Oct 242013

Vue on Shiprow was almost vacant as I sat down this afternoon to watch Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s Escape Plan. Andrew Watson reviews.

vuepicI was a bit dubious about this example of situation genre, popularly dubbed ‘claustrocore’, where most or all of the film is shot in the one setting. Think Phone Booth.

There was enough variety in this action thriller, however, to assuage negative assumption.

Ray Breslin (Stallone) is the movie’s protagonist and co-owner of a firm testing the infallibility of maximum security prisons. Rapper 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson), makes a glorified cameo appearance as Ray’s business partner Hush.

Breslin successfully escapes one of many prisons he’s testing without a hitch.  A more lucrative offer comes in, and although the stakes are far higher than usual, both sides deal in.

Once on the inside, Ray meets fellow inmate, Emil Rottmayer (Schwarzenegger).  Favours between the two are drawn as Stallone’s character scopes out the nooks and crannies of his toughest challenge yet.

Their contrasting roles, with stonefaced and serious Sly and amiable Arnie, ensure that the onscreen chemistry bubbles.  They bounce off each other quite well, and the film is almost totally devoid of any big-time ego clashes.

The pair are pitted against jail warden Willard Hobbs (Jim Caviezel), and his second-in-command played by ex-football hard man, Vinnie Jones.

Standing, or rather hiding, between good and bad is Dr Emil Kyrie (Sam Neill).  Paid to oversee the wellbeing of the prisoners, with his employers bent on doing the opposite, he cuts a perplexing insight into the psyche of a beleaguered conscience. It’s a pity the role is so minimal for such a fine actor.

Among the highlights is a punch -up between the two megastars, before they’re rounded up and thrown into isolation.

Stallone, the smaller of the two, takes a while to overcome Arnie, who initially laughs off the the assualt.

Schwarzenegger’s feigning Christian babble is hilarious, as the subtitles translate his almost-incoherent German cries.  All part of the ruse, whilst Stallone plots an escape route.

The nailbiting conclusion has you wondering if both will survive, but no spoilers from me.

On the whole, not the most earth-shattering piece of cinema you’re likely to see this year, especially, in terms of script complexity, as its overall simplicity is definitely the most prominent feature.

Aug 232013

Dogstar Theatre’s new production, The Baroness,  starring Roberta Taylor and directed by Matthew Zajac, is opening on Stornoway at the end of the month. As part of the Scottish tour the production will be performing at Alford, Findhorn and Gordonstoun School. With thanks to Liz Smith.

Roberta Taylor as Karen Blixen in The Baroness.

Roberta Taylor as Karen Blixen in The Baroness.

Dogstar’s autumn production, the UK premiere of The Baroness by Thor Bjorn Krebs, translated by Kim Dambaek, opens at An Lanntair, Stornoway, on Saturday 31 August following a preview on Friday 30 August.

The tour finishes at the Traverse, Edinburgh, on Saturday 28 September.

Roberta Taylor, one of Britain’s most talented actresses plays The
Baroness, and is joined by Ewan Donald as Thorkild Bjørnvig and Romana  Abercromby as Benedicte Jensen.

The play is directed by Dogstar’s Co-Artistic Director Matthew Zajac with music composed by Aidan O’Rourke.

In 1948, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) the celebrated writer of Out of Africa, was 62 when she met the recently married and successful 29 year young poet and writer Thorkild Bjørnvig. The two shared a powerful and intimate friendship, their pact, which lasted 6 years, before falling apart.

The play charts the course of this relationship and also the relationship of a third character, Benedicte Jensen, to Bjornvig and Blixen.  Benedicte was the wife of Bjornvig’s patron and publisher.

The Baroness premiered to rave reviews at the Folketeatret in Copenhagen in 2011 and was nominated as play of the year in the 2012 Danish Theatre Awards. Full of tension and poetry, with three tremendous acting roles, the play is inspired by anecdotes, letters and books by and about both Blixen and Bjørnvig.

Roberta Taylor is best known for her long-running roles in Eastenders and The Bill.  She is also a best-selling author with her memoir, Too Many Mothers having sold over quarter of a million copies.  Roberta was a leading member of Glasgow Citizens Theatre for 20 years under Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and Robert David MacDonald.

Aidan O’Rourke, is one of Scotland’s most exciting composers and musicians and a member of the amazing trio LAU, three times winner of the BBC2 Folk Awards Band of the Year. Recently Ewan Donald toured Scotland with Right Lines’ production of Be Silent or Be Killed.

