopher’s own written thoughts, read aloud in segments mainly by his mentor and school-teacher Siobhan, played beautifully by Lucianne McEvoy. The unfolding story takes place within a high-tech multi-media cuboid-set representing a gateway into Christopher’s consciousness. The drama literally takes place in Christopher’s head.

When Wellington, the next-door neighbour’s dog, is found impaled; fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone, a brilliant mathematician with some pretty complex personal issues, turns sleuth.
Emulating his hero Sherlock Holmes, he must solve the mystery of who killed Mrs Shears’ pet and absolve himself of complicity.

After a long and often painful journey, including the realisation that Holmes was in fact a fictional detective, he solves the crime and is absolved. However, in the course of the exhaustive investigation he discovers skeletons galore in the family cupboard.

At times funny, often terrifyingly intense and always challenging, Curious is a superb production and Scott Reid’s performance as Christopher is both electrifying in its intensity and engaging in its complexity.

There are lighter moments. Animal lovers will drool over the cute Andrex Puppy.

They may even take a fancy to Toby, Christopher’s pet rat.

David Michaels and Emma Beattie excel as the long suffering and often desperate parents, kindly neighbours peek into his life and at one point a cheerily upbeat railway policeman takes time out to help him on his quest but it has to be said that this is essentially a stage show all about Christopher.

The technical aspects of the production are worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster and have to be experienced to be believed. Aboyne born video designer Finn Ross has worked on everything from Festival Fringe through to Broadway and his expertise in combining live and pre-recorded imagery takes this live performance into exciting new realms. Lighting, sound and set design are likewise superb.

Ultimately this play examines the nature of abnormality and the challenge of defining limitations. Having solved the gruesome dog murder and dismissed lingering doubts regarding his mathematical ability Christopher asks teacher Siobhan “Does this mean I can do anything?”
She does not reply.

Somehow, Aspergers will never quite seem the same ever again …

Directed by Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 12th August.

Words © Duncan Harley and images courtesy of Aberdeen Performing Arts.

Aug 042017
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

Massed pipe bands at the 2016 Aboyne Highland Games

Thousands of visitors are expected to descend on Aboyne Green this Saturday as the town holds its annual highland games. Founded in 1867, this year’s Aboyne Highland Games will mark the 150th anniversary of the popular Royal Deeside event. 

Up to 10,000 people from around the world are expected to attend the event, which is held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly.

A packed programme of 98 traditional highland events will be held throughout the day, including solo and massed piping, highland dancing, light and heavy athletics and fiddle competitions.  Over 80 trade stands, children’s races and a funfair also feature.

To commemorate the games’ milestone anniversary, organisers have created a memory book containing old photographs from bygone years. The book also includes written contributions from members of the public who have spectated or competed at the games, or been involved in its organisation. It will form part of a display of games memorabilia which is expected to prove popular with visitors.

Among those visiting will be hundreds of representatives from the 10 Scottish clans featured in the event’s Clan Village. This year the clans that will be represented are Burnett, Cochran, Findlay, Forbes, Fraser, Gordon, Hay, Leask, Leslie and Strachan. The Burnett clan is expected to have the largest presence, as around 200 clan members are travelling to the north-east from around the world as part of a week-long gathering.

Events on Saturday get underway at 10am, when the massed pipe bands march through the town and onto Aboyne Green, heralding the start of the day’s competitions. The games will be officially opened at 11:15am by the Marquis of Huntly, at which time the chieftain’s banner will be raised.

Aboyne Highland Games 1871: One of the earliest pictures of the event.

A number of competitions will be watched with keen interest throughout the day by the assembled crowd.

Four events that have been a fixture of every games have this year been classed as Gold Events.

Boasting increased prize money and newly commissioned trophies that have been designed by local teenager Angus Fraser, each event is expected to be fiercely contested.

The open caber toss will see the usual feats of strength and balance from the heavy athletes.

However, with the winner gaining the opportunity to toss the new 23ft 6in (7.15m) long anniversary caber, a close competition is predicted. A field of up to 150 runners are expected to take on the challenging 6.8-mile hill race, which last year was won by Kyle Greig in 42 minutes 58 seconds.

