Archive for January, 2014

Fringe Review: David O’Doherty

David O’Doherty at The Pleasance Courtyard

A Jaws era Steven Spielberg’ is the bearded 2013 re-branding of Dubliner David O’Doherty. On this form, perhaps the better comparison would be with a Billy Connolly in his late-seventies heyday.

O’Doherty first came to Edinburgh in the late-nineties – even won an award in 2008 – and is now at the height of his allure, at that stage before it becomes too hard to get a ticket and he gets a little tired of his own success; or is that too cynical? This is observation comedy at its best. If Michael McIntyre is an All Bar One then David O’Doherty is the little Bistro that serves great Belgian beer and the exquisite goat’s cheese and walnut salad.




The electric keyboard and lilting Irish accent are the hardware, but it’s his unique ability to look at society and the human condition that gets the big laughs. The comedy is multi-faceted too, “dreaming of a Shark and a Kitten, a Shitten.” On being engaged by a Neo-Nazi; “I was Fuhrerious”, and yes David, if there is ‘an award for the best Nazi joke of 2013’; you should probably win.

But O’Doherty manages to deliver his swearing and explicit jokes in a completely inoffensive manner. He has a charm and wisdom, not to mention an ability to inject insightful social and political comment. Starbucks and Amazon are shot down at regular intervals. The greatest subject of his angst is his former hero Lance Armstrong, though he is used as more of a prop for the self-deprecation of O’Doherty- a firm believer in the miracle of “The strong-armed w*&%er”.

Woven throughout the show is an alternative look at our society. O’Doherty presents a prism for the audience to laugh at him and ourselves; “people putting inspiration quotes on facebook; 1st sign of a breakdown, closely followed by those training for a Triathlon”. He changes gear from tales of the old man in Dublin, dressed up to buy sausages, to ‘his friend’ getting amorous with himself, on a bike, at 5am, on the way home form a nightclub.

In writing- well this writing- O’Doherty may not be the first name you think of when asked what the best act at the Festival is this year, but perhaps he should be. This is a quality hour; book up before it sells out.





Made in Scotland

Watching a Danish drama on a Korean TV whilst eating Indian food having just come back from the Swedish furniture store in your German car. We live in a globalised world, perhaps not all children of Thatcher but certainly subjects of capitalism.

What of materials in the 21st  century? Is a product more than the sum of its individual parts? Yes, and in Scotland we are actually rather good at making things. Throughout the enlightenment and industrial revolution Scots – and our English neighbours – were changing the world. This was followed by Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird and Alexander Fleming but the Dunlop tyre, Mackintosh raincoat all the way through to the thousands of skilled workers who carried out -with perfection – the intellectual inspiration of the academics and inventors.

Made in Scotland has a lineage and foundation but we have had more than a few blips and forgettable products. Though tied up in sclerotic nationalised car companies our motor industry never really produced any iconic vehicles. Certainly not too many Hillman Imps still on the road. Blind patriotism can only get you so far. Many other Scots industries seemed in terminal decline (whisky apart) from the Eighties but there has undoubtedly been a positive change in recent years, a renaissance with fashion and textiles at the vanguard.




Where have we gone right? Well this is the interesting part. The Scottish textiles and artisan companies doing well haven’t really changed what they are making they have merely told the story better, literally and metaphorically we have improved the packaging of our products. This isn’t to say we are one big Jo Malone enterprise but the international consumer must believe in the product and in order for that to happen the aesthetic must convince and the story must serve as good bait.

In Scotland we have a truly unique landscape and successful companies like Johnstons of Elgin and Todd & Duncan engage this environment advancing the ‘light’ Scottish water as being at the core of the quality of their yarn. There is also a 240-year archive to draw on. Over on the Outer Hebrides the Harris Tweed industry has taken this to the next level. ‘From the land comes the cloth’ is a well-used mantra but what does it actually mean? This touches on the near soulful relationship between the Clo Mor (Big Cloth) and the landscape that inspires it with the weavers and artisans as mediators. This symbiosis between land and cloth was never meant to act as marketing fodder but is a wonderful reason to buy into the brand.




