Week 1 – 2015
After the Scottish premiere of his Percussion Concerto No 2 at the Usher Hall on Friday evening, Sir James MacMillan joined an illustrious gathering of performers and musicians at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on Saturday to present the first of this year’s Herald Angel Awards. The composer said that he thought Colin Currie’s performance with the RSNO, of a work written especially for him, had been his finest yet. That concert had appropriately also featured the men of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, a choir that featured prominently in the awards.
This year’s Edinburgh International Festival began with a spectacle to rival the closing Virgin Money Fireworks Concerts in The Harmonium Project, created as a celebration of 50 years of the Chorus. The lights and projections show, using research undertaken at Edinburgh University and the Usher Hall as its backdrop, was created by 59 Productions to accompany a performance of John Adams’s Harmonium by the choir and our national orchestra. Indicative of that partnership, Sir James presented the award to Chorus Master Christopher Bell, RSNO Associate Conductor Jean-Claude Picard, and Roy Luxford, Director of Planning at the Edinburgh International Festival.
The Festival’s opening Saturday saw the first audiences arrive at the specially-created theatre spaces in Edinburgh International Conference Centre and the world premiere of The Encounter, a work by Complicite and Simon McBurney that takes a headphone-wearing audience on a journey up the Amazon through the story of a National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre and his encounter with the native Mayoruna people, whose way of life is being destroyed by rapacious logging. Receiving an Angel, McBurney paid tribute to the vast army of skilled technicians who support his solo performance on stage and asked the audience at the Angels to remember the South American people whose story inspired the work, as he does at the end of each performance.
As familiar in established venues as they are welcome in brand new ones, our Angels also made a return visit, as they have in each of the past 20 years, to Edinburgh’s new writing theatre, The Traverse. Performer Bryony Kimmings has made a compelling series of shows from the fabric of her own life, investigating the relationship we all have with alcohol or sexuality. Following up her two-hander with nine-year-old niece Taylor in Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, which looked at the pressures on young women, Fake it ’til you Make it sees her on-stage with her real-life partner Tim Grayburn, exploring issues of masculinity in the context of his struggle with clinical depression.
From the vast cast of international visitors to the Fringe, dance company VerTeDance, from the Czech Republic, were Angel-winners for their show, Correction, at Zoo Southside. Accompanied by the clarinet quartet that soundtracks their performance, the seven-strong troupe provided that largest contingent at Saturday’s presentations, and the musicians, the group Clarinet Factory, also added a musical finale to the proceedings, appreciated by Sir James and the entire company.
There is also a wide international representation at the Circus Hub, a new venture on the Meadows in two tents, and the recipient of the first of our Little Devil awards, given for those who demonstrate a resilient spirit when things don’t go quite to plan. Artists from Australia, Canada, Palestine and across Europe are now to be seen there, but damage caused by the weather and a series of technical difficulties left them unable to open on schedule. Collecting the award, Stephen Makin of the Circus Hub acknowledged the hard work of the team of technicians ensuring that “the show must go on”, and acrobats from the Limbo company demonstrated a little of what can be witnessed there, as an unperturbed Sir James MacMillan handed over the trophy.
Each week we also present a Herald Archangel award for a sustained contribution to the Edinburgh Festivals and the first of these for 2015, our 20th birthday year, could only go to the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, celebrating its 50th birthday. The choir, which is in as fine voice now as at any time in the last half-century, was represented by four of its members in receiving the award: sopranos Naomi Barkley and Mary Gordon, bass Nick Balneaves, and tenor John Anderton, who has sung in the choir since its inception in 1965, and missed only one concert in all those years. With performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande Messe de Morts coming up this week, Chorus Master Christopher Bell paid tribute to the dedication of his choir of amateur musicians who give selflessly of their time to be a vital ensemble at the heart of each successive Festival music programme.