One of the events that made up the programme of the inaugural games is also making a spectacular return after a near 40-year absence. Pole vaulting, once a staple of highland games across Scotland and now only staged at a handful of games, will grace Aboyne Green for the first time since 1978.

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said:

“Aboyne Highland Games has been an important part of the local community for 150 years, attracting visitors from around the world and occasionally, British and European royalty. Saturday is an opportunity for us to pay homage to our history, celebrate the achievements of today’s competitors and look ahead to the future. It is set to be a special day, which we are marking in a number of ways.

“Seeing Aboyne Green come to life on games day is a fantastic sight. It is the beating heart of the town with plenty going on to entertain all the family. Alongside the usual mix of events, there will be 10 pipe bands performing, a new caber event, the presentation of four stunning new trophies and pole vaulting. The crowd is certainly going to be very well entertained as Aboyne Highland Games celebrates its 150th birthday, and we’d encourage them to be here in time for the opening ceremony at 11:15am.

“Highland games such as ours would not be possible without the hard work that so many volunteers put in throughout the year and the support that we receive from numerous local businesses. We are indebted to them for that continued assistance.”

Aboyne Highland Games takes place on Saturday, 05 August on Aboyne Green, with events getting underway just after 10am. The official opening ceremony commences at 11:15am and events run throughout the afternoon. Those planning to attend Saturday’s event are encouraged to be there in time for the opening ceremony.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August. The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.

Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy. Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Jul 282017
 

A leading sporting facility in Aberdeen will welcome the Queen’s Baton Relay this summer with a series of events celebrating the 2018 Commonwealth Games. With thanks to Yvette Rayner, PR Account Manager, Frasermedia.

Aberdeen Sports Village

Team Scotland has revealed an exciting five-day programme of events and celebrations which will be held around the country, to mark the visit of the Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) on its global tour, ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia, including a day of sporting events at Aberdeen Sports Village (ASV) on Thursday 24 August 2017.

In Scotland from 22-26 August 2017, the presence of the Baton will bring Gold Coast 2018 one step closer for athletes and supporters, as Team Scotland aims for its best ever medal haul at an overseas Games.

The Queen’s Baton Relay is a Games tradition that celebrates the Commonwealth’s diversity, inspires community pride and excites people about the world-class festival of sports and culture to come.

The Queen’s Baton carries a message from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II that calls the Commonwealth’s athletes to come together in peaceful and friendly competition.

Designed for each Games by the host nation, the 2018 Queen’s Baton has a distinctive loop design and has been made using macadamia wood and reclaimed plastic, sourced from Gold Coast waterways, and inspired by the region’s vibrant spirit and indigenous heritage.

With only five days in Scotland this year, compared to the extensive 42 day tour of the country in 2014 as Commonwealth Games hosts, the focus is on not just passing through, but spending quality time in each community it visits. The programme includes school and community events with a strong youth and sport theme, showcasing our rich heritage, links to Australia, The Commonwealth and a number of exciting Glasgow 2014 legacy projects.

Paul Bush OBE, chair, Commonwealth Games Scotland said:

“The Queen’s Baton Relay is an iconic symbol of the Commonwealth Games and we look forward to welcoming the Baton to Scotland next month. We have had tremendous enthusiasm and support from local authorities, schools and community groups across the country, helping to organise an exciting programme of events which will use the QBR to connect their communities with the Games and embrace the values of the Commonwealth movement as a whole.

“The public support Team Scotland enjoyed for Glasgow 2014 was phenomenal and I look forward to seeing that passion sparked once again, as the Baton’s journey through Scotland marks the final countdown to the 2018 Commonwealth Games. I hope everyone across the country will get behind the athletes vying for selection for the team and play their part in supporting them as they prepare to compete with distinction on the other side of the world next April.

Duncan Sinclair, CEO, Aberdeen Sports Village said:

“Everyone at ASV is looking forward to welcoming The Queen’s Baton Relay to Aberdeen. ASV is dedicated to offering sporting opportunities for everyone, helping people achieve their very best, so we are delighted to be a part of this exciting event warm up to the Commonwealth Games.