The production has been designed by Catherine Deverell with lighting design by Kate Bonney. Supported by the Hugh Fraser Foundation www.dogstartheatre.co.uk

Listings Information

An Lanntair, Stornoway
Friday 30 & Saturday 31 August 8.00pm
Box Office 01851 708480 www.lanntair.com
Preview Friday 30 8.00pm

Strathpeffer Pavilion
Tuesday 3 September 8.00pm
Tickets WeGotTickets.com/strathpefferpavilion
June’s Card Shop Dingwall & Pavilion 01947 420124 & 0844 771000

Macphail Theatre, Mill Street. Ullapool
Wednesday 4 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01854 613336 www.macphailcentre.co.uk

Lyth Arts Centre
Thursday 5 September 8.00pm
Tickets: 01955 641434 www.lytharts.org.uk

Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute
Saturday 7 September 7.30pm
Doors open 7.00pm
Tickets 01700 503877 www.mountstuart.com

Tower Mill, Heart of Hawick
Tuesday 10 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01450 360688 www.heartofhawick.co.uk 

CatStrand, New Galloway
Wednesday 11 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01644 420374 www.catstrand.com 

The Buccleuch Centre, Langholm
Thursday 12 September 7.30pm
Box Office 013873 81196 www.buccleuchcentre.com

Birnam Arts
Friday 13 September 8.00pm
Box Office 01350 727674 www.birnamarts.com

Tullynessle & Forbes Hall by Alford
Saturday 14 September 7.30pm
Tickets: Alford Bistro 019755 63154 www.tullynessieandforbeshall.co.uk

Resolis Memorial Hall
Tuesday 17 September 8.00pm
Tickets 01381 610204 www.resoliscommunityarts.org.uk

Universal Hall, Findhorn
Wednesday 18 September 7.30pm
Tickets: Phoenix Stores 01309 690110 www.wegotickets.com/UniversalHall

Ogstoun Theatre, Gordonstoun School
Thursday 19 June 8.00pm

Eden Court, Inverness
Friday 20 & Saturday 21 September
Box Office 01463 234234 www.eden-court.co.uk

Druimfin, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Tuesday 24 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01688 302828 www.mulltheatre.com

Craignish Village Hall, Ardfern
Wednesday 25 September 7.30pm
Tickets 01852 500746 www.craignishvillagehall.org.uk

Eastgate Theate, Peebles
Thursday 26 September 7.30pm
Box Office 01721 725777 www.eastgatearts.com

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Friday 27 & Saturday 28 September, 7.30pm
Cambridge Street, Edinburgh EH1 2ED
Box Office 0131 228 1404 www.traverse.co.uk

Feb 282013

Declan Michael Laird has gone from the outskirts of Glasgow to Hollywood, via River City.  Since Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly last spoke with him, things have been happening.

This year’s Oscars might be over and done with, but Laird’s career is just starting.

Declan’s in a car heading to a friend’s house when I get him on the phone. It’s been 8 months since we last spoke, during which he’s been busy.

“I’m just coming from an audition. It was for a pilot for a network on CW. I think it went well.  It’s pilot season just now; all the new series are being made.  I get scripts and then just give it my best”

It is pilot season; studios are testing out new actors to be in new shows.  Some will never make it to the screen at all; some will be given a test run, and the lucky shows will be televised.  CW network has come up with some long-running shows, some of which exceed the usual seven season maximum, including Supernatural, a cult classic with a huge following, and conventions.

It’s a warm sunny afternoon in California; it’s after ten at night in Aberdeen, and considerably colder.  Still Declan mentions that there’s a bit of a chill in the Hollywood air.

“I should be ashamed of myself for saying how cold it was.”

I agree with him, and rather undiplomatically I bring up the fortunes of his club, Celtic, which lost 3-0 to Juventus.

“It wasn’t a good week.  I watched it with another Scottish friend.”

I ask if he’s still playing in the Allstars, a team captained by Vinnie Jones.

“My football season starts next week, it stopped for the winter. I’m centre mid-field or right back.” 

He jokes that he’s ‘a lot younger’ than some of his team mates.  Laird spent most of his childhood pursuing a career in football before the acting bug bit.  A show reel of some of his work can be found here:-

This includes work from RiverCity, and the short film ‘The Lost Purse’ which won a number of awards.

He and I were to have spoken when he came home to Scotland recently.  The glamour of Tinsel Town can’t compete with home.

“It was so nice to be back and see family again and have a bit of normality.  When you’re here (LA) everything is geared around the industry – acting, movies, scripts… It was nice to be home and have my mum call me ‘eejit’”.

So – what work exactly is going on for him?  I asked about the pilot that he was rumoured to have filmed.