Week 2 – 2015 in association with Woods Brownie Co
Confectionary created in the southwest Edinburgh village of Juniper Green added an extra sweet flavour to the second week of this year’s Herald Angel Awards at Edinburgh Festival Theatre on Saturday. The sponsorship of the week’s awards by Woods Brownie Co meant that each guest was greeted with cake to accompany their morning coffee before the prize-giving began, and could enjoy another for the socialising afterwards.
Our guest presenter this week was Dillie Keane, back at the Fringe in a solo capacity after more years than she can accurately remember. Best known as part of Fascinating Aida, Keane’s tea-time show at the Udderbelly in George Square is attracting capacity houses for her classic Fringe fare of witty songs, frank personal confessions and just a little good honest smut. She was accompanied by her accompanist – and co-vocalist at one crucial point in her show – Gulliver Ralston to the awards.
Another pianist, also harpsichordist and conductor, was the first recipient of an Angel. Richard Egarr, well known to Scottish audiences for his work with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, was unable to be present, however, as he was rehearsing the concert performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore by Scottish Opera that took place at the Usher Hall last night, with a stellar line-up of soloists including John Mark Ainslie, Toby Spence and Elizabeth Watts. It will be his third concert in this year’s Festival programme, following a solo Bach recital on Tuesday and a role at the heart of the ensemble accompanying counter-tenor Iestyn Davies at the Queen’s Hall on Wednesday. The Angel was collected from Dillie Keane on his behalf by the Artists Administrator of the Edinburgh International Festival Andrew Moore.
Performance artist Penny Arcade was the winner of a Herald Little Devil award back in 2001 for determinedly ensuring her Fringe show went ahead in the face of the obstacles that fortune throws in the way. She now has a Herald Angel to accompany it, in recognition of her new show at the Underbelly, Longing Lasts Longer, which is an acerbic attack on the worst of the cosy, non-confrontational style of people who have colonised and gentrified the New York City that she loves. The lessons she teaches are applicable far from there, however, and she claims that, promisingly, it is the younger generation of the Edinburgh audience that is listening.
The newest show in the Traverse Theatre’s Fringe programme comes from the National Theatre of Scotland and Live Theatre of Newcastle – an adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel The Sopranos by award- winning writer Lee Hall, directed by former NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a musical that draws on centuries of composition to tell the story of young women from Scotland’s hinterland on the loose in the big city. Collecting the award with members of the cast, Hall noted the paradox that the actors playing a choir determined to lose a competition so that they could get out to play, had confounded their narrative by winning an award.
Kande are an Indonesian band of musicians who survived the tsunami of 2004 to play to other refugees and who have now brought their distinctive blend of Aceh percussion and Western electric instruments to C Venue on Chamber Street. The Angel to their show Aceh Meukondroe was collected by the producer who has brought a package of Indonesian work to this year’s Fringe, Rama Thaharami.
The Archangel for lasting achievement was unanimously awarded by The Herald critics this week to Robert Lepage, whose work has been presented in Scotland over the past 25 years, in Glasgow as well as at the Edinburgh Festival, and whose new show, 887, a reminiscence of growing up in Quebec City during the most violent years of the Quebec independence movement, premiered at this year’s Festival. An artist whose work had been hugely influential on Scottish theatre-makers, he paid tribute to the team of perfectionists behind the scenes of his one-man show, and to EIF director Fergus Linehan for trusting even those established in their profession to produce valuable new work for his festival.
This week’s Little Devil Award could only go to our presenter, Dillie Keane, who took the decision to come to Edinburgh and fulfil the commitment made by her group after her collaborator of 30 years, Adele Anderson was diagnosed with cancer. For a much loved professional like Dillie Keane, and indeed Adele Anderson, there is only one response to that sort of news: the show must go on.