“ASV will be getting into the spirit of the Games with a wide variety of sporting activities for young pupils from schools across the city, culminating in an exciting Australian-themed high tea.”

A summary of the programme is given below and includes a number of open events each day which members of the public are encouraged to attend. Many events will also include the participation of past or current Team Scotland athletes and the attendance of the popular Glasgow 2014 and now Team Scotland mascot, Clyde.

PROGRAMME OVERVIEW

Tuesday 22 August – Glasgow

  • The QBR will arrive at Glasgow Airport and spend the first day visiting legacy projects and youth and community groups related to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Game, including:  
  • Welcome to Scotland at the Glasgow School of Sport, Bellahouston Academy
  • Commonwealth Games Village – Meet permanent residents of Team Scotland accommodation
  • Cunigar Loop Woodland Park – Bike Town community group bike ride through the park*
  • Emirates Arena – Schools participation event linked to the 2017 World Badminton Championships
  • The Legacy Hub, Dalmarnock – local community event *
  • University of Strathclyde Innovation Centre – Commonwealth Youth Leaders Conference
  • George Square – Starting point of the Glasgow Commonwealth Walkway. *

Wednesday 23 August – Islay

The QBR will make its first ever visit to Islay in the Inner Hebrides for a unique range of youth and community events including:

  • Bowmore – Primary Schools festival featuring the Schools Gaelic Choir and Highland Dancing *
  • Visit to the Bowmore distillery
  • Bowmore Town Square for community meet the Baton opportunity*
  • Talk at Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle (the Columba Centre Islay). *

Thursday 24 August – Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling 

The QBR heads to Dundee, Aberdeen and Stirling for a series of events including:

  • Clepington Primary School, Dundee – a sportscotland gold standard sports award school for Australian Commonwealth themed activity
  • Kirriemuir – a visit to the Bon Scott statue to celebrate the famous Australian-Scot lead singer of ACDC *
  • Aberdeen Sports Village – a multi-school ‘One Big Sports Day’ of Commonwealth themed activities incorporating an Australian high tea
  • Stirling Castle – Team Scotland reception & Bahamas 2017 Youth Games team celebration.

Friday 25 August – Stirling, Falkirk

A big day of school and community activities in Stirling and Falkirk before visiting the home of Team Scotland at the University of Stirling.

  • St Ninian’s Primary School , Stirling – Joining children for their Daily Mile. St Ninian’s is linked with Coolangatta State School as part of the Gold Coast 2018 Schools connect programme.
  • Helix and Kelpies, Falkirk – A multi-school Commonwealth themed festival for the schools and the community *
  • Stirling University Campus – meeting with students linked to the Commonwealth Games
  • sportscotland Institute of Sport – meeting the ‘team behind the team’ who help to prepare Team Scotland athletes for the Commonwealth Games.                   

Saturday 26 August – Grangemouth, Edinburgh

Visits to two major sports events where Scottish athletes are striving to be selected for Team Scotland for the 2018 Games. The day concludes with a visit to the Military Tattoo, an iconic Scottish showcase that is now a firm Australian favorite, broadcast to bring in the New Year down under.

  • Grangemouth – Scottish Athletics Senior Championships *
  • Portobello – Scottish Beach Volleyball Championship *
  • Edinburgh – Edinburgh Military Tattoo

For further information about the Gold Coast 2018 Queen’s Baton Relay and its journey across the Commonwealth so far visit www.gc2018.com

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Jul 032017
 

With thanks to Yvette Rayner, PR Account Manager, Frasermedia.

One of Scotland’s top swimming coaches is to head up a new high performance swimming team in Aberdeen, aiming to produce medal-winning swimmers. Patrick Miley, father and coach of Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Hannah Miley, will train elite swimmers for the newly formed University of Aberdeen Performance Swimming programme.

UOAPS is a new partnership between the Aberdeen Sports Village, Aberdeen City Council, Scottish Swimming, the University of Aberdeen and seven of the city’s swimming clubs.

The programme has been established to grow on the rich crop of swimming talent to have emerged from the north-east in recent years, including Hannah Miley, David Carry and Robbie Renwick.