“I can’t say much, but I can say the director is Guy Norman Bee.  He directed ER, Criminal Minds, Revolution and Arrow.   I taped in mid December   – it was great to get that and have a pilot under my belt.  The head of my school [The Stella Adler] can’t believe I got a pilot after having my 01 visa for four months.  I used my American accent which I’ve worked really hard on.  I can jump between the two accents now.  I have to go in and do my voiceover.  In this pilot the main character is my brother.  I’ll know in early June if it will air”

There is a trend at present for established actors to favour television roles over films.  Dennis Quaid,  for instance, is in the new series Vegas.  I wonder whether Declan’s got any preferences.

“Right now in my career anything that gives me a platform would be great.  But the way people might be looking at it, a movie is two hours; a show can go on for many seasons; and a character can develop over the course of time.  You can be on it [a series] for years and put your own stamp on it.”

How are things at the Stella Adler School?

“When I got my work visa, I still had a year of my course left.  The head of my school said ‘you’ve got a year left, your visa is for three years; drop from the full-time school and go part time.’  So I’m in class and not getting rusty and am going on auditions.  When I got the pilot they said, ‘we thought you’d get work’, and this justifies it.   I’m on their website with all these great, great actors, which is amazing.”

“My visa is for entertainment. It was good getting it because I don’t think many people my age get it.  To get the visa I got lots of support from Milton Justice, Mark Ruffalo  [AKA The Incredible Hulk from the Avengers], Ross King, Vinnie Jones: they were pretty great.” 

He’s not the only Scot around.

“Funny story. I was in Stella Adler and the lady in the office said there’s some Scottish group in doing a workshop. I think they left a few minutes later, I think that must be them.  I see this guy walk past, and it was one of my old school teachers! We both just looked at each other. He’d looked me up on Google, and he had me come into Hutcheson Grammar in Glasgow, and I did a talk to the school and later the drama department.  We talked about how I got into acting.   I think I managed to convince a few of them that moving out here was a great choice.”

“I’m very lucky that I have parents that support me; a lot of people don’t have that.   I think my mom will visit. Both our birthdays are at the start of April.”

“My best friend out here is from Aberdeen. I was getting my hair cut and suddenly this boy comes in; I hear Scottish and we determined he was from Aberdeen, and I was in Glasgow.  There’s a shared sense of humour, not everyone here gets sarcasm.”

“We do a lot of theatre. If you can do theatre, you can walk onto a television set because you’re never under more pressure than when you walk out onto a stage and have hundreds of eyes on you.  We do Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams. When you read a Nickelodeon script it’s not the same.  With TV it’s often about a certain look, there’s so much about looks and rejection.  Theatre is much less of a beauty pageant.”

Laird’s car journey and our interview time are over.  I wonder where he’s heading now.

“I’m going to the gym, working on some school work and then maybe relax at a buddy’s with a movie or some Xbox.”

At 19 years old, Declan is in a very unusual, exciting situation. It bodes well that he’d prefer the gym and some relaxing over wild partying and ‘sleb-filled clubs.  He knows he has a lot of studying and work to do, and he’s staying level-headed and appreciative of his luck and those who have helped him.

“I’d like to thank John Jack Rodgers, the Head of the school – he’s so understanding about auditions and trying to get work while studying and getting the most out of you.”

Not that he needs it, but I wish him well.

  • Keep up to date with Declan on twitter at @DMLactor
Jun 142012

At age 18 Declan Michael Laird is getting a remarkable reception in Hollywood.  He is on a scholarship to the most prestigious acting school there is, he is playing football with celebrity expats, and he is having the time of his life.  Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly catches up with Declan, and gets the gen on his story so far.

Declan answers the phone, and the first thing that comes up is weather.  Aberdonian readers don’t need me to tell them how this summer is going, but Declan’s interested.  “You’d be surprised – I do miss the damp weather sometime… the sun can get to you sometimes if you’re running around a lot.” he offers, “But I do love it, and I’m lucky.”

His voice is filled with enthusiasm (it sounds as if he is smiling and on the verge of laughing), and it should be.  He is in Hollywood pursuing a career as an actor.  Not bad for a teenager from Scotland.

I ask what he got up to today.

“I got up early, did some school work, then went to gym and tried to work out, then met friends for coffee – I’m off to class shortly.”

Class in this case being acting lessons at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre.

“I was playing for  Greenock Morton FC and left school at 16 – I wanted to be  pro player.  I never thought about acting .  I was on a pro youth contract. 

“I came to Los Angeles on vacation, and there was a workshop at an acting school.  I was with my dad, and said I’d go in and give it a shot.  I’d never had the opportunity back home.  I went in and I loved it – I felt I had a knack for it – I did it, loved it, came home from LA and told my family that I wanted to give it a bash.  

“I got an agent in Glasgow and my first audition was for River City.   This was only a week or so in [to being signed by an agent], and I got the part. I’d never even been in the school play!  I did the audition the way I thought it should be done.  I got the call the next morning to say I got the part.”