‘Too rough too old-fashioned, wrong cut, just wrong. For pensioners, for farmers, for Miss Marple’…not for me.  All criticisms well-known to the earnest Scottish textile fraternity through the difficult 80’s /90’s but these stereotypes (mostly unfounded) have thawed in the past few years, why? Because an impressive matrix of discerning Japanese taste-makers, international journalists and Parisian fashion houses have all stuck with Scottish textiles. Chanel, arguably the greatest fashion brand in the world, look at Scotland as a place where heritage and provenance has bred a unique slow luxury where luxury is defined not just in the object (finished product) but by the intricacies of the process. When Chanel tips their hat, others take notice.

In 1913 20% of all industrial shipping was born on the river Clyde. We can never compete in mass industrial fabrication but ingenuity and integrity mixed with a little hard work will make for a bright future. Scotland has made its fair share of world-reknowned products and our whisky is experiencing a golden age but there are myriad companies making first class products right here. The Wood group exporting drilling components to the four corners, Mackintosh in Cumbernauld but ,mostly exported to Japan, Arran Aromatics bringing the scent of Scotland to a global audience.  Let’s keep producing the quality, let’s keep telling the story. Made in Scotland, consumed by the world. 



Highland Fling

Kilted boys in biker jackets, tartan clad girls in figure-hugging pants, Brigadoon meets Grease, Gregory’s Girl meets West Side story? No, the setting is a toilet and this is the opening scene of a truly original ballet, Highland Fling.




It takes its DNA from La Sylphide, a ballet that caused a sensation similar to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring almost a century later. The romantic roots remain at the core of Highland Fling where the constant desire for fantasy and dismissal of reality are played out beautifully through the medium of dance. But there is so much more to this performance.

Complex elements of Scottish culture are examined with accuracy, sensitivity and humour. Scene 1, fueled with alcohol and drugs, builds to a memorable climax. Director Mathew Bourne has the midas touch in creating art that taps into sometimes conflicting emotions simultaneously. Aided by this ambivalence, he has your absolute attention.

The shenanigans of The Social Club toilet move swiftly to the second scene and the joy of James (Christopher Harrison) and Effie’s (Katie Webb) wedding. Lex Brotherston complements Bourne’s storytelling with a bold set design. Walls and furniture of tartan and plaid, Rangers and Celtic memorabilia and photos of famous Scots, an imaginative spectrum from Sean Connery to The Krankies.

The material backdrop of identity (catholic/protestant, urban/rural, straight/gay kitsch/cool) adds beautifully to the torment and confusion of James. The endearing Sylph (Sophie Martin) taps into his dark side and the allure for something more than his fixed fate fires his heart and imagination. The tarot-card reading Madge adds a gothic panache to the Act that ends with James committing himself to his dark side as he makes a suicidal leap to the ethereal Sylph.

A poignant message that in a Scotland dominated by imposed identity born of culture and politics, individuality trumps all.




Act II and we enter the land of The Sylph – a virtual Valhalla en Ecosse – where James continues his pursuit of his elusive fantasy. At this point all disbelief is suspended; tight choreography, twilight and an incongruous VW Beetle make for an endearing ‘other world’. The parameters of the story already told, the dancers are allowed free rein. James acts as a proxy for the audience as the mesmerizing power of the Sylphs dazzle. But in art as in life reality finally catches up with fantasy and both James and the Sylph meet a tragic end.

Andy Murray and plethora of Olympians, Ewan Macgregor and James McAvoy, whisky and fine Cashmere, perhaps even Harris Tweed. Scotland has some quality exports and to this we should add Scottish Ballet.

Their interpretation of A Street Car Named Desire rightfully won accolades and awards but doing a Scottish ballet and addressing complex and controversial cultural themes with insight and compassion is even more impressive. I’m no expert in the ‘mother arts’ but I once saw The Barber of Seville in Budapest. If a Scot can enjoy an Opera set in Spain, performed in Hungary and sung in Italian then there is no reason why a Highland Fling cannot have a similar international appeal.

You can catch Highland Fling at several top Scottish venues throughout May. More info here.



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