Swimmers across the city will try out to join Team Aberdeen, training with Mr Miley and his team at the Aberdeen Sports Village Aquatics Centre, in order to form the elite UOAPS competition squad.

Mr Miley said:

“With the financial investment and commitment from our partners we have an incredibly exciting opportunity to develop a strong performance pathway for swimming in the north-east.

“Our aim is to build a world-class performance swimming programme, and I am confident we have the backing, the will and the talent to succeed.”

University of Aberdeen Principal, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, said:

“As a University we are committed to helping our student athletes reach their full potential, both academically and in their chosen sport. 

“The University of Aberdeen Performance Swimming programme is yet another example of how we are working alongside our partners to bring through the next generation of world-class athletes, right here in Aberdeen.” 

Duncan Sinclair, chief executive of Aberdeen Sports Village, said:

“In the past, our home grown swimming talent had to move to the central belt or an English University to advance their swimming careers. 

“However, the city now has an Olympic standard Aquatics Centre at Aberdeen Sports Village, and with this new performance programme, Aberdeen offers a real alternative and opportunity to our local athletes. 

“ASV is now classed as a Performance Centre by Scottish Swimming, in recognition of the excellent level of facilities and training we provide.

“Our aim is for Aberdeen to be seen as a world class destination for performance swimming, which will retain our best swimmers in the north-east, and attract athletes to study, live and compete here.”

Aberdeen City Council’s education and children’s services committee convener, Councillor John Wheeler, said:

“By working in partnership, we created the state-of-the-art Aberdeen Sports Village including a world-class aquatics centre, with its 50m pool, to give local people the opportunity to participate in swimming and water sports, to maximise the social, educational and physical opportunities for everyone in the city. 

“The launch of the University of Aberdeen Performance Swimming programme and the recruitment of Commonwealth Games coach Patrick Miley, highlight that, by working together, we are creating opportunities for local elite swimmers. 

Instead of having to travel great distances, or move away entirely to get access to the best facilities and coaching, they will be able to try out for a place on Team Aberdeen. By providing these opportunities we will be able to nurture future swimming sensations who will represent Aberdeen, the north-east, Scotland and the UK.”

Ally Whike, performance director of Scottish Swimming, said:

“This programme has been established through the hard work of the University of Aberdeen, local clubs, Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeen Sport and Leisure, highlighting the importance that a strong partnership approach brings to delivering high performing environments.

“Scottish Swimming looks forward to the continued development of the programme, and its positive impact in taking swimmers through the pathway and onwards to international level.”

Jul 032017
 

David Innes reviews  St Valéry And Its Aftermath by Stewart Mitchell.

Although it is almost inevitable that events are overtaken by time, and that the effect of history on localities dissipates, the name St Valéry-en-Caux, a small Normandy fishing village, continues to resonate in NE Scotland, even 77 years on from the scenes that accord that tiny French port a special place in Scottish military history.

It is said that there is scarcely an NE family which hasn’t been touched in some way by the events of June 1940, the surrender of the stranded and embattled 51st (Highland) Division, and the incarceration of thousands of Scottish soldiers in prisoner of war camps for the duration of the Second World War.

These were our forgotten casualties of that conflict, and it was a gross unfairness and insult to these brave, fortitudinous men who suffered the privations of capture, forced march and imprisonment to be described as having enjoyed an Easy War.

Stewart Mitchell, who named the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum’s excellent 2011 POW exhibition The Easy War, re-tells the story of the lead-up to Dunkirk and St Valéry, using personal accounts, some of which are now in the public domain for the first time, without resorting to military tactical terminology and technical jargon, often confusing to the lay reader.

Those of us who have had a long fascination with this episode of military and social history will have read accounts of the 51st’s manoeuvres, capture, treatment and liberation and of the social outcomes of returning home after half a decade of imprisonment. Tony Rennell, Sean Longden, Saul David, Alan Allport, Julie Summers, and Banffshire’s own Charles Morrison have all contributed to building a picture of a time of uncertainty, fortitude and, all too often, personal and familial misfortune.

It is in the re-telling of personal accounts that Mitchell excels, and he succeeds in making St Valéry more than just another military history. We hear of regular soldiers, Territorials and militiamen called up to serve when war was declared in September 1939, their backstories often of innocent city, village and country loons thrown into the jaws of an unforgiving mechanised conflict, and losing some of their most promising youthful years behind barbed wire.