“It was all amazingly sudden,” Declan tells me,

“I went to the first filming and decided this was what I wanted to do – the cameras, the actors, being on set was amazing.  Football, which had been my aim for 10 years, suddenly fell to the back.  I did a few short films back home with independent filmmakers. 

  he said, ‘You would be the first person since Robert De Niro to get this scholarship.’ 

“In December 2010 I got a call from Stella Adler School – (from Milton Justice who is an  Oscar-winner documentary maker; he was the man who took the workshop).  I had no idea I was doing the workshop in front of an Oscar winner – maybe that’s why I wasn’t as nervous as everyone else.  He said he was impressed, and there was a place if I wanted to go to LA.  

“I was signalling to my mum and she said it would be too expensive.  But I told him l’d speak to my parents and call back.  So I spoke to my parents, and called back to say we couldn’t really afford it.  He sort of laughed and said ‘we’re offering you the place,  it would be a full scholarship’.  Just as I was about to get my words out – I was speechless – he said, ‘You would be the first person since Robert De Niro to get this scholarship.’  – I thought I was being punked”.

Declan continues:

“So at that point there was only one thought – I was going to go.  So, fast forward  they wanted me in January – but I was still 17 –so  I came in August.”

Laird has a manger and an agent, not something that your average teenager winds up with after a few months in Hollywood by any standard, and work is coming in.

“I’ve just booked a film with award-winning director Stan Harrington ‘Lost Angels,’ which  starts filming this month.  I start in July – I’m excited about that.”

And from the tone of his voice, yes, he is.  There are other call-backs and opportunities which we discuss.  I look forward to watching where he’s going to next appear.

“I don’t even know the name, but there’s a movie being made in Scotland and the casting director’s wanting  to ’Skype’ with me to talk about.”   

There are other international prospects in the pipeline, and it will be interesting to see what choices Laird makes.

“It sounds far- fetched when I tell people.” Declan says of his experiences.

Indeed, one of the reasons I wanted to get in touch was that his story sounded far-fetched to me when I’d first heard it from his father.  Parents do generally tend to exaggerate what their children are up to, but with hindsight what his father told me was understated compared to the facts.

We talk about football.

“The good thing is I’m playing football as well .   Vinnie Jones is the coach; there are a few guys from Hollyoaks.  A lot of British actors, models and singers are coming from the UK, and here there’s not a lot of opportunity to play. 

“Vinnie rounds up everyone he can who is able to play.  

“Mark Wright is out here making a documentary.  He plays in the team on Sunday, and the show filmed it – you’ll see me playing with Mark and Vinnie shouting at us.”

I ask about visits home – wouldn’t a teenager so far from home miss his friends and family?

“I’ve only been back once – I went back at Christmas.  It is difficult sometimes, but this is where  I want to be, and I’m very determined.”  I’m more than convinced of the determination by this point.  “ People think I’m about 25 – being here alone has matured me a lot.”

“Ross King has been really helpful – he does the Hollywood scoop.  He heard about me coming out here, got in touch.   When I first came I didn’t know anyone.  He’s introduced me to people, takes me to the studio – he’s been great.”

I come back around to football – after all there are just a few issues with Scottish football at present.   Would he still be following his team?

“I am a Celtic supporter.  I don’t watch all the games, but there is an Irish bar in Hollywood that  shows the  Old Firm games.  My brother is a Rangers supporter and my dad’s a Rangers supporter as well.” 

Not wanting to linger on Rangers’ future or any family football rifts, I get back to acting.“What roles appeal to you?” I ask as what must be a fairly predictable question. 

“A lot of people seem to think they can see me as a bad boy – could be to do with the accent.  But I like comedy – I like making people laugh.  But I’m open to everything.   All the good roles are the bad guys.”

 I can’t argue there, and think of De Niro’s ability to be a terrifying villain (the remake of ‘Cape Fear’ springs to mind) as well as his considerable gifts for comedy.  I have little doubt Laird will be another master of both.

Will he wind up another ‘Lohan’?  Will he be jaded before he’s hit twenty?  Will he keep up the enthusiasm and energy which will be essential to win roles and handle the ups and downs?  I think so – but I ask about it.

“My family are so supportive – you meet so many people out here whose family aren’t supportive.  You can be out of work;  you can be in work.  But they support me in every way they can.”

Declan’s keen to say hello to his friends and family


“If I could say a special thank you to Jim Sweeney, who lives in Inverclyde.  When I was first starting he helped so much and I really appreciate it.”

I ask Declan for any last thoughts.

“It is amazing what I’ve achieved in the last 8 months – the events I go to, the people I’ve met. I feel like it’s meant to be.  That  sounds cheesy – but I’m a great believer in things that are meant to be.”

  • Keep up to date with Declan on twitter at @DMLactor