Week 1 – 2015 in association with Edinburgh Napier University
Welcoming our guests to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Napier’s Dr Sandra Cairncross outlined the comprehensive extent of the arts and creative industry sector courses it has available to young people, some of whom were among the audience which included participants in The Herald’s Young Critics project and the International Festival’s Head of Creative Learning, Sally Hobson.
Dr Cairncross joined our guest presenter Faith Liddell to make the final week’s presentations. Liddell awarded our prizes as she prepares to step down from a high-profile international role as the first director of Festivals Edinburgh, the umbrella body that has taken a lead in strategic planning for all of the capital’s events since it was established in January 2007. Conceived as a response to competition from other cities with growing profiles as cultural destinations, the new body’s greatest asset has been the respected Liddell, whose experience of working at the Fringe and directing the Edinburgh International Book Festival meant she was already well-connected and understood the work to be done. As she steps down to take a well-earned sabbatical from public life, she is a tough act to follow.
Her presence as an alumnus of Napier University and visiting professor there was also highly appropriate, as well as being a former Angel-winner herself, in recognition of 1999’s book festival programme, seen as a crucial revitalising year in Charlotte Square’s tented village.
It was the following year, 2000, when Maureen Beattie won a Herald Angel for her magnificent performance in Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea, staged by Graham McLaren’s Theatre Babel company in the Assembly Rooms. Now she has an Archangel to sit beside it on the mantlepiece, in recognition of her triumph in the trilogy of plays by Quebecois writer Jennifer Tremblay. The plays, The List, The Carousel, and now The Deliverance, have been having their UK premieres as a trilogy at Assembly Roxy during the Fringe, as directed and produced by Muriel Romanes with her Stellar Quines company, and featuring sets by John Byrne. Beattie’s performance in the three solo shows has won universal acclaim, and she collected this week’s top award for her lasting contribution to Festivals Edinburgh before rushing off to give a matinee show.
Two exciting theatre productions represented the Edinburgh International Festival this week. En Avant, Marche! was brought to the King’s by Alain Platel’s les ballets C de la B and NT Gent from Belgium, combining its own core company of musicians and performers with members of the Dalkeith and Monktonhall Brass Band. The show celebrates the community aspect of music-making as Platel and his colleagues found it under threat in Belgium and where there is a parallel story to be found in Scotland. The bold, hilarious and tuneful production was represented on Saturday by Lieven Thyrion, general manager of les ballets C de la B, along with performers Chris Thys and Hendrik Lebon, who provided a vocal impersonation of the sound-score.
From Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, in a co-production with the Edinburgh International Festival, came the new adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s novel Lanark, directed by Graham Eatough and written by his former colleague in the Suspect Culture company, David Greig. This “Life in Three Acts” features an excellent ensemble cast led by Sandy Grierson in the title role, superb staging and music, and has been praised for its clever theatrical response to the challenge of the book. Accepting the award, Eatough praised the partnership that had been assembled to bring the work to fruition.
Writer Peter Arnott and director Cora Bissett are the team behind Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, the musical stage biography of the American blues singer which has provided a platform for the talents of Angie Darcy. The Hamilton actor collected an Angel for her magnificent performance in a show co-produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and music promoters Regular Music which began as lunchtime theatre at Glasgow’s Oran Mor and is now on a Scottish tour in its expanded form.
The musical entertainment on Saturday came from the whistle of veteran traditional musician from Boys of the Lough, Cathal McConnell. McConnell received an Angel for his Fringe performance with fiddler Duncan Wood and cellist Christine Hanson before treating the company to a hornpipe with increasingly startling variations as a sample of the virtuosity that audiences at St Mark’s Artspace have been enjoying.
Our Little Devil award was collected by producer Marianne Maxwell on behalf of the cast of the NTS show Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, who convened a backstage rehearsal of an acapella version of the show when a technical failure delayed a performance at the Traverse. Our Wee Cherub, for the the best of the Young Critics’ reviews printed in The Herald, was won by Linzi Devers of Holyrood High and collected for her by teacher Michael Cunningham.