Yet, there are personal recollections of derring-do, heroism, resourcefulness, smeddum and survival against heavily-stacked odds, told in fitting tribute to often forgotten men.

The volume’s appendix is unique in imbuing a personal touch to what is a harrowing, yet spirit-affirming story. Mitchell’s painstaking research has seen him identify from military records, every Gordon Highlander captured or killed in France in 1940.

My own maternal grandfather, army number 2870474 among the oldest of the Territorials called up at 37, who was 38 by the time of capture, and 44 before he was liberated, is included. That that saw my emotions well up 77 years after that fateful morning in Normandy, verifies that this a book that goes way beyond normal military history, as a chronicle of a part-generation of NE men. For that, it deserves your support.

Stewart Mitchell is making a generous contribution from the book’s sales to the Gordon Highlanders’ Museum Appeal. Please consider giving this splendid local cultural venue your support too.

STEWART MITCHELL
St Valéry And Its Aftermath
The Gordon Highlanders Captured In France In 1940
Pen & Sword Military
235 pp
Hardback ISBN 978 1 47388 658 2
£25.00

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Jul 032017
 

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates.

Murray Brown peeling the bark from the log.

Athletes competing in the heavy events at this summer’s Aboyne Highland Games will have a new challenge on their hands as organisers have unveiled a new caber to mark the event’s 150th anniversary.

One of the most iconic disciplines in the highland games programme, tossing the caber requires competitors to possess strength and good balance.

Measuring 23ft 6in (7.15m) in length and weighing approximately 130lbs (59kg), the new anniversary caber is set to test these skills when it is attempted to be thrown end over end into the perfect 12 o’clock position at this year’s games on Saturday, 05 August.

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games has become one of north-east Scotland’s most popular traditional summer events, attracting up to 10,000 visitors each year. Held on the town’s green, the games is a highlight of the Royal Deeside summer events calendar.

Overseas visitors to highland games watch in awe as competitors toss the caber – many are amazed by the ability of heavy athletes to run with and throw such a lengthy and weighty object. The caber is often described by foreign tourists as a tree trunk – its most natural form – and fail to realise the work involved in creating this carefully crafted piece of sporting equipment.

Organisers of Aboyne Highland Games decided to commission a new caber as the discipline was one that had been a fixture of the games’ programme since the event’s inception 150 years ago.

At the inaugural games, local athlete Donald Dinnie, who would go on to become one of the world’s most revered athletes, outclassed competitors in most disciplines, including tossing the caber. It was reported in the Aberdeen Journal of Wednesday, 04 September 1867 that: “In tossing the caber again, Dinnie was far superior to any of the others, and tossed clean over twice an enormous tree, which none of the others could turn until fully three feet were cut off the thick end.”

Timber for the commemorative caber was donated by Dinnet Estates and came from a 50-year-old Douglas Fir that stood in woodland at Rhu-na-Haven Road, Aboyne. Since the 70ft tree was felled in January, the timber has undergone a number of processes that have seen it transformed from tree trunk to slender caber.

The work is being carried out by Murray Brown, who is convenor of heavy events at Aboyne Highland Games. Murray, who himself competed in the heavy events at highland games during the 1970s and 80s, has made a number of cabers in recent years. Over the past five months Murray and a team of volunteers have spent around 50 hours creating the new Aboyne caber, which will be unveiled at the games.

Tommy Fyvie of Aboyne tossing the caber at the 2016 Aboyne Highland Games

The first stage of the process was to allow the sap within the wood to dry out, before the log was peeled of its bark and sculpted and sanded into the iconic gently tapering pole. A number of coats of oil have also been applied to the caber to preserve its finish. One end of the caber has a smaller circumference, allowing competitors to safely hold it with ease.

The 150th anniversary caber will be used in a special event that will be contested the winner of the open caber throwing competition on games day.

If they are deemed to have successfully tossed the anniversary caber into the perfect 12 o’clock position they will be rewarded with a £500 prize.

Murray Brown, convenor of the heavy events, said:

“Many foreign visitors are unaware of the work that is involved in creating a caber. Some think we merely cut down a tree, strip the trunk of its bark and put it to use on the games field. However, it would still be full of sap which would make it too heavy and its girth at both ends too broad to be held by the majority of competitors.

“The new anniversary caber is a beautiful piece of timber. The wood is very straight and has few blemishes, which has made working with it over the last few months much easier. I look forward to seeing competitors throwing it on games day.”

Aboyne Highland Games has a tradition of creating cabers that challenge the strength and skill of competitors. In 1961, the games sent new cabers to Australia following a request from the Highland Society of New South Wales. However, it proved too tough a challenge for Australian heavy athletes. It was reported in the Canberra Times of October, 21 1965 that “nobody could toss it” and that it was subsequently replaced.

Marcus Humphrey, whose family owns Dinnet Estate, was inspired to donate wood for the anniversary caber after recalling that he was at the quayside in 1961 when the cabers arrived down under.

He said:

“I got the idea when I remembered that Aboyne gave two cabers to the Highland Society of New South Wales in 1961. The society was keen to obtain a caber from a Scottish forest for use at its own games and Aboyne duly obliged. By chance I was in Sydney and witnessed the cabers being unloaded from a ship at the harbour.”

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, added:

“Our 150th anniversary is set to be a special day and is being marked in a number of ways. A book containing old pictures and the public’s memories of the games is being created, an anniversary whisky is being bottled and pole vaulting is making a return to programme.

“The new caber will be a splendid and lasting addition to our games equipment. Our thanks go to Murray, Marcus and all of those who have been involved in crafting it.”

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish highland games held annually on the first Saturday in August. The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.

Featuring a programme of traditional highland games events, including highland dancing, tossing the caber and piping, the event on the town’s green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local Deeside economy. Further information on Aboyne Highland Games can be found at www.aboynegames.com.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Jun 302017
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘Chess – The Musical’ at His Majesty’s Theatre. 

Chess plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 1 July 2017.

Chess – The Musical comes to the HMT stage this week courtesy of Aberdeen Opera Company Productions in collaboration with Scott School of Dancing and despite the slightly clunky original storyline and often clichéd characterisation this production of the pop-opera easily transcends the limitations of the scrip and delivers a powerful and entertaining take on the politics of the Cold War era.

It’s Friday night and the lights are low. Everybody’s playing the game but nobody’s rules are the same.

In fact, “Nobody’s on nobody’s side” and those long daggers are drawn for all to see. For those who missed out on the Cold War, welcome to the dark world of international chess seventies style.

A musical game of stealth, dark deals and exploitation takes the theatre audience on a wild trip through the murky and mysterious world of international pre-internet gaming. As the USSR and the USA battle it out in icy Merano and steamy Bangkok, Indian Attacks and Paris Gambits are to the fore as the grandmasters battle it out.

Essentially a love story, Chess features a love triangle subjected to some pretty cynical manipulation by the forces of politics and commerce.

Scott Jamieson’s brilliantly dysfunctional grandmaster, the aptly named Frederick Trumper, loses both his title and his lady to Gavin McKay’s dignified Anatoly Sergievsky. As the minders look on and the manipulators take charge, Florence Vassy, played by Rachael Watson, switches sides and seizes the starring role with powerful numbers such as ‘Heaven Help My Heart’ and, in duet with Amanda Massie’s Svetlana, ‘I Know Him So Well’.

The Chess-set is utilitarian verging on the Brutalist, the music ranges from rock to light opera and the choreography is, to say the least, fast-paced and razor-sharp. The tournament scenes are simply spell-binding and stage-lighting is simple but stunning!

Fresh from the 2016 hit production of Sunshine in Leith, the AOC theatre group has once again delivered a triumphant piece of entertainment. A must see.

Directed by Judith Stephen and based on an idea by Tim Rice with music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, Chess plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 1 July 2017

Words © Duncan Harley. Images © Rhea McKenzie Photography

Jun 232017
 

Duncan Harley reviews The Wedding Singer at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen.

Once you get to grips with the schmaltzy ‘girls just wanna get married’ portrayal of the eighties which haunts this musical from the very start, The Wedding Singer is actually a whole load of fun.

Despite a story-line thin enough to gladden the heart of a coronary bypass surgeon and sufficient cheesy humour to keep McDonalds going in triple cheeseburger’s for a month, the entertainment value more than makes up for this sugar-sweet take on the Reagan decade.

Based on the hit 1998 film of the same name, the musical tells the tale of wedding singer and emcee Robbie Hart.

Robbie and his band ‘Simply Wed’ – yes you read that correctly – play the New Jersey wedding circuit making a precarious living on the back of those who have popped the question. Jilted and depressed he abandons the wedding gigs and comes of age on the bar mitzvah circuit. Predictably he gets the girl and equally predictably he gets invited to sing at his own wedding.

Starring Jon Robyns as the multi-talented Robbie Hart and X Factor/singer songwriter Cassie Compton as love interest Julia Sullivan, it would be difficult to imagine this production going far wrong really. Well known for roles including secretly-gay Rod in Avenue Q and Sir Galahad in Spamalot Jon’s performance literally shines.

Add in a mix of stars including Ray Quinn, as Glen Gulia, and Barbara Rafferty in the role of Rosie the rapping-granny and The Wedding Singer is off like the clappers.  A clutch of iconic dance-numbers including Saturday Night in the City and All About the Green plus some pretty dang impressive lighting and audio complete the line-up.

Alongside the main characters, the cast list includes a motley crew of ‘fake’ characters including Ronnie Reagan, Billy Idol, Tina Turner and Cyndi Lauper. Additionally, and I could be wrong, amongst the line-up in the bar scene I swear I spotted a suitably inebriated Charles Bukowski

As a feel-good, Aspartame sweetened heart-warming trip into the past, The Wedding Singer works really well although the story-line does pose awkward questions for those who were actually around at the time.

Will Hart get the girl? And does Julia really want to be Mrs Gulia? For a definitive answer or two you will just have to join the audience. Oh! And watch out for those brick-size cell-phones and, of course, that singing cake!

Lighting Designer Ben Cracknell/Sound Designer Ben Harrison.
The Wedding Singer plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 24 June
Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

Jun 082017
 

Duncan Harley reviews Mark Jackson’s Red White and Blue.

Mark Jackson’s take on the beautiful game, of rugby, is a welcome distraction from that stereotypical play on sweating giants in short shorts which generally populates the sporting-fiction bookshelf.

Set against a backdrop of rarefied privilege in the lead up to the 1924 Paris Olympiad the story follows American student Jack Morgan as, on the trail of burning ambition, he vows to secure selection for the US Olympic team. Along the way he must pick up a Rugby Blue, bag the girl of his dreams and, of course, win that Gold.

Following a meeting at Stamford University, during which he accepts the challenge “Climb that Everest and perchance other mountains may be scaled”, he secures a scholarship at Oxford and sets off on his quest.

Morgan is young, wealthy and gifted. When he arrives at Oxford in 1923, he is paired, by the sniffy College porter, with new room-mate Saul Warburg.

“What are you here for?” asked Morgan
“Isn’t it obvious? Law. It’s the Inns of Court for Saul Warburg QC. You?” replied Saul.
“Get my degree and win a Blue.”
“Ah, the odd-shaped ball.”
“It’s the Great Game,” countered Morgan.

As if the odds were not already sufficiently stacked against him, Jack soon sets sights on the beautiful Rose. She, an ‘English Rose’, is of course none other than the Varsity team captain’s ‘girl’; and his quest for that coveted Oxford Blue appears to be already in jeopardy.

The setting, in a 1920’s privileged England, echoes realism and while the Red White and Blue storyline is strong, character development is perhaps not so. Heading towards the last page there were still unanswered questions regarding the main character. Additionally, the historical-political context outwith the narrow confine of the international rugby world seemed sparse.

Staccato dialogue inhabits these chapters and a perceptible spectre of a Spillane-like Mike Hammer, minus the whisky-swilling-machismo, hummed along in the background. Indeed the upbeat and sometimes stirring rugby commentary raises suspicion that author Mark Jackson, a newspaperman, was perhaps in some previous life a sports-commentator.

Hopefully this powerful foray into the rainbow world of Varsity conflict is just the first of a long series which will see the mighty Morgan’s sporting career flourish. Perhaps in part two we might hear of his exploits in introducing both the odd-shaped-ball and Jesse Owens to the Berlin Olympiad.

Red White and Blue (163pp) is published by Matador at £8.99  
ISBN: 9781785892851

First published in the May Edition of Leopard Magazine – A magazine which celebrates the people, the culture and the places of North-east Scotland

Jun 022017
 

 By Red Fin Hall.

Well that’s another season over, and what a season it was. Stretching back to 26th June last year when Aberdeen travelled to Brechin for a friendly, ahead of first competitive game in the Europa Cup at home to Fola Esch of Luxembourg, ending last Saturday with the epic and exciting Scottish Cup final against Celtic.

Nobody expected The Dons to get as close to being victorious in that final as they did.

This team, started by Craig Brown and moulded by Derek McInnes, has finally come to a crossroads, with Ash Taylor, Ryan Jack and Nial Mcginn, three first team regulars all looking for new clubs, and Peter Pawlett already signed for M.K.Dons. Rumours abound on social media about the future of Jonny Hayes and Derek McInnes, with Celtic and Sunderland seemingly interested in being their next employers.

It wouldn’t take much for these rumours to be squashed with an official statement from the club.

This has been our most successful season without winning anything since Willie Miller was manager, but this time the future looks rosier, with the prospective of further finals and perhaps progressing past the qualifying rounds of the Europa League a distinct possibility.

The main stream media though are having none of it, doing their usual speculating and writing us off because “The Rangers” will be busy in the transfer market and Hibs will be back in the SPFL.

Also, the fact that we have lost so many players and only, so far, having signed Greg Tansey, means we will be weaker. But The Rangers will be in a bigger transition period than the Dons, if stories are to believed, with more than half their team being kicked out, or should I say, released. Their manager has already stated that he wants to bring in players he knows; and if this is true, then their is a greater chance they will be Portuguese with no knowledge of the Scottish game.

Aberdeen have been pretty consistent all season long with only the occasional lapse of form, none more so than the League Cup final against Celtic where the players went into the match on a great run of nine wins out of ten, the only loss being to Celtic.

Bad luck played it’s part too, especially the away match to League survivors, Hamilton, in February of this year. Aberdeen had well over 20 corners, but couldn’t put the ball into the home team’s net and cancal out an 8th minute goal by Mikey Devlin. The Hamilton captain is a player that, apparently, McInnes is keen on.

Although Aberdeen had little chance of catching up with the champions, they have been in scintillating form. It was widely expected that the gap between the Dons and The Rangers, who finished in third place, would have been much closer.

However, it could have been wider had it not been for a few silly draws and especially those crazy 10 minute spells in our last three home games. Firstly, against The Rangers, we conceded 3 goals in that period despite being the dominant team throughout the match. The following home game, and the first after the split, saw us go to sleep for a few minutes, allowing St Johnstone to put two past us.

Thirteen days later visitors, Celtic were 3 goals up in the first 11 minutes. However, Jonny Hayes’ 12th minute goal was a vital turning point. The players seemed to finally realise how good they were, and made the Celtic defence work harder than they had domestically all season, pushing them all the way. Away romps and consecutive victories against the other two Glasgow clubs, saw the team go into the final in fine fettle and full of confidence.

Well, we all know what happened there, so no further analysis is needed other than, perhaps, the manager’s choice of substitutes.

In my opinion, the decisions to bring on Rooney (our top scorer, but a bit one dimensional at times) and replacing McGinn (a player that rarely plays his best in the big games, but still gives us width) with O’Connor, a midfielder, instead of Scott Wright (who scored a hat trick at Partick Thistle, and a natural keen and pacey replacement for the Northern Irishman) remain questionable.

It is pleasing that the supporters are still buzzing and confident and fully behind the team, and anxious for July to come around.

All in all, it has been a satisfactory season, and with the first game in the Europa League not taking place until July, this will be the first time since 2015 that the team have had a month without playing a game.

Unless a friendly is arranged in June that is